Thursday, August 30, 2012

FBI Guide to Metahumans: Rainbow


Identity: Lisa Devine
Side: Civilian
Sex: F
Experience: 9548
Level: 4
Age: 22
Training: Agility


1. Heightened Speed +660", +22 Initiative

2. Light Control: Range 20", Dmg 2d8, PR = 1 per attack; Blinding flash with a radius of 20", PR = 1; PR = 1 to set up a Light defense; May create mundane light for no power cost.

3. Illusions (holograms): PR = 1, visual illusions only.

Weight: 110 lbs.
Basic Hits: 3
Agility Mod: +2

Strength: 13
Endurance: 15
Agility: 10
Intelligence: 11
Charisma: 12

Reactions from:
Allies: +1
Enemies: -1

Hit Mod: 2.16
Hit Points: 7
Damage Mod: -
Heal Rate: 1.2
Accuracy: -
Power: 49
Carrying Cap: 203 lbs.
Basic HTH: 1d4
Movement Rates: 698" ground
Det. Hidden: 8%
Det. Danger: 12%
Inventing Points: 4.1
Inventing: 33%

Origin & Background: Lisa, ever since she was small, loved to make paintings. She would always be first to the art supplies in school and eventually she would hang around the local art supply store like some kids would hang around the mall. There was only the one in her poverty-stricken area. One day, a shoplifter ran out the door of the store and Lisa, without even thinking about it, ran after him. As she ran, the world seemed to stand still. Everyone else just saw a rainbow flash by and bowl over the shoplifter. Afterward, Lisa decided to use her talent to help clean up her crime-ridden neighborhood. She quickly discovered that she could use color and light to her advantage as well. Now, things are getting better, even if they aren't perfect yet. She has been known to occasionally team up with the Ice Queen, and the two are fast friends.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Goth of the Week

Now for someone I know in person.

I've decided that one good thing about this series is that it will push me to write more on the blog. I'm going to try to ensure that there aren't two GotW posts in a row.

Edit to add: Also, five years ago today (24 August), Sophie Lancaster was kicked to death because her attackers didn't like her clothes. Support the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More Talky Talk On Scenarios And Storytelling

I've been a crusader against story in gaming for a little while now. By this, I don't mean to say that there shouldn't be any story at all, though. It's been a little bit difficult to articulate my theory, in part because I guess I don't really know where this is going, exactly. It seems to me that adventure gaming is an entirely new artistic medium - hey! look at me! I can be pretentious! who knew? - and that, while we can take ideas from other media to help us out, there are aspects of adventure games that have no ready parallel in other art forms.

Ever since Dragonlance, at least, there has been a tendency to include plot directly in published adventures. The writer will come up with a story line, devise a series of scenes that articulate that story, and write up the interactive elements as almost an afterthought. This seems to me to lose much of the potential of the medium.

Even though there are probably ways to improve on them, I think that looking to the first few adventures published for adventure games can be helpful in trying to figure out how best to approach adventure game scenario design. Let's look at the "Against the Giants" series.

The main characteristic of these adventure modules was that they presented locations rather than plots. There was a situation, to be sure, that was sketched out: the giants were becoming more active and so the players were contracted to investigate and discover why. However, the scenario is presented in the main as a set of locations with inhabitants. We can call these "scenario elements". To be sure, the background of increased unrest among the giants is another scenario element, but it is not the centerpiece (well, until much later, in an entirely different series of adventure modules, when the reason for the unrest becomes the more direct element of the scenarios).

What is missing from this, though, is a plot. There is a general idea, but the specific details are left to the Referee. This means that there is a lot of work set on the shoulders of the Referee, because she has to develop what the giants will do if the players do nothing, what they will do in response to the players, and so on. What this does is allow the players wide freedom to shape the story to suit themselves. If they want to attack the giants in a series of commando raids, they can do that. If they want to make a frontal attack, that's an option. If they want to sneak in and acquire knowledge and goods by stealth, that method is supported. If they want to negotiate with the giants, they can do that too.

This is made possible because the scenario doesn't lay out scenes, nor does it prescribe a timeline of events. Now, it could have done the latter. In some later games, the timeline will become the most important scenario element. Those timelines, though, must be approached flexibly. That is, they must be understood as what will happen if the players do nothing. Player involvement can change things dramatically (and even their presence at a fight can change the outcome, as the fight would be played out, replacing the event that is predesigned in the scenario's timeline).

What I am advocating for is the replacement of "scenes" set out in advance by "scenario elements", which can be locations, timelines, characters and monsters, and so on. The scenes would still exist, but they would be created on the fly by the Referee in response to the players' choices within the scenario. At its simplest, the scene would be generated in response to the players choosing to enter one room instead of another. This room exists as an area on a map and a description in the map key. How the players enter the room, and their intentions and so forth, generate the scene.

