New on Desk #53 — Gearing up for new year

Holiday week wasn’t super-productive, surprise. Time to get back into the saddle now, though.

Q1 productivity goals

Let’s see, here’s what my immediate task list looks like right now:

Immediate deadlines:
<routine> Finish this newsletter today.
<gaming> Prep the Coup session for Monday.
<gaming> Prep the Coup session for Tuesday.
<gaming> Process events for Christmassy Lapfantasy for Wednesday.

As soon as feasible:
<Muster> Write a letter to grave-level backers, ask about CWP issue preferences.
<Muster> Write an update to the Indiegogo campaign page.

Productivity pipeline:
<blogging> Write the “Sacrament of Death” essay for the blog.
<Muster> Draft the Muster manuscript.
<Muster> Produce CWP stuff on the side.
<blogging> Write more essays, once a month.

Procrastination department:
<reading> Been reading “A Practical Guide to Evil” and some random forum quests, maybe continue that.

Aside from the unusual amount of gaming prep (not like the Coup campaign requires me to prep every week) taking up attention, not too bad. Maybe I’ll even finish that essay this week, assuming the procrastination department doesn’t bite too badly.

Studio workflow for Q1

The immediate tactical bouncing is one thing, but the real details-devil concerns the way I’ll manage to turn the next ~10 weeks into actually productive writing work. Here’s how I imagine it’ll go:

Weekly schedule:
On Sundays I write newsletter.
On Mondays and Tuesdays I run games.
On Wednesdays I do nothing useful.
On Thursdays to Saturdays, productive writing sessions.

(In case you’re wondering about all the time-waste in there, imagine it as studio work overhead time: it’s spent in office routines and planning time for the writing. Plus procrastination, can’t forget that.)

So ~3 productive writing sessions per week. Being an old and cynical dog, that actually looks pretty ambitious to me. I’m planning to make Muster and the Coup Workbook Partials my first priority until they’re done, but I’ll hopefully have a bit of time for writing some palate cleanser material in between as well. Specifically, I like the idea of writing essays on various topics, so I’ll try to keep that up at some kind of rate while the Muster project is on-going.

Regarding Muster workflow, I’m imagining that I’ll start developing the manuscript in Google Docs (for ease of sharing), with studio development discussions over at Heikki’s Discord server. Once the book takes some shape I’ll bring it to the backers for further critique, and so on. This will no doubt get clearer once I start the work (mid-January maybe?).

A Coup Update

Ten more sessions under the belt, so let’s try for a slightly wider look at how the Coup’s doing.

The two large adventures over the last couple of months were the continuing maneuvers in looting of the Ytragern manor, and Rob’s Greyhawk crime arms smuggling drama. Particular memorable events included Frida’s witch trial, the tragic death of Sir Dave in the claws of the giant spiders, and the tense retrieval of Zagyg’s spellbook partials from the manor attic. The urban adventure was intensely intricate, but ultimately unfilling in a way that may lead to more decisive events later on.

We’ve had more players participating than around the low point documented during the icosiad celebrations, so in that regard the campaign is maturing the way I’d expect it to; we’re generally having fun, so while individual players may find that the game’s not for them, others generally try to join in whenever they can make it. One of the regulars is going to serve in the defense forces of our fair republic for a few quarters, but there are others who’ve indicated interest in participating more regularly in the new year, so the future is looking bright.

The biggest recent change to the campaign is that I am now apparently running a second fork of the campaign as a face-to-face game here in Upper Savo. The “Coup in Sunndi” fork is set in the eastern Flanaessian land of Sunndi, and has at this writing had its 2nd session. It’s still early days for the Sunndi branch, but we’ll see how it goes; the game has several newbie players, so we’re starting with what I would generally consider a lighter hand in strategic maneuvering.

