Another pretty productive week, although in a pretty different field: I spent the lion’s share of my working hours this week reforesting a plot of family land cleared by loggers last year. Even a modest clearing can take a bit of time to replant, so that was pretty much my week: putting saplings down into screef-mounded (yeah, had to look this one up: “laikkumätästys” in Finnish) ground with a potting pipe, enjoying the summer sun. Relatively physical, all told.
Feeling fine working out
So I’ve been reforesting, which in practice amounts to trudging around the screefed forest floor (imagine all the underbrush of the forest, except instead of trees you have holes dug by a digger) with a hip-bag of saplings that you push into particularly favourable spots by the use of a specially designed potting pipe. Not an uncommon activity in rural Finland, particularly as small-time ownership of the forests is still pretty common, so it’s not that unusual to do your own forestry. We haven’t been super-serious about the pace of the work (I think I’ve been averaging like ~250 saplings a day; maybe 20% of a professional’s output), working what amount to half-days, but it’s a taste of real work nevertheless in between sitting in the office. I expect that we’ll start doing longer days next week as the team adjusts to the physical routine.
Planting is not exactly the most demanding physical work out there, but it is still in the broad category of grunt-work primary production jobs that are increasingly consigned to the underprivileged in first world nations. (How this happens depends on the nature of your country; some countries like to cultivate a home-grown lumpenproletariat, while a more egalitarian country like Finland prefers to bring in poor foreigners as seasonal workers to do the jobs we’re too good for.) A “shit job” (‘paskaduuni’) as a young Millenial so memorably described the classification in a television interview some years back. Finnish media has been paying somewhat more attention to the rural grunt-work this spring due to the corona virus, of course; all the travel-restrictions and such are causing difficulties with bringing in the seasonal work-force from poorer countries. The national discussions about rural work being too physically demanding for too small wages have been intriguing from a social politics perspective: I suppose that in a country where literally everybody is too good to work a shit job we’re all middle-class in a sense. I don’t know what we’d do as a national economy if it weren’t for migrant colonialism. (Is that a term? “Migrant colonialism”, having poor people from the colonies come work for cheap in the home country? I think they call it “guest work” in the Arab Emirates.)
The family forests fortunately come with home-grown grunts, so this particular forestry job isn’t affected by corona. I’ve found to my satisfaction that my personal life-long dance on the borderline between “buff” and “obese” has been increasingly leaning towards the former, which makes this sort of sunny work easier. The back (fundamental bottleneck in physical work for heavier dudes) has been holding up fine, and I could generally expect to double or triple my daily planting output without too much trouble if there was need to get serious.
I might in fact be in the best shape of my life this summer; I’m even doing pull-ups, which isn’t as trivial as it sounds if you’re the rotund sort. This won’t work for everybody, but for all you neckbeard barrel-type pokemen, I recommend a regular gym regimen as a basis for keeping in shape; I got into weight-lifting late in life, but it’s pretty much changed the basic strategy and feel of my physical exercise routine. Probably don’t bother with dieting per se, at least for me any appreciable weight loss requires pushing the energy economy so low I can’t do anything else. Develop a bit of muscle, and it makes moving your own body so much easier, which will have all-around benefits for everything else. Slimmer body types won’t understand what I mean here, the life experience is so different.
I suppose what I’m saying is that muscle wizards are real — it’s not a choice between muscle and magic, building that STR score up will ultimately help with the wizarding as well.
Monday: Dragon’s Castle
As I described last week, my personal goal is to wrap this campaign up tomorrow. The groundwork for that was set beautifully in last Monday’s penultimate session, too, as we put the player characters who hadn’t yet been thoroughly tested through the wringer. In Act III of Mountain Witch you’re supposed to test and resolve the Dark Fates of the characters, and it seems that we certainly got into that. Here’s the score-card:
Charles Summers possesses the Dark Fate of Flawed Blood, manifesting as this enchanting tragic backstory about two brothers and a distant father figure. Charles is actually Victor, the younger half-sibling who has pretended to be Charles to Sir Nathan, the man whose son he killed. We got into Victor’s story pretty well earlier at the end of the 2nd Act, which means that I’ve been happy to let him coast for the 3rd Act. I will still need him to decide whether he really is happy to let others make the crucial decisions for him, but that can well wait until the fourth Act as far as I’m concerned.
