November 3, 2013

Hex Map

Because sometimes you have to go old school with your mapping.

Hex Map 1

Posted by Jvstin at 2:28 PM

October 4, 2013

Warlock II?

This trailer for Warlock II cracks me up. Warlock I is a fun strategy game, interested in what the sequel will do.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:03 PM

October 25, 2012

Fallen Enchantress

Fallen Enchantress: Stardock 's answer to the debacle that was Elemental: 4x fantasy strategy with RPG elements:

Posted by Jvstin at 7:27 AM

September 15, 2012

13th Age: Pink Slime


You can thank, or blame, Lou Anders for inspiring the dreaded Pink Slime.

Stats are for Pelgrane Press' 13th Age.

Slime, Pink

The amorphous mass of moving bright pink material is far deadlier than
its cheery color might suggest, as many adventurers have discovered to their


Large 4th level Spoiler [Aberration]
Initiative +3

+9 vs PD: 14 damage and 5 points of ongoing Acid damage.
Miss: 3 points of Acid damage
On a natural even hit with the Pseudopod,it can use Engulf on its next turn on that opponent.

Engulf: +11 vs PD, 18 Acid damage, 5 points of ongoing Acid Damage, and the
target is weakened until the end of its next turn (-4 attacks and defenses).

AC 19
PD 20
MD 13

HP 54

Resist weapons 10+: When a weapon attack hits this creature, the attacker must roll a 10+ on a d20 or the attack deals only half damage instead.

Nastier Specials
Slime Glob Attack [in addition to a Pseudopod attack]
+9 vs AC, Ranged. 10 damage and 5 points of ongoing Acid Damage. On a natural even miss, the ranged attack does 3 points of Acid Damage.


No Icon wants to admit that they created the horror of Pink Slime. The likely source is probably the Archmage, but no one is certain. None of the Icons are depraved enough to try and use the slime as a defender in their citadels.

13th Age and the Icons are trademarks of Fire Opal Media. This article published by agreement with Pelgrane Press Ltd.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:04 PM

August 16, 2012

Gurps Infinite Worlds: Parallel Earth Creation

Gurps Infinite Worlds: Parallel Earth Creation

Because I felt like coming up with Parallel Earths and let the dice decide what comes:

Parallel I

Tech level: TL7 (Nuclear Age 1940-1980's)
Tech variant: Supers
Superheroes Rule the Earth

1 Civilization
Chinese or Japanese [Pick: Japanese]

Civilization Unity:

So, what we have is One World Japanese State, run by Supers.

So, Japanese Superheroes emerged in the Tokugawa Shogunate. Thought
to be blessed by the Gods, or perhaps children of same, the Westerners
coming to visit in the 16th century got a rude surprise.

By now, the 20th century, Japan rules the Globe. The Shogun
is a Super himself, and so are many of the Samurai.

With the world cowed and under the rule of the Superhero Shogun, what
happens now? Brooding revolution in conquered lands? Conflict between
Supers to rule the Shogunate? Travel to other parallel worlds under
the Shogun's banner?

Parallel II
Tech Level: TL4 (Age of Sail)
Tech Variant: None

5 Civilizations

Western: Empire with Rivals
Norse: Diffuse
Islamic: Multipolar (4)
Orthodox:Empire with Satellite States
Chinese: Unitary

So, the year is 1500.

Europe is dominated by an Angevin Empire with plenty of rivals from Burgundy to Poland.

The Norse have a bunch of states--Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Vinland. The Norse
reached North America first, and are heavily invested there.

The world of Islam is based around a quartet of Caliphates--from Andalus in the West to the Sultanate of Delhi.

Byzantium survives in this world, an Empire with Satellite states in the Balkans and Russia, too.

The great dynasty of the Song stretches from Tibet and Burma, east to Japan and the Philippines.

Lots of conflict in this world. Byzantium and the Caliphates, Byzantium and the Angevins, the Norse
with everybody, the Islamic states with the Chinese pushing west.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:02 PM

July 13, 2012

Night's Black Agents


I have Night Level Clearance.

Seriously, Pelgrane Press makes very interesting roleplaying games, and I am happy to have pre-ordered this one.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:08 PM

March 20, 2012

Secret Service Code names

Surely, all of you know by now that Presidential candidates, as well as elected Presidents and Vice Presidents, get Secret Service code names.

The code names for Santorum and Romney have been leaked out:

I like to think of Secret Service Code names as the modern equivalent of Roman cognomens, the "third part" of a tripartite Roman name. Cicero, for example, is really Marcus Tullius' cognomen. Ceasar was Gaius Julius' cognomen. Not everyone got one, or earned one. And after a while, the cognomen became formalized, and so a second cognomen, the agnomen, was created.

(example: Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus)

Anyway, what would *you* pick if you had the chance to get a Secret Service code name. For you writer types, what would your characters pick?

Me, personally, I'd either go classical and pick something Roman based (Cicero would not be a bad choice, really, he's a hero to me) or something mythological. Griffin, possibly. :)

Posted by Jvstin at 12:47 PM

March 19, 2012

Roll Perception Plus Awareness: Tekumel

A new RPPA column is up at SF Signal.

This time I look at the legacy of the recently died M.A.R. Barker: His unique world of Tekumel.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:18 AM

July 7, 2011

A Harry Connolly type hypothetical

On his blog, author Harry Connolly poses intriguing hypothetical questions

(Here is an example:

I thought of one today...

A device is perfected to give you the memory of a two-week vacation, anywhere and anywhen. You want the memory of a two week trip to Ancient Rome, circa 100 AD? You got it. Hawaii, 100 B.C. and you the only human there? Done! It would be accurate and real.

The trick is, you don't have any physical proofs of your visit, and there is a 1/1000 chance of permanent and irreparable brain damage. Because of that, you can only do it *once*.

Do you do it? And where would you pick to go?

Posted by Jvstin at 8:24 AM

May 10, 2011

Gumshoe and the Internet

GUMSHOE, and the Internet

Jerry Pournelle, a few decades ago, mentioned that by the year 2000, it would be possible to find out just about anything one wanted to know, with the rise of electronic media and information. He was pretty much on target with that, although I don't think you can say he predicted the form that would take--the Internet.
This point came to light to me in a Play by Email game turn in my newest game, Return of the Titans. The game is set in the modern day, April 2011. Thus, the player characters have all of the advantages
One of the player characters, having received a mysterious invitation, immediately went to Google to try and figure out more about it. It's trivial today to google something and get some information. The further you go back in time, the more difficult such research would have been.

And then I started thinking about Gumshoe. Gumshoe is a system created by Pelgrane Press and is used in a number of their games:

Using a "point spend" system, the GUMSHOE rules revolutionize investigative scenarios, by ensuring that players are never deprived of the clues they need to move the story forward.

What does one have to do with the other? Think about it. In a modern game, unless you really run a railroad, player characters are in a modern age with the Internet. General information gathering is now a *given*, just like it is in the GUMSHOE system. It might take time and effort (read: Point spend) to find esoteric and really obscure stuff, but the technology of the Internet is a powerful lever for clues.

If you remember the heyday of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", after a while, people would phone a friend only to have them quickly google a potential answer. I understand that the latest rules of the game actually incorporate an internet search engine into the game.

Thus, my point is, for an investigative game set in the modern day, there is something to be said for using a point buy system a la Gumshoe than having players stumble around because of a failed roll.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:25 AM

December 31, 2010

Return of the Titans

The Return of the Titans

A modern day mythic PBEM.


Greek and Norse Mythology
Ilium and Olympos, Dan Simmons
Prospero Lost and Prospero in Hell, L Jagi Lamplighter
Mortal Coils and All that Lives Must Die, Eric Nylund

Roleplaying Games:

FATE, in the Dresden Files Role Playing Game
GURPS Technomancer
Trail of Cthulhu
Amber Diceless RPG

Clash of the Titans
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds

With those words spoken at the Trinity bomb test on July 16, 1945, Julius Robert Oppenheimer spoke more truthfully than he knew. The power of the Trinity bomb, combined with the ritual words that Oppenheimer spoke, drastically accelerated a process that had been slowly occurring over the last thousand years:

The freedom of the Titans.

Untold Eons ago, before time itself existed, the chthonic, inhuman, ancient forces known as the Titans created the multiverse, or, perhaps, merely emerged from it. In either case, they and theirs were the original rulers of the Earth and worlds beyond, and ruled for an uncounted period of years, until they were overthrown and imprisoned by their children and creations, the Gods and Goddesses of the Mythologies of the World. The Titans and their spawn fought against the Gods and their children, heroes and demigods sired upon the mortals of Earth. Many of the stories of their struggles survive as myths we know today. In the end, the Gods and their children won, and the Titans were imprisoned.

Their victory complete, the Gods and Goddesses for the most part retired to explore and rule the Otherworlds that they won in addition to the Earth. The Titans were safely in their prison of Malfeas, or so the Gods believed. The Age of Gods and Heroes was over.

In Europe and the Middle East, the absence of the deities of the Celtic and Greek pantheons from widespread activity in the world lead to the decline of their faiths, and the rise of the Abrahamic creeds. In other parts of the world, the inattention of the Hindu, Japanese and Chinese pantheons led to the development of faiths such as Buddhism. In the Americas, the pantheons of the Native Americans still received worship until European colonization forcibly ended the practices on any significant scale.

The Gods relative inattention to Earth finally stopped in the twentieth century, as they learned that the Titans were trying to find ways to escape Malfeas. They had been twisted, crippled and neutered, yes, but they were still potent, and worked with force and craftiness against their fate.

They had not escaped in body, yet, but had, for some time, perhaps as long as several hundred years, managed to send out their creations and spawn to Earth, and beyond.

All of these monsters, demons and beings were set toward the task of freeing their masters from their long imprisonment, and so help the Titans revenge themselves on their children and their children's children.

While the Gods had paid only sometimes fleeting attention to Earth, on their visits to Earth, they had, as in the myths of old, found liaisons with mortals. Their children, the Scions, often found that by their half-divine nature, trouble would find them, whether they wished it or not. This trouble often came from the machinations of the Titans and their spawn, or from rival Gods and their children. With the Trinity test, the seals on Malfeas have weakened to a fatal point, and now the Titans threaten to escape their bondage entirely. Perhaps some of them already have.

In this modern age, with the Titans breaking free of Malfeas, Gods and Goddesses have sought liaisons in a more deliberate manner, to sire or birth children upon the world.

Further, they have sought ties to their children, to both arm them against the Titans spawn and agents, and against their rivals both within and beyond their pantheons

Finally, the Scions are intended to help swell the numbers on the Gods' side for the long prophesied battle between the Gods and their twisted Titanic parents:


In the PBEM Return of the Titans you will play a child of one of the Gods and Goddesses of mythology in the modern world. Thrust from an ordinary existence into a greater world, what will you do with the power given to you? How will it change you? How will it change those you care about? How will it change the world?

Can you stop the Titans from overthrowing your parents and remaking the world in their own twisted image? Can you become a Goddess yourself?

Posted by Jvstin at 12:31 PM

July 5, 2010


From a conversation between William, son of Flora, and Shannon, daughter of Fiona.

He pauses, watching his cousin, then says, "A Spikard."

Shannon's eyes widen in surprise and shock. Given how very quiet the
room is, William
can hear the catch in her breath, too. Fiona's daughter is trying to
modulate her response, but
she's not quite as good as her mother, yet.

She finishes her port, decisively.

"A Spikard" she says, once she has done so. "I didn't realize she had
anything to do with THEM. None
of what I've read and learned hinted at it. She's a sorceress, of
course, and a very good one. She built the Palatinate Safehold in
Begma. Bound Jacint,
the Demon of Roads, to stop an attempt by Adorjan of House Helgram to
forge what we might today call a Black Road. I came across
this reference, too, to an Archipelago of Shadows she supposedly
molded and linked together. But Spikards, William? No."

William nods agreement. "The impression I received was that she was
concerned that its protections might be weakening, not necessarily
that she had anything to do with it herself." He shrugs. "But I am
not about to make any judgment at all about a previously unknown Aunt.
There is simply too much I do not know."

"We don't know" Shannon clarifies.

"That goes for us as well" Devaine says. "Although I suspect we will
learn more than we expected, by the time this business is done."

"Did she tell you which Spikard?" Shannon asks.

"Chromatic, the Spikard of Light," William answers her. "Have you heard of it?"

"Some" Shannon says. "Its one of the portable Spikards. Master of
Light, Illusions, and Perceptions. A ferociously dangerous spell
engine, William."

William nods grimly. "And like to find someone powerful enough to
wield it, ambitious enough to want the power it promises, and fool
enough to not realize that it is certain doom to anyone insane enough
to use it."

"Mother has put some thought into trying to undo them." Shannon says.
"Unfortunately, she has come
to the conclusion that while it might be possible, it could be a cure
worse than the disease."

"What does that mean?" Valric says.

"It means" Shannon says "The Spikards were made and constructed, in
some part, to tame rogue and out-of-control Shadow Powers, Powers that
were Old when the Pattern was drawn. And to undo a Spikard would be
to unleash that Power upon the universe again, with *no* safeguards.
The Spikards are a very imperfect way
to bind those Powers...but unless someone comes up with a better
binding, the alternative to it is worse. We must see to its binding."

"Now you know" Shannon says to William "what nightmares my mother, my
brother, uncle and I sometime have. And why Sand and Delwin are so
dangerous. Even Uncle Brand wasn't crazy enough to try and meddle with
the Spikards, except for one."

"I think I need more port, please, cousin." Shannon adds.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:02 AM

April 14, 2010

Brief Thoughts on Dragon Age

Now that I have finished Dragon Age: Origins, I have some thoughts...

It's an extraordinarily well done CRPG, which brought me back to the good old days of Ultima, Wizard's Crown, the Eternal Dagger and others.

I played as a mage, which I named, fittingly, Lorius.

I was impressed throughout with the quality of gameplay, and the well defined "shades of gray" morality in the world. Choices were rarely, if ever, black and white, and I faced a number of tough decisions in the game. To reveal them here, though, would be to spoil the storyline.

I was particularly taken in by the epilogue, which tells the aftermath of the final battle, for Ferelden, and other realms, and especially characters. Characters major and seemingly minor show up in the epilogue, and their fates are revealed.

I have started another game, this time as a Human Noble Rogue, to try new choices and tactics.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:04 PM

March 22, 2010

Weekend Report

I'm Paul Weimer, and you're not (and sometimes, aren't you glad? ;) )

A fun filled weekend...

Saturday was Exalted game day. My player characters had a tense negotiation and discussion with four members of the Bull's circle. I am once again pleased at how clever and observant my players are, since I subtly hinted that things were not quite right with the Bull's group. The last time one of the PCs (Dragon Iron) had met the Bull's circle, Nalla Bloodaxe was interested in conquest for the sake of conquest, and Crimson Antler was interested in empire-building for the good of Creation.

This time, CA seemed preternaturally quiet, and Nalla was spouting the CA line. Dragon Iron smelled a rat, and it was quickly revealed that CA was, in fact, manipulating Nalla...and that Crimson Antler was, in fact, an Infernal.

In the chaos, the remaining circle left (trying to steal the chariots of the Solars, unsuccessfully), and Crimson Antler was killed trying to escape the manse. After this, the Solars decided that letting the Bull's circle get the first word in on what happened would be bad, and so we ended the session with the group using a quick transport spell to head east toward the Bull...and the full weight of his army.

Sunday morning was the Olson family breakfast (cinnamon bread french toast) and a little bit of Civilization IV between Scott and myself. Sunday afternoon was a trip to the Indiegamers at The Source for round two of Universalis. I still don't think I do very well with such a freeform game (and muttered unhappily to myself, aloud about that fact), the game itself went all right. I noted that it was a coincidence in the fact that both games I've played now have had Global Cooling as a tenet as to what was happening in the world.

After Universalis, I decided to buy the new Doctor Who RPG and took it home, stopping at Smashburger due to hunger. I'd never been there before, but the tastiness of the burger and the italian style garlic rosemary fries convinced me to sng its praises to the Olsons when I got back home.

I arrived just in time for all of us to settle in with the new Discovery Channel miniseries Life. While we tabled the idea of whether the American (Oprah Winfrey) narration was better than the UK version (David Attenborough) would have been, Scott and I were annoyed by the implication made a couple of times that dinosaurs were reptiles.

On the other hand, the photography was amazing, and the creatures depicted were unexpected and wonderful in what they do. Like the pebble toad, which escapes predators by rolling up and bouncing down away from danger. The toad is so light that it just bounces down the slope without any ill effects.

I also liked the baby ibex, which escaped a hungry fox by running up and standing on a cliff edge that the fox couldn't manage to reach.

We'll definitely watch the next episodes next Sunday.

And that, more or less, was my weekend.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:14 AM

March 13, 2010

Celestial Mechanics was never so much fun

This is a link to a Star Formation game on Discover Magazine's website. I have seen an earlier version of this game, where you make careful explosions in a nebula designed to generate star formation, but this version is much improved over that original.

It's educational, and a lot of fun.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:51 AM

January 20, 2010

Gamers helping Haiti

For a $20 donation to Gamers Helping Haiti, you get to download a bunch of assorted gaming PDFs for free, courtesy of DrivethruRPG.

I can see a couple of PDFs that make this definitely worthwhile for me. I'm going to have to pick this up when I get home this evening.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:04 AM

January 8, 2010

Dragon Age Origins

Flickr is not cooperating with me at the moment, so I don't have any screenshots to show you.

Anyway, Dragon Age: Origins is a hell of a lot of fun. Complex, detailed, and bloody, this is the most fun I've had in a CRPG in years.

I am playing a human mage, named Lorius. I am trying to play it straight as a white hat (which is not as easy as you might think!)

Green Ronin is doing a pen and paper version of the game. If it expands upon the world, I'll pick it up for research and background purposes alone!

Posted by Jvstin at 8:21 PM

December 6, 2009

NYG 31 Dallas 24 and the rest of my weekend

And my beloved Giants show some life, as they beat (and thus sweep) the Cowboys, 31-24 today.

