Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[Log of the Faerie Queene] 302-1105

Amanda Zhao's log, 302-1105

It's been several days since I have logged an entry. That is because things have gone particularly smoothly (once the appropriate paperwork was filled out; thankfully, Qlotl proved her worth once again in assisting with that). We have lifted and are about to enter Jumpspace as I write this. Our hold is full of freight, our passenger staterooms and low berths are fully occupied, and the ship's bank vault has been stocked with the requisite amount of Imperial Credit notes. It feels good not to be nearly on the edge of poverty again, although I still need to make crew salaries and ship fuel costs.

Now for a relaxing week reading.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

[From the Log of the Free Trader Faerie Queene] 298-1105

Amanda Zhao's Log, 298-1105

I started negotiating with a broker for some starship software, but he was fairly intractable so I broke it off and left. Went to listen to the goings-on and ended up talking with a local policeman. Well, that is to say that I got stopped and my papers checked. I didn't realize that they were allowed on this side of the XT line, but apparently there was some sort of "hot pursuit" thing or whatever. I wasn't able to help them, but I think that it probably involved the commotion that occurred several berths down. Word is that someone was trying to smuggle Slow drug. Could be worse, I suppose.

Qlotl tells me that she has already found plenty of potential passengers, but she's trying to locate two more wanting to take High Passage. Still, at the moment she has found four High Passengers and enough Middle Passengers that if anyone bows out we're still going to fill our six beds. Zauer is pretty sure that he's got enough Low Passengers to fill our eight freezers. I may decide to lift early, since things are going so well. I wouldn't want to outstay our welcome here, and it's not like we need to wait on any shipments. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day. I will talk with Qlotl and Zauer to see if there would be any problems with that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

[From the Log of the Free Trader Faerie Queene] 297-1105

Amanda Zhao's Log, 297-1105

This new Steward is pretty efficient. She's already found two excellent candidates for Engineer and Ship's Medic, and I have hired them both. The Engineer is a kid, fresh out of the Scouts, named Malissa. She's bright enough and a happy girl, though a little out of shape. The Medic is a Marine veteran, a Vilani named Simar, who has apparently seen his share of action. He's a little melancholy, but he's proven himself. His resume says that he was beginning Medical School at University when he enlisted as an officer. He made it to 1st Lieutenant, apparently, and he's been decorated for his service. Qlotl says that she'll keep an eye out for possible Gunners while she is drumming up passenger trade. Zauer is out looking for people who are desperate enough to ride reefer.

As for me, I signed on for freight at the Starport exchange the other day. I checked in and found that we've been offered lots that make a total of 82 tons exactly, so I'm not going to bother looking for cargo this trip. Better to take the sure thing than hope to re-sell something at a profit, at least while I'm operating on such a shoestring. When I can get enough to put myself ahead a bit, I'll try speculating some. In any case, we're going to lift in 4 days, to give Qlotl and Zauer time to find passengers. Those should put me ahead enough to have some buffer in the bank account. I really hope that we can lift with all beds full.

On a personal note, I have to say that I am really happy that Qlotl doesn't go around wearing Zho clothing. Without that, she looks like a somewhat exotic, but still friendly, human. It makes me more comfortable to see her that way. She has nice hair. Zauer says that she smells friendly enough, too, so I hope that I'm right to trust her. Malissa and Simar seem like they'll be good additions, too.

Zauer tells me that he had a run-in with the local constables today. Regina is like that, though, so it's probably nothing. All they did was stop and question him, so it's not like it was a real problem. Regina is pretty intrusive, and I can't wait to get into space. All this filling out forms to do anything, requirements for paper trails to buy toilet tissue, laws about every damned thing is claustrophobic. But it's nice to have access to some of the amenities here. The weather control they use keeps things really pleasant nearly all the time. They generally keep the rain to the nighttime, when most of the population is asleep. Their entertainment is good, too. Plus, knowing that it is really unlikely that anyone on the outside of the XT line is going to be armed makes walking around a certain kind of joy. I still find myself watching my back, but knowing that there are going to be constables around to keep attackers away takes a lot of the pressure off. You know, until I get stopped by those constables, which is just a terrifying experience without a gun in my belt. The way that they treat you, like you aren't really a person, like you are an object to be processed, is an experience I don't really recommend in itself, but I guess it goes with the territory. Still, I tend to stay in the port most of the time. There may be more guns here, but there aren't so many people sticking their nose into why you're walking around either.

