The week’s been remarkably busy, for some reason everybody’s been after me to plan and design stuff this week. I barely got this newsletter fitted in after everything else, really. My own fault for spending so much time working on my new Patreon page and its irrefutable arguments for why you need to give me money.
Making money by e-begging
It is in fact illegal here in Finland to fundraise without a permit, so to be absolutely clear: despite the funny subtitle above, my Patreon offer is a sale of service, not gratuitous fundraising or beggary. I’m offering, in exchange for a small fee, an improved opportunity to influence the direction of my writing work. I might be writing without your input, but not the same things.
So, in the interest of my self-motivation program, the Quest for Lucre, I worked out a way for people to pay me for what I’m already doing anyway. You should click through to the Patreon page we whipped up, because at least I thought that the amount of self-hatred expressed in there gets pretty amusing; I’m clearly becoming either “goth” or “emo” in my old age (I tried to figure out which and still have no idea), and the mental effort of marketing myself causes it to ooze out. Plus, I explain what you can get at what price: it is now cheap to show you care, which is good, as you didn’t take me out for dinner on Mother’s Day.
As I intimated above, the big plan is to offer more of what I’ve been doing, except now with a price tag: my hypothetical future patrons will get to pay a fixed sum of money for each essay I publish (not newsletter, the other kind of blog post here). The essays will be published the same as before, but the paying patrons get early access, which works out as a sort of editing window, too: you can tell me what I got wrong in the article, and I get to fix it before we put it out in public and forget about it. So you get to pay me to work for me, which does sound good (to me).
Furthermore, I’m offering paying patrons the privilege of double the democratic influence in this crazy essay poll love/hate relationship we have. I’m definitely not intending to take the public polls away, so there’ll be separate decision-making processes for the public and the patron correspondents. We could do a bicameral parliament thing where the public gets to vote and the patrons to veto (or whatever), but for now I think it’s simpler and more fun to simply treat Patreon as a second electoral district: I’ll run similar polls on Patreon for the patrons (I hear there’s a function for that) and pick a distinct winner from both the public and Patreon polls. It does mean double the amount of voting for the patrons, so we’ll see if it’s something you enjoy. At least there’s the interesting effect that the less patrons I have, the more valuable a single vote; you could even end up choosing an entire essay on your lonesome.
Finally, the patrons (whom I’m calling “correspondents” for now, because I’m cute like that) will enjoy the warm feeling of knowing that they’ve encouraged me to keep working. My dream scenario would be that we find something specific and worthwhile to work on, something that catches the imaginations of several people, and the structured-blogging framework then helps push that something into reality. A bit like this Cyberpunk 2020 thing maybe; it demonstrates how a series of essays can bore deeper into a topic over time.
That, or maybe there are some specific one-off things you really want to see gotten done. Send me your game text for a studio critique, or let’s write some tv soap opera scripts, the concept of “essay” here is rather flexible. The important thing is that all the comfortably wealthy middle-class dudes reading the blog start sending me their minis-buying money so I get to see some development in the Quest for Lucre.
Monday: Dragon’s Castle
In less boring news, we’ve continued playing the Mountain Witch Castlevania thing, and as is often the case with Mountain Witch, it gets more and more fun as you go along. I’ve taken it as a personal goal to try to finish in two sessions, as that’s when one of the players goes on a family vacation for a week; makes for a natural place to finish the campaign.
Of course, managing that implies that we need to get a serious amount of play in over the next two sessions. Namely, a rough dramatic pacing guide:
First Session: The party is planning to travel through the Tower of Science to reach the Dark Chapel, wherein is hidden the Vampirschlächter whip, an artifact rumoured to be capable of slaying the Count. We’re firmly in third Act territory here, which means that play will focus in confronting and resolving the Dark Fates.