I watched this at the Olsons, having spent the weekend with them in gaming D&D on Saturday, doing some photography with Felicia in the early afternoon, and then watching the end of the Saints-Redskins, the Giants game, some "Dogs 101", and some of the "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" special on the Discovery channel.

D&D went well, we reached the end of a storyline with the D&D, and we'll resume for a while at the very least with Exalted before returning to it. I've not GMed live in a while, and I am overdue for a chance at a hand at the tiller!

Photography was a mixed bag, we took Dani, our friend Katie, and her kids to Como Park's conservatory and had them pose amongst the plants in the greenhouse. Felicia's camera did not like the heat and humidity but I think I got some decent shots.

The Giants never made it easy, and really, two big plays made the difference in the game, but we'll take the win. Romo had high numbers of passes and yards, but it was in the end, all for naught, and that's what counts for me.

So the Giants win was a pretty nice star in the firmament of my pretty good weekend. What feels even better is the opportunity to go back to work tomorrow.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:07 PM

November 28, 2009

Rulebooks for Reading

Over on Gnome Stew, DNAPhil recently broached the subject of reading game rulebooks for ideas on plots, mechanics, and even just for recreation.

I do all three of these myself!

I find that rulebooks from one system can provide inspirations for other games that I run. As a long time Amber GM, a game that spans a multiverse, nearly any setting from any rulebook can be used as inspiration for a shadow or world. Much of the Dreamlands in my world have been inspired by a host of supplements and ideas. The Yithonghu, enemies from the dream world, were originally inspired by a GURPS Cabal creature. A port city in Weirmonken, Turku, was inspired partially by an Iron Kingdoms Port city.

Even beyond Amber, I borrow from other games. For example, The ruins of Serathis, from Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved world have shown up as a site in my face to face Exalted session. The magisterium, an ancient tower that was appearing only once every full moon, came from a session of In a Wicked Age that I played with the Indiegamers where that came up in the Oracles.

I fully expect to do more of this in the future. Beyond that, though, even if I never actually get to use or run them, I like to read RPG books for pleasure. Sometimes small things, ideas that I don't even explicitly remember, come from pleasurably reading a nice and detailed RPG supplement.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:10 PM

October 21, 2009

"The Three and Ten Kingdoms"

Even with Exalted on hiatus, I can't keep my mind off of GMing. It's a good thing SB has survived and rolled on. If it hadn't, I would have had to invent it, so to speak.

Anyway, a setting idea...

Anyway, I've been playing in my mind with a RP setting the last few days and weeks. I even badly doodled a world map.

The idea is this. The setting is a group of 13 (but there are really 12) principalties that lie in the former borders of a large continent striding empire. The soi-disant three and ten kingdoms. To their west, over the mountains, is a rump version of that former empire, which is rising and looking to rekindle former glories. There are lands across the sea to the south, and wild lands to the north and east.

If you think of a map of Europe and put the rump empire in Spain, the three and ten kingdoms roughly cover southern france and the Italian peninsula.

Anyway, the PCs would play heirs and near-heirs of these kingdoms, brought together by fostering in one of the kingdoms (in some cases, maybe straight out hostage-exchange). These PCs will one day be strong leaders in their lands. They've been brought together to try and better relations between the kingdoms, with the threat to the west, the wildness to the north and east, and the unknown to the sea of the south.

This gets around the problem of "how do these people know each other" and if you were thinking of this in Amber terms, why you could have a rank ladder of abilities--they've been together for a while before game start.

I've learned a few things from my indiegamer experiences. To get a real buy in with the PCs, I probably would ask the PCs to do the "Other hundred points" idea as mentioned on Some Space to Think. I would use what they want, thematically, to help shape the campaign, although some things are always going to shine through.

As far as system, I am not a system whore. I am a setting whore. I think I would use something like FATE and have something like Exalted DB powers be the focus. I could channel their ideas on Houses and the like to help shape the politics of the "Three and ten kingdoms".Technology would be limited, although there would be plenty of fragments of old magic and technology in the former Empire's ruins to grab. I suppose you could even use this setting for something like 4e, since it has a bit of points of light feel to it.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:16 AM

September 20, 2009

Playing with the 4e Character Builder

I've been playing with the D&D 4e character builder, and have come up with some 1st level D&D character versions of some of my NPCs and PCs.


Lorius, level 1
Genasi, Sorcerer
Build: Dragon Sorcerer
Spell Source: Dragon Magic
Dragon Magic: Dragon Soul Lightning

Str 15, Con 10, Dex 11, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 18.

Str 13, Con 10, Dex 11, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 18.

AC: 12 Fort: 12 Reflex: 11 Will: 16
HP: 22 Surges: 6 Surge Value: 5

Arcana +8, Endurance +7, Intimidate +9, History +6

Acrobatics, Bluff +4, Diplomacy +4, Dungeoneering, Heal, Insight, Nature +2, Perception, Religion +1, Stealth, Streetwise +4, Thievery, Athletics +2

Level 1: Extra Manifestation

Sorcerer at-will 1: Storm Walk
Sorcerer at-will 1: Dragonfrost
Sorcerer encounter 1: Thunder Slam
Sorcerer daily 1: Lightning Breath

Cloth Armor (Basic Clothing), Implement, Staff, Adventurer's Kit

Posted by Jvstin at 8:48 AM

September 16, 2009

Exalted on hold: 4e instead

So I have convinced my gaming group to put the Exalted game on hiatus.

There were a couple of reasons for this--mainly I was afraid of burnout, of making the game more of a chore than a pleasure, and I wanted a couple of weeks off.

However, I didn't want the gaming group to be *idle*. And I wanted to *play*.

So I have imposed and convinced one of my players, who has GMed in the past (and currently is a GM of a couple of games including D&D 3.5) to run us in 4e. He had a preference for 3.5 himself, but a long discussion last Thursday between Scott and I put us firmly in the "no" column. And I have already played 4e with the indiegamers and kind of liked it.

We start in a couple of weeks.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:23 PM

July 24, 2009

2009 Ennies Ballot Up

Ennies Banner
Ennies Banner

I voted in the Ennies in 2009. Why don't you?

Posted by Jvstin at 11:49 AM

May 29, 2009

Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies Review

This is a review of the new Chad Underkoffler RPG, Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies.

My companions, Dulce, Torren, Tubal and I stepped into the dive in Port Gulliver. Months of research and chasing down leads had led us to this island, this city, this tavern. Within the semidarkness of the place, the glint of the idol, six feet tall, standing behind the bar, was an irresistible and unmistakable beacon.
“Is that…” Dulce, on my left, breathed. I could sense that she was ready to draw her sword and just take it then and there. Few people ever made the mistake twice of getting in her way when she had her sword drawn. Although I couldn’t sense it, I was sure that Tubal had his strange abilities ready to be unleashed, too, and Torren had all of our backs, if it came down to a fight.
“No, its not the real one.” The voice of the bartender, turning from serving a greybearded patron and facing us. A balding, slightly overweight man, he looked at us with beady eyes. “No, its not the real golden idol of Osric, its only brass. Before I could let out a disappointed sigh, he continued. “ However, I found it on an island called Eregnor, where I am sure the real one lies.”
My heart leapt. I didn’t quite know why Dulce, Torren and Tubal had signed up with me to find it, but as for my part, if I could find the real Idol, nothing would be in my way of marrying the fair Grace.
“Tell us more…” I urged the bartender.

Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies is an RPG that aims to do for Swashbuckling adventure that Spirit of the Century does for pulp. The raison d' etre of Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies (referred to after this as S7s) is explained by Chad in the introduction, as follows:
"Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies (S7S) is my love-letter to every single book, film, or
game that has given me that swashbuckling vibe. It’s a cinematic, storytelling game
rather than a historical/reality-simulating game. It’s about the stories—the films and
books. It is fat-packed with magical and exotic stuff. It is weird and wondrous and
Physically, the hardcover of S7s is a gorgeous 320 page book. The interior illustrations, all fine and useful (ranging from ships to characters) are all black and white, but the cover gleams and stands out. Fred Hicks of Evil Hat, who did the cover, did an excellent, appealing job here. Even if a book is not judged by its cover, this book, sitting in an FLGS screams "pick me up and check *me* out", even if the cover doesn't tell you what the game is in the same way that, say, the cover of Spirit of the Century with its pulp action scene conveys.
So let's dig inside.
"Above the Blue, skyships ply the 7 Skies, soaring from
cloud-island to cloud-island for adventure: conquest, espionage,
trade, and piracy. Kingdoms clash, cultures collide,
and secrets abound. Heroes and villains roam, both on
and between islands, seeking wealth, power, revenge, and
Will you be one of them?"

That certainly sounds promising, doesn't it? 
Chapter one of the book discusses the world of S7s in brief.  The audaciously designed world is like something of a Black Zone shadow near the Courts of Chaos in Amber.The world is a snowglobe, with a mysterious bottom that no one returns from that goes into it, but things come out of. "Cloud islands", upon which the human and non human populations live on,  hang in various layers of the sky, six of the eponymous Seven skies passing across them. (The seventh, the sky of fire, remains constant in the center).  These skies bring various seasons as they sweep around the sky islands.  They also bring other things as well in their wake.  One of these skies brings wheeltrees, made of the magical material bluewood.  Unlike everything else, bluewood *floats*.
You can see where this is going.  One can build a vessel out of bluewood. Add sails, a crew, and supplies, and now you can sail on the Skies from cloud island to cloud island. Aside from a minimum buy in, Chad has played with the assumptions and consequences of his constructed universe to make it ideal for the purposes of the stories he wants players and GMs to be able to tell here. 
The book then continues with a brief overview of the major cloud islands and the nations that they bear. While he goes into much further detail in the next chapter, the broadly sketched paragraphs give the reader a taste of what is to come.
In that second chapter, Chad tackles those cloud islands and their nations in more detail.  From the intrigue and vendetta rich Empire of Barathi, to the squabbling city states of Viridia, to the Kingdom of Colorna and the Zultanate, unique in that they uneasily share an island, to Crail, crossroads of the world, to the mysterious pirates of Ilwuz, and finally the savage wildness of Sha Ka Ruq. Every island and nation gets an overview: the geography of the island, the history, how its ruled, and what the people are like.  From a GM point of view (and given my default position of running games rather than being a player) the best of this for each nation is a section called "What is happening now". While the system encourages plots derived from the PCs, I as a GM have been accused of overplotting, since I like to have a rich and full world of things going on.  These sections help give a sense of that so that I have plenty of threads the players can latch onto.
Chapter Three is some more setting material, as we get a brief introduction to magic and the church.  It introduces alchemical reagents, and the role of the church and its various heresies in Seven Skies life. More importantly, I think, for the point of view of players, the chapter introduces the arcane edges called "Gifts". Gifts, tied to mythological animals and possessed of 1% of the population, give a unique mystical ability to the bearer.  It also influences a character in other ways as well.
For example, the Unicorn:
Those with the Gift of the Unicorn can repair damage to
body and mind, eliminate pain, and accelerate the healing
process tremendously. This almost always requires the laying on
of hands. They can also cause grievous injuries, inflict agony, and
steal vitality away from a target. It is said that powerful unicorns
can raise the dead, or kill with a touch. A person with the
Unicorn’s Gift can use it upon himself.
Those with the Unicorn’s Gift are unnaturally sensitive to the
pain of others. Some shrink from this sensation, others revel in
it. Furthermore, plants around the unicorn seem to react to his
or her moods—if the unicorn is happy, they grow luxuriantly; if
the unicorn is sad, they wither and die. People with the Unicorn’s Gift are almost
always respected and loved by others. Only if they use their powers to cause harm
does public opinion turn against an individual unicorn.
The text hints (another boon for a GM) that there are rarer gifts than these, leaving it for the GM to fill in the details. This chapter also introduces the Koldun, the very rare souls who can develop multiple gifts and are given occult training in order to harness these special powers. 
Chapter Four gives us more setting meat in a comprehensive treatment of skyships! From the skyships that traverse between islands, to the slow
gasbag laden cloudships which are restricted to the vicinity of cloud islands, to gliders. The treatment is comprehensive, from the structure of ships, to crews, to travel times, and trading opportunities.  And of course, sky combat and piracy!  This chapter gives GMs and players a good sense of running a skyship for any number of activities and plots.  Skyship activity is integral to this game, and whether the PCs are free traders, pirates, or working for the crown against pirates, everything players and the GM need to know about running the skyship portion of an adventure is here.
Chapter Five gets us to crunchy bits!
S7s runs on a version of PDQ#.  PDQ# is Prose Descriptive Qualities Sharp, a variation of the system used in games such as Dead Inside, Truth & Justice,
and The Zorcerer of Zo. 
From the PDQ# PDF (which is available free and separately on the Atomic Sock Monkey press website): 
PDQ#’s core design concept pits a character’s Fortes
(called Qualities in other PDQ games) against Difficulty
Ranks. Fortes are a measure of story-effectiveness
rather than reality simulation and summarize a range of
attributes, advantages, merits, skills, special equipment or
The PDQ# Master Chart is the foundation of PDQ#. When attempting a task, players roll dice plus the
Modifier (MOD) from the Rank of the relevant Forte. To succeed, they must beat the Target Number (TN), provided
by either the Difficulty Rank of a task or the result of an opposing roll by another character.
So, to take on a task, a player rolls 2d6 against the target number or opposing roll.  This can be modified by an appropriate Forte's Rank, and also
a concept called Techniques,a bit of nature, training, or background that provides a bonus or
benefit in specific, relevant situations.  The results are compared. 
For example, Roger Thornhill is running across the roofs of villas in Colorna, after his indiscretion with Francie, daughter of Baron Stevens was discovered. The guards
sent by the Baron are hot on his heels and Roger wants to make his escape.  A large gap between the villas presents a barrier to his egress and he decides to jump it. He has a Forte in Athletics and so will get +2 to the roll.  The GM sets the TN at 9, since its a pretty wide gap.  Roger's player rolls a 4 and a 3, a 7.  Fortunately, with his Forte, this is brought up to 9.  Roger just makes it to the next roof.  That Forte made all the distance!
Now, take John Robie in the same position.  Fortunately for John, he has a Technique "on roofs and walls", since he is a former cat-burglar.  John would get to make the same roll, and employ his technique to either get a +1 to the roll, or he could roll an additional die and keep the best two.  John's player elects the latter option and rolls 6,5, and 3. With the Good bonus from his Forte, he gets a 13, and easily jumps to the next roof.
In addition to a couple of Fortes given to a character, every character has a swashbuckling Forte:
Every S7S character has a particular swashbuckling specialty: some characters
swashbuckle with swords, others with mystic powers, still others with repartee, skullduggery,
skysailing, or a host of other talents. A character’s Swashbuckling Forte is the
thing that they are most astounding at and that they have deep knowledge of, and
this grants them a wider range of abilities with regard to that talent.
I'm not very narrativist as a GM, although I play Narrativist games with a small group of "Indiegamers" and am familiar with the theory. But even I can see the obvious conclusion.  Swashbuckling Fortes are a way for a player to tell a GM--this what my character is awesome at, and what I want her to be doing! 
This chapter gives lots of advice and examples of Fortes and Techniques that a character can have, especially ones which are specific to various nations and cloud islands in the setting.
As important, narrative wise, as Fortes in the PDQ system are Foibles.  
A Foible is a failing or feature that makes a character interesting: it presents opportunities for interesting failure. It is an inherent negative or problematic aspect of the character, a weak point, stemming from ignorance, flawed understanding, physical or mental incapability, a recurring duty, a particular penchant or method of getting into trouble, or some other vulnerability.
Foibles act as constant story hooks for the GM to hook the player into plots. And, like tagging Aspects in FATE, when the GM uses them, the player gets a bennie--style dice (which can, at its most basic, be spent at any time and used like employing a Technique)
In the Three Musketeers (1973 or the 1993 film), for example, D'Artagnan has a Foible: Hot headed.  It gets him three duels in one day! In the sequel to the 1973 film, The Four Musketeers, I would say that he has a new Foible, since he has matured: True Love: Constance. The director certainly pulls him along the narrative at several points with it.
There are other ways to get Style dice as well. The game encourages players to act and play in a manner not only to get style dice--but to use them as well. There are far more uses than given above, especially but not limited to magic powers.  Also, players can help create the world in a permanent way by the use of style dice. I suspect less narrativist players will be less interested in these options, but given the right set of players and GM, the game can collaborate between the players and GM in a real and visceral way.  
The game goes from Style dice in this chapter to a discussion of putting it together to create a character, giving three players and three different approaches and resulting characters. I got a good idea on how to bring a character to life in this system, and I've noodled with doing so.
Chapter Six goes into more detail on how PDQ works, in the forms of challenges and duels. Challenges are minor, one-roll encounters.I described an example of challenges above and how Fortes might tie into them. Besides such physical challenges, other types of challenges include Mental (puzzles), Emotional, Professional (business dealings!), Social and Mystical. The GM sets a difficulty, the PCs bring any Fortes, Techniques and Style Dice into play.
S7s encourages the players to narrate the results of both successes and failures but recognizes that some players are uncomfortable doing that sort of thing.  I play with a couple of different groups, and I am sure that the group that likes to experiment with small press games would be far more comfortable with narrating successes and failures than my group whom I run Exalted for.
 Duels are what I like to think of in my own games as "set piece" battles. Instead of a single roll to resolve the outcome, the two antagonists use a pool of three dice to divide between attack and defense.  The higher style dice combatant attacks first and the dice are rolled and modifiers are applied. His attack pool result is compared to the other combatant's defense pool.  The attacker and defender then switch roles and rolled again.  Thus its possible to take out an opponent, but suffer a grievous wound in return!  
Wounds in S7s, come to mention it, have a decidedly narrativst hook.  Instead of hit points or such tracks to track damage, damage is done to the character's Fortes.  While this does mean that a character's strengths can be weakened by combat, an additional consequence in the system says that the first Forte that a character uses to absorb damage, and a Forte that is zeroed out by damage generate Story Hooks revolving around that Forte.  I heard it irreverently described as "getting punched in the girlfriend".  This suggests to me that the choice of where to take the damage in a challenge or a duel is a player-driven way to flag the GM "hey, please give this some plot/story hook love". 

