Archive for June, 2009

h1

Runa: The Empire of Mala

June 27, 2009

During the times of Darkness, the Mala lived in bloody war with the Cave People, the Trolls. It was terrible- not one village or clan could survive without every and all people trained to run and fight, at any moment – the Trolls would come up out of the ground at any time, full of hunger and ready to eat any living thing.

It was in this time of terror, that the people turned away from falsehood and found their heritage – the One God. By divine vision, the people each learned part of a written language, and all the 12 nations came together sharing their language- it was the lesson that by working as one, they could survive and prosper. The written language allowed them to develop Science, and teach across long distances and generations, and they found ways to coordinate their defenses against the Trolls.

And they found the Science of Prayer, and brought Light back into the world, driving out the Trolls back down to the depths.

Since then, the Mala have formed a vast empire built on trade and Science. Masters of Math, Astronomy, History, Engineering, Medicine, there is much they have learned and use to bring truth to the world of troubles.

When the Red Empire arose and smashed the Huangfan, no one expected it. Though the hazardous desert serves as a barrier between the two empires, the Mala have been ever aware that they might be attacked next.

Though they keep their eyes to the east, the troubles are, in fact, down below. The Trolls still fight for gold and ore, but what has become a real threat is that the Trolls have taken to destroying or stealing salt. And now a shortage is starting and the 12 nations are starting to feel pressed. Secret prayers and plans are being made, factions are forming.

The Mala have remained strong through unity… but can it last?

Mala

Keywords:
Educated in Words and Numbers 17

Traits:
Politically Astute 13
Worldly 13
Science of (choose one: Math, Writing, Maps, Stars, Medicine, Architecture, History, Song, Jewelry, Strategy, Alchemy, Husbandry, Agriculture, Religion, Trade)

Relationships:
Family and Clan: 17
Faith in the One God 13
Fear of Trolls 13
Distrustful of Lunars 13

Items:
The Mala are a wealthy trading empire, so choose 3 items as traits at 13. These can be local or exotic objects.

Magic

The primary magic in the Mala Empire is the worship of the One God- people gather in Temples and make prayers and read the lessons from the Scroll of First Language and various other scrolls or books of sciences and laws.

Some Temples have symbolic pits representing the holes from which the Trolls once emerged to carry away and eat the people, which alternately serve as places to pray for protection, curses upon enemies, make divinations to foretell of danger, or to practice fighting arts. It is also believed that people who practice forbidden magic would use these pits as well.

Finding such a pit outside of a Temple would be an ill omen, a place of evil and bad magic. The cries of terror and the crunching of bone are sometimes said to be audible from such places. It is rumored that before the First Language, a few of the people allied with the Trolls and worshipped the same dark god, and happily sold their own people as sacrifices in trade.

The second type of worship is mysticism, by the Order of the Sufficient Ones, alternately known as the Seekers of Sufficiency, or the Worthy Ones. Their philosophy is that all things in the world are limited, and therefore, in want or need of something, which can only be fulfilled by the One. Their path of worship is to overcome the limitations and dissolve all unworthy traits until being “sufficient” of the Giver of Sufficiency.

They do not form larger groups, and mostly have small cells of teachers and students. They may also make prayers at Temples and participate, though it is said they have alternate, inner readings of all of the Scrolls and books.

Hero Questing

There are regular rituals of protection and prayer, and annual rituals acknowledging Salvation from the Dark Times- both the struggles of knowledge, the struggles of war, and the bringing of peace and unity.

Individuals are often encouraged to seek deeper and learn more by communing and heroquesting to learn from the First Teachers throughout history.

As it stands now, the salt is running out, and people will start getting sick and dying without it- many have begun either heroquesting to divine for locations to find more, or perhaps, to destroy the Trolls who have started taking it.

As times get harder, small vendettas and feuds have started coming up, and people have begun doing small quests against each other… This is forbidden by the law, but anyone can find a rationalization if they want to…

The One God has led the Mala from the Darkness, but will they learn to lead themselves?

h1

Runa: The Shattered Clans

June 26, 2009

Being excited for the HQ2, I’m coming up with my own setting, sort of an AU of Glorantha – Runa. Part of this is after really looking at -how- problematic the POC stuff is, it’s just easier to take the ideas I like, and make my own, instead of banging my head against a wall…

Once part of the great Northern Dynasty, the Shattered Clans are the survivors of the great cataclysm more than 400 years ago.

