New on Desk #48 — Yuletide Road Map

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve been becoming steadily more productive over the last month. Stopped watching Bee and Puppycat, started watching Animaniacs. If all goes well, the mania will peak over December, with me remembering every day that I’m supposed to be working.

My December productivity plans

I launched the crowdfunding campaign on Thursday night, and things are looking pretty promising! Friends and acquaintances have helped enormously in getting the word out, posting about the project in their gaming communities. Makes up for my own generally eremitic nature, seems like. I’m grateful for their faith in this being a worthwhile project.

We’re at around one-third of the funding goal now, so it seems like we’ll need to start taking this seriously. I’m planning to tackle the book without any undue delay in January if it funds, so that could well be my main January pastime.

The on-going campaign has implications for my productivity goals over December, as I’ll be spending time thanking people, answering questions and writing campaign updates. So that’s one of my December priorities.

OK, but what else?

Here’s my December road-map:

Manage the Muster campaign: my goal is 1–2 campaign updates per week, basically tell about my plans in more depth and answer any questions that might come up.

Write the manuscript outline for Muster: this is actually an essay in my essay pipeline, so an interesting synergy there; I’ll get paid at Patreon for writing a piece that will obviously be useful for succeeding at Indiegogo. I’m so clever. I’d like to have this available in mid-December at the latest, we’ll see when I have the time to put it together.

Write the “Sacrament of Death” essay: this essay is one that people have actually asked me about, which is something I don’t generally expect, so gotta keep the audience happy. I don’t personally think that it really relates to the Muster project, but other people might disagree, and it’s certainly an interesting topic, so why not try to do that as well over December. I might even get some more readers for the blog due to the crowdfunding campaign driving people here, so it would be ideal to put my best foot forward with an ingenious rpg theory article.

Keep playing Coup and maybe some minor stuff on the side. It’s entirely probable that we’ll take a break of a week or two with Coup nearer to Christmas, but for now the game’s going strong, so I have no intention of easing up on that.

All in all, pretty ambitious. We’ll see how realistic this’ll look in a week or two.

The fate of the newsletter

With the year approaching its end, I’ll need to figure out whether to keep writing the newsletter in 2021. My original goal was doing this for a full year, and it seems like I have managed to keep that up pretty well. (This is already a victory.) Let’s consider the pros and cons of keeping with the newsletter.

  • Regular writing practice.
  • Easy.
  • Sometimes solid content.
  • Diary function, regular notes about on-going campaigns and such.
  • Social function; I am theoretically telling my friends what’s going on with me, assuming they read this sometimes.
  • Basically a writing day of work every week.
  • Sometimes pretty insipid content.

Seems like the basic issue is whether I can improve the quality of the newsletter sufficiently to make it worth the effort in comparison to other things I could be doing (deeper types of writing, say). The two kinds of quality improvement I could look for here are indicated by the above break-down:

Content quality would mean writing things that have more utility to the people reading the newsletter. Because the newsletter is supposed to be a spontaneous and timely variety production, this would ostensibly mean more entertaining anecdotes (is that even possible, maybe I should just stop writing about my own life) and more thought-provoking random ideas. Also get back to polling the audience, I think you guys liked that in the spring.

Diary quality would mean making my notes-taking more efficient: be more consistent about writing down ideas (I did a bit of that over the year, but for every idea that got recorded nine were discarded) and about making notes on my gaming. These aren’t necessarily good for the audience, but they’re good for me, as I can then use the newsletter as a reference later on.

On the other hand, what I could replace the newsletter with is basically a day’s worth of writing, 2–4 thousand words of something else. If I spent 2020 writing a novel for a day every week, I’d have a novel now instead of this, whatever it is. Food for thought. Let me know if you have any insights on this.

I’ll need to remember to do a retrospective on the newsletter’s year later over the holidays. Make a list of the best and worst issues, maybe learn something about how to improve on this.

Also, to be clear: the newsletter stands distinct from my efforts at more in-depth essaying. I’m only just starting the Patreon experiment with financially motivated essaying, that stuff’s not going anywhere. I suppose one good reason to keep the newsletter around is that it is probably helpful in contextualizing the essay material. A ready platform to discuss the behind the scenes, so to speak.

Monday: Coup de Main #24

Last Monday’s Coup was probably the last of these downtime maneuver sessions for now, what with Rob Banks ending up a frankly entirely idiotic adventure up in Greyhawk City. Here’s the deal:

Rob was going to Greyhawk on serious Thief business: he’s performing an entrance exam for a gang by disrupting an arms deal that’s going to occur in Greyhawk in a week or so. Rob’s not letting it bother him that just yesterday he was beaten black and blue by an entirely unrelated gang of mercenaries; he’ll hire a coach, rest on the way to Greyhawk, be in top condition when he arrives!

