Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Witch Traits

  1. You can speak fluently to one animal, one specific animal, not mice but Geoff the Mouse.
  2. You can duplicate the effect of any piece of normal adventuring gear costing less than 50g a number of times per day equal to your Constitution bonus, minimum 1.
  3. Your Passive Perception gets a +1 bonus for every shadow you cast.
  4. You may cast a spell without any components by bleeding from your eyes 2HP per spell level.
  5. Your hair burns but is not consumed.
  6. Your eyes are mirrored, any line-of-sight based effect you save against is reflected against the caster.
  7. A ghost begins to follow you around. All witches can see him without casting a spell, otherwise no one else can.
  8. You can see the Unseen Flesh.
  9. You smell children.
  10. You can target a living creature with a language. That creature is incapable of saying one word of your choice ever again. You've killed it. They will still think they are saying that word, won't believe anyone saying otherwise, but they will be incapable of saying it unless a Remove Curse is cast by a character higher level than you. The word must be non-magical in nature. There is no save and you can use this once per living creature with a language.
  11. You will always "detect" as the most evil thing around, and anyone around you will always "detect" as super good by comparison, no matter your actual alignments...this is about as much as I'll use alignment.
  12. You can use an Action on your turn to cause either 18 flies or 66 maggots to appear. You do not control them, they're just there. You can use this once a day unless doing it again would fucking terrify someone.
  13. You do 1d6 damage with your bite.
  14. You cannot walk over running water. However, you can walk on still water.
  15. You may turn into a fox. If you do, you must wait until a new dawn before being allowed to turn back into yourself. As a fox you may only do fox things. If you sleep as a fox you stay a fox forever. If you die as a fox you just die as a fox.
  16. If you erect a spirit fetish somewhere you will always know the direction it lies, and how far. You may have up to 3 such creations at a time.
  17. You cannot die from being hanged, strangled, choking on food, or being purposefully suffocated. However, you also suffer drowning effects immediately when underwater.
  18. Anything molesting you in your sleep must make a saving throw or take your place in your dream.
  19. You can conjure and conduct a symphony of up to 6 different phantom smells at once.
  20. Your eyes are blind, you see through your fingernails.
  21. Any animals you own will behave like little people.
  22. You can turn any creature without a language possessing fewer HD than you into a small wooden doll that fits on a charm bracelet. You may use this ability once per day. If you attempt to have more charms than your current level (e.g. you are level 7 and you make an 8th charm) one of your other charms will randomly return to full size and scatter all your other charms.
  23. You can use blood to draw a picture of someone you know, allowing you to communicate with them as through telepathy. This lasts for 1 minute for every HD possessed by the creature whose blood you're using. You may sustain a number of drawings equal to your Charisma.
  24. You may "hatch" any vegetable or fruit into a double-yolk egg of appropriate size.
  25. You gain Turn Undead when you sing; all affected undead do not run away or explode, they just begin sexy-Wicker-Man-dancing for as long as you sing.
  26. You can brew a potion once per day to perfectly sate the food and drink needs for your whole party. It will spoil by the following dawn.
  27. You can brew a potion once per night to completely ward a 30' radius to devils, demons, asuras, spirits, and gods. It will spoil by the following sunset.
  28. You can brew a potion once per day to sustain life far beyond the point of death. Any being sustained in this way will die the following midnight, and any unused potion will also spoil. Your potion only affects things with fewer HP than you.
  29. You can brew a potion once per night to make the imbiber completely immaterial, unable to be affected by even phantoms, untouchable by anything save the Unseen Flesh. Unused potion will spoil by the following midday, when any effects on an imbiber will also fade.
  30. You can brew a potion once per day to either turn a creature drinking it to a frog or to turn a frog into a human. The potion requires the slime created as a a side effect during this transformation to brew, so you may never have more than one such potion created.
  31. Wolves will never hurt you, or allow you to be hurt.
  32. Reach for any fruit, branch, or vine and a tree must make a saving throw or else bend over to accommodate you.
  33. As an Action you can cover a nonliving surface with moss.
  34. Choose a number of your possessions equal to your Intelligence bonus. These things will always orbit you and never encumber you.
  35. Your familiar gets an additional random trait.
  36. Your familiar completely transforms, gaining a new physical form and series of traits.
  37. Your old familiar leaves you and a new familiar, master to the previous, deigns to serve you.
  38. A thick fog settles on you/your tent/your camp/your home each night when you sleep, chilly and thick as soil.
  39. You may use a lit torch as an arcane focus and gain proficiency with a torch as a light off-hand weapon, 2 damage +1d4 fire damage.
  40. Sunlight burns your flesh (1HP damage/second) but you heal sun damage quickly in shadow or darkness (1HP/minute). When you burn any living creature you touch burns as well.
  41. Your touch desecrates holy symbols or holy water. Unholy water heals witches and undead 1d4 and unholy symbols brandished against these same permit witches to make a free attempt to Frighten the wielder as a reaction.
  42. You always hear the undead approaching, and each kind of undead makes its own unique sound.
  43. You have a 1/20 chance of finding a fiendish beguiler at any crossroads with whom to parley.
  44. When encountering any forked path you can state your destination or, more vaguely, a desired goal, then throw a stick high in the air. When it lands it will point to the path that's best for you.
  45. Every minute you spend hiding in the shadows, you are considered to be +1 Stealth and +1 Passive Perception.
  46. You know 6 extra languages, but 1d6 of these are languages no one has ever heard of.
  47. You are considered to always have ink.
  48. You are considered to always have sand.
  49. You are considered to always have rope.
  50. If you save the life of a creature without a language you can call it to you over any distance ONCE. It will serve you if it can and then leave forever.
  51. Your blood does acid damage to elementals, demons, angels, and other planar entities.
  52. You have bargained with a dark being for three lives, to save or end. You can invoke these to instantly save or kill a creature without any character levels. Once the third life has been claimed you must defeat this fell shadow in a battle of wits or yourself be dragged to a fearsome hell.
  53. You can remotely influence goats.
  54. You can pull from any natural creature or substance a dagger of glass. You may use this feature a number of times equal to the number of blood offerings you have paid the old gods.
  55. You are invisible to invisible creatures.
  56. You can cast your spells on the notes of music or on the songs of insects or birds. You cannot create the sounds you use to cast your spells, but you can augment such musics without other components; these effects are noticed by creatures with a higher Passive Arcana than your spellcasting DC.
  57. You have the power to summon a Bode 1d4 times. The Bode is not under your control or direction, though you can appeal to him if you want. After this Bode has appeared 1d4 times, it will ignore you from then on....unless you get him a girlfriend.
  58. Your touch is telepathic, and allows you to even communicate empathically with creatures without a language.
  59. Your touch is like 90s Superboy and you can substitute your Charisma bonus for everything you use your Strength bonus for, except for saving throws.
  60. If you stay awake all night you may not cast any spells the following day but your Familiar may cast a number of spells equal to your Charisma bonus.
  61. Your raiment has a wisdom of its own and grants +1 to your spellcasting DC until you take damage. Then you are instead -1 to your spellcasting DC until you repair or replace it.
  62. You can put the memory of a sin into a person who breathes your breath.
  63. Every time you roll this you can bring one skeleton to life. They act like they were in life and know the same stuff but they are a skeleton. They may or may not be kindly disposed to you and they suffer damage like a normal skeleton. Once destroyed they can never come back.
  64. You always know what the weather is going to be, and have a spidey-sense for incoming meteorological phenomena.
  65.  Anyone who touches you remembers their own worst nightmare.
  66. Giant creatures see you as a giant creature yourself.
  67. Your sweat has the power to make a plant or animal infertile. You then become super-fertile until you pass this super-fertility to another creature.
  68. You can talk to Death once per day, though it may not give you any form of aid or guidance.
  69. Sunlight makes you gorgeous, shade makes you terrifying; the bonnier the day the more comely, the darker the dim the more dire.
  70. You are considered to always have sweeties to give to little boys and girls.
  71. You can use a feather as a one-handed axe.
  72. You can always detect the oldest living thing in a 100 mile radius.
  73. You can walk through cobwebs like Dracula.
  74. You have the carrying capacity of a Huge creature for nonmagical items.
  75. Instead of preparing any spells you may instead find or conjure that many doses of hardcore drugs.
  76. You control what your footsteps sound like.
  77. Your reflection and your shadow switch places.
  78. You have advantage when leaping and are always considered to have a running start.
  79. Any stew you make will be edible and sustain a person for a day. Any stew you make will taste straight nast and give the diner horrible stomach pain for a day.
  80. 10g of material lets you sew a horse, but they unravel after you ride them once.
  81. All damage types from your spells change to cold damage.
  82. You gain the cantrip Friends, but instead it makes people utterly bottomlessly sad.
  83. Any cart you ride in need not be drawn by ox or horse.
  84. You can create tattoos with your fingernails and 1 hr of time.
  85. Whenever you are lost you gain all the first level benefits of a ranger's favored terrain.
  86. Your familiar gains 1d6 sneak attack damage.
  87. You become grossly corpulent. Your AC is considered 20 unarmored. Every time you are hit this number reduces and you lose 10 lbs. Your skin rips open and straw spills out. You can gain this weight back by spending 100g, spinning gold into straw and then swallowing it.
  88. Choose one household item, like a bellows or a candlestick. This object is utterly deadly to you at a touch, no save. Choose one mundane flower. If killed by this mundane object, this flower will bring you back to life.
  89. Same as 88 except you also choose one other humanoid in the world these rules apply to. They immediately know these rules and they know you did it. Remove Curse can fix this but only if the caster is higher level than you.
  90. Any bridge you cross has a troll under it. If it didn't, it does now.
  91. Once per day in a community you can ply your skills as a midwife. Make a Performance check against a blind DC, on a success you are paid handsomely in either goods, secrets, or favors. On a failure the baby is lost and your familiar avoids you for a day, in addition to other potential repercussions.
  92. A number of times a day equal to your Constitution bonus (minimum 1) you can place a protection spell on a room, glade, small hut, or some other 30'-or-so radius. Nothing can enter the circle for 24 hrs apart from virgins. Anyone leaving the circle breaks the spell.
  93. You have a crudely carved mask which is indestructible and can be summoned or dismissed at will.
  94. You own the corpse of a dead animal. The corpse will remain forever intact but any other damage which befalls it, like smashing or squashing or burning or whatever, will be reflected in the beast's corpse. Think of it like an indestructible beanie baby but grosser. This thing will persist until you gain 3 more levels; then, and every 4th character level after that, you can elect to have your old corpse dissolve and gain a new type of corpse. This animal corpse must be light enough for you to lift it but never encumbers you.
  95. Your eyeballs can stretch for 15'.
  96. When crossing your legs with your hands on your knees you can float 3' off of solid ground as a mode of transportation. You can only travel at the slowest pace of any other party member. You may not wield a weapon, cast spells, or interact with objects other than those you own while in this state.
  97. There are two other witches in the world who always hear everything you say to them. They always know when you're talking to them. You also hear everything they say to you.
  98. You can keep an unlimited amount of bees on your person undetected. You have to find them and coax them into your clothes and stuff but if you can do it they will stay there and be happy and no one will know.
  99. You  instantly know other spellcasters on sight, and they know you.
  100. You can age or de-age yourself 60 years at will.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

American Ranger- Magic Free Variant For VDND


We're going to make a Ranger I feel like playing. This is an American Ranger.