Speaking of the port, there's a good nightclub here, usually with live music, loud and fast, the kind of stuff that Tramps like these days. The music is not really my thing, but the atmosphere is good and everyone has a good time there, and that is my thing. I'm planning to go again tonight.

Goth of the Week

No idea who the model is, but the picture seems to be associated with DevilInspired Clothing. I can't find this particular dress on their site, though they have several that are similar in their Gothic Lolita collection.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

[From the Log of the Free Trader Faerie Queene] 296-1105

Amanda Zhao's Log, 296-1105

I am not sanguine about staying here for long. Expenses will pile up, and before you know it we'll be deeper in debt than we already are. My good friend Zauer tells me that he has located a woman who can help us find a new crew, and she'll make a good Steward as well. If she's as good as he says, we should be able to get an Engineer and Medic quickly and be on our way. I'm meeting with her later today. I'm already resolved on hiring Zauer on. I'll call him a "handyman" or something. Since he's been a Corsair up in the Extents before coming down here to Regina, he's an excellent troubleshooter.

Supplemental: Met with Zauer's Steward. She's a Zho, which creeps me right the fuck out. It's like she's looking into my brain every time she glances at me. Her name is Qlotleqiepr, which I thought meant that she's some kind of Zho Noble, but she says that she isn't, and just wants to be called Qlotl. She says that she was never in the military, that she was just a low-level bureaucrat, and that she came to the Imperium to find a missing relative. I don't know if I believe her about all that, but she seems like she has skills that we need, so I've retained her. She says that she'll get right on the search for a Medic and Engineer. I just hope that she can find some useful candidates in the next five days, or we're going to be looking at taking out a loan just to get off this rock, not even considering the mortgage is due too soon. While she's doing that, I'm going to start looking into some paying cargo and passengers, and maybe pick up something on spec. Zauer says he'll advance me if necessary. I'll get started on that tomorrow. I think that we're going to head to Jenghe, unless someone with a lot of money wants to go somewhere else. I think that my ultimate goal will be to get to District 268, to check out places to retire someday. Tarsus sounds nice, but I'd like to see for myself.

Additional: Zauer reminds me that we may have to find a Gunner somewhere, maybe two. It's a dangerous universe out there.

Real-Time Traveller

This banner borrowed from this campaign website.
I'll take it down if there is an objection.
All that talk about Traveller got me to thinking. And what I am thinking is that I will run a "real-time" Traveller game for myself, supplementing or (more likely, considering how unenthusiastically I've been pursuing it) replacing the GURPS Fantasy West game I've been doing. The idea came from an article in issue 13 of the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society. I'll use the MegaTraveller rules, but set starting in 1105 and using the Alien Modules as necessary (and not necessarily bound by the OTU metaplot or background details wherever I feel like I want it to be different; this is MTU). The idea of real-time Traveller is to run one day in the game world for every one day in the real world. That does mean that time spent in Jumpspace takes a long time in the real world with nothing happening. That is pretty much the point. It is intended as an experiment in immersion and spreading the game out so that it doesn't take up too much time each day. I may post this game here, as a series of posts done as a daily log, or maybe sometimes logs for other crew as well. I'll probably make at least occasional use of Mythic Game Master Emulator to help out.

The starting date will be whatever the specific day is on the day I begin it (today, 23 October, is 296) of the year 1105, and the party will be the permanent crew of the Free Trader Faerie Queene, owned by Amanda Zhao, a former Merchant Captain, who has 30 years of mortgage payments left on it. The ship is located on the Spinward Main, that long chain of worlds in the Spinward Marches which can be reached using a Jump-1 starship, like the Faerie Queene. Amanda is the Captain/Pilot/Navigator for the ship, and she has hired on Malissa as Engineer, Qlotl as Steward, Simar as Ship's Medic, and Zauer as "Handyman", leaving the ship with 5 passenger staterooms. I didn't save their career paths, which is a mistake that I can't fix now, but their starting characteristics, rolled up using a software character generator, are as follows (and yes, I did have to roll up quite a few characters who either died or were not suitable for the game I had in mind; happily, I was able to do that fairly quickly with the aid of the character generator and MegaTraveller's special character generation rules that make things go a little more smoothly):

Amanda Zhao

Human (Imperial) F Age 46 (apparent age 38)

