31 May, 2018

200 word marking rubric

I'll get stuck into the entries, probably this afternoon (my time), so I might post the first batch tonight. Apparently there were 700 entries last year, and I'm told that there are mean to be twice as many this year, so it's going to be a hell of a ride. Even if those reported numbers are wrong, it's still going to take a while to get through the lot.

Here's my marking criteria

A premise for play
0: Nothing.
1: This entrant is a bunch of mechanism, or even just one a single mechanism.
2: This entrant give a couple of vague hints, and requires quite a bit of outside work.
3: This entrant is about something, maybe something narrow and needs fleshing out.
4: This entrant is rich in atmosphere and motivation for players.

Some kind of rules
0: Nothing.
1: This entrant has some hints toward a system or method of play.
2: This entrant is based on a basic and crude single idea, generally functional but limiting in what it does.
3: There is a bit of depth to these rules, and they seem to facilitate other ideas within the work.
4: This is a truly elegant piece of design, facilitating play but not distracting from it.

A way for players to define their characters
0: Nothing
1: This entrant has a single, simple element that defines characters at the start of play, and nothing to really expand upon them during play.
2: This entrant allows a degree of personalisation of characters at the start of play or during the course of a session.
3: This entrant allows a bit of personalisation of characters at the start of play and during the course of a session.
4: This entrant allows for rich characterisation at the start of play and during the course of a session.

An agenda for players to work towards through their characters
0: Nothing
1: This entrant has a vague goal, not clearly explained and needing input from players who know what they’re doing.
2: This entrant seems to aim toward something, but it will require a lot of work from the players to get there.
3: This entrant has a distinct end point, but that end point really doesn't vary, and is unrelated to what the players or characters are doing.
4: This entrant provides a complete narrative journey for the players and characters.

Style and overall coherence
0: This entrant shows nothing particularly new or innovative, and doesn’t seem to have an overall coherence to it.
1: This entrant seems to be composed of elements aiming toward something, and it draws my interest as a novelty but not much else.
2: This entrant, regardless of anything else about it, has something interesting but feels like it needs more.
3: This entrant almost feels like a good solid game (or piece of art), or could be with a few more words or refinements.
4: This entrant is a well-crafted and clever game or piece of art. It feels complete.

28 May, 2018

Overview of the 200 Word RPGs

Wow, there's some really interesting stuff in the entries that I've had a look at so far.

There's also a few of the standard trends that I tend to see in contests like this...

If we work off the assumption that a complete game provides...

  1. a premise for play
  2. some kind of rules
  3. a way for players to define their characters
  4. an agenda for the players to work towards through their characters

...then virtually all of the games fall flat somewhere.

That's probably a function of the 200 word limitation. It's pretty hard to get all of those elements into an amount of text that many mainstream other games would cram into half a page.

I'm really tempted to do a series of reviews for every game in the contest. Maybe giving every game a score out of 20, with each of those categories above providing somewhere between 0-4 points, then a final 0-4 points based on how well I think the game has pulled the concepts together into a coherent package. If I were to do this, I'd limit myself to 50 words of critique regarding the game, because in some cases I could get really wordy and probably write more about my feelings on the game, than the actual length of the game itself. I'd probably block it into chunks of 10 games per post, because I wouldn't want to fill up people's feed with numerous review posts.

If anyone is interested in this, let me know.

26 May, 2018

Using Spare Parts

To cut the Dispatch Guide down to 24 pages, I had to cut some areas that I wanted to include in the game. So that means the discards from one book become the foundation of the next.
Hopefully it takes less time to get this next book sorted, and I can develop a bit of momentum for this game.

25 May, 2018

200 Word RPG 2018: The Wanderer (Version 2.0)

(A few modifications have been made to the game. A few bits that didn't seem particularly clear have been cleaned up a bit. I've also changed the tokens from a single black and a white to a pair of each to add a bit more choice about success and failure for the warrior's actions in the early stages of the game. It's still a case that offering more chances of success early means a higher difficulty in later stages of the game, and conversely making things harder for the wanderer early makes the climax easier. If I write a third version of this game, I'll do it after the 200 word context is over, maybe adding a 100 words, providing a character sheet, or maybe a bunch of potential companion cards with unique looks to them and advantages that can be chosen... we'll see how things go.)

The Wanderer
As she strides the Bonelands toward the Onyx Citadel, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A band of companions guide her destiny.

Three questions define you.
How do you know her?
What did you teach her? (Her advantage)
What haven’t you taught her? (Your advantage)

Everyone starts with 2 black and 2 white tokens (hidden), a blank page and pencil. A bag contains six more tokens of each colour.

Each act, everyone (including any Dead) takes turns narrating a situation, asking another player how the Wanderer faces it.

Everyone secretly contributes one of their four tokens to the situation’s narrator, one more is drawn from the bag.

Narrator reveals the contributions.
<1/3 black = full success
<1/3 white = full failure
Otherwise both apply

Narrator describes what happens.

Tokens returned to bag, everyone replenishes their spent token by drawing a random token from the bag.

Act One: Flashbacks (What challenge was faced?)
Success: She gains an advantage
Failure: Someone loses an advantage

Act Two: Bonelands (menaces confronted)
Success: Menace neutralised
Failure: Someone loses an advantage (or their life)

Act Three: Citadel (citadel’s defences)
Success: Defence overcome
Failure: Someone loses their life, or she dies (game over, you lose)

A Metaphysical Point-Crawl

The Dark Places concept is all about mythic strangeness, entities lingering on the edges of consciousness, somewhere between madness, death and dreams. It was never meant to be mapped; and certainly couldn't be contained by mundane 2-dimensional flatness. The setting is a swirling 4-dimensional vortex, constantly in flux, constantly bringing something new, or recycling something old.

How would adventurers make sense of such a place? 

In simple terms, it's only once they stop trying to make sense of everything that they begin to transcend in the grand scheme. Instincts, gut reactions, action for it's own sake, doing things because they need to be done rather than becoming tied up in the hubris of why they are done and the constraining reasons for why they are right.


Yes, there are expected frameworks in the narratives of RPG space. Gamers like maps, they often like a structure, despite the chaos.

For those who watch the new Dr Who, consider the interconnected weaving of timelines between the Doctor and River Song. Everything is out of order. She dies at the beginning, they meet at the end, and she is born somwhere in the middle (along with numerous other encounters along the way). We see everything from the Doctor's temporal perspective, but imagine if we had half a dozen characters encountering one another in an erratic temporal manner, imagine if time and space meant nothing to these character's except within their own frame of reference. We meet Character A in the order of 1, 8, 4, 7, 3, miss a few episodes, 13, 2, miss another episode, 9. But we meet Character B in the order of 6, 9, miss an episode, 10, 4, 1, 2, miss another, 5, 7. Then Character C starts a few episodes in with a dramatic death, before visiting 5, 4, 3, 2,1... basically watching their life unfold in reverse. During one session, Character A is the wise veteran of non-quantum reality while Character B is still green. During another session, Character B is the veteran, while A and C are their apprentices. During a third session, Character C is the mentor to A. During another session, we find out that Character D is the daughter of B, and later than she is the mother of A. Things only get more complicated as further character's are added to the matrix. Storylines only make sense from a single character's point of reference, because the entanglement and interconnectedness of all things renders narrative meaningless beyond this.