First of all, let's get a new fighting style just for rangers.

Natural Weaponry

You do not have claws and shit. Instead you are considered proficient with improvised weapons but you cannot do damage with them. Instead you may create makeshift traps and weapons using the surrounding environment. A successful attack with these allows you to impose the Blinded, Deafened, Prone, or Restrained condition on the target of your attack for 1 round.
My rangers don't get spells. They can get them at level 3 as a class option, the same way they can get a wolf friend or extra murder power, and the same way fighters and thieves can get spells. You have to pick. I know Bobby S. didn't have to pick when he made Purple Rain: Fanciest Spider Boy but hey that's a book and also I don't care. Take a wizard level.

So without spellcasting or primeval awareness I want to make some additions to keep the ranger versatile without getting bogged down in a whole bunch of stuff. You still get to choose a path at level 3 and apart from spellcasting and primeval awareness everything else in a ranger is the same. You also get these:


Guerrilla

At level 2 you get +1 to your Initiative, +1 to your AC, and +1 to your Stealth when stalking or fighting your Favored Enemy. These bonuses increase by +1 at levels 5, 9, 13, and 17, for a maximum of +5 at level 17.

Second Nature

At level 2 you get +1 to your Initiative, +1 to your Perception, and +1 to your Saves against natural phenomenon and Druid spells when in your Favored Terrain. These bonuses increase by +1 at levels 5, 9, 13, and 17, for a maximum of +5 at level 17.


The Back Of Your Hand

At level 3 you double your proficiency bonus when tracking your own allies, even without regard to bonuses from Favored Enemy or Natural Explorer. However, within your favored terrain you know the distance and direction of your allies for 500' x your ranger level

Follow My Lead

At level 9 you can use your reaction or a bonus action on your turn to allow an ally to make a save against the Charmed, Frightened, Stunned, Grappled, or Restrained condition. This can be explained as offering words of wisdom, throwing an ally a timely dagger to aid their escape, coaching them on the time to shift their weight, etc. They may do this multiple times in a round but may only do so a number of times equal to their Wisdom bonus. This ability refreshes after a short or long rest.


I've Been Around

At level 13 if you so choose whenever you make a Charisma roll to obtain information from an individual (or about an individual) you can force the subject of your check to make an Intelligence save. If they fail the save then they have heard of you, or heard something about you, and you get to decide what it is.

Greatly Exaggerated

At level 17 you gain an additional strike on your death saving throws before expiring. Also, you never suffer an automatic death saving throw failure from one of your favored enemies, unless you are unconscious. Also, you have advantage on death saving throws in your favored terrain.






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Finally, my rangers get an option whenever they would receive an ability score enhancement. They may take this instead of an ability score increase, and in lieu of other feat options. They may take this feature multiple times, giving them a maximum of 5 potential uses by level 19.

Begin the Hunt

You are so invigorated by the beginning of a hunt, the preparation for a mission, that pain cannot catch you, the stone cannot cut you. You gain half your max HP in temporary hit points. While you still have temporary hit points you can elect to roll 1d10 after a successful hit, reducing your THP by that amount and dealing that amount in bonus damage.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: Your Dead, by Calvin Turtle


Dreamcast psychopomp and esoterica calculator Calvin Turtle was the world's champion single-legged roller-blader years 1991 and 2013, a popular lecturer on the Believe In A You That Achieved Without Dope kind of circuit for middle schools and hip youth groups across the fabled Canados. His deck chair stewardship during the Second Death of Adder Entertainment was something of a slight diversion from more positivity-focused message. Thrashers and backyard wrestlers alike, however, were more familiar with Calvin from his deck art and guerilla publishing efforts. He was one of the first people on TBN to formally denounce the Phelps cult and, always tech savvy, he was one of the first seventeen people on Twitter outside of the development team.

Always tech savvy, he is currently angling to be the first person to 3D print morphine. Calm down, it's for hospitals mostly. 90/10, tops.

The final three releases during the Second Death bear the tacky jammy thumbprints of Calvin Turtle. The penultimate release, Your Dead, is no bungle or mistranslation on the part of the low-bidding Philippines printer. These dead are yours, and you are responsible for them. You have to put your toys away.

Subtlety and Æ always went together like Rick Allen and clapping, after all, so a farewell to bygone adventures could only be slightly more on-the-nose. Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy enough release on the strength of the fact that Æ were not known for playing around with ghosts and undead that much, not when compared to some of their contemporaries. Particularly during the Great Awakening they had shied away from even the demons and should-be-deads in favor both of more sober, simulationist fare (like Goest-Thou Hawking) and of more banana pancake gonzo (like Robot Zoner). That meant that anything they did when dallying with the dead deserved naught but the direst and highest of dread fantasies. They turned to Calvin Turtle, ill equipped for the task and ill at ease with the subject. Calvin's editorial ethos bade him basically put everything into Your Dead that he was ever whipped for as a youth.

Oh, you pretty thing....

Quite apart from the Stair and its literal death spiral, the economy of Animus ticking away as you descend turning how you handle an almost literal railroad into something resembling a modern megadungeon's branching path of choices...

Quite apart from the honored tradition of the Binder and the call to include all your players' dead characters as woeful bygone spirits to torment them with their failures, having the metagame effect of driving a wedge between their allies at exactly the same time this is happening IN-game...

Quite apart from the Ridress and her ephemeral veil, the Zoetroopers and their flickering dance of smiles and spikes, the Choir and the Hourglass, Riddle and Chain, the Pit Pope and Its armor of savior flesh and heretical scriptures containing actual Cainite passages...

Wholly discounting the apocalyptically offensive Hoodoo Jim in accordance with the Rule of Vonnegut....

We have the sublime experience of revisiting the Æ dramatis personae in "6. Ballroom Falling." You'd have to play through the same adventure multiple times in order to meet everybody so let's talk about some of the big names here:

Phantecore. Soulange. Countess Farther Coming Now. The Slinking Prince. Omen Dog. You meet Nicod. Rabikian. The Hate God. You meet Good Old Mr. Hell. But I said big names: Ivanov is the miniboss of the encounter in that, if you do not face and defeat him (by ART-ing at him so hard that his only means of defense is MAKING A DUNGEON EXIST AROUND HIM so there is an exit through which you can escape!!!) you have lost; there is no penalty but your life will be counted measurably less than my life.

All of Æ is represented here, from their far out space nuts to their arty fart storybook heroes to their tragic heroes to even some Hosea characters for some fucking reason. You play chess with the souls of those you have personally slain all while they curse you. There are contests which can only be resolved by arguing around the table about who has the better tattoo. You yourself survive the fire. The fire.

It is a goddamn mess but it is beautiful in that way, like the last episode of your favorite show which, hey, it's shitty on its own, but look there's that guy and they finally said what that thing was and man aren't you going to miss these guys? Emotional manipulation was never Æ's strong suit and it wasn't exactly Turtle's but...man, this thing is like a Christmas ornament from the 70s, tacky and overdone but if you actually think for a second that it isn't utterly singular and starlike in its execution, that an experience we would never have been able to even experience without this work isn't worth a thousand fools and a billion failures, then just damn you I guess. Just god DAMN you.

...and YET. And yet just remembering things exist does not make a great product, all told.

Calvin was no chameleon so his attempts to ape assorted Æ artists are able but, at times, amatuerish. The art is not enough by itself to recommend the book except in a trading-card-set-that-never-happened kind of way. That's not to say that Turtle doesn't turn in some fantastic pieces, like the book's bugfuck French cover or the Banshee Map. I had the opportunity to purchase his proof of Tanifer at a convention some years back when it went to auction. I did not, obviously; sorry, spina bifida sufferers, goodwill is not worth a man's very soul. (I kid, I dropped them a ten and so should you. They also had Festus Caber's minotaur from Ye Minotaur but gods balls, man, I am but a peasant....)

Of course, life is not that neat. Neither is business. The company limped along another three weeks after this hit shelves, announcing their shuttering and boxing due to pure market-share loss on the very eve of their final release, Calvin Turtle's Lovely Pink Walls. But that would not be the only echo of Æ's glory days. As any student of American history knows, there was a second Great Awakening.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The OG Dungeon





1. A caveman has awoken in your home setting, a primordial man. He is spreading primitivism as he goes. In his wake people have fought one another tooth and nail, blood was spilled, lived ruined. He's holed up in the old monastery where his new "tribe" are too cowed to challenge him, afraid of what he might do next.


2. The adventure begins when it's 16 Celsius outside. For every in-game hour that passes the temperature drops by 2. This affects about a ten mile radius around the caveman. He will plunge the region well beyond winter unless he is stopped today.

3. Before the session begins have your players write down 100 words. When they enter the monastery all characters lose their vocabulary except for 1 word, rolled randomly from the list. Wizards get 1+Int bonus words. Nobody can read. Players must communicate using only this word which almost no other character will likely know. Instead of treasure once a concept has been demonstrated enough to be explained, or once a familiar item or idea resurfaces, the DM may allow players to regain another word. Actually speaking of treasure any relics or silver that go missing from the monastery will be chalked up to the mad monks or the caveman, so...

4. Being in the same room as the caveman reduces your Intellect by 1 every ten minutes until you have dumb animal intelligence, say Intellect 2. If you ever reach that you lose even the one word you know. The brothers here are all basically animals now and they will defend their territory on sight. They are young and virile and that's actually weird...

5. When you find the caveman you will fly into an uncontrollable rage and must attack something ever round until the caveman is dead or you are. Keep in mind that the temperature effects and intelligence loss effects will still progress in this period.

6. The caveman has missed a lot of time and he needs to make up for it; yours will do. Every time the caveman touches you or every round he sustains that touch you de-age by a year.

7. Successfully kill or re-Captain America the caveman and you get his extra time, aging 1d100 years and gaining an absolute shitload of XP, a bunch of new languages, and knowledge out of step with your setting, like maybe firearms or trains or lasers or cloning.

8. If the caveman touches the idol mounted in the cloister alcove then the caveman will wither to dust as the Saltpeter Madre takes HIS fluctuating time and awakens herself, like a living statue, from a sleep she entered before the current gods. Do not fuck with her run away just go go away and be somewhere that is not here.

The Three Game Secret: Martial Arts Options for Dwarves, Spider-Man, and Chuck Norris


Alternate Kung Fu for TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes

Martial Arts ABCDE are now Martial Arts. When you are investigating something or moving or attacking or defensing you get to roll an additional 1d10. Whatever the die shows you get that many extra words to describe extra side effects and flair to your actions. You don't just notice the ancient coin on the ground, you sense a disturbance in the local chi flow. You don't climb the building, you double-jump all the way up like Vega. You don't just dodge, you spin over your opponent's head. You don't just kick the mugger, you redirect the knife in his hand toward his accomplice.

Alternately you can add the value to your roll like a free source of random karma.