This comes back to my theory of "Players as Storytellers". The Referee and Scenario Designer (who may or may not be the same person) are not telling the story. They act more as Editor or Production Designer. Within the setting created by the Referee and Scenario Designer, the Players tell a collaborative story to each other and to the Referee.

So, um, adventure gaming theory and whatnot.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Swords & Sorcery

I've been looking at the upcoming setting product Tales From the Fallen Empire, which looks really interesting to me. I love that it takes inspiration from the fantasy films of Roger Corman, such as The Warrior and the Sorceress and Deathstalker, as well as the more traditional sword & sorcery fiction of Leiber and Howard. The only thing I'm not so intrigued by is that it is going to be for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Now, I've not got much against that game, but it's just not likely to be one that I am going to pick up. I've already got a couple of class/level games that treat sword & sorcery topics well enough (I'm talking about D&D and S&W, as well as The Arcanum), and I haven't seen anything that really compels me about DCC.

Anyway, I discovered this setting when I was googling around for information about The Warrior and the Sorceress, and found a thread on one of the RPG boards about it where it was mentioned that one of the classes in the setting (the "Wanderer") was inspired by the Order of the Homerac from that film, or specifically by David Carradine's character in it. It got me thinking, though, about what specific movies and fiction I'd want to use as inspiration for a swords & sorcery setting, staying away from the obvious ones like Conan the Barbarian and the works of people like Howard or Leiber.

The Warrior and the Sorceress is a no-brainer. There's a lot of implied setting there that can serve as inspiration. Similarly, Deathstalker is pretty neat. There are some interesting ideas in Fire and Ice, which is pretty much what happens when you take Frazetta's art and make it into a setting and story. The "Taarna" sequence from Heavy Metal has a lot of inspirational imagery and concepts, and the "Den of Earth" sequence has a few ideas as well.

Speaking of Taarna, there's the story sequence of Arzach and Legends of Arzach by Moebius and Lofficier.

An unusual source which might be interesting is the boardgame Dark Emperor from Avalon Hill. The idea of an immortal necromancer coming back from the land of the dead with the Lord of Vampires and the Goddess of Fear to conquer a decaying empire is an interesting one. The unusual geography (it is based on a landscape of meteor strikes and the resulting round seas instead of plate tectonics) is neat, too.

Tanith Lee's Tales From the Flat Earth books are amazing. Vaguely Arabesque fantasy with a darkly modern perspective, like fairy tales told by a madwoman. She's also writing a couple of new ones, so soon there will be seven volumes or more, with the upcoming two to be published in 2014 and 2015.

Richard Tierney's Simon of Gitta stories are a wonderful mix of sword & sandal, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian themes, rationalizing the heretic Derleth's ideas with those of Lovecraft through the interpretation of Gnostic theology, but a lot more entertaining than that sounds. Most of the stories are collected in the Chaosium collection Scroll of Thoth, and the others are found in the novel The Drums of Chaos, one story in the Chaosium collection The Azathoth Cycle, and one story (originally published in the magazine Crypt of Cthulhu) online here. There's also a novel titled The Gardens of Lucullus, which is part of the cycle, but very hard to find at the moment. Loosely connected, the movie The Silver Chalice was an inspiration on this series of stories, as Tierney has said that Jack Palance's portrayal of Simon the Magician is how he envisions the main character.

What odd sources would you use for a sword & sorcery setting?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Goth of the Week

Renaming this feature to "Goth of the Week", because I may include goth men as well as women.

Werewolves Of The Northwestern Isles

In the Northwestern Isles, the younger sons of the nobility can either resign themselves to becoming the clients of powerful nobles or they can range the wilds, protecting the villages and forts from invaders both natural and unnatural. To become such a protector, they must join initiatory warbands. There are several types of these, but the most well-known to the rest of the world are the werewolves.

Joining up with one of these bands, a young man (or even a young woman, if she wishes to leave behind the life of a wife and mother) will spend some time traveling with the others, learning the nomadic way of life of these wilderness warriors. During this time, they will learn to fight, to live off the land (and, frequently, off of those poor unfortunates who cannot protect their property), and the secret lore of the werewolf bands. After a time, perhaps a year, perhaps three, they will undergo initiation as a werewolf. In a secret rite they will be transformed from a mere human being into a wolf-man, bound to the cycles of the moon instead of (or, rather, in addition to) the natural daytime cycles of men.

Though folktales say that a wound from a werewolf will make one into a werewolf, that is not true at all. Only the secret initiations of the werewolf bands can make one into a werewolf.

Once initiated, a werewolf will spend a lifetime protecting civilization from invaders. Though the world is mostly aware of the human invaders, it is the inhuman ones that the werewolves are most interested in. Goblin hordes from across the Mist between the worlds are constantly making incursions and stealing livestock, crops, and even children! The werewolves stand between the world of men and these invading goblins, sometimes passing between the worlds themselves to recover the booty taken by the goblin thieves.