Chapter Seven is my favorite chapter, because that's the Gamemastering chapter. I've been called a "GM for all occasions" and I buy games and supplements with an eye toward "How can I run this?" So, how does Chad approach GMing S7s?

Chad doesn't assume that you are a good GM or would be a good GM of S7s without guidance.  And guidance he provides. Much of his advice can be exported out of S7s and into GMing in general.  Much like the advice on how to run games in Spirit of the Century, Chad's advice is portable and applicable across a wide variety of systems. I admit that the advice does not work for all systems and all games, but any GM can find words to ponder and reflect upon in this chapter.

For example, his advice on rolling dice:

Only Roll When You Have To
Seriously: if something’s not important, don’t roll dice...

The answer is two part: 1) don’t roll much; and 2) when you roll, the result should be
interesting, whether the character succeeds or fails.

And his advice on the role of a GM:

You’re More the Cruise Director than the Captain
As a GM, you have two responsibilities: 1) making sure everyone—including
you—is having fun; and 2) making sure the story as you and your group are
creating through play has some sort of cohesiveness. But the order these two
things are listed in is exactly the order of importance. Remember it.
While it’s best if fun and the artistry of the tale the players are writing walk
hand in hand, if push comes to shove, fun is more important than art.

Chad goes on to talk about GMing S7s in more specific detail, and how to make the game yours and your players.  Here, its revealed
that some of the settings of the game can and should be tweaked for the preference of you and your gaming group.  The strength of magic.  The strength of firearms. What sort of aesthetic will your game have?  What sort of structure? Et cetera.  Think of it like a digital camera. While you can get good pictures on the automatic settings, it is when you venture out from those settings, and choose more specific settings that the pictures you take can really sing.

Chad does dig down to even more specific details, including a method on generating a scenario based on player characters motivations and foibles. Even from game start, with no prior story hooks, this method makes it possible for a GM to begin the game with scenarios based on the characters.  Chad firmly believes that "its the characters, stupid" and this advice in GMing formalizes that.

Then there is this bit about the Perception roll. I use them often in my Exalted game, and they have a place here.  With the default assumption that players narrate success and failure, though, in S7s, it might work like this:

“ Everyone make Ye Olde Perception Roll at TN 9 to see if you hear the
assassin sneaking in through the kitchen window. If you succeed, tell me
how and why you succeeded. If you fail, tell me how and why you failed .”

This chapter ends with a selection of NPCs, ranging from low level to some of the strongest NPCs in the setting.

Chapter Eight talks about Swashbuckling as a genre.  It's conventions and tropes, and what should shine through in your S7s to reflect that genre.

This chapter works as well as a distillation of the genre in book and film form as well as its use in a role playing game.  Action. Adventure. True Love. Revenge. Heroism. Courage. Honor. Humor. Passion. Intrigue. Romance. Style.

There are plenty of quotes from The Princess Bride in this chapter. It's clear that the movie is not only a favorite of Chad's, but its themes, style, panache and structure are a major influence and inspiration for S7s.  But in addition to those quotes, and quotes from other films and books to illustrate these themes, there is an extensive bibliography, filmography and a ludography (game list). My Netflix queue has been enriched by reading this list, as well as to-read and to-play pile.

So what do I think?

Its a big book, and my only concern and hesitation in trying to run this is that it is a large amount to digest.  Its hard to see how the book could or should be trimmed down for the purposes of running it, though. Chad does a comprehensive job.

I want to run this. I could have wished for, perhaps, a players version of the book like Trail of Cthulhu does, so that I can more easily infect the enthusiasm I have for the game on potential players.

Possibly, this game could do for the swashbuckling genre what Spirit of the Century did for the pulp genre.


Posted by Jvstin at 7:32 PM

April 27, 2009

Games I'd Like to Play/Run

Via J.A. Detteman

He comes up with a good list of games he'd like to play/run. Given that the Indiegamers and I ourselves are batting around ideas for our next game, I gave this question some thought.

I don't have a lot of free time to actually run/play games--I had to turn down an offer, reluctantly, to join a Fading Suns game that Brian and Carolyn are in.

With that said...

Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies.

This looks awesome. I need to write a review of it once I fully digest the book. S7s seems to want to do for Swashbuckling action what Spirit of the Century did for pulp.

Mutant City Blues

It looks like Dettman and I have similar tastes, because this one is on his list, too. This seems to be a blend of police procedural with a Wild Cards like world. Sign me up!

Dying Earth

I'm going to try and sell the Indiegamers on this, next time we meet. I cut my teeth on Vance early, and this game seems to try hard to capture the flavor of the characters and setting.

Trail of Cthulhu

Oh, I definitely would run this. I know one of the Indiegamers is dead set against a game in this genre, so I have no chance to run it with them, or else I would run it, no hesitations. I have an idea for an Amber/TOC crossover I've talked about with friends and acquaintances in the Amber community that I will run at the next con I get to go to...


Sure, its another White Wolf Game. But the subject matter (modern myth) appeals to me. I know there are other games which do this, too (e.g. Legends Walk) but this system, at least, I am more familiar with.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:43 AM

April 11, 2009

Exalted: What we did on our coastal vacation

This was post-last session, leading up to the session I am going to run today. As usual it was written by Scott

The Eye and Seven Despairs:
Well, that the "Deathknight" was actually a Deathlord was NOT an
eventuality I was expecting, and it would have been BAD for DI and Talia
if Viola, Anathea, and Kunrad hadn't shown up. Shades of Ravenloft and
all that, considering that DI at least was injured in the fight with the
Immaculates, scurrying around looking for a way out! Ick!

In any event, we overwhelmed him without taking any losses by,
essentially, swarming the snake and hitting him whenever he wasn't dodging
us, and forcing him to burn Essence like crazy when he was dodging. The
interesting question is what will happen with his death or dissolution:
will he die and stay dead (ie, did the Unconquered Sun's intervention give
him the freedom to reach Lethe or Oblivion), or will he come back? If
he's coming back, will his return be delayed by the Unconquered Sun's
intervention, and will that intervention have any impact on who and what
he is?

If he's dead, can his Neverborn master retrieve the piece of himself that
made the Eye and Seven Despairs a Deathlord, or is it lost forever?
Chances are it's either retrievable or replaceable, but what may be a
problem for the Neverborn is that the supply of First Age Solar souls is
... well, really small if not nil at this point (it's most likely nil).
So while the Neverborn might want to raise up a new Deathlord to replace
him, and certainly his insanity made him less than what he should have
been, the Neverborn might have to settle for promoting one of the
Deathknights, which will take quite a while to rise to the level of power
and Essence that the Eye and Seven Despairs had. So while we might have
allowed the Neverborn to bring in a competent replacement for him, that
competent replacement might not be nearly as powerful for a long time.

If, instead, he will be back, we've gained an enemy, BUT it will be a
while before he can reform, even without the effects of Viola's prayer.
And, even if he's our enemy, just like the Mask is (and even more personal
of one), the Eye is, well, not all there. It's hard to predict whether
this new enemy will take priority over the old enemy of his old
circle-mates, or whether we'll only pop to the top of his list of things
to do when he sees us. If he is coming back, we'll keep our fingers
crossed that the effects of Viola's prayer are a) reformation is delayed
while the Neverborn has to "cleanse" the soul of the "taint" of Sol
Invictus, b) the effect of the prayer was to blast the memory of what
happened over the last weeks out of his soul, or c) both of the above.

The Magisterium:
Ah, so my guess of the tower being an academy of some sort seems to be
accurate: it's, apparently, a magic academy of some sort. Not at the
level of Sperimin, of course, but still..this way we don't have to deal
with Raksi for a while (thank diety of your choice). I can see Kunrad is
going to be spending a bunch of time there, perhaps DI as well, and any
other budding sorcerors (like The Ally, etc). Kunrad will have to look
into changing the settings on the "door locks" as well: can access be
turned off to the various castes? If so, it might well be a good idea to
do so: we don't need Sidies popping in without invitations and while we
don't necessarily mind Solars doing so we definitely DO mind Abyssals (or
Infernals, but we don't know about them yet) doing so. Have to spend some
time here looking into it, probably within the month so that it can be
closed, if it can be closed, to intruders before it reappears. Not to
mention that there's a LOT to look at in the library, and in other places
that we didn't take the time to search out in our first run through it.
It might well be a bargaining chip to use in our dealings with the Lunars
and the Sidereals: you play nice with us, and we'll give you access to the

The warstrider is an interesting puzzle as well: it's possible that the
hearthstone's ability will make it possible to jump it out of the tower,
and Kunrad's book may very well have notes on how to attract the right
sort of god to a warstrider. If that's the case, then getting it out and
active wouldn't be TOO hard. If it ISN'T the case, then things could be a
lot more difficult, though if it has a flight system that works it could
probably be flown down the stairwell and walked out the front door
(assuming, of course, that it can be used without a god, or that a god can
be enticed into taking up residence)... Of course, what we're going to do
with a noble warstrider whose primary magical material may very well be
starmetal is not currently totally clear.

A Sidereal captive:
Since she was unconscious the entire session, we haven't, yet, learned
much of anything about Sleeping Siddie yet. I expect her to become a MUCH
more important item next session. My opinion, for what it's worth, is
that once she wakes up and realizes that she doesn't have the quick way
out of Dodge she usually does (those prayer strips), we'll probably have
SOME time to talk. At that point, it'll be time to show her artifacts we
recovered from the Eye, and tell her that we managed to put down a

Marriage negotiations:
I missed out on most all of what Charen was doing this session, either Fe
and Paul were downstairs, or I was trying to get dinner ready and wasn't
able to listen too closely. Apparently things are moving forwards, but
there's still things like dates, etc, to be worked out.

The Book:
The ancient book Kunrad has been reading is proving rather interesting, if
somewhat esoteric. The information on warstriders isn't particularly
necessary right now, but that IS the sort of thing that the
factory-cathedral was built to produce (among other things). It's also
useful info for trading to others that might not have it, not to mention
that there may very well be information in it on just how to attract a god
to animate the warstrider inside the Magisterium... The Princes of the
Fallen Tower spell is in the same category as the God-Forged Champion of
War spell: interesting, somewhat esoteric, but very useful in the right
circumstances (but not very useful in others). Kunrad could hope for a
treatment on demonology and the spells Demon of the Second Circle and
Sapphire Circle Banishment, or the manse-raising spell Raise the Puissant
Sanctum and the information gathering Whirlwind of Fate, but we shall see
what's in there. Hmmmmm, maybe Magma Kraken... While the newly
discovered "book reader" was going through the book's table of contents,
it got interrupted when the door was opened and the Eye and Seven Despairs
shot at us and things went to combat.

Next Session:
I expect next session will be devoted to cleaning up the left-over bits
from the last session, and we may get started on the expedition to the
Court of Seasons if things move smoothly. I have no idea if this plays
any role in the GMs thought process, but I'm expecting at most 3-4 more
sessions before the end of May and the return of Damion. I don't know if
Damion's return is something the GM is looking to work into Pilgrimage or
not, but if it ISN'T, then we might cover some time the next session or
two so that we can return from Pilgrimage to meet up with whatever
Damion's come up with this time (hopefully NOT an Infernal...) If, on the
other hand, the GM is planning on incorporating Damion's return into the
whole Pilgrimage thing, then we won't need our Pilgrimage points until
he's here.

Kunrad: Probably start with trying to lock up the Magisterium, then deal
with Sleeping Siddie, and whatever happens next. Returning to Lookshy
might be delayed a bit while he works on locking up the Magisterium. If
there's time before we need to deal with the issue of the Whisperer and a
trip North, begin looking into the plans that DI brought back from Eight
and see what can be done about building a grand daiklave for him.
Additionally, there's the question of Torinn may be getting as a wedding
present, what to give Hara (hmmmm, might be something here in the
Magisterium), etc. Give the book-reader a chance to finish reading the
table of contents of the ancient sorcery book so Kunrad can skip over
areas of currently less import and cut to those of more current interest
(if any).

Viola: Help deal with Sleeping Siddie, then help DI with the missing
Ghost-blood Girls. Return to Lookshy and probably present her case for
Lorius' hand to the head of Gens Amilar.

Charen: Charen might want to take counsel with people in Gens Amilar on
scheduling issues: setting the wedding far enough in the future that we
can get to the Court of Seasons and back before we have to go to the
wedding. A question to be raised should be the use of a skyship to
transport the wedding party: while we have a pair of sky chariots, they're
going to be full with just us, and that's without the Gens Amilar (and
possibly other Lookshyan) guests. If the wedding is scheduled to allow
for some time to get everyone to Lookshy, then take a mundane ship to the
Isle, then overland mundane transport to the site of the wedding, using a
skyship will free up a LOT of time for us, AND it might serve as a
not-so-subtle reminder of just how technologically advanced Lookshy is:
"Look, they can use a skyship to transport wedding guests!" But that's
something that only the Amilar's can arrange, we can't.

DI: Help deal with Sleeping Siddie, share plans with Kunrad, then find
out what happened with his allies, the Ghost-blood Girls. If Kunrad stays
in Tyre and the Magisterium for a bit, then it would make sense for him to
go with Viola to Lookshy even if Kunrad's busy..

EXP: Looks like we're still looking at a minimum of 2-3 sessions before we
reach Meru (Court of Seasons & Wedding Bells), so I'd say as long as
you're within 10-15 points of what you need to succeed at Pilgrimage after
the 5 points we got for this session, you're good here. The free Charm
will certainly come in handy, Kunrad's probably going to buy his Second
Presence Excellency, and pay the 15(!!!) points for the Magisterium's (5
dot) Hearthstone. Viola ought to look VERY hard at either the Resistance
Charm Ox-Body Technique (which increases the amount of damage she can
take) or the Dodge Charm chain that leads to Seven Shadow Evasion (a
perfect Dodge, similar to but less expensive in mote terms than what the
Eye and Seven Despairs was using against us). For Charen, the most
efficient use of the free Charm would, obviously, be to use it to get one
of the Charms from a non-Solar tree, whether that.s a Spirit charm like
Principle of Motion or whatever, but using it on a Charm that would cost
her 10 points to learn (like maybe Terrestrial Circle Sorcery) is still a
good use of it. What DI needs/wants, I'm less sure: certainly Ox-Body
would be good, but it's not an especially efficient use of the free Charm
since I'm sure DI has Resistance as a favored Ability. Perhaps the Dodge
charm chain leading to Seven Shadow Evasion, if he doesn't have Dodge?

Long Range Plans:
1 - Visit the Court of Seasons around the period when the Whisperer's in
charge. If the perfected water solves the Whisperer's poisoning problem,
SOMEONE'S going to pay, I'd expect. Of course, it turns out the Court of
Seasons is going to be near Whitewall at that time, where the Bull is
apparently heading next based on what he said to DI about going to deal
with the Syndics... Which means we have a decent chance of running into
him and his, either on our way to or from the Court or at the Court

2 - Charen and Torinn, at least, will be traveling to the Blessed Isle for
a wedding. The more of us who go with them, the higher the likelihood of
a slip that reveals us, but being there puts us in a position to find out
things that we'll be much harder pressed to find out from a distance (for
instance, what fallout has there been in the Immaculates from the events
in Yu-Shan over Calibration, what seems to be the balance of power amongst
the Great Houses, etc). However, I think, given what it seems Cainan
knows, we can be relatively sure that either he won't ask awkward
questions and might well run some degree of interference against them, or
that it's a very big trap (all the servants are Immaculates, the gazebos
hide warstriders, all the guests are members of the Wyld Hunt, etc).

3 - Return to Meru and open up the Temple to Sol Invictus there, at the
same time accomplish our goal of boosting our Essence via Pilgrimage.
This could get very ugly, or could go very smoothly. A lot will depend on
whether we're spotted leaving the gate and on whether we can a) pass as
Dragon-blooded on pilgrimage to the Imperial Mountain, the holy site of
the Earth Dragon, or b) whether we can bushwhack across the flanks of the
mountain that aren't heavily trafficked by the Empire. If we go with plan
b), we'll probably reduce the number of encounters we have, but the
Imperials or Immaculates we DO encounter are more likely to think that
we're up to no good. If we go with plan a), and we've been to the
wedding, then getting up the mountain should be easy, covering up our
tracks afterwards might be a LOT harder. Right now I'm leaning towards
b), because it will lower our odds of meeting someone who was a guest at
the wedding and can recognize us, especially if Talia is coming AND has
wilderness skills.

4 - Meet with Cathak Cainan's representative (I expect it will be Dorotea,
just to keep the information chain to a minimum, but we will see...) and
discuss matters of mutual interest. It will be rather interesting to see
if this meeting is attended by representatives from other Houses or not,
if it is it means that Cainan takes the threat to Creation seriously
enough to take some risks in sounding out others on speaking with, as
opposed to just trying to exterminate, Solar Anathema, not to mention that
other Houses agree with him. Where to hold the meeting is also an
interesting question: I'd suggest NOT Crossroads, if it's a trap (and it
could be) we don't need our civilians in the line of fire. Right now I'm
thinking Nexus, but there are other options like perhaps Tyre.

5 - Return to Yu-Shan for the next Carnival of Meeting. We don't have an
invitation, but as Solars I'm not sure we NEED one to go to Yu-Shan (we'll
find out when we're working on #1, since the most likely way to do that is
going to be to go through Yu-Shan, though we might be able to take the sky
chariots IF we'll all fit now), and it would be a good time to try to get
a conversation going on what changes should be made. Kojack's been gone
for a year, the Siddies will have sorted themselves out (mostly), and
everyone's had a year to think about things. Not to mention that there's
more opportunities to make contacts for fun and profit... and a copy god.
Of course, if the Bull goes to Whitewall, the gods might be even more
agitated about him (the Syndics of Whitewall are Celestial gods, though
about no one other than they know this).