Checks: limitation on number of words you can use to describe; GM has final say as to whether or not this sounds like something from a Chang Cheh movie and if not she has final veto; if you attempt to duplicate the effects of another super power in your description it is rolled at Shift 0 unless the GM decides otherwise; this ability recharges in combat only by being hit or attacking a different target, only works once per task per session outside of combat.
Advantages: you can differentiate martial arts users your own damn self without relying on a book mechanic; you don't have to choose whether to be good at hitting hard or hitting fast or whatever; literally everything in the game gives you a +1CS option so martial arts as-written are very gamey but not that exciting; removes the tendency for Pathfinder style overspecialization whenever a fight breaks out, guys who are only good at grappling just circling the fight while their friends are cut to pieces waiting for an opportunity to grapple...

Disadvantages: +1CS is incredibly simple to remember and adjudicate where this will require constant policing.

Methods of augmentation might include: allowing characters to gain Bonus/Penalty words as an alternative to normal karma awards for kung fu specific role playing (honoring your master, desecrating a shrine, meditating with a specific item as a focus, disrespecting your opponent); allowing characters to just do the 1d10 thing outside of combat and keeping the +1CS in combat; keeping the 1d10 roll as just a random kung fu karma-like bonus in combat and not worrying about anything else; allowing players in individual initiative to use their 1d10 roll to swap places in initiative at any time, potentially acting multiple times per round.

The great thing about this honestly from a story perspective is how easy it is to reward and enforce. Someone trying to abuse the system? Their system gets blocked by bad chi, they get their way this time but they're unable to use this ability until the re-center themselves or atone or do a side quest. Boom. Someone actively seeking out new training and new masters and secret breathing techniques? Bonus words.

What of Martial Supremacy? That's straightforward: like a D&D monk, that's just the level of superhuman/paranormal defense your kung fu is capable of ignoring. You have Martial Arts and Martial Supremacy Excellent, you Twisting Grasshopper Elbow the guy wearing the Amazing armor, his armor only protects like it's of Typical strength.

Alternate Kung Fu for D&Dalikes

I want to get away from the Terms mostly because I feel like D&D classes get just albatrossed with vocabulary over the iterations. People coming fresh to the game are going to look at a first level monk and go "Oh I can be Jackie Chan in Middle Earth? That's weird but I'm game, Jackie Chan is awesome." Longtime graph-mappers on the other hand are going to go "Oh let's see how they handle unarmed damage proficiency and progression, unarmored AC bonus progression, monk weapons, Flurry of Blows, Stunning Strike, slow descent, disrupting strike, talk to animals, uhhh ki pools, ki foci, style/school traditions/paths, movement speed increase and progression, thief skills, magic resistance...."

You also get to answer the question of whether kung fu is something to reserve for the monk or something you can layer on top of any class so that everyone is kung fu wizards and ninja robbers. This is more a distinction for D&D2 and earlier, since later models all have something like feat paths or multiclassing-as-core-assumption or class feature pick-em options and stuff that can let almost any class feel like almost every class.

So you get this list:

Attack
Roll to hit
Deal damage
Move
Skill check
Other Combat Round Action (like casting a spell or using the Dodge or Help features in 5e)
Reaction Roll
Surprise Roll
Initiative Roll
Saving Throws

This is a standard set of rolls. When any character learns a school of Martial Arts the DM chooses one item off of this list. Whenever the character does that thing they may do it twice. The DM controls what kinds of manuals or masters you can find so they can police this a bit; the most imbalanced at first glance, the kung fu wizard, is also the most self-policing since it means you're running out of a finite resource more quickly. Anyway these have to be discovered or learned during play and you can never have more than your Wisdom bonus.

If anybody can learn these secrets what about the monk? Well, most people can throw a dagger, too, it's just some classes are always going to hit with it more (fighter) or do more damage (thief/rogue). So on any given turn the monk may choose ANY of these to do twice and forget that Wisdom bonus jazz. The monk doesn't suffer tohit penalties for unarmed or improvised weapons and always does a minimum of their HD + Wisdom bonus in unarmed/improvised damage; that is, a level 10 monk does 9+Wis damage unarmed. They can also use any weapon that the player can show the DM a picture of Gordon Liu using but using a weapon that does more than d4 prevents you from taking a kung fu option that round. They also use their HD as a bonus to AC, so a level 4 monk with Dexterity 13 has AC 4/15 (17 for LotFP). Finally, all their unarmed strikes ignore all magical resistance.

I don't know how you would weight things for later editions, that's not my problem I sleep now.

Checks: DM discretion; otherwise normal action/in-initiative economy; monsters and other adversaries can also know all this kung fu in addition to their normal special abilities; normal rate of advancement.

Advantages: lets you lay a patina of kung fu boogery across an entire world really quickly by just letting every character or even every NPC have one of these at level 1, maybe grouped according to race or nation even; allows for more options in and out of combat without presenting so many options as to slow things down; focuses on core mechanics rather than if-then statements re: tack-on effects; greater versatility with weapon choices using the kind of simple common sense rule you aren't legally permitted to print in the PHB; can basically assign techniques and character flavor as treasure; built in quest lines.

Disadvantages: monk's starting damage output and maximum damage output are probably affected in the name of simplicity; loss of the more super crazy magic effects as specific "power" line-items in favor of doubling up on skill checks may disappoint some; in general while making the whole world kung-fu-y is easy, in a more traditional westernish fantasy setting the monk would feel somewhat less distinctly East-Asian.

Methods of augmentation might include: letting them wear armor OR benefit from their HD AC bonus but not both; letting them defeat an opponent with greater HD in single combat and in doing so learn their kung fu, like Mega Man; basing this stuff more on wrestlers or luchadores and tying all bonuses to Strength or Charisma.

The important distinction here is that, sure, a first level monk might not do as much unarmed damage in a round as they might with other first level monks, but the damage potential is still there; however, what they can do is take an improvised weapon like an autumn leaf and use it like a throwing dart, like Chinese Bullseye.

Meanwhile, as a general kung fu system this does not duplicate too many abilities found in other classes, or ones that are only unlocked at higher levels. The biggest overlaps would be with thieves who honestly need a lot of kung fu and could do with the added edge at higher levels. It messes with action economy a little but it also gives the players a resource (like ammo or spell slots) that they can LOSE: all you need to do is decide that one of the 900 types of boring undead gives someone chi blockage that characters have to meditate to clear and suddenly they have to worry about you taking away a new toy. Fight strategies get altered. This is Fun.

It's also something that potentially lets every class (and the monk) do the thing that defines their class more often.

Alternate Kung Fu for Feng Shui

The shotgun-cocking rule (add 1 shot to your Guns attack using a shotgun to go CH-CHAK, gain 1 extra damage) gets modified for martial arts: scream out the name of your move when you execute it, add 1 shot, and gain +1 to your Result.

In the tradition of Jackie Chan (or more specifically the Jackie Chan cartoon show) you may attempt to use Martial Arts in place of any requested skill and in lieu of making an Untrained roll; however, if you fail you look utterly, utterly foolish and cannot use Martial Arts in this way for the rest of the session. (Example would be using your chi mastery to tell if someone is lying instead of using Police but if you fuck it up you look like a big old Phoenix Wright idiot and you have to wait in the car while the big girls talk.)

Characters with Guns are equally adept at using them as melee weapons, though they all act as basically clubs.

When not using a Signature Weapon that is a melee weapon to hit an opponent you may elect to spend 1 extra shot and have your weapon break and become useless in order to add an extra 1d6 to your outcome, throwing the useless chunk away dramatically. Another character can use the broken pieces to any positive effect they are capable of but you never can.

All Archetypes may elect to fight in a Signature Look, a specific style or costume they either always dress as or in which they suit up when Shit Gets Real. The one rule is that the Look must be at least slightly incongruous for most situations, like the robes of a Shaolin Monk, the mask of a Deadly Venom, Ron Perlman's suit and boots from Pacific Rim, or the Chicago Bulls mascot outfit. Something that makes you super obvious. Characters sporting a Look get -1 to all attempts to pass undetected but are +1 to all attempts to find and exploit Contacts for information. Characters sporting a Look are also +1 Defense until the first time they take damage in a session, at which point that bonus is lost until they are able to safely make repairs or the following session (whichever is longer).

Finally, your Signature Weapon may be something you invented or something which only you CAN use as a weapon, in which case even when a bad guy has taken it from you they cannot use it against you. However, in this instance you lose the other normal bonuses from Signature Weapon.

Checks: All the other cooler and frankly more powerful things you can do in the game; most other characters still being better than you in whatever skill you're rolling; bad guys finding you easier; trading a needed resource for a temporary gain.

Advantages: Makes things work in most respects more like a Shaw Brothers movie, which is good because even in the new game the ratio of Run Run Shaw to John Woo skews a bit heavy in the doves direction.

Disadvantages: At its heart Feng Shui is a dirt simple game that gets clogged with sporadic granularity and this could be read as basically that exact thing; mechanizes things players should all basically be doing anyway if they're really in the spirit of the thing.

Methods of augmentation might include: just using one of these m'man? Figure it out.

I've used the "shout out your move" rule a lot and it works fine except that since it's usually used on Mooks its full effect is not often realized. The rest of this stuff is all really cosmetic overlay apart from the dramatic-weapon-break rule, which is adapted from my Mutant Future game.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

1. The Death of Hercules Jesus

Morphine electricity throbbed through asher nimbos trapping the laser filaments from the Seer behind Hercules Jesus like candyfloss mayflies. XXX rainbow crossfire frugs around his head in beatific cruxiform logos. Crown of science. Diadem plasma. Hercules Jesus can't see the lights on him, the cameras, the eyes. Hercules Jesus can only see the nimbos, can only see the spectacles. Somewhere beyond where the nimbos break for atomic getaway there are other glows. That could be lamps. That could be lightning beetles. No telling how for away the lights are but from this spot they could be a long way away indeed. A long way down.

Death had waited for Hercules Jesus.

Death could have taken him at any time in a grime life, any time when H.J. was among the Squeak-n-Stink. Or when he heard first the Hosannas; a heart is a weak little raisin spasming with carnal, especially one so young, one so little used. Standing on seamless steel in the phosphorus of the Getters murmuring squawk in too many lingos. Beyond them the crashing surf of the Hosannas and the turgid carnal of four one hundreds Close. Hercules Jesus was only just Close that night. A good night to open on, as good a night as any to close.

Death walked where Her-Je stepped when he went a-battlin'. The saucer fields with their many red dishes, the ant farms with their skeleton warriors, the muck behind the roller coasters. There were no runner gunner good bye bad guy times in the gray decade: the Close wagered a high against a screaming stick, a wallet of ashers, first class stamps. Here was still here in the after, a lot of muck drowned a lot of muckity, but few he knew ever got any Closer.

Death knew what was coming when Hercules Jesus claimed his rite. Death should have wrapped its silver lips around his before digits closed round fibre and mettle. Before he felt the Wing in his hand and knew his power. Death should have, but it was stalled: Hosannas beyond tears. Oh you pretty fucker. Death had to have those instead. Death jacked his Wing from him. Death jacked Hercules Jesus' whole grabba.

