Friday, 8 March 2019

Three Rivers

StormHack has one “magic” system, i.e. demons. Objectively these all follow the same rules, however different characters will probably have wildly varying ideas of what demons are. Here are three different perspectives.

Demons of Self

Demons are all about ambition, and Demons of Self are probably the purest form of this. This character credits no external force for their exceptional ability. It all comes from within. This is probably easier to rationalise when the abilities are “coincidental” i.e. appear to be exceptional skill.

How the demon talks to them: the demon appears as a darker version of the conjurer. This is the most personal manifestation of the demon, as it embodies everything the character knows is negative about themselves. It is the dark mirror held up to the character.

How they see the supernatural: these characters will be aware of a wider supernatural world (as in a fantasy there is usually proof of the magical and supernatural) but may not consider themselves part of that continuum at all. This is possibly because they see their demon (if they even consciously refer to it as a demon) as completely internal. Possibly in advanced stages of development the character will view themselves as the demon, identifying as a vampire or other kind of supernatural monster that passes for human. So, unlike the other two perspectives, they may end up identifying as other than human, having no external supernatural force to explain (excuse) their behaviour.

tl;dr vampires, &c.

Patrons

Demon Patrons manifest from faith and belief. The deity will have a doctrine, an aspect (which may shift), and will speak directly to the character. All the powers the character has are granted by their god (whether that god exists objectively out in the world, or otherwise).

How the demon talks to them: one or more aspects of their god. Use this opportunity for the player to develop the god’s doctrine, surrounding pantheon, and so on. To the character this demon is external from the self; however it has a moral or philosophical component which represents the character’s core beliefs.

How they see the supernatural: the magical world is framed according to the doctrine of the god, which will include creation myths, explanations for magic and demons, etc.

Consider these questions1:

  • How was the world made?
  • Where did we com from?
  • Why do we die?
  • What happens after we die?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is magic?
  • What are Demons?

tl;dr clerics, paladins and other (un)holy warriors

Sorcery

Sorcery is the art of making Pacts. Whatever the sorcerer, they treat their demon as an occult science and conjure demons to perform supernatural acts on their behalf. They are likely to have many demons named (which may be considered individual spells, or imps, etc.).

How the demon talks to them: one or more demons the character has bound into service. These demons may be graceful or resentful about their indenture, but in every case this is a transaction and a contract. There is no moral judgement of the sorcerer’s actions, and when transgressions happen it’s because they have lost control. The conjurer may have one demon for each “spell”, or one demon for each class of magic (i.e. one per realm they have activated2), or a single, powerful wish-granting demon.

How they see the supernatural: the demon realms are external, real, measurable. Their denizens can be bargained with. Magic cannot be accessed directly3, only via demonic intermediaries. Gods and magic are intrusions of the demonic realms on the earth.

tl;dr magicians of every stripe


  1. Inspired by the questions and answers in my Games Workshop edition of Runequest III, late 80s 

  2. This is the most Stormbringer-like option. 

  3. In the early 90s there was an Elric! supplement called Corum. See here. That system provided an alternative to demon summoning with “sorcerous melds” where the chaos magician would access raw chaos to do magic. So if you wanted to have your sorcerer skipping demonic intermediaries and going straight to the source, that might be one way of doing it. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

OSR alt combat

In a week or so I’ll be running StormHack (Black Hack, Whitehack, Chaosium’s Stormbringer) at Concrete Cow. This is a modified combat system for OSR systems.

Monsters

Monsters have

  • Armour Class, a success threshold
  • Hit Dice, to be thrown down on the table to indicate the monster’s damage
  • Damage, which they cause on weak hits and misses

Making attacks

When a character makes an attack, roll d20 vs an appropriate Ability (e.g. STR).

  • If the roll is below the PC’s STR but above the monster’s AC, it’s a hit and damage is done to the monster
  • If the roll is above the PC’s STR it’s a miss and the PC takes damage
  • If the roll is below the monster’s AC it’s a weak hit (assuming it’s also below the character’s STR) and the PC takes minor damage

Damage to Monsters

The base damage is the actual number on the d20, minus the monster’s AC. On top of that if the character has any weapons (including Demons of Violence) they get to roll dice and add that to the total.

When they do damage to monsters it’s applied directly to the hit dice on the table. By default only one die can be taken off at a time and the whole number on the die must be beaten (e.g. a d6 reading 5 needs 5 or more points to defeat it). Abilities allow PCs to split damage between dice, hold and stack damage from previous rolls, etc.

Damage to PCs

During combat if the PC takes damage, the GM gives them a token. These can be black tokens (Fatigue) or red tokens (Harm). These add up over the course of the combat.
(Tokens can also be gained outside combat).

At the end of the combat, the PC rolls a Body saving throw. These are handled like Resource Dice in the Black Hack. The number of red tokens modifies the die roll. Actual wounds are counted as the number of red tokens minus the die roll.