Abraxas Wilde possesses the Dark Fate of Cursed by Darkness, manifesting as a very authentic Gothic Romance with several tragically dead wives and horrible body horror. We’ve established the basic backstory in Act II, so what I have for Abraxas in Act III is fundamentally simple: given that you’re a sniveling goth-boy, flustered into emotional paroxysms and existential indecision by anything and everything, what happens if the Count resurrects those poor dead wives of yours? Have you been honest when you’ve been giving these long monologues to us about how they’re the only thing you cared about in this rotten world? Or have you been lying to yourself and us all along? If you were being honest, then surely this generous gesture of the Count’s proves to you once and for all where your loyalties should lie?
Dragoslava the Dhodoru possesses the Dark Fate of Cold Vengeance, being as how she has so very little in this world: her people, the Dhodoru witch cult, have discarded her for the supposed curse in her blood, and her only friend and supporter, her sister Josefka, was murdered by the Chosen One, upon whom she swore futile revenge. Given that Dragoslava slew Nyx, the Chosen One, in Act II, the only thing I wanted from her in Act III was simple: I wished to know if she had any reason left to live for, now that her vengeance had revealed its hollow nature.
Eric LeCarde possesses the Dark Fate of The Dragon’s Pawn, indicating that Count Dracula has his claws on the man in some way. LeCarde’s story is the most convoluted of all, as we have learned that he is actually the thought-to-be-dead elder brother of Victor Summers, meaning that he is Charles Summers; Dracula in his infinite wisdom had actually resurrected the boy, giving him the heart of the last member of the Belmont clan (known for their Indefatigable Will) to return him to life. Since then, living under the false name of “Eric of the Witch Spear”, the boy has served the will of the Count. He has little choice, as his heart rests on the palm of the Count’s hand, magically speaking.
After learning that the party intended to take the route through the Tower of Science, I decided to have them meet with Dr. Frankenstein (one of the loyal lieutenants of the Prince of Darkness here), hard at work resuscitating Dr. Wilde’s dead wives. Should be good for a laugh or two. It was pretty exciting when the party managed to disorient and split apart on the Upper Battlements of the castle, such that Wilde and Summers managed to reach the Tower while the rest of the party got lost in the Mirror Labyrinth, the series of hallways that connect the inner castle locations together.
The sudden events turned into artistic victory, as they often do, as while Summers and Wilde were investigating the miracles of science, the rest of the slayers found their way into the Dark Chapel, where we had a very successful and tense scene confronting certain psychological realities in the lives of the characters. LeCarde was forced to encounter the shade of Old Man Belmont, the man whose heart he now carried; the shade proved a non-issue as a guardian of the accursed whip Vampire Slayer (that the characters were here to get), but LeCarde could not escape the fact that taking up the whip would be an open rebellion against the will of the Master, so it was still a tense situation.
Meanwhile, Dragoslava, and the ever-perky NPC Marie-chan, were both entrapped by Death, perhaps the most fundamentally loyal and potent servant that the Prince of Darkness has at his disposal. Death was, I thought, very successfully rendered as a terrible philosophical foe: characters could not do anything, including fighting Death, before they overcame their own fear of Death. To do so, most characters would have to give up on their burdens and accept that they would never live to achieve their goals. In other words, they had to be willing to let go of their Dark Fates.
Dragoslava for her own part was quite ready to lay down her futile revenge now that the literal person who had slain her sister was dead; the dark spirit that empowered and drove the murder may still exist, and actually possess her close companion, but for Dragoslava the revenge was dead. She eagerly embraced Death, and went further than just giving up her Dark Fate: she also discarded her “Life Scent”, the dangerous Dhodoru curse that had made her an outcast among her people to start with. Death eagerly lapped it up, of course, being ever thirsty for life.