Looking at the strategic position, we have had a few interesting developments recently. Namely:
The Ytragern library was looted by parties unknown. This has major implications for Phun’s planned strategic downtime position, as he could have amassed quite some advantage from the books. At least that’s one less concern to worry about.
Rhet the Retainer got lost in the Astral Plane. After a wild drug party with Frida the unfortunate witch, Rhet, being the sensitive Cleric he is, had his soul cast adrift in the Astral Plane. We’re planning to play this as an actual planar adventure, which’ll probably end up badly considering Rhet’s just 2nd level, but at least it’ll be exciting.
I’m preparing the Eurofighter initiative, a tailor-made adventure involving some old characters from prior campaigns attempting to make their way into the Coup. It has the potential of introducing a fair number of new mid-levels PCs into the campaign, parallel to the way we started with Sven Torsson as the Eurofantasy ringer who kick-started the sandbox.

And, a look at the basic campaign stats:

Play Group: 2 distinct groups with ~4 alpha, ~4 regular, ~4 irregular players in total
Character Stable: 31 living PCs (up from 18)
Roll of the Dead: 6 dead PCs (up from 3)
Hirelings: 3 (Team Rocket), 1 (Sven’s batman), 7 (Bootsie’s Mamelukes)
Retainers: 1 (Hench #4, “Rhet the Retrainer” retaining for Phun)
Reigning High Score: 6 977 XP (up from 3940 XP), Phun Eral, Junior Magister of Wee Jas (Cleric-Monk 3)
Runner-Up: 6 030 XP (up from 5 107 XP), Sven Torsson, Mint Reaver (Barbarian 3)
2nd Runner-Up: 5402 (up from 4 512 XP), Rob Banks the Mint Foil Made Person (Thief 4)

No major movements in levels over the last 10 sessions, and the aforementioned three characters are still the narrow point of the pyramid. Fridswid the Hedge Mage (1958 xp) might actually be the only other PC who’s reached 2nd level yet. It’s easy to see how the level progress slows down pretty quickly once you start packing the points: the front-runners have actually gained a couple of thousand XP over the last ten sessions, but they also need like ~5k each to level up any further, so it’s slow going now. The party needs to start figuring out bigger scores!

Monday: Coup de Main #29

In the actual last session we started in medias res: the party had just been exploring the under-manorial caverns, where they found those stone snakes in the previous session. Coming up from the dungeon, they discovered a troop of goblins entering the manor. The party scout critted the alertness roll, which largely contributed in the party being able to sneak out of the house by the back way, ultimately avoiding directly dealing with the goblins.

Afterwards we did a moderately complex series of maneuvers, with the party traveling to spend the night at a riverside inn reasonably near to the manor. The next day the goblins were still there, so the party ended up going back to Yggsburg for a couple of days. An opportunity for recovery and a bit of light magical research for Phun the Theurgist.

There was a fun set of random encounters while the party was traipsing around on hexcrawl maneuvers. The first one was with a pack of matryoshka lemmings (it was very close to being a pack of giant shrews, probably would have been death for the whole party), of which just one was Giant enough to count as a 1 HD monster. Sven promptly wrestled with the cute furry pig-sized rodent in the hopes of it proving to be a sufficiently distinct monster so as to trigger his “gotta kill ’em all!” quest. No such luck, the giant lemming proved to be metaphysically identical to a giant rat, which Sven had already conquered before.

The second animal encounter the next day was of a pack of wolves that the party managed to not bother, going the same way as the lemmings earlier. I like the low-key mystery of what might be causing the animals to all be heading towards the west. The current ruling theory is that a flash flood in the Plains of Greyhawk causes some animal migration; the entire week had been rather rainy, after all. Spring rains can get pretty heavy in the region.

The actual meat of the session occurred after the party finally returned to the mansion and found the goblins to have gone away. The party was reasonably direct and unhesitating about going down into the caverns and taking the other route this time, the one without the snakes. A floor with wet caverns, giant mushrooms and goblin-built traps opened for them.

The party at this time had some pretty fair tracking resources, as the cleric was following a mysterious underground emanation of divine Power, while the party ranger was following goblin tracks. The two together managed to have the party bypass the entire dungeon level without major issues. They were going quite deep, quite fast!

We ended the session when the party found the entrance to the Deep Tunnel, a narrow stair leading to an immense underground cavern, with the tunnel coming out to a narrow ledge reinforced with wood and bone by mysterious worksmen, who knows how far into the past. A single trail led down the wall of the cavern towards the depths that seemed, by sound and light, to be very far down.

