Archive for October, 2008

Dance Movies

October 31, 2008

So I just watched Step Up 2 The Streets, the ultimate Halloween movie. And I was thinking, you could totally do this in Mist-Robed Gate. Whenever someone doesn’t want to make a choice, you have a dance fight. Now, most roleplayers probably aren’t used to describing dancing as well as they’re used to describing crazy attacks and defenses, but, with a little practice, I bet folks could turn out some wicked dance descriptions.

Also: Bollywood. Oh, yeah.

Roleplaying vs. Hanging Out

October 28, 2008

Brand mentioned that people oriented towards the social rewards of roleplaying don’t just view roleplaying as a way of hanging out with their friends. I responded:

I just wanted to “hell yes” this as a social socket person (with a minor in aesthetics). I’ve often said that, to me, a roleplaying game is chiefly a way of structuring social interaction to create more interesting results (for whatever definition of “interesting” you like, mine generally leans towards “aesthetically interesting”). As such, while hanging out is socially rewarding, playing games is socially rewarding in a variety of manners (depending on the game and playgroup) that are much harder to achieve in the social activities that are generally performed in contemporary middle class American society. It generates the same intoxicating social vibe, in my experience, as cooperating on some onerous project together: climbing a mountain as a group, putting on your own play. That feeling of collective accomplishment and what it does for interpersonal relationships is unmatched, I think.

Roleplaying (again, for me) is anthropology in reverse, a pro-active attempt to create ritual communities. The closest I corollary I can think of is designing worship services or planning the activities of a cult (in that sense, Dark Dungeons was spot-on). In what other hobby can you get a group of people to do almost anything by designing a rewarding social and creative experience around it? Only the kinds of postmodern art circles that I wouldn’t want to be a part of, probably. So, for people interested in human behavior and societies — how they work and how they could conceivably be designed to work — roleplaying offers an environment for enjoyment, learning, experimentation, and camaraderie that is unmatched. Hanging out is great, but it can’t do that.

Return of the Dragon

October 27, 2008

This is the first part of a script for a comic I’ve been thinking about doing for a while. It’s about what it’s like to be a supernatural creature in contemporary China, using that to examine all the day-to-day compromises people make in a place where the sheer number of people and scale of problems leads to different kinds of choices than we usually encounter in America.

The name of the lead character will change, because it’s currently stupid.

SCENE 1: Bedroom.

[Thurs 3:28 AM, two days before my return to Beijing.]

*Phone rings*

“Xiaolong! You’re… You’re all packed for your flight?”

“Mom? Is there’s something wrong?”
“It’s nothing. // I was just thinking… Life here can be a bit troublesome… // We all miss you very much! // But perhaps you’d rather stay in America where things are more casual and you have good prospects!”

“Mom, I’ve already bought my ticket. The cancellation charge is $500. Plus, it’s decided. I told all my friends that I’m going home and they’re having a party for me tomorrow night. After this week, I won’t even have an apartment.”

“Oh… okay. Well, I saw Mr. Xu the other day and his daughter just graduated from Fudan University-
“Mom, it’s the middle of the night here. Can we talk again tomorrow?”

“… Sure, Xiaolong. Sleep well. *click*”

(Laying awake).

SCENE 2: The Party.

“Dude, you’re going back after all this time. That’s so cool. Like ‘Return of the Dragon’ for real.”
“Return of the dragon?”
“You know, the Bruce Lee movie where he fights Chuck Norris in the Coliseum.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen that one.”
“No WAY!”

[After we party, he made me sit down and watch it, though I was tired and a little drunk. // The Chinese title was “Fierce Dragon Crosses the River,” probably a reference to Caesar and the Rubicon.]

[Crossing the Pacific was intimidating. Sixteen hours on a plane would present me with a whole new life. // But what had mom so anxious?]

[Forget it, the die is cast.]

SCENE 3: Dream.

