Archive for October, 2010


Steampunk and not reinventing colonialism

October 13, 2010

I’m brought back to Nisi Shawl’s idea that steampunk is a reaction against POC in speculative fiction like cyberpunk was a reaction to women in sci fi:

Ay-leen’s Steampunk & Multiculturalism

Thus, another argument about marginalized peoples’ involvement that has been previously overlooked is the possibility that people of color and non-Westerners are very much interested in steampunk, but choose *not* to engage in the community because they do not consider the community a safe space for them. The most obvious example is the co-opting of steampunk by various conservative, right-wing and white supremacist groups, such as those seen on the white supremacist forums of Stormfront.

Less obvious but still significant is the conversations sci-fi fans of color have about steampunk outside of steampunk community spaces. Garland Grey in her essay “Cause I’m Nerdcore like that: Towards a Subversive Geek Identity” notes that marginalized peoples are still aware of their outsider status in “nerd spaces,” even as they embrace these spaces that are supposedly accepting of mainstream outsiders: “Every time we enter nerd communities, we do so knowing that we may be shouted down and dismissed, bored to tears by useless pissing contests, have our legitimacy or motives questioned, or just be completely ignored.”

In a more steampunk-specific example, naraht writes about the discomfort felt about the prospect of entering the steampunk community as a person of color: “Not that putting brass cases around iPods must inherently be ideological, but the glorification of explorers and adventurers in the late nineteenth century mould isn’t something that can be viewed in isolation. Deep down, or perhaps not so deep down, there’s a sense in steampunk that having an empire must after all have been rather fun. Perhaps for a few it was. And somehow people are still being persuaded to join in the fantasy that they would have been one of the privileged few.”

It’s really frustrating to me the way white geek culture self-segregates- if it’s POC who would like to participate, the bullshit and antics that need to be put up with while the general group refuses to do anything, or, if it’s a POC originated thing (like, say, hiphop) the response is to produce a whole separate scene that refuses to really acknowledge the sources (nerdcore).

Escapism is great, but it’s always interesting what it says about folks when only some people get to partake in the escapism and for others… well, “know your place”.


Post Apocalyptic Party

October 13, 2010

I’ve been generally out of the loop of new games coming out. I vaguely recall something about re-releasing Gamma World, but wasn’t aware it’s already here.

Gabe from Penny Arcade’s description of GW using card decks as immediate equivalent to “random roll charts” sounds pretty awesome. The booster deck thing is a stupid idea though. They’d be just as well off making randomized decks printable and available with a DDI subscription- and allow fans to make their own as well.

This comes on the heels of me re-reading octaNe, not only one of my favorite games of post-apocalyptic wackiness, but full of good GM’ing advice which has seriously shaped a lot of modern rpg design and play.

And, of course, just a couple of weeks ago, Apocalypse World saw full release for folks interested in a more gritty and brutal game. Also full of great GM advice and mechanics that interface a little differently than most in a really neat way.

And of course, there was Tribe 8, which is probably the darkest and most jacked up post-apocalyptic setting I’ve ever seen, though it’s also probably the only explicitly matriarchial one to build a full game line.


PTA: A Galaxy Divided – ending

October 10, 2010

We finished our PTA Star Wars campaign today… which was intense.


The session before was both players’ Spotlight episodes, which meant we completely poured on the drama, and basically, this session was going to be mostly reflection about what happened and how the characters felt about things. That said, it being the last session meant I could hammer on the characters’ Issues full force with no regrets.

The war was mostly over- at this point, it’s just pockets of resistance fighting an unwinnable war, stacking bodies all the way.

Rihanna came to see that the Peacekeepers dogma of “necessary sacrifices” never actually ends- the sacrifices keep coming, forever, until atrocity after atrocity became the norm, instead of a price paid to move beyond it.

Gruchakla saw that the guerilla wookies he led were no longer the brave warriors fighting to protect their people- those warriors had died long ago, leaving the fanatics and bloodthirsty as the only fighters remaining.

Both decided to leave the war. On the personal level Rihanna’s relationship with Kenji had solidified and highlighted everything she was really fighting for. Gruchakla’s relationship with his father crumbled completely. After the session, I realized his father took on the role of all the people who Gruchakla had failed – demanding more ruthlessness, full of vengeance, etc.

Sen Jenak appeared again, this time, on his own side – offering both Rihanna and Gruchakla a chance to join his Jedi band – to retake Kashyyyk… and eventually the galaxy. Funny enough, it’s not so much that he, himself, was a great villain, as much as he served as a mouthpiece to the ambition and mindstate of violence and conquest which they both recognized at this point as being a lie.

They faced off with Sen Jenak, along with Gruchakla’s apprentice Ahba-naria, and despite having spent all their fanmail – they lost the conflict.

Ahba-naria is cut down, Gruchakla goes apeshit, leaving himself open, Rihanna takes the blow aimed for him and finally he cuts down Sen Jenak.

The end scenes were Gruchakla over their graves, “I failed again, but I’ll never stop trying.” and Kenji left waiting for Rihanna who will never come back.


I did well with the lessons from last time and kept plot elements to the minimum and just focused on wrapping up loose ends. Stake setting got tighter because of it.

1. Good stake setting makes failure totally interesting. You should never have a conflict with boring or crappy results, because framing the stakes should always put it along an axis of interest.

Gruchakla’s father challenged him to an honor duel and we set the stakes as “Do you win without hurting him badly?” The issue of winning isn’t at stake, it’s not hurting his father.

In other games, this would be difficult to play out because of the way most games handle combat and damage- it’s hard in most games to make “hitting too hard” a common issue that one can back up mechanically in an interesting way.