However, a classic friction of war interferes on the way: Rob falls seriously ill, some kind of lung disease. Could be deathly ill for all we know. Lucky to have the carriage, as he’s soon in no condition to even stand up unassisted. Not like they’re going to let him into Greyhawk like this, right? Well, Rob soldiers on, stubborn as he is.

Rob’s condition only gets worse over the days of travel, but somehow he aces his entry interview at the gates of Greyhawk, the guards let him in despite his obviously ill health. (Good job guys!) So now Rob’s in one of the largest cities in Flanaess, carrying what might or might not be a highly contagious and lethal lung disease. Or maybe it’s just the flu.

Rob could look for accomodations in the city, but he’s on a bit of a deadline (just a couple of days until that arms deal as far as he knows!), so he’ll instead have his coach trawl around the waterfront, looking for this mysterious contact he got from his undercover handler. (Yeah, Rob’s not only trying to initiate into a gang; he’s doing it to spy on the gang.) As the night falls (and Rob is just about ready to die out of exhaustion) they finally find the contact, who proves to be a teenage transvestite working at a night club (yeah, Greyhawk turned into a noir crime drama here). Good enough for Rob, he’ll pass out now, ‘k thanks.

Rob aces his last social check here, though, so the contact (who really is just an androgynous teen, not a Thief or Spy or anything like that) decides to take him seriously and help him out. Rob spends the next day recovering in the club backrooms, finds that the teen — one Markgwen, bless the random name generator — is the progeny of the club’s owner, and generally nice to him, which is good, as Rob’s basically fading in and out at this point.

Thing is, the player’s delightfully forward-leaning on the idea that come rain or sunshine, Rob’s gotta do the heist — he’s not going to let a little thing like sudden-onset pneumonia stop him. It’s just a matter of finding a sufficiently high-level Cleric to cast Cure Disease on him, or get the Thieves’ Guild to give him a potion, or something.

Would be a pretty stupid way for the 4th Level spearhead character of the campaign to die out of over-exertion during a serious illness, but what do I know.

So anyway, we massaged the situation the way you do when looking for an interesting scenario, and well, a humdinger was found: Markgwen spent the day doing streetwise stuff and actually came up with a corrupt priest in Rob’s price range: if Rob could be smuggled into the temple sanctum, the priest thinks they can steal enough magic from the temple’s reliquaries to cast Cure Disease (you’d need like a 6th level cleric for the spell, but those are rare; divine magic is often produced ritualistically like this instead) on him in secret.

So Markgwen, who’s clearly willing to go to some lengths to help this associate of Org Nenshen’s (for their own reasons, still secret), puts together a heist crew to smuggle the sick Rob into the temple, so he can be cured, and then in like two days do his own heist. Fun times, I’ll just need to prep the temple for tomorrow. And the players need to find some warm bodies to fill in the crew, it’s not going to go well if the basically-incapacitated Rob and a bunch of gun-ho NPCs try this heist on their lonesome.

The lone positive note here was that Rob amply succeeded his CON check on recovering from his travels, so much so that he can basically stand up and walk slowly without fainting. The condition is unlikely to persist beyond tonight, so it’s now or never on the temple infiltration and the hopefully successful Cure Disease rite. Otherwise Rob needs to, horror of horrors, call in sick to work.

Session #25 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 30.11., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Thursday: Varangian Way

We played one last session of Varangian Way with Club Hannilus. All good things come to an end, and as I think I’ve intimated before, the playtest campaign here has been growing a bit long in the tooth. There’s been progress, but the fact is that the designer needs space to work on the game as well, and Petteri’s not been in the mindset to do active development this season, so the gameplay is starting to run ahead of the design thinking here.

The dramatic scenario we played at the end certainly had a part in inspiring us to stop here and now: Tommi has been uncomfortable with the game’s starkly anti-dramatist dice mechanics and general lack of protagonist protection, so it was pretty emotional when one of his characters, Hallad the viking merchant, ended up in another one of these life-and-death situations that the players so like to throw his way. He got utterly devastated in a test of mettle against a sauna gnome after some of his pals got into trouble for sheep-thievery, which basically left him thoroughly deprotagonised and defeated.

While I don’t share Tommi’s specific creative concerns, I have my own reasons for thinking that the game needs to go on a development break: I don’t think that there’s enough long-term depth to the game to justify a long campaign. It’s an interesting design challenge in that what we have in the game works generally well, but it’s just not interesting enough to play the game long-term due to its repetitive mechanical nature and relative lack of direction after the first stages. Petteri will need to resolve that, I think, before the game can be truly called ready for primetime.

