Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Self-Consistent Fantasy

Found this in a Google Image Search for "realistic fantasy".
There are a few people talking about "realism" in games again. I think that this is a useful discussion, for a couple of reasons. One, thinking about games is good, because when we are thinking about games we are engaging with them, and gaming is good. Two, we need to illuminate our approach to games in order to really form an approach that we can think about rather than "spray and pray", as it were.

Anyway, I am not really going to deal with the question as it applies to medieval-style fantasy. My current idea is a semi-gonzo science-fantasy setting, which has an entirely different set of assumptions. Rather than trying to refit a medieval setting to accommodate dragons and orcs, I would do better to think about what influences from such creatures the peoples of the world would need to adapt to. What we are looking for isn't exactly "realism", though, we want a self-consistency, where the consequences of an assumption are played out in the setting.

Let's start with dragons. I do want to have something like dragons in the setting, but I want them to be more alien than the basic idea, as my idea is that they are, in the setting, extraterrestrial in origin. I've always thought that the "blue" dragons of (A)D&D were the weirdest, with their lightning breath weapon. The rest of the dragons, for the most part, have breath weapons that consist of forces that would be known and understood by medieval peasants (fire, "bad air", and such), but lightning was seen as a particularly divine trait, unrelated to anything that existed in the world. So, I will have dragons, but they will have the lightning breath weapon of the blue type of dragon. Um, but more hit dice, because dragons should be tough.

What would be the response to a flying lightning-generator (as well as other flying combatants, such as levitating airships)? You'd need a fortress that protected against attacks from above. Perhaps an underground bunker. A series of tunnels and rooms dug into the ground, one might say. It's always good to have another rationale behind dungeons. To make these underground fortresses plausible, we'd need to have some way to make mining a little easier. Perhaps the world will have a couple of genetically-engineered races that are better at mining than baseline humans. Now we have dwarves (and perhaps some other races like gnomes, as alternative, less successful designs from the ancient genetic engineers - the goblin races, in my conception, are alien beings come to the Last Continent).

Anyway, this is just one way in which thinking about the different assumptions of the setting can increase verisimilitude and also imply new things about the setting. Another time, I'll discuss why I think that achieving verisimilitude in games, at least ones that tend toward a "sandbox" style of play, is important.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kickstarter - Back To Basics?

There's been a lot of discussion about Kickstarter going on in various places around the internet gaming community. Most of it centers around the seeming failures of various projects to appear "on time" (that is, exactly along the original estimated schedule). Most of the discussion is stupid, with people fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of production schedules and creative endeavors. At times, it gets pretty heated (see the persona "Running With Scissors" in the thread on the matter in the Autarch boards, for instance, who ended up being closely moderated because of his inability to maintain any sort of decorum in his arguments).

Anyway, this discussion hasn't been isolated to the gaming world. There has been discussion about how Amanda Palmer has disbursed the funding she received for her latest album and tour, for instance, and there are other such discussions. Kickstarter has apparently been paying attention, because they have just announced some policy changes that should revert the system to its original intent - that is, rather than being a glorified pre-order system, it should be a method of funding ideas. That will likely change the entire dynamic of the way Kickstarter has been used for gaming projects. Rather than focusing on the big-ticket projects and simply purchasing an object, it will instead focus on the smaller projects that couldn't happen without funding (such as a book being able to pay for art rather than being unadorned).

So, what are your thoughts about Kickstarter? Is it a good thing? Is this a good direction for it to take?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Goth of the Week

Harley Quinn's Revenge by The Devil's Babydoll.

Resetting My Mind

Well, I was hoping that I'd get some responses to my last inquiry, but I guess not many people were interested in the subject. Moving on, then.

Working on the Terra Ultima setting, I think that I'm going to strip down more than just the rules (I'll be starting from a base of Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox and a few basic house rules, which I'll go over soon, since my ideas have changed from my first essay at the idea). Instead of working up details of the base city, I'll just build the first couple of levels of the campaign tentpole. This will be a megadungeon in the classic sense, an underground complex of tunnels and levels populated with hazards and creatures. I'm not completely sure what the concept will be, but I am leaning toward a ruin topping a hill that is really the built-over remains of layers of cities, like Troy.

I dunno, I guess I just don't have a lot to say right now.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


One thing that I've noticed while playing Traveller that I had not noticed much previously (keep in mind that I was attracted by the erroneous "storytelling" paradigm when I started to think seriously about adventure games, it being the dominant paradigm of the time) is the interrelation of various minigames (or perhaps "subsystems") as parts of the flow of play. As I prepare for the Terra Ultima game, I naturally am thinking about the sorts of minigames to make available.