6 - Make our first delivery of grave-goods to the Underworld to pay our
annual tribute. I'd forgotten about this for a bit, but it IS still out

7 - Return to the factory-cathedral and check on how work there is going.
It won't be fully operational yet, but the activity there may have drawn
attention and it wouldn't hurt to check on it.

8 - After checking on the factory-cathedral, take the golems to the ruined
temple complex in the north. That complex may well have things worth
having in it, not to mention that the temple could be rebuilt.. and,
unlike the temples at Cornith and on Meru, it's far enough from the Realm
that we won't have too many worries about the Realm trying to close it

Oh, and I just had a thought:

The tower hadn't been seen in a very long time, and just a few months ago it began appearing, once a month, on the night of the new moon. Why would it suddenly start doing this? It's hearthstone was found in the hearthroom, it was what the Eye and Seven Despairs was after (probably because it would give him control of the place and because of it's special properties). The Magisterium's a Siderea-aspected Manse.

We happen to know that a particularly powerful and highly ranked Sidereal recently renounced his position and was abjured by his Maiden: Kejop Chejak. Anyone want to bet that this manse wasn't his before he went rogue?

Posted by Jvstin at 11:37 AM

April 8, 2009

Dave Arneson, RIP

In case you haven't heard, Dave Arneson, the other co-creator of D&D with the late Gary Gygax, has also passed away.

Some days, time IS the fire in which we burn.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:03 PM

April 4, 2009

Star Formation: The Game

Via Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomy Blogger)

Star Formation The Game.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:41 AM

February 9, 2009

The latest email from Scott regarding the Exalted game

Any questions? This might be a good time for you all to learn more about the game, the system and the universe.

DI - Ride back to Crossroads, getting into who knows what trouble on the
way. Judging by Eight's scanner, there aren't any Celestial exalts along
his path to the edge of Eight's range, but that doesn.t necessarily mean
there aren't obstacles... (who knows whether Eight can detect Abyssals or
Infernals, Fair Folk, DBs, etc). Not to mention get those plans for grand
daiklaves and other goodies back into Kunrad's hands, depending on what
they require it could save a lot of design time, which might enable Kunrad
to get one done before the Meru expedition.

Charen - Meet with Cathak Cainan and with a LOT of luck, get him pointed
back to the Isle without any unpleasantness and without getting herself
into deeper water. This could get REALLY sticky, REALLY quickly, we can
hope that he's here to express the apologies of his house to Charen and
Hara and slap Nathaniel's head vigorously, but.. he might not be here for
that, and he might ask awkward questions. We can HOPE he won't, but ..

Viola - get Minerva caught up on the world as it exists now, and the
dangers therein. I'm guessing what we have here is a First Age Lunar
who's essentially slept through the last 1000 years or so, so she doesn't
necessarily know much about the Usurpation, she doesn.t know about the
Wyld Hunt, she doesn't have the moonsilver tattoos of most modern Lunars,
and she doesn't know about the Silver Pact (which we Solars don't really
know about either, but both Deryk Cloaked in Lies and the Ally do). She
might even be of a Caste that no longer exists, which could be really
dangerous for her. Keep your fingers crossed for a Seven Leaping Dragon
hearthstone (+4 to all martial arts rolls) inside the Hearthroom of the
Temple, though there are a number of other good Solar hearthstones (Seven
Leaping Dragon is a 4-dot manse hearthstone).

Kunrad - Do what he can to help see Cainan off (hopefully this is limited
to staying out of sight and not hitting that big rock any more, not "Hey,
Kunrad, get out there and be my champion in single combat"!). Get the
measurements for the plates for Viola's buff coat so he can make the
orichalcum replacements for them when he gets back to Crossroads. Once
Cainan's gone, get that rock cracked open so Viola can get to the
Hearthstone. Keep working on getting that book cracked open, so he can
find out what's in it.

Long Range Plans:

1 - Visit the Court of Seasons around the period when the Whisperer's in
charge. If the perfected water solves the Whisperer's poisoning problem,
SOMEONE'S going to pay, I'd expect. Of course, it turns out the Court of
Seasons is going to be near Whitewall at that time, where the Bull is
apparently heading next based on what he said to DI about going to deal
with the Syndics... I suppose this could be an opportunity for Kunrad to
be interrogated on what he means with his Manifesto, but... with his
Temperance (or rather lack of it), he's not likely to play nicely with
their Eclipse if she pulls the same tricks she did with DI. HOPEFULLY we
can avoid crossing paths with the Bull and his Circle, but we shall have
to see.

2 - Return to Meru and open up the Temple to Sol Invictus there, at the
same time accomplish our goal of boosting our Essence via Pilgrimage.
This could get very ugly, or could go very smoothly. A lot will depend on
whether we're spotted leaving the gate and on whether we can a) pass as
Dragon-blooded on pilgrimage to the Imperial Mountain, the holy site of
the Earth Dragon, or b) whether we can bushwhack across the flanks of the
mountain that aren't heavily trafficked by the Empire. If we go with plan
b), we'll probably reduce the number of encounters we have, but the
Imperials or Immaculates we encounter are more likely to think that we're
up to no good. If we go with plan a), we might be able to get most of the
way up the mountain without problem, or things might go off the track
immediately the first time we run into someone, no way to know for sure.
Who knows, how things go next session with Cathak Cainan might affect what
our plan is here.

3 - Return to Yu-Shan for the next Carnival of Meeting. We don't have an
invitation, but as Solars I'm not sure we NEED one to go to Yu-Shan (we'll
find out when we're working on #1, since the most likely way to do that is
going to be to go through Yu-Shan, though we might be able to take the sky
chariots IF we'll all fit now), and it would be a good time to try to get
a conversation going on what changes should be made. Kojack's been gone
for a year, the Siddies will have sorted themselves out (mostly), and
everyone's had a year to think about things. Not to mention that there's
more opportunities to make contacts for fun and profit... and a copy god.
Of course, if the Bull goes to Whitewall, the gods might be even more
agitated about him (the Syndics of Whitewall are Celestial gods, though
about no one other than they know this).

4 - Return to the factory-cathedral and check on how work there is going.
It won't be fully operational yet, but the activity there may have drawn
attention and it wouldn't hurt to check on it.

5 - After checking on the factory-cathedral, take the golems to the ruined
temple complex in the north. That complex may well have things worth
having in it, not to mention that the temple could be rebuilt.. and,
unlike the temple at Cornith and on Meru, it's far enough from the Realm
that we won't have too many worries about the Realm trying to close it

A note: Minerva potentially gives the group an in with the Lunars: she
might well be of a caste that no longer exists (the period of exile in the
Wyld after the Usurpation was extremely hard on the Waxing Moon, Waning
Moon, and Half Moon castes, they were replaced by the Changing Moon caste
that subsumed all three of them, if she's a priestess, like Viola, she's
probably a Waxing Moon), and she's going to be one of the oldest Lunars in
existence that's still sane (assuming that she is). The problem, of
course, is that we don't have many contacts with the Lunars: Deryk's
vanished, DI hasn't made contact with that wolf-woman he saw via Eight,
and the Ally hasn't been seen by anyone in the group for the better part
of a year. We at least know where she used to be, though, so she might
well be the person to contact on this. Assuming, of course, that we don't
have a Lunar or three sitting on our doorsteps in Crossroads the next time
we get back there...

Posted by Jvstin at 8:06 AM

January 21, 2009

Pre 1e D&D

I got to play pre-1E D&D last Sunday. The GM blogged about it:

Worse, someone took pictures...

Posted by Jvstin at 8:57 PM

January 16, 2009

Game Review: Hard Boiled Cultures

One Bad Egg is a division of Evil Hat, the good people behind Spirit of the Century and Don't Rest your Head. One Bad Egg is their PDF imprint for D&D 4e products.

Even though I am not currently running or playing a D&D game, and since I remix and borrow from other games, I decided to pick up the PDF of "Hard Boiled Cultures".

What you get:

Hard Boiled Cultures is a 14 page PDF, plus a PDF of a cultural worksheet. The PDF is in color, with a little bit of artwork and style. The emphasis is on content more than pretty pictures and given the esoteric subject, text is king.

What is it? From the PDF:
In this brief guide, we aim to present a variety of
alternative options for adding cultural complexity
and diversity to the races present in your D&D game.
Since it's impossible for us to know exactly what
cultural options your home campaign might need (Are
there dragonborn in your setting? We don't know!),
we've chosen to focus on a few tools that we've found
useful in building cultures for our own campaigns.
We've included a number of examples of course,
but these are primarily intended to inspire your own
creativity, rather than to be implemented in your
home campaigns. When you finish reading this guide,
we hope you are immediately inspired to tweak a few
racial build options, perhaps to give a bit of mechanical
punch to a flavorful NPC or faction.

Hicks and Walton go on to say that they feel that setting elements are best expressed within the system itself, showing their Indiegamer/Storygamer roots. So, one might say that HBC is an attempt to bring some of these ideas to the 4e community at large.

The core of their approach is a reverse-engineering of cultures/races in D&D, figuring out the cultural assumptions from the stats and abilities given to that culture, Hicks and Walton then show how GMs can then jigger those assumptions to come up with new variations.

By now, you may have already figured out where
we're going with this. For every race, take a few of its
racial traits and extrapolate the cultural norm that
those features express. Once you have determined a
norm, reexamine it through the four different perspectives
we discussed earlier. Perhaps one perspective
is the "default," expressing the norm itself. However,
you can also apply the other perspectives to the norm
and figure out different cultural variations that might
emerge as character interact with that norm. Finally,
on a system level, you can determine how those
cultural differences might be modeled as different
racial built options.

And then Hicks and Walton get into examples. If you think this sounds dry, in the execution, the authors come up with logical variations on Elves, and their own Apelord race (seen in another OBE supplement). and then show that you,too, can use the tools and ideas they provide, and the logical step by step format to come up with variations of your own.

Since this is D&D and not a full indiegame, the authors are extremely careful to tie this all back into the mechanics to preserve play balance for all races and characters. While "on the move Elves" might suggest that a change of their stats from +2 dex +2 wis to +4 dec sounds good in the abstract as a story game element, as a game element, its a breaker. Hicks and Walton have dug into the play balances of the system and their counsel on how to make sure your own changes, using their method preserve play balanced are well heeded.

Should you buy this PDF?

If you are a 4e GM who (and this is *not* a slam) simply wants to run established modules and keep 4e to a beer and pretzels level Gamist experience, then, no, HBC is a waste of your money. The value of the PDF is as a toolkit for GM inspiration and customization of their campaigns. I suppose you could buy it to get the "alternate" elves used in the example, but that's a waste of your money.

If you have already purchased and enjoyed other products by One Bad Egg (eg the Shroud stuff) then you will definitely want this to add to your collection (and if for no other reason, to see how they deconstruct the Apelord race using the HBC formula.

If you are an Indiegamer/Storygamer who likes to play 4e on the side and are looking to put some of your ideas into your D&D game, or if you are a D&D GM who likes to DIY (and really, 4e seems to encourage this in the DMG), then this is definitely a supplement for you if you want to begin to tinker with cultures and races in your campaign.

For me, since I've only played a single module of D&D, the value in this to *me*, besides the reading value, is that some of the ideas about questioning and varying cultural norms and assumptions are ones that can be imported into other games. Sure, I can't use the mechanics as written , but the ideas about varying mechanics work well and can be exported to other games.

To give an example, I could and intend to use these ideas to vary the starting skills that outcaste Dragonblood have in a particular splinter culture in my Exalted game, following the ideas and template shown in this supplement as a guide to customizing their culture in a logical fashion.

I will look forward eagerly for more Hard Boiled ideas from the One Bad Egg cadre.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:18 AM

Creation's Crisis: A Manifesto for Change

This is something one of my PCs, Scott, of My Friends the Olsons (who plays a craft oriented Twilight) came up with.

His appellation at the end came from an encounter he had with one of the Raksha, who dubbed him by the title.

It won't make sense unless you are familiar with the Exaltedverse...

Creation's Crisis:
A Manifesto for Change

Creation now stands upon the edge of a knife, threatened by the
Dead and the Unformed, with the Yozis lurking somewhere in the background.
The forces that once drove back the Unformed and expanded Creation are,
today, hunted and feared by those who should be their allies and trusted
companions, and these hunters have not managed to drive back the Dead in
the millennia since they chose to take on the role initially allocated to
others by the Gods, and have only managed to drive back the Unformed with
the use of weapons created to serve those who they now hunt, weapons that
in too many cases they can neither recreate or maintain.

That the fall of the Solar Deliberative was deemed necessary at the time
is not in dispute, indeed it can be argued that if it did not need to fall
it would not have fallen, that the overthrow of the Deliberative would
have failed without the preceding fall of the Chosen of the Unconquered
Sun of the First Age into decadence. For the purposes of this document,
this will be considered fact. There is, now, little point in arguing the

That the order that succeeded the Solar Deliberative has not managed to
hold Creation together in the face of its enemies should not be in dispute
either. How many of Creation's lands, peoples, creatures, and gods were
lost between the Contagion and the great invasion of the Unformed? How
many have been lost to the Dead? And how many of these losses have since
been regained, the borders pushed back, the dead or Wyld lands retaken for
the living? The losses have simply continued, the latest and largest
being the fall of the city of Thorns to the Dead, but we have no reason to
suppose this will be the last. The Dead continue to reach out their cold
fingers to the lands of the living, hungry for the end of life. And how
long will it be before the Unformed begin to stir anew, having learned
that the Empress no longer can command the Realm's war manses that threw
them back the last time they made a concerted assault? We do not know,
but we do not dare assume they will not move again when they feel ready
and Creation weak enough to be overrun and destroyed. And then there are
the Yozis. They are not gone, not dead, and we can be sure that their
malice at the very least still leaks into the world and twists things that
should not be twisted. These threats exist, and their existence cannot be
denied by those who would walk in the real world.

The dialectic of history is simple enough: the old regime was fatally
flawed and change was needed; but the chosen change has resulted in a
situation where Creation is threatened from without, rather than from
within. Yet, the destruction of the old order did not result in greater
safety, but over time in greater loss of life, a loss that shows no sign
of stopping. The new order, like the old, must change, though for the
sake of Creation the means should be different, for Creation and its
inhabitants are unlikely to given the luxury of being left alone to sort
out the rubble of yet another civil war amongst its intended protectors,
not when the enemy is already here.

If Creation is to survive and thrive, a new path, a third way, must be
chosen, a path that makes use of the talents of all and does not rely
solely on one group or another. The evidence is strong enough: the Chosen
of the Unconquered Sun and the Chosen of the Elemental Dragons have been
tried alone at Creation's helm and been found wanting, there is little
reason to believe that, over time, the Chosen of Luna or the Chosen of the
Maidens would not suffer the same fate. It will fall to those of us
living now to decide the fate of Creation, whether we will fight amongst
ourselves and so allow our enemies from without to crush us all piecemeal,
or whether we will create a new strength, a new structure that will forge
the steel of a new era, strong enough to deflect the thrust of Creation's
enemies and strong enough to crash home through their upraised defenses.

If Creation is to survive and thrive, those who love it must face the true
enemies: the Dead, the Unformed, and the Yozis, for, as every mortal
knows, fighting amongst ourselves in a burning house is folly. Let the
gods, the Chosen of the Elemental Dragons, the Chosen of the Maidens, the
Chosen of Luna, and the Chosen of the Unconquered Sun at least work in
parallel if they cannot work in concert to defeat the threats to the very
existence of Creation, for all have special roles to play, special skills
to use, special gifts to put in the service of Creation.

The Smith

Posted by Jvstin at 4:28 AM

January 13, 2009

Real Deprotagonization: The 7th Sea Metaplot

I've been accused and lost players over the issue of deprotagonization**. However, a real example of this is in the metaplot in the books of the AEG game 7th Sea

7th Sea for the uninitated is a RPG of swashbuckling in an alternate Europe and Asia with the serial numbers filed off. Lots of 17th century action, with some themes of exploration, and sorcery thrown in too. Yes, there is magic in the setting.

Oh, and an Elder Race. The Syrneth can be thought of Atlanteans, with ruins and stuff all over the place. And there are Fae, too.

And secret societies up the yinyang, many of them female empowered to give female PCs a way to be workable in an otherwise male-dominated world and milieu.

So far so good?

The Syrneth are Chtuhluoid entities trying break back in our reality to this day. Some of the secret societies are devoted to stopping this.

Not so bad, right? A little COC added into the diverse setting isn't a terrible thing.

Here's where you get the deprotagonization:

Remember I said there was sorcery in the setting? (Of course, I like sorcerers. This should surprise no reader of this.)

Sorcery costs a lot at chargen. Think of it as buying Pattern in a 100 point build Amber game. Its by necessity a central component of your PC if you decide to be one. If you are a sorcerer, you are a sorcerer. Its integral to a character concept.

It turns out, deep within the metaplot of the secret society supplements (not the main corebook! Not the player's guide) that sorcery is irredeemably evil. It helps bring the day of the Syrneth closer. Almost all sorcery cast weakens the barriers between our world and the Far Realm.

What's more, even if you wanted to "renounce" sorcery and not use it anymore (basically shanking your character's viability in the process), most of these secret societies will not only not accept you, but probably try to kill you for Knowing Too Much.

So, if a GM takes the setting and metaplot as written (and we have to assume the game designers want them to), then, sorcery-driven characters in the game are deprotagonized.

**Yes, I still grouse over that. I obsess over my failures and shortcomings. I lost friends over my shortcoming. I lost friendships over this. Heck, every time I think I am a good GM, I can just whisper the names of those players and former friends, or their characters, and I realize that really, I'm not.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:56 AM

December 27, 2008

Television Tropes Wiki

Have you heard of the Television Tropes Wiki?