Mapping the physicality of such stories is only marginally easier. Spherical concentric layers like an onion. Each layer fluctuating, with wormhole passages sporadically linking them, sometimes according to regular patterns, sometimes according to inscrutable arcana. Every voyage across the Dark Places will be different, the same passage across assorted realms will NOT exist two times in a row. 

The points to crawl between will vary in their distance from each other, the points may not even be connected at all on the next time you try to travel between them. Every time a journey across the Dark Places occurs, a new map is created, and previous maps are meaningless.

23 May, 2018

Walkabout: Symbolism

This is European Celtic symbolism.

This is Asian Shamanic symbolism

This is North American First Nations symbolism.

This is Australian Aboriginal symbolism.

Yes, each of these examples are indocative of the continents they are from, but they are each on a narrow subset of the rich diversity from the continents indicated. I've tried to narrow down similar types of imagery from pre-modern eras, and while the first three sets are derived from quick Google searches, they're typical of the kinds of imageey sets I've seen numerous times over the years. The last set of images is on a piece of paper I recieved from Indigenous artists in Moree last year, again similar to many of the image sets I've seen on websites and in books about Australian Aboriginal artwork. I know a lot of the "Australian" symbols aren't native to the Gamilaroi people (who live in and around Moree in northern NSW), they're just the kind of symbolism that is expected of Australian Aboriginal people. They're a part of the shorthand in modern Australian Aboriginal art, they have meanings much like heiroglyphs have meanings, or Chinese ideograms. I guess there are a few more similarities between these Australian symbols and Chinese ideograms, especially when you consider that previous writing systems were generally eliminated across the region, replaced by a standardised writing under Imperial decree or Communist mandate. Yet fragments of the old symbols remain, hidden and now considered obscure, arcane or even sacred. In both cases, the symbols are incorporated into art, carvings, sculpture, hidden in plain sight.

So even though I know that playing with these symbols is using blatant stereotyping, and some of the Indigenous elders I know would be upset as being characterised through symbolism that isn't from their particular ancestral people, they've become a general collection of universal symbolism across the country. Many of those elders who would be upset at being stereotyped would be even more upset if they knew people around the world were using the specific symbolism of their people without their express permission. It's one of those "lesser of two evils" things.

22 May, 2018

200 Word RPG 2018: Immortal Neon Katana

Only one will remain. Don’t lose your head.

Total Tokens = 5 x Players.

Immortals have Combat and Cunning. One is d6, the other d8.

Youngest goes first.

Choose someone to describe the scene, and another to narrate your challenge. Challenge narrator may take up to 5 tokens to determine the difficulty. If pool empty, duel someone.

      * = d4
      ** = d6
      *** = d8
      ****  = d10
      ***** = d12

Player describes their Immortal facing the challenge, then rolls relevant die.

Immortal >= Challenge. Player gains all difficulty tokens.

Challenge > Immortal. Challenge narrator claims a token, others returned to pool. The player’s die used is decreased by a degree.
If combat < d4; Immortal dies.
If cunning < d4; Immortal goes insane and must be duelled before a winner declared.
Once you have tokens you may spend them to:
Regain a decreased attribute (1 point per increase, up to starting score).
Roll an extra die (cost as challenge dice).
If rolling two dice, use higher die result.

Immortal Duel = sudden death. Winner increases their Combat or Cunning die by 1. Loser dies. Divide loser’s tokens in half (you keep half, round up; remainder back to pool).

200 Word RPG 2018: Lost Souls

(I'm not as sure about this one, but it was in my head and I had to get it out. I'm stumped on the last two questions for the second round... they need to be somehow related to the resolution of the lost soul's desire, but trying to get the feeling and the wording right with 11 words left is proving problematic. Maybe it's time to start editing words out of other sections when and where I can.)

Lost Souls
Requires: Masking tape, marker, stopwatch

All players sit in a circle and take turns, going clockwise.
On each players first turn, the player to the right is “Death” they hold the stopwatch. The player to the left (and sequentially each player around the circle) is asked a question. 

The active player notes the answers.  
    Who is this lost soul?
    How did they die?
    What was their desire?
    What stopped them getting it?
When they stop, Death writes the time taken on the tape, an attaches it to the player’s forehead so everyone but them can see the time indicated.  

Once the circle has been completed, each player begins a second round of questions begins, this time answering questions posed by the other players in turn.  
    Who mourns your lost soul?
    How can they resolve the souls’s desire?

If the player takes longer than the time indicated on their forehead, they are unable to help the lost soul who now wanders endlessly.

The player who’s second round time is closest to their first round time saves their lost soul, by resolving their desire. Other lost souls fade away into oblivion. 

21 May, 2018

Crazy Idea for a Hit Point Variant

I don't know if there are any other games that do this, it feels like something that should be a part of an OSR game because it uses a lot of the tropes from that field of gaming. Maybe there is, maybe it's new.

Here's the idea.

One of the issues I have with hit points in most D&D and OSR games is the idea that every level, hit points go up, and up and up. You start gritty and fragile, one or two strikes can take you down. Eventually you get to that level 4-7 sweet spot where combats take a little longer, where special powers become available, and where characters start to feel like they can make a difference in the world. Then you transcend this point, combats become a boring slog, roll after roll to whittle away one another's pool of hit points, weapons still do the same damage on a strike but it takes so many more of those strikes to inflict significant impact.

I'm looking to remedy this a bit.

There's a school of thought which states that hit points reflect combat prowess and ability to dodge or absorb the worst of any incoming strikes. But if it represented this, why wouldn't hit points be modified by dexterity. Since hit points are based on constitution, they are more clearly an analogue of the physical wellbeing of the individual... this is backed up by the idea that poisons, diseases, fall damage, and other types of non-combat injury all work with the same hit points that combat does. Some newer games have circumvented this by introducing "ability score damage" in which specific creatures are able to ignore hit points. I used to do something similar, where critical hits didn't do double damage, but instead inflicted an equal amount of damage to hit points and Constitution (where a complete loss of Constitution resulted in instant death).

Instead of that, I'm now thinking that characters should simply have hit points equal to their Constitution scores. An average of 9-12 points, with less than a quarter of the population having fewer than 8, and less than a quarter having more than 13. This resolves the issue of starting characters being too fragile, and the issue of high level characters being too resilient.

Instead of hit points being a direct pool use for absorbing incoming damage, they now become a pool of energy used to replenish that Consitution pool. This happens when characters have a short rest, while the hit point pool gets replenished by eating food and taking long rests. Wizards and other magical characters still have the issue of low hit points, meaning they don't have a large pool of reserves to restore themselves (they do it through magic instead). Fighters and Barbarians do have significant pools of reserve health, if they get the chance to take a breath they can come back to a conflict with a second wind. Other character types fall between these extremes.

There's more in this I'm sure, but as a system idea it seems to address a few of the problems I've seen arise regularly.

20 May, 2018

Walkabout: Songlines

This article from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, reinforces and draws on a lot of the ideas I've previously heard. Ideas that have been confirmed by the elders I've been speaking to, but it also doesn't quite go far enough. 