He still grasps with nothing to steady himself, almost bugs the whole boodle, nearly goes cannonball. He's kicked off his cherries. Herj rises through nimbo like fogey time cyclops, all glass on him, the crashing surf of the hunger people around and above and below. Smart concrete stretching in pornographic pleading, light up liebe in a firmament of bendy towers craning down for a nearer gawk. Fuck it, we need you, everything squawks at once. A polis of rabids. Lined in buggas from little hands off. Polis sardined with starving bonkers seraphim here for the assumption.

Everyone groks that this is the quad where Hercules Jesus kakks hisself. Ain't never happened before.

Orbs are popping. Orbs and orbs.

Hercules Jesus broke in line. He made the lines, set the borders. Squawked the lingo and set the type. Exulted one-handed vesseling the lightwaves, Hosannas without sound and without crashers. His eyes saw the place where only stars live. He crusted up with Goddesonic and Megassiah and Nah, Fuck That Guy and he stretched their diction far beyond their carnal.

When the old ashers died Hercules Jesus lit the kiln. When the Close became people Hercules Jesus took the bullets. When the refuse fell out of the walls he boxed them and stuffed them and hosed them and, look, allyas: little fellers! Gall be. Scoped Runners stumble and distance, he did, singing their poisin and hush fucking all the buggas in all the towns. Red lighted. Rewinder. Back to wispy verde. Back to yummy tummys.

Death foot cross Hercules Jesus' whole damn life only glassing, only grokking Hercules Jesus, never shouldering but never time out. Just there. Just there all times.

Death took his loves. Death took his litter. Death took his puppy chow and replaced it with shiny shiny. Death took his instrument and left stuttering digits. Death got real cunty about most. Hercules Jesus never timed out. He never yellowed. He's last of the Old Good Beaters.

He had sinned. Oh how he had sinned. He was bad guy to the whole damn polis. That's spike: kakk it short of arch villain, you bugged but yissef.

Hercules Jesus stood up and kept standing. He standed til he ran out of standing. Fogey and mal, hush and enormous, grabba across the Orb, the Y had all of it. All there were to got. What's he up here in the nimbos for? Not even so tall, really, not so tall as the towers glassing down at him, glassing him rise. Why's Hercules Jesus making smoke angels? What else does he want? What else can we give? Just tell us and we will, we need to so badly, we need you to 

Hercules Jesus rose. Then he didn't.

The Orb was spent. The necklace of Orbs out in the star home were stumbling E. If he thumped long enough to squawk the final flicker of the last lamp in the only polis on a dead Orb that's AO by HJ, cepting....what rabid bugga would be left to squawk when he kakked? None ones, that's witches. Super this way. Super hero.

Tripping now, tail gunner spin doctor, no night left in the world as all glass fell with the man who Never Happens. Why would he? Still, nothing to be done. Not now. Not this time.

There came the hacking nimbos. There came the veins in lights. What if there were something to do?

There came the whizzers and glassers. Here comes your last chance.

There came the Hosannas in his name. What if it was different?

What if I wasn't just a device and needed an answer right fucking quick, Herc?

There came the high lamps. There came the low lamps. Here come the instant intimates.

Hercules Jesus bowed past Death with the bow he didn't got. There was no kakk nor carnal. White knight in the henhouse, Hercules Jesus swam through the Orb. Things changed. Things began to matter. The rabids who stroke to be Hercules Jesus got their final wish. Red light across the orb. Time out among the stars. Across the Orbs the faces played. From out of death great glasses peeked out at nothing much else spesh. He didn't know what to do next so he asked in the voice of a hundred planets:

"And what happens next?"

Death kissed Hercules Jesus everywhere, and as big as all space.

It missed.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The House Always Wins

So the rules of D&D aren't the boss of you.

The rules say I can be a Genasi. I hate Genasi.

More than Klingon-Orcs, Dragonborn, or the adopted Gnoll, Genasi really represent a trend in certain D&D thinking that became pervasive over the edition and supplement bloat and looks downright epidemic if you ever look at anything like the current 5e wiki (or, to an extent, the FRACAS): taking something that might be a fearsome and dangerous element of the world, something which should at least be rare and surprising and wondrous, and scaling it down to a safe and balanced form that is knowable, freely abundant from the player side of things, and at worst just misunderstood or troubled. If you're going to have dragons in your game you want them to be a big deal, right? Or even Dragon Men. It's harder to get that if your tent-mate is also part dragon herself.

Genies and djinn have even less to do normally in a game, usually present as just fancy elemental lads or introduced as a glorified plot device. I'm not even a great fan of using these guys in games because any elemental magic and wish granting that can be done by them seems like it would be cooler coming out of a dragon, right? But if I am going to use them then I want it to be a big deal that the players met a djinn. It becomes less of a big deal if this big impressive mystical creature is basically "two of Steve's guy taped together." The opposite also holds true: if I'm not going to make a place for Dr. Pepper in my game I'm sure not going out of my way to include Mr. Pibb, no?

There's other reasons they annoy me (races built around class features, how most exotic demihuman options end up being animal people or element people) but I'll stay on topic...

The rules don't say I can be a Kappa. To those rules I say, fuck off Water Genasi: I am one. This is all without changing a single thing in the way the race is written. If I wanted to I could decide that Air Genasi and Aasimar suck so much they need to be combined into one thing, make them beings of corporeal light and color, make a whole new kind of guy I can be. If I wanted I could look at an Earth Genasi and turn them into a reasonable Fungoid. I could even look at Fire Genasi and decide that they're even more useless than normal, since they're almost exactly Tieflings who I already don't love, making them an element-man version of a monster-man built around innate spellcasting. I could look at them and spit them out lukewarm...or I could make them work for me.

The rules don't say I can be a Domovoi, the little house spirit who lives under the hearth and throws a big ol' fit when the people who live in his house piss him off. Posing as the master, moving things around, making noises in the night, rarely glimpsed, something not a demon or a real god but something you beseech and honor. Something who bars evil spirits and crooked people from your home and protects it from disaster. Something that dusts the mantel and waters the plants when you forget, keeps careful accord with the mice, a spirit who talks to the ghosts in your shithouse and the demons who tend your barn.

To that shit I say my name is Ded, short for Dedushka, you may call me Grandfather. So far everyone just calls me "the domovi." So I fucking did it without changing a single thing.

I'll go you one better: the rules say no one wants to be race-as-class any more, you need to be a different thing. NOPE. I'm not a domovoi bard or a domovoi dragon sorcerer. I am domovoi, and my primary goal is to just grab little bits of whatever I have to in order to get the abilities a powerfully vested and fully venerated domovoi from a hale and loving home should have. That means mixing up classes. That means, since this is a newer-edition ruleset, even looking through feats. But my CLASS is always DOMOVOI. I can show you the math and the breakdown if you want but I haven't even made any shit up. Everything is by the book and above board.

The rules say I cast Unseen Servant to rotate the blades of the windmill for me. No I don't: I forfeit the actions and other things that such a spell would require, sure, but I track that myself. What I ACTUALLY do is knock on the windmill with my stick and talk to the house, convincing it to take me up to the next floor. The book says I cast Detect Magic and there's a rainbow aura that tells me its school. That doesn't happen. I can SMELL magic. Fiendish magic smells like Red Hots cinnamon candy, necromancy smells like rotten eggs, demons smell like motor oil. Do I use a cantrip to snuff the flames in a room? Fuck that, I crawl all over and lick em up like a lizard and I eat them.

The rules say I have certain random personality traits. That's fine, but I get way more mileage and a more well-rounded character from using my Muppet Maker.

The book says I have a spiritual connection that powers all my abilities, a connection to some higher remote god. Instead I am a spirit like unto an incredibly minor god. My spiritual connection is to the people who live in my home, and to the friends who make my little pop-up hose (I paid 4x the fanciest tent price to basically have a Fisher Price playhouse I can assemble) FEEL like home. They 'worship' me with their respect and appreciation and with raising tea in my honor, tea I brew with my bare hands.

Certainly the minmaxy Build Bros on any given forum would call me not optimized. To them I say I am entirely optimized. I am a custodian spirit and caregiver whose affection for peaceful creatures and instincts to protect those in danger are paramount. I have never slain the tiger but I have helped to win the day.

I pay for every kind of spellcasting focus and holy symbol and stuff possible and put it all into one big stick, a piece of wood used to bar the door against nighttime invaders and evil spirits. I find myself in a land of vampires and that's fine by me because I and my kind are the reason vampires can't just barge in uninvited. We block the way to evil spirits.

I don't have magic armor. I don't have a magic weapon. I don't have a magic ITEM. I have an old, old, pipe and even though I never have any tobacco I'm always smoking like a chimney.

My flesh is like floorboards, once polished but now splintering with strain and age the longer I am away from my home. There are even little nails holding it to my muscles, and places where the boards meet. I'd be just shorter than an elf at full height but I am "evolved" for sweeping and firetending, so my resting position is a painfully stooped crouch that puts me only at the height of a halfling. My clothes are moth-eaten curtains and threadbare tablecloths; they are ripped clothes and sodden quilts, which I am slowly repairing over time with the needles I pull from my mustache. My teeth are decorated ceramic. My bushy hair and beard has the consistency of broom-straw choked thick with dirty cobwebs. My fingers and toes are long, with extra joints, and my nails are charcoal. My eyes are deep-recessed and shine like smoldering embers. I own a cat.

And I am here to be the HELL out of that guy, and beyond that to help everyone else be a little bit more awesome.

The D&D we play is always better than the D&D we PURCHASE. Never play a game (or play with a DM) who insists that you live up to them. Live up to yourself, and do it in a way that makes them want to live up to you. The rules will never catch up to you. Do not scorn them, no, but pity them, and do not wait for them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Names of the Orc


(Adrian Smith)
Dwarfs go by the name Glimmer Goldenshield or some shit but that's their name in 'the common tongue.' It just sounds like "ThingThing ThingThing." Some dwarfs eschew this convention and are only known by their dwarf names: Udridge Brimgrid, Iduk Ulvex, Morminonk Giswarg. In dwarf, a name will let you know many things about that dwarf: what mine they were conceived in, what shaft they were born in (meaning if they were born or conceived far from home a dwarf may have multiple additional names), what Old Clan they would have belonged to, their direct parentage on their father's side, and their greatest and most esteemed ancestor ascending on their mother's side. Like many dwarf things they are rigid, they are about firm lines and spaces, and they convey much about one of the more important aspects of dwarf kind: geography, not distinguished from geology in the dwarf tradition (in this way genealogy is mostly an academic distinction). It is all about triangulating who you are by where you are. If you are a dwarf who has climbed to a place of higher esteem than the ancestor who shares part of your name, or traveled very far from where you were seeded or forged, or whatever, that means something specific. If you basically live in the same mine, same shaft, never improving your station but diligently fulfilling your lot in life, that means something to. More than a few dwarfs adopt naming in the common-tongue tradition because for whatever reason they don't want an aspect of their dwarf name known. To be a dwarf means to be a different dwarf to all other dwarfs depending on where you are.


