Wednesday 27 January 2010

Sick, sick, sick

I'm having one of the worst bouts of food poisoning in history; if this blog goes quiet and never resurrects itself, it'll probably be because I've vomited so hard my large intestine has erupted out of my mouth and I'm lying dead on the bathroom floor. Or because I've lost so much fluid through diarrhea that I'm merely a dried out husk vaguely resembling an Incan mummy buried in the Andes.

I don't have the wherewithal to write anything substantive. Instead, a picture of what I bought yesterday - the Japanese translation of Tunnels & Trolls seventh edition:

Tuesday 26 January 2010

The Tolkien Professor Podcasts

If you're at all a fan of Tolkien, or even if you're not a fan but feel you could be persuaded, I highly recommend The Tolkien Professor. It's a series of podcasts/lectures by a professor of medieval literature and self-professed lover of Tolkien, and it so far covers some informal "chats" as well as a more formal series of lectures on The Hobbit. Well worth a listen.

Monday 25 January 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday: Seas of Blood (III)

A close run thing, but the majority of votes were for the "retreat into the nearby dunes to lie in ambush for any caravan that might happen by" option. So let's find out what happens next...

A bit of an anticlimax:

For three days, you and your crew lie under the blazing sun of the Scythera Desert, waiting for sight of the lumbering pack-animals common among caravans in this part of the world. Add 3 days to your LOG. You begin to run low on provisions and fresh water. Will you wait for just a few more days among these dunes (turn to 194), or give up on the desert and return to the Banshee (turn to 35)?

Log: 8 days.

Already the key failing of the gamebook format reveals itself - there is no "fuck it, let's attack the village instead" option. But this is the life we have chosen. 194 or 35?

Friday 22 January 2010

Wives Roleplaying

The wife and I will be moving back to the UK next week, on a mid-term permanent basis (i.e. for about a year). It's about time I concentrated on actually completing my PhD, and it'll be a good chance for her to learn English and improve her CV.

What this means is that for the first time in years I'll be able to have a regular face-to-face gaming group. Liverpool might not be a hub of RPG activity but I'm sure I can rustle up three or four people from somewhere to play. (If anybody reading this blog is around Liverpool, leave a comment!) Needless to say I'm quite excited about this and am already planning what game I want to run. Rules Cyclopedia, baby.

I might also try to get the wife involved. She hasn't expressed much interest, but then again she hadn't seen the Japanese edition of the Rules Cyclopedia yet.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

World of Waste

Via Lord of the Green Dragons, I came across this page while doing my pre-work session of killing time on the internet. It suddenly put that into perspective. Ordinarily I feel bad for wasting about an hour between 8.30 and 9.30 each morning checking emails and surfing forums. Suddenly I feel good about myself for not being a World of Warcraft addict.

It's easy to be dismissive about addiction to computer games. The natural reaction (at least, my natural reaction as somewhat of a cynic) is to say "Pull yourself together, for God's sake, you're acting as if you're a smack addict when all you're doing is spending too much time playing a game." But it undoubtedly has frightening and serious effects, and to be frank I think you'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for some of these people (if their accounts are true):

While I was playing WoW, I put on 40 lbs, became socially isolated from friends and family, and the only thing that mattered to me was getting back to my computer to play for 30 hours straight and tricking myself into thinking 'hey, you're accomplishing something...beat that raid boss, become a brutal gladiator' BUT in the end none of it mattered! I eventually failed out of my program of choice in university and developed a relatively severe form of agoraphobia. One day I was bored and wanted to check my /played, and to my amazement I had accrued 170 days (4080 hours) played on one character! At this point I took a step back (more of a waddle given my weight) and realized it was time to quit.

Since quitting WoW, I've lost 60 lbs and finally feel confident in myself once again - I'm not afraid to go outside or to socialize with people. I'm back in university and instead of having a semester filled with D's and F's, I have a 3.92 GPA and am living life to the fullest. While I still miss the game occasionally, I can always look back and see how my life had deteriorated solely due to pixels on a screen.