As Australia's first city, the pathways of Indigenous people were certainly used as the basic method to get from place to place, and those paths eventually became the accepted methods used by settlers, then paved for use by carriages and cars.

But in addition to the Sydney basin, this occured across the whole country. Explorers typically followed the paths linking different communities of Indigenous nations, often aided by native guides. When later leading surveyors across the land, the explorers took the paths they knew, and the Aboriginal pathways became locked into the settlers maps as the roads between towns.

Often the Aboriginal settlements were located on strategic waterholes, places where paths crossed rivers, or trading paths crossed each other, so naturally these became the places where settlers established their own towns to take advantage of the same strategic geographic elements. The Aboriginal communities were driven off, or killed, or otherwise had their connection to the land removed. Their marked trees were torn up, so that evidence of their sacred sites could be denied, but the placement of the old camps and settlements lies embedded in the current maps of the continent.

This basically means that in Walkabout, the Nomads roaming the highways uphold the sacred journeys of the Indigenous wanderers. They don't do it deliberately, but the travels along tarred motorways follow the same tracks that have been trodden for dozens of millennia (at least). The communities they meet are settled on places where the spirits have watched and influenced humanity since before recorded history, some home to those who have tried to reclaim the old ways of industrialization, some home to those who have tried to claim even older tribal ways.

Descendants of the Australian Aboriginals can be found in all these groups. 

19 May, 2018

Dispatch Guide

A bit of time to get some page layout done.

It also helps that I've finally got a computer that can handle stuff like this again.

Hopefully the second book for The Law will go live (at least as a PDF) some time this week.

18 May, 2018

200 word RPG 2018: The Wanderer

The Wanderer

As she strides the Bonelands toward the Citadel of Onyx, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A small group of companions guide her destiny.

Three questions define you.
How do you know her?
What did you teach her? She gains advantage
What haven’t you taught her? You gain advantage

Everyone starts with 1 black and 1 white token (hidden), blank page and pencil. A bag contains six more tokens of each colour.

Each act, everyone takes turns posing a situation, then asking another player how the Wanderer faces it. Everyone contributes one of their two tokens to resolve the situation, one more is drawn from the bag.

< 1/3 white = full success
< 1/3 black = full failure
Otherwise both apply

Describe what happens. Everyone replenishes their spent token by drawing a random token from the bag. Spent tokens are returned to the bag.

Act One: Flashbacks (What challenge was faced?)
Success: She gains an advantage
Failure: Someone loses an advantage

Act Two: Bonelands (menaces confronted)
Success: Menace neutralised
Failure: Someone loses an advantage (or their life).

Act Three: Citadel (citadel’s defences)
Success: Defence overcome
Failure: Someone lose their life, or she dies (game over, you lose)

17 May, 2018

Walkabout: People of the Outback

Going through some of my old notes, I found a few things that felt a little problematic at the time, but now seem far more so.

In the last round of playtests for the game (which echo back to 2012/2013), I defined a character by a series of template stereotypes in a mix-and-match system. I still like this idea, but it's the nature of those templates that will need to change in the rewrite. Three template fragments were combined in that system. Each template came in a general form, with a specialty that could be used to refine what it means specifically to the character.

First were the "people", where these are the culture the character grew up with and those who they consider their family. The people might be considered a "race" in some games, but not quite. I basically categorised the various types of people by the culture and technology they shared rather than any genetic heritage. The "Nomads" were those who roamed the highways in mobile towns built on the backs of trucks and assorted vehicles. The "Cultivators" lived settled lived in the old farming areas, trying to live a pastoral life again. The "Scavengers" lived in the ruins of the old cities, trying to piece together a new life from the remnants left behind of the past. The "Tribalists" thought that the ways of technology were the wrong path to spiritual harmony, and deliberately chose to live their interpretation of a life with nature (noting that the Indigenous communities of Australia didn't have to be tribalists, and it was just as likely that an Indigenous Elder might see these Tribalists as fools misunderstanding and misappropriating their culture). The "Arcologists" were the descendents of the wealthy upper classes who had hidden themselves in bunkers and fortresses to weather the apocalypse. The "Outlanders" were those who embraced the chaos of the post-apocalypse, including mutants, bandits and those who deliberately opposed any attempt to return the world to the tyranny of the past and the darkness of capitalism. Then there were the "Skyborne" who lived in balloons drifting high above the surface of the world, who retained the most technology from the old world, but who had become insular, inbred, and vaguely xenophobic toward the ground dwellers. Within each group there were specific castes, such as the nomads having drivers, mechanics, traders and navigators. I still like these ideas, they can stay.

Second came an "edge", where different types of people would pay different amounts for various edges, or might have access to specific edges reflecting their people's culture and technology. I had a wide variety of these, from pets to special vehicles and equipment, from mystic insight to mutations. One of the "edge" types was a reputation, which gave a character access to a range of skills based on the kinds of things they were known for in the wider community. For example, an "honourable" character would gain access to a bunch of social skills and advantages, while a "vicious" character would gain access to a range of violent and combative skills. I think that the reputation is actually more important, and I'm actually going to pull that out of the edges because everyone should have a reputation for something in this setting. Especially the player characters. The last edge type was a connection to another "people", for example a nomad might have an "Arcologist" connection indicating that her family regularly did trade with the old wealthy underground elite. This is also something that I think shouldn't be limited to a binary where some characters have it and some don't. As I was writing settlements for the game all those years ago I started to realise that almost every settlement had a range of cultures in it, and while there might often be one particular group that is predominant in the community, it was virtually impossible to find one that was completely homogeneous. I had also created an edge where a character had the option to belong to a specific subculture of their people (where some subcultures might function as links between various types of people). One of those subcultures was the New Koori Nation, which was a subset of tribalists and cultivators, divided into males and females with different areas of advantage based on "mens knowledge" and "womens knowledge". This is leaving me at a dilemma, it's accurate, but the presentation of it is culturally problematic.

Finally came the "dance". This is getting tossed in the bin. The dance was based on the idea that almost every group of Indigenous people in Australia shares their knowledge through the ritual corroboree, and this involves dancing. It also came a bit from the Rippers in Tank Girl, and a few other sources that functioned as inspiration for the early incarnations of the game. Don't get me wrong, Tank Girl is still a huge inspiration, but the idea that every character has to dance feels a bit problematic. Most of the Indigenous Elders I know wouldn't dance, but they all have their own methods for sharing news and knowledge. making every Walkabout Wayfarer character dance feels a bit like reducing them to a caricature of the culture rather than a representative of it.

One of these things I did like in the system as it was presented was the idea that no character was too much of a unique and special snowflake. While all template fragments were balanced against one another, those that should have been the most common had a low cost (1-2 points), those that should have been less common had a higher cost (3-4 points, but possibly reduced in cost if you bought a pair of template fragments that had a tendency to be found together), and some fragments that would have been quite rare in the setting had the highest cost range (5-6 points). Everyone had 8 points to spend, and all characters needed three base template fragments to build their character. This basically meant that a character could have a single super rare thing about them (at 6 cost), but the two other template fragments would have to be run-of-the-mill to balance against this special factor. Another character could have two uncommon elements to them (3 cost each), but the third element would be pretty common (2pts). Players could opt to not spend the whole 8 points, and if they did this, they might gain a minor XP bonus for every unspent point, or maybe an extra piece of equipment from those available to them. part of this idea was that character's weren't necessarily super special heroes at the start of their journey, but their paths had already been started. It was only through interaction with the spirit world and coming to understand the balance of the holistic world that characters become truly heroic and memorable. This idea is staying.