I think I came across it via I09 or Sf Signal. It's basically a wiki which deconstructs genre conventions in television (and by extension) other media as well.

It's a big wiki, and not as formal as Wikipedia, but its a lot of fun to read through--and its given me ideas for things to netflix.

I was thinking that some of my RPG characters fit into these tropes rather well...

Some examples:

Hadrian of DuMarque,currently an NPC in Strange Bedfellows has elements of the Naive Newcomer. He's young, new to Amber, and not yet proved himself.

Zavier Harrison of Exodus has some elements of that. He's also a Cunning Linguist(with a taste for French). He (and most of my characters for that matter) are The Smart Guy

Scipio, until he died, in my Exalted game, managed to be Affably Evil. (He was an Abyssal Exalted, after all). He also might be a Magnificent Bastard.

Cazaril is a BigBrother Mentor to Alex in Strange Bedfellows.

Lorius. My favorite character in any medium. I often play him as the Plucky Comic Reliefwith his over the top antics. I think its the floating. People just key on that.

Did I tell you all that in the Exalted game I run that he is trying to invent Baba Yaga's Hut? As a spell? (He was tired of being dragged around by the PCs and camping out all the time. So he's decided to fix this problem in the classic Lorius way. Magic.) Yes, Lorius is always Too Clever by Half in any medium.

And there are many others.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:25 AM

December 21, 2008

Exalted: Scroll of Fallen Races

So, when I braved the snow and ice (and it was treacherous, I did one donut on the way there) and got to the Olsons, the latest Exalted supplement waited for me.

Scroll of Fallen Races

The Scroll of Fallen Races divides into two parts. Weirdly, they decided to print this book as they did the Sorcery/Necromancy book and have half of the book printed straight up, and the other one upside, backwards and at the back of the book.

Sometimes White Wolf can be too clever.

The two Fallen Races are the Mountain Folk, who live underneath Creation, and the Dragon Kings, the previous "lords of the Earth", who were the big wheels when the Primordials ruled the Earth.

I laughed out loud, and got the sensibility of the DK section, when the opening chapter quote was from Enik, from Land of the Lost. For those not geeky enough to get it, Enik was a time-travelling intelligent Sleestak in the story, who discovered to his horror that the high civilization of the Sleestaks was going to turn into the barbarian savages who continually threaten Marshall, Will and Holly.

The Dragon Kings, in the Exalted setting, are exactly analogous to those Sleestaks. PC DK's can awaken in a manner analogous to exaltation, OR, they can be "Sleepers awakened" in the same way Enik was, but in any case, they are the exception to the rule. There is a strong undercurrent of "lost glory", much as it is for the Solars, except that they have the handicap of being truly alien. It's not a DK world anymore, its a human world.

At some point, the DKs are going to have to put an appearance in my game.

The Mountain Folk are an expansion over the first edition "slap in at the back of the Fair Folk book" and get their own space here. The Mountain folk are dwarven analogues, with the pathos that they can't come to the surface, and their creator (Autochthon) has abandoned them.

The Mountain Folk are in a box, and politics and conflicts between city states and individual MFs have sapped the body politic of the MFs.

I could make use of the MFs, too, certainly, since the defacto leader of the Exalted circle as I mentioned sometime earlier happens to be the sorcerer-smith. While the MF are isolated, the Exalts might make their way down into their realm in search of raw material or lost skills.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:19 AM

October 31, 2008

Christian Children's Fund Refuses Charity Tainted by D&D

This is ignorantly shortsighted on their part. Do they really think D&D players are satanic or something?

Posted by Jvstin at 5:28 PM

July 10, 2008

TBR 2008 Report

Rather than going into uninteresting minutae about the game, I will be the soul of wit and be relatively brief, rather than extensively and arrantly garrulous.

Pregame: I mentioned previously that I managed to get a ride in with Michael, Ginger and Karen Alfrey. That was a good way to start a low-key con.

Slot 1: Shadow Earth 2020
Small game (3 players), Spirit of the Century rules, PCs were non-Pattern initiated Amberites who were seeking the JOJ...and discovering that Earth had turned into a hellish cyberpunk shadow. As Raollin, investigator son of the Blood, I played straight man to the pyromaniac sorcerer and the shapeshifting son of Caine. Good fun.

Slot 2: The Fiona Affair
My first run game of the con and the only Amber-rules game I participated in. I had the PCs investigate Fiona (and her son's) disappearance, sending them to a shadow desertifying thanks to a loss of magical equilbrium, and from there, into a version of John Myers Myers The Commonwealth. The PCs met Shakespearean characters, swung through the jungles with Indiana Jones, rode the waves with Captain Barbarossa against a Cthulhuian monster, and more. Once again, I overplotted and cut out stuff. I think I probably should have made the adventure in the Commonwealth longer, but I wanted to show how messed up Fiona's unexpected departure could be--and the PCs *had* to be cautious.

Slot 3: Fortune's Fool: Jumping at Shadows

Michael Curry's SOTC game with zeppelin flying Pirates. I was given Spooky Jim, Navigator and Witch doctor, although I pressed heavily on the later. I managed to get Kevin Allen's PC to throw a dismembered arm at me for pimping the use of my "special brews" (which did help with an interrogation).


Slot 4: Journey to the Center of Amber
The other game I ran, an SOTC game, with the PCs finding a journal of a long lost relative of an elder Amberite, and taking a long trip to the center of the Earth, finding said PC, dino-men, crystal towers, and oh, a Vampire queen. Again, left out cool bits and probably should have made the climatic stuff in the Castle longer. C'est la vie.

Slot 5: Harry Potter and the Secrets of the Blood.

No system, playing HP characters 10 years after the novels, discovering by accident links between Hogwarts and something much older...including a broken Pattern, Amberites coming out of cards, and the revelation of where the wizardry families came from. I think I played okay as Neville "Plant man" Longbottom. I thought Karen's portrayal of Draco was great, in particular, and Arlene's daughter had her first RP experience playing Ginny Weasley.

Sunday after the slots, I had lunch with Brian, Carolyn, Bridgette and a couple of others, and spent time in Michael and Ginger's get together, too, so I got a good dose of social time all around. It was great to see you all!

And that was the con. I do have ideas for my next con, be it ACUS, TBR or somewhen else.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:06 PM

May 12, 2008

TBR: Journey to the Center of Amber

A teaser for my TBR game "Journey to the Center of Amber"
Posted by Jvstin at 2:13 PM

May 4, 2008

Picture a Day 05-04-08: Roads and Boats

Steve of the indiegamers makes a move in Roads and Boats. I finished third out of five in the game. Sadly, this is *better* than I usually perform in board games with the group.
Posted by Jvstin at 8:48 PM

April 30, 2008


Grand Theft Auto, Live (Almost) from Liberty City : NPR

Listened to a couple of stories on NPR yesterday about the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. I had no idea that the game was apparently so rich in satire. The game even equally skewers Fox News (as Weasel News) and Public Radio (you can listen to Liberty City's public radio station when you steal a car).

I'm still not that tempted to play the game, but the fact that the game has this level of sophistication does amuse me.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:47 AM

March 16, 2008

IMF, Exalted Style

The purple robed man opened up the scroll. A charm vocalized the written words, only for his ears. In the center of the scroll was a stylized painting of a white haired being. The Sidereal studied the painting.

"Good morning, Phelps. The being you are looking at is is none other than the Mask of Winters, the Deathlord who recently conquered the City of Thorns in the southern area of the Threshold, also known as the Scavenger Lands."

"We have received information through unusual channels that the Mask of Winters next target is the Horse Clans realms to his north, centered on the ranch town of Mishaka. We believe that he is attempting to create shadowlands as a threshold gate to move a force directly into the region around Mishaka via the Underworld rather than heading overland.

Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to stop the Mask of Winters efforts for a possible invasion. As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Bureau Head will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This scroll will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim."

Posted by Jvstin at 5:09 PM

February 8, 2008

Sins of a Solar Empire

Sins of a Solar Empire
Originally uploaded by Jvstin
Screenshot from Sins of a Solar Empire, showing my "mighty" three planet Empire.
Posted by Jvstin at 10:40 PM

January 21, 2008

Sunday: Universalis

On Sunday I got my first taste of Universalis with the IndieGamers.

Universalis is a Forge game, an "Indie Game" where there is no set GM. The game's nature, different every time, is determined by the players. The players decide a series of Tenets, which shape the kind of game its going to be. Players spend tokens to declare Tenets, and once play begins, bid on scenes and components (which can include characters and locales and other things). Complications, which are conflicts, use these components.

So, Larry, Chris, Steve and I decided to start a game. Coming up with the Tenets was in a sense the hardest part.

Some talking back and forth came up with a proto-idea for a Norse Mythology game set in a modern setting. Tenets like Rune magic, Ragnarok, and "Norsepunk" started to set up the tone. Showing how the system can be used for constraint, one of our tenets was also that successive scenes had to be in "adjacent" or prior locations.

Actual play began with a scene in an apartment with two lovers interrupted post-coitus by a neighbor suffering a bad reaction from an addictive rune-magic based substance that induces a berserker state. Scene proceeded to a conflict with the landlord, and a subsequent one with the tenants subduing the berserker. The limitations of the tenet for successive scenes led to scenes in a nearby bar, a street, and a fatal conflict in a cab between Dagmar and her boss.

At this point we stopped, since I was off to go watch the Giants game, but we have intentions of picking it up in two weeks.

It was different, and a lot of fun.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:02 PM

January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, First U.S. World Chess Champion, Dies

Bobby Fischer, the first U.S.-born chess player to become world champion, died yesterday in Iceland of an unspecified illness, the country's national radio said. He was 64, and had lived in secrecy and obscurity for decades.

Born in Chicago and raised in New York, Fischer became the youngest U.S. national champion by age 14 and a grandmaster a year later. In 1972, he defeated Russian champion Boris Spassky in a world championship match in Iceland at the height of the Cold War. The game became known as the ``match of the century'' and his win was a monumental event in a century which saw the sport dominated by Soviet players.

I was surprised to hear of his death, to say the least.

Sure, he clearly went around the bend in his final years with his anti-semitic rantings and strange habits. Still, in the realm of chess, his was a brilliance like a supernova.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:38 AM

January 14, 2008

The use of Randomizers for GM Creativity

My session of Exalted that I ran yesterday for my newly reminted quartet of Exalted players (two new players adding to two of the original four) ran really, really well. The players all had opportunities to shine and do *their* thing.

The big thing, though, was how randomizers...that is to say, dice, inspired GM creativity and a plot twist.

While much of the RP that I do these days is diceless, I do some diced gaming. Much of the Indiegamers play revolves around games with dice, and of course there is my Exalted game here.

I've mentioned before, i think, the use of dice as a random element that helps reduce determinism in a game. However, in the last session, I used it as a plot twist.

The situation unfolded thusly:

The four PCs were at the site, a manor and farm, of the disappearance of the two former PCs, trying to determine the nature and bounds of the shadowland that connected to the Underworld that the PCs had deduced the former PCs disappeared into. One of the current PCs had advocated an approach of mapping out the bounds of the shadowland from the outside. The shadowland was weak enough only to be seen by night--however that is precisely the time when its the most dangerous, since crossing the bounds at night from the inside leads not back to the real world, but to the Underworld.

The PCs saw the danger and rode around carefully. A few undead inside approached menancingly and my envisioned plot was for the PCs to take them on, just outside the shadowland. (I am not so deprotagonizing or railroading to trick the characters unfairly into putting them into the shadowland by fiat.

And still...

In Exalted, there are several possible results for die rolls for skills:

Success, that is you rolled enough successes on the stat+skill (7 or higher on a d10, 10's count as two)
Failure--you didn't roll enough successes.

And then there is the botch. A botch occurs when you fail to roll any successes, and you roll a "1". Botches are when bad things happen.

In one of her riding rolls, Viola's character rolled a botch and so I had her horse plunge toward the shadowland boundary. The other PCs swung into action and so I let them make rolls to intercept and stop Viola's headlong flight.

They succeeded.

The trip around the circle continued, and the menacing undead came closer. I had the PCs roll a riding check again.

This time, Viola rolled even worse, with two "1"'s and no successes. I can be as dense as a neutron star, but even I could see that the dice were telling me to go with it. So I ruled that Viola's horse panicked and she went across the boundary into the shadowland.

Naturally the other PCs went across and it was there that the PCs and NPCs faced off against the undead foe. They defeated them, but now have a new problem, encapsulated by one of the players as "From Dusk to Dawn"

The PCs can't leave the shadowland until dawn, or else they will cross into the underworld. So they have to hole up into the manor until the break of light and survive as creatures from the underworld come and get in. That will be the next session, and I totally did not anticipate or expect it.

I will work hard to make it memorable and fun. And the plot is only possible--because of the inspiration of a die roll.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:42 AM

January 6, 2008

Puzzle Quest

My newest computer game addiction, as it were is Puzzle Quest, from Infinite Interactive.

Infinite Interactive should be familiar to some of you--its the company created by Steve Fawkner, creator of the Warlords series.

Although PQ is ostensibly a simple "bejeweled" like game, it really is an adventure game of sorts, set in a Warlords or Warlords like universe. You wander the landscape on adventures, facing opponents on a bejeweled game board. You can level up and increase abilities for your character.

Puzzle Quest Main Map

Puzzle Quest Battle Screen

Posted by Jvstin at 9:44 AM

December 17, 2007

Free Rice


A vocabulary game and a way to donate free rice at the same time, Free Rice was mentioned on NPR this morning.

Try it, its fun!

Posted by Jvstin at 6:39 AM

December 3, 2007

F & SF League Year 1 Details

Since my brother asked about the teams, I thought I would provide more details on the inaugural season.

AC North
Greyhawk Gargoyles 12 4 0
Dragaera Jhereg (WC) 10 6 0
Miranda Reavers 9 7 0
Melniboné Dragons 2 14 0

AC South
Gallifrey Time Lords 12 3 1
Skynet Terminators 8 7 1
Traken Keepers 6 10 0
Coruscant Senators 5 11 0

AC East
Mars SandSailors 12 4 0
Arrakis Fremen 7 9 0
London Jets 7 9 0
Nessus Optimates 2 14 0

AC West
Amber Royals 10 6 0
House Wererathe Spiders (WC) 10 6 0
House Hendrake Hellmaidens 9 7 0 .
Kashfa Amirs 6 10 0

NC North
Mordor Nazgul 10 6 0
Hobbiton Hobbits (WC) 9 7 0
Isengard Uruk Hai 6 10 0
Edoras Rohirrim 6 10 0 .

NC South
Centauri Diplomats 13 3 0
Babylon 5 Starfuries 9 7 0
Barrayar Vor 7 9 0
Tschai Dirdir 5 11 0

NC East
Dark City Tuners 13 3 0
Arkham Criminals (WC) 11 5 0
Gotham Crimefighters 9 7 0
Caprica Vipers 6 10 0

NC West
Earthsea Archipelagos 9 7 0
Cimmeria Barbarians 7 9 0
Lankhmar Lords 4 12 0
Riverside Swordswomen 4 12 0

Playoffs (home team in Bold)

Wildcard Round

Arkham 13 EARTHSEA 10
GREYHAWK 24 Dragaera 20
MORDOR 13 Hobbiton 10
AMBER 47 House Wererathe 20

Divisional Playoff Round

GALLIFREY 29 Amber 13
Arkham 13 DARK CITY 10
MARS 32 Greyhawk 14
CENTAURI 22 Mordor 10

Conference Championships

CENTAURI 27 Arkham 11

Front Office Bowl

Mars 26 Centauri 17

Posted by Jvstin at 8:44 PM

December 2, 2007

F and SF Football League Year 1: Mars 26 Centauri 17

Congratulations to the Mars SandSailors, winners of my first year in the F and SF Football League I created using Front Office Football.

They defeated the Centauri Diplomats 26-17.

Aided by a spectacular fumble return by LB Winfred Yukich, the Diplomats took a 3rd quarter lead, 17-13. However, the SandSailors scored the final 13 points of the game to clinch their victory.

Game MVP Emmett Lomax of the SandSailors went 25 for 33, for 359 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw one interception.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:33 PM

November 1, 2007

SimCity Societies

SimCity Societies: A Greener Version of the Urban Jungle: Scientific American

It's a testament to both how Scientific American has chosen the path of accessibility, and how popular the SIMS series of games are, that an online article on SciAm's website talks about the new developments in the forthcoming SimCity Societies.

I'm intrigued at the changes they've made. It looks like a reimagining of the core concept, which could be exciting. (the latest versions of the game, IMO, moved away from the concept of fun and made the game a drudgery.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:17 AM

Mass Effect | Mass Effect - Splash Page

Now *this* makes me wish and tempted, to get an Xbox 360.

There are no plans to port Mass Effect to the PC. They did say that about HALO, too, though.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:21 AM

October 17, 2007

Galactic Civilizations II and Gaming companies which step it up

Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor - A Forum Post by Frogboy

Galactic Civilizations II, IMO, the currently best single player 4x space strategy game in current release, is going to have a second expansion pack, on the heels of their already successful first one.

The announcement of this release got me to thinking about computer game companies in general.

Stardock puts its customers, the players of its game, first.

Let's face it, computer bugs in games are inevitable. Without a standard platform, its impossible for computer game designers to anticipate every potential or even every common configuration of hardware. That, plus the hideous complexity of modern computer games, makes bugs and problems with games a fact of life.

And then there are balancing issues. Nothing can kill the fun of a game than finding a strategy that works against human (or especially) computer opponents most of the time. You either wind up with cheap wins, which lose their luster, or artifically changing your play to avoid the exploit.

Game companies handle these challenges in any number of ways. Some companies release their games and never follow up, or follow up in a desultory fashion. Others release a patch that solves some problems, but still results in diminished gameplay.

Some companies go far beyond this, with built communities, multiple patches to correct problems, listening to player concerns and ideas, and generally giving a damn about their product. Firaxis, makers of the Civilization games, and Stardock, makers of the Galactic Civilization games, are exemplars in this regard.