Second Session: We finish with the Dark Fates, and move on to Act IV, which means encountering the Count in his place of power for a final showdown. I’ve got some semi-fixed video game logic stuff (read: Castlevania traditions) related to this that might mean that the characters travel Dark Chapel -> Clock Tower -> Throne Room, but I suppose we can skip the Clock Tower if we have to.
Of course nothing’s fixed until it’s done, so maybe the players will opt for other things. For instance, this last session that I’m actually telling about here had as one of its main points the Dark Fate of Marie Renard, this annoying (ironically speaking, I hope; I think the players like her, it’s just that she annoys the characters) GM NPC that has been following the party, and it’s not entirely obvious whether the PCs will really ignore her personal interests as thoroughly as they’ve claimed to intend. I haven’t done a GM NPC before in Mountain Witch, but I think it’s working surprisingly well. It’s a sort of detached ironic counter-point to what the player characters are doing when a NPC does the same things except cuter and stupider.
Here in the 8th session the group rescued Marie from a death cult thing that was somebody’s plot, it’s just that they don’t know if it was the Count’s or if they interrupted Marie’s own Cunning Plan. Or it could have been Hermione Granger, this witch girl that Marie met and befriended in the castle a few sessions ago. Whatever the truth of the matter, the situation was a fine excuse for Marie to have a bit of a breakdown and reveal he Dark Fate to the players. It was, of course, entirely cute: she’s Desperately in Love (a Fate that none of the PCs happened to have, so it was sort of available) in the sense that she loves her friends a lot and wants to save them from Dracula’s clutches, being willing to take crazy risks for their sake. Which she has been doing all along, it’s just that I now described a bit of the backstory about how the Count’s cruelty shattered the friendship is magic thing that the girls had going in the beforetimes.
This will, of course, all end in tears. Perhaps the most cruel thing that the PCs have been consistently doing in this campaign is not telling Marie what happened to her friends.
Aside from Marie stuff, we did a lot of talking heads action between the PCs. Part of it was about planning, while part was character drama stuff. The players unfortunately all ultimately decided to do nothing concrete about their mutual distrusts and disagreements, but, well, that just means that it’s my turn to try — maybe I can get them to either discard or embrace their old hurts and beliefs at the Dark Chapel. (We know they’re going to the Dark Chapel because they’ve decided to trust the lay of the land as narrated by captain LeCarde. They know now that the forgotten relic of the Belmont vampire hunter family, the Vampire Killer whip, is apparently hidden and secured at the chapel. With it they should be able to break the seals and force their way into the Count’s sanctum sanctorum.)
Thursday: Varangian Way
Last week Varangian Way was a bit confused, but this time it was really good! The game designer Petteri had done a good job (I helped a bit) of solving all the crucial issues over the week, so this time we just had to sit down and follow the rules, and fun was had.
The session started with an oracle draw from Petteri’s new exploration rules system, which I think is pretty cool. Here’s the oracle we got:
The rarity is Uncommon
The mundanity is Exotic
The danger is Ambiguous
Fire, Elder, Church
We knew who the protagonist was — Aliya, a brave young woman travelling alone to claim a family inheritance, sailing with a hired crew over the Black Sea — but nobody knew what she would encounter here; we just had to sit there until one of us cracked the case and understood what the oracle was telling us. It didn’t take long here, as whe I saw that oracle I immediately decided that Aliya’s ship, sailing on the Black Sea, would stop at a Zoroastrian temple-lighthouse on the Crimean peninsula. There she would have an opportunity to have a brush with the ancient Persian culture, now in its death throes in this day and age.
(Zoroastrians were fire worshippers, you see, and fires go with lighthouses, and lighthouses go with ships.)
The Passion rules worked beautifully as well: the game has this universal resource system where protagonist characters and other things carry with them Passion, an enumerated resource that can be used for various things. Whenever characters interact, they trade Passion, which may cause you to win or lose some. Aliya didn’t have much Passion, and neither did the run-down temple she visited, so all the interactions were mechanically tense; whether she would run out of Passion and be stuck here (becoming a non-protagonist) was constantly on the line.