16 May, 2018

Walkabout: Magic of the Dreaming

I've been digging through my old Walkabout notes, some of them almost a decade old. I had at least two versions of the game, drawing on different clusters of inspiration.

In the original version of the game, magic was a fairly static affair. At the end of each game, a player could ask another player to inscribe a tattoo or marking on the characters body. The player would literally give their character sheet to another player, and that second player would literally draw on the character sheet in pencil, and fill in a couple of words. This would be related to some deed that the character had performed during the course of the story. If the player liked the idea, they could find a shaman, or do some kind of "quest of permanence" to integrate that marking into their soul. If the player didn't like it, they could erase it during a later game. Characters would have a limited number of these marking slots on their body, and if they suffered a permanent injury like a loss of a limb, then naturally there would be less "marking slots" to play with.

The whole idea here was that characters would be dedicating their body to the spirits and showing that dedication in the physical world through those markings. As a benefit for this dedication, characters would gain an automatic success on actions associated with the marking and the keywords written with it. One wedge-tailed eagle glyph might provide benefits to perception checks, a different wedge-tailed eagle glyph might provide a sense of presence and majesty to it's bearer... a character truly dedicated to this spirit, with multiple markings on their body dedicated to wedge-tailed eagle might get both. It was a very freeform system, and when the success bonus from the glyph was used, the character would either need to re-inscribe the glyph, rest and allow it to recharge, or perform some deed for the affiliated spirit.

A variant magic system linked into the elemental concept I've had in many of my other games. It basically works of a cubic cosmology. Air on one side of the cube opposes earth on the other, water opposes fire, and wood opposes metal. If you cross section the cube in one way, you get a square with the Western Hermetic pattern of elemental forces (Air-Earth-Fire-Water and mysterious quintessential life forces in the middle)...and if you cross section it another way, you get a square with the Eastern Taoist pattern (Fire-Metal-Water-Wood...with a balanced earth in the middle). But it didn't seem to fit the paradigm of Indigenous mysticism as I understood it. I felt like I could reskin it in some way, perhaps renaming "Earth" as "Wombat", "Air" as "Eagle"...but it was getting tricky to do some of the others and this was really starting to feel like the hollow cultural appropriation I was trying to avoid in this project. That obstacle was actually one of the things that brought the project to a standstill.

But recently I heard a talk by an Indigenous elder about certain redgum trees. He said that a sacred life like this required the elements to come into play. Seeds from the plant are eaten by birds and are thus infused by the air in their journey, then they are dropped to the ground in the bird's shit where they become buried and infused with earth. Next, they can wait for years or even decades until a bushfire sweeps through the area, and the energy of the fire invigorates the seed. Finally, with rain, the energy of water completes the cycle and the plant begins to grow. This struck me as a hybrid of the Hermetic wisdom, channelled through an Indigenous lens to give a perspective of the world. So maybe the elemental concept might have been valid after all.

I still like the idea of the marked wayfarer, where the first marking is an indication of the character's status as a wandering balancer of nature.

So my next idea is to unite those concepts. Similar to some of the ideas that I've been having for magic under the banner of "Familiar" or "The Law".

If I'm running with 4 attributes... those 4 can be combined in six pairings.


Now it's a case of meshing those pairings to one of the elemental affinities.

Physical-Social : Air
Physical-Mental : Metal
Physical-Paranormal : Fire
Social-Mental : Water
Social-Paranormal : Wood
Mental-Paranormal : Earth

In the non-magical version of "The Law" a characters rank die can never be the highest die they possess... they always need to have one of the attributes higher. Under this magical system, a character might be limited to having a magical die no higher than the corresponding attributes.     

To use a magical effect, the character needs to be using one of the attributes linked to the element. But the two attributes have slightly different manifestations of the elemental energy.

Air (using Physical): This is about movement and speed
Air (using Social): This is about surface appearances of things, fleeting thoughts and illusion
Earth (using Mental): This is about science and the immutable laws of the universe
Earth (using Paranormal): This is about resilience and permanence
Fire (using Physical): This is about strength and raw power
Fire (using Paranormal): This is about destruction of body, mind and soul
Metal (using Physical): This is about death and decay
Metal (using Mental): This is about the darker thoughts, and knowledge of spirits or technology as an antithesis of the living world.
Water (using Social): This is about clarity of purpose and leadership
Water (using Mental): This is about higher conceptual thoughts, and the cycles of nature
Wood (using Social): This is about emotional energy and community
Wood (using Paranormal): This is about health, growth, renewal and regeneration

When I was thinking about this paradigm of magical thought for "Familiar", I was working with the theory that different schools of magic would fall into a specific elemental pattern. A character could spend XP to understand the framework of a specific school of magic (theurgy, illusionism, conjuring, alchemy, divination, etc.). This would give them a natural bonus when trying to perform mystic effects relating to that school, and would let them boost the associated elemental die by one step. There would be dozens of these magical schools, and to gain the maximum die in a certain element they'd have to understand the framework of five different schools each contributing their knowledge to a holistic understanding of the element (one school = d4, two schools = d6, three = d8, four = d10, five = d12).

Under the Walkabout version of the system, each of your body markings would provide a natural bonus when attempting to perform specific subtle actions, an a boosted die of the relevant element. For example, a marking of the Gecko might provide an automatic bonus success when climbing walls (a Physical action), and since this is a movement related effect it would increase the Air elemental die by a degree. If the character is engaged in subtle magic, they simply gain the success. If they want to climb a sheer surface that requires multiple successes, they might invoke full air magic by rolling their physical attribute and their air elemental die.

Here's where my thoughts earlier today seem to have reached a conclusion I'm happy with.

In Mage: the Ascension, the power of magic(k) is limited by the mage's Arete, their one-ness with the universe. The more enlightened they are, the more powerful the effect they can manifest. This system has a bit of that in it as well.

I like the idea of having rote magic, and that's linked into the markings on the character's body, but could just as easily be linked to artifacts, fetishes, magical items and rituals that require outside forces to achieve. The game could go that way, but it doesn't need to. 

When a character invokes one of their elemental dice, they are effectively casting "vulgar magick" (from the parlance of Mage). Elemental dice always apply to the success column of the table, this reduces the chances of rolling a 1 (and failing), but there is also a chance that the elemental die will be the highest rolled. A character who opens themselves up to mystic forces doesn't necessarily know how to control them all the time. If the elemental die is the highest rolled, it represents uncontrolled magic flowing through the character and into the world...an effect based on the elemental force will manifest in the world at the discretion of the GM (maybe filtered through a random table and translated into the story by the GM). Such effects could be powerfully positive, or powerfully negative. Magic is always dangerous to someone, and the spirits are always watching. Familiars like it when uncontrolled elemental energy flows into the world, some feed on it, some absorb it into themselves for their own manifestations, some redirect it to their own ends as it is unleashed.