So, now that I have heard a new expansion pack is in the works for Gal Civ expansion pact which is not just a few new units or a single race, but a full blooded expansion (on the heels of one already), of *course* I am going to buy it, and support a game company who cares.

Wouldn't you?

Posted by Jvstin at 9:46 AM

September 25, 2007

Help me populate a F/SF football league

One of the games I play is the stat based computer game Front Office Football.

Its a lot of fun, even if its mostly numbers. There is no joystick control a la Madden or its rivals. On the other hand the career mode is deep. You can play year after year of a league of your making and i have done so.

It occurred to me today that I could have fun starting a new league, with a draft for imaginary teams. I briefly flirted with world cities without teams, and then a better idea struck me, one that *you* can help me with.

2 Conferences, 16 teams in each conference. With a little creativity, I can change city names and locations and make imaginary places. And since I could start with a draft so that all teams started equal...

Well, I could have 32 teams taken from fantasy and science fiction.

Where you can help me is with suggestions. Site in a world plus a name for the team would be great.

For example:

The Babylon 5 Starfuries
The Amber Royals
The Traken Keepers

I open the floor for suggestions. Help Populate my league!

Posted by Jvstin at 7:46 AM

September 5, 2007

Get a (Second) Life

NPR : Go Get a (Virtual) Life

While I was off to the MN State Fair, Science Friday on Talk of the Nation did an hour on virtual worlds, with an emphasis on Second Life. I think its a good primer on the subject for the uninitated.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:32 PM

August 14, 2007

Second Life Prim Perfect

In quest of that perfect moment ォ Prim Perfect

Once upon a time I MOOed and MUSHed, but I have never tried Second Life.

I may have to change that policy. The link above is to the latest article in Prim Perfect, a blog/zine about styling in Second Life. Think of it as Home and Garden for the Second Life set.

It'screated and run by a good friend of mine. It has been getting some good buzz lately, including a recent writeup in the NY Times.

If you are interested in Second Life, then I heartily recommend Prim Perfect. I myself may have to check out this virtual world to see just what its all about.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:55 AM

July 2, 2007

The Black Road 2007

Overall, I had a good time at the 2007 Black Road convention and it was good to see people I only see once in a year.

Slot One

I played as Brand in Brian D's Continuum-Amber crossover scenario The Eternal City along with Bridgette, Carolyn and Charles.

Didn't do as much touring of history as I might have thought, and I avoided PvP by avoiding the obvious opportunity to betray my friends. We did a little hopping through time, rescued the Jewel of Judgement, and even managed to be responsible for its creation, in a very "eww" sort of way. I thought Brian did a good job as GM and my fellow players were "on".

Slot Two

I GMed my SOTC-Amber cross: "The Children of Amber in the Machinations of Duke Icarium" with a strong cast of Carolyn, Bridgette, Chris, JP and Mel. It was a new system for nearly everyone and there was some hesitation in getting the system to work, and I know what I would do better, especially with scene aspects, which I didn't use as well as I might.

Still, the game allowed for pulp action, involving planes, zeppelins and a false bride in a wedding dress firing guns like mad. I tried to give everyone stuff to do and chances to shine and have fun.

I might run another SOTC mechanic-ed game next year.

Slot 3:

Tales of the Regency: The Invasion of Time.

My typical straightforward Amber game (there were a paucity of those this year). With Bridgette's very direct Catherina, and BriAnne, Deb, and JP . Karen K came late but just in time to be sprung from prison and join the adventure against a Spikard trying to bend time and space to its will. Evan wound up with its intellect in his brain, and the Spikard's focal person was killed, stopping its ability to construct the temporal monoliths.

I think it was a servicable, okay story but not as effective as my SOTC game, overall. I think I know what I should have done (split the party up more and given more chances to shine) but I think I didn't balance the game as well as I should have.

Slot 4:
This was Michael and Ginger's third and final Equalizer game, Equalizer III: The Courts of Kashfa and so how could I resist bringing Aram for the third and final installment. He was not as colorful as Mel's Millicent, as driven as Brian's Quinlan, as mysterious as Bridgette's Shelley, multifacted as JP's sorcerer, intense as Karen's Eve, et cetera, but I didn't sit in the corner and do nothing. It was a satisfying end to the series, with the villains defeated and the other PCs did shine and shine brightly.

Slot 5:
This was Mel and Charles Gal Ren Game, set on a space station ready for an important conference regarding the drug Necro, fresh influxes of it coming into the galaxy from a moon in this transfer point of a system (but not otherwise important to the empire). With diplomats, a caterer, a reporter under cover and a ship captain, my somewhat disabled lawyer fit in all right, and it was useful to poke to get legal information after a poisoning and other intrigues led to a firefight on bikes inside the hollow moon where we learned what Necro really was and where it came from. It was an intriguing and interesting story and a good way to end the official con slots.

"Slot 6"

Karen and Carl very kindly ran another session of Carl's Storycards for me, Mel, Charles and and Chris. We learned the system, and generated characters for a living toy "Toy rebellion" comedic game that, in the end, was Amber themed. I played an atypical character, a martial arts toy that actually could fight, against Mel's british Barbie, Chris' floppy dog, and Charles' "Kang the Conqueror" who was not really a toy but a model of sorts.

Lots of fun was had and in the post mortem Mel used the storycards to do tarot readings for Time Under Chaos PCs and NPCs, easily adapting a hitherto to her unknown deck for the purpose.

In between all of the gaming, I got to be social with a number of people, broke bread with many on a couple of occasions, watched the final episode of Season Three of the New Doctor Who thanks to Jack Gulick torrent, and in general had a very good time.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:53 PM

June 13, 2007

Board Game Renaissance

MPR: The LoopHole

The Loophole, a blog on Minnesota Public Radio, posits the idea that a Board Game Renaissance is in progress, led by Settlers of Catan.

Certainly, a walk through "The Source" gamestore shows that the board games are getting more and more space at the expense of some RPG stuff. And Catan is a lot of fun as are their ilk, even if I rarely do well in playing them.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:31 AM

April 16, 2007

Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword

As my brother knows, my current gaming time is mainly spent on Galactic Civilization II: Dread Lords with the Dark Avatar Expansion.

I do also play Civilization IV, especially with the Olsons in hotseat play when I visit them. And so this announcement is of definite interest:

Strategy Informer has exciting news: a new Civilization IV expansion pack is on its way! Titled Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword and scheduled for release in July 2007, this expansion will focus on the later eras of the game (post-Gunpowder). It will include:

* Expanded epic game: Firaxis Games delivers a massive increase in new units, buildings, and technologies to the epic game with additional focus on the late-game time periods.
* 12 scenarios: The expansion [...] will deliver 12 challenging and decidedly different scenarios [...] many containing themes never before included in the Civilization series, custom designed by the team at Firaxis and select members of the Civ Fan Community.
* 10 new civilizations: includes the Netherlands, Portugal, Babylon and a native American civ.
* 16 new leaders: These include leaders for the new civilizations (such as Sitting Bull) as well as ones for existing civs (such as Abraham Lincoln).
* Corporations: A new gameplay feature that allows players to create corporations and spread them throughout the world. Each corporation provides benefits in exchange for certain resources.
* Expanded espionage: Now available much earlier in the game, this expanded feature offers players many new ways to spy on opponents, stir citizen unrest and defend their government’s secrets.
* Random events: New random events such as natural disasters, pleas for help, or demands from their citizens will challenge players to overcome obstacles in order for their civilizations to prosper.
* 5 new wonders: Five new wonders await discovery including the Statue of Zeus, Cristo Redentor, Shwedagon Paya, the Mausoleum of Maussollos, and the Moai Statues.
* Expanded Space Victory: Winning the race to Alpha Centauri will now require more strategic planning and tactical decision making.
* Apostolic Palace: The United Nations will become available earlier in the game, providing a way for players to win a diplomatic victory earlier. New resolutions will also be added which will expand the available diplomatic options.
* Advanced Starts: A major fan request, this new feature will enable players to “buy” components of a custom-tailored empire and begin play in the later part of the game, allowing them to experience many of the new features of the expansion pack in a shorter amount of time.
* Enhanced AI: The AI has received many enhancements, making it tougher to beat on the higher difficulty levels. The ways in which the AI will attempt to achieve victory have also been expanded.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:29 PM

April 1, 2007

Go Play Amber!

Yeah, I decided to make one of these "Go Play"icons, too.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:22 AM

March 30, 2007

Petals around the Rose

Lloyd Borrett - Computing - Play the Petals Around the Rose game (JavaScript)

I've seen this before, but its been a while, so I had to relearn this anew.

Do you know the secret?

I put a hint in the extended entry.

This game can and should be solved visually, and the title is evocative of the method

Posted by Jvstin at 12:28 PM

March 12, 2007

Comic Book Movie Brackets

Talk of the Nation : Best Comic Book Movies -

Talk of the Nation now has a blog, and in addition, provided a pointer to Daily Bracket, a site where you can make imaginary "brackets" a la the NCAA. Their sample one is "Best Comic Book Movies."

I think i could have a lot of fun with this site.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:32 PM

February 18, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year

Fontplay-Happy Chinese New Year
Originally uploaded by Jvstin.
Happy Chinese New Year

Font: China One
Posted by Jvstin at 9:26 AM

February 17, 2007

Galactic Civilizations II

Originally uploaded by Jvstin.
A screen shot of ship design in my time sink, Galactic Civilizations II.

More screen shots of the game I took to look are are available here.

Gal Civ II Screen Shots

Posted by Jvstin at 9:51 AM

December 5, 2006

Three webcomics

I don't have time to read as many of these as others of my friends do, but I do like a couple in particular:

Wapsi Square
It looks at first glance to be a webcomic about a few friends in a fictional Minneapolis neighborhood. In reality, its urban fantasy, and I am really enjoying the storylines.

Order of the Stick
Satirical of the rules and regulations and conventions of Dungeons and Dragons, it still manages to tell a great story even through obscure jokes about the arcana of how D&D actually works as a game

Girl Genius
Steampunk Mad science at its best by Phil Foglio. I've heard a GURPS sourcebook for this is long in the pipeline and if it ever comes to fruition, I'll buy it.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:19 AM

September 3, 2006

IMC: The Re-drawing of the Pattern

One of the themes that I've used in some of my one-shots, and only now becoming apparent in SB in the instance of the Moonriders is the consequences of Oberon re-drawing the Pattern at the end of the first five novels.

If Pattern provides as much direction and form to shadows that are already in existence as creating them, then what exactly happened from the time that the Primal Pattern was damaged, until Oberon's repair of the Pattern?

Certainly the Black Road was a consequence of weakening the Pattern, allowing such a strong instance of Chaos to penetrate where it had difficulty otherwise. But it is Oberon's re-drawing of the Pattern that is the real kicker, and what I've made good use of.

Why should the post-redrawn Amber side of the universe be precisely the same as it was pre-damaged Pattern?

--Dworkin drew the Original Pattern, Oberon redrew and repaired it. Its certain that the Pattern would be at least subtly different, in the Post-Patternfall world.

--Oberon died during the process. We're not told where on the Pattern he died
---Did Oberon really finish the process? Perhaps Dworkin finished his son's work, Oberon's repair of the Pattern was enough to provide enough sanity for Dworkin to finish the job. Or, Oberon did finish it, but since the effort killed him, his repair was not as careful as it might have been. Things can be missed.

Think of it this way, changing metaphors. When I got a new computer, after the failure of my hard drive, I lost a good many things that I could not find again on the Internet--fonts, programs, and so forth. In some cases I have gotten substitutes, in some cases I have lost them forever.

And its certain that I've forgotten things. Every so often I will remember a particular program, or document, and only then remember that it was on the old HD and not replaced, gone and forgotten.

So, too, for the Amber side of the Universe. Prisons, major changes to the universe post-Pattern creation, and the like can wind up being lost, or imperfectly placed back.

I've done it in a number of games, Ghosts of the Past, for example. A couple of the Regency games have touched on this theme as well.

And, although it may not be clear just yet, and I don't want to speak more about it for fear of spoilers, I've done it in SB as well. Things re-drawn and remade are not the same as the originals, the Pattern and its influence included, and the differences can lead to all sorts of complications.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:32 AM

August 19, 2006

A skill book for RPG games

As first heard on Have Games Will Travel:

The Ultimate Skill: The latest book in Hero Games’s Ultimate line takes an in-depth look at Skills. In addition to expanded and alternate rules for learning, using, and modifying Skills, it contains detailed information about every Skill in the game, making it a resource unparalleled in the world of roleplaying games. If you want to know the modifiers for picking a double-wafer lock (or even what one is), bypassing a fingerprint analyzer, navigating by the stars, living off the land, tracking a fearsome monster, bribing a city guard, or anything else that has to do with a Skill, The Ultimate Skill will tell you all about it. The product of hundreds of hours’ and thousands of dollars’ worth of research, The Ultimate Skill will bring new levels of detail, excitement, and fun to your game.
Author: Steven S. Long
Tentative Release Date: Mid 2006

Posted by Jvstin at 10:11 AM

Iain Banks, Civilization Addict

I may not have liked the one Iain Banks book I've read to date, but he and I have something in common. From the Independent Online:

Iain Banks has committed the cardinal sin of failing to meet a deadline.

The award-winning novelist's latest work, Matter, was due to hit the shelves in a couple of weeks as a shoo-in for the Christmas bestseller lists.

It now won't be released until some time next March.

"It's all because I became a serial addict of the computer game 'Civilisation'," Banks said at this month's Edinburgh book festival.

"I played it for three months and then realised I hadn't done any work. In the end, I had to delete all the saved files and smash the CD.

"It is very unprofessional of me. I had to ask for an extension for the first time, which made me feel just like I was a student again."

Posted by Jvstin at 9:14 AM

July 30, 2006

Goodbye to Guardians of Order

RPG Blog: R.I.P., Guardians of Order

Guardians of Order, publishers of games including Nobilis, the new Tekumel, the Game of Thrones RPG and others, is shutting down operations.

I am an acquaintance of Mark's (through the Amber gaming circuit of course) and so I hope he gets through this madness with his sanity intact. I also wonder what exactly will happen to the properties currently held by GOO, from Nobilis to GOT, to, of course, Amber.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:01 AM

July 29, 2006

GNS, Redux

I've been thinking about the old "GNS" axis in terms of the 7th Sea game that my friend Scott Olson runs.

Scott is definitely heavy on the S side of the Gamist-Narrativist-Simulationist side of the spectrum, based on the one and a half sessions I've had under him as a GM. Scott is very big on the details, of getting those details right and consistent.

For example, while a more narrativist style GM (like, say, me) might handwave things like seasickness on the sea trip that the party is on, or suggest that it happened, Scott made us roll--and even put a modifier on a PC who had stated he had been drinking.

His attention to detail on things that he knows quite a bit about--the shape and specifics of the ship, of weapons that our characters were looking over to buy, and so forth, are very "S" as well. Scott cares, and makes you care about the small differences.

Its somewhat a change from the more Narrativist GMs that I play under--Gal Ren is completely N, for example and character driven as opposed to GM driven, at that.

SB might be a little more top down than many of the other games in its weight class, but I admit that I handwave some details when they don't contribute to the story. But I do like to have a consistent background and a world behind that story, which gives me, I think, some shadings of S. For example, I recently detailed the minutae of House Hendrake's ranking system, not because its that likely the players will care overmuch, but because I wanted the consistency and regularity of same.

Still, to play under Scott as opposed to the more N games I am used to does take some getting used to.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:33 AM

July 17, 2006

London Wall Walk

London Wall

My brother in a recent comment mentioned traversing the London Wall Walk with me a decade and a half ago, when we visited London together. A little Googling has found an online version of the booklet that we purchased and used to follow the route. We got as far as the Museum of London, in the Barbican.

One day, I want to do it again.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:34 AM

July 12, 2006

Rome on 640k a Day

I've been asked to give a thumbnail history of one of my favorite computer game series of all time, equally up there with Zork, Front Page Sports Football, and Warlords.

I speak of nothing less than Civilization.

Civilization, the Original, came out in 1991, around the same time as the original Warlords, and when high graphics were still a mote in the eye of developers.

Still, even with primitive graphics and with micromanagement, and minimal differences between the offerings of civilizations, it still was a lot of fun to play, and replay and replay. Who wouldn't want to conquer the world as the Russians, or the Germans, or, yes, the Romans?

Civilization II came out five years later, in 1996. Although the Civilization Games have never been cutting edge in terms of graphics, Civ II did look a lot better than its original. Civ II introduced a raft of new concepts, ranging from caravans to a more detailed system of working game tiles. It also introduced your advisors, who help suggest what the player should concentrate on next.

The civilizations, too, became somewhat differentiated. Different Civilizations now clearly had different technologies to start with. Units also had firepower and hit points and zones of control, providing the first real possibilities of tactics with units.

Civilization II was a highly successful version of the game, spawning a couple of add on packs, and a "Remake", Civilization II : Test of Time.

I played Civilization II endlessly for a long time.

Civilization III, was, IMHO, a step backward in some respects for the Civilization Franchise. Oh, certainly, there were a lot of new innovations in the game, not all of them were positive ones.

Civ III introduced the idea of leader traits, that each Civilization had a couple of different special traits that gave them specific advantages. For example, Babylon was Scientific AND Religious, and so got bonuses on doing science, and on building things like temples.

On the other hand, the idea of corruption and pollutions became extremely annoying in the game. New cities, after a certain number, were plagued with so much "corruption" that they couldn't build anything! Worse was "Whack a mole pollution". Late in the game, pollution in cities would manifest as skull and cross bones icons that made the tile useless, and had to be cleaned up by your engineer units. A lot of the end game was spent automating or sending engineers off to "whack" the latest outbreak of the endless stream of pollution, even if you ran clean cities.

Still, despite its glitches and problems, while it wasn't quite as fun as Civ II, I still played it, especially with the add-ons, which made some of the problems far more bearable.