The Red Empire had just unified and was still fractious when the Red Goddess began war upon the Northern Dynasty – forcing those under her to work towards a common cause, and playing on centuries of envy and fear.

For the Dynasty, and their people, the Huangfan, it was a disaster that threw off a golden age they had achieved after hundreds of years of corruption and unrest. For once, people had known two generations without war, senseless corruption and abuse, nearly everyone was fed and so many could read. It was a time of unity.

As such, the war was fierce. The Dynasty brought all of it’s power to its defense, but the Empire had bloodlust, greed, and fanaticism. And new magic. Forbidden magic.

It came to a head at the Blue Palace. The Siege was a struggle both in the mortal world and the spiritual- across the nation, everyone who could also engaged in prayer and ritual – calling upon ancestors, gods, pulling the hidden family rituals and powers kept secret, to save their culture.

But even then, it was not enough. The Blue Palace fell to the massive assault. Countless people were lost to the spirit world, ripped away both body and soul, the gods themselves had disappeared, the and entire land of the Huangfen was reduced to a spiritual desert- animals and growing things simply died on the spot.

The magic of an entire people was stolen. And a Red Moon rose, signifying the Goddess’ power and ascension.

The Huangfen saw their darkest days. So much was lost. No gods for salvation. No poetry of lament. No one could remember or perform the art of smithing, architecture, ceramics. Even the ability to grow the simplest crops all died each time one of them took hand to the task- the Siege had ripped away their very heritage and arts, cursing an entire people to a nomadic existence.

Most died. A few gave up their names and past and lived with the enemy. A few continued West to the Mala Empire beyond the sands. And the most? They live as traders between the Mala and their cursed enemies of the Red Empire, dreaming of the day they rise again and restore their homeland.

Huang Fan

Keywords:
Traveler & Trader 17

Traits:
Enduring: 13
Recognize Huang Fan Artifacts: 13
Bitter: 13

Relationships:
Looked down upon by others: 17
Traveling Clan: 17
Kinship with Other Scattered Clans: 13
Hate for the Lunars: 13
Hate for Huang Fan who joined the Lunars: 17

Huang Fan are unable to take any traits related to: Poetry, Smithing, Ceramics, Agriculture, Architecture, or theist/divine magic.

Magic

Huang Fan have two types of spirit magic- worshipping the ancestors and spirit binding.

The first is common and approved, it provides no direct magical effects, though it might be small bonuses here or there, and sometimes stuff like guiding visions. In the barren spirit side of their homeland, millions of ghosts and ancestors await, who might be able to impart great skills or teachings to them, if one can survive the horrible ordeal of the spirit world there.

The second, spirit binding, is commonly used to curse people or cause illness or mind control. It’s not approved, but at the same time, the desperate will find such a worker for revenge. Some have made a living selling spirit seals and empowered charms.

In terms of mysticism, the Huang Fan have always had a history of ascetic sages, though it’s much harder to encourage a people on the brink of extinction that following a path of giving up EVEN more will lead to salvation. Nonetheless, a few still live in the distant areas, building merit through privations.

A few who have traveled to the Mala, have embraced the teachings of the Sufficient Ones – which is said to mirror another lineage that once existed in the lands of the Northern Dynasty.

Hero Questing

The Huangfan are desperate to collect artifacts of their past- as they serve as keys or foci for rituals to enact Heroquests.

If they were able to enact a quest to restore their ability to raise crops, or build homes, they might have a settled life again. But until then, they live and “roll with the dust” in sorrow.

No one even knows who the gods -were-, so wretched is their state.

Some believe if they destroy the Red Goddess, they can take their power back.

Perhaps.

h1

Inspectres keeps getting deeper

June 24, 2009

I’m gearing up for some Inspectres in a couple of weeks, and I swear, everytime I pick up the book, I discover new, awesome design features about it. It’s like it’s infinitely deep in it’s elegance. Here’s what I noticed this time

Mutual character building

During a Confessional, you can assign a characteristic to another PC (“Clumsy”, “Flirty”, “Muttering”, “Missing Finger”, etc.)