Elf names are more concerned with the overriding force in an elf's life: time. Elfs are basically immortal unless killed so they tell each other histories - their own, and histories that other elfs shared with them. They tell histories even in their names. An elf's name is tied to a specific age of civilization. Then to a year, then a phase of the moon, then the hour. As an elf ages and sees certain milestones - a rite of passage into adulthood, or first sexy times, or first blood in combat, or first hunt, or by marriage or courtly appointment - their names get longer and longer. To your human ranger and halfling wizard an elf may be known by Agion. To another elf Agion may have a longer name than Russel Crowe, Orson Bean, or Emilia Clarke combined. This is one of many reasons elfs usually don't refer to one another by their names but by any appointed stations they've earned. They usually don't even do that: elfs know other elfs sure as they know the name of the wind and the song of the trees. Their postures say more than ululates ever could.


Many human and halfling names are taken from very impermanent things such as regions, local fauna, or professions, things which change drastically in as short a span as a thousand years. Dragons have names associated with their hoards and with their offspring, and those with the blood of dragons have names forbidden among true dragons. Gnomes have names associated largely with love and life and the experiential. Goblins are usually not named (as with elfs goblins know one another on sight from bearing, expression, and the wrack of their misdeeds on the body) but they all once had different names, human or elf or dwarf names; if they need to specify a particular goblin to a third party they refer to their methods. The One Who Spoils The Milk Inside The Goat. The One Licking Your Hand While You Sleep. The One Laughing From The Trees At Night. The One Who Frightens The Prince of Tergemord. Giant naming conventions mostly have to do with decibels, and the bigger or more regal the giant the better their name will sound when screamed across a mountainside.


Orcs, though...


Murder, Fuck, Bladder, Snatch, Fist, Cock, Blood, Spike, Fire, Balls, Nose, Tooth, Crunch, Foot, Crush, Spit, Iron, Shaft, Chain, Storm, Nail, Piss, Scar, Scab, Mane, Sabre, Thew, Strong, Hammer, Bone, Smash, Axe, Ice, Dark, Fear, Kill, Damn, Ass, Gash, Hole, Spine, Cleave, Breast, Fart, Shit, Bastard, Boil, Scrape, Skull, Rash, Torn, Worm, Hell, Split, Maw, Talon, Face, Blade, Doom, Night, Burn, Saw, Green, Sweat, Fat, Stink, Choke, Puke, Ale, Slash, Death, Punch, Hawk, Brutal, Pig, Jaw, Bellow, Thunder, Toad, Cruel, Fierce, Bollock, Gut, Thug, Chunk, Rot, Mud, Crag, Crotch, Jugs, Steel, Beast, Heart, Demon, Wolf, War, Knight, Mourn, Shadow, and Rump are the only names amongst the Orc.


(This is the first of a few articles about Orcs and this is the best place to start. Also, you're welcome.)


When I say they are the only names amongst the Orc I mean that these are the only names which directly transliterate into the local Lingua Franca or Low Tongue. It also doesn't work like "Hi, this is Fart." Not usually.


Orc names are earned. An Orc's parents might name her (this is the Orc's only pronoun but it's pronounced like "HRRR") something initially but that's no more a permanent or meaningful thing than the names an owner tries out with a pet before finally settling. "Princess? Goldie?" How about Mudfuck?


Most things in Orc society are based on hierarchy and accomplishments. Orcs deal in extremes, which is why they are mostly known solely for being warlike: the armies of the orc are the most extreme form of military might they can conceive of. Bizarre war machines, charismatic dervishes with extra teeth implanted, ten thousand nude warriors painted gold and swinging bloody chains and hammers that way as much as a Magic-User. No mercy in battle, always up for a fight, they against the world, burn the village salt the earth poopoo on all the altars. The thing is that despite conventional appearances and stereotype orcs do not care if you war. If you want you can me an orc surgeon, or an orc poet, or an orc mommy, or an orc shepherd. It's just that every great orc king sneers at every orc general who in turn wipes hrrr ass with every orc soldier. If you are going to do a thing then you need to be the very best at it. THE BEST, THE MOST, THE GREATEST, THE POWERFULEST. An orc surgeon can make two healthy orcs out of five mangled orcs and never invoke magic or alchemy. A truly ORC poet can talk you to death. Orc mothers strive to raise the most children, the best and most successful children, the happiest children, so on. Orc shepherds tend fields of one million sheep at a time, single handedly. Every aspect of orc culture is extreme. If you are not the BEST at what you do then orcs will respect you for every rival you have ever bested and that is it. They will not respect you as a person and they will constantly loathe you for not being good enough to be the best. They loathe themselves for the same reason. This self loathing drives them to be better and more extreme. Even peaceful pursuits are aggressively practiced.

Naming conventions are no different. As an orc you always want to have the best name. As an orc your name will immediately tell everything about you. In this way an orc knows exactly how much they should hate you. However, all the good names are already taken. If you want a name to be proud of you have to kick someone's ass for it.

An infant orc may be named Bladder for example. This is a diminutive form of the 'Me Name,' the name the orc things of as hrrrs. It has only one part. If another orc parent wants the name Bladder for hrrr infant they may arrange a contest between the two infants. This may be a straight contest of strength or an obstacle course or a measure of survival against a tenacious fight-dog. The victor will be able to take the loser's name to complete hrrr Me Name; continuing with the above example, if young Snatch becomes the winner then hrrr becomes Bladdersnatch. The name of the most recently defeated rival always begins the Me Name, and your previous conquest slides to the back. The defeated infant is now Orr, which doesn't quite mean 'Nobody.' It more accurately means "Fuck 'Em." They will have to defeat two rivals to earn a proper Me Name. If they lose a second contest they will be branded Orrorr, "Fuck right off," and either be cast out of the band, abandoned when camp breaks, or simply dashed open and fed to fight dogs. This will keep going on until the hottest day of hrrr tenth summer.

This Swelter sees a band's ripened youths brought before the leader of the band for a test of fortitude. They will clear the fight-dog pens and attempt to beat the absolute hell out of all eligible youths at once until dawn. All who survive Swelter are now orcs and may take hrrr 'Orc Name'. In the rare case where the leader himself succumbs to the masses of young he is fed to the fight dogs, while all those he fought (including the dead) are considered orcs and elevated or buried as such.

An orc may dedicate hrrrself to any pursuit. The different lifestyle pursuits carry specific titles, by category, further modified by a suffix denoting hrrr station in this pursuit within the band. The categories are broad so often many orcs share an Orc Name. As an orc successfully challenges hrrr way up the chain hrrr Orc Name will change. The suffixes which begin hrrr Orc Name stack up like so:
  1. Gar (Paramount in this pursuit)
  2. Gor
  3. Kor
  4. Mor
  5. For (this homophone is responsible for the idea that orcs can't count and are therefore dumb)
  6. Dor
  7. Tor
  8. Lor
  9. Loc
  10. Moc
  11. Roc
  12. Acc
  13. Frak
  14. Frag
  15. Farc
  16. Fecc
  17. Thek
  18. Shak
  19. Sok
  20. Sarc (True neophyte)
Meanwhile, the stations one might find themselves occupying within an orc band are as follows:
  • Orggo- Warrior
  • Kalkeh- Maker for War
  • Mukra- Maker for Other (including agriculture)
  • Dorvn- Caregiver (a homophone that causes many orcs to perceive dwarven culture as comparatively gentle)
  • Kata- Religious Duty
  • Torran- Instruction
  • Brok- Utility (feeding/raising dogs, cooking, garbage burning, slop toting, hole digging)
  • Uhl- Brute Force (for making buildings and carrying things)
  • Havar- Hunters/Gatherers
  • Dax- Soft Words (science, magic, and diplomacy and politics, all considered mystically obscure abilities)
  • Warn- Drums
  • Vyl- Fires
  • Nobog- Fucking (to produce more infants and/or for the pleasure of other orcs)
So if we continue our above example this young orc may one day find hrrrself ascended to being named Havarkor Bladdernsatch. Additionally, the leader of a band may carry the honorific Orrchiorr, "Fuck Everyone Else But Me," which just means they're the big swingin' dick in charge of everybody. Orrchiorr will always be a warrior leader, meaning hrrr ultimate Orc Name is Orrchiorrggogar. When many bands get together to discuss war or peace or war (they like war) they will appoint an "Above-Above" to have final vote in case of a tie: Chirorrchiorrggogargar. These orcs will often simply go by hrrr Orc Names, hrrr Me Names not considered relevant and rarely challenged for.

By now a few things should be obvious about orcs: they will turn anything into a fight, fight over anything, hrrr chaotic actions and lifestyles are largely due to a constantly churning foaming surf of strictly regimented order, and a lot of the time they are not pillaging your village they are devoting an awful lot of effort and concern on hrrr names.

Orc bands usually operate as close as possible to 500 ("Force"), not counting the band's Orrchiorr. Orcs may come and go freely between bands since being an orc is more important than who-you-orc-for. These two facts mean there is a constant ebb and flow that orcs fucking hate. Once a year on the brightest night of snowy winter all orcs in a band gather for Presents. If the Presents exceed 500 then every fifth orc the Orrchiorr touches is banished from the band until they reach the desired Force. This right to go hrrr own way and wander may be dismissed if an orc wishes to prove hrrr value to a community, which will result in hrrr bare-handed brawling other orcs until hrrr body lies broken or until hrrr opponents have been sufficiently winnowed to a Force. If a band numbers too few then one of two things happens: either they immediately make plans to attack a neighboring Force and make up the difference from the survivors (killing or banishing the rest), or else a gigantic orgy breaks out until sunup, the goal being to just shit out enough kids to reach a proper Force.

When a name proves too popular with orc parents an Orrchiorr may impose a Title Bout where every child bearing that name must fight until only one stands. If a band has too many priests and not enough mothers or too many warriors and not enough shit cleaners they may meet with another band for a Roast. Both bands bring the largest game they can kill and spend a week cooking it and feasting. The band with the larger beast gets to pick and choose who gets swapped while the losing band mercilessly criticizes and jeers at hrrr choices, even if (especially if) they are actually pragmatic.

Because naming conventions are so complicated with orcs some weird incidentals have arisen. Hrrr historical and cultural traditions are entirely oral and replace the names within these stories with the names of popular, powerful orcs currently in the band. Hrrr can read and write hrrr own ugly script but its use is entirely utilitarian, such as for military movements. hrrr tattooing traditions are entirely graphic for similar reasons. You know that an orc belongs to a particular family because of hrrr frankly over-involved bloodcrest, usually found on an orc's neck beneath hrrr clothes or beard. No orc wants to be known first for who hrrr parents were, so this detail has attained a level of taboo (and therefore fetish) among orcs. Hence the common orcly pillow talk, "Who's your daddy?"

You may meet many orcs who do not hold with these naming conventions. These orcs are usually Orrorr, though sometimes they may instead be orcs who willingly left behind orc customs to embrace a new master like an evil necromancer or powerful human king. These are living ghosts, dead to all orcs, and are derisively called Half-Orcs. That's right, though some may be born of a union between one of these shadows-of-true-orcs and other beings there are no halfbreeds: like elfs, or like everything else about orcs, hrrr blood is incredibly dominant. The distinction between an elf and a half-elf or an orc and a half-orc are entirely cultural. Many half-orcs, especially Orrorr, are slaves around the worlds. While horrible this has helped to dispel hrrr stigma to many people, since slaves are property like a chair and who would be afraid of a chair? In this way a society comfortable with slavery is comfortable with half-orcs, slave or free, in their society.