The big climax of the situation was that after embracing Death, Dragoslava had rather little reason to let go. I asked the player to justify why she wouldn’t just die right here. My best argument for her was that by dying she could join her sister and be together with her once again. She wouldn’t even have to let go of her childish ideas about Dr. Wilde, for surely becoming a whimsical vampire woman would only improve her chances on that front. A good deal, I thought.
LeCarde, however, thought different, and fought very hard to “save” Dragoslava from a fate she had very clearly chosen herself, in full amity and understanding with the GM. Disregarding the chill touch of death LeCarde attempted to move Dragoslava, but failed utterly. It was pretty clear that Dragoslava would be joining Team Death here, except that LeCarde figured out to try a different string: he would awaken the GM NPC Marie Renard from her death paralysis and have her help him with Dragoslava. Marie had so many Trust points from Dragoslava that she would surely successfully “betray” her before she died!
I’d been keeping Marie strictly off the situation not only because NPCs shouldn’t steal the spotlight from player characters, but also because Marie was, in my judgement, completely paralyzed by the fear of death that Dragoslava had so handily learned to live (or, well, at least die) with. She hadn’t moved an inch after the moment she saw Death and realized that the only way to move forward was to give up on ever seeing her friends again. (Marie’s Dark Fate is, I suppose, “Unrequited Love” for her circle of friends.) If she did that, then what reason would she have to move forward? She could move in neither direction.
The magical reasoning worked really well in this scene in general. “Magical reasoning” is the dream logic used in fantasy literature over such fantastic things like how two people sharing one heart react to the presence of the personification of death, or whatever. Orthodox Mountain Witch is a relatively earth-bound game where you don’t necessarily get much of this, but in the Dragon’s Castle you’re usually neck-deep by the end of the game. So it was here, with various players establishing as per their narrator rights all kinds of things.
Death worked particularly well, I thought. I was entirely ready to have a traditional boss fight (as in Castlevania games, where Death totally is something you whip up just like any stable-boy), but to do that the characters would have to first break through the fear of Death, which for each character presented their own customized issues. LeCarde was immune due to possessing the Heart of Belmont (Indefatigable Will applies, in other words), but any of the other characters could have potentially been paralyzed just like Marie was, unable to resolve her fear of death without help from a friend.
LeCarde and Marie hadn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot, as Marie, being the well-meaning soul she is, was naturally suspicious about Dracula’s lieutenant like LeCarde changing sides. LeCarde had, however, won some trust (as in, Trust points) from Marie, which now proved critical as he pleaded with her to help him save Dragoslava from Death that was just over there, by the altar (Dark Chapel, remember), chilling out and slowly leeching her life force. So please Marie, help me save her!
One of the interesting things about this entire scene was how dice rolling had a secondary place next to the sort of implicitly qualitative social resolution rules the game has. Much of it is basically house rules on my part, as players can do things like expend Trust to demand answers or seek understanding from each other. Worked great here as LeCarde tried to break Marie out of her death paralysis, and the resolution was entirely up to whether the player could convince me that she would listen.
LeCarde had two Trust points from Marie to begin with, so not very many. He opened by spending a point of Trust to Understand Marie, at which point I moved from atmospheric color commentary to straightforward exposition and explained the psychological conundrum to LeCarde’s player: he realized, watching Marie mumbling and crying to herself, that the girl couldn’t move because she was unwilling to abandon her friends.
The next move, in which LeCarde also spent a Trust point, was to Earnestly Beseech Marie: the Trust point would guarantee that Marie would believe LeCarde’s words, and that she would be forced to make some choice immediately, rather than continuing to prevaricate. I found the latter effect hilarious, as the Trust rule in question is intended to cut player hesitation short by having another character call you on your indecision and end the drama scene. I guess it works for breaking through magically imposed indecision as well, though!