Spot rules:

  • Occasionally damage is checked during combat, if the amount of harm exceeds a certain threshold.
  • Wounds are applied to one or more Ability Scores (Traveller style).
  • Armour and shields provide their own Resource Dice which can be used in place of the Body roll, both during combat and after.
  • Wounds can also have other effects; these will be dependent on the kind of damage the Monster does. For example, disease, corruption, poison, paralysis, bad odour.

Survivability

This system will make characters (a) more likely to take damage but (b) also more likely to survive it. There are reasons for this:

  1. The in-combat accumulation of points on the table should tell the players how tired and beaten up their characters are, so at any point they can choose to quit or continue. However they’re not obliged to do so unless the situation forces a roll from them.
  2. This means they can continue to have heroic fights against impossible odds, and otherwise survive. Furthermore the presence of demon armour (demons of durance) makes it easier for them to shrug off hits.
  3. Unlike other OSR games this game is less likely to make a character drop dead suddenly. Instead, they get debilitating injuries which need to be healed.
  4. If the characters use their demons to survive, their demons in turn gain Malice and the power to transgress. This transgression is a basic levelling-up of the demon, and it’s accompanied with new complications for the character — erosion of their friendships, gaining notoriety, etc. Thus you want the characters to survive, so they can transform and become more demonic.

TTFN

Sunday, 24 February 2019

The City Accelerated

Years ago I wrote a series of blog posts around the “City Accelerator”, a tool for creating and growing TTRPG cities (using partial inspiration from CRPGs).

I updated and collected the ideas in this document. It’s about 15 pages long and under 4000 words, too long for a single blog post, so this is a summary.

Goals

The aims were:

  1. Focus on the details that matter
  2. Player-facing; everything on the table
  3. Involve the PCs in the city
  4. Involve the players in the world-building

Method

This is how the tool is supposed to work. It has three sub-systems.

The first system considers a topological approach of Districts connected with Entry Points and populated by Spaces. Spaces are where scenes actually happen. Districts and Spaces can be tagged with descriptions such as “open”, “close”, “high”, “dirty”, “noble”, “crime” &c. Spaces inherit the tags from their District but also have their own individual tags.

The second system considers the people in the city, in three tiers. Pawns and Knights occupy the lowest tier as Free Agents, Bishops and Rooks hold the middle tier as the feudal lords of the city, and the King and Queen occupy the highest tier. Each kind of character has a certain property, e.g. Knights have Ambition, Bishops have Territory, the King has Divinity. Crucially moving between tiers strips a character of the property of their old role when then enter the new one (e.g. a Knight becoming a Bishop loses Ambition and gains Territory).

The third system is just a brainstorm around a set of questions around the sights that a visitor to the city might see, from seeing the city in the distance all the way to walking through the city to its Heart.

I’m going to develop three examples based on current and old RPGs I’ve run. One is a sort of traditional fantasy pre-apocalyptic game called Glory that I ran in the early 2000s (inspired by Viriconium as well as Grant Morrison), one is a modern OSR-ish game called Black Mantle that I’ve blogged about, and the third is Lag which is definitely at the Indie/Storygame end of the scale, and which I’m just getting into with the first few playtest games.

Comments welcome.

Addendum: later finds

These are resources I discovered after writing the original blog posts, but which complement the tool really well:

  • In Corpathium is a brilliant dice-on-the-table method for randomising city districts (I like dice on the table). The author is a Viriconium fan, too. The method proposed is totally compatible with mapping out Districts.
  • Sine Nomine games use location tags for fantasy, sf and modern horror RPGs; potential inspiration for all kinds of city tags.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

I still believe Mandy

(and Jennifer, and Hannah, and Vivka)

Following up on this post.

Zak S posted an official statement — not in the obvious place but on a new dedicated blog. I read it, because… uh, balance. Like, I feel someone accused of something as awful as this deserves to be heard. Maybe that’s foolish of me. Anyway

Good faith

Assuming good faith, i.e. there was love there, the people speaking out for Zak are real people who are giving a true account, etc.

…saying “I love you” and “this person treated the other person well” is not incompatible with the other person saying “I was abused”.

You can do this and just stop there without picking apart the statement. But since I read it, I have these remarks.

First, Zak’s prose style is a fluid, densely textured sentence layered with information. It’s near-incoherent at times, demanding re-reading to extract full meaning. It looks like a stream of consciousness. That’s a handy tool for mixing statement with emotion, inviting the reader to make mental connections and as a result, sympathise with the author’s experience.

I am deeply suspicious of this writing style in this context.

Second, I would be less suspicious if there was any introspection or attempt to empathise with the damning accounts, something you would hope a smart, self-aware individual who really had loved that person might do. No empathy makes it hard to empathise.

Third, the whole thing is a combination of discrediting the detractors and painting himself as the victim, classic gaslighting.

But I had to think about it for a while. With less effort, there’s just enough to make me doubt everything and remain sitting on the fence. If like me you were/are sitting on the fence, but you don’t feel good about that — make the effort.