Orcs fucking hate hearing that these half-orcs thrive. Sometimes they'll burn a kingdom down just to get at them. After such a strike, a raid on a nearby orc band, or any great victory for the Force the Orrchiorr may offer orcs in Hrrr charge a number of rewards...including a new name. One they don't have to fight for, one they've already earned. Orcs are sometimes even granted the name of another being they have killed, such as a fabled elf warrior or a craven human king. There will maybe be one orc like this in an entire Force, but it happens.

One last thing: orcs will never volunteer hrrr name but will answer truthfully if asked. This is a sacred possession orcs aren't keen to share with riff raff beneath hrrr. The only exception is when meeting someone in a challenge as either the defender or the aggressor. Then the orc loudly proclaims hrrr name in the interest of honorable warning and fair disclosure. This means that it's not unusual to see two orcs get super pissed at each other, introduce one another, and then chat a bit and walk away. It also means that when a Force of orcs is charging at you on the battlefield it sounds like absolute chaotic berserker hell, like this, and you're MORE welcome.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Zatan-Gohr (13/6/16-13/6/16)

I don't count the times as a kid when I was captive audience to rpgs and did not get them or enjoy them, nor the evening I pretended to be Cyclops but didn't pay attention and mostly just went JEEEEAN!!! So outside of that the first time I really started reading rpgs and reading about rpgs was about six years ago. There were a few things that prompted that, including links to recounts of +Jeff Rients's public play games and discovering +Zak Sabbath's site and a couple of friends who were into the hobby already doing a bit of outreach and answering a lot of questions. One thing I remember being an inciting incident for me was being linked not to those old Penny Arcade podcasts but the blog posts where the Penny Arcade Guy, who had similarly never given any of this the time of day, was (as a result of those podcasts I guess or maybe after just decades of prodding from the other guy, I don't know the timeline) dipping his toe in for the first time, making his own shit, and having a blast.

Aside:

From within the hobby it seems like a lot of people want you to follow a manual like Ikea assembly instructions, do not stray from the path, playing the game is about encyclopedic knowledge of the legal code of the game, everything is very serious and very you need every book and you need all this special shit and you need to be somewhere on the five pointed star of genre emulation: Tolkein, Lovecraft, Howard, Shelley, Lucas. If it seems like that from inside the hobby I implore those of you who grew up doing this to imagine what it looks like from outside the hobby. It's not that "Clerics can't use a sword" or "+4 tohit gives a bonus to succeed at hitting" are hard concepts to grasp, it's that those concepts are only part of a language and system of sharing information kept willfully arcane and archaic. It's that each of those and a hundred other rules concepts besides have been the source of endless catechism and are taken as gravely serious as the Bill of Rights (or, for my foreign readers, the Eurovision song contest). If you never understood the appeal of some newschool games that's the honey pot in question: on their face they demand no secret handshake or countersign or history degree in order to play, just the promise that you can always just make shit up.

Outside looking in, it isn't always obvious that that's entirely true for every fucking rpg. Oh I think most people realize you can make up your own stories. Despite everyone talking about playing through the same adventures and describing their different outcomes there's not one neophyte with a gaming friend who hasn't heard stories about a personal campaign. Let me tell you about my guy, let me tell you about my world, let me tell you what I did to my players, let me tell you what my players did. If you're lucky then the person telling these stories actually knows how to tell a story and will focus on why you should give a shit. If not then someone will describe all the rules and rulings and cross referencing and combos and power builds required to make that story happen, and they will tell it with all the flair of a graphing calculator. From within you have to constantly reiterate that there's no wrong way to play while a sea of voices all shout from forgotten BBS urls about their own gospels, the only way truth and light. From without, all you hear is "no."

So it was something I understood academically but had never really formally processed that rpgs didn't just mean making up stories but also making up rules. Not in the system building fantasy heartbreaker way, although as a non gaming person I had actually TRIED to build my own systems before (reasoning that if I had to start from the ground up and master some science then it would be easier for me if it were science I invented). But the idea that you could take a series of rules that worked fine for the most part and take something you didn't like or didn't understand and say "How about this instead?" and have everybody be cool with it...no, larger than that, that you could construct entire scenarios not explicitly laid out in the rules without having to find other rules to graft on or without writing a whole big list of rules. You just make something cool, go "it works like this," deal with edge cases and bugs in the system on the fly, and everybody goes "Hey! Look at the cool thing!" It can be some weird styrofoam dungeon, replicating a video game style puzzle with dollar tree tools, rules about leveling or character options or making up wild new traps or complicated magical puzzles...

THAT'S all this is?

I was in.

Continuing:

In those six years I've never died.

Well, that requires a little elaboration.

I've sat in on a guy's character one week at the store. He was killed without a roll for a GM's plot point, basically because I had to start counting down the drawer and it was the last session anyway. Completely out of any player's hands and not the character I'd have chosen to play anyway. I think it's fair not to count that one. Not my character, no decisions involved.

I had an unconscious character drowned by my party while I wasn't playing him. I think it's fair not to count that one. Not playing the character when he died, no decision involved.

I've played storytelling games where it makes a better story if my character died later from shitting himself too badly but by any metric the "game" was over by then. Death freed from consequence after all "action" had been resolved, willingly inflicted for a laugh.

I sat in on a couple of NPCs when I was working the shop, NPCs who weeks later kicked the bucket. One of them died while killing my friend's character in the above example.

I have been in many situations where I dropped to 0 or less and the intervention of fellow players meant I did not DIE-die. Magic moss, magic potions, magic prayers, stim-paks, whatever, close only counts in horseshoes and radiation.

I have been in many situations where I probably should have died but very forgiving death rules meant that I just barely made it. I mean, too forgiving, really, even though it worked out for me.

And I've been in a situation where I would have absolutely died-died if my compatriot did not own the world's most loyal parkour bull mastiff. This is basically a lucky draw on my part, a good story but without a direct hand.

I've also been in a lot of situations where I should have died.

My wife's Marvin the Robot (tv version) style droid skinning Lando Calrissian alive and wearing him as a suit only to die at the end of basically every single laser. Jumped off the ship in time, lived my life in jail but survived.

Turned myself into the planet and blasted off through space away from the new singularity.

Saw my party trying to wake up some awful 40K elder god thing and just stole a jeep and went to the airport, another lifetime in jail.

I've played with DMs who pulled their punches because they prized the story above other concerns. I've played with DMs who simply hated character death on principle and tried to avoid it. I've played with DMs who would have killed me a dozen times over if they didn't keep forgetting my guy's special bullshit abilities. I have been in situations where I should have died but I had some bonus to my hare brained scheme because I was playing so 100% true to my guy. I've played in games where I probably would have died had we ever actually finished the game. I have had a near death experience just to speak with the gods.

I've ended many a game at 1HP like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I have done soooo many things that should have absolutely killed me. Counter to that I have also hid, skulked, waited, even cowered when appropriate. I have gone insane or been frightened and forced to wander off before everyone died. One consequence of joining an existing game (like a FLAILSNAILS game) is that a lot of characters are more powerful than you and the dangers are scaled for them, meaning my warrior who might have been in front ranks is now in a more supporting role, contextually shielded by a wall of power and steel even though I am doing my very best to stay useful. Sometimes it's just a matter of playing at a large table where the damage gets spread around enough that we 7 survived what 5 would not have. One time I hid in a pile of shoes to get leather armor.

I did have a very close DM with whom I talked at length about suiciding not because I was sick of my guy but because I thought it would be really cool for the group and for his story and etc. Toph correctly reminded me that it's HIS job to be really cool for the group and my job to play a cool guy (as a compulsory Nick Bottom type I always need someone willing to sensibly rein me in; I'm not a fan of suiciding characters but I had a cool idea for a death scene and let that override my good sense, temporarily forgetting that WE are here to play a GAME, rather than ME being here to tell a STORY), so we tabled it and the game fizzled due to scheduling before we ever revisited it.

But I have never made a character who died while I was playing them, especially not as a consequence of a decision I made. I have been often cautious, sometimes canny, never truly craven, and through some mix of craft and chaos I've never DIED.

Until now.

Pickup game with +cole long. Brand new character in a Conanish coastal raider type game. I'm not intimate with his rules enough to discuss at length but basically played like "Honey Bunches of D&D." A couple of long lived characters in a party of six or so, mixed warriors and wizards. I was of course ZATAN-GOHR, sorcerer's apprentice.

Zatan-Gohr, who looked like the old Ming the Merciless from the original Flash Gordon serials. Zatan-Gohr, who was in black and white. Zatan-Gohr, who did not take any offensive spells because of my personal MU ethos. Who on learning they traveled to the tower alongside a cannibal companion made it his mission to become BEST FRIENDS just in case. Whose Unseen Servant helped force open a door we didn't actually need to open because there was no goddamn roof, only to have its invisible ass blasted toward the horizon like Team Rocket with the breaching of a magic seal. Zatan-Gohr, who could not throw flammable oil for shit, whose attempt to Indiana Jones a snake monster around the mouth merely resulted in whipping the floor, whose incongruously Southern manner of beast taming left him with lungs full of poison and a Strength and Dexterity of 3. Zatan-Gohr did not own effective ranged weapons. Zatan-Gohr cowed dogs and then ran away. Zatan-Gohr could not throw caltrops for shit.

When a crystal statue man ascended the stairs toward us and my allies caused him to stumble with his feet bola'd, Zatan-Ghor tried to knock him off his balance and send him crashing and shattering down the stairs. Out of things to ineffectively throw, Zatan-Gohr hurled HIMSELF.

It did not go super good.

Sure I could have played with more caution. Sure I could have had all the fighty characters do the fighty things and tried to otherwise stay invisible unless my 1 spell was required. Maybe I did a bit of that but maybe I also feel like playing the game and being devoted to your guy involves more than only the smart thing to do according to numbers. Sometimes it's about taking enormous chances on risky gambits. I've survived those time and again by the skin of my teeth and I've failed way way more only to have my bacon saved by someone else. And every one of those stories is a better story than "I played it safe to make it to level 2, now I can do anything at all TWICE in a three hour session!" I do not hold with this. I do not do anything halfway. I believe in subtle, I love subtle, but the game (and yeah the story) is really won or lost in BIG.

Which is why
when the crystal behemoth chopped me with its sword
and crushed my ribcage
I took so much damage that I not only died
Breaking My Death Cherry
and setting a personal record
I also set a record for Cole Long's game
and became The Killedest Man of All Time.

Even in death I was Zatan-Gohr.

My response was to shrug and make a new guy. No game is about your guy, the game is about the game. It's not even about ME, because a 20 session veteran (or some ridiculous number like that) got failed-save incinerated before I had finished rolling up my new guy. Dennis' response was to SHRUG AND ROLL A NEW GUY. I have never died but I have never feared death. I believe to my core that death is a positive result, that any "how I died" story is better than any story of rules exploitation or Timely Natural 20. In all rpgs we set our own win conditions and the opportunity to roll up a new guy is a FANTASTIC prize, especially since I've never met a player who didn't have four other kinds of character they wanted to play. Cole and Dennis understand this the same way the cannibal watching the camels did.