I’m totally going to have to do some prep for the Deep Tunnel, as it seems like the party might decide to impetuously continue onward in search of that mysterious divinity they believe to lie down in the depths. Strange people, these adventurers.

Session #30 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 4.1., starting around 16:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like. This being the time of the tritonian celebration, maritime characters and naval adventuring will enjoy a particular boon.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #2

As I discussed last week, we actually decided to have a second session of face-to-face Coup in Iisalmi! The group was similar to last time, with one player dropping out and one coming in, plus my brother Markku happens to be visiting, so he joined us as well. Looking good, all in all, as the players are eager to play, and the newcomers are excited about the very form of roleplaying.

We were delving in the Ruined Monastery, an OSR classic with relatively empty premises; not very much danger, not very much treasure either. Not as intense as some adventures. The party on their part was actually rather well apportioned, as one of the PCs happens to be the favourite armsman and soldier slave of the local prince; he had plenty of hirelings, fellow mamelukes, bolstering the party’s martial abilities. So the outlook was favourable in that regard.

The party’s ideological stance was more tricky here, as Bootsie, the Mameluke sergeant, was certainly of the Lawful variety, while the other adventurers he’d fallen in with were… questionable. The witch with a literal imp as a familiar was bad enough, but then there was also the Cleric of the Black Goat (Iä iä!). The rest weren’t as bad, but those do certainly made me uncertain about whose side they were on. Apparently the clerics of the Black Goat can e.g. call and communicate with goblins, the dark fae of the Menowood, which came in I don’t want to say handy, but at least it was a thing — there was a lot of somewhat confusing goblin diplomacy here.

The “master of the monastery”, the dark Cleric Melchert, did his best the flip the party’s more Chaotic elements to his side, which might have ended better for him that what ended happening. The diabolist warlock and the dark Cleric both got their individual opportunities to make a side deal, but unfortunately the former shut down negotiations immediately, while the latter didn’t really get a chance before Bootsie and his Sriracha Brothers (the guard’s heraldic animal is a rooster) assaulted Melchert in his lair, forcing the party Cleric to stick with the side with the mostest in spears and shapely abs.

One of the players got the clever idea of taking Melchert alive and bringing him to the prince as a gift, which paid off big! The prince didn’t hesitate to give all kinds of decadent gifts to the heroes who’d vanquished the evil, with gold and slaves and all manner of goods going to them. With the large party the shares ended up at ~250 xp per, so not massive, but the adventure wasn’t very difficult either, so all’s good.

We’re playing more next week, and now the real fun starts as the players know much more about the setting and are therefore more capable of maneuvering as they choose their next target. Will they go back to the monastery for a second look? Will they go after the lizard-people who’ve been raiding the farms? Who knows! (I don’t. I keep getting mixed signals from the players. They’re probably not going to go into the dark woods of Meno, iä iä.)

New players are welcome here as well, if you’re in Upper Savo on Tuesday night and want to come hang out. We’ll be starting around 16:00 local time in downtown Iisalmi. Get in touch about the particulars.

Saturday: Boardgames!

With my brother Markku visiting, there was opportunity for an extra game session. It’s illustrative of how busy I’ve been that I failed to prep a Solar System oneshot despite the wishes of the players. We played some boardgames instead, which I personally enjoyed. Sorry guys, but know that I appreciate the time save involved in half-assing the prep!

Here was the line-up:

Quest for the most fish, but don't get stranded as ice disappears beneath your feet.
Dispute the favor of three different castes in order to unite Japan under your rule.
Excavate, acquire benefactors and secure the best spots at the museum to score points

I enjoyed the games. Partly because they were selected from among my own favourites, and partly because we don’t get to play boardgames enough with the guys. There were a bunch of personalities at the table, and not everybody is necessarily in top form socially all the time, but I think we managed to have a good time nevertheless. Antti beat us handily with the Penguins and Markku won Samurai by a sword-width, but I ruled in Mykerinos. Sipi won a participation award, I guess.