Godzilla is destroying Beijing. Yu’s running away but bumps into an old man.
“Only you can save us from this monster!”
“Me? I can’t stop Godzilla!”
“Coward! Why won’t you save China? // You’ve been living in America so long you’ve forgotten who you are!”
“It’s not that. It’s just… he’s huge! And he’s got atomic breath!”
*Godzilla breathes on them and they both are incinerated*

Yu wakes up in his bed, all twisted in the sheets. The alarm is going off for his flight.

SCENE 4: The Plane.

[Sixteen hour flight, but I couldn’t fall asleep.]

“Please fill out these immigration forms prior to landing.”

A few panels of filling out the form.

Zoom in on part of the form that reads: ‘DECLARATION OF SUPERNATURAL NATURE // I am: 1) enlightened, 2) a god, spirit, or deified culture hero, 3) a living creature of myth, 4) a ghost or other non-living creature, 5) other (explain below).’

A few panels of him trying to think about what to mark.

[Hadn’t considered this. Probably easiest to not fill anything out and, if I encountered any problems, to just say I missed that section.]

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent into Beijing International Airport-”

SCENE 5: Customs.

There are separate lines for ‘Chinese Citizens’ and ‘Foreign Friends.’

Waits in ‘citizens’ line.

Hands forms and passport to female desk clerk.

She runs them through the computer system.

“You are Yu Xiaolong?”

“You should mark this box, ‘living creature of myth,’ on all forms that require your ‘supernatural nature.’ Otherwise you could encounter big problems, understand?”
“I understand.”

“Your entry can’t be processed here. *Stamp* *Ding’s bell three times* You need to go through the Special Office. (Two People’s Armed Police officers come over) They will take you there. (Hands forms to PAP).”

“… Thank you.”
“No need.”

The PAP lead him to the Special Customs Security Office, down a long corridor away from the other parts of customs and immigration. There are paramilitary personnel standing outside and inside the door, the ones outside maybe even carrying assault rifles on a strap.

“Please wait here.”

SCENE 6: Waiting Room.

It’s otherwise empty, but there’s a young women, about his age, sitting several chairs down from him.

Shot of him waiting, with clock.

More waiting; clock shows 20 minutes have passed.

He gets up and walks down to talk to the girl; clock shows 20 more minutes have passed.

“So, you’re also here to be processed? You must be some manner of goddess or culture hero, because you’re way too young to be enlightened.”


He sits down next to her.
“I apologize. If you don’t like talking about it… Were you on the flight from New York too? I was living in Boston before I deci-”

Shot of her face, which is a horrible demon visage full of teeth and eyes.

Special Customs Officer: “Yu Xiaolong, please come in. // Ms. Liu, I phoned your living descendants and they will be here soon to fill out some paperwork. They claim to be unaware of your return.”

Bliss Stage: Atlantis vs. West Cambridge

October 24, 2008

I’ve been playing Bliss Stage with some local folks (Dev, Robert, and Eben). It’s been terrific and I just posted a full write-up of the first two sessions on Story Games. I’m going to keep updating there, assuming I have time (AP reports take forever!), because this blog is already turning out words at an insane rate these days. Enjoy!

In Other Banjo News…

October 23, 2008

Travis Stever, the guitarist of Coheed & Cambria, has an album out with his new band Davenport Cabinet and, while the vocals aren’t very exciting (that’s why he’s the guitarist), there’s a lot of banjo all over the place, which surprised me. I’m dropping in my “emo folk” folder, to join — the only other entry — Bright Eyes’ Lifted Or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Not bad company, really. If you just wanna pick up one Davenport Cabinet track, I suggest the first track, “Square One,” which is an instrumental that opens with that unmistakable twang.

Danger Mouse Does Banjo Funk

October 23, 2008

Yeah, I wouldn’t have imagined it either, until I heard The Black Keys’ track “Psychotic Girl” while watching (coincidentally enough) Gossip Girl. So I looked it up and, yeah, produced by Danger Mouse. That’s a good way to earn my 99 cents, right there.