The obvious ones are built into the main rules: combat, exploration and encounter in the dungeon and wilderness, NPC reactions, the "endgame", and so on. It seems like there are others, though, that should be available to the players. I am thinking here of ones that are obviously inspired by Traveller, such as a merchant minigame of speculative trade. I suppose that I'd do that in a manner based on Traveller's speculative trade system. Other examples might include astral exploration (different not only in appearance, but in basic format from standard wilderness or dungeon exploration).

What minigames (or subsystems, if you prefer) do you think should be available to the players at various points in the game?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Terra Ultima, Once Again

As I worked on the Black Blood of the Earth setting, I kept running into the problem that the themes of the setting interfered with the things I really wanted to do. For instance, I love a gonzo, multiversal setting with portals and skyships sailing to distant worlds. Those things are precisely antithetical to the Black Blood setting's theme that this world is all we have. So, I am thinking about returning to the Terra Ultima setting as my mainstay. In that setting, there are spaceships, albeit limited to slower-than-light and so only to the worlds of the solar system (or to nearby stars with years-, decades-, or centuries-long journeys), and portals to distant worlds around other stars. The spaceships are nearly superceded by the portals, since there are portalways to the worlds of the solar system, as well. It's a science fantasy setting with enclaves of alien beings from other worlds, a pseudo-astral plane (the medium through which the portals travel their strange highways) which is home to still more alien entities, and human cousins, drifted from the human norm over the aeons. Monsters from across the galaxies have made their way to the wildernesses of the future Earth and its "final" supercontinent.

Click for make bigger

Civilization has fallen and risen thousands of times over the millions of years. Resources have been exhausted, regenerated, and exhausted again. Apocalyptic wars have been fought and seen all traces eroded into nothingness. Science has changed beyond imagining (which I will simulate by using the magic and alchemy of a fantasy world, rather than trying to shoehorn it all into some science-fictiony buzzword like "nanotech" or whatever). The remains of civilizations from the distant past have been worn away into oblivion, and the remains of more recent civilizations (ones that will arise millions of years from now) provide ruins to be explored and artifacts of terrible power to recover. Even today, "magic" items created by the alien science of the distant future are constructed by magicians and alchemists. Some can be had for nothing more than ready cash, such as ray guns and water breathing masks. Others can only be found or stolen, or perhaps received as a reward, because a magician cannot be induced to construct them for mere pay.

There can be no question that this will ever be published, however, as it draws on "product identity" items from WotC, such as the githyanki and illithid, as well as such wonderful (and open source) alien beings as the kzaddich and tsalakians designed by John Turcotte (editor of Footprints e-zine) and published in the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book.

Oh, and I've been working on the Terra Ultima setting since long before that upstart Cook announced his science-fantasy offering.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Goth of the Week

The lovely Lady of the Manners, Jillian Venters, author of Gothic Charm School and the website on which that book is based.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Outline Of A Game

As I think about gaming, I sometimes think about different ways to approach the fiction that is a game. One of the games I'd like to play in (or even run) would take quite a bit of preparation.

There are several levels of game involvement, and I'd like to see one that includes several of them interacting. There's the level of individual adventure, which is the most commonly approached level in gaming today. It has come to dominate so much that other levels are largely ignored in most "modern" games. There's the level of the manor, which is pretty much what higher-level characters were given the opportunity to play at in older editions of (A)D&D. That's the level that is frequently described as the "endgame" in recent old-school RPG discussion. Then there's the strategic level, which is like the "endgame" writ large. This is the level of kings and emperors. It is the large-scale politics and warfare of nations. Mostly, this has been relegated to boardgames in the past, with examples like Dark Emperor from Avalon Hill or Wizard Kings from Columbia Games being notable.

So, imagine a game where there are players who represent the major kingdoms, playing a (slow-moving) boardgame of sorts. The rules of the game would be derived from whatever mass combat system and wilderness movement system are normal for the game. BECMI/Cyclopedia D&D have probably the most useful versions of these, though games like Swordbearer might have useful elements to include (specifically in that latter case, the wilderness movement rules can be used to build something useful for our hypothetical game). Each turn of the game would take place once a month or whatever, keeping in mind Gary's admonition about time tracking. This would be used to generate the large-scale background of the game. The other levels would then be more traditionally-based adventure gaming, with low-level characters acting on the individual adventure level, and higher-level characters running their manors as parts of the larger game. This would let the players who want to play the Game of Thrones (ahem) to act on the larger level of the game, and the players who want a more murderhobo game could play on that level, but all of them would be acting within the same milieu.

I dunno, it's a pretty new idea for me, so I haven't thought it completely through, but the idea of mixing a strategic/grand tactical wargame with traditional adventure gaming seems promising to me.