30 November, 2015

A paper on Cosplay and the interface of play between adults and children

There were a few people interested in my recent university paper on cosplay. It must have scored well, I'm not sure of the final mark (because these aren't given out due to final scaling and other university procedures) but it pulled my marks from a low passing grade to a credit at the end of semester. That means I'm happy enough to share it publicly with those who wanted to have a look.

I'm Batman

Any feedback would be appreciated, I'm considering doing something similar in more detail for further university work.

28 November, 2015

Hand Drawn Pixel Maps

Inspired by the simple, flat, pictorial maps of +Matthew Lowes, I've decided to give all of the towns in the Core FUBAR setting (The Micronesian Free Trade Zone of Mu) a similar treatment.

They aren't exactly in the same style that Matthew produces his maps, there are more curves here and the forested areas are depicted in a different fashion. I won't be adding colour to the maps, instead I'll be using different types of shading to display different elements. Each of these maps will be transferred across to a blueprint format, like the previous map I displayed for the setting. I'll probably compile these (and the next half dozen or so) onto one or two large format images, with zoom indicators showing where these locations are on the larger island map.

27 November, 2015

Alternate Currency and Global Conspiracies

In a specific group of islands in the western pacific, among the clusters that make up the nation of Micronesia, there is a very distinct form of currency. I found this out while doing research for the new FUBAR core setting, and thought that it was an awesome idea that could be used for all sorts of story potential.

This is called stone money, or Rai, it's most common on Palau.

Rai, or stone money (Yapese: raay), are large, circular stone disks carved out of limestone formed from aragonite and calcite crystals. Rai stones were quarried on several of the Micronesian islands, mainly Palau, but briefly on Guam as well, and transported for use as money to the island of Yap.

People don't carry stone money around with them, instead the community is aware of who owns which stone. These stones are typically used for major transactions, such as the purchase of land or a ship, political deals, ransoms, inheritance, or something noteworthy. The specific value of the stone does not have a quantifiable dollar figure (despite the US dollar being a common trade unit for smaller transactions in areas such as Guam where the stones are used), instead the value of the stone is purely qualitative, linked to the craftsmanship of the item, the prestige of the various people in the stone's lineage of ownership and the numerous anecdotes that build up the stone's story.

The stronger the story, the more power the stone has... that alone makes it a great form of currency to sit in the background of a FUBAR story. The mechanisms of play already reflect this concept.

I'm thinking that these stones make the perfect crypto-currency in a cyberpunk tax-haven setting. You can't tax these transactions, because you can't chip away at these stones. The value is specifically off the books, but hugely culturally significant. I could easily imagine an increased value through trades of these stones, to the point where entire companies are traded in exchange for a rock that never physically moves. The chamber of commerce and master bankers of the region would be a coven of tribal elders who might spend their days fishing, hunting, weaving, or doing other decidedly non-technological things. These elders wouldn't have to do live their lives in such a way, they would each be worth billions of dollars. Corporate CEOs would bribe them give them gifts, to ensure the most favourable trades occurred as stones moved from person to person, and company to company. It might even be possible for entire nations to be traded as commodities in exchange for the possession of a slab of stone in a sacred grotto on a pacific island.

Mercenaries would be hired to deface (or even destroy) the stones, and counter-operatives would lie in the jungle to prevent any such attacks from occurring. Failed attempts to destroy or deface a stone might improve it's anecdotal worth (or might improve the value of all tones if the specific target remained unidentified). Successful attempts to destroy or deface a stone might send global stock markets into chaos.
Meanwhile the elders live out their lives, maybe they know the true power these stones have over the world. Maybe they don't.

24 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Maps

I'm thinking of putting together a half dozen maps for the new FUBAR setting. Maybe getting them printed at A2 size, and presenting them in a leather map-roll tube, or something similar. The aim is to create an "in-world" artefact that might be used for plotting the adventures of the characters as they explore the setting, or plot their revenge on the people who have wronged them. 

I like the idea of props at the table, and something like this could be a tangible way of ensuring that evryone is on the same page when the story starts to get chaotic. It also helps to show how different parts of the setting are related to one another (especilly if someone decides to set off explosives that destroy a few city blocks, or activates a gas cloud covering a two kilometre radius, or some other crazy deed). 

