Archive for September, 2007

Tagging Pains

September 29, 2007

So I’m beginning the long process of tagging all the posts in this blog, 167 of which are untagged. The vast majority of those are inherited from its previous incarnation as thou-and-one.blogspot.com, but I also didn’t tag posts until quite recently, because I am an idiot.

For now, I think I’m going to stick with tagging the posts that are related to a particular design project. I just finished tagging all 17 posts related to the Exalted Hack, for example.

This is going to be a royal pain, but definitely a step towards making all of this more organized and accessible.

Everything Old is New Again

September 29, 2007

Turns out this is my week for digging out old projects and posting them. The Flower Revenge, which Paul Czege and Danielle apparently want me to turn into a comic, was just the tip of the iceberg.

Today I found and posted:

I’m going to try to dig up and post a bunch of other earlier stuff, since I want to do a better job of making One Thousand One into a repository of all my previous work and a place where I can come to synthesize earlier drafts of things into new, working versions.

Cold City: Shutting Down, Session 1

September 26, 2007

I’m running Malcolm Craig’s Cold City for Adam Flynn, Robert Ahrens, Eben Lowe, and Nathan Paoletta. It was actually planning for the game that gave me the ideas that became Mwaantaangaand.

Last night was the first session, which Nathan unfortunately couldn’t be at. The four of us spent the first hour or so talking about the style and tone of the game. We decided:

  • we wanted some Hidden Agendas to be “open” (general knowledge to the players) and some to be “closed” (secret, discovered in play),
  • we wanted the GM to have some secret Hidden Agendas of his own, though we didn’t really talk about how to implement these (maybe I’ll just make some major NPCs with Hidden Agendas, since they seems like what I’m supposed to do),
  • we wanted the game to be kinda noir-y and realistic without worrying too much about the actual details of history (Eben, with loads of German experience, will be sitting on his hands),
  • it may, in the end, be unclear if there’s really any supernatural happenings going on at all (since the Nazis did some horrible things to people that might render them disturbed or inhuman, but not necessarily undead or alien or whatever),
  • and some other stuff, which I don’t really remember.

Adam‘s playing a young Russian officer who missed most of the war because he was involved in other things. He was a snappy dresser, loved the Party but hated Stalin, was hoping to uncover proof that the Americans were misusing Nazi secrets, and was incredibly unsubtle in trying to recruit people to the Soviet side (possibly because he was working in German, which wasn’t his native language). A fairly recent arrival to the Reserve Police Agency (the setting’s multi-national secret-hunting task force), he was reassigned because his superiors suspect that the German members of the RPA may be covering up Nazi secrets instead of exposing him. He’s here to fix that. Adam’s character was in two initial scenes, which is why we know more about him than the other characters.

Robert‘s playing a former German sapper whose devil-may-care attitude led to the loss of his arm fairly early in the war, before everything turned South. After having been stuck at a desk job for most of the remainder of the conflict, he started working in the central office of the RPA, mostly filing paperwork and handling other administrative details. He’s originally from Wiemar, which means he’s an old-school German nationalist who thinks of the Republic fondly and has not yet realized that that world will never return, but be washed away by Cold War divisions.

Eben‘s playing a highly assimilated Brit of South Asian descent, so assimilated that he’s been Church of England for a couple generations. Most of his family was killed during the war and, with few attachments, he was an attractive recruit to the RPA. Though a technical officer in the Royal Air Force, he’s also a pencil pusher in the central RPA office, but has extensive knowledge of the various records that have been inherited from previous German agencies.

The overall premise of the game, we decided, was that the RPA is in the midst of being gradually shut down. Many of the active units have been disbanded (or killed, it’s not entirely clear), but there are a few administrative details that need to be taken care of. The paperwork has to be processed. The files of various units need to be organized and boxed away for safekeeping. The central RPA office has to comb through the various units’ operational bases to make sure nothing incriminating, secret, or important is being left behind for others to find.

In the first scene, the Russian and German characters were sent to the former headquarters of an American-led RPA unit that had closed (the Russian there largely to make sure the German didn’t cover up anything). They bickered a bit amidst the remnants of a converted bunker before the Russian stumbled across a list of regularly-collected blood sample data that had been taken from (after a conflict to piece the data together or be in immediate danger; he succeeded) a minor German actress that the American-led unit had under surveillance. While he was glancing over his find, the German (after a conflict to see if the Russian noticed; he didn’t) pocketed a unknown file that had the Nazi state seal on it. Cut.