A few words on the week’s leisure reading

I was thinking of maybe saying something about my holiday entertainments, but I’m also a bit tired and this newsletter is almost finished. Might as well, having set the title down like that. Heck, here we go:

Watching all the DCEU movies

Suicide Squad is a 2016 American superhero film based on the DC Comics supervillain team of the same name. The third installment in the DC Extended Universe, it was written and directed by David Ayer and stars an ensemble cast including Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Scott Eastwood, Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz, and Cara Delevingne. In the film, a secret government agency led by Amanda Waller recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions and save the world from a powerful threat in exchange for reduced sentences.

OK, so one thing I did over the Christmas holidays was watching all the DCEU superhero movies to date. (If you don’t know what that is, I won’t explain.) Just slammed them down in the spirit of “hey, I don’t usually vacation, so let’s do like they do on the Sy-Fy Channel”. My main conclusion was that superhero movie is still not an actual genre, and the action adventure CGI farts that most superhero movies are don’t really merit watching. Don’t watch these, they’re awful. The ones I say something positive about literally earned the distinction by participating in the gimp olympics, mediocre films competing against their actually awful siblings.

That being said, if you must watch some of these, I guess I could suggest the Wonder Woman titles, Shazam! and Birds of Prey as having some modest merit. This is literally just “I can see the movie they failed to make here” level of appreciation, which admittedly makes up for a lot for me, but isn’t actually that much for the casual audience that doesn’t do feverish composition while watching a movie, planning out how the movie should have been made instead. The actual films as shown on screen are blunt and clumsy, with the solid ideas only occasionally peeking.

The films I specifically don’t mention above range from utterly insipid to actively horrible. Because none of these are actually good movies, it’s more interesting to consider the question of which one gets the award for being the worst. Surprisingly enough I don’t have any difficulty granting the turkey prize: Suicide Squad is beyond doubt the dumbest of the remedial class. It features such brilliant choices as having a superhero team of like seven characters of which only two have any any dramatic exposure, with the rest just hanging out; only one of those characters having a plot arc; the main mcguffin-fetch plot being a weak-ass excuse with no theme. It wasn’t so much a dramatically shaped play as it was a bunch of takes glued together. Sometimes a movie just disintegrates, and this was it. Also, the Joker in this one really was the worst.

One more thing: these are still more interesting to watch than most Marvel superhero films. I really don’t get what people see in Ironman and Thor and such. At least the DCEU movies feature a certain tinge of desperation. Starting with Man of Steel, these have all consistently had some ideas in there, drowning as they are in the boring and the dumb. The same cannot be said about the Marvel movies, entirely soulless as they are. I don’t know what it is, could just be that the Marvel stuff doesn’t fail as much in terms of movie-making craft, and therefore ends up less interesting. At least with these DCEU films I can wonder at the variety of ways they can be horrible. Marvel doesn’t give you even that much, it’s just boring and conventional from start to finish.

Reading a long-ass serial novel

Interesting how broken its embed is…

A Practical Guide to Evil is a YA fantasy serial light novel that I started reading over the holidays to pass the time. It’s no high art, but certainly more entertaining than Hollywood movies, say DCEU films. (Results may vary; I think I’m so much easier to entertain by the written word due to long practice.) I’ve seen the series mentioned in various places over the recent years; it’s apparently been fairly popular.

If you’re into reading and like lightweight geek thriller (Dresden Files and such), this isn’t the worst; I thought that the 2nd book went down thrillingly. The world-building is subpar (gamer trash fantasy), but if that and the edginess aren’t issues, I thought that the plotting was fair, and the author has a bit of a handle on power politics as a subject matter; best part of the world-building stuff, easy.

I have the bad habit of just keeping on reading when I start, so who knows, I might just read the entire thing if it keeps on not being a DCEU movie. To be entirely clear: even light pop reading like this is intricate and intelligent when compared to blockbuster movies. Talk about the lowest common denominator.

State of the Productive Facilities

I value this portion of the newsletter highly, but today I was so boring as to make this my feature topic, so nothing further to add.

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