LeCarde had a perfect argument, too, given that Marie would believe him: he told her that he had himself been death some eight years in between being murdered by his brother and revived by the Count (as we’d learned earlier), and that he could guarantee to Marie that death was no choice here: she would never meet her friend again, for death was the ultimate loneliness and annihilation. It made no sense for her to hesitate, as the only victory to be had would be by boldly opposing death.
After breaking Marie out of her death paralysis LeCarde attempted saving Dragoslava again, this time with the annoying NPC to help. In the rolling Marie (I guess LeCard helped a little bit, too) completely abolished the emotional stranglehold that Death had on Dragoslava; she actually ended up chasing Death away from the Chapel on her lonesome, screaming threats and cursing at it in her inimitable style. Quite memorable, and the players finally had something conclusive to point to regarding Marie: despite her mainly being a complication to their quest, here she carried her weight, saving Dragoslava from certain Death.
I thought LeCarde was also very impressive, both in the conviction he showed in not accepting the “Dragoslava goes into the campaign climax as a vampire, hey?” idea, and in how he pulled through a win in a generally rather desperate-seeming situation. I had no clue in advance if he could do anything about Marie’s fatal doldrums, for instance, but a way through was ultimately discovered.
Now the last thing we have to do in the 3rd Act is finding out whether Dr. Wilde decides to go with his wives (quite convincingly being resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein as we speak), or what. Once that’s dealt with, the survivors, if any, will have their shot at Dracula. So far Dracula’s 1–0 against slayers over the history of the Dragon’s Castle (he crushed our tabletop party last fall), so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes this time around.
Last week’s Varangian Way was so definitive that the playtest crew decided that we could afford to work on the other game development project on-going at Club Hannilus — namely, Flame/Star/Night, the slice of life iron age fairy tale game Tommi has been putting together.
F/S/N is just about the opposite of Varangian Way as a game development project: where Petteri has been brooding over his baby for years without bringing it to playtest, Tommi just wrote up a tight alpha draft and brought it to table. The development process is a joy to follow.
As expected from a tight text, the game’s procedures were rather solid. We weren’t the most facile group to learn the rules with, and Tommi clearly struggled with the presentation logic, but the fixed-start (think Poison’d) opening was compelling and we had no difficulty at all getting on board with the little character ensemble that was quickly set up. The game’s core promise is that it follows the lives of a mythic iron age farming community, and the character creation encouraging PCs of various ages and backgrounds does a good job in starting us up on the way.
My only real complaint so far is that we ultimately didn’t get to play very much yet. I understand we’ll continue with a second session on next Thursday, which should give us a chance to experience the seasonal activity rules and how those work out for slice of life storytelling.
Margin Commentary: Some Fate, some GNS, some Game State
I’ve stumbled upon a surprising number of blogs this week. I don’t usually read much in the blogosphere, but when people link stuff, I often take a look. Check this out:
Sami offers an analytical overview of FATE (in Finnish), which I think is largely spot on. It’s a solid adventure fiction rpg rules set for groups that revel in princess play simulationism; that’s its thing, it’s one of the clearer examples of how to do that sort of stuff. The “story game” angle is a distraction, you should just focus on how to have your Wolverine-Raistlin multiclass badass be cooler than ever before. (I would say that it’s a railroad game as well, but the game’s ideological underpinnings strongly refuse the term, so I’ll just say that the GM should prep clever setpiece scenes so they have something to show on game night.)
Tommi has an overview on the theoretical difficulties of the concept of game state in roleplaying games (again in Finnish), which I think is an interesting topic to consider, as I think that game state is a good thing to understand for roleplaying games. I, to nobody’s surprise, have sympathy for the Forgite concept here: the game state consists of the Shared Imagined Space + Exploration. The issues with deciding which fictional things are part of the game state are, to my mind, resolved by distinguishing between private and public imagination: you might have all kinds of personal ideas about what is true in the fiction, but those are just your ideas, not part of the game state. The actual game state that players operate over in rpgs is always a much simpler thing than the subtext it engenders in private imagination. That orc only has green skin and a pig’s face in your head, I only ever said that it’s an orc.