Within the dreaming, characters might gain automatic bonuses or penalties to their elemental dice depending on where in the cosmological geography they currently stand. 

14 May, 2018

Walkabout: The Bower Bird

The Bower Bird is found in Australia and New Guinea. It is a collector of stuff. Among the bower birds found locally, the males predominantly collect blue stuff. They line their nests with blue trinkets, bits of plastic, coloured paper, flowers, feathers from other birds, anything that's blue. I'm no ornithologist, but I generally understand that this is done to lure potential mates. The more stuff collected, the more vibrant the male's nest appears to the female bower birds. It doesn't matter where the stuff comes from, I don't know if the specific shade of blue matters, but I'm sure some kind of though process goes through the male bird's head as it ccumulates the stuff.

Modern Indigenous Australian culture feels a bit like that in a lot of ways. Where the male bower bird represents the members of the Indigenous community, and the female bower bird represents government funding bodies, non-indigenous outsiders, and anyone who might have anything to say about anything Indigenous.

When local artists indicate that they might be Indigenous, they are instantly expected to produce dot paintings, because that's what "Australian Aboriginal Art" is.

Much of the folklore of various groups involves animals with distinctive character traits. These traits function as a shorthand so that listeners will know what to expect from different character's with regards to their personalities and traits. A similar tradition can be seen back as far as Aesop's fables in the Western Canon, but "primitive tribal groups" can't presume to stand at the level of the great philosophers, so they draw terminology from other tribal groups and call the animals "totems". This also fits basically with the complex system of familial moiety, and is a quick way to explain how groups are interconnected to colonial anthropologists who have no similar notion in their own culture, so it seems to work multiple ways. This gives us individuals who claim their own totem based on the character traits of animal spirits in the stories they identify with, then a family totem based on what their people can remember of the past, and finally a people linked to a specific ancestral land (where I live in Tharawal land, but most of the Indigenous elders I know identify as Wiradjuri, Gamilaroi, or Dharug...and most will go back to that land when they die).

Australian English words derived from Indigenous terms often reflect a very specific time and place. Such as the urban legend that when a colonist asked what a certain animal was, their Indigenous companion responded "Kangaroo", meaning "I don't understand you". Other terms were drawn from a specific local dialect, and they were considered "Aboriginal" by ethnocentric invaders who couldn't be bothered to learn the local ways, and didn't understand that English farming techniques weren't suitable to this part of the world. 

But there's more to the Bower Bird analogy than this.

Just as I said the word "totem" had basically been appropriated by the community, because it was a close enough fit to what they were trying to say, various Indigenous groups have no problem absorbing other concepts into their cultural melting pot. It is said that Islam came to Australia before Christianity along the northern coastline via the Malaccan traders across Malaysia and Indonesia. Some groups have added to the roster of characters in their animal fables by adding introduced species like cats and foxes (with their traditional European traits). An elder told me the appropriate procedure to curse someone by "pointing the bone", but I don't know if this was a real belief, a joke on the outsider white guy, or just him playing "the role of the mysterious elder with hidden knowledge" because that's just what he was expected to do in the type of social situation where we were talking. I've watched in more public settings when elders told cocky white student teachers that they wouldn't know how to track a goanna through light scrub, only to then explain tactics that I've seen repeated on several nature documentaries. I've seen elders tell white people things they wanted to hear, even though I'd corroborated through several other sources that something else seemed to be the more likely truth.

When so much has been systematically destroyed and lost, the only way to maintain a sense of identity is to cling onto the pieces that are left, and paste them together with anything else that can give them a bit of context. The fact that Indigenous Australian communities have been doing this for so long could easily be their greatest strength in this setting. 

Walkabout: Fragmented Spiritualism

Ethnocentrism is a bit like racism, and is often a concept confused with it. Technically, where racism focuses on the physical appearances and differences between people on the surface, ethnocentrism is about the customs and mannerisms of people. Ethnocentrism covers times when someone has prejudice against another person due to them speaking a different language, or having religious differences. It's the Imperial British "bringing order" to the Indian Subcontinent, it's the Spanish conquistadors converting the natives to Catholicism at the point of sword and musket, it's the Han Chinese in Beijing imposing their customs across the other ethnic minorities in China, it's the Jews driving out the Palestinians under the belief that Yahweh is the rightful god of the region, it's the ongoing pogrom by Australian governments against the Aboriginal people over generations.

Ethnocentrism has led to many problems in the world. Each culture has it's own stories, defines itself according to those stories, and builds an identity based on them. Even if those stories began as allegory and metaphor, once they become a part of a people's culture, few want to admit that those stories might not be true, and that their cultural identity might be built on a faulty foundation. This manifests in effects like confirmation bias (where an individual will have a stronger tendency to accept things that match their existing worldview), and cognitive dissonance (where new input conflicting with an existing worldview is ignored, or considered a "test of faith"). This can be seen in the polarity of opinions in the US between progressives and conservatives, neither wanting to back down...but this isn't a game about America.

In Australia, the central enthnocentrism comes from the British descended dominant discourse. The White Australia policy ensured non-White immigrants did not come to our shores for the majority of the 20th century, meanwhile the Indigenous population had no rights of their own and no way to control their own destiny under Australian law until a 1967 referendum. For generations it was expected that they would die off, be "bred white" over time, and be converted from their savage ways to a more civilised existence as servants of the wealthy. Young children, if they were white enough, were systematically removed from their families; though ironically most of these lighter skinned children were born from the rape of Indigenous mothers by farmers, landowners, and white authority figures who wanted their sins hidden in the regulatory systems they controlled. Regardless of whether they lived in missions, on reserves, or in urban communities, Aboriginal Australians were banned from their religious practices and lore if they wanted to receive any benefits from the predominantly church-based welfare organisations, and in many cases they were banned from speaking their native languages if they were to be treated as anything other than subhuman by the communities that were claiming their lands and dispossessing them from the territories their people had held custodianship over for millennia.

Yes, this game is political. It doesn't hide the fact that it's political, I'm going to be sending a regular percentage of the profits to local Aboriginal groups.

The local Tharawal people southwest of Sydney have completely lost their language. The only evidence of it lies in certain words unearthed through linguistic archaeology. A few dozen words have been identified in neighbouring languages where phonetic conventions didn't quite match other words in the lexicon. And just as the languages were lost, the rituals and folklore were similarly lost, this happened to numerous groups across the continent. And just as the spiritualism was lost, the ethnocentrism and hubris of the colonial groups and settlers destroyed knowledge on how to look after the land. In turn, this has led to rivers drying out (due to decades of dams and corrupt water allocation policies from government departments getting paid off by corporate interests), severe bushfires (due to not understanding Indigenous firestick procedures that kept dry wood fuel in check and constantly revitalising the bushland with regular controlled burning...although this is changing), loss of animal habitats (again from corrupt government practices where clear cutting and monoculture farming are devastating the land), open cut mining, ripping apart chunks of the Great Barrier Reef (to allow passage of ships bearing the loads from generally unwanted coal mines).

This has always been a part of Walkabout.