In the second scene, the Russian was attempting to track down other information on this actress, enlisting the assistance of the Brit. As they walked down the street to the archive where the former SS surveillance files were kept, a Russian artillery lieutenant, recently arrived in Berlin, stepped out of a car and entered RPA headquarters with his entourage. The Brit raised an eyebrow. There was no luck finding the original paper files of the actress in the archive, but when they checked the microfiche records, it showed the files had already been put on film, presumably because someone thought they were important. However, when they opened the box that supposedly contained the appropriate films, there was nothing inside. (Here there was kinda a wishy-washy conflict where the Russian tried to get the Brit on his side; he succeeded). Sighing, they began to search the boxes near it alphabetically, hoping that it had simply been misplaced. Cut.

All in all, a slow but good start, I think. I really like the idea that the game is going to start with minor administrative errands and build to all the secrets that the RPA is going to leave unsolved once they shut down. I’m also thinking that, perhaps, the characters won’t even be part of any official unit, but be uncovering this stuff together, as part of their larger responsibilities in various RPA subunits. In any case, I’m really excited for the next session and to see how Nathan injects more awesome into what we’ve already established.

Come Home, Believer

September 25, 2007

Ah, I finally have a title for the Coheed & Cambria game… Come Home, Believer: House Atlantic, Its Rise and Fall, A Pageant of Blood & Beauty in IV Acts.

The Flower Revenge

September 25, 2007

After I run Cold City for a cool group of folks, I told Dev and Eben that I’d run a game for them based on the music of Coheed & Cambria.

It’s not hard to explain why I find Claudio Sanchez’s band so enthralling. All of the band’s music is part of a massive four-part apocalyptic space fantasy rock opera involving robots, a fascist mage-run empire, angels ripping off their wings to become human, a messianic force called The Crowing, inheritable viruses that can destroy the universe, an untrustworthy and interfering narrator called the Writing Writer, the demoniacally possessed bicycle of the Writer known as Tenspeed Of God’s Blood and Burial, and other heaping loads of utter ridiculousness.

Coheed & Cambria’s music is clearly the kind of shit you dreamed of writing in high school. It’s solipsistic and self-absorbed (the main character’s name is Claudio), it’s all about problems with girls, its wrapped in totally bizarre imagery pulled from every bit of genre fiction that you loved in your childhood, and it’s epic and unrealistic on a ridiculous level.

Part of the reason I identify with it so much is I have a somewhat similar project sitting on the hard drive of my old computer, dating back to 1998 when I was a sophomore in high school. I dug it out to show off and be embarrassed by. It’s called The Flower Revenge and was sometimes subtitled “A Rock Opera Apocalypse.”

The premise of the thing is that there’s a girl named Adri who is the embodiment of revenge, known as Payback. Adri delivers suffering like Santa Claus. People send her letters like “Bitch must pay for what he did” and she goes on delivery trips where she inflicts revenge. Adri inherited this role from dozens of people who’ve had the role of Payback before, but they all eventually retired because they couldn’t deal with dispensing so much terrible stuff on generally undeserving people.

People who retire from being Payback simply become demons and continue to serve in the retinue of the new Payback, though they no longer have the responsibility and angst that comes with the role. The previous incarnation of payback was Sandras, who is now the chief demon serving Adri. Now, the current Payback cannot retire from their role until they find someone to replace them and convince them to accept the responsibilities.

The Flower Revenge, then, begins with Adri encountering the protagonist, a boy named Azrael. Azrael falls for Adri and eventually becomes convinced to take on the role of Payback, mostly because he cares so much for her and wants to martyr himself to release her from her torturous responsibilities. The first act ends with Azrael’s first run as Payback and his embracing of his new role.

In the second act, the world’s demand for revenge becomes so overwhelming that Payback can’t deliver all of it on his own. In these circumstances, Payback is supposed to break one of the Seven Seals (from the Book of Revelation) which releases some of the tension by giving Payback supernatural assistants who help deliver suffering on a grand level. So Azrael breaks the first seal, summoning the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, The Conqueror.

Soon afterwards, Adri recieves a letter from Satan summoning her presence in Hell (Satan is nominally in charge of Payback and her retinue, since they’re demons). Without Adri around, Azrael suffers a breakdown and four of the remaining Seals are broken, summoning the rest of the Four Horseman (The Fool, Justice, and Death) and The Martyrs. Sandras agrees to take on the role of Payback temporarily, hoping to “stall the apocalypse” (which happens when all Seven Seals break) while Azrael travels to hell to find Adri.