Homeworld B/med size/exotic atmo/wet hyd/hi pop/mod law/hi stellar

Merchant - Subsector-wide line - Deck office
Rank: O5 Captain

Skills: Grav Vehicle - 0, Handgun - 0, Vacc Suit - 0, Admin - 1, Brawling - 1, Bribery - 2, Carousing - 2, Computer - 1, Jack-o-T - 2, Leadership - 1, Legal - 1, Liaison - 1, Navigation - 2, Pilot - 4, Ships Boat - 1, Small Blade - 1, SMG - 1, Trader - 1

Cr 10,000
Free Trader (30 yrs left) "Faerie Queene"


Zaorrfaeoks "Zauer"

Vargr M Age 34

Homeworld B/small size/vacuum/wet hyd/mod pop/mod law/avg stellar

Rank: 06 Leader

Skills: Computer - 0, Grav Vehicle - 0, Laser Weapons - 0, Handgun - 1, Infighting - 1, Jack-o-T - 1, Leadership - 1, Long Blade - 1, Pilot - 1, Scrounge - 1, Ship Tactics - 1, Stealth - 1, Streetwise - 1, Tactics - 3, Vacc Suit - 1, Zero G Combat - 1

Cr 61,000
Weapon x3


Qlotleqiepr "Qlotl"

Zhodani F Age 34 (apparent age 30)

Homeworld C/small size/standard atmo/dry hyd/hi pop/mod law/hi stellar

Rank: O4 Manager

Psionic Games - Won Clairvoyance, lost Telekinesis, did not win Games

Skills: Psi - 11, Clairvoyance - 11, Telekinesis - 11, Computer - 0, Handgun - 0, Admin - 2, Broker - 1, Grav Vehicle - 2, Interrogation - 1, Interview - 1, Psychology - 3, Steward - 1

Cr 10,000
Mid Psg x2


Malissa Skyskimmer

Human (Imperial) F Age 22

Homeworld A/large size/dense atmo/wet hyd/mod pop/low law/avg stellar

Scout - Field Survey Office
Rank: E1 Recruit

Skills: Computer - 0, Grav Vehicle - 0, SMG - 0, Engineering - 1, Handgun - 1, Pilot - 1, Vacc Suit - 1

Cr 50,000


Simarushre "Simar" Shigiriiman

Vilani M (mostly non-Vilani ancestry) Age 30

Graduated University NOTC (Medical)

Homeworld C/large size/dense atmo/wet hyd/mod pop/hi law/avg stellar

Marine - Infantry branch - medic
Rank: O2 1st Lieutenant
Awards: MCUF, Command Cluster x2, Combat Ribbon x3

Skills: Computer - 0, Vacc Suit - 0, Combat Engineer - 1, Electronics - 1, Grav Vehicle - 1, Handgun - 1, Long Blade - 1, Medical - 1, Tactics - 1, Tracked Vehicle - 1

Cr 5000


I have three house rules to begin with: the first is that Jack-of-all-Trades skill, in addition to the benefits it provides in MegaTraveller normally, also adds 1 for every 2 full levels of Jack-of-all-Trades skill possessed to any task that has been increased in difficulty due to lack of skill (for every 2 full points over 8, it will add 1 to skilled tasks as well, but that level of skill is very unlikely, to put it mildly); the second is that surprise rolls are rolled as Routine tasks, and surprise occurs on exceptional success or failure, benefiting the appropriate side; thirdly, no roll can take more points from the Tactics pool than the highest Tactics or Leadership skill available, and no one can take points from the pool who is not in communication. I know what I mean by that last, and don't want to write it up in detail right now, but basically it just means that communication is necessary to use other people's Tactics points for benefit. If not in communication, use your own Tactics or do without.

Edit to add: There's a fourth house rule I am going to use, which is to use the Mongoose Traveller characteristic modifiers instead of MegaTraveller's characteristic/5 method.


One thing I noticed after I generated the characters was how much the party resembled a cross between Star Wars and Firefly/Serenity. That makes me happy, because those are probably my favorite SF properties. Edit to add: Outside of Dune, that is.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Traveller And Dying Before You Play

The other day, I was talking on someone else's blog about old-school gaming and how it differs from the new schools. One of the things I mentioned was a tendency toward wide-open games, in which players are not limited in their choices beyond in-game justifications (for instance, the game "physics", represented by the rules, or concern for social penalties within the game setting; metagaming concepts like "story" or "plot" or even "spotlight" don't influence the choice-making abilities of the players within the rules), which have become latterly known as "sandbox" games. This particular play style tends to be well-supported by older game designs, which (for example) minimize the penalties for playing "wrong" and losing a character in play by making the creation of a new character a matter of a few minutes at most.