Here’s an iTunes link.

Outside Playtesting

October 23, 2008

Cross-posted from Story Games, where lately I’ve been trying to “post less, but post better,” which this is a good example of.

Outside playtesting is a tough egg to crack, in all honesty. You can have a really great game (Thou Art But a Warrior, How We Came to Live Here) and still have almost nobody playtest it, aside from groups your organize yourself. However, once you get a few people playtesting and posting about your game, you can usually get a few more, and then a few more. It’ll sometimes peter out, though. For example, when the GoPlayNW folks started playing Geiger Counter, there were a few weeks where I got 60% of all the outside play AP the game has ever had. Since then, I’ve gotten a few one-line notes that people have played and enjoyed it (which is awesome, don’t get me wrong), but only a few isolated AP posts. Those are still super useful and I’ll read over them like a hawk when I get around to writing the final version of the game, but it just goes to show that playtesting is a seesaw.

From my perspective, anything a creator can do to make it more likely that people will playtest their game is a good choice. And this means releasing it in as many different formats as they have the time and energy to do. PDFs are great, but if they don’t get people to sit down and actually play your game, you may have to try something else. Sometimes selling or giving away free print copies, even ones made on a photocopier like the Geiger Betas I gave away at GenCon, might help you with that… but, then again, they might not. I’m not sure if I’ve received ANY posts from people who picked up one of those hardcopies. That doesn’t mean they were a bad idea, necessarily, but that I’m not sure they worked in this particular case, at that particular venue, without me running the game and helping get folks excited about it (since I had to bail on actually going to GenCon at the last minute).

Another issue is that… who is your playtesting audience really? People have to be fairly committed to helping you with your game in order to playtest something, which usually means they have to be so excited about playing your game that they want to play it even when it isn’t complete. Honestly, folks who are really into indie games — especially other indie game creator-publishers, the folks whose attention you might think you need to get for your game to be vetted / successful / etc. — are probably less likely to do independent playtesting for you. They already have a bunch of games they’ve been wanting to play for a while, in addition to their own game projects that they need to playtest. If you can sit down with them at a housecon (frex. JiffyCon) or a larger convention (Dreamation, GenCon), you’ll probably find they’re more than happy to play your game and offer feedback, but getting folks to independently commit their own time is harder.

All that of which is to say: finding independent playtesters is hard. You want really smart, thoughtful people who aren’t already strongly committed to other projects and games, so they can take the time and attention to get excited about yours and actually play it, ideally more than once. Honestly, you may be more likely to find those 1) locally, among people you’ve talked to in person about your game, 2) on a general site like RPGnet, or 3) from among the lurkers on SG more than from among the people who post a lot or have published one or more games. How do you find those people? Really, it’s anybody’s guess.

The Bliss-Robed Lie, Layout

October 22, 2008

Right now, it’s looking like The Bliss-Robed Lie will be a free supplement for Bliss Stage, posted in alpha form here soon and eventually, once it’s been playtested, published free through Bleeding Play. After that, I’ll probably end up polishing up Agonia to be published the same fashion.

The Bliss-Robed Lie, Part 3

October 22, 2008

This is the third part of my Matrix-y hack of Bliss Stage.


Trauma, Terror, & Gnosis. Trauma still represents a team leader’s mental anguish, killing them if it ever reaches seven (7). Terror represents how badly the mission is going and, additionally, how many servitors of the Archons have become aware of the characters. Gnosis replaces Bliss as the trait that removes characters from the group (they become the anchor of another group) or allows them to replace the group’s anchor (and have their player become the GM) once it hits 108 and a character becoming enlightened.

Truth, Trust, & Stress. The potency of a relationship lies in its authenticity, its ability to overcome the Lie. Truth, then, replaces Intimacy, while still using the Intimacy Levels Chart as a rough guideline for what Truth values represent. Trust and Stress remain.