23 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Equipment and Nouns

FUBAR was always cyberpunk at it's heart, it was about downtrodden scoundrels who've been kicked to the curb, and their stories as they regain their vengeance amidst mysteriosu corporations and conspiracies in a world that vaguely reflects our own. It was a reimagining of cyberpunk based on the notion that the cyberpunk time period is basically the time when we are living now (the second decade of the 21st century). Now it's more cyber-noir, but the's still a lot of cyber-punk going on in the core setting of the game. The shift is subtle, there's now more a sense of overwhelming ennui, the characters know that they've made choices in the past and those choices have led them to these points, but the is an overwhelming feeling that they ween't completely responsible for the actions that brought them here. Maybe they were blackmailed, maybe they were manipulated by femme fatales, suave gamblers, or dirty enforcers of powers better left unspoken. There are cults in this setting, just as much as there are shadowy corporations. Everything is left vague enough that players can do with them what they will, but detailed enough to provide a meaty bait and hook.

That brings me to equipment and the strange macguffins that drive stories like these.

A few recent conversations in various places recently have focused on granularity. One mentioned the granularity of skills... Should they be open and nebulous concepts vaguely determined through attribute rolls (and how many attributes are there anyway)?... Should a game go down the path where every type of action is defined by a specific skill, and sub-skill? Is "shooting" good enough, do you need a separate skill to fire an AK-47 versus an M-16? I've seen games go down both routes, but FUBAR tends toward the vague. "Shoot" is a skill, but a character might be known for firing rifles and thus have a beneficial relationship come into effect when firing one... They might even have a close relationship with "AK-47s" which is revealed during the course of play as their background in among Afghanistani freedom fighters is revealed.

I've seen similar conversations about various other aspects of play, including one person ask if there were any "cyberpunk games without equipment porn". Cyberpunk 2020 was known for its "Chromebooks" filled with cyberware and gadgetry. Shadowrun did similar things. Ghost/Echo, the spiritual ancestor of FUBAR, did the exact opposite...no real equipment at all.

Generally in FUBAR, things follow the narrative conventions of getting more detailed as they become more important to the story. Unless an ally has a specific name, they simply count as a mook, and add an advantage benefit. Once they have a name, an ally has a specific skill that they might provide more than just a simple bonus to. If they become important enough they might even get a full write-up as per a starting character, with bonuses and flaws of their own.

I'm basically imagining equipment to follow the same progression. If it's just a gun, it just adds the single trait equipment bonus when it's used. If it's designated a specific type, then you might get to choose a bonus and a penalty for the item... A situation where the item provides an extra bonus, and a situation where the bonus is cancelled altogether. If it's a "Callahan Full Bore Autolock", and it has been designated "Vera", then the character obviously has a relationship to this specific gun.

So, the idea with equipment will be to give some general traits that typically apply to them, thus making them more useful in some ways, but less useful in others. As the items gain significance, they gain traits both positive and negative. The same guns from the same batch, by the same manufacturer might have different traits depending on how they've been treated, and how the are being used. Keeping the traits loose allows players to have a bit more control.

The macguffins generated at the start of play are automatically important to the story, they'll start with a bonus trait or two, and a matching number of penalty traits. 

This whole system works the same for places visited, nefarious groups encountered, and basically everything else in the game.

22 November, 2015

Mind Control: Taking a cue from Jessica Jones

The push toward story driven games, where everyone gets a significant input toward the ongoing narrative runs counter to the idea of deprotagonisation. In this style of play, everyone wants their characters to have importance, they want their decisions to matter and they don't want to lose control. The problem with mind control in a story is that it completely strips away the control that a character might have. Characters under such an influence no longer have the capacity to make their own decisions, they operate at the beck and call of the originator of the mind control.

I've seen players storm out of games when their characters have been mind controlled, I've seen dice rolls cheated, fudged, ignored, I've seen games collapse. Yet still, mind control spells and effects are a part of many rule systems.

After doing my binge watch of Jessica Jones, I can now see a way to keep the decisions of the protagonists important while making mind control an effective part of the narrative. The simplest option is to allow mind control only to work on the mooks and common plebs of the world. The protagonists have a built-in immunity to the effect.

A more complicated way to handle things might be to handle mind control as a past-tense effect. The story begins after the mind control has happened, now the characters have to deal with the repercussions of their actions under the control.

A third option makes the characters aware of the mind control effects, and they have to find a way to avoid such effects if they wish to confront the source.

The series "Jessica Jones" employs all of these techniques, making mind control an integral part of the narrative and keeping the decisions made by the characters important to the ongoing storytelling process.

I have more to ponder with regards to how I can use this. I'm thinking it might tie in well with my Tom-Waits/Crossroad-Demon setting, having players deal with the after effects of mind control while people are being manipulated around them feels very "noir" to me. 

21 November, 2015

Alternate Maps

So many fantasy maps are drawn in a pseudo fantasy style, so I thought I should draw a map in a more modern style. 

This island map for the FUBAR setting in development has been drawn up in a modern topographic style. So far just the pencilling and inking, next to be scanned in then I'll add a few other elements to it.