There is at least one notable exception among the pre-1980 game designs in regard to this idea of simple and quick character creation, which is the system developed in Traveller. Now, Traveller is among my favorite all-time games. I've noted it before as my #1 game, in its incarnation as MegaTraveller (which is a name I still dislike intensely, even as I love the game itself; as an aside, I still need to get around to a comprehensive review of Mongoose's edition of Traveller). In Traveller, character creation is not only slow, with the player required to roll dice repeatedly to generate a lifepath of sorts at four-year intervals, covering a number of different aspects (each with its own dice roll), but also, in the original game and to some extent in MegaTraveller, faced the distinct possibility that the character being created might die before ever seeing regular play. As a result, it was not uncommon to have to generate several characters in a row before one came up that managed to make it to the point of being actively played. Or to cheat, which was a common response to the issue. In any case, this results in a rather extended character creation process. It is usual, I've found, for Referees of a Traveller game (with the sometime exceptions of Traveller: The New Era, which uses a radically different method, or GURPS Traveller, which uses the GURPS conventions of character design) to schedule character creation entirely separate from actual play.

Later editions of Traveller, beginning, in fact, with MegaTraveller, altered the situation or lightened the blow. MegaTraveller, while retaining the "Survival" roll, offered the option that it might represent a mere shortening of the current term and loss of the benefits associated with it (with the penalty of a couple years being added to the character's age), followed by an automatic mustering out into play. Other versions of the game either eliminated the "Survival" roll or altered it similarly.

But why was it there in the first place? Obviously, the designers thought of it as a simulation exercise. While it is preferable to have characters with some level of previous experience, they perhaps wanted to express the facts of life: if you join the military, you might not live to tell your story (though, entertainingly, in the original career charts, one was slightly more likely to survive to play as a member of the Army, due to the significantly lower characteristic requirement to qualify for a dice bonus to the "Survival" roll, than as a Merchant, for example).

More importantly, though, the "Survival" check offered a sort of evolutionary pressure on characters. Some characters would be more likely to survive to play, and there was system-based selective pressure for characters with higher characteristics to be among those. Furthermore, some careers were less likely to include survivors, and those careers tended to give greater benefits to the player, such as a cheap starship, access to better skills (such as the dramatic availability of the extremely useful Jack-of-all-Trades skill to characters in the Scout career), and so forth. The "Survival" roll allowed characters to pursue those careers, but offered a tendency to keep those benefits in check to some degree. The player would be less likely to keep going for too many terms of service (four years each, remember), and so less likely to gain excessive levels of the more useful skills and benefits.

Let's examine the Scout specifically. In the original game, the player had to roll a 7+ on 2d6 for survival each term. The dice roll would get a benefit of +2 if the character was rated with an Endurance score of 9+ (the normal range of rolled stats is on 2d6, so this is significantly above average). That means that, of characters with an Endurance of 8 or less (that is, 72.2% of characters at the start of generation, before gaining any improvements during creation), 41.7% will die during their first four years of being in the service, and so cannot possibly see play. The lucky ones with the higher Endurance score will do better, but still fully 1 in 6 will die in that first four year term. As compensation for this, Scouts get two skills in each term (other services get only one, though they may gain bonus skills by being promoted), and have maximum access to the coveted Jack-of-all-Trades skill, with the skill appearing on 3 out of the four skill charts available to Scouts. Three other careers have access to the skill (Navy, Merchant, and Other), but all three only have the skill appearing on one of their available skill charts, and Others have it on the chart that is only accessible to characters with a high Education rating. If skill charts are chosen randomly (assuming high Education), a Scout will gain an average of 0.25 levels of Jack-of-all-Trades skill each term, where a Navy, Merchant, or qualifying Other will gain only a sixth of that or so! (Without the Education requirement, the Scout gains 0.22 levels per term, while the Navy or Merchant gain 0.056. Note that these numbers can be boosted by sticking to the specific skill charts in question, but other than Scouts this tends to push the character away from other cool and useful skills.) These numbers are brought slightly closer together because the non-Scout services actually gain a base of two skills in their first term, which is then balanced yet again by the Scout gaining a useful skill (Pilot) in their first term for free (only Army and Marines characters also gain a free skill in their first term: Rifle for the Army, Cutlass for the Marines).