And though the other player doesn’t have to actually play that, you get bonus Franchise dice if they DO. And Bonus Franchise Dice are really the best way to get grow your business and NOT catch Stress.

So an “optimal” strategy is to make sure to assign each other characteristics each game, and play up the ones you get, and maximize your bonus Franchise dice. (the group is rewarded for accepting each other’s input).

Also- design feature- players are rewarded for pushing focus on developing each other’s characters AND accepting input.

Know when to fold’em

There’s a larger scale game at hand- figuring out how to make more Franchise dice than you lose from having people catch Stress rolls. If you’re getting bonus dice from playing as above, it becomes a more viable strategy to end a mission early and lose 1/2 the Franchise dice, especially if it looks like it’s going to tank completely, instead of digging deeper into the hole by trying to push through on a failing venture. (see how that mirrors a startup as well? Brilliant).

Weird Agents for the assist

So Weird Agents always start with Cool dice, and they often have stupid high scores in certain areas. Because Weird Agents can’t score Franchise dice, this means they’re no good at completing the mission directly- but they do serve as great assistants for the normal agents.

How? After a normal agent catches a lot of Stress and perhaps is weak in a Skill, the Weird Agent can step in, make the roll to change the situation until the Normal Agent can make rolls with an undamaged Skill.

Don’t forget that Weird Agents can also use Teamwork for the Normal Agents too. They also make good “shields” for stress by letting them deal with the stuff you know is going to be crazy.

It’s all about the fictional positioning

On that note- I was surprised at how much of the game runs on fictional positioning. Again, it’s not a good thing when you have a Stress freakout- but you can do some things to change your situation so you, or your teammates, can bring in some better skills.

“I freak out and totally jump through the magic portal before it shuts! When I wake up, I’m in the middle of the hidden Chamber of the Kings… and it’s covered in undamaged hieroglyphs… Oh, hey, my Talent is Ancient Languages, lucky that!”

Again, using your narration power to force the kinds of rolls, or the people making the rolls, to the most favorable situation.

Planning for Disaster

So many people overlook the value of the official titles- CEO, Chief Technical Officer, and Chief Financial Officer- but when you realize the first (in theory) has authority and the latter two control actual resources (tools and technology and funds, respectively)

So, the way any business is successful is when people actually coordinate and get things running smoothly. Here, the game gives responsibility/power over through the titles, but doesn’t give you any actual procedures or policy to follow…

Which means the team is forced to negotiate policy on the fly. While being Stressed and maybe trying to save the world…

No wonder a lot of people’s Franchises tank…

h1

And Heroquest 2nd edition

June 17, 2009

The HQ2 and the Gloranthan previews actually look really solid and have me interested in it when it comes out.

As someone who jumped on during the Hero Wars days, I found the books then, and during HeroQuest, to be rather poorly written and scattered in content- only later would I realize that these were basically “cliffnotes” with the expectation that the existing fanbase would know what all the references were… I had to dig up older Runequest books to get a more coherent idea of what was going on in the setting, and general internet research to really get a grasp on what a HeroQuest was.

The previews look like that they actually address it in a clear manner! No more “But really there’s a cool game in there but don’t really try to follow the book because it’ll just confuse you more” excuses.

On the flip side, it does look like there’s a lot handholding in regards to “This is how the game works, BUT YOU CAN PLAY IT DIFFERENTLY” which amuses me. I expect the book itself will have tons of these apologetic defenses which are pretty much the response to the decades of the Gloranthan mailing list flamewars.

The part, is the question about how much problematic imagery will crop up. Between the pseudo-NDNs, pseudo-Indians, and pseudo-Chinese, which has always been problematic in even the descriptions, I don’t expect much good in that way either. On the other hand, I know it’ll probably just stay focused on the Sartar (psuedo Viking) and Empire stuff and we’ll never get to the other stuff. Good/bad? Guh. Hard to say.

h1

When to roll dice?