The custodians of the land have been removed, their knowledge suppressed, and their ritual cycles broken. The land has been desecrated. Any way to restore the natural balance has been lost, and the spirits who would make short work of it...no one knows how to contact them any more because that knowledge was outlawed by the church. That's why the apocalypse occurs. 

Australian Aboriginal characters in this setting aren't magical shamans able to fix the problems of environmental holocaust, they're just as screwed as everyone else. The only advantage they have over the Europeans and other newcomers to the land is that fact that they don't need to apologise to the spirits for the devastation that has been dealt to the land, or for their loss of the rituals. They could have lost their rituals or their lives...and if they lost their lives the rituals would have been lost anyway. The spirits were always watching.

I guess it's a bit Werewolf: the Apocalypse in it's outlook, except that it's more Werewolf: the Post Apocalypse. The shit has already hit the fan, and now it's a case of placating the spirits and cleaning up the mess to start again, all the while there are individuals and groups in the setting who refuse to make apologies, who are still in a position of power even though the world has gone to hell around them, and who actively resist anyone who might want to bring balance.

13 May, 2018

Walkabout: Moving Forward

There are a number of reasons why I'm not using PbtA as the foundation for Walkabout.
  1. I still think it's a fad system. A bandwagon that too many people are still jumping on. Eventually people will realise that it's being used in ways it really shouldn't, and there are better systems out there to do different things... a d that underlying it all is a system that is pretty crude to start with. Yes, it does certain things well, but evangelising it into everything isn't doing the game engine any favours.
  2. It sets a good starting point for character's, but players are bound by their character's playbooks and developing beyond those original stereotypes is problematic. "Oh", I hear the Apocalypse-heads claim, "it's just like the way story develops despite the rules in old school D&D. The stories you tell can be all about rebelling against those stereotypes, or using those stereotypes to transcend themselves"...or similar such nonsense. I want no part of that... that's not what Walkabout is about.
  3. It defines genre by limiting the conversations that players and MC can tell. Honestly, for those reasons it's good at what it does. But like a white guy in a basement trying to look pseudo-woke by screaming "cultural apprriation" every time the conversation touches on an ethnic group they don't understand, this is a game about blurring stories, using fragments of different genres to create something bigger than the sum of it's parts, using shorthand to get everyone on the same page then moving beyond those abbreviated concepts to get a deeper cultural understanding.
  4. "But", says the Apocalypse-head, "PbtA lets you create your own moves on the fly, so you can make the system work with the narrative conversation at your table, regardless of what is happening." Yes, and no. The way most PbtA games are written (and every time I've played one), genre is king, and playbooks support that genre. People spend a bunch of time looking through their playbooks, trying to find a move that fits the current events, even the MC does this. Then, when they can't find one, they modify an existing move that vaguely reflects the situation... and everything feels a bit arbitrary after that point. Why not work in reverse, by starting with a game engine that's more open, and then refine or define signature moves appropriate to the characters as they define their relationships to the land, the people, and the stories that underlie reality.
  5. PbtA is also pretty narrow in the way it handles task difficulties. That is, without fundamental modifications to the system, it doesn't. Instead it makes certain actions untenable until the situation is right, so a hard task might require a few tasks in a row setting up the primarily intended activity. This requires a good dialogue between MC and players, and I've seen this dialogue break down many times, a bit like an old text adventure game when you just didn't know the right command word to get through a certain room. Sorry, but I like my stake setting, and then allowing creativity and ingenuity to address challenges.

So, SNAFU it is.  

Early in the evolution between FUBAR and SNAFU, I had attributes based on the intended outcome of the actions rather than the character's inherent forces they were bringing to bear on the activity. I had "conflict" for physical fights, "influence" for talking and social intrigue, "knowledge" for skills and character intelligence, and "mysticism" for anything supernatural. A few playtests showed that players struggled with this idea, so I went back to the tried and true "physical, social, mental" structure, with "paranormal" covering things that transcended those. People grokked those better, so they'll generally stay. Attributes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (or d4 to d12).

Abilities in SNAFU cover skills, knowledge, and any kind of edge where a character has an advantage compared to other times when they might use their attributes. They always add a flat +2 to a die result, or push the die result from one category up to the next (mechanically, these are the same thing). Many other static advantages and disadvantages in the game work similarly, adding or subtracting a level from a task resolution where they are applicable. This means that anyone can attempt anything, but they'll have more interesting results where these elements are applicable. They're also not like aspects in Fate where you need to spend some kind of currency to activate them, instead you just ensure the situation is appropriate for advantages to manifest, or work to avoid or circumvent disadvantages when they appear in the storyline.

A second form of character benefit is more nuanced, where instead of a flat bonus, an additional die is rolled (where only the best two dice are allocated to the result). These effects allow a minor possibility of change to a situation's outcome if the benefit is a d4, but could potentially be quite dramatic if the benefit is a d12. Because equipment varies in quality, it falls into this category, but it could just as easily applied to relationships between character's or connection to the world around them. This definitely fits with my goals of ensuring characters are integrated into the setting.

A general level of heroism applies in SNAFU, where The Law defines this as the Agent's rank. I haven't really thought of the name substituting for rank in this game, and I'm not going to cheapen it by using some pseudo-Aboriginal terminology, or take the words for child, adolescent, adult, mature adult, elder. Even if some Australian Indigenous nations do divide a person's life into 12 year intervals that basically fit this pattern, it might imply that everyone going on Walkabout from their childhood to prove their adolescence automatically has a d4 rank die...everyone leaving as a mature adult has a d10 rank die...and only the elders have d12s... but what does this mean for the other inhabitants of the world who haven't gone Walkabout...How do we measure their rank? And how do we measure those who have wisdom beyond their years... or a lack of wisdom? Rank isn't really a measure of wisdom anyway. So this is one of the aspects I'm going to have to be really careful with, and will require a bit more thought to put into an appropriate framework.

One of the things I haven't touched upon in The Law is reality bending magic. An inherent connection to the world where reality is altered, but also reacts by manipulating the enlightened one through metaphysical backlash. It was something I was really going to explore in Familiar, but there's no reason why it couldn't work here. Remembering that the original incarnation of Walkabout was generated through a Game Chef contest where "skin" was an ingredient, the original "magic" in the game was connected to the traditional concept of the "marked" adult. Characters would get tattooes, brands or other markings on their skin in honour of the tasks they had performed. Such markings would multitask as identity, honour to the spirits, and benefit to future tasks where similar actions are required. The magic system I have in mind is based a bit on the metaphysical trinity underlying the World of Darkness with a division of chaos (creation), law (stasis), and entropy (destruction). I touched on this in the second iteration of the Walkabout game, where the tokens had colours corresponding to these effects, so this feels like a good way to bring it back. Part of the idea for this system of paranormal effects simply links to the natural cycles of the universe. Imbalance can come from any of these aspects... so a good team would include character's capable of addressing any of these. The three aspects would start at d4, but each skin marking would be dedicated to one of the three, providing a benefit to a specific type of task, and bumping up the die size for the metaphysical aspect linked to the task. For example, a Tasmanian Devil marking of "combat prowess" would be linked to entropy because it is intended to destroy things. Historically, the colonial and federated governments of Australia banned the rituals of marking, so this is another delicate area. It's not an attempt to play on the 'magical black man' trope, because the characters of this game will be from all cultures and will be picking up the fragmentry pieces of the past to become new custodians of the world. Folksy wisdom in this milieu could similarly come from anywhere, but to requires breaking out of a western mindset to do it. Those who balance the world transcend culture and petty notions like ethnocentrism.