Newest to the franchise is Civilization IV.

Civ IV has made numerous changes. New and more leader traits, providing a new breadth of gameplay. Units no longer have different attack and defense values but rather an overall hit points and strength. The game has revamped its models of corruption and pollution to be far less constricting.

The biggest change is the addition of religion to the game. More a method of forming alliances and a source of happiness for citizens, I still get a kick every time of being the first Civ to a particular tech that provides access to a religion. Another large change is Civics, an expanded take on the "Government" that a Civ has. Now you CAN have a Free Market Police State, if you want.

It does lack some of the favorite Civs from previous versions of the game, and some long cherished tactics (suicide galleys!) no longer work. Still, I have to admit that, overall, Civ IV seems to have captured the spirit of Civ II that Civ III never quite grabbed.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:26 PM

May 16, 2006

Game IRE #26: Gone Fishing

It's been too long since I've had time to think of an IRE that isn't depressingly tied to natural disasters, political disasters or other such unhappy topics. Fortunately, living in the Great White North has given me something to work with.

Last weekend in Minnesota was the Fishing season opener. It's a very big deal in the state with over 10,000 lakes, a large economic boost to the lake dominated northland part of the state. Gas stations, among many other places, sell fishing licenses. The site of where the Governor of the state goes fishing on fishing opener weekend is news here, even in the urban Twin Cities. (And no Governor would dare not go fishing this first weekend). Going "up to the lake" is a tradition among Minnesotans during this first weekend of the fishing season, which runs until the winter.

So, let's go fishing for this Game IRE

Of the various aspects of the Fishing Opener, the idea that the Governor of the state's fishing plans are news amuses me the most and seems the most game worthy.

Let's take Burning Wheel, since I play that with the IndieGamers group. Set a group of characters to accompany a high noble (doesn't have to be a king) to accompany him to relax on his summer estate by the lake.

Naturally, with the high noble there, his vassals are going to show up, seeking succor, alliances, intrigue and more. I can see plenty of opportunities for duels of wits, and depending on the tone of the game, actual duels, romances, and more. And perhaps there is something lurking in the lake, something that strikes when the noble actually deigns to go fishing himself (perhaps a tradition or ritual in this world). The characters may have the opportunity to save the noble's life, or not...

Posted by Jvstin at 6:58 AM

March 25, 2006

Anachronism Card Game


Now where was this game when I was in High School? I know a lot of my classmates back then would have snapped this up like mad.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:15 AM

September 18, 2005

Back from Yellowstone

Back from Yellowstone National Park.

Photos are available here on Flickr.

And one for your viewing preview pleasure:

Posted by Jvstin at 7:45 PM

September 7, 2005

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park (National Park Service)

And so, BJS will go quiet for a couple of weeks, as I head off on my exciting and adventurous trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Take Care and Be Well until then.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:26 PM

June 23, 2005

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

The Onion 2056

The Onion has been doing a "2056 edition" online recently. This entry above, reminds me of the song Big Yellow Taxi

Posted by Jvstin at 6:33 AM

June 16, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #30: Goodie Bag

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Blog Archive � Lunchtime Poll #30: Whaddaya Got?

Li asks:

What�s the last board, card, or roleplaying game you bought, and what do you think of it?

The last RPG game that I bought was two volumes of Iron Kingdoms, by Privateer Press.

An odd D20 world, more "Steam and guns, rather than sword and sorcery". Magic is primarily focused through an arcane-steampunk technology known as Mechanika, the world itself is gritty and harsh.

Its a weird world to be sure, and definitely not your standard d20 universe. Will I run a game in this place? I'm not sure. At the very least, I can mine ideas and concepts for inclusion in other games (eg, using a version of this world as a shadow in an Amber game).

Posted by Jvstin at 6:29 AM

June 9, 2005

Lunchtime Poll 29: Adversary or not?

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Blog Archive � Lunchtime Poll #29: Us and Them

Li asks a deceptively simple question:

Do you consider the GM part of the group, and why or why not?

The question is deceptively simple, since my conception of a GM and what they do has changed, evolved and grown over time.

Back in the days of D&D and its kin, the GM (or more commonly, DM) was the adversary, the opponent, the one who held the other side of the equation that the players balanced. Both as player and as GM myself, I considered it a competitive sort of relationship.

As time has gone on, and especially the experience of running a long term PBEM, and being exposed to new ideas, games and gaming philosophies, I have come to see things differently.

I see the GM now as a partner and active participant in the game. I've always had at least the germ of this in Amber gaming, when I infuse some of my NPC creations with as much vitality and drive as their PC cousin counterparts.

Games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Nobilis, Everway and the like have (via osmosis if not direct ownership and play), and exposure to campaigns like Arref's Eternal City and House of Cards have only confirmed this "partnering" sort of philosophy. Granted its not a communistic equal, the GM has, I feel a larger stake in world creation and building.

However, gone are the days when the GM created everything. I not only feel comfortable when players create pieces of my world in mini-me fashion, but I actively want that sort of thing.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:38 PM

June 3, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #27: Ticking Time

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Blog Archive � Lunchtime Poll #27: Better Late than Never

Li, who might give up the Polls (boo!) asks in #27:

Describe a game you�ve played in or run (or would like to play in or run), based on a �ticking clock� setup.

I'm not much one for deadlines. I admit that time pressure doesn't work for me that much, especially as a GM. There might be a time limit within a game, but I can't really think of a game that I've run where a time limit has been featured.

That said, however, an idea has occurred to me that would appeal for me to run. It's a primitive time travel scenario. The players are sent back, one shot only, to change an event in the timeline gone wrong. Let's, for fun, say an event that wasn't supposed to happen: The murder of President Bush on September 11th, 2001

The problem: The time machine has gone astray, putting them crucially far from the target. The Laws of Time don't allow a second chance, and so its a race against Time for the PCs to get to the target location, and prevent the event, and make sure that the prevention itself doesn't change history.

A multi-genre and themed game, as the PCs might have to appropriate odd forms of transportation and jump through hoops to reach the "zone" in time to save the timeline.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:17 AM

May 17, 2005

Lunchtime Poll 26: Greatest Never Played

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Blog Archive � Lunchtime Poll #26: The Way We Weren'tt

Li's Lunchtime Poll this week:

Describe the best game you came up with and never got to run (if you�re a GM) or the best game that you were invited to join and never got a chance to play in (if you�re a player)?

Many choices abound, both from a GM and a playing perspective...

Li, though, is asking for the Best.

I am going to harken back to a Role Call James asked about, about game ideas I have not done yet but want to. In that entry I mentioned Status Quo Ante Bellum, which since that entry I HAVE run at ACUS, successfully. The other, more epic idea I have not yet run, and I reprint it here.

Borders of Eternity

Inspired at first by Arref's successful creation of the Empire of the Gleaming Banner, the opening image is what drew me to this and its stayed with me since. One of the player characters, on a private secluded beach in shadow, a shadow no one else in their family knows about, finds a set of footprints where none should be. Not Amberian, not Chaosian...someone else.
In its most epic and ambitious form, this would be a three sided game with characters from the three poles of the universe...Amber, Chaos and the third pole, hitherto unknown, in a direction perpendicular to Amber and Chaos both. My mental modeling of this third world is a quartet of shadows influenced heavily by Elizabeth Willey's books. They have a quartet of elemental powers, scions of them able to travel shadow, and an even match for Pattern and Logrus masters and mistresses. They are just as real.
What happens in the contacts between these worlds? Intrigue, adventure, conflict, and exploring new worlds and lands. Expanding one's vision of just how large the universe is. Finding the borders of Eternity.

Posted by Jvstin at 6:11 PM

April 29, 2005

Lunchtime Poll 24: Sweet Spot

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll 24: The Sweet Spot

Li asks:

A common complaint that GMs hear is that they�re unprepared. Another common complaint GMs hear is that they�ve overprepared. How�s a GM to know when she�s hit that sweet spot, and the level of preparation is Just Right?

Well, I admit freely that I have trouble hitting that sweet spot. Like Li, I often have too much plot for con games, and wind up either jettisoning it mid-route, or worse, have actually split a game into next year (Ad Astra) to accomodate the rest of the plot.

This year, I jettisoned a lot in TOTR: Royal Legacy because I only had three players. In my other two TOTR games, the players did it for me, moving with a single-mindness that sometimes scared the crap out of me. Side plots and problems never materialized thanks to the likes of Bridgette, Michael and Ginger on the case.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:02 PM

April 9, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #21: Spinoff

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #21: Spinoffs

Li asks:
What�s the best media tie-in game out there�Star Wars? Buffy? Take a position and explain it. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your opinions!

I haven't played many, if any, spin-off games...

So my viewpoint is a little narrow, I admit. I've seen and flipped through Star Wars, Buffy, Stargate, Babylon 5, and the like.

I do have a recent purchase of a spin-off that I am excited about the more I read: The Black Company.

It's a d20 setting based on the books by Glen Cook, the novels revolving around a mercenary company in a black, white and very grey world.

The book contains a good summary of all the novels, a nice chunk of pages detailing the world, ideas on hooking characters into events from the books (or even "alternate" events) and a lot more. The magic system is completely redone; in point of fact a crossover d20 wizard loses all access to their spells while in this setting.

I also read somewhere that Cook is very happy with the faithfulness of the game and its tone and vision to his vision of the Black Company world.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:19 AM

March 18, 2005

Lunchtime Poll 18: Alternative History

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #18: Not in Kansas

Li asks:

What alternate-historical setting would you most like to play in, and why?

Damn to Li to pick my favorite SF sub-genre. The choices are broad, and even given that, some of my favorites have been scooped up.

Li herself mentions Stirling's Nantucket books which would be a lot of fun. Ginger mentions the Agent of Byzantium series, again, Turtledove is one of my favorites. She also mentions the Kay novels, like Tigana or the Sarantine Mosaic.

But beyond just me-tooing the two ladies, I'd like to try a game set in the Roma Aeterna of the Silverberg stories (or the world of Hannibal's children). If we can throw a fantasy alternate universe in there a la Kay, the Videssos novels of Turtledove are a strong choice for me.

Beyond those, the magic and intrigue of the world of Shadow of the Lion would also appeal. And although Ginger didn't like it anywhere near as much as I did (but admitted to wanting a GURPS module for it), the fantasy-alternate history world of Kushiel's Dart and its sequels would be wonderful to explore.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:21 AM

March 12, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #17: Built to Last

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #17: Long-Term, High-Yield

Li asks this week:

�New games are popping up all of the time, yet they don�t stay around very long at all anymore. Magic: The Gathering has lasted 10 years�The White Wolf �storytelling� system reached its apex at about 4 years old�the (*shudder*) Pokemon game lasted maybe two years�what�s going to last?�

Ginger and Arref make good points about the fact that, especially for FTF games, you may not want the game to go on forever.

PBEM games, or games that can be enjoyed serially are far more likely to stand the test of time. So I would say that the types of games which are likely to survive have a majority of these features:

Portability. By this I mean that I can play the game FTF, PBEM or even in a chat room as appropriate. I'll bet money that tabletop gaming is more popular than LARPing...just because its easier to set up and do.

Elegance of rules. Rolemaster type charts for everything discourage players, except the fanatics. Rules should do what they need to do to allow the GM and players to tell the story.

One-shot applicability. Games that lend themselves to one-shots are flexible. Ginger mentions games like DOTV which she is excited about. I've heard good things about other Indie games (like, say, Burning Wheel or Dead Inside). I'm studying Fireborn at the moment and would love a chance to run a short scenario in it.

Accessibility. This is close to Elegance, but this refers to the idea that a new RPG and its rules should invoke inspiration, not dread, in a new player. Really, in the end, an RPG needs new players to grow, survive and last.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:19 AM

March 3, 2005

Lunchtime {Poll #16: Language

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #16: I Am a Jelly Doughnut

Li asks:
How do you convey the feeling of being unable to speak the majority language in the area where the story is taking place?

I am mostly in Ginger and Arref's camp.

I do occassionally have dramatic use of language in my games, both from my end and the players. Ginger's PC Alais, for example, having been raised in a place which uses French as a first language, does throw bits of French here and there for flavor.

Mentions of Golden Circle languages, languages of other shadows and the like does come up now and again. Thari is not a universal language, and hardly anyone on Earth is going to recognize it--except, perhaps, an enchanter who will recognize it as a magical language.

I've mentioned here and there that the Chaosian variant of Thari is distinct from Amberian, for example. Two Realms divided by a common language. I've enjoyed using idioms and expressions in the differences even between Amber and Rebma, both as a GM and as a player.

As far as my own PCs, Marcus in AOR has used French in talking with his sister, Gaius in SOM speaks an Italianate like language. Cadmus knows Greek and Latin.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:50 PM

February 23, 2005

Lunchtime Poll 15: Creative Spellcasting

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #15: Off-Label Use

The uses of some things are fairly obvious, or so you�d think. Grappling hooks, fire extinguishers, blenders, and Magic Missile spells, for example, would seem to be fairly straightforward, one-use tools�but not always. What�s the best or most creative �off-label use� of a spell or item that you�ve seen?

I am going to highlight part of the incident that I mentioned in a previous Poll, the one where Marcus literally threw his sister Agacerie at Brand...

I mentioned in that entry about a "waterspout spell" but it really wasn't quite that at all, although that was the effect.

The spell itself was designed as an offensive weapon, a pressurized gout of water to sweep away lesser foes and cause all sorts of havoc with enemy forces. But, with his mother's life hanging in the balance, Marcus turned the spell into a waterspout, having it come up underneath his mother, so that it propelled her back over the lip of the Abyss, and to safety.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:03 PM

February 16, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #14: Job Requirements

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #14: Job Requirements

Li asks:

What do you think is the most important quality required to be a successful GM? Please discuss amongst yourselves.

Despite my protestations to the contrary sometimes, running a PBEM for nearly 9 years qualifies as successful. To say nothing of con games and the like...

I think Li hits it on the head pretty well, but I will rephrase it. It's dealing with the Left Turns at Albuquerque that make a GM successful or not.

No one likes a railroad, and Amber players in particular seem like to get off of the tracks, and head out into terra incognita. The successful GM not only handles this well, but does it in such a way that the players divergence from expectations really feels like the GM wanted it all along and can adapt as he or she goes.

SB had an early Left Turn that has, in the flowering, led to new plotlines, epic battles and cool roleplaying. I can't imagine the game if that Left Turn *didn't* take place.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:40 PM

February 10, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #12: Reference

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #12: Look It Up

Li asks:

What�s the most useful non-gaming source of information (book, website, etc.) you�ve ever found? And what makes it so darn useful?

Barbara Ninde Byfield

Tough to limit it to one. I have a lot of books and a decent amount of reference books on all sorts of things, from symbols to history.

I think I will stick with my Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient History by Colin McEvedy. Covering Europe, the Mediterranean and the Near East from 5000 BC to 400 AD, its a wealth of knowledge about ancient peoples, places and concepts. I love to steal motifs and ideas from ancient cultures, and find the atlas an endless source of things to use.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:16 PM

Lunchtime Poll #13: Oops, I did it again

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #13: Oops, I Did It Again

Li asks on this go around:

You knew it was a bad idea at the time, and you did it anyway. Tell us about it. Were there any repercussions, or is it just a good cocktail-party story?

Okay, it was a crazy idea cooked up by Marcus's sister Agacerie and I, early in the AOR game.

The scene was the battle at the Abyss, Patternfall. As Deirdre's children, we were horrified when Deirdre was taken captive by Brand, and teetered at the edge of doom.

We were all paralyzed with shock at first, and then a lack of good options. Agacerie's suggestion was bold and audacious... use her as a missile weapon against Brand. Marcus was easily strong enough to use her as a weapon, but was it the smartest idea we had? No?

The result...a teleport or transport of some kind of a mysterious rider intersected Agacerie's flight path after Marcus launched her against Brand. Agacerie got some bumps and bruises out of it.

Marcus wound up helping his mother out of the Abyss fall with a timely waterspout spell. (Marcus' magical specialty is force based spells, and his element is water.)

Posted by Jvstin at 3:11 PM

January 20, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #10: The Replacement

LI asks:

Discuss successful and/or unsuccessful ways you�ve integrated a new character into an existing game.

I've had mixed success with integrating characters into existing games, but I think that I have tried hard, on my own end, to do so.

Some examples:

In the AAPA series, I had great fun in introducing a new character to the second installment at ACUS 2003, in the person of Jenn Woelke. I used her character's appearance and unusual abilities to good effect, helping to drive the plot and making her an integral part of the happenings in the second (and subsequently) third installment. It was the first real roleplaying Jenn and I had done together, and it worked out well.

More recently, I've added new players to SB, in the persons such as Claire (Kennard), Ginger (Alais), Michael (Oliver) and Amber (Alex and Braem). In each case, I found niches where new characters could and would shine, and have worked with the players to get the characters into fun and intriguing situations.

Since inter-PC threads are not that common in SB (as opposed, to, say, House of Cards), I've made great use of NPCs to get new characters familiar with my game and my style. In a couple of cases, the players aren't aware of the NPC, yet, and in one case, I quickly threw two new players together, to interact and grow together.

On the other hand, I've had my share of failures. Players who just aren't compatible with my style and ethos, ranging from Scott Olson (whose style and mine just did not mesh), to players whom I regret letting into SB. My vetting process in the past has been poor, although I've gotten much better. I'm very happy with my latest recruits (relatively speaking) to the game.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:02 PM

Lunchtime Poll #9: Recurrance

Li asks:

Do you have recurring characters and/or places in any of your games? Why or why not? If so, please discuss.

I tend to reuse NPCs in various con scenarios. Its a way for me to play and participate on that level, as well as a PC level. And my players in con games really respond to it...

For example, at ACUS 2003, I ran "Ghosts of the Past", a scenario based on the mysterious appearance of a river running through shadow. By using Scipio, a PC and NPC I've used in many places and times as an NPC character, a fair number of my players already knew what to expect, and even knew his weaknesses and vulnerable spots for teasing.

