Monday, March 25, 2013

Setting and Tone pt 1

First I think I should define my terms. These definitions are a bit rough. Through the course of this series I hope to narrow my focus and really start to analyze the things I believe about gaming and setting.

Setting: Where and When the story takes place. The background, backdrop, and mood of the piece. In gaming terms it is often seen as all the stuff that players interact with.
Tone: In gaming, the players attitude toward the game. How the game makes them feel. What style of language do they use when interacting with the setting.
Mechanics: The rules of the game. generally focused around conflict resolution and interacting with the fiction in meaningful ways. This is not to be confused with(but can be part of) social etiquette and rules of behavior.
Fluff: The parts of the game book that are not tied to rules. generally this is setting material, in game fiction, and illustrations.

So I get into this argument a bit. The idea is simple, but I think that people are using a slightly different definition or definitions than I do. The idea is that setting is everything without the mechanics. In general I tend to agree with this statement, but I think that the fluff, to use the vernacular, is merely the Explicit setting, within the rules there is an implicit setting. Where a lot of games go wrong then to me is when the Implicit Setting is at odds with the Explicit Setting. Also certain things can be done with the Mechanics and fluff to affect the tone of play. Tone is a funny beast, because it is most effected by things outside of the book. This is, I think why it is often mentioned but rarely commented on in discussions about setting. If you have a poor GM or a bad day gaming, or one of those players, it will effect the tone of the game more than the rules, for the most part. I would like to point out Dread here as its mechanics are all about tone and tone is its primary set piece. Maschine Zeit and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying also focus more on tone and genre over setting.

Dungeons & Dragons is a nearly perfect example of implicit setting. The core rule book has very little fluff(explicit setting) and yet the rules tend to encourage a singular game type. The mechanics of D&D have certain setting assumptions built into them, some of which are less than obvious. From character creation to alignment, D&D is telling you about how the game setting works. Much of my discussions on the subject have to do with people who have not(or will not) seen that setting. Oddly enough the worst games of D&D I have ever played were when the GM did not see the setting within the rules and began changing things on a whim.
When Making a character is when you first run into the implicit setting. you are told to pick a race. This tells you that there is more than humanity in the world, that elves, dwarves, halflings, and more exist. Suddenly the world is starting to take shape. Just by picking a race. The race and class entries are where much of the explicit setting is divulged in the main books of D&D. During character creation you also get a series of randomly determined attributes. These add a more subtle bit of implicit setting. It adds a bit of realism to the game. You know that physical and mental reality are represented and you can see how you compare to average in certain defined inborn traits(Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). This gives you a sense of grounding in the world. Yes there are wizards and elves and such roaming around, but they must follow the natural laws just like everyone else(mostly). Having those attributes places a limit on the world. That limit states that for the most part it operates like earth, until something fantastic changes that.

When you get to alignment, it seems pretty straightforward. Just describe how you view the world. But it is far more than that. I have already discussed Alignment at some length so suffice it to say, Alignment is a big setting piece disguised as a mild mechanics piece. Also the choice of which god or gods you follow seems pretty small, but has huge ramifications. In D&D the gods are real. This is not some philosophical musing about ones place in the universe. The gods are real in a very visceral sense. Certain followers of the gods get special powers because of the choice to follow the gods, you can meet the gods if you can find them, and most importantly(in my mind) if you piss them off they can smite you. Being an atheist in D&D is madness. It is denying the earth is round, it is crazy like you read about in books. And the cleric and paladin are the right and left fists of god/gods. They have faith in their god the way a physicist has faith that gravity works. This is hidden within the rules for spell selection but this is crucial. In D&D there is very little doubt that the gods exist. They are real and have a measurable effect on the world around them.

Speaking of spell and class selection, when one looks at the mechanics of those it tells a very specific story about a very specific type of world. Magic exists in the D&D setting. Not only that, but magic exists in one very specific form. Magic in the D&D setting is Vancian, by and large. Vancian magic is named after Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth series(among others). It involves the spell caster memorizing a set number of spells(based on level). When the spell caster casts said spell he instantly forgets it and must memorize it again in order to cast it. Now the ranger, paladin, and druid also have a couple other kinds of magic(wild shape and lay on hands in particular), but by and large magic in D&D is Vancian. This is for mechanical reasons, however it is a part of the D&D setting.