Harm & Death. Team members involved in missions can suffer Harm if one or more objectives are not achieved, though Harm is not usually allotted for missions that are abandoned with even being attempted. Additionally, characters can gain Harm from broken relationships. Any character that gains three (3) Harm is killed and all team leaders gain 3xTruth in Gnosis, becoming more aware of death.

The First Action

The Plan. The Archons and their servitors are planning a new assault on the Lower Heavens, attempting to destroy your group and any other rebels they can find. In order to throw a wrench in their plan, you need to take out several targets, which can be key servitors, bases, artifacts, machines, or a mixture of the above. Each team will be responsible for taking out a single target, though it’s possible that teams from other groups are participating as well. The captain will clearly be leading one team, perhaps at the most important target, but each of his lieutenants will also be leading a team.

Initial Objectives. 1) Destroy the target; 2) Get out alive. If the first objective is unsuccessful, the team leader chooses one team member to gain Harm. If the second objective is unsuccessful, you’ll have more than Harm to worry about.

The Bliss-Robed Lie, Part 2

October 22, 2008

The second part of my Matrix-inspired hack of Bliss Stage.


Your Group & Other Groups. You should choose a name for your group, plus the names of any other groups of liberated humans, if they exist. You should also decide whether other groups have figured out how to hack into the Lie or not.

Your Anchor. Generally, each group will have a single anchor, since newly escaped Nephalim and newly enlightened mortals generally start their own groups. The anchor is played by the GM, though this can change later in the game. Together, the players should brainstorm the name of your anchor, some details about, and decide whether they are a Nephalite or enlightened mortal.

Your Captain. Captains are generally arrogant and brash, following their own instincts and ideals instead of the best interests of their group and humanity. The captain’s player, with the help of the players, should brainstorm the captains background and personal quirks. It is the captain’s job to create additional drama among the other characters by pursuing their personal white whale.

Your Characters. The other main characters are the captain’s main trusted lieutenants, the ones who will be leading teams into the Lie to accomplish Missions. Name and describe them, one for each remaining player (so 4 players = 1 GM + 1 Cap’n + 2 Lieutenants).

Other Group Members. There are also other characters in your group, liberated humans that serve as teammates, friends, rivals, lovers, and family. Name and describe a few of them.

Other Characters. There are also other people who are not members of your group, either members of other groups or significant people within the Lie that you have important relationships with. Name and describe a few of these as well.

Templates and Assigning Relationships. The captain and other main characters should all choose Pilot Templates, while the Anchor gets an Anchor Template. The captain and main characters should also assign values to their relationships with each other, your anchor, and any other characters they choose. Characters not explicitly assigned relationships use the default relationship values. Assigning relationships to adversaries such as Archons and their servitors is only important if you want to eventually team up with them on a Mission.

[Dream Game] Escape from the Tombs

October 22, 2008

Bizarre dreams last night, including a semi-RPG and a lost episode of Avatar Book III. This post is about the game, which seemed like a cross between Fred Hick’s Escape or DIE! and Jason Morningstar’s Drowning & Falling. I was at JiffyCon (in the dream) and planned to play some Exalted hack with Shreyas and Elizabeth, but we were waiting for the game to start, so we wandered over to another table where folks where playtesting another game.

The game involved placing cards on the table to form a basic labyrinthine dungeon, with some cards connecting to others and some not, very much like what a finished dungeon in Drowning & Falling looks like. And then the group decides on some basic reason that all their characters are trapped in a dungeon. I said, “Can I suggest that this is some kind of ancient archaeological site that we’ve stumbled into while looking for valuable cultural artifacts, Indiana Jones style?” Folks were very enthusiastic about that suggestion.

Play consisted of rolling some dice to see if 1) you could move between rooms, in the hopes of grabbing something valuable before fleeing for your life, and 2) making sure nothing terrible happened to your character in the new room. For example, I remember Shreyas rolled a success on movement and a failure on preventing something bad, narrating, “Okay, the door in front of me has a symbol like a purple bubble wand on it — P.S. there are bubble wands in this dungeon, okay — so I blow some bubbles on the door and it opens, but then some black tentacle shoots out from behind the door and pulls me through it, screaming.”