There was a lot of appropriate historical fiction (skirting on the mystical as befits an Exotic encounter) here, I think we rather nailed the game’s style of content. My favourite bit was when at the end of the story we found out that this silent guardsman, a Persian royal guard that Aliya had been sneaking around for the entire night at the temple, was not sleeping; he was dead, as was the empire he served, and the Passion that had been seized and diffused during the adventure, such that Aliya left behind a place ready to be lost to the ages, completely devoid of the spice of life.
More of this stuff next week; we only played the one little story this time. Partly it was because we started a bit late, partly because half of the game is about designing it on the spot, and partly because we actually did like two or three scenes worth of stuff all along, as the story flowed nicely. I suggested adding an explicit intermission mechanic later on, just to fit in more than one character’s adventures during a single session.
Gentlemen on the Agora
The favourite cultural saloon of the discerning roleplayer has been active, leaving nuggets of wisdom here and there in the underbrush:
- Theoretical discourse once again established the notion that one of the fundamental distinctions that complicate the understanding of the process of roleplaying is that some gaming groups prioritize the form of the game quite heavily, while for others the content is the primary driver of creativity. For example, Dungeons & Dragons construes quite differently depending on whether you care about the dwarfelf stuff or the adventure-dungeon-combat procedural complex.
- The Finnish fantasy adventure rpg Bliaron has gained a 2nd edition, which has engendered quite a bit of discussion on the Agora. The new edition is in English, too, I understand. Reading Bliaron and talking about our experiences with it has certainly whiled away time; it’s always nice to see Finnish gamers being active out there.
- A contributor suggested that a better user interface could be the thing to make the layout system TeX an appealing alternative to the WYSIWYG schemes most prominently led by Adobe InDesign among the professional crowd. As several experts in the field visit the agora regularly, we talk about this stuff at times; wasn’t even the first time for us to commiserate about the awfulness of Scribus and plot the TeX revolution. The current conclusion is that the real target to go after isn’t even Scribus; it’s Microsoft Word. A well-designed TeX-based rich text editor could elevate the level of typography in the workflow long before the manuscript gets to the layout stage.
- My republishing World of Near last week in PDF format inspired some TSoY discussions. A contributor digged up an old TSoY adventure they’d written in the late ’00s; I’d somehow missed it then, so seeing it now was a nice surprise. We also talked about the apes of Near, the reclusive and seemingly stable phenotype of animal-like goblins that live in the depths of the jungles of Qek. Perhaps they in their slovenly and decadent way show us the way out of the Human Equation.
- The utility of kitchen freezers in housekeeping was considered in depth; the gentlemen generally concluded that a freezer pays for itself in the unromantic Protestant utility calculus we like so much. It is a particularly timely item now (whence the topic) for urban singles forced to stop eating out so much, as you can freeze the extras of the various family-sized food parcels. The freezer also supports figuratively (or literally) hunting-gathering seasonally cheap food for later consuming.
- Do any rpg-based action figures or other mainstream toys exist? Excepting gaming implements like miniatures, and adult geek traps like collectible vinyl figurines, of course. The question was inspired by some exploration of the ’80s narrative-based toys boom, Masters of the Universe and such. The answer is affirmative to the extent that Dungeons & Dragons, apparently due to its cartoon connections, has indeed had some official action figures. It’s interesting that the toy-line was published before the cartoon show, and apparently the two didn’t end up overlapping. (More on the D&D toys here in the Toyarchive.) Interesting stuff; I’d never heard of these toys before, although I immediately liked Warduke for being such an archetypal Evil Fighter. The question remains, though: aside from D&D, any other action figures for any legit rpg out there?