There are similar groups in other parts of the world: werebears, wereboars, and weretigers being the most common, but some lands have werefoxes or even weresharks. Those lands without shapeshifting guardians may have other ways of protecting themselves from goblins, and even in the lands with shapeshifters, there exist other initiatory groups who stand on the border between worlds.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Goth Girl of the Week

Now that Underworld Cleaning Service seems to have gone fallow, I thought I'd pick up one of his features and give you the Goth Girl of the Week. I may use this one as an FBI Guide entry picture, too!

04/14/2014 Update: According to the metadata, this picture was taken by Thorsten Rex, a professional photographer in Germany. From searching around, I have learned that it was taken at Wave Gotik Treffen in 2011 (there are a number of other pictures of this lovely woman wearing the same clothing and accessories), but I am still trying to find out who the subject is.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Unearthly Child

I didn't have anything to write about last week's Traveller game, and unfortunately I was unable to participate this week due to some personal matters. Anyway, it seems like it's time to write something on this here blog thing.

One of the things I've been doing is catching up on Doctor Who, including watching some of the older series episodes. That's all well and good, but the ideas there have given me some things to think about in terms of a possible game. Right now, I'm thinking of it in terms of GURPS, but I'm sure that other systems could serve as well.

This scene exists forever, always,
embedded in every moment.
Every once in a while, I'll see a possibility in Doctor Who that isn't explored by the official writers. Some of those possibilities would require circumventing the particular canon of that series, though, so that isn't a big problem. Still, I'd like to take those ideas and work out a campaign involving time and other dimensional travel, exploring some of those matters that I see as possibilities. For instance, there is an incredibly good scene in one of the recent seasons in which [SPOILERS] several members of the Time Lord species attempt to escape the Time War and re-engage with the regular universe. The scene includes some very mythic (I can't think of another word to describe it) imagery, such as the two figures covering their eyes (said to be the ones who voted against escaping the Time War). Combining that with my own predilections, I thought about the idea of existing outside of time - that is, not participating in time at all, but existing instead in an eternal sense. That's a complex topic, touching on the ideas of explicate and implicate order, myth, and so on. The best way that I've seen to handle those ideas is in the concept of Hero Questing from RuneQuest and HeroQuest. In these, there is a mythic dimension which can be entered into, and where, effectively, the players interact with mythic scenes and figures. In these, then, a player may walk through the scenes of a story as though they were rooms, with each scene recurring in the same basic form each time it is encountered. There are good ways and bad ways to interact with those scenes, but the scene "resets", as it were, each time. This should allow exploration of the idea of implicate order in a gaming context. I'd need to develop exactly what would happen as a result of leaving time and returning into it, of course. Perhaps things could be manifested in time from outside of it, or alterations could be made to the shape of time from the metatemporal zone (something like a wish in fantasy games, perhaps) if the metatemporal sequence is engaged properly.

I am also quite fond of alternate timelines, so that would violate one of the critical canon rules of Doctor Who (which has made a significant plot point of the near-complete separation of alternate timelines). So, my idea would be that there are several dimensions, or spheres, in which players can interact with the game universe: different areas of space, different areas of time, different timelines (with their own areas of space and time), and metatemporal/mythic "space".

At least one of the characters would be a "Time Lord" equivalent (not sure what they'd be called), who has undergone an initiatory experience similar to the Gallifreyans' exposure to the Time Vortex or Zelazny's Amberites' walking of the Pattern. That character would have access to a trans/metatemporal vessel like the Doctor's TARDIS which would have the ability to travel anywhere in space, time, across transtemporal lines, or into metatemporal space. There should probably be limits to that, for dramatic purposes, but I am not sure at the moment what they should be exactly. Something that limits how often the players can change their position in space/time/transtime/metatime would probably be important, and perhaps also how "far" the vessel can change position in any given period. That latter, though, may not be necessary, and might even be undesirable.

The players should be given access to some extreme high-tech items that minimize their need to engage in normal commerce, as the point would be exploration, not normal economics. We don't want to have the players setting themselves up as transtemporal merchants, for instance. So, some sort of food dispenser would be required, and perhaps other post-scarcity items of technology (replicators? utility fog? some sort of immortality or other cure for death?) would have a useful place in the setting. The point, after all, would be universal tourism, not the normal sorts of adventure drivers. Certainly, giving the players' vessel more space inside than out would be a given, allowing the vessel to more easily serve as a base of operations while also letting it be unobtrusive when necessary.

Basically, I don't think that many gaming versions of time travel have really touched on the possibilities and intense strangeness involved in the subject. It would be fun to explore those.