NoD #136 — Creative Brooding

So I guess I took two weeks off again — equivalent of three missed newsletters at the 2-a-week pace. Life.

Recent tigers news

Let’s see… the main reason I skipped a few newsletters is I guess the new Call of Cthulhu campaign, “Mythos Investigation”. I haven’t necessarily authored a huge amount of gaming material over it yet, but I have for lack of better term brooded over it. Writing incomprehensibly wandering notes on random aspects, working out character sheet designs. We’ve also gotten together twice over the game on recent Tuesdays, so it’s slowly gearing up. Taking up a lot of mental space, it seems.

I’ve also been exercising daily since coming back from Helsinki, my brother’s been insistent on taking me out to the gym or ski’ing every day. For a lazy person like me that’s the kind of thing that reduces productivity. I guess I’m in fit condition, at least. Ready to fight a bear. Or a tiger, as the case may be.

Tiger the gym animal is a culturally popular idea, Google image search will get you a zillion illustrations of tigers going to the gym despite not having thumbs. I’ve meditated on this matter as well while pushing iron, here’s some important conclusions:

The tiger is quadrupedal, so he’s basically constantly training push-ups by merely stalking around. This is one area in which a human shouldn’t attempt to contest the tiger’s natural supremacy. Your flimsy human arms couldn’t possibly compete. Conclusion: keep on two feet, weight evenly distributed, ready to flee, when confronting the tiger. Don’t get attracted into a push-up or arm wrestling (claws!) competition.

Note that if you’re up here in the sub-arctic region and used to bears instead of tigers as your random encounter, it’s important to realize that the tiger has a much longer thigh than the bear, optimal for leaping around. It’s basically like a mammal frog, with long muscles ideal for accelerating. So when you try to flee from the tiger it’ll just pounce at you, impossibly negating gravity. The situation is not as hopeless as with your fore-limbs, but I doubt you can match the tiger in the thighs department either.

The D&D Rakshasha relevant here is a tiger guy with reversed wrists.

(Nota bene: the tiger still loses out in a furious fight against a bear. Different weight classes. Because you’ll lose to both, though, the question of whether you can run away is more important for practical purposes.)

The tiger needs to climb trees, which requires lots of tricep and lateral muscle exercises so as to get strength into that characteristic cat swipe down movement. So that’s a particular concern if you want to emulate the mighty tiger, or climb faster than he can get at you. Swipe, swipe at the gym with a cable pull perhaps.

The tiger’s boss, demonic Rakshasha entity, doesn’t swipe down like a cat due to his reverse wrists situation. Wisely and patiently he trains his bicep curls for that hideous strength. This is why you should train those down-swipes: not so you can escape the tiger, but so you can escape the Rakshasha, who you certainly could beat at climbing. You could also join the Rakshasha in its unnatural left hand path and work those biceps; they could be useful in the climbing as well, for pull-ups. Both you and the Rakshasha possess thumbs, unlike the tiger. Use them.

So anyway, I’ve been doing arms exercises in particular this month, swiping up and down against weight resistance. Growing ever more aware of my odds should the gym tiger show up while I’m there.

What else… I guess we’ve been messing around with art AI training with my brother and Stable Diffusion. Interesting stuff for sure. You can make the AI draw in a style reminiscent of this or that artist by feeding it educational pictorials, or help it gain expertise over specific subject matters by giving it examples of what the thing you want it to draw should look like. I can only imagine that this tool will increasingly feature in my projects in the future.

This obviously produces immense amounts of fun images, I suppose I could just plain start my own pictorial in lieu of the newsletter. Just for a sample, see alongside an image of me riding a tiger. Creating that image involved training a specialized neural network to get what “Eero” looks like down. The tiger on the other hand is so green because there was some MotU training material involved in getting the AI to figure out what riding a tiger is supposed to look like. (There’s lots of tiger riding in Masters of the Universe, but said tiger is green, so…)

A tale as old as time: man might be apprehensive of the tiger as it roams the urban grottoes of the weight-lifting gym, but ultimately his technology tames the wilderness, to the extent that he’ll be the one riding the tiger soon enough!

Mythos Investigation #1

At this writing we’ve actually convened two times for this, but whatever, I’ll discuss our second session in the next newsletter. The first one was on the 17th in Iisalmi. We’d decided on the game with a cadre of four people, but two weeks later we had 6 players + GM. Not exactly the intimate group I was imagining and had optimized the rules system for.