Necropraxis investigates the true nature of GNS theory (this one’s in English!), and does pretty well, I think. I have a lot of sympathy for the comparison between GNS theory and psychotherapy as activities. As we’ve discussed, I think that looking at player preferences in terms of activities doesn’t really capture much about the nature of the underlying creative agenda; it’s like trying to explain football by claiming that players “like to kick a ball”. Sure, they probably do, but is that why they play football, or could there possibly be some longer-term motivations in play there aside from the core activity not being incredibly unpleasant? A true behaviorist would answer negatively, I suppose; you kick the ball, therefore you clearly like to kick the ball, and that’s all the explanation I need for why you play football.
Disc Golf Galactic Summer Rematch, delayed
Hey Antti, I’m sorry about having been tree-planting the whole week. We did this dance throughout the week with me dodging all challenges to reconvene on the Snake Mountain links for an epic rematch. It wasn’t that I was afraid of bleeding (despite the ominous mutterings that have been following me around ever since I became the Golf God), I just literally didn’t have a night off over the week without having a broken car at the same time. Let’s try this again next week, weather permitting.
I acknowledge that it would be in bad taste for me to strut about in full Galactic Golf God regalia, swollen head and all, while simultaneously dodging challenges, so I promise I won’t actually sit the throne until I’ve conclusively demonstrated my superiority to all naysayers. I’m not returning the furniture, though, that would just be a waste of time considering how one with the cosmos I am nowadays; it won’t be long until I am victorious on all courses and beyond.
Plotting at Patreon
As I mentioned last week in passing (and as you might have noticed from all over the blog), I started a Patreon program to encourage people to correspond with me with perverse incentives: you get to correspond with me by paying money, which hopefully results in more correspondence.
Seems to be working so far, as I managed to publish a pretty cogent summary of my possible publishing plans for the summer, and got some quality feedback for it at Patreon and elsewhere. I also learned that Patreon has an absolutely horrible comment thread interface and nobody should use it ever unless they think Twitter is a good idea. But the exchange of perspectives was good despite the interface.
The big prize of the week’s plotting is a list of possible publishing projects that I put together. Basically, I’m considering maybe publishing a new gaming product later, and made a list of possible things in the desk drawer that are pretty ready for prime-time. The list’s 13 items long, and that’s without breaking down items like “some OSR thing” into a real list of alternatives. It’s going to take me a while to just make a choice here.
As I described at Patreon, the plan would be to whip up a crowdfunding campaign around a project that has a good chance of fulfilling the Quest for Lucre. (Doesn’t exactly seem like World of Near alone is up to the task.) This one’s a choice that I won’t put up for a popularity poll, but I do welcome individual perspectives. So far most people are telling me that instead of working on a story game like I don’t know Fables of Camelot or something like that, I should offer an exciting OSR product. Apparently the OSR demographic is doing well and has plenty of money, which makes success in crowdfunding likelier.
State of the Productive Facilities
As I predicted last week, I haven’t really put pen to paper on any new essays this week; the tree-planting and certain boring office things have claimed the time. Next week’s more of the same, except the memo that haunted me this week has finally been slain, so who knows, maybe I’ll start on that next CRedux article.
Meanwhile, we’re entering the last week for this month’s poll. With my new Patreon scheme up it’s going to be pretty certain that I’ll only choose the foremost popular topic as the winner here, so the competition for first place is as fierce as ever. We’ve finally started seeing some differences in the lead, too, which might well be because I specifically adviced you all to abandon your second-favourite and just vote for your first pick. After running the exact same poll numbers for the first two weeks, the two leading contestants “Sacrament of Death” and “Historiography of D&D” are at this writing at 23-19; a clear lead for the Sacrament! Still a week left, so maybe you’ll find some friends at ENWorld or somewhere to vote for the D&D.
[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