It's not just one skill, either, no matter how valuable it might be in play. There is also the matter of starship availability. Scouts are one of two careers in the basic game that might get access to a starship before play starts. Of the two careers with that access, Scouts are the only one that might get a starship without having to make payments on it. Furthermore, a Scout is much more likely to get access to a ship, since the other career with starship benefits (Merchant) requires that the character have reached a rank of Captain (Rank 5), meaning that the character will have been in the career for at least 4 terms - gaining Commission and Promotion in the first term, followed by Promotions in each subsequent term. The Scout, on the other hand, has no ranks, and even a 1-term Scout might gain access to a Scout/Courier starship. Assuming he survives.

Most of the other services have a base "Survival" roll of 5+ on 2d6, or a 5 in 6 chance of surviving each term, and can gain a +2 bonus, giving only a 1 in 36 chance of not surviving each term, with (usually) a much lower characteristic, usually a 7+ in one characteristic or another. The Marines have a "Survival" roll of 6+ (and need an 8+ Endurance for the bonus), Others need a 9+ Intelligence for the bonus to their base 5+, and Army characters get the best "Survival" roll of all, needing a base 5+ to survive, and getting a bonus with only a 6 or greater Education score.

So, what does this mean for the game? Army characters will tend to have long careers, since it is very likely to survive any given term, and thus have a large number of skills. They get the smallest amount of material benefits on leaving the service, however, and with the lowest valued cash table. However, this is compensated by the worst chance to successfully reenlist of all 6 basic careers, so their careers are frequently cut short by forces beyond their control. They do manage to rise in rank very quickly, for as long as they can stay in, so that benefits them, as each rank increase sees a bonus skill roll. Merchants have a pretty good chance of survival, almost as good as the Army, and have an excellent chance at reenlistment, so their careers tend to be the longest of any of the six branches of service. They find it easy to become an officer, but very difficult to rise in rank after that. Navy careerists have a very hard time getting a commission, but they get promotions pretty regularly after that. Scouts don't have ranks (again, though, they don't need the bonus skill given by promotion since they get double skills each term), and their reenlistment is nearly automatic, but their main stumbling block is that very high risk nature of the career, meaning that the player making the choices has to balance the risk of one more term against the probability that they will need to start again from the beginning.

Those numbers did not change substantially in MegaTraveller, though as I noted there was an option to take the sting out of failing a "Survival" roll. And, of course, I am not analyzing the "Expanded" character creation systems found in Books 4-7 of the original game, also included as options in MegaTraveller. Those systems change the level of detail, determining the history of the character on a year-by-year basis instead of in terms of four years each, but they also dramatically alter the way that survival is determined, since "Survival" is then based on the particular assignment during each year, rather than a simple number. I really like the "Expanded" systems, but they were only ever finished for the five basic careers of Navy, Marines, Army, Scout, and Merchant (though "COACC", also known as Flyers or aerospace service, were added to this list during MegaTraveller's run). There were a few other occupations, such as Law Enforcement, which saw "Expanded"-style systems in third party products (I think that the LE one was in Dragon, actually), but those are of course "unofficial". The biggest problem with the "Expanded" generation systems is that they don't fit well with the normal generation systems, meaning that if anyone uses them, all of the players are more or less limited to the services that have "Expanded" versions.

But what does it mean? Some people are of the opinion that when you do work to generate a character, that means that particular character is then the one that you are playing. That's a fine way to look at things, too. On the other hand, there's the "funnel" approach of Dungeon Crawl Classics, in which several raw characters are generated and filtered out during the initial play session, presumably resulting in the characters with more talent and so on ending up as the actual characters for the rest of the campaign. That's only slightly different than the Traveller method of filtering out unsuitable (or overreaching) characters prior to actual play, especially so since the character creation process is a fairly enjoyable mini-game in itself (even more so with the "Expanded" generation methods). Of course, the extra time required to both roll each term (or year) individually followed by the possibility of having to create another character entirely due to a failed survival roll can annoy some people. Also, the possibility of getting one's hopes up for a promising character followed by losing it to the dice can be frustrating.