There are many other setting piece implicit within the rules of D&D. More than I care to list really. My goal in this article was simply to show what I mean when I tell someone that D&D has an implicit setting. I will continue this in a series of posts about various games and how their implicit and explicit settings are arranged. Mostly I am doing this as a thought exercise. So that I may better understand what I am saying, and games in general.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Star Trek Transporters vs The Human Soul

Transporters are a vastly interesting concept on many levels. In this post I would like to look at a few weird things I have noticed about them over the years. Now this will mostly be dealing with ST:TNG for the purposes of this discussion. I use that because it is, to my mind, the best version of Star Trek from a narrative perspective. Throughout this post I will be referencing "Rascals" and "Second Chances" as they revolve around the core of the conundrum that is the transporter.

How Do They Work?

Transporters work by converting the matter of an object or being into energy and transmitting that energy through subspace to the destination where the matter is reconstructed from that energy. This has some interesting ramifications and raises some odd questions as to the nature of the mind/soul within the Star Trek universe.

 The Mind in Star Trek

Star Trek would seem to follow some of the ideals of Secular Humanism and Philosophical Naturalism. Primarily they have held in many episodes that the mind, or soul, is the product of the brain. That is, the mind is a physical/material thing. This is the standard view of the mind on Trek. However, what muddies the waters is the psychic powers of various alien races. this is usually given the trappings of science though, so it is implied on some level these powers are just some matter energy process. So it is possible that the mind is something other than matter or energy. Transporters muddy that water even more.

See transporters work on the idea that the mind is teh brain. they break down the body and transport it. If the mind were separate from it then the body would arrive but would have no mind, or perhaps the mind is only attached to the body loosely so when the body is transported the mind just zooms over to the new body. In "Rascals" we see the latter idea. The crew is transported, but they are accidentally de-aged to children. They do have their adult minds though, so this seems to indicate that their minds are separate from the body. In second chances, though, we see the opposite is also true. When Ryker is doubled the the double has all the personality and memories of Ryker at the time of transport. This seems to indicate that minds(or Ryker's mind at the very least) are physical constructs.

I could go on and on about this and, as my friends could tell you, I do on many occasions. However, all I would be doing is reiterating the previous paragraphs. The main points is that either everyone in Star Trek is a clone/duplicate, or the mind has some kind of connection to the idea of the body and not a connection to the body they were born in. So, let the discussion commence.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blue Collar Necromancy: The high and Mighty

There are a lot of versions of the story, depending on who's telling it and where you are. They are all slightly different, but the core of it remains the same. Long ago, before the deaths of the gods, they dallied with mortals. Sometimes with an animal or something, but most often with Man. These indiscretions often led to singular men and women. Mortals with the powers of the gods. As time went on these people became leaders of men.

After the fall of the gods many people were born with power; people who were not part of the lineages that already existed. This was a time of great upheaval. Many old regimes were over thrown and the world fell into a dark age. Then came Gretta the Great and the birth of the Heilige K├Ânigreich. Gretta was able to do this by tapping into a new level of power. She became the First High Sorcerer, and the First Empress of what would eventually become Diutisca. She began gathering up as many of the nascent Sorcerers as she could find, founding the first Sorcerous Lineage. Eventually many other countries did the same. It was the only way to compete. The rule of Sorcerers became necessary in order to remain an independent country or city state. It has been centuries since teh rise of Gretta and her Heilige K├Ânigreich. The nobility had become decadent and corrupt. The Final War and teh Spell Plague changed everything. One in three nobles died, now each of them is more important to their house than ever. Many of the common people blame the nobility for the Spell Plague and the horrors that sprang from it.

High Sorcery
Everyone has that one thing that they are really good at.A skill or a talent they can do better than most of the people around them. They might not be the best in the world, but when it comes to this talent they are pretty good. At its very weakest form High Sorcery lets the sorcerer be better at her particular skill than anyone on the planet save for another High Sorcerer. At the weakest form, these nobles have a gifting like unto a demigod. They can be as strong as Heracles, musical talent like Orpheus, the speed of Hermes, or the mind of Odysseus. These are just inborn gifts. There is no training required. If your mother had the gift you will too.

Where it gets weird is when the sorcerer gains followers. The more people the sorcerer has dominion over the more power the sorcerer has. The first and easiest form of this additional power is an increase in the Sorcerer's already impressive skill. Secondly The Sorcerer will be able to tap into the skills of her followers. This means that if the followers have a skill the Sorcerer will have the skill at the highest level of all her followers. The last ability granted by followers is a little strange. The Sorcerer can temporarily shore up the abilities of her followers. Basically for a scene the Sorcerer can lend her power to all of her followers. Want to win a war have a Sorcerer with a gift for fighting lead the army. Mind you that army will now be her's, but it will be nearly invincible in combat. Sorcerers are absolutely one of the most terrifying beings in the world.