I'm, or should we say was?, a happy, bubbly teenager. I had the best friends anyone could have and had very close relationships built with them. I was an honour student, perhaps even the best in the cohort.
It all started with the 3 most deadly words I would hear at this time.
"World of Warcraft".
Without thinking twice, I bought the game and a game card. I was letting a monster install itself on my computer. It was my biggest mistake.
Within hours, I was in the world of Azeroth, making my own avatar. My second mistake.
That first night I played for 5 hours. It lured and captured me into its mythical world.
Soon it over-rided my grades, bringing them to an all time low. It caused me to stay inside and gain weight. Further more, it was my fault. When I should've been studying I always said the too-familiar to us words. "Just an hour more". An hour turned to two, two to three and before I knew it I was hooked.
In total, I haved wasted over 2 years of my life.
I lost 2 years. I lost my friends. I lost my neat figure and I lost important opportunities. Relationships came and went just as the seasons did. Instead of spending time with my then-partner, I excused myself as sick just to go home and spend a few hours in Azeroth.

I think the lessons for us as roleplayers are a) We have a social and creative hobby and should be thankful for that, and b) We should play up the differences between RPGs and computer games, not try to make RPGs as computer-gamey as possible, because those differences are a strength.

Monday 18 January 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday: Seas of Blood (II)

Can you believe it's Monday again? I really think we ought to put our foot down and tell this God fellow that his 'time' idea is all very well, but it moves far too bloody quickly.

Anyway, the votes for 20 (plundering desert caravans) narrowly won out over coastal raiding in Lagash. (Almost nobody voted for "patrolling the inland sea".) So off to Scythera we go:

Roll three dice. If the result is less than your CREW STRENGTH, add 5 days to your LOG. If the result is equal to or greater than your CREW STRENGTH, add 6 days to your LOG. Eventually you arrive off the coast of the Scythera Desert, where you drop anchor, disembark with most of the crew and march inland across the burning sands. You come to a busy little village surrounding an oasis - obviously a staging-post for travel through the desert. Will you attack the village (turn to 143), or retreat into the nearby dunes to lie in ambush for any caravan that might happen by (turn to 79)?

Log: 5 days.

So which is it, crew? 143 or 79. YOU! decide.

Sunday 17 January 2010

What do you do for money, honey?

One of my favourite quotes is by Richard Condon, and it goes something like this: It's no use kidding ourselves that [politicians] are ordinary people just like us, because they're not. For all the similarities, they might as well be from another planet. Probably are.

I'd like to replace the word "politicians" in the above quote with the word "game designers". Specifically, Wizards of the Coast game designers. I mean, what other conclusion are we to draw from this?

You may think me a little harsh. I suppose at first glace it might seem I am being a trifle melodramatic. Let me elaborate. What Condon was getting at was this: ordinary people by definition do not want to become politicians - because as an ordinary person why in hell would you be so lustful for power? I mean, who reading this blog would be so utterly crazy as to want the responsibility of being the leader of your country, of taking it to war or keeping it out of one, of managing its budget, of steering its policy, and who would want the sleepless nights that go with that? You would have to be mentally ill, or a sociopath, to begin with. Or so strongly motivated by a given topic that it drove you to mental illness, perhaps. (And the original motivation could be perfectly valid, of course.)

Similarly, ordinary gamers by definition do not want to become game designers, because they're having fun playing the games they're playing. It takes a special kind of person to want to become a designer, and that is somebody who is, crucially, so unsatisfied with the games that they are playing that they not only want to change them, but to change them as their calling in life.

This can be an unmitigated good impulse, a fair one, or a bad one:

The Unmitigated Good: A given person might be so unsatisfied that there is no game about managing casinos in Macao that he goes ahead and makes one. Brilliant - now there's a cool new game about managing casinos in Macao.

The Fair: A given person might be so unsatisfied with an existing game that he decides it needs changing, and strives to make those changes. This sometimes makes for a better game and sometimes doesn't. It might result in HARP, but it also might result in the third iteration of Cyberpunk.

The Bad: A given person is unsatisfied with a game for reasons that have nothing to do with anything intrinsic to that game, but rather having something to do with external factors mostly to do with Gaming with Dickheads. He then makes changes to that perfectly fine game in order to solve a problem that really doesn't exist, with lamentable results.

It seems the latter has occurred with the designers of D&D 4e and game balance, which is their overriding obsession.