Sunday: Boardgame Club

Hah, check out that BGG embed on the left — I’ve been doing these as manual image links, so who knew I could just give the relevant url to the WP embed function to chew on, and it’d spit out something like that. Neat. A bit on the large side, but I’ll take it. I’ll need to try what the Embed does to other random websites, too.

Anyway, our boardgaming hobby has been stuttering a bit due to the core team having weird work schedules and casuals being casual. We got together today (pretty much guaranteed my writing this newsletter late in the night), and it was good to see people and plot face to face for various purposes. The game was pretty nice, too.

Jorvik is an utterly standard, relatively streamlined hardcore German-style pawn-placement auction game, the kind that you could play off a three-paragraph explanation if they did expert summaries for boardgames in addition to the detailed casual rulebooks. The entire base game is just “set up the deck of goods, draw a set every round, auction off in a combination of pawn placement and fund management. Repeat, try to build scoring sets.” If you’ve played say Leonardo da Vinci or any other of a hundred pawn-placement games, Jorvik will be screamingly familiar.

That’s not to say that it’s hateful, I basically enjoyed the game. It has an unusually ambitious “advanced mode”, to the extent that a more hardcore group (I am that, but not everybody in the group is) should just start with that. We’ll probably try the advanced mode at some point, as the basic mode, if not exactly exhilarating, was basically OK.

The math involved in the core auction mechanic is pretty interesting, check this out: the players take turns placing their pawns in ordered lines on each of the auction items. Afterwards the pawns get to decide whether to buy the item on a first-in, first-out basis. The price is the number of the pawns in the line, and if you pass, the pawn goes away so the item’s price comes down for the next pawn. It’s pretty clever because being first in line means you’ll pay the most, but being last means you get the item for cheap if the pawns in front of you pass. In practice you seem to want to be at the end of many lines to pick up cheap items, but that’ll depend entirely on how much money you have available, so things can change.

That mechanic is the entire inventive part of the game, the rest’s just your usual German victory point optimization game cruft. I would personally actually enjoy the game more if it was just super-abstract and simple, revolving around that single auction idea, but this is basically the industrial recipe of this entire boardgame scene, so what do I know. Gotta have that cruft.

Player call: Christmassy Lapfantasy

A bit of a different thing here: if you’d like to play a Braunstein, Engle Matrix type refereed wargame-rpg over December, I promised to referee my “Christmassy Lapfantasy” at Club Hannilus. The first session is on Thursday around 16:00 UTC; the game is expected to take 3–4 sessions (might not be finished, depends on the players), ideally weekly, plus some homework and off-session diplomacy and whatnot.

Christmassy Lapfantasy (the name sounds only slightly saner in Finnish) is a beginner-friendly refereed wargame scenario set in a fairytale fantasy Lapland. The players take charge of a variety of factions like Santa Claus and the kingdom of Arendelle and whatnot in a world suffering of a sudden vacuum in power politics; it is up to the players to negotiate, war and bewitch their way to an acceptable new political system for fantasy Lapland. It’s like a Lord of the Rings grand strategy wargame, except totally unfamiliar.

The development history of the scenario is that I whipped it up a year ago for my nephew’s 14th birthday party (yeah, super-geeky that crowd) and haven’t really worked on it after the inaugural playthrough. The scenario’s got some nice ideas, though, and I think it works well as a lightweight introduction to what wargaming even is in creative terms. I’m especially proud of how I try to balance traditional operative war making activities with diplomacy and magic, all performed with the player’s own skills as the basis of action resolution; it’s entirely feasible to kick everybody’s collective behinds in this scenario with little in the way of military knowledge as long as you’re playing one of the magical factions and can navigate the required magical logic. Like how Gandalf wins the War of the Ring.

We decided last Thursday that if we could get 6+1 players or more for the coming Thursday, we’d run the scenario, or at least a first session. This isn’t a super-serious thing by any means, and I think the team wouldn’t mind simply taking a break in December, but if you’d like to try something of this sort, now’s the chance. I’m going to totally phone it in as the referee in this (I have other things on my mind this month), but the scenario’s solid and the playstyle simple, so I believe it’ll be fun even without my putting in my usual amount of prep work.

State of the Productive Facilities

Well, I already laid out my plans for the coming month up in the feature piece, but what I didn’t say is that on top of launching the crowdfunding campaign this week, I also put out a CRedux essay. Pretty crazy, but that’s how we roll in Team Mania.

The new essay is limited to Patreon correspondents for a couple of days yet, but I’ll release it for public consideration on Wednesday or so. As I’m planning to do more essaying over December, this serves as a technical test of the Patreon-limited access logic and such.

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