I never wrote the lyrics to Act III, unfortunately, so I’m not sure exactly what happens. The world ends, of course, and Azrael and Adri are united in a giant fucked up martyr romance finale. And I know I planned a fun trio by Brutas, Judas, and Dante (Dante having replaced Cassius) while they’re being chewed on in Satan’s three mouths, as described in the Inferno. I had all the tracks written in my head up through the first couple tracks of Act III, but I never really notated them (I still can’t really read music that well) or recorded them, so I mainly have a giant Word file with all the lyrics.

Anyway, yeah, here’s the track list. Thought I’d share 🙂

The Flower Revenge

Act I

[prelude]
[through the years]
[cry]
[azrael’s anthem]
[girl meets boy]
[cup o’ sugar]
[spider and the fly]
[bats in the belfry]
[adri’s anthem]
[goblins & dynamite]
[hall of those before]
[what can I say]
[chaining]
[run 101]
[a new anthem]

Act II

[wonderlust]
[demonology]
[hold your horses]
[one] the conqueror
[speak of the devil]
[einstein’s dreams]
[all fool’s day]
[two] the fool
[three] justice
[four] death
[sandras’ cry]
[five] the martyrs
[stall the apocalypse]
[orpheus again]
[going to hell]

Act III

[fizzle-bang]
[pandemonium]
[styx & stones]
[too late for love]
[mr. mephisto]
[backstabbers’ jubilee]
[a deal]
[fuck immortality]
[six] betrayal
[packing up]
[don’t look back]
[last request]
[seven] the end
[after the end]
[cry]

Mwaantaangaand Quickstart

September 24, 2007

Matthijs asked for Mwaantaangaand in a more easily printable format, so I’ve posted the shortened, 4-page contest PDF in case anyone wants something to print out, read, and/or playtest.

It has much less information about the various Angolan factions and ethnic groups, but all the rules are there. With the brevity of coverage on Angola in the current version of the game (since it’s not like the Angolan Civil War is common knowlege, unfortunately), I kinda hope people do a bit of research on their own, learning more about the MPLA if they’re gonna play an MPLA character, etc.

There’s some interesting tidbits that are going to make it into future drafts too, like the MPLA controlling all the oil reserves in Angola while UNITA controlled most of the diamond mines.

Mwaantaangaand v0.1

September 23, 2007

Just posted the final intial draft of Mwaantaangaand, a game that seeks to bring the fun developments that I’ve been working on in various other design projects to people who don’t care about Avatar or Exalted.

The game is heavily inspired by Malcolm Craig’s Cold City, but it runs on a largely “structured freeform” system that has a bit of strategy and resource manipulation involved in the way corrupted spirits are fought.

The premise of the game involves a coalition of soldiers from the various factions of the Angolan Civil War descending into the land of the dead to destroy the horrors created by Project Coast, South Africa’s biological weapons program.

P.S. I wrote it for Jason Morningstar’s game design contest.

The Keys of the Keywork

September 20, 2007

Hey, look, it’s TSOY Coheed & Cambria!

  • Key of the Monstar: 1 XP, work to destroy the Sinstar Virus. 3 XP, kill someone with the Sinstar Virus. Buyoff, be injected with the serum, destroy the Keywork.
  • Key of the Sinstar: 1 XP, protect yourself from those that want to save the Keywork. 3 XP, fully aware that you will eventually destroy everything, refuse to sacrifice yourself. Buyoff, when you come of age, destroy the Keywork.
  • Key of the Crowing: 1 XP, resist your role as messiah. 3 XP, steadfastly refuse to do your duty, in the face of everyone who may perish. Buyoff, save the world.
  • Key of the Prise: 1 XP, aid the heroes without getting personally involved. 3 XP, refuse to become personally involved at great cost to your own goals. Buyoff, remove your wings and become human.
  • Key of the Inferno: 1 XP, mentor the heroes in their destiny. 3 XP, reveal dark secrets from your own past that make your goals seem questionable. Buyoff, die so that the hero can embrace their destiny.
  • Key of the Writer: 1 XP, agonize and overthink a particular direction in the story. 3 XP, pause the action while you discuss the narrative with yourself, showing that you are batshit crazy. Buyoff, enter the story yourself.

Strategy-Free Games

September 19, 2007

I’ve been getting a bunch of good comments on this post I made on Story Games, so I thought I’d re-post it here, with some clarifications.

While Fingers on the Firmament is currently allowing me to indulge a bit in a retro-future game design style, something that mixes D&D with weird bleeding age hippy stuff, if someone asked me to talk about what my own design “school” or interests were like, it would start from a couple of core principles, which are basically things to avoid. I know that defining this negatively instead of positively is not the best thing in the world, but it’s a start.