See, the thing is, if you obey my cardinal rule of Not Gaming with Dickheads, you don't need such a thing as game balance. Reasonable, friendly, sociable people have fun with each other, support or take the piss out of each other depending on context, don't hog limelight, don't try to compete with one another if in the noncompetitive context of a roleplaying game, and generally contribute towards an atmosphere in which everybody enjoys themselves, gets drunk, eats lots of unhealthy food, and stays up late. Who cares if one character class happens to be a bit objectively "better" than another in that context?

The only time when balance becomes an issue in an RPG is when people start breaking social contracts and being dickheads. Viz:

"Mages can do anything any other class can do by using magic, after about 9th level, and it's just so unfair!" (Not an issue if the guy playing the mage doesn't use his magic to do everything every other class can do, in a spirit of not being a dickhead.)

"Everybody should have an equal amount of time in combat!" (Not an issue if everybody behaves like a sensible adult and doesn't hog the limelight, in a spirit of not being a dickhead.)

"If a game isn't balanced it leaves everything up to GM whim, and that means the most popular players get all the decisions in their favour!" (Not an issue if the GM... well, you get the picture.)

So I think we can only draw two conclusions from the prevalence of the cult of Game Balance at WotC. Either:

1. The designers were traumatised by gaming with dickheads in their formative years, and it motivated them to try to Change the World of D&D in a bad way;


2. Gamers who were traumatised by gaming with dickheads in their formative years became such a vocal and whiny minority that the designers had no choice but to try to pander to them.

Now, please understand me: I'm not saying 4e isn't a fun game, equally as valid as any other RPG, blah blah blah. And it doesn't impact in any way on how I interface with the hobby at large; to all intents and purposes D&D ended at 2nd edition as far as I'm concerned. But I find it, frankly, melancholic, sad, perhaps even tragic that so much effort has gone into such a Quixotic goal as "Balancing the Game" when all that really needed to be done was to slap a sticker on every 2nd edition AD&D rulebook sold saying: "Remember, kids, Don't Game with Dickheads, and Don't Be Dickheads Yourselves."

Friday 15 January 2010

Life Lessons from MAR Barker

I only briefly played in one Tekumel campaign. One thing I liked about it (and I'm talking the original Empire of the Petal Throne here) is that it assumed the player characters were foreign barbarians who knew next to nothing about the customs of the place they were going to be adventuring in. It was important for the DM to have read all the necessary fluff, but MAR Barker seemed to have learned at an early stage that a lot of players tend not to even give a millipede-sized shit about that sort of thing. (You can easily divide RPGers into two camps, I think - the ones who are into setting details and the ones who just want to kill orcs. These fairly accurately map to people who like to be the DM and people who want to play. As one of the former, I find the unwillingess to get into the details of a setting to be so odd as to verge on insanity. I suspect from the other side of the coin the reverse applies. But I digress.)

Tekumel teaches two valuable lessons. Namely, if you're creating a Setting Which Some People Might Think Is A Bit Weird, there always needs to be an option for people who want to be Bilbo the Hobbit or Legolas the Elf even if that doesn't fit the setting in the slightest, and there always needs to be a place where foreigners might "start off" and get eased into the setting while they find their feet.

(The third lesson is not to charge over 80 quid for a boxed set.)

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Books They Can Film Now

We just came back from watching Avatar. It's important to say first of all that the film has lots of flaws. The story is utterly predictable (it's Dances with Wolves in space); the script has sheer metric shit-tons of clumsy exposition ("See this, Sigourney Weaver? It's called Unobtanium and it's the reason we're here! It's worth lots of money! And the aliens are sitting on it! You should know this already so I've no idea why I'm telling you... it's almost as if there's an entire audience of people watching us who need the information and I'm compelled by some invisible deity to tell you so that they can overhear!"); the entire premise is based around the hoary and naff old trope that indigenous peoples are helpless and passive and at the whim of white people whether heroes or villains.

Yet there's no doubt it was a wonderful spectacle and a thrilling experience, and probably What Cinema Is For at the end of the day: madcap escapism and wonder. I found myself profoundly moved it, actually. The effort and skill put into its creation just has to be admired.

Anyway, a few weeks ago a friend emailed me about it and tabled an interesting proposition - namely, that if nothing else Avatar has demonstrated quite clearly that filmmakers can now make anything they want. There are no constraints anymore - technology has improved to the extent that the only limit left is imagination (setting aside acting and writing, of course). He then asked what fantasy or sci-fi books I would want to see made into films, given that they patently could be, and put forward a two-part adaptation of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun as the one he'd most like to see.