Who to trust

These are the things that have helped me think about this:

Scrap Princess

So looking back at my regard for him as a friend and my defending him, and the times that I would look at the evidence of his evil ways people would (very rarely even show) produce and would wonder if it was possible look past one’s bias enough to make it worth the pretense of it.

Often this contemplation of biases would come after (fruitlessly) arguing with him about his bizarre refusal to acknowledge tone in online conversation or countless other shit.

Like .. is this guy actually insane? What would it take to convince me?

Turns out Mandy revealing just how fuck awful he’d been to her would indeed convince me

Patrict Stuart

Here’s me as chief bullet-catcher; (I still remember how genuinely bad I felt for him because of the lies people were telling about him online.)

Emmy Allen

Recently, I’ll browse RPGnet or twitter or reddit, or it’ll pop up on my facebook or something, and I’ll see some (edited:) well meaning but imho unhelpful person saying “oh, he was clearly awful, we’ve been saying this for years, you should have known” and it’s horrible. See, deep down I suspect that I did know, and didn’t acknowledge it. Can we have less of that please?

We got fooled. Lots of us. We saw Zak present himself as this cool guy, detatched and intillectual and good at arguing, and he made good books, and he brought you into his web of support.

And you know? I do still think that some of the stuff people said about him was bullshit. When the VtM thing blew up and people were saying he was with White Wolf and a nazi and all that? That was bullshit. That was just internet culture-war bollocks. And he used the fact that some stuff said about him was rubbish to disprove all of it.

(emphasis mine on that last line)

Also Mazirian’s Garden, Coins and Scrolls, and Fiona Geist. There are some embedded links if you want/need to read further.

Things that have not convinced me are the mob calling for Zak’s blood (however justified) and the commercial interests that have dropped him (a commercial decision, regardless of the many positive messages condemning harrassment). The problem with all of that is the root cause gets harder to find amongst the noise (see the first paragraph from Scrap Princess above), and there’s just enough doubt to make it look like just another internet spat.

Next

I believe Mandy, Hannah, Jennifer and Vivka. I condemn harassment. I won’t support Zak Smith’s work again. I won’t recommend anything he does to anyone.

But what about the product I’ve already bought? I have a copy of Red and Pleasant Land on my shelf. I’m not going to bin it. I’ll leave it there, untouched, to prick my conscience from time to time.

And I will say again, if anyone I know feels I didn’t listen to them or take their feelings and experiences seriously regarding Zak Smith, I’m sorry.

One other thing I’ve learned: coming back to social media has been a mistake. I’m probably going to unfollow most people so I don’t get tagged into any conversations. Don’t take it personally.

One other, other thing. The comments on Zak Smith and those on Brexit on my twitter feed have bizarrely merged together, e.g.

link

I had to double check which lefty stream this was coming from — I think the one with Cory Doctorow on it.

So, thinking about Brexit. We in the UK have been stirred up by demagogues and so polarised that we’re more likely to identify with Leave/Remain rather than Tory/Labour. We forget who started this, and who we should be angry with; very real people who have manipulated the Leave campaign for personal gain.

The indie gamer’s identity has been similarly polarised between OSR and Storygames. Nuanced discussion has been sorely lacking, on all sides.

I’m not saying Zak S was solely responsible for this split, that would be absurd. What I’m saying is, remember who you’re angry with.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

I believe Mandy

One of the strategies I’ve used for managing my depression is withdrawing from social media1. This is an exception, because it’s (a) too important to ignore and (b) an echo of one of the reasons I quit social media in the first place.

This is a post by Mandy Morbid about long term abuse from her former partner Zak Smith. It’s horrifying. I believe her.

For my part I’ve not really been harmed by Zak, but I have never had a positive interaction with him either. On the few occasions he commented on something of mine it was clear that he was spoiling for a fight. I found this so bizarre I honestly thought he’d mistaken me for someone else. And I did what I would do when faced with any verbally or physically combative stranger, which is to say “er, alright mate, fair enough” and walk away with my thoughts to myself2.

The main thought I had was “there’s a chap who could start a fight in an empty room with one of his own farts”.

I know he’s upset friends of mine. If that’s you and you feel like I didn’t take your feelings and experiences seriously, I’m really sorry about that.

I do remember ZS saying once that someone who has been caught in a lie should be drummed out of the (RPG) industry. Well, he has been caught in a lie (for example, impersonating Shannon Applecline on Reddit). People should therefore do what they feel is right and just. Although, I’ve seen a few people say “I’m not trying to make this into a witch hunt” and then, you know, making a list. Come on, man. If you’re going to do that, own it.

Anyway. I’ll say that again, I believe Mandy. I don’t pretend to understand what her experience was like, but I believe her.

OK. I am going to drink now. Comments off.


  1. Mostly this has involved backing out of G+ and muting everyone on Facebook. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I hadn’t worked out how to do that on Twitter just yet. 
  2. Combatives advice from Mr. Marwood.