There are different ways to approach games. Some people prefer to get to the "story" part as fast as they can, others prefer to wait and let the story come to them. Some people want high efficiency, some want robust resilience. And we come again to the idea that different people want different things out of their games. I hope that I was able to illuminate, to some degree at least, why the original Traveller design was put together the way it was in this regard.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Goth of the Week

Erica "Unwoman" Mulkey

One of my favorite musicians right now. I'll give you a couple of music videos after the cut.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Gamer Friends Went To The Bahamas, And All I Got Was This Lousy RPG Theory Post

Let me see, I feel like I need to blog more, if only to remind people that this is here. So, what is the controversy du jour that I might have opinions about so I can put something together? I see people are still going on about defining the OSR in the wake of Ron Edwards pretending that any influence he had over the origin of the OSR was more than merely by contrast (and honestly, I think even that was indirect, as it seems to me that the proximate cause of the rise of the OSR* was D&D 4E and its failure to support what many people were looking for from D&D; now, 4E may possibly, I am told, have come about due to WotC's design team being influenced by the theories of the Forge and Ron Edwards, but one should hardly claim influence as the result of a resounding failure**). sigh I guess it's more RPG theory, then.

I'm not going to link the discussion because it hardly matters, and it's too widely spread around to be able to do so anyway. Still, my thoughts on "defining" the "OSR" whatever-it-is (movement? cult? marketing category?), not that anyone asked, but it's my blog and I get to yammer about such things here:

Who cares? If someone "defines" OSR in such a way that it no longer resembles what people actually want it to be, they will move away from the term and continue to do the thing that they actually want. Ron Edwards can pretend that he is suddenly "OSR", or that the Forge invented the OSR, or whatever, and that "OSR" means whatever bizarrely counterintuitive thing he wants it to mean, but that won't change the thing that people are actually looking for. They might play a Ron Edwards game, realize that it's not what they want, and move back toward the thing that they are after.

When I was casting about, starting to think that maybe roleplaying wasn't what I was looking for after all because everyone had defined it as "storytelling" and therefore not something that interests me (I write - I neither need nor want artificial mechanics getting in the way of that), I ran across some people who called themselves or were described by others as "OSR". They gave me hope that there were other theories of what constitutes "roleplaying" out there, and that I didn't need to cede the ground to the Forge or White Wolf or Issaries or anyone else. I have no idea if I am even "OSR" myself, and I don't much care. All I take from that thing is that no one has the right to define roleplaying for everyone else.

Whatever. I like games that share certain characteristics, among which are:

  • An open architecture, unconstrained by "non-diegetic" concerns.
  • "Tactical infinity", which is the concept that it is possible for any element of the game setting to become important due to the aforementioned open architecture. For instance, if a player can figure out a way to make the texture of the wall or the color of his vehicle into a meaningful characteristic of the action, then the Referee must have the flexibility to be able to incorporate that into the action at the table. One can also describe it as the concept that all fluff is (at least potentially) crunch.
  • Player control over a single, defined piece (this is flexible, however, as in some games a single player might control two or more specific, defined pieces; the point is that each piece is unitary rather than a conglomeration of several characters within the world, and that no one else is allowed control over a player's piece or pieces for "non-diegetic" reasons).
  • A relative lack of hindrances to player choices. The few that exist should be limited to physical (or metaphysical, perhaps) limits of the setting, and never only for the convenience of a story arc.

And so on. If a game fits those characteristics, then it supports my goal in playing a roleplaying game instead of a wargame or card game, which can be described succinctly as "immersion". If it doesn't, then it generally won't support my interests. I find those characteristics most strongly represented in games that are called "Old School", which is why I prefer them. So long as the games published under the general rubric of "OSR" continue to display those characteristics, I will tend to support them over games that emphasize "story" or whatever other agenda. If they stop, then I won't.

And that's why I don't give a crap about anyone defining "OSR" in a hard and fast way, though I like laughing at them as they flail around in the attempt (especially when, like Ron Edwards, they have long been vocal critics of the games that fall generally into the "OSR" category by common understanding; seriously, if you think that D&D isn't a roleplaying game or at best isn't a good example of the type, then you are so far outside the amorphous area of the OSR that it is laughable to even try to claim it). Because the definition doesn't matter. People aren't playing OSR-type games because they like the term itself, they are playing them because those games support the play styles they prefer.

