Archive for June, 2009


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.


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.


Mecha Squee

June 12, 2009


They just built a life-sized Gundam. While I’m not a huge Gundam fan, I do love me some mecha.

(How will they keep the birds away? Automated BB miniguns?)



More on that Wargame idea

June 10, 2009

8 mph Ansible asked:

So some of the basic components that’s being looked out for how this’ll work is: economics, resource management for logistics coupled with wargaming that probably has some sort of morale & fatigue feature in it?

So, here’s some of the half formed ideas in this:

Command Characters

Each player plays 3 characters. One character is a Leader- all kinds of abilities good at the big campaign stuff (Artesia). The second character is a Hero, not so good at leading big groups, but a badass in one’s own right- good for holding the gates alone, taking down that fell Wyvern, doing quick raids (“Oh shit! It’s Lu Bu!”). The third character is a Follower- a lieutenant, advisor, not as good at direct leadership, but even though second best, loaded with supporting abilities (Felix Gaeta).

Yes, your Hero and Follower get assigned to work underneath other players’ Leaders for some interesting roleplaying stuff there.


Resources are Food, Equipment, Treasure. Different units have different upkeep requirements. Some units have special abilities that reduce these costs (“Scouts in Forest, Farmlands, or by Rivers are -1 Food”) etc.

Playing with that, Villages, Towns, Cities, provide these in different numbers. Having Command Characters with special abilities like “Diplomat”, “Logistics”, “Bandit” might adjust numbers.

Morale, etc.

I’m stealing a lesson from Star Wars Saga – just rolling Morale, general condition, fatigue, etc. into one scale for each unit. And leaving “Unit” vaguely defined with the idea that it’s somewhere around between 40-180 men or so, with the average around 100. I want each Command
Character with something between 1-10 Units under their command- something halfway manageable if you have a group of 3-6 players.

The Roleplaying Elements

I actually want it to -matter- if you save this village vs. that village, if you take time to improve one vs. pillaging and burning it down.

I want it to matter where you’re making a tough choice between doing the “strategically smart” thing vs. sending more troops to try to back up your friend in the hopes he can escape safely.

I haven’t quite figured out -exactly- how I’m going to fit that in- part of me wants some worldbuilding elements so the players add details and do the work of making it something they own and care about in the process.

Again, it’s a very vague idea at this point.


Wargame Seed

June 9, 2009

I have a seed of an idea for a wargame/rpg. Mostly built out of dissatisfaction.

There’s lots of rpgs built around the idea of the war epic- Hero Wars/Quest, Artesia, Every Damn Samurai game, etc. but none of them really go into rules for handling war itself- its kind of assumed to be something the GM will “figure out” or just used as situation fodder, without being part of the game proper.

But if you look at the source material of a lot of these, it’s all about how the constant struggle for logistics, etc. create really interesting situations- the sketchy political alliance with pagan hill clans, a city with too few supplies, but your men need to eat and the enemy is coming, a brilliant yet cruel captain of your elite warriors- all kinds of really messed up and ugly “trade offs” in war.

So right now I have this vague idea of a game that focuses on all that- mechanically pushing stuff like the need to rally more troops, to balance your resources, to make alliances and cut deals, etc.

(Yes, I know Burning Empires sorta does this, but mostly that it’s a scaled up version of the Burning Wheel Pan-Conflict technique. It’s neat, but not what I’m thinking about for this.)