Here are mine.

  • The Scar by China Mieville. I have my doubts about China. He's a little like the Quentin Tarantino of the literary world: he has all the talent, imagination and technique that a writer could want, and he can craft fantastic scenes, but there's something missing, some necessary ability to put together a really compelling story. The Scar is his one book that comes closest to being a genuinely good story as well as a great spectacle, like Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's one movie that works beyond just being cool, and it's the one I'd most like to see made into a film. (Though I have no doubt the bathetic ending would have to be Hollywood-ised somehow.)
  • The Night's Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. There are parts of it that are totally ludicrous, and the main character is Ralph 124C 41+ with the serial numbers filed off - there's nothing he can't do, from seducing a mother and a daughter in the same day to pulling off impossible manouvers in his ship three times before breakfast. But it's a great read and an interesting idea and every single scene is something that would look absolutely amazing on the big screen.
  • The Silmarillion, of course. I don't think this ever would be made into a film, because there just isn't a way to make it work on the big screen for non-Tolkien fans. It would be like trying to film the Bible. But that wouldn't stop me wanting to see it if somebody decided to make it.
  • The Chrionicles of Amber, in all five parts. This was probably the most unfilmable of books once upon a time - before the CGI available today, how could anybody have possibly filmed Rebma, or the fight on the staircase to Kolvir, for instance? But now it's possible. Aside from that I think the films would almost write themselves; Zelazny was one of the most consistently entertaining writers of the last 100 years. The only question would be who would play Corwin. For some reason I think Clive Owen would be a good fit.

I'm also tempted to include The Lord of the Rings but without Orlando Bloom, and The Magician's Nephew, the one Chronicle of Narnia I just can't foresee being made into a film but the one with the most interesting ideas.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

The Circle of Life, is a Wheel of Blah Blah

It's strange how things come full circle. Yesterday was seijin no hi, the day when everybody in Japan who turned twenty in the past year officially becomes an adult. As well as being a national holiday, it's naturally one of the best nights out in the year. All the clubs in Tokyo throw massive parties and Roppongi, Daikanyama and Shibuya are thronged with twenty-year-olds in various states of intoxication and extremely high spirits. You can't swing a cat without hitting a young lady (or young man) who's single (or maybe not so single) and looking; put simply, if you can't pull on seijin no hi you might as well put away your pulling hat forever and devote yourself to a life of celibacy.

A couple of years ago wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from Daikanyama on seijin no hi. But you know what I did instead? Stayed in and wrote a blog entry about Fighting Fantasy Books. (
Not just that, of course; now I'm a married man and becoming sensible so the wife and I sat indoors with a few bottles of wine watching DVDs and scoffing pizza. But for an hour before that, it was Seas of Blood all the way).

Life's a funny old thing. When I was 13 or 14, reading a Fighting Fantasy book on one of the best club nights of the year wouldn't have seemed at all unusual. I barely knew what a club was. 15 years of progression, of growth, of experience, and I seem to have found my way back to that point. Is this a good or bad thing? I can't quite tell.

Monday 11 January 2010

Fighting Fantasy Monday: Seas of Blood

Here's a little experiment. We (me, the writer of this blog; you, the collective reader) are going to play us some Fighting Fantasy. The way it's going to work is this. Every Monday I will post a "turn", with the options given at the end. You, the gentle readers, will then comment on the entry voting for the option you would like to go for. Over the course of the week I will collate this data, and post again the following Monday with the "move" which gathered the most votes. And so on until completion. The book we'll be using is Seas of Blood, and its thoroughly fantastic cover is provided for your enjoyment below. (Weirdly, the Japanese title translates as Pirate Ship Banshee [Kaizoku-sen Banshii-gou]. Not nearly as evocative, is it?)

Here is the blurb:

The seaport of Tak is the largest den of thieves, pirates and cutthroats the civilized world has ever seen. In this city of corruption there are two pirates known for their ruthless greed, their daring raids and their countless skirmishes with death. One of these infamous men is Abdul the Butcher. The other is YOU!