  • I Don’t Want to Design Perfectly Balanced Mathematical Systems: I’m a humanities major. I want to create beautiful structures that are built on words, ideas, and themes. If you’re writing a system that uses dice or resource mechanics, it’s important to limit the kinds of design decisions you make to create a game system that’s easy to remember and learn, one in which you’re not constantly using a different set of rules for every different task. You want consistency and elegance. You don’t want to roll 3D6 for Task X and then, the next time, be rollng 1D12+8 for the same task. You have to make sure that the players gain and use resources at the right speed. You have to make all the numbers work together like a well-oiled machine. I’m doing this now for Geiger Counter and it is a royal pain in the ass. If I was writing it using freeform guidelines (say, like Polaris‘ ritual language negotiation thing) instead of mechanics, I wouldn’t have to do any of this. I’d playtest the ritual phrases a bunch to make sure they created the type of play I wanted, but that’s a whole different set of issues and, honestly, a task that’s much more interesting to me as a designer.
  • I Don’t Want To Have To Be Successful Strategically In Order To Express Myself Effectively In Play, including managing resources, doing probabilities in my head, maneuvering miniatures around, picking the best skill set, picking the best feats, picking a charm list that makes me be the badass I wanted to be, understanding the combat rules, etc. If I decide I want to make a character who’s a badass, I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time working on it, making sure he’s a badass. He should be a badass because the group have decided that he is, not because I’m successful at maneuvering my way through the mechanical puzzle of making an effective character and taking strategically appropriate actions. This is especially true if the rulebook DOES NOT TELL ME HOW TO MAKE AN EFFECTIVE CHARACTER at any of the major tasks that will regularly occur in play, but instead expects me to learn by making a bunch of ineffective characters and having them fail or get killed until I figure out an effective way to do things. If I wanted to join a mystery cult, I would become a Mason.

Yessir.

In The Theory Fog

September 18, 2007

Something I just posted on Knife Fight.

—–

I’ve been stumbling around for a while, arms waving around, trying to find other people in this mess.

A short while ago, Emily slammed into me.

“Here you are!” She said.

“Yeah, I’ve been here the whole time! Well, at least since I wandered over here from the Forge. I think Mo’s over here somewhere, but I’m not sure. I keep hearing her voice, though. Where have you been?”

“I was over there with Vincent and Meg and Joshua and Ben! But then I met some crazy Jeepform guys and decided to come wandering over here.”

“So what happened to the Jeepform guys?”

“Oh, I lost them somewhere over there, near Jason, Remi, and the other improv folks.”

“Ah, well I like this area a lot, but I haven’t really been able to find much except this couch. Here, have a seat and rest a spell.”

“I don’t have time to rest! I’m going to go find other people!”

So she grabbed my hand and started dragging me along behind her.

Fingers Blog Live

September 13, 2007

The Fingers on the Firmament project is now serious enough to have its own blog, where Justin and I will throw down. All new posts about the project will happen there.

It also contains all the top secret brainstorming emails that we’ve traded, so there’s a bunch of new content for folks who are following along.