The first session was mainly spent in discussing the creative plans for the campaign, and setting up the initial player characters. I think that this sort of chargen is actually quite boring, but it is what it is, and not everybody agrees; I’m hoping to work on the character creation process in the long term to make it more fun and more self-enclosed, with less GM dialogue involved in it. The ideal would be to make it so players can create characters on their own, and maybe have a bit of fun doing it.

Click for a dumb structuralist take on CoC.

As for the campaign’s creative position, I discussed the main points of “Mythos Investigation” along the lines described in the last newsletter. I drew (real time, by hand) a diagram for the Dark Destiny Triskelion to make the matter more concrete. I guess I’ll reconstruct an English-language version here for the sake of illustration, with some explanatory notes.

(NB for the Big Model inclined rpg theorist: the kind of Cthulhu described here is Simulationist, with emphasis on story and setting. The “Destiny Bit” looks a lot like a Narrativist Premise if you’re inclined to see those everywhere, but it’s rather supposed to be an emergent truth that flows naturally from the way the character, their approach vector and scenario coincide. Do this right, and there never was any choice.)

Regarding the character creation, we did the basic stuff for my CRedux-inspired “Mythos Investigation” character creation system. Picking career lifepaths, calculating resulting skills, etc. There’s some minor cleverness to it, but it’s still so rough that I’ll come back to discuss it in more detail at some later point. The important part is the structural nature of how characters were created:

Scenario first: I told the players the immediate nature of the first scenario we’ll be playing, and asked them to decide for themselves in what way their characters are each related to the situation. Here’s the situation:

It is year 1920 in Kerava, a rural Finnish community near Helsinki, the capital. A village maiden (unmarried young woman) will soon be found to be missing, leaving behind a concerned family. Liisa, the missing girl, works as a maid for the local parish priest while preparing for her future.

(There’s a fair bit of specific historical Finnish socio-economic assumption that goes into this, but it’s actually not that scenario-relevant: it’s a detective story opening, right? It’ll be a twist if this develops into “she ran away with her boyfriend” instead of “she’s found horribly mutilated and thoroughly a corpse dunked into a well”, considering the genre tropes of the detective story.)

Players choose their approach vectors: Create a normal person in this milieu, and choose the way in which they might be concerned or motivated to care about a missing teenager. If you’re interested, meditating over the Dark Destiny Triskelion might lead to a moment of enlightenment when you realize how having a weak vs strong motivation, and different character personality, might affect the way the character comes to relate to the scenario. If you choose to play somebody with a weak-ass motivation, that’s your problem. (A weak motivation = balanced outlook, of course, so no shame in that. Just we might find that your character makes non-interesting choices for lack of reason to be interesting, later.)

So we got a bunch of characters for this, and you might notice how I was conceiving of Mythos Investigation as something for like three or four players instead of six. At least we wouldn’t need many NPCs in the scenario, necessarily: with this many players I could just appoint one of the PCs to be the murderer (no murder established yet, to be clear; just speculating here) and let the players hash it out. We started with the following here, I think:
Liisa’s boyfriend, a Helsinki native gangster type who’s been seeing her despite her parents’ dislike.
The parish priest, an erudite elderly gentleman who’s vaguely aware of Liisa as a maid whose family lives on the parish lands.
An urban cousin, a homebody librarian dude who’s related to Liisa on his mother’s side.
Pervy uncle, a colorful tailor/poet good ol’ boy with appreciation for younger women. Literally Liisa’s uncle.
A village cop, obviously professionally related but little else. Recently moved in.
Local factory owner, wealthy bourgeoisie. Literally no connection except happening to hear about the situation.

The milieu is set a year after the end of the Finnish Civil War, with two of the PCs clearly Red (Communist) and two clearly White (Nationalist), so that’s a thing. I hope I can encourage the players to account for that sort of thing when figuring out what their characters want to do with the somewhat Twin Peaks -esque scenario.

The Call of Cthulhu premise of antidramatic normal people PCs is certainly interesting as a change of pace; most rpgs specifically don’t do this. I wouldn’t be surprised if playing around with the particulars a bit might result in something interesting if the campaign keeps up momentum.