Sorcery is passed through the maternal line. If your mother was a Sorcerer, then you will have the gift. Women in general have an easier time using Sorcery. Most men can never get past the first level of sorcery(gifting). This still makes them terrifying to common men, but it is the rare man that can master all three levels of Sorcery. Sometimes a new sorcerer will be born to a family with no history of the gift. Usually the nobility quickly and quietly move that family into the nobility and hope no one notices. Using propaganda and bribery, few people ever do notice. Being born the Daughter or son of a female Sorcerer is a guarantee of a gifting, but not of what the gift will be. the noble houses have a tendency to bear children of a specific type of Sorcerous Gift, but they still get children of different giftings. No one quite knows why this is. Most attribute it to the fickle winds of Fate.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fate Points Episode 3: Fight Fire

Last Monday +Stacey Chancellor and I had +Jason Morningstar on Fate Points to talk about Fight Fire. He had a lot of great things to say about Fate, working in collaboration with others,and his other upcoming projects. It was great having him on the show. I am personally a big fan of his work, so I hope I didn't come across too fanboyish during the interview.

Check out Bully Pulpit Games for more from Mr. Morningstar.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Body of Auren pt 4: In which Jake Enters the Fray.

On Monday I played in a game of Fate Core being run by +Michael Pedersen . I had to be a bit late as I needed to finish up an interview for Fate Points. Once I got in it was quite a bit of fun. I played a Nomadic Inferno Caller who ended up throwing in hos lot with the other PCs. There was an incident with a dog, and a dramatic chase by the town guards.  Apparently their is a curse of some sort, and the Glacier Callers really hate my new friends. Check it out, here is the recording should you wish to watch.

Blue Collar Necromancy: First Steps Into a Larger World

Holy Alchemy and the Church: The skill of manipulating the material world. With it one can change everything. The bones of the gods form much of the world. The Holy Alchemists are in tune with the bodies of the gods and are able alter them to a large degree. One cannot alter living things with Alchemy. Every so often an Alchemist will get the idea to try. It always fails. You never get the result you want. Strange things happen when you try to alter the living. It takes days of ritual to build an alchemical effect, and you must have an equal exchange for the ritual to work. The sacrifice is the only area where Alchemy deals with living things. Living essence must be paid to power an alchemical ritual. The more essence you take from a living thing the more powerful the effect. The longer the thing has been alive the more essence you can harvest. This is why trees are often used to power big alchemical effects. Some of the more common, everyday, alchemy people interact with are Odiceen a fuel source far more powerful than oil or coal, Everlamps self contained lamps that never burn out, and Vascuu Gas a stable lifting gas used in Dirigibles.

The Church does not hold with anyone outside of their organization knowing how to use Holy Alchemy. To ensure their monopoly a former Grande Cleric created the Ufficio della Caccia Grande e Santo, they are generally known as Hunters. Trained in the most efficient forms of combat and tracking, they are a terror when on their mission. They hunt down and kill anyone who even claims to be an alchemist. Single minded to the point of fanaticism, these holy warriors are the transnational military in existence. They go anywhere the church has power and the church is everywhere. 

The Church represents a power base outside of the Sorcerous Lineages. The Church uses the noble houses and the noble houses use the church. The Church tolerates necromancy mostly because the necromancers are doing a task that most Priests view as beneath them. Some within the highest ranks of the church wish to eradicate necromancy. They know the history of the world and know that the church came from necromancy. They were the first to a realize the god's deaths, they may know more than the church on the nature of that sacrifice. This small group has been campaigning to discredit necromancy and make the public view it as distasteful and dirty art. This has led to an overall decrease in necromantic practitioners as the years have gone on. After the Final War this plan has been shown to be very problematic, as now there are far too few necromancers to deal with the growing threat.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Friday Night One Shot: WEG Star Wars

I ran a game of WEG Star Wars yesterday night. Overall I got good reviews from teh players, they all seemed to have fun. I noticed a few things though and so I thought I would bring them up. I am a verbal processor, and to some degree this blog is me attempting in writing what I normally do verbally. This is me just trying to get a grasp on what I have experienced gaming.