2. The more clear players are with the direction they’re going with their characters and a general sense of what they’re trying to do, the easier it is for the GM to frame a scene or for other players to frame scenes for them.

3. Players carrying over Fanmail between sessions does interesting things to the Budget. For example, in this session I got 3 extra Budget from carried over Fanmail, which really changed the tenor of the game. It’s kind of an extra little rule that really helps later episodes have more mechanical kick to go with the fictional investment.

We did a lot in 3 hours. I mentioned that most of my GM anxiety is that PTA requires so little prep that I worry I don’t have enough to run with. Jono and Sushu pointed out player anxiety kicked in because I was hitting them with good dilemmas and tough choices throughout play.


Sorcerer Exalted

October 4, 2010

A Gamehack for running Exalted using the Sorcerer Rules

Extra Rules

You’re going to want all 3 of the supplments to Sorcerer. The rules from each that are used include:

– Dual humanity definition rules from Sorcerer’s Soul
– Pacting, Humanity Trading, and Roll-over victories from Sorcerer & Sword (you will probably want the necromancy rules as well)
– Martial arts from Sex & Sorcery.

Adjusting the Scale

In Sorcerer, most average folks have a 3-4 in their scores. Given that Exalted operates at much higher power levels, assume a normal human being has a 2 in their scores, with lesser scores being 1 and better humans being 3.

So already characters start off that much more epic.


Humanity has dual definitions as per Sorcerer’s Soul.

The first definition is concern for the well-being of people and communities – the classic heroic trope. Humanity checks are abandoning them or actively harm.

The second definition is acts that promote reconciliation amongst groups, powers, people, individuals, you and your past life, anything. Humanity checks are destroying relationships, sundering friendships, families, and functional balances of power.

The story of Exalted really begins with killing the Primordials which not only begets the Great Curse, but also creates all the necrotic taint from the Abyssal Exalted, etc. – the real danger to Creation is that all of it is at war with each other- very much the big theme is how to find a form of co-existence which is very Princess Mononoke in a way.

Humanity 0

Use the idea of the “Limit Break” from Exalted- the Exalted Soul takes over and temporarily acts as a Possessor instead of a Parasite- forcing the Exalted character into doing something stupid, terrible or rash that results in Great Ruin. Think Greek tragedy- killing allies, unleashing demons, taking revenge upon an entire city for the wrong of one person, basically fucking it up for everyone.


Each Exalted character begins with two Covers- their normal past life, before Exaltation, as well as a Cover based on Caste.

Dawn Caste = Warriors
Zenith Caste = Leaders
Twilight Caste = Scholars
Night Caste = Espionage
Eclipse Caste = Diplomats (can be used for Pacting!)


Stamina Descriptors
Laborer, Warrior, Living Clean, Ascetic Practice, Inhuman, Simply Healthy.

Will Descriptors
Angry & Vengeful, Code of Honor, Natural Exuberance, Driven, Follower of the Status Quo, Believer in Destiny

Lore Descriptors
Hapless Fool (1), Novice Exalted (2=3), Memories of Past Life (2-4), Guided (manipulated?) by those who know (3-5), Knows of the Betrayal (4+), Versed in Creation (5+)


Good Prices for Exalted:
– Overconfident (-1 die on first roll of any scene)
– Guilty (-1 die on social rolls on your own behalf)
– Unbalanced (-1 die on perception rolls)
– Vengeful (-1 die to resist the Exalted Soul’s Great Curse rolls)
– God-killer (-1 die to any social interaction with spirits, gods, etc.)
– Infamous (-1 die to any human social interaction)
– Past Life Traitor (-1 die to any social interaction w/Other Exalted)


In Sorcerer mechanics, treat Exalted as Sorcerers with parasite demons- Solar Exalted reincarnation is a demon that cannot be banished – the host dies if it is ripped from them in any fashion.

The telltale is the Anima- which flares up brighter depending on how much Power is being used.

The Need is time- it takes time to recover Essence. Assume 8 hours per level of Power. If an Exalted finds another source of Essence, like a Manse, the Manse rolls it’s Power vs. the Exalted Soul’s – success means the Need is immediately filled, though the Manse operates at -1 Power until it’s own time requirement passes.

The Want is The Great Curse- Exalted Souls push for the host to act in an unbalanced way – ranging from irrational compassion to utter ruthlessness to reckless action – repeating the mistakes they’ve made in their past life, to great disaster and ruin for everyone.

This is the only place where the Exalted Soul will make direct action upon the Sorcerer- using it’s Will (modified by Binding) to provide a bonus roll or a penalty roll to encourage those behaviors if it hasn’t been sated recently. (So, you might have the Demon roll it’s 5 dice of Will vs. the Sorcerer’s 4 dice of Will with successes being bonuses towards that behavior or penalties to opposite behavior).


The Binding between an a character and their Exalted Soul measures whether the person now or the past life is holding more sway in their life.

A Solar Exalted who wishes to improve the Power of their Exalted Soul will need to take time to connect with their past life. This can be meditation, re-enacting similar situations, finding artifacts or meaningful places, or even other Solar Exalted and reincarnated souls.

Consider this a Ritual – breaking Binding is free and doesn’t require a roll, though Contacting (learning more about your Past Life) does (though failing just means penalty dice on the Binding) and finally Re-Binding. You can add Abilities or Scores to an Exalted Soul but you can’t remove any.

A Sorcerer Exalted Quicksheet

ETA: I just made a simple 2 page quicksheet for players. It covers the basic ideas behind Sorcerer rules, assuming that your players are probably familiar with Exalted but not Sorcerer.

Exalted Sorcerer Word Doc here