*Note: not of the OSR itself, which seems to have originated due to some people not feeling served well by WotC's versions of D&D generally, resulting in such proto-OSR attempts as Castles & Crusades. That may have changed now that WotC seems to have looked to OSR advisors in the design stages of D&D 5E, but we shall see. Certainly, the initial publication of an "adventure path" style adventure rather than a "sandbox" seems disheartening. What the 5E DMG looks like will be of particular interest, I think.

**Let me be clear here: the failure was because 4E does not support the type of game that many people wanted to play, even if it was perhaps entirely successful at its design goals. The point is that it is clear that very few people support those design goals, as the rise of Pathfinder clearly shows. One can argue that the continued dominance of Pathfinder indicates that the OSR's design agenda is also a failure, but no one in the OSR is trying to lay claim to Pathfinder. Also, we have yet to see how things will shake out with D&D 5E.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Goth of the Week

This week, we feature the lovely Chloë Noir, wearing knocking-around goth clothes (black denim is very useful) up a tree. Found at the delightfully amusing Goths Up Trees blog.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Science Fantasy Space Opera Game

One of the things I am working on lately (because apparently I don't want to have any spare time to rest) is a science fantasy space opera game based on S&W:Whitebox. I like the streamlined mechanics and simplified character system. I've been thinking that there should be three character classes available to players for human characters: Adventurer, Psychic Warrior, and Scientist. Adventurers will be the general sort of adventuring character. Psychic Warriors take a cue from Star Wars, Lensman, and Blue Öyster Cult. Scientists will be of the sort who want to learn about the universe and build new inventions (and there is absolutely no truth to the idea that any of them are "mad", that's just absurd; "mad" they call me - but it is not I who am mad, it is they, with their blind adherence to "convention" and "morality"!). I plan to adapt the invention rules from the original Space 1889 for them, changing the specifics to fit the setting.

After that, I want to allow robot characters, but they won't get experience points. Instead, they will spend money to buy better equipment for their bodies and software upgrades, or even backup copies and extra bodies. The idea is that robots don't actually "think" or "learn" as such, but act in a way that is very sophisticated otherwise.

Alien races will probably have 1 to 3 character classes available for each, and I'll probably include a couple in the base rules that are just variations of Adventurer. I also might include one alien race that is more complex, as a sort of example of how it can work. I don't know if I'm going to adapt some of the ideas I had for the Flanaess Sector to this, but it would be pretty cool to have at least one or two of the aliens be from D&D. Gulguthra are pretty alien and fit the tone, and I've always liked the Neogi/Umber Hulk pair (though, of course, I'd have to use one of the Umber Hulk simulacra out there, since that is one of the monsters that WotC has reserved to themselves; I like the Underground Goliath of Adventures Dark & Deep). Not sure if those are suitable for beginning players, though.

I'm going back and forth on adopting an idea from the WotC Star Wars game and having the Psychic Warriors power their abilities with Hit Points (and then have a second pool of Body Points based strictly on Con). Right now, I am leaning away from the idea and just using a regular pool of Psychic Power Points for Psychic abilities.

I'm also going back and forth on genetically modified beings. I think that, if I do include them, they'll just be another sort of alien species, game mechanically speaking. I kinda want to have a space nation that is all about bio-tech, full of gene-lines that act as a social stratification, and such. Not sure, though, how I would make it so that players wouldn't just choose a genetically "improved" gene-line as a matter of course. Maybe I should take a hint from Dragonquest on that.

I'll include a form of alignment, based on the idea of Light Side/Dark Side Force (actually, I plan to draw on the ideas of community power as opposed to individual power), but it will only be important at all to Psychic Warriors. I like that idea of a sort of "paladins", "fallen paladins", "anti-paladins", "redeemed paladins", and so on.

I want the setting to be centered around a Terran Federation of some sort, but one that is teetering on the brink of collapse, like Rome in the early 5th century or so. I have some ideas for surrounding stellar states that can act as the barbarians getting ready to overrun the Federation. I also think that it might be worthwhile to provide hints that could lead to the Star Wars storyline of an evil manipulator setting up conditions for the Federation to become an autocratic state, but that a Referee could ignore if she wanted.

I do want the Federation to be an increasingly militarized one, with police forces that set up checkpoints where they check people's papers at random, engage in warrantless searches in force, and so on, because that stuff can lead to fun adventure, I think.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Goth of the Week

It's been a while since I've posted anything from Gloomth & the Cult of Melancholy, so here is Carmilla. Found here, on their Tumblr.