Similarly, all of my Amber games contain the officious and annoying Chamberlain of Castle Amber, Lord Henden. His reputation for being a stickler has gotten him in trouble in many games, as players can't resist making his life a living hell.

Although less seen, I always also include Michael, the Lord of the Kitchens of Castle Amber. He's easier to deal with than long as you acknowledge his sovereignty over matters culinary in Castle Amber.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:38 PM

January 5, 2005

Lunchtime Poll #8: Little Buddies

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #8: Little Buddies

LI asks:
What�s the best sidekick you�ve ever had? Tell all!

I don't know if I should stick to anthropoids or not. If we can count sentient companions who are of a different species, then the answer is Hadrian's Dora.

Dora is a Wyvernet, somewhat akin to a Brustian Jhereg, but not as poisonous. On the other hand, Dora is a guiding, mediating temperment for the young Hadrian, and has a sense of humor over Hadrian's adventures, especially with respect to the fairer sex. (Dora is, as you might guess, female herself, and finds mating rituals and habits of humans fascinating).

Dora has slightly limited shapeshifting, so she has been present for amorous encounters, even if the female company is not aware of it. (That sword isn't a sword...)

Dora (and Hadrian) currently do NPC duty in Strange Bedfellows.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:22 AM

January 1, 2005

Lunchtime #7: Unearthed Arcana

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #7: Unearthed Arcana

Li asks:

I�ve often said that one of the best science-fiction authors whose work you probably aren�t reading is Connie Willis. Along the same lines, what�s the best game that I�m probably not playing?

A couple of choices come to mind.

The new Paranoia XP looks like a lot of fun, updating an old school game for a new generation of players, and still keeping the flavor for those who have played it before.

Second, Fireborn is properly ambitious, eschewing a d20 setup for their own system, and a milieu which looks interesting. Talking with Scott about the Gamemaster's book, there are a couple of possible holes or sources of confusion, but still, I'd love a crack at this game, too, to GM or to play.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:28 PM

December 24, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #6: GAN

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #6: The Great American Novel

LI asks why we roleplayers are not writing novels, instead of creating in this fashion.

Well, in one case (Elizabeth Bear), she is doing both--both roleplaying, as well as writing novels. I can think of one other person in our circle who is writing short stories.

For me, gaming is a social activity as much as a creative one. I game to spend time with my friends. Sitting in a locked room writing a novel doesn't quite allow that.

Maybe, one day, I'll put my hand to writing, too, but I am content with the role gaming has in my social and creative life.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:02 PM

December 17, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #5: Atlantis

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #5: Under the Sea

Li asks us this time for our favorite take on Atlantis.

Well, I admit that there is a strong Atlantean influence on my world of Thera, an area in Strange Bedfellows only visited by two characters thus far.

My favorite version of Atlantis, though, has to be crossing GURPS Cabal and GURPS Atlantis, and setting Atlantis as having escaped its imminent destruction by a massive astral transport spell, putting the lock, stock and barrel in one of the otherworlds. Unable to reverse the process for the nation as a whole, Atlantis has worked over the millenia to try and maintain influence over Earth and its history...

There's a game there, I can feel it.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:36 AM

December 12, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #4: 2d or not 2d?

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #4: 2d or not 2d?

Li asks about Mechanics and Random Elements in gaming this time around

Most of my gaming these days is diceless. ADPRG, or freeform games like Gal Ren or Murder at Christmas.

Its been an evolution, because 10 years ago, I did far more diced gaming.

Dice do have their use and their place in games, when a random element can be useful. Sometimes random elements are useful to bridge gaps in sequences. And I wouldn't mind running a D20 game if I had the chance.

And then there are other randomizers like the fortune deck in Everway, and such. So while I don't employ randomizers, they are not categorically anathema to me either.

But Mechanics? Even ADRPG has mechanics. In contests in SB, I *do* look at the stats as well as listening to what the players are telling me that the PCs are trying to do. This is especially tricky in Player versus Player conflicts. But pure points are not a sinecure for victory. Its not just a straight-up comparison.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:21 PM

December 2, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #3: Player Absence

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #3: Imperfect Attendance

Li asks:
How do you cope with the absence of a player, either in a single session or repeated absences?

Like Ginger, I play mainly PBEMs these days.

If anything, SB is slow paced, by the standards of HOC, or the revitalized ROP. But even so, since SB has always been relatively slow paced, there are players who don't even make this relatively slow pace.

So what do I do? I work with the situation as best as I can, especially when players are in threads together or have actions that affect others. I am not a disciplinarian when it comes to turn responses, and perhaps I could be more so.

Without naming names, I have players who respond within the framework and probably wouldn't mind if I posted 3x a week rather than 2. I have players who are happy with my pace. And then there are players who my pace is a challenge to meet. But, then, in its initial inception, SB ran at a pace of 3 turns per 2 weeks.

But getting back to the initial question, once players start dropping off the face of the Earth, I move and work around them. I don't like to do it, and if possible, I retcon, but more than one player has missed out because of response slowness.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:10 PM

November 23, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #2: Bizarro World

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #2: Bizarro World

Li's LP this time involves the bizarre.

What�s the strangest character you�ve ever played?

I haven't played very odd characters--as PCs anyway. As NPCs, I've played a rogues' gallery of unusual things, and I think I am going to focus on them.

After all, some of the GMS here agree that many of your NPCs become as real and vivid as players' characters, tangible parts of the gaming world.

Anyway, in a long ago AD&D game, I had the players raid a Yuan-Ti temple deep in the jungles north of the only civilized nation in the area (not so cleverly called Southron). The Yuan-Ti Temple was carved into the base of a mountain. What the players, and the Yuan-Ti didn't quite know except from legend, is that the mountain was a volcano.

And, inspired by Carathras in LOTR, this volcano was sentient. A careless roll on the party's psionicist, and I decided, in a flash of inspiration, that she contacted not her target--but the volcano itself.

The volcano was old and "cold" and I played him with a cross between a slow-thinking mountain and a fiery, impulsive streak.

A long, drawn out mental conversation between the character and the volcano resulted in a minor eruption to "get rid of the snake infestation." That the characters nearly got themselves burned, and they lost the treasure were minor matters compared to wiping out the temple, and getting notoriety for same.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:14 AM

November 18, 2004

Li's Lunchtime Poll #1

Ravings of a Textual Deviant � Lunchtime Poll #1

LI, who recently asked a question about Supers systems (and even emailed me directly so I would see it) has instituted the idea as a new feature. I guess I am going to need a new category, natch?

Anyway, her first Poll question is:
What is your favorite historical period for RPGs, and why?

Tough question because there are so many good choices, so I will pick one.

16th century. Ginger calls it "Early Modern".

The tech level of the 16th century has been a default assumption in many of my games. In my first D&D campaign, the major event of the last 50 years had been the dissemination of the printing press, and the concordant historical ripples that was causing.

You can have interesting sorcery, nation states and city states, and all sorts of intrigue, romance and more within the time frame. It makes for a rich gaming milieu (and writing milieu...Paul Kearney's books, the first of which I've read, fits into this time frame well).

And, of course, games like 7th Sea are already set in this time frame, more or less.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:08 PM

September 10, 2004

Paranoia XP

Remember that a few months ago that I mentioned that Paranoia was coming out in a brand-spanking new edition?

I saw it in The Source today, after work, and couldn't resist getting it.

I've not read it in detail...yet, but I will discuss it here when I do so.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:18 PM

October 21, 2003

Kids play classic video games

Julia has a link to an online article about today's kids playing classic video games like Pong, Super Mario Brothers, and Space Invaders.

Their overall reactions are predictable, but its funny to listen to their complaints about the games.

Ah, Nostalgia. I remember when games like "Adventure" were the cutting edge.. Heck, you don't even have to go that far. The graphics on Front Page Sports Football, ten years ago, are nothing compared to the Madden football graphics today. (and FPS with a 3-d approach was light years ahead of the 80's 2-dimensional top-down view football games)

Posted by Jvstin at 3:28 PM

October 5, 2003

A busy weekend

Yesterday was the first day that I haven't put a blog entry up for over a month, and with good reason.

First things first, Scott and I went over to what is going to soon be my new apartment. A tiny matchbox sized studio over in Circle Pines will shortly become home sweet home, since the whole baby thing is coming closer and closer. The downstairs bedroom (where I am now) will become the office (which it once was), and the office will turn into a nursery. So even with a temp job (although a fairly stable one) its time for me to risk a place of my own, and it was high time I left from being underfoot at the Olsons anyway.

Scott and I also mapped out and drove the route to a place that I have a job interview for on Monday. Yes, a real life job interview, finally. The job market has been tighter than, well, something better mentioned in A Grand Affair. So I realize that I have a fair amount of competition, so I am neither overconfident, nor am I "counting" on getting this job. It would be a fair commute, too, about 30 miles each way in a car.

But for a real, full time job, is it worth it? As they say here in betcha. I got some badly needed driving practice on Interstates, even if I don't get the job.

On the way back, we stopped in the high-end grocery store Byerly's, which looked a lot like Zabar's back in NYC. Unable to find them elsewhere, it was here that I finally found good old Nathan's hot dogs, and I bought a package, naturally.

Scott and I also went to Big Bowl, even if save for the appetizer we didn't stray from our favorites. Scott went for a Thai inspired dish, I went for the equally spicy "Blazing flat noodles". As an appetizer, since I had not had them in quite some time, we had lettuce wraps (ground beef, scallions, rice noodles to which you add sauce and put in bibb lettuce, fold and eat).

And today, well, on Oct 5, 1971 at 1:35 PM EST, I was born.

No major plans for today...maybe buy stuff for the apartment, a few other minor chores and things. Last year I spent hours on a bus, bus, train, bus trip from my apartment in Anaheim all the way to the Getty Center and back. It was a long and exhausting trip but a lot of fun.

Well, if I were to be so lucky as to get this job, I probably will "celebrate"...otherwise I will be relatively frugal about the matter.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:21 AM

September 28, 2003

The telescope Game

Dyson Telescope

Sort of like Sokoban, you manipulate telescopes to move a ball into a hole in as few moves as possible.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:25 PM

September 26, 2003

Lego Escher

You'd think the laws of physics would mandate that such a compound word could never exist. However, Stet has links to some interesting lego designs of famous Escher stuff.
Yes, some are photo-manipulated, but not as much as you might think.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:26 PM

September 7, 2003

Warlords IV demo

The computer game that I've been anticipating for a while, and mentioned in this space earlier now has a demo.
It's a thick and meaty 142 MB, and, unfortunately, the server is rather slow. It took several hours (even on a DSL) yesterday to download it.

The look is definitely a change from the previous Warlords series, much more along the lines of Heroes of Might and Magic than Warlords. I'm still experimenting with it, so a full and fair and balanced report will be forthcoming.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:04 AM

July 20, 2003

Degrees of Kevin Bacon

The Volokh Conspiracy

The Volokh Conspiracy has a couple of notes on the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, including a link to a website which computes "Bacon numbers". There is even a note that President Grover Cleveland of all people has a Kevin Bacon number of 6.

I do better than President Cleveland, however. My Kevin Bacon number is 3

Paul Weimer is on the Videssos Mailing List with Steven Silver
Steven Silver was on Jeopardy with Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek was on Celebrity Jeopardy with Kevin Bacon.

(And, therefore, a bunch of you all have a Bacon number of no greater than four, as a result of linking to me via things like Bete Noire, Grand Affair, Strange Bedfellows, etc.)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:32 PM

June 17, 2003

Warlords--My favorite Game (series)

Inspired by Jack's continuing series on his favorite games, I've decided to talk about my favorite Computer Game Series, the Warlords Games.

The Warlords game series dates all the way back to the days of Dos-based games, back in 1990. Warlords, published by a little Australian company called SSG, was a tactical turn-based, fantasy-based strategy game. Set on a map representing the imaginary continent of Illuria, you had to assemble armies, conquer cities and take on up to seven other sides for control. My older brother and I spent endless hours with the original game, he usually playing Elvaille (Elves) or the Sirians (Knights), while I would usually favor Lord Bane (undead units) or the Selentines (the masters of the Ocean). The graphics were no great shakes, the battles between army stacks was (and to this day) is relatively simple, but the AI was challenging, and the replay value of playing different sides was enormous.

Warlords was followed by Warlords II (and the Deluxe version) which featured better graphics, more maps, and different army sets. It also included an editor, which my brother and I used to modify a map of Europe used in a world-war scenario, and created a set based on the tabletop game OGRE. We uploaded this set to one of the many FTP/websites devoted to hosting maps, units and scenarios for Warlords II.

Warlords III came out in two editions as well: Reign of Heroes, and the later Darklords Rising. The major innovations included more kinds of heroes, who could gain different abilities, as well as campaigns--scenarios linked together explicitly by a story. The graphics were somewhat better, if still relatively flat, but the gameplay was much the same.

I was dubious and rather surprised when the creators of Warlords decided to put their hand into the Real Time Strategy genre. How, I thought, could you convert Warlords to something that looked like Warcraft? I shouldn't have been disappointed, because Warlords Battlecry (and its sequel) delivered the goods. Unlike Warcraft, the focus and emphasis is on army production and battles, and Warcraft even stole the "hero" idea for Warcraft III. The types of heroes, the number of sides and the persistence of heroes represented advancements in the Warlords franchise.

Still, Warlords' roots remain in the turn-based genre. And so I was surprised to learn that Steve Fawkner split from his old company SSG, and has created his own company, Infinite Interactive.. His first game will be none other than Warlords IV, returning the game back to its turn based roots, while taking some of the innovations pioneered in the Warlords Battlecry games. W4 is due out in late fall, and I am eager to gird my loins as a Warlord once again. I attempted to reinstall Warlords III: Darklords Rising recently, and found that my Windows 2000 (and probably XP machines) would not run it properly. Thus, I donated it to Felicia's son Daimon, whose Windows ME computer runs it just fine.

The Warlords universe has even made a cameo of sorts in Strange Bedfellows...the name of the shadow held by the Caliph, Sterling is none other than Etheria, the imaginary universe of the Warlords games (except for the first).

Posted by Jvstin at 2:18 PM

June 5, 2003

So I did install RON after all

So I did install Rise of Nations last night after all (after pushing out a few posts for SB).

After playing one of the tutorials (there are more of them than in the demo), I started but did not finish a "quick battle". I'm playing the Spanish, on a map with the Egyptians, Chinese and Aztecs.

One thing about the different Civs that I didn't mention before is that they do all get special abilities as well as special units. My Spanish, for example, start off seeing the whole map's resources and terrain (although not where the opponents are, or special "goody ruins"). The Aztecs get extra resources when they kill enemy soldiers. The Egyptians can build more farms than the rest of the nations and can build two wonders per city, rather than one. The Chinese can build citizens, caravans and such instantly. (Everyone else takes time). It seems the designer took a lot of time to try and balance these very different special traits (and consider that there are 12 more Civilizations, with their own, too).

So, in this game so far, I have not had anyone declare war on me yet (not even the murderous Aztecs). There are a few brushfires between the three computer Civs, though. Then again, I am playing on easy level to get used to the full game.

Posted by Jvstin at 1:48 PM

June 1, 2003

My latest time sink

Rise of Nations Make History

My latest time sink has been a demo of the new computer Game, Rise of Nations...

I am generally not a fan of the RTS genre in computer games. RTS, for the uninitated, stands for Real-time Strategy games. These are games which run continuously, rather in discrete turns. The archetypal RTS games (which you may have heard of) include Warcraft and Age of Empires.

Until Rise of Nations, few RTS games really interested me. I am much more a fan of the TBS genre...Turn Based Strategy. If you go outside the computer world, Chess is a TBS. Football is also a TBS, since its played in a series of downs. Soccer, however, is RTS, since the action is usually continuous.

The archetypal TBS game in the computer world is Civilization. The Civ series is possibly the bestselling computer game series ever. Even though Civilization III had shortcomings, Civ I and II were bestsellers and extremely successful.

Now, back to Rise of Nations. It actually is a meld of Civilization and Age of Empires. It's still RTS, but it has a epic focus you don't normally find in RTS games.

RTS games are notorious for the "tank rush" problem--basically a player need only build a bunch of powerful units quickly (forgoing anything else) and march to destroy the enemy before they can get off the ground.

Rise of Nations is designed by Brian Renyolds, who helped with the Civilization series, and also created the "sequel" to that series, Alpha Centauri. RON, from what the Demo shows, addresses a lot of the "tank rush" deficiencies of the RTS genre, and yet provides a relatively exciting and entertaining experience.

The basic idea is that you take control of one of 18 nations (only three are available in the demo). Starting from the Ancient age, and with one city, you have to harvest resources, build troops, expand your borders, research technologies and more. Its not the clickfest that most RTS games can be--although there does seem to be civilizations devoted to every player type. The Egyptians, in the demo, seem to be industrious builders. The Germans are definitely militaristic, getting bonuses and fierce special units (every civilization gets a few types of armies only they can build). The British are a mercantilist power.

Like in Civilization, but in a RTS format, you expand your empire, meet your neighbors and, just like Pinky and the Brain, try and take over the world. There are mulitple paths to victory, too. Don't want to conquer and destroy all of your neighbors? Well, you can win by building "Wonders"...a concept from the Civilization games where if you build a unique building first, you and only you get its special properties. You can win by expanding your borders, taking over enough of the map. And you can win by researching technologies. The game goes from the Ancient Age to the Information Age, and plays relatively quick. In just an hour long game today, my Germans went from the dawn of civilization to Tiger Tanks. (I used the latter on the British and the Egyptians). Ironically, I won by building Wonders, although I was winning, militarily.

Its a very fun game, and you don't want to say these things too often, but its a landmark game. It corrects a lot of the things about RTS which are not fun (like continually looking for new resources--once you set up a mine or a farm, it doesn't run out like in earlier games).

I will definitely buy the full version of the game.

Posted by Jvstin at 2:56 PM