June 17, 2009

I haven’t had a chance to do more than the most cursory scan of the HeroQuest 2 preview PDF, but the little sword-flowchart on page 16 of the pdf (looks like page 70 of the book)?

Looks like it’s exactly what you’d want to crib for playing with 4E’s skill challenges.

And possibly most traditional games with the option between single roll and multiple roll extended tests.

To be certain, these techniques have been around as long as gaming, but for the most part, it ends up being something you have to learn through practice rather than getting the low down from the start. I think back to both Vincent’s “Say yes or roll the dice” and Jared’s “If this is a situation where failure (or success) would not be fun, why would you roll the dice?”

It seems silly, but this advice has to be consistently given, so I’d say having stuff like that flowchart has a use.

h1

Robots, mutants, and kittens

June 16, 2009

I’m pretty much with Willow on this one…As much as I love me the idea of Robo-noir, it does make me wonder- why is it that mainstream media has an easier time building empathic “minority” characters who are robots, aliens, mutants, ghosts, or otherwise literally non-human than they are at having actual characters of color?

To be sure, Penny Arcade touched on this same subject with Resident Evil 5 and the slope of the fantastic, I think that’s exactly what makes it a shield against really thinking about it.

When you have weird non-real beings, and caricatures of discrimination, it’s easy to toss in the same realm as pure fantasy, and not really think about what it means in the totality of it. Just like how war with aliens isn’t the same as war between humans- it’s fantastic enough you immediately go to the land of faerie tales and magic and it loses it’s bite.

And I think that’s the big difference between X-men and say, Bayou. X-men goes fantastic enough that it stops being about discrimination- no one has to worry about the oppression of blue monkey people by giant 50 foot tall Sentinels… whereas in Bayou, the magical threats are just reflections of the human threats- the story begins with fishing a lynched boy’s body out of the Bayou…

How many people even realize The Dark Crystal is a story about survivors of genocide? Muppet Elves and vulture people go a long way towards masking the content.

I think this is why a lot of POC spec fiction gets thrown into the phrase, “magical realism” – in fact, it’s not less fantastic than any given vampire, werewolf, ghost, whatever story- it’s that certain ugliness of humanity isn’t shied away from, isn’t masked by robots waving guns at giant bugs, but that even with magic, history is history and people are people, and not all of it is pretty.

h1

The Stories We Want to See

June 13, 2009

There’s a particular understanding when you consider media in context of the greater culture: all stories hold ideas, themes and values, and most of the stories tend to come from a similar set, and a fair amount may not be what you want in your stories.

And so, roleplaying. Here, you and your friends can make stories together, stories with the stuff you want and none of the stuff you don’t want.

I had a conversation a few years back with Liam Burke when he mentioned that the reason there’s so much creative tension in roleplaying is that you’re working in a group to create a story and you’re trusting each other not to fuck it up.

Which makes a lot of sense, at the same time, I also realize roleplayers who are looking to create particular kinds of stories a) usually can’t articulate what it is they’re looking for, b) aren’t very good at forming play groups to do that – half of the “problem player” advice deals on a larger issue of creative agenda, but I’d say the other half is probably really poor advice on how to try to club someone into trying to tell the kind of story you want to see.

Ben is having a discussion/musing about what is the audience we want to design for, and in many ways, I feel that it’s also the same people we want to play with, and by that extension, probably the people interested in the same kinds of stories we’re interested in as well.

Which also says a lot about you, depending on the stories you want, the people want and don’t want to play with, whether you even consider the themes you create, or if there’s space to do that in the first place.

To flip the question I keep coming back to – it’s not “Why should we care about THOSE people?”, it’s “What kind of person are you that you get to matter more than anyone else?”

Ben’s disquiet is something I think many have and will continue to come back to, at least until we build greater networks or even entire scenes of gamers who are interested in considering the larger social issues as part of our design as well- as much as we decided to stop playing games we didn’t like or to keep playing with people we didn’t want to play with, this is the next step.

I know what kind of stories I want to see, I know who I want to play with. After all, roleplaying is a group activity. If all I wanted to hear was one voice, I’d go write fiction. If all I wanted was the same old stories, I’d just stick with mainstream movies and books.

Thankfully, despite the opposition, the creative spark and passion for geekery lives on.