Only one of you can be King of the Pirates, but who will it be? A bet is made that the first to reach the distant Isle of Nippur with the greatest amount of gold wins the crown. But beware! The seas are treacherous, and many horrible dangers
await you. . . .

Two dice, a pencil and an eraser are all you need to embark on this thrilling adventure. YOU decide which route to fol low, which dangers to risk and which monsters to fight.

Yes, you, I tell you. YOU!

First things first, we have to determine the nature of our slovenly pirate crew. The key attributes here are CREW STRIKE (how good we are in ship battles) and CREW STRENGTH (the manning level on board our ship, the Banshee). And I rolled a 6, followed by a 5 and a 6, giving us a CREW STRIKE of 12 and a CREW STRENGTH of 17. Not bad at all. Abdul the Butcher stands no chance. I only hope I haven't squandered all our good luck on the ship.

Next, it's our (YOUR!) abilities. Skill, Stamina, Luck, as with all FF books. And I rolled a 6, a 3 and a 4, and another 6, giving us a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 12. This is some seriously good dice rolling. It's pretty much impossible to complete most FF books if you don't have a skill of at least 10 (there's usually a guaranteed fight with a Skill 12 monster at some point) so we're good to go.

Finally, the book tells us we also need to keep a Log. This is a record of how many days our voyage has taken; this is a race, remember.

And off we go. Here's the intro:

The city of Tak, at the northern end of the Inland Sea, is the greatest den of thieves, criminals and cut-throats the civilized world has ever seen. Every form of vice and illicit activity is not only permitted, but even encouraged, in this city of scum. This, your home town, is where your adventure begins.

Of the numerous pirates drawn to Tak, you and Abdul the Butcher are recognized by all as being the kings in daring and greed. However, neither of you are particularly wealthy, as your love of gambling consumes all the riches that you bring back from your journeys against the enemy cities of Lagash,
Marad and Kish.

The infamy that the two of you have bred is also the source of a great rivalry; you each try to outdo the other in increasingly dangerous but breathtakingly successful raids. Your goal - the title of King of Pirates, the Sacker of Cities, which is never bequeathed, but only earned.

One evening, while dicing against each other in one of Tak's gambling-pits, somebody suggests that the two of you should have a contest to determine, once and for all, who is the greatest pirate. The idea appeals instantly to your audacious spirits. 'Yes,' says Abdul, 'let us have a race of speed and treasure.' You agree upon the terms of the contest. Each will take only one ship and, sailing from Tak on an appointed day, will head for the distant isle of Nippur, which lies deep in the great Southern Sea.

The journey must be completed within fifty days and, at the end, whoever has the greatest amount of gold wins the bet.

With shaking of hands all round and much toasting, the deal is sealed. Your journey is about to begin.

[In case you're wondering, no, I'm not typing all this out. Don't be silly. I scanned it and copy-pasted.]

And here we come to our first choice:

On the day appointed for the beginning of the race, you take the Banshee out of the towering granite bay of Tak and into the Inland Sea. Abdul the Butcher's Haveldar cuts quietly through the water beside you.

Far to the east is the hostile but rich port of Lagash; to the west is the Scythera Desert, across which the caravan routes to the cities of Kish, Calah and Assur run. To the south is the mountainous isle of Enraki.

Will you:

Head towards Lagash for a dangerous but daring raid against its coastal shipping? Turn to 55
Travel to the Scythera Desert to plunder the rich western caravans? Turn to 20
Patrol the Inland Sea via the isle of Enraki? Turn to 76

So have at it, readers. 55, 20 or 76? You decide. Then tune in next Monday to find out what happens...

Sunday 10 January 2010

Note: Your victory is very improbable.

If you were ever a fan of adventure gamebooks as a kid, I heartily recommend this thread by Melan at therpgsite. It had me laughing so hard I was fighting for breath, partly because his commentary is so funny but partly because the younger him sounds so similar to the younger me; the only difference is that he was slightly more diligent in his efforts to create the ultimate adventure gamebook.

There's something rather life affirming about the fact that adolescent boys, whether in Britain or Hungary, can have exactly the same sort of weird interests. One of those "we are the world" moments.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Man on Wire and the Never to be Played Games

On the subject of games that I would be running in an ideal world but never will, we just finished watching Man on Wire. (The life of a married man on a Saturday night in the biggest and most exciting city on earth, ah, glory days. At least I had a few G&Ts.) In case you don't know it, you should. In case you haven't seen it, do so immediately. It's the story of Philippe Petit, the man who in 1974 walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York.