Unfortunately, that’s all I remember.

[Dream Episode] Avatar: Book III, The Forge

October 22, 2008

Here’s the lost Avatar episode from Book III that I dreamed about last night.

The crew of heroes (Aang, Kitara, Sokka, Toph, and Appa, with Suki still missing) arrive on an island where all the Fire Nation folks aren’t evil. In fact, they’re downright friendly, aside from their very old evil overseer. This island hosts the forge where they make metals and turn them into the technology and weapons that are used both in the war and for peaceful purposes. However, the forge once burned down, long ago, killing all the original workers. Their children and grandchildren, who bravely carried on the tradition of metalworking, clearly understand and respect the dangers of fire.

The forge itself, as the crew learns during their tour as visiting “guests from the main islands,” sits on top of a dormant volcano. The workers use firebending to draw magma up from the earth, seperate out the metals they want, and then shape it into what they need. There’s also a large pond in the volcano crater for them to place hot metal objects in, so they can cool. The workers only call up small amounts of magma at a time, because using a lot of firebending all at once runs the risk of awakening the dormant volcano, but their slow and methodical work style is despised by the Fire Nation generals who visit, demanding that more warmachines be made quickly. The forge workers ask Aang and the other guests to let people on the main islands know that metalworking is an art that takes time, so patience is needed.

Also, importantly, there’s a cute local girl working in the forge who hits on Sokka, but he’s trying hard not to be infatuated because he’s still worried about Suki. Also important is the local dress. Men wear a kind of poncho while women wrap themselves in a long flowing piece of cloth, somewhat like an Indian sari.

However, the evil, ancient overseer somehow discovers that the Avatar is visiting the forge and decides to reignite the dormant volcano and burn down the entire community… just as he did in the past when the workers revolted and refused to make materials for the war. So he uses his master-level firebending powers to call up a whole bunch of magma all at once. Things go crazy and the kids initially climb on Appa and start flying around trying to fix things, but even they can’t stop a volcano from erupting. They’re safe on Appa but they quickly weigh their options: flying away (“There’s no way we can save all these people!”) or dying here with them (“Our mission is too important to throw your life away! You have to save the world!”) before Sokka comes up with a crazy plan, like he always does.

Wading out into the pond, he tells all the people to take off their clothes. They at first look at him like he’s crazy. They are about to burn to death and he’s telling them to get naked? Desperate, Sokka demonstrates. He takes off the poncho they’ve given him, stands in the middle of the pond in his underwear, and holds one end of the poncho over his head, saying, “…then you find a partner to hold the other side, and when the pond boils and becomes steam, the hot air will lift you both up in the air, so you can float to safety, just like a Fire Nation airship.” The people still think he’s nuts until the cute local girl wades into the pond and takes off her sari. The camera only shows her blushing from the neck up, while Sokka’s eyes almost fall out of their sockets. She hands Sokka the other end of her garment and grabs onto one side of his poncho. Now the rest of the people quickly scramble into the pond and start ripping off their clothes.

The kids make Aang stay on Appa, to help airbend the floating people through the air, away from the volcano, and also to make sure that “In case this doesn’t work…” Aang will be okay and can still try to kill the Firelord on the Day of Black Sun. Aang doesn’t even want to think about that possibility. “It’ll work,” he says.

(I’m not sure how Sokka planned to keep people’s legs from being boiled in the pond before it turns to steam and carries them away, or how the steam wouldn’t just burn folks to a crisp, but, this was a dream, so it wasn’t worried about those things.)

So, in the end, the concrete parts of the dream, before it started wandering in strange directions, ended with a crowd of mostly naked people being shot into the air, held aloft in pairs by their clothes. Yay, Avatar fan service! I can only assume that, after they land, people will put their clothes back on and go take down the evil overseer.