Yeah, I'm starting to write around in circles again.

The last thing I need to focus on is the groups who inhabit the world, because they'll also help to define the game. These groups will NOT be defined by race, nor will any culture be better than any other mechanically (despite what they may believe in the setting fiction). Most of my previous thoughts about the cultures of the setting still hold up. 

Walkabout: More thought experiments.

One of those questions that always seems to come up in indie game design is...

"What is your game about?" 

Quickly followed by...

"How do the mechanics support that?"

Going through the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions last month I saw that there seem to be three distinct schools of thought (and a few others less prominent).

  • A few designers develop their ideas first, then shop around for systems that match what they're trying to do (often limiting themselves to a range of popular game systems like Fudge, FATE, PbtA, Savage Worlds, d20, OSR to keep their game marketable). 
  • The other school of thought takes a system first (often PbtA), then modifies it until it does the kind of things that been envisioned for the game. 
  • Then you get the designers who work from the ground up to create a dedicated system to the experience they are trying to present to their players. The downside among many of these latter designs is that they can end up as "one trick ponies" that can only really produce a single story regardless of what the players do, and often because the players and characters are restricted in what they can do according to genre conventions or ritualised conventions.  
I don't want to say these options are the Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism of design. They certainly aren't mutually exclusive, and there are plenty of designs that have been developed by combining these methodologies, but on the whole they seem to gravitate distinctly toward one of them. None of these is wrong, even if the first two do strike me as hacks and therefore fit in the category I generally consider to be lazy game design. I guess that determines where my game designs fit in the scheme.

My original incarnation of Walkabout (available for free over on RPGNow) was based vaguely on my FUBAR engine, and felt like a good fit within the constraints of the Game Chef contest that year. There were always things in that game system that worked great for one off games, but sequences, series, and campaigns struggled. 

A second iteration of the game moved from rolling dice to drawing from a pool of coloured tokens. Part of this shift was to reflect a post-apocalyptic vibe of collecting pieces of the past and making the best of the situation. Another part of the shift was a desire to create a game that didn't need a table for dice to be rolled on (or a dice rolling app), which would mean the game could be literally played while on a walk through nature, as a means of connecting the to players back to the natural world in the same way that the character's are trying to harmonize their world. Certain elements of the token system just didn't seem to be working, so that just had to be left behind.

Recent years of putting the game aside while I've more thoroughly done my anthropological, sociological, and ethnographical research have led to a number of refinements and outright changes to the underlying game system. This changed the FUBAR system to the SNAFU System, which I'm using in The Law (also available on RPGNow). I'm happier with this as a core foundation for games because it does a lot of the stuff that FUBAR did well, but it facilitates the development of character's in a better way, while also refining certain elements of play. 

So now it comes down to working out a good way to present the themes that drive the setting, and a way to infuse those ideas into the mechanisms that drive play.

11 May, 2018

Walkabout and Community

One of the strongest concepts that has come up time and again in my studies with various Indigenous groups has been that of "community". But thinking globally, this is probably similar in most cultures. Community is what makes a culture, and the best way to disrupt a culture is by destroying it's community. This is actually one of the definitions of genocide, and part of the ongoing issues faced by Australian Aboriginal groups even now.

Australian Aboriginal communities know each other by how people link to one another, in this context you introduce yourself by who you know, and how you know them or are related to them. The closest analogue I can think of as I'm writing this is the Ancient Greek world, where people would be identified by their home city and their position within that city. I'm thinking of my reading of Oedipus here, and a few other texts, but I know I'm missing key elements in my description.

Creating a game like this without adding elements addressing community, or rebuilding community, would be like developing a game about revealing the mystery of the unknown but only including combat systems. Whether this means the game will use relationship maps, or some other system to integrate social and emotional connections, I'm not quite sure yet. I'm a bit inspired by the way the Cortex system (particularly Smallville and Marvel Super Heroes) tied relational mechanisms into the core of the system, but we'll see where things go.

The other important elements that need to be be fundamentally integrated into the game are connections to the land, and connections to the story of the world (which might be another way of saying a connection to the Dreaming). These three forms of connection anchor the character's in the world, even as they move through it. As they transform the world (for the good or ill), they will similarly transform themselves. Afterall, traditionally a walkabout is a rite of passage, generally though from childhood to adulthood, but also marking a break from one stage in a person's life to another. There is a vague reflection to the hero's journey, with a voyage to the unknown, an acquisition of wisdom, and a return to the known. It's a tradition that is a distinct part of the various Australian Aboriginal communities across the continent, a part that linked communities in a vast network of knowledge and trade, and a part that has been actively suppressed by the colonial and western governments that have claimed the region. Renewing the Walkabout is symbolic of renewing the world.

09 May, 2018

Walkabout Rebirth

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

It's a science fiction cliche, but it stands out because it's so similar to what many of the world's religions claim to teach. The problem is that those in power have always lived by the adage of "do as I say and not as I do". It has always been the problem in the western world, and most other civilisations across the planet for that matter.

Power breeds corruption, corruption breeds power. Imbalance leads to individuals with power, and the only way they see to gain more power is through further imbalance.

Walkabout has always been about restoring the balance. That means It's always been about sticking it to those in power. Confronting the bullies, giving hope to the masses, toppling the tyrants, allowing nature to take it's course.

Years of study with Australian Indigenous peoples from various parts of the east and south-east haven't shifted those thoughts, they've reinforced them.

Many groups have traditional stories of things going wrong and needing a hero to restore things. In almost every case, there is an imbalance, a disease, a bully... and often these stories see the hero setting things right by confronting a situation that others have been avoiding, or that others simply can't see.

Mad Max Fury Road, Immortan Joe has the power, we don't know how he got it, but hope is restored when he is confronted and eliminated. It may even bring the green back to the world.

In Walkabout, I can't reveal certain things I've learned, but I can ensure the spirit of the game is right. The Aboriginal people of Australia did not own the land, they were it's custodians, they made sure to tread lightly on it's surface, even if they did have shelters and permanent communities (which are rarely recognised in colonial journals). They didn't clear-cut the land to plant monoculture crops, because the Australian land doesn't facilitate that farming style. In one sense they were hunter-gatherers, in another sense they were careful gardeners who used tools like fire and a deep understanding of their world, rather than an arrogance and desire to impose imbalance to gain power from the land.

Everything about this game is about restoration, regeneration, rebalancing... not all invaders and colonials are evil, most are simply ignorant. It's only those who are willfully ignorant that are at fault.

This game is about life after the fall of Western civilisation. The spirits are more prominent, yet many refuse to believe...instead considering the spirits to be devils and monstrosities who seek to claim their hard won power. It is a game about perspectives, about difficult choices, about acknowledging the past and using it as a foundation for moving forward rather than a series of incidents to be embarrassed about and hidden.

I'll probably run with my SNAFU System for this game, since it really excels at creating tough decisions for players to consider. It's also freeform enough to adapt to a variety of situations with minimal need for retooling the system.