The genius of Man on Wire is that it's presented almost like a Heist movie. Petit and his gang made scale models of the Twin Towers, sneaked inside on numerous occasions, made fake IDs for themselves, took aerial shots by helicopter, observed the comings and goings inside and outside the building for hours at a time. Because the event was technically a criminal act, it required meticulous planning. In the end it went off without a hitch.

So my never-to-be-played idea is this. The PCs are a bunch of thrill seekers, performance artists, extreme sportsmen and general glory hunters. (Rogues, if you will.) They exist to pull off heists just like Petit's, planning and executing daredevil stunts to impress onlookers, bring beauty to the world, pick up chicks and/or self-aggrandize. The cities and extreme environments of the world, from Tokyo to Everest, are their sandbox.

What the game would need to really make it work is two things:

1) Mechanics for making stunts at least a little tense. You can't get much more bathetic than a long drawn-out break-into-the-twin-towers sequence followed by "Roll 14 or more on a d20 to walk the wire."

2) Mechanics for garnering glory/attention or whatever you want to call it. What motivates the PCs in this game is accruing fame and attention, so there need to be awards which cover it, with mechanical effects in game. If you pull of a truly world-shattering stunt like the Twin Tower Wire, it will surely give you a boost in confidence and charisma and a warm glow which will have some sort of effect on future success or failure.

Some bastardized form of Risus with extra bells and whistles, maybe.

Friday 8 January 2010

Amorality in the Sandbox and GM as Performing Monkey

Excellent stuff from Zak Smith today on the importance of rogueishness in sandbox games.

What I'd add to it is that not only do rogueishness and sandbox play go together like [insert analogy of choice here; I recommend "chips and gravy"]. The also make it a heck of a lot easier to GM.

This may be controversial, but I've always thought that the plotted, story-driven style of play so popular in the Silver Age of roleplaying games (and depressingly still the dominant paradigm today) puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the GM. Not only does he have to structure his campaign and give it a beginning and a middle and an end. He also has to create scenes, build climaxes, lead his players on a consistently entertaining merry dance; he's worse than a puppet master because at least a puppet master is under no pressure to entertain the very puppets whose strings he holds. While admittedly the scope of a plotted campaign cuts down on prep (if you more or less know what's coming, you don't have to worry about unforeseen circumstance), it more than compensates with the workload it generates in just dragging the entire campaign along.

Sandbox gaming spreads out that workload and creates equality. While there's an onus on the GM to do the groundwork with hexmaps, weather tables, random encounter generators, and adventure hooks, it's up to the players to be the engine of the game. They're the ones who make the decisions and drive whatever "plot" arises. And of course rogueishness helps enormously in this; heroes need villains to fight and plots to foil, which again forces the GM to come up with narratives. Rogueishness generates its own stories.

This is one of those areas where the oldest of old school, and the newest of new school, find an overlap. The Kewl Kids over at Story Games spread the workload by giving narrative control to players through explicit mechanics. The fatbeards do it by saying "fuck story, be a rogue". But the end result is more or less the same.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Authentic Cave Scratchings

Map of Yoon-Suin, scrawled on hotel note/memo pad thing.

This is Relevant to my Interests

Lord of the Rings gaming. A project near to my heart. Pendragon. Another project near to my heart. By some strange vagaries of the cosmic ballet the planets aligned themselves yesterday into the perfect positions, and lo! somebody on picked up my challenge to him to create a Lord of the Rings Pendragon ruleset. He did so, in not many pages at all. And pretty nice it is too.

Because Venus was in the 7th House, Pluto was a little bit to the left of Jupiter, and Makemake was, er, off over by the Oort cloud somewhere doing something or other, another very intriguing LOTR project then came to my attention not an hour later. Truly the universe is a magical and marvelous mystical mystery. Coincidence? I think not!

Monday 4 January 2010

Giant Koi Carp

There is nothing alive on this planet that is as ravenous or as stupid as a koi carp. To gaze into the eyes of one as it opens its maw at you with blind hunger, thinking only of filling its grotesquely distended belly, is to gaze into the eyes of gluttony itself. Their baleful rapacity is unmatched.