Poker, Chess, and Roleplaying

I managed to go the whole week without writing an entry here. Again. Oh, well, I'll just fit this one in before the Goth of the Week post goes up.

Edit to add: The reason I titled this entry as I have is a reference to an old column by Gary Gygax in Dragon magazine, which was called "Poker, Chess, and the AD&D Game System" or something like that.

Earlier, a reasonably well-known game designer made a post to his blog about how "game balance" is an illusion, and how yadda yadda yadda. I didn't actually finish the article, in part because something he said early on triggered my real attention. It's something that I've heard before, but it's only just now that I have figured out why it bothers me so much.

In his post, he says, "[T]he focus of an RPG is to tell stories". I triggered on this because it's the thing that bothers me. I don't play games to tell stories, so does that mean that I am playing them wrong, and have been for the 35 years since I first played a game of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons? Because that is what John Wick, successful designer of such games as Legend of the Five Rings, Seventh Sea, and Orkworld (OK, maybe not so successful with that last one), is telling me and the world. It's weird, then, that I had so much fun playing RPGs in a way that didn't involve telling stories. So, what could be going on here?

The answer, of course, is that John Wick is extending his own goal, storytelling, in playing a roleplaying game to everyone who plays them. The problem with doing that is that there are other goals that can be pursued in playing RPGs. For example, my primary goal can be described as immersion. This means, to me, that I want to pretend, for a time, that I am another person in another place with different constraints on my behavior than the constraints that apply to my existence in the real world*. Some people have the explicit goal of exploration, in which they explore (obviously) and learn about an environment of someone else's design. Some people who run games have the goal of presenting worlds, or perhaps just worldbuilding which they then justify by presenting it to others (this is my goal when I run games as opposed to playing them). Other people who run games just like observational psychology, in which they enjoy watching the decisions that other people make in the face of scenarios that they present. I'm sure that there are many, many other goals that people pursue in the playing of roleplaying games. Storytelling is just one of many, and to assume, as John Wick has, that it is the only one that matters results in a distorted view of the hobby.

This sort of dogmatic expression of roleplaying theories, in which one's own position is perforce the only one that matters and those who have different positions are doing it wrong and gaming would be better if everyone else would just get with the program, doesn't seem very productive to me. It is one of the weaknesses of the Big Model of the Forge people, it was one of the weaknesses of early expressions of the OSR, it was the motivating force behind all of the Edition Wars that everyone claimed they hated so much (so much so that now it is nearly impossible to express an opinion about one game over another without someone shouting "Edition War!") but seemed to gleefully engage in anyway.

Look, it's one thing to say, "I like storytelling, so I look for games that do this, that, and the other". It's another thing entirely to say, "Since the only reason to roleplay is to tell stories, any game that doesn't do this thing or that does this other thing is inherently stupid and a bad design". I wonder how John Wick would feel if someone he otherwise respected went and wrote a piece on how, because roleplaying is about playing a role, therefore any game which privileges narrative over simulating actions and events is inherently stupid and a bad design. Or a piece on how, because roleplaying is about exploring a fictional environment, therefore any game which impedes the measured learning about that environment by enforcing story elements creates an obstacle to play that needs to be addressed. So, how should people take his article on how roleplaying is about telling stories?

Further, I'd point out that even given his particular goal, to tell stories, the rest of his article doesn't necessarily follow. It relies on the Dragonlance/White Wolf model, in which the person running the game is the Storyteller. That is not, in my opinion, the correct formulation. Rather, the storytellers are the players, with the person running the game being perhaps the Editor (in the comics publication sense) or maybe even the Set Designer (in a filmic sense). Of course, in actuality, the person running the game is also telling stories, but her stories shouldn't overshadow those of the players. Stories, as most writers know, are about characters.

*Note that I give no description of why that is my goal. That is completely unimportant to the current discussion. If you're interested, though, it is because it allows me to examine more thoroughly the nature of decision-making and various existential questions with a certain amount of dispassion in order to… nah, I'm just kidding. It's because it's fun. And because I write stories in my non-gaming time, I am not really interested in writing them in my gaming time too. So, I want stories, if there are any, to emerge dynamically and organically from play, not be forced into yet another writers' group exercise, this time with dice instead of shuffling strips of paper with sentences written on them.