Coup de Main in Greyhawk

Even as I play Cthulhu on Tuesdays, the Coup D&D campaign continues weekly online. The game’s open to visitors, newcomers, inexperienced players, cats and dogs.

Sunday Basic session #9 is finally supposed to occur tonight, around 16:00 UTC. Teemu’s been interrupted from GMing recently, so Tommi’s been running pick-up sessions instead, but this time it should be Teemu on the GM’s bench.

Monday Coup session #116 is scheduled for Monday 30.1., starting around 16:00 UTC. I’m currently GMing, and we’re doing the usual, strategic full panoply sandbox around the Selintan Valley region of Flanaess.

Coup de Main #95

Still documenting the Coup-de-Gnarley period… this is from early August, I think. Tuomas ably narrates, continuing from where the game was left before Ropecon.

Knights Temp had gathered many new recruits and headed back to Incandescent Grottoes.

Rob wanted to check the room where they fought the gibbering mound of mouths and eyes. He wanted to see what they had triggered last time before running away.

Everything seemed to be in order at the dungeon even after couple of weeks spent resting in town. Some signs of kobold activity and a hooded fellow with wheelbarrow but nothing else. Knights headed back to the scene of the battle but found that nothing had changed there either. Apparently, the skeleton statues hadn’t chased after them.

More searching and scanning in the room confirmed that there still was magical aura on a plinth under one of the skeleton statues in the temple, so Rob got to work. He quickly found a secret compartment and pulled out a magical shield and ring along with some platinum ingots. Score!

Knights moved to check out the place with “slime monsters”, as alleged by the kobolds. Knights had brief talk with kobolds and brought more food to them. Kobolds seemed happy and gave what info they could, mostly telling that some translucent slime things dropped on them from the ceiling when they entered a corridor, but they managed to run away.

Knights formed up for battle and entered the same corridor, wherein a translucent slug-like monster dropped on Rob and Artemur each. The slimes didn’t cause much more harm and were quickly dispatched. What remained was a corridor with five doors. The corridor led to large room with two slime covered skeletons standing in front of the doors.

Knights did the usual careful approach and started going through the doors one by one. High level thief leading the effort avoided causing any major problems. Knights murdered some innocent baby carcass crawlers feasting on giant rat corpse on the way and fought against a room full of gelatin. The gelatin didn’t fight back.

One room had suspicious circle of slime on the ground with a couple of smaller piles of slime inside it. It was determined to have some magic, but no further investigation was done. One door sounded like it had huge amounts of liquid behind it, so it was left alone; probably slime or acid considering the surrounding slime-themed things.

Knights collected some loot from couple rooms. Under a flagstone was a scroll tube, and the room full of gelatin had multiple items of value that needed to be carved out of the gelatin, but luckily Rob had brought shovels.

After some hours the Knights had gathered huge haul and they headed back to Narwel to sell it and research the magic item. This resulted in a couple of heroes, Artemur and Gotdorf, going up a level so job well done!

Adventure continues next week even as winter is closing in on Gnarley Forest. There is talk that this might the last expedition of Knights Temp before the winter.

This surely was the golden days of the Knights Temp. Just adventure after adventure, making gains and taking names. Were it always so easy.

Coup in Sunndi #69

Our Sunndi game had been focusing on the Temple of the Seven Stars in Dhalmond for several sessions, but having wrapped that up, we jumped back to the Doom of Naerie adventure arc, last seen back in session #66. The premise is that a pair of temple guardians of Rao (paladins) are racing the clock to muster up a credible coalition of the-Good-and-the-Ugly to oppose a predicted destruction of the proud city of Naerie.

The players are big believers in the barbarian thew, though, so their angle of approach on this has been seeking allies among the hill clans, convincing the clans to unite to defeat the ancient evil, and then presumably sailing away before the united clans rape Naerie themselves, as is their intergenerational cultural mandate. Real believers in the magic of friendship, these paladins.

The situation we started with was super-dynamic, too! The adventurers were leaving the Temple of the Bee Queen with the Staff of Perpetual Spring, an important relic they believed would help grant credence to their efforts among the tribes. The temple was rather reluctant to let the relic go, but what can you do when the great spirit commands and all that.