Here's a picture of one I took yesterday, to prove it.

Giant Koi Carp

Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 6*
Move: 180' (Swim)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 2d6+2, special
No. App: 2-40
Save As: F3
Morale: 9
Treasure: V (in belly)
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 650

On a hit which does more than 10 damage, a koi will swallow its victim whole. The unfortunate will then die within 2d6 rounds from a combination of drowning and stomach acid unless the koi can be killed.

Sunday 3 January 2010

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Dice

I play a bit of Play-by-Post and Play-by-Email, so I'm no stranger to its advantages and disadvantages. The chief of the latter is well known: it's godawfully slow. This makes detailed planning and complex inter-character interactions (the most fun aspects of RPGing, to me) very difficult if not impossible.

I've been thinking recently of using diceless systems as a way around this. Amber DRPG and (if I understand it correctly) Nobilis allow the player to take far more 'narrative control' than dice-lead games. In Amber, player-characters automatically succeed in any given task unless they are opposed by another player-character. In Nobilis, the spending of tokens achieves a similar effect.

This does away with one of the major stumbling blocks to progress in a PBP game, namely, the Everybody Waits for the DM Song and Dance Routine. This will be familiar to anybody who's tried a game with this format - whereas in a tabletop game the DM can give the players instant feedback on the success or failure of proposed actions, on the net the process becomes attenuated by log-in times, typing times and time zones, making creative thinking and problem solving a frustrating process at best. However, with a game like Amber, where success in many situations is guaranteed, this problem fades to insignificance unless two players are in conflict against one another - rather than the usual "Can I climb that wall/open that chest/break that vase" sort of questions that get posted in a trad PBP game, instead you get stuff like "I climb the wall, then at the top I open the chest and then break the vase". Hey presto, things are moving faster than the pace of a snail on barbiturates.

This only works for a specialised type of game, and part of the fun of traditional RPGs is that failure is a big possibility in most situations. But in the glacial world of PBP it may be a better option.

(There's a good thread on diceless games here at Occasionally that site does throw up something useful.)

Saturday 2 January 2010

Using My Blog Like an Amusement Park

So a New Year is upon us, and it's time to do one of those year-in-review things. God knows this blog is enough of a self-indulgence as it is, so a little more mental masturbation can't hurt. Here are the top 10 most-commented upon entries for Monsters & Manuals in 2009, in descending order.

Joint 9th - Gaming Advice #1: Don't Be a Dickhead and Metal and Gaming (25 comments). The former a summation of my gaming philosophy and the latter a short musing on the association between musical genres and RPGs. I've since decided that though I declared that "I hate metal" in the second of these entries, there's a good case to be made I don't. I like hardcore, I like grunge, I like desert rock/stoner rock, I like space rock, and I like alternative metal, so perhaps I should have just said "I hate Metallica".

Joint 7th - Cool Cultures (26 comments), in which I (among other things) wonder why in geek culture Japan is cool but Poland isn't, and U-turning on Tolkien, where we have a love-in with China Mieville on how great Tolkien is, which puts entry number 1 into perspective.

6th - Bummed Out on Fantasy Lit (27 comments), a "pitiful whine" about the dearth of quality in the fantasy genre, which seemed to touch a nerve. I wish I could update the entry with pleasent news about some great new discovery, but the major foray into new territory for me things year (Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen) ended in disaster after some early promise. Since then I've stuck to Gene Wolfe, GRRM and Mieville.

5th - On Warhammer, British vs. American Fantasy, and Pessimism (30 comments), in which I compared the bleakness of British approaches to fantasy with the quintessentially Optimistic Individualist American D&D.

Joint 3rd - The Children are our Future! and Top 10 Things that have Pissed Me Off about Roleplaying This Year (31 comments). Two rather depressing entries - about the hobby's future and its current state of play, respectively. Why do I play RPGs, again?

2nd - This is all very Ridiculous Shaped (36 comments). I managed to cut down on all the ranting this year, I feel. Here's one of the rare blasts that got through the net.

1st - No Revolutionary Socialism, Please, I'm an Escapist (87 comments). When I penned this rant about China Mieville I had no idea it would turn into an epic debate about art, socialism, nerdrage and war. Just goes to show.