I died doing what I loved, playing the game balls out, playing a Conanish wizard as a foaming little bulldog lunatic who understood that great reward only came at great risk. Eventually the dice come up 4 and you bounce off the wall and rock candy murders you and your dying words convey that it's okay if your new best friend eats your body. That you were Zatan-Gohr. That doesn't mean you never try to be amazing even if your numbers think you're stupid for doing so. You are the boss of those numbers, not the other way around.

I should have died. I bloody well deserved it. But that's because I earned it. I have no regrets nor fear of death. Even my new character Dohrcoarç is, in his own way, Zatan-Gohr, with his very first act being to put himself in death's way in order to hook something through the eye. If rpgs have a failure state it is chiefly being afraid of failure. I die because I choose to win.

Zatan-Gohr.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Moon Slave VDND World Tour - Touch of the Ashen Eclipse


When fighting your enemies you always...
  1. Laugh like a lunatic
  2. Flail and writhe, never staying still
  3. Maintain eye contact at all times with eyes shining like red-black opals
  4. Flare faint puffs of smoke from your nostrils
  5. SPEAK AT MAXIMUM VOLUUUUMMMME
  6. Sing a disconcerting prayer chant about intestines
  7. Drool like a dog and foam at the mouth
  8. Speak in a language no one recognizes
  9. Okay it looks like you grew about 14 pounds of hair and it's trailing behind you like a tail
  10. Reek of burning death
  11. Turn your skin chalk white, a little lightning storm of bright blue veins braking up the perfect alabaster
  12. Go berserk at any mirror you can see until you can smash it 

Ceremony of Flesh Tea

At level 3 your unarmed strikes also do fire damage in addition to bludgeoning. This will also let you set flammable things aflame after holding them for one minute. The target also carries a noticeable mark of your touch for a day.

Dead Saint's Fingers


At level 6 your unarmed strikes also do necrotic damage in addition to bludgeoning and fire damage. This also lets you kill anything with less than 1 HP by touching it, like a normal silk worm or a flower. Just for giggles. The target also carries a noticeable mark of your touch until the next black moon.

Moon of the Harvest of Hearts


At level 11 you gain two of the following features:
  • Resistance to fire damage
  • Resistance to necrotic damage
  • As an Action you may cause a target who suffered fire or necrotic damage since your last Action to suffer an equal amount of damage of the same type. You can use this a number of times per day equal to your Strength bonus, minimum 1, and regain all uses after a long rest.
Targets of your attacks also carry a noticeable mark of your touch until you die.

Devil Breathing Way

At level 17 you can shift the life energy of Moon Slave coursing through you into an unfit vessel. As a bonus action you may end one of your resistances granted by Moon of the Harvest of Hearts. your next successful attack does an additional 25d4 damage of that damage type. Targets also bear a noticeable mark of your touch even upon their very corpse, beyond your death and their own, a mark visible by moonlight.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rulemakers, Toolmasters, and Judges: Tomorrowland, Undertale, and The Joy of Painting

Months ago I watched Tomorrowland and it got me thinking ever since about myopia of imagination and stagnation of aspiration and the vital atoms of creativity but not in the way the filmmakers probably intended. More in the way a bacterial culture might compel you to clear your throat. A respectablish filmmaker with a strong Randian streak and a writer associated entirely with deferred expectation and delayed gratification, Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof were perhaps always a pair destined to crash their weird little quantum-phase bi-plane of a movie straight into the ol' swimmin' hole. It's very difficult to imagine that this movie turned out according to any individual's expectations, including the squandered cast's, but the lack of verve and commitment from a couple of the industry's commitment legends seems to convey that they had grokked it somewhere along the way. This was likely not the film anyone set out to make but it had to be damn obvious along the way that this was the film we were getting.

The moralizing, the coyness both in the script (Is this what's going on? Wouldn't you like to know? Ah haaaaa...yes, yes it is, I'm so sorry) and to a suffocating degree in its disastrous afterthought of a marketing campaign, the job-interview-level performances, the visionless production design, all this and more could be forgiven by a hell of a lot of people. They'd write it off as the cost of summer popcorn or the price of a message worth sharing. All this might have been forgiven, sure, if, that is, any of it had been in the service of something either more novel or more noble than self-aggrandizement, as any film about the importance to the soul of man of a theme park, made by a theme park company, must be considered.

Such an effort may preach looking forward but again and again in the film it looks back to the point of being nostalgic ABOUT previously looking forward. A creed of creation and innovation has the lie put to it through paint by number plot twists, character interrelationship bingo, and some of the most absolutely perfunctory set pieces ever to grace a big budget release. No thrilling climax should make one pine for the exposition. The film sees people going outward into the world to find new ideas but the entire production is surprisingly insular. It's also completely reflective, seeing itself as a metaphor for itself, a love letter from a company to that same company, sealed with a seventy million dollar kiss. Its Message...

Sometimes a filmmaker will decide Message >> Whatever. As long as the Message is conveyed clearly, even insultingly simply or wildly exaggeratedly, then you can paint the walls any color you like and just set that chair anywhere and why don't we knock out this wall here supporting beam what the hell is a supporting beaOH GOD!!!... These are films who dare you to consider them by any other metric because to find fault with the process is to fault the Message and flag yourself as the Enemy. This is fucking teams, this is Radiohead chatroom yearbook committee church lady gossipy face fanning falderal. I have no place for it in my life and neither do you or any artist you've ever genuinely cared about. When someone is drawing a line in the sand and screaming "OR ELSE" staying on one side of the line or the other is a fucking trap designed to make you forget you can go anywhere else in the entire fuckdamning world and stand there instead.

Tomorrowland's Message is one of optimism and we know that a just and loving God either either exists or doesn't thanks to this movie, for if any more capricious or vengeful or paying-attention-a-li'l-type God of any kind hovered above us then the film and filmmakers would have all exploded into flame for taking such a cynically mercenary operation and daring to present it as a beacon of hope, promising us a chance for the future that isn't theirs to own as they pass us a plastic keychain and smile that the sun will come out tomorrow. land.

I read an article angry about truly original science fiction being overlooked in favor of laser robots and super people. But the author meant, like, truly original science fiction like Tomorrowland. Jesus Moses Mohammad. Did you know Hugh Laurie is in this movie? Because he doesn't.

One of the Dogme 95 guys once said something like, once something has been expressed on the screen there's no need for it ever to be expressed again. Like a lot of creative theory it sounds like a fantastic philosophy until you think about it much. Nevertheless it has been on my mind a little since the movie Tomorrowland wants to be - paean to the golden age of Disney both as a studio and as a perceived place of invention and innovation, a place where the future could happen or at least the future of films - got made already. By Disney. Meet the Robinsons does everything Tomorrowland attempts (and I mean right down to the far out sci fi notion of "You know what would be super convenient as a mode of transportation in the future? Bubbles") and then drowns the whole proceeding in Wonka whimsy and Dreamworks smarm. It works far better than it should and I could speculate on the reasons but I'm going to basically lay it at the lack of involvement from Damon Lindelof. There is no more consistent stamp of marketing backpedaling, no surer warning flag that I'm going to hear people just biiiitching about this forever. At least Bird made Iron Giant for shit's sake.

What would be an amazing forward vision for our commerce conglomerate? Let's take everything way more seriously and make it live action. What a philosophy for any company to embrace. What a philosophy so perfect at odds with this company's projected public image yet completely appropriate given the company's current megalithic weight and storied history of No Fuck You Guys.

---------------------------

Around the same time I also played a lot of Undertale. It had me thinking a lot about violence and death and the default assumptions of most RPGs but probably not in the way Toby Something intended.

Whether you murder and loot everything or not the core gameplay remains the same. On your end you can decide whether you want to use the underdeveloped attack timing mechanic or the underdeveloped conversational mechanic but the bulk of your time in conflict will be identical: playing Galaga. Now the 'conversation system' basically fills the role a traditional magic system might. Get the right combination or use the right technique on the right enemy or at the right time and you avoid a big chunk of the attack/defend grind. They might have been fireballs instead of flirting but the effect is the same. This decision tips the hand of Undertale. Playing pragmatically, using whatever tool seems the most prudent at a given time be it steel or magic words (Please is a magic word) gets you a fun enough short little game with too many references to Tumblr anime culture. However, a lot of the content in Undertale is held hostage to the decision that every moral choice video game eventually demands: Light Side or Dark Side. Undertale's raison detre is not only forcing this choice but sitting in judgment of you for making it.

There is no right way to play Undertale but there is a Correct one. It's written into the mechanics and the script. I mean forget about the feely Think Of The Children violence is never the answer Message (which has the lie put to it because of how many times your 'pacifism' amounts to getting other people to fight for you or hoping the opponent just gives up for Some Reason), the Correct way to enjoy the game is not honing your skills on the surprising moments of intensity in their shooting gallery. It's all about playing matchmaker to mummies and shit, because then everybody has friends. Do otherwise and ugggggggh you never stop getting shit about it to the point where it brands your save files themselves. You liked the wrong thing, you made the wrong decision. You shouldn't have played this game the way you did. The ultimate evidence of this is in the simple nature of the conversation mechanic. To stay alive you have to have a lot of hand eye coordination and good reflexes. To kill your foes you need good rhythm. To make friends with them you need to pick from a list of like four options from a pop up menu at your leisure. The Correct way to encounter a monster is usually obvious and if trial and error is required in one instance it is never, ever really required for monsters of that same kind. And man I hope you really do like seeing the same monsters over and over, chief level designer for this project was Ctrl+V. The way the bosses will just throw up their hands during a Pacifism playthrough constantly assures you that you made the right call: "Well shit, I could keep fighting the Player but fighting someone is so MEAN! What kind of person would I be if I easily defeated them like some minor enemy? Can everybody hear me in the back?"

In many moments  of Tomorrowland you get a breathless sight of what could happen if these people used their powers for evil. At many more times during Undertale you get an excellent marriage of story and gameplay. Coming off of Undertale, though, it's really a tale of divorce: you can test your ability to play a game or you can test your ability to follow a storyline, and if you're playing Correctly then twain shan't meet. The morally Correct way to play is to be someone who prefers the latter to the former. That more than anything else sits ill with me: a line in the sand and a cry of "OR ELSE."

Level design is astonishingly linear for a "sprawling RPG" apart from some backtracking. Puzzles are often puzzles in name only, less tests of skill or even set pieces and more plot points. "Then a puzzle happened" is the point of the puzzle, something that doesn't stop being annoying just because the game lampshades it. Music and sound design are solid but never on the same page from one chapter to the next. I found out later that this thing was crowdfunded which explained a ton of stuff, like the absolute scattershit approach to enemy creatures. I notice that no one hyping up the game uses "You spend a lot of time fighting other people's stupid backer rewards!" as a selling point. Undertale plays like The Groove Is In The Heart: nice beat and I can dance to it but ten years from now even oldies stations won't play it. None of that is why Undertale sticks with you or why I played it like five times and was super annoyed the whole time.