- Although it might be hard to believe, the biggest controversy about the story game Tales of Entropy has not been a trademark challenge or even moral complaints about the variety of material in the game’s scenario database, but rather the annoying name of an OC character in a Duckburg-based scenario. This doesn’t translate into English very well… wait, no, actually it does, I’d just never checked. So anyway, a contributor at the Agora insists that the scenario, aside from the doubtful freedoms it takes with the Duck Canon, is essentially ruined by the pivot character “Morte Duck”, the hypothetical off-spring of Magica de Spell and Scrooge McDuck. The issue is that the character’s Finnish name, “Mortti”, is shared by Mickey Mouse’s nephew Morty, which is terribly disrespectful. If you think I’m joking about this being Entropy’s biggest controversy, I’ll just mention that Finns take Donald Duck very seriously, and Entropy’s an extremely obscure game, so…
- The political leanings of American superhero comics were discussed, with a particular emphasis on Marvel comics and how the company actually was consistently liberal throughout the silver and bronze ages (from the ’60s until the bankruptcy). Several early examples were considered, such as the Hate-Monger (can’t really be more explicitly pro civil rights in a superhero comic) and the Secret Empire (Richard Nixon, the real super-villain). DC was more apolitical in the 20th century, with an implicit conservative bias. The corporate premise of the business encourages a certain apolitical consumerist attitude, of course, but the big picture doesn’t seem to support the ideal you sometimes see of superhero comics being somehow escapist and untouched by the issues of the age.
- Getting back to the toys, the gentlemen spent an entire evening mainlining weird Masters of the Universe toys from online catalogues, wondering at the majesty of the likes of the Dragon Walker. Many of the contributors share a Xennial (a funny term I learned earlier this spring for my age cohort) background with these toys, after all. Contemplating Ninjor the Ninja, a Very Fine and Original Character Design from later in the toy series, I realized why he’s named like that: the guy’s an interplanar refugee like Orko (this part’s canon, I think, more or less), and when he tried to tell his boss Skeletor that he’s a ninja, Skeletor misunderstood the word as a personal name. Because male personal names in the Eternian language evidently end in -or (plenty of reason to believe this to be the case), Skeletor nativized the name; “Ninja” would be a female name like “Teela” in Eternian, and this guy’s clearly a buff dude, so “Ninjor” it is! When a contributor challenged me to explain “Ram-Man”, it was sort of obvious that although it’s a great name, it’d be even better as “Ramor-Manor”, which it probably was before the Hasbro guys adopted it into English. I am sure that the reader will agree.
- D&D culture sure is funny in how much Ability scores are obsessed over, despite them having relatively limited mechanical influence on anything. The symbology of that “18” is palpable. Players who accept massive imbalances in class feature fairness (e.g. Fighter vs. Wizard) flip their lids over a couple of Ability points. While pondering this, a contributor (you know, it might have been me; I forget) suggested the killer idea of reverse class entry stat minimums — class entry maximums! (This is old school D&D stuff, the game used to have minimum Ability scores for each class that a character would need, or they couldn’t pick that class.) The basic theme would be that only losers in life would end up in classes like Thief and Fighting-Man; anybody privileged enough (as expressed by their stat lines, of course) would opt for an easier life as a Baker or some such middle class thing. You’d want to get low stats to get a class with some street cred, presumably. A bunch of increasingly absurd prestige classes were considered, of course: the “Dog” class has an Int maximum of 3, which is probably too rare for a 3d6-down-the-line stat array. The “Mine Slave”, though, is obviously precisely as sensible and playable as the AD&D Paladin is, with say a requirement of 5 or lower Charisma, but in exchange you get a grab-bag of thematically justified class features like +4 to damage with a pick-axe, early followers (fellow mine slaves at 4th level, dwarves on 8th and gnome-kobolds on 12th) and a Strength score that goes up with levels like Cavalier. I imagine that playing a bit with this sort of crunch landscape could help players get over the Ability obsession.