A new version of the game, should be available soon. 

06 May, 2018

Combining elements and stirring the pot

Planet Psychon, Sanity Drives, The Dark Places, R-Souls The SNAFU System.

Many ideas, they all have the capability of being combined into a gumbo of metaphysical surrealism. They feel like multiple people working on something similar, but coming at it from different angles. The SNAFU System is just the way I'd combine them into a meaningful whole.

Conceptual angels and demons, reality on the brink, metaphysical insanity, interconnected realities, unfathomable entities beyond the comprehension of the sane, magic that draws on potentials that cannot be explained by science.

But what's it all about?

Arguably, it looks like this project will work better if it remains a collections of hooks and unfinished fragments to allow players to connect it all together in their own way as they play.

05 May, 2018

Dungeon Geomorphs

A geomorph is basically a tesselating frament of a map, a bunch of them can be mixed and matched in a variety of configurations to make a huge variety of potential maps. I've toyed with them before (notably here and the geomorph guide here).

I'm at it again. But this time focusing on fragments of maps that might build up into a dungeon. It's basically an add-on for Catacomb Quest, where a cluster of four map geomorphs (in a 2x2 configuration) or nine geomorphs (as a 3x3) might be used to define a single section of the underground world being explored.

In Catacomb Quest, I used suits of cards to define 4 distinct types of threats that might be found under an ancient ruined city. This means I'm probably looking at 36 of these geomorphs (if I do 9 for each of the four suits), for starters I'll create five generic geomorphs including the catacombs entrance, a pair of generic rooms, a branching passageway, and an underground crossroads. Then I'll add five specific geomorphs for each of the suits (mostly rooms, or in the case of the sewers, pipelines). That knocks me down to 25 geomorphs I need to draw, and also ensures some better consistency accross the underground labyrinth (due to the commonality of the generic geomorphs). They're all being drawn as a 7x7 grid, with squares 4cm x 4cm, on A3 paper. When shrunk down and printed on A4, the squares drop to 28mm x 28mm, which fits the bases of most miniatures (which are often 25mm square or 25/30mm diameter).

04 May, 2018

Living in a world of R-Souls...

A cosmology.

I had this idea for a setting, it might tie into an existing project, probably the Dark Places. It works on the idea that their are people with a divine spark, fractured essence of a primordial entity splintered into billions of fragments. Some people have more, some people have less. Those with less are capable of conscious thought, those with more are able to wield control over the world around them. In the old days, there were less people, so you get stories of Methuselah living to 969 years, epic heroes with amazing powers... the excess primordial energy occasionally infused animals and plants, giving them sentience as totems, and at times a convergence of excess power caused entities without physical grounding to spontaneously manifest (such entities might be referred to as gods, angels, spirits, demons, etc.).

As the population grew, the amount of excess energy waned. Fewer totems and non-physical manifestations occurred. In times when the population threatened to leave no excess energy at all, spirits would send plagies and wad to cull the pulation and refresh the excess energy reserves. A petty, greedy and vindictive trickster spirit rose to prominence over centuries, claiming energy for itself, teaching mortals how to limit the flow of energy to other similar entities, and eventually banish them from the mundane world. This trickster claims to be the one God, the alpha and omega... "him who is called I am". One of the most reliable ways to distil and extract soul energy from the universe is to birth followers and have them killed in your name. The trickster banned it's followers from contraception to maximise the mortals extracting soul energy from the universe, then devised "last rites" and deathbed confessionals to ensure the energy came their way.

Eventually there was no excess energy. The surviving spirits fought over the remaining energy, not seeing the true threat. We can add more analogues to history here, but we'll move through the "Age of Reason" when miracles were disclaimed and forgotten, through to the modern age. But we'll move to more recent decades umder the cosmology. More mortals are being born into the world and there was no energy to infuse them. The trickster doesn't want to give up the energy it has spent millennia accumulating, it hasn't released energy back into the world by invoking miracles for centuries.

Mortals are born without souls, without the divine spark. At first only a few, unnoticed among the masses. After generations,  their numbers increase exponentially.

These mortals have no divine spark, they are null entities in the universe. Any semblance of a soul is a reflection of the souls around them, some even claim that they absorb that soul energy to function, draining the people around them. These a called the "Reflected Souls", often contracted to "R-Souls" (the wordplay amuses many of the spirits and other celestial beings endlessly).

03 May, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 29 and 30

Let's finish off those last few April posts, now that we're almost a week into May.

29: Your Community

There are massive communities of gamers on G+ and Facebook, often orbiting "big name gamers", or some particular gaming product. I tried doing that with some of the games I've written, but nothing ever caught on. I feel like I drift through numerous other people's communities, but certainly don't feel like I have any communities of my own.

30: Top Tips and Advice

If I had any of those worth listening to, I'd probably be one of those "big name gamers". Even if I didn't have any of these worth listening to, if I was a "big name gamer" people would hang off my every utterance and treat it like gospel even if it was a load of crap.

I'm probably not in the best of moods to be to fishing off these questions. 

People to follow...

Just over a week ago, on day 24 of #AprilTTRPGMaker, I half jokingly said that my greatest achievement was my ability to obfuscate myself.  Then, this week a list of Tabletop Role-playing Gamers did the rounds. It's got 179 names on it (180, if you include the list compiler). I follow a few of them, and a few of them are respected names in various scenes of the wider gaming community... and naturally I'm not there.

Out of curiosity, I looked at some of the names on the list that I don't follow yet.

Some have been circled on G+ by less than an eighth of the people who've circled me... so I guess they're either in contact with "big names" in the community, or maybe they go to the various big name US/UK conventions where they get their names known.

Some of them haven't posted anything this year... so apparently I've got a lower profile than people who don't post things at all.

Some don't seem to post much original stuff at all, and only offer reshares once a week or so... so maybe that means prominent gamers only function as elements of an echo chamber.

Of course the list says not to feel bad if you were left off it. But when you're excluded in favour of less circled, less active, and less original people... it does feel like being snubbed. It really makes me wonder if sending messages out into the ether is worthwhile, or if I should just shut up, forget the whole creative side of gaming, and go back to being a passive consumer of stuff that never quite satisfies.  Maybe It's just the occasional bouts of depression talking.

02 May, 2018

Planet Psychon Acidpunk Edition

I need to start following Chris Tamm's Blog. He's a local (or at least another Aussie... he seems to alternate between Sydney and Adelaide), and he's doing the kind of stuff that I actually appreciate in the OSR.

Here's a link to a project he's been working on, in collaboration with a range of other folks.

It is Planet Psychon. It pushes boundaries, it provides ideas, it seems to work brilliantly with a bunch of ideas I've been having for my Dark Places setting. Actually, I think some of my ideas and some of his ideas have mingled in various facebook groups and other forums across the net, talking at cross purposes but feeding off one another none-the-less.

A lot of the ideas in this book have instantly inspired me, they aren't exactly the way I'd handle things, but nothing ever is. That's all a part of gaming, translating the source material to your specific table... It's a part of all art, translating the artist's message into something that means something to you.

I'm going to certainly add this book to the Dark Places inspiration list as I pore over it and pick it to pieces. I'll get back to you all shortly with a more structured critique.