The amusing part was how the various temple factions kept trying to hoist an Oracle, a specially trained sacred teenage girl, on the party. They’d already refused one offer of illicitly stealing away with an Oracle in the last session, worried about souring their relations with the conservative faction (as in, the one that doesn’t just kills PC ass blindly) should they do that. So of course the other Oracle, the angry brunette type, decides to escape the temple herself to follow the party to her destiny. Show up that other goody-two-shoes gal, for once do something on her own behalf.

Sadly the dice weren’t on the side of the brave girl protagonist here, though, and the adventurers were particularly boring, so they just spotted her early and outright turned back and returned her to the temple to minimize possible misunderstandings like adults. In a word, the players were very much not going to ride the Final Fantasy train here. (The FF solution to an ancient looming evil living on a mountain is fairly straightforward: get a cute shrine maiden, escort them to the mountain, see them magic the darkness away in a cool cutscene. Maybe fight Chaos (twice, because this is not even my final form) before you’re done, but basically straightforward.)

If this game was at all railroaded, you can bet your britches I’d have had a runaway Oracle join the party in a maximally dramatic fashion. After all, who’s supposed to use the Staff of Perpetual Spring to actually enact that cutscene? And without the cutscene, what is the party supposed to do about the lich or whatever, eh? Super-authentic play from the players here, not falling for the lure of following genre tropes to victory. (Defeat, more likely. The game does not actually have “cutscenes”. At best it has “I’ve done all I can, NPC take the wheel”.)

The session was interesting in a SimClans kind of way, with the party traveling the Hollow Hills and garnering information on how the diplomatic initiatives they’d set up earlier were shaping out. The Hakadaro Clan (the one living closest to the cursed mountain and victims of a major albeit failed undead attack earlier) had sent messengers to the other clans to call for traditional assistance; as the guardians of the cursed mountain they had expectation of being heeded. As the days and weeks accumulated, responses poured in.

The clans didn’t exactly spring to action just on the word of the Hakadaros, but two other clans did send their warrior contingents (think ~20 professional warriors each) as per the old faith and custom, while others sent further queries and ambassadors to see how serious the Hakadaros were on this.

The interesting part is that the players, whose strategic perspective on the situation obviously kept shifting, were actually quite happy with the pull the Hakadaros had: totaling up the Hakadaro forces obviously motivated to do an expedition up the mountain, the coalition had like 50 warriors and another 50 militia right here, right now, ready to go! I guess the players didn’t quite expect the quickness of the response, or their ideas of what exactly they needed from the clans shifted, because suddenly it seemed that they actually had everything they’d need to assault Death Frost Doom again.

The last thing in the session was a quick summary hexcrawl for Sparrow the temple guardian to actually travel back to the Temple of the Bee Queen to pick up one of those Oracles after all. The players had been talking about splitting the difference on this entire oracle question, and they’d ultimately concluded that they could always just go back for the Oracle if things with the clans seemed to shape out well and so on. A bit over week of extra delay, and the possibility of hexcrawl logistics complication, but sure, why not.

(Well, genre-wise, you’d think that the Dark Lord has some kind of Nazgul forces operating in the Hills. Bold of the players to introduce this extra leg to their movements like this. But I guess they really did pick up something completely favourable when they touched base with the clans, something they couldn’t predict while still at the temple earlier. I do find this sort of operational maneuver cascade terribly interesting.)

When we realized that we actually had everything we’d need for the assault up the mountain, the session was concluded with the idea that we’d actually execute a delve next time. The party had plenty of barbarian thew for a dungeon raid, a powerful magical relic completely opposed to the spirit of nihilistic death involved in Death Frost Doom, and they did even manage to pick up an Oracle to wield the staff without too much political scandal at the temple. Couldn’t be any readier!

State of the Productive Facilities

I finally managed to order the physical Muster books for the crowdfunding backers! If you should be getting one and haven’t gotten any emails about it, let me know. At this writing DrivethruRPG is still waiting on releasing the book to general purchase, but that’ll probably happen in a couple of days, so if you like Muster and missed the pre-order, it’ll be available in print for the cheap price of at-cost. (about $6 for softcover, $13 for hardcover, plus postages).

Besides that, the usual. I’d like it if I managed to write even this newsletter, not to speak of all the other things I could be creating if I was less lazy. Hoping for the best.

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