- The best thing to come out of the ability maximums investigation was the “Snob Elf” class a contributor spit-balled together for use in old school D&D (or rather, in “Adder Union”, the dark sibling of the excellent Dragon Union): if your character has a better score in every stat than anybody else in the party, you have to play the Elf (the class’s actual name, it’s just that veterans will get confused, so better call it the “Snob Elf”). Very unlikely to happen, but the smaller the party the likelier it is. The Snob Elf’s most significant class features are that it’s too good to do anything itself, and therefore needs others to act in its stead; that it can speak Elfish (only with other Elves, of course); that it can cast elf magic (only for worthy reasons, of course); that it can use elf things; that it hates anybody who is better than it in any way; that if it breaks the elf code (think paladin code) it becomes a dark elf and loses all elf abilities (which basically makes it a gnome, I suppose, like a paladin becomes a fighter) until it returns to the elf woods to regain its confidence. A quite challenging class to play, but I suppose it could act as the party face towards royals and such. My opening gambit would be to arm the Snob Elf with a tennis racket, and it’s your own damn fault, mr. goblin, if you insist on getting in the way of a gentleman’s practice swing!
Quest for Lucre
The Quest for Lucre progress bar
My playful self-motivation scheme, the Quest for Lucre, has made only passive progress this week. World of Near, the PWYW book I put up at DrivethruRPG last week, has made a total of $55 so far from ~250 downloads; basically another percentage point on the progress bar. However, I also had to refund a bit of sales from last week after discovering the inventory being out of date, which means the quest hasn’t progressed much.
It might take some patience to get anywhere with this. With the PDF sales and Patreon I have now put the simpler money-making schemes into action, so I suppose the next thing to do would be to start thinking seriously about some new products to sell. As has been discussed before, a successful crowdfunding campaign could resolve the whole quest in one swoop.
State of the Productive Facilities
The lengthy and dry GNS Simulationism essay has been received positively by the audience. The next one will be about CRedux character creation (also long and dry if I have anything to say about it), although I’m expecting it to take me a few weeks to put it together; the forestry season is upon us, and I’m probably going to be pretty busy for a while with that. Good time to think, might not be so good for writing. We’ll see.
You can check my coming up plans in the project board on the front page. Considering the forestry season, I’m thinking that I’ll only add one more essay onto the pile from this month’s polls. That should carry me through June, especially if I get some Patreon correspondents and ask them for a topic as well. I’ll hopefully have more time to write in June, after we finish the spring’s forestry projects here.
We’re midway into May, and the poll has garnered a pleasant 25 votes so far. Do keep voting, that’s the devilish nature of the poll: it’s not just the essay candidate with the most popularity that wins, but rather the one with the most active supporters throughout the month. At this writing it seems pretty clear that either the rpg theory article Sacrament of Death or the rpg history article Historiography of D&D is going home with the laurels; the two have curiously advanced hand in hand for the first half of the month, presumably because the same exact people are voting for the both of them. Y’all need to pick a favourite and break the tie over the next two weeks if I’m to pick just one. (I like them both, which of course is a completely useless thing to say, as we wouldn’t be in this bind if that wasn’t true for you all as well.)
[May 2020] What should I write about in more depth?
- [theory] Historiography of D&D (19%, 32 Votes)
- [theory] The Sacrament of Death (17%, 29 Votes)
- [design] more C2020 Redux (16%, 26 Votes)
- [design] TSoY and SS update (14%, 23 Votes)
- [theory] A Big Model overview (10%, 16 Votes)
- [design] Microfit wargame (5%, 9 Votes)
- [writing] Chronicles of Prydain setting notes (5%, 8 Votes)
- [design] HX Fighter Program Wargame (4%, 7 Votes)
- [writing?] Hellraiser and Evangelical Christianity (4%, 7 Votes)
- [design] Let's get Subsection M3 moving again! (4%, 6 Votes)
- [practical] How to create online play tools in Google Sheets (2%, 4 Votes)
- [writing] Superhero Tulpas (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 61