Grappling with the Stars, Crew Missions

September 13, 2007

12:28 PM Elizabeth: I think it sounds completely exciting; I really like the multi-class thing, especially since it can happen before the game even starts.12:29 PM It’s been a while since I played d20, but it seems no one ever starts from scratch in a d20 game anyway, because most pre-existing settings/adventures/etc. are seriously no fun for that.12:31 PM It’s been really interesting to watch you post more stuff about it, because it seems like (and I mean, duh, this is what you’re going for) everything really reinforces the helplessness/connection themes.12:32 PM Plus, when I went through your project listing earlier this week with you, this was the game that I thought sounded coolest. So I’m kind of biased, I guess12:34 PM I’d like to see more about the crews, though. Basically, does it mean a group of people all reach for the same star? Can too many people reach for a star at once? How does the actual travel work?12:39 PM me: ha well, i figure crews may operate differently if you all know the destination you’re headed to, different people may take different routes there12:40 PM i also think there could be slightly different ways to approach travel like, you could take short swings, jumping across a few stars to get to a place or you could pick out the tiny star amidst the heavens and just swing directly to it12:41 PM but the latter holds more risk, because you might grab the wrong thing unless you are really precise and experienced and talented but i generally think that stars are big enough that it doesn’t really matter how many people grab them the star certainly doesn’t care12:44 PM Elizabeth: Okay. So people in a crew may travel separately, but are all going to the same destination? So how do they make sure no one gets lost? me: well, they train people really well and mentor them12:45 PM and then, if people do get lost, there are standard search-and-rescue procedures Elizabeth: ohhhh me: but that doesn’t sound like what you’re asking12:46 PM the sense i get is that you’re advised not to swing unless you 1) know where you’re going or 2) are with a crew that’s guiding you or 3) are training with a mentor Elizabeth: So the crew-ness is a function, essentially, of what happens after transit– the training so that you can travel more safely, etc, as opposed to a function of the travel itself? So basically, even with a crew, when you reach for a star you’re essentially reaching alone? me: well, traveling on your own is really only possible if you totally know the area12:47 PM traveling in unknown territory without a crew is crazy Elizabeth: right me: because it’s super easy to get lost and no one will find you yeah, you always swing along, ultimately that’s part of the alone/togetherness thing12:48 PM Elizabeth: right, I just got that. That’s awesome. me: i’m not sure if you can pull other people along i hadn’t really considered it like, can you grab someone’s hand a
nd reach for a star?
that seems like it would make for bizarre grappling star combat12:49 PM Elizabeth: heee me: where you try to dump people in space that they don’t know but you also run the risk of getting lost yourself, if you’re not careful i kinda like that, actually Elizabeth: You could fling someone into space and they’d have to grab for a star or get lost12:50 PM And they’d have to decide whether reaching for an unfamiliar star is better than just kind of hurtling through the cosmos me: well, i was more thinking that you’d have to pull people along with you, get them off of you, and then swing away Elizabeth: Oooh, yes me: i don’t think you can really hurtle other people, unless its some weird magical ability i like it all being really tactile12:51 PM Elizabeth: Right. I mean, it’s essentially built around this one really compelling sensory image me: that also means that, if someone’s trying to get away, you could tackle them and go with them, or try to keep their fingers from grabbing the right star but, also, dangerous Elizabeth: right
me: the star-wrestling/aikido think sounds potentially very cool, and makes combat very specific and limited, which is what i want and it de-incentivizes it12:54 PM because you could easily end up very, very lost hmm, maybe, if characters run the risk of being lost in a semi-permanent way, there needs to be a way to control multiple characters12:55 PM Elizabeth: Which makes it rare and high-stakes and dramatic, which is my favorite kind of combat me: right it’s like combat in Riddle of Steel12:56 PM but is also generally non-lethal, but potentially life- and soul-destroying, which is almost worse Elizabeth: I like the idea of characters who were separated and ended up on entirely different sides of the universe trying to find each other again– either due to THIRST FOR VENGEANCE or family or love or whatever12:58 PM but that doesn’t sound like the kind of scenario which would really lend itself to one person controlling multiple characters, does it? I mean, in that case it’d be kind of like trying to tickle yourself1:00 PM me: right i definitely think the Lost Lovers theme is going to be big as is the Lost Family1:01 PM or Lost Enemies thing so many people get lost some of them are bound to include people you care about maybe there’s some way for players whose characters are lost to keep playing until their characters reappear?1:02 PM but more off-screen? so the spotlight is mainly on the crew Elizabeth: Right me: but they could have more GMy powers or something Elizabeth: Maybe when you’re lost, you play someone important to another crew member?1:03 PM Tangentially, maybe in flashbacks or just how it affects the crew member’s mindset me: right, you could play major NPCs or something and then, you could ultimately decide to take on an NPC and have your character stay lost or just become an NPC themselves if they return Elizabeth: I like that a lot!1:05 PM Man, lost love and lost family are great, right, but the lost enemy thing is really compelling to me1:06 PM Because the risk of losing yourself to find someone you love is like, almost a no-brainer, but the idea of risking losing yourself to punish someone is really conflicted and, I don’t know I guess you’d have to be careful not to get all Wolverine-y though. 😉1:11 PM me: ha well, you could put a crew together specifically to track down someone you all hate maybe one major part of character creation is deciding what the purposes of your crew are1:12 PM and then, if you achieve them or give up on them, you’ll have to find new reasons to stay together or else go off to join other crews1:13 PM Elizabeth: And that could lead to different games with the same characters; game one could be a lost family game, and then later you could get the family as a crew to track down the person that separated them, etc1:14 PM Without it all having to be one super-long never ending game without a conclusion 🙂1:16 PM me: right crews have purposes gives you concrete goals i was talking a bit with Justin about allowing for short 3-session arcs and then longer campaigns1:17 PM so you have punctuated stopping places Elizabeth: That kind of flexibility is pretty hot

Just when you need detailed grappling rules…
All About Grappling (Part One) by Skip Williams
All About Grappling (Part Two)
All About Grappling (Part Three)
All About Grappling (Part Four)