Most all dichotomies are false dichotomies. Being told that there are only two REAL ways to play simply isn't true. Playing a game that insists you play by those terms and then chides you for playing by those terms is an incredibly petty sort of allegorical implement. A Skinner Box does not Game of the Year make. Even then I could be alarmingly forgiving if it served a more novel system than making your Monkey Island dialogue tree a combat mechanic. The lack of curve is where the real gall comes in. By the end of a murder run you've had to perfect your dodging and murder games using increasingly difficult gauntlets and you're a more skilled player clearing more intricate boards. There's never a grade to the sunshine path. Nothing ever gets steeper or tougher. The only thing that is truly tested is the lengths you'll go to in your commitment to this bit: now that you've committed a long work day to playing this game and we've even taken away your option to not kill this guy...will you avoid killing him anyway? Will you go the extra meter so your play through wasn't a waste of your time? As much as the idea of a conversational bullet hell gags me and as bumfuzzled as I am of the notion of a similar but better system to employ...I do wish it weren't so easy. It's disingenuous to present a case of separate-but-equal gaming experiences when one is basically an epilepsy simulator and the other has all the panache of navigating your inventory. As much love for Earthbound and SNES RPGs are in its DNA it doesn't really reflect this when putting forward what the developers and everyone promoting the game to their friends clearly consider to be their best foot.

So we have multiple games: the game they don't want you to play; the game where they make you feel shitty for playing well and "gittin gud"; the game where the play is shit but you'll feel really good about it. I'll probably play Undertale again a few times in my life, sure, but damned if I'll ever watch Tomorrowland on purpose again. That's because while Undertale has a bit of that email forward attitude where if I don't resend to 100 people I hate puppies and Jesus at least it works as a game. Tomorrowland shot for mediocrity and missed, along the way indulging in the hubris for decrying a lack of hopeful imagination in its audience, any one of whom could have thought of something more interesting to do with dimensional travel, a predestination computer, robot girls, or Hugh Laurie. It's like being called shallow in the tags on someone else's selfie.

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I got into this hobby late enough that I didn't have a shortage of games to learn about, games to read, games to try. Not only the 400 lb gorillas like D&D or Rogue Trader, or even the 300lb gorillas like Vampire and GURPS or Fudge. Weird little games. Incredibly specific games. Sometimes it was games that you could already play with a dozen or so other systems. I didn't know that at the time. Sure, some games can handle Genre, but can they handle Subgenre of that Genre? The answer was always "Likely yes" but my firsthand experience came backwards. I rifled through all the faerie candy before I realized I was eating just leaves.

Sometimes the specificity was not a question of micro genre codification, the official RPG of luchadores fighting mermen. Sometimes it was a question of result. Do you like games where you win? Where you do well? Sure, who doesn't? I don't know that TriBond was ever anything close to a good game but I usually won so I owned a copy as a kid. That's how kids think, trying to carve out spaces where we're Da Man enough to feel safer in taking a risk, surrounded by risks which felt much more dire at the time. "This is my area, and, to an extent, this is Me." The roleplaying games which offered this security in excellence had, often, very low floors for difficulty and a lot of softballing of consequences. There are quite a few where you can fail, succeed, super succeed, really holy cow succeed, or My God forever succeed. You risk astonishingly little. It isn't a barrier to entry in terms of a learning curve but it also doesn't reward greater risk or higher valor.This is a safety net of gameplay because it's not about playing the game, it's about getting through the story.

Now I play some video games on Easy. I admit it. Sometimes I just want to play with all the toys, see all the art assets, blabber with all the NPCs, and just roam around the world a minute. I don't always have to be on the clock. But I'm working within the game's restraints. When those restraints are removed and I'm not slaved to a limited amount of time spent designing and programming, and anything can happen....say in a traditional table top rpg....the chucks are taken away and I'm rolling freely down the hillside. The carefully curated story experience I was being guided through gone, I'm off the path basically immediately because I can't see the damn path at all. The only way to get things back on track is to take me by the hand and drag me along, forcibly keeping me from straying.

It's a constraint, one you can't escape through getting better at playing. You can only follow the rules more closely, color even further inside the lines. RPGs should not be pure game and they should not be pure story and they should not be pure socializing and they should not be pure chance and they should not be pure obedience and they should not be purely predictable, meeting all your expectations. They're some wonderful combination of all of these, including surprise, and in too many games whose fans tell me they're playing the right way, a better way, the only surprise involved is when my character runs into an invisible wall. I tried to cross a threshold no one anticipated and which I didn't think I'd have trouble crossing, and an artificial barrier is in my way. This is only ever reactionary, you can't see the bulwark coming and chart accordingly. Nope, you can't do that, so you don't end up learning this rule or that rule. You end up learning not to try. (This is also how the US' obscenity laws work and it drives me insane and it's the reason an agency like the CBLDF has to exist.)

And that's fine to an extent. I have been part of fantastic games that were a ton of fun with all my buds, and we were playing these same games I'm bellyaching about. Whether you think it was in spite of the game or because of the game (or just want to throw in signal noise about a good group can blah blah blah you have no thoughts to contribute go away), we did. So I'm not against them.

I am against anybody who sees someone play this game and not enjoy it and considers that a failing. A personal failing, a moral fault even. You did not like this game and it is good, therefore you are bad, and you like this other game instead therefore it is bad. Whether you are an oldschool edition warrior or a newschool yes-and-er I have no patience for anybody who tells me I can only spend my time a certain way or only enjoy certain things. Ten years of Christian school: I had enough of that to last eternity. But even these crusaders do not earn my ire, as little love as I have for any evangelist.

No, my distaste is for the games out there who only seem to exist in judgment of other games. "If you played other games and enjoyed them you were wrong" and the actual gameplay of these challengers is entirely about confronting how wrong those games were and how wrong you are. "How dare you think this, or feel this way." You don't know what I think or feel and I am not going to tolerate it. "This is how things work," pages later "How DARE you just ASSUME that's how things work!" Craphole you don't get to set the parameters and then make them my fault. And I swear to Crom if I read your introduction and you start talking about being a true hero wasn't possible until now or this is roleplaying fantasy done RIGHT I will forcibly forget your game even existed. I will employ whiskey.

The worst kept secret of RPGs is that nobody ever has to buy a book or use an established rules set. An afternoon of hashing thing out and agreeing to boundaries and agreeing to who has final arbitration in an edge case: boom. You and your friends have a RPG you can play with. You did it all the time as kids. The reason to avoid doing this is simply that your time is worth more than what it takes to work that all out yourselves. Have a short conversation, someone spends ten bucks to get a book on their phone, you're playing ten minutes later. When a game book's advice and mechanics largely come down to "You can play a game like this if you want?" that isn't very useful advice. Anybody with the gray cells to play a game already knew that without being told. You can make hanging out with your friends and making up stories into a game kiiiind of, in the same way that you can turn sex into a game kiiiiind of, but very few people (in terms of there being seven billion or so of us) are going to find the experience enhanced just because they bought a book and some dice.

[[added- Fate and Fiasco (both games I own, both games I've run, both games I've played, both games I've enjoyed) are not games that I love. They are also far from the worst offenders of what I'm talking about. But there's not that much game in either, or not more than what Quick Time Events are to modern console gaming, press A to keep playing. In both games the answer to "Can I do this" is almost always "Very likely," and they're very concerned with everybody rubbing their characters' backstories all over each other like starting a fire. It makes their Companion books oddly some of my go-to suggestions for best DMG analogues: I prefer tools over advice every time and since their core books are mostly advice their Companions have to go "Oh right, tools, here's a ton of options for both games to make them more game-y."]]

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I've been watching a lot of Bob Ross lately. The Joy of Painting. A lot of it is on Hulu and YouTube.

The entire point of Bob's show was to be a judgment free zone and to provide you with tools. The show never seems to be about teaching you to be a great painter. It was about showing off how using very simple instruments allowed one to learn the tools they would need if they were going to be a great painter some day. He said as much several times. It wasn't about turning you into a gallery artist just from copying him. It was about teaching through rote repetition to master some elementary techniques, use an editor's eye, and to do whatever the shit you feel like doing regardless of what Bob says. It was about getting someone painting at all and getting someone painting routinely as both a form of relaxation and a form of expression.

All his paintings were pretty samey but he didn't preach one way to be an artist, one way to express oneself in the medium. Any didacticism was only an imperative to do, not a screed about what to do. He also didn't think painting should only be open to the kind of people who thought and worked like them. When viewers would write in saying "I can't do that" or "That's not the kind of thing I like" he would do something else just to show them that no genre or style are mandatory for art. A viewer was left handed so Bob painted with his left hand that day: you can do this. A viewer was completely colorblind so Bob painted entirely in grayscale: you can create things. A viewer complained that Bob (who admitted his talents did not include portraiture) never did portraits so every once in a while Bob did a portrait. And it was fine. He had fun doing it. None of these were the kind of thing he himself wanted and needed out of art but he did it anyway and enjoyed every minute of it.

That's because what he really wanted and needed (apart from a 30 minute commercial for his supply line, I guess, but he would also caution that you should use whatever tools you came to prefer) was to spread the idea that there are no gatekeepers. There is nobody you have to check with before you are an artist. Did you draw something? Paint something? Sculpt something? Write something? Boom: you did it. The rest is not about making what you make look like what Bob makes or making something that people like or making something profitable. A lot of those things are fine but they aren't the point of making something. The point of making something to Bob, above all else, was making something. Maybe I'll one day get to that place with my own art. Until then I'm trying to get to that place with how I treat rpgs. (There's a floating debate about whether rpgs are art that has made the rounds recently. For all I know it's still going. I don't really care one way or the other.)

From the outside my perception of rpgs was a lot of learning rules and then showing up and following the rules and being able to argue about rules, like Risk or Monopoly. While that does happen in games it doesn't happen with the cool people. Instead it's more like "A company releases a game, someone says hey i did this weird thing with it, and then you take that and do something weirder with it and be ye player or dm that's what you bring to the table." 90% of the game is listening, asking questions, talking with your friends, and making decisions, and for the other 10% that's all rolly and rulesy you have a guy at the table who knows and arbitrates all that shit on everyone else's behalf. He rolls behind the screen because his friends trust him and he earns that trust by being fair, fun, and fluid. He's never there to judge you and he's never there to condemn you. He's actually not there to torture you and he isn't there to condescend to you. He's not there to treat you like a kid.

And the greatest thing that he can hear as a DM is "Hey would it bother you if I ran next week?" Because it means someone twigged to the only two lessons that matter in the hobby: that anybody can do this, for one, and for another that it is better in life to be the rules keeper than the Rulemaker, the kind of person who wants to dictate how you are allowed to think and feel about something and smack your knuckles with a ruler if you misbehave. The rules keepers are here to help in the same way your buddy with a copy of the bus schedule in her purse might be here to help. The Rulemaker sneers at you for being dumb enough not to have the schedule bookmarked on your phone, and is harsher when you confess you hadn't even thought of that.

The best gift a DM or judge or referee or whatever can give someone learning the ropes is to show the man behind the curtain as much as they show the great Oz. And the best gift the player can have is to get it, appreciate the demystifying beat their dj is laying down, and pick up on the groove. If that means your boogie is pretending you're a wombat on a wombat ranch and you prefer using muffins to track resources and there's no randomization and the only negative consequence in the game is eating some muffins but not as many as you like, so be it, so long as you be the muffin keeper and never the person who screams on the internet about people who like naan.