I had not played WEG Star Wars since around 1997-1998. Its been a while. It was my first game ever. My friends all wanted to play so they forced(in the way only thirteen year olds can "force") me to run it for them. We would play in the bus and before school. overall it was close to three hours a day for a month or so. I loved that game. I would pour over the pages day in and day out.

When I picked it back up again to run the other night, I found a lot of that nostalgia coming back. as we began to play I noticed that I did not have as firm a grasp on the rules as I used to. No wonder as its been something like fifteen years. I found my self digging through the book a lot. Now this is not bad, in itself. It is however indicative of how I had not prepared enough. I thought I had, but when the dice hit the table, I was not at my best. It was still fun though.

We had a new player in the game. He was new to gaming in general and had never played a D6 game before. I think this may have made him a bit more timid than he normally would be. He ended up missing out on a lot of the action. Partly this was my fault, as I was trying something I thought would be clever and it did not work out that way. Part of it was that we had a couple of really strong personalities in the game, and that is always something to watch for.

But he claimed he had fun at the end of it. If I had to do it over again I would definitely run it differently, I would have prepared more, and I would have made sure that the party did not split as much as it did. Next Friday I think I will run another one shot of a different game. Probably Alternity, Burning Wheel, or maybe Wild Talents. I have not decided yet.

Here is a recording of the game incase you wish to watch it:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Blue Collar Necromancy: A World on the Edge

The Final War began when Princess Brunhilde of Diutisca was assassinated by an ant-royalist group receiving funding from the Union of Cassterides. Eventually the allies of both nations came to fight in the great war. Even the armies of Columba crossed the great western sea to fight in the war. During the war horrors were unleashed upon the world, weapons never before seen. The death toll was massive.

The war lasted for over a decade. it seemed as though it would never end. As the years went on each nation became more entrenched in their positions, physically and politically. It took a disaster on a scale beyond anything ever heard of before to end the war. The spell plague tore through Aurut and then the rest of the world. It killed one in three people. Rich and poor, noble and commoner, all were equal in the eyes of the plague.The plague did more than kill. It damaged the very fabric of reality. No one knew how to deal with this new problem. No one save the necromancers.

The necromancers had been working for centuries to defend the world from just such a threat. passing down the secrets of necromancy through families and apprenticeships, eventually forming a few loose organizations. Each had its own outlook and ideas on how best to deal with the nastiness they dealt with.The war and the resulting spell plague changed everything. So many people died so quickly and so many magical weapons where used that the very world became unbalanced. The dead rose in numbers unheard of. The families were overwhelmed.

Five years after the war the heads of the various families came together to discuss this trend in the world. After much discussion they decided to join together in order to best deal with the problems of the time. This is when the first alliance of necromancers was formed. As the years went by the alliance became something more, finally the necromancers had a way to negotiate with the more powerful Sorcerous Lineages. The Sorcerous Lineages and the Church, in turn, wish to break this alliance and go back to the old ways.

Before character creation you must first create the home office. The Home office is the central hub of necromantic activity within a given city. It has aspects and faces. This is where your characters will be working out of.

Concept: this is like a characters high conceptexcept it is for the whole home office. Is the office respected? Is it well off? Does it struggle? what is the core concept of the home office? Remember the whole world is in the midst of a masive economic depression. The death toll of the Final War was so great that everyone lost someone, probably a whole bunch of someones. How do they feel about you putting the dead back down?
Trouble: again this is like the character's trouble aspect. What is the biggest issue with your home office? Do they lack political pull? Are they destitute? Are there far too many incedents or too few necromancers? Is there a rival firm of people who think that they can do the same job without any necromancy? Is the mob demanding protection money, or a percentage of your rackets?
Focus: the focus aspect is what your office is known for. Do you have a great library of forbidden books? Do you have an experimental weapons division? Does the church back your moves, even if only surreptitiously? perhaps you have access to friendly spirits that offer advice and give aid when they can? Basically what makes your office special?

Once you, as a group, have come up with a Home Office you need to come up with some faces for the office. One for each of the player characters and the head man. The players will each come up with a face that is related to the characters in someways(maybe literally as the necromancers tend to stick with family for their business). Come up with three aspects for each one: Relation, Function, Trouble. The GM will come up with the Head Man for the office, instead of relation he will have an aspect related to leading the group.

Relation: How is this NPC related to your character? Is he blood? Is she a new recruit? Does he hate you? Does she keep showing you up? Does he have a secret crush on you? Come up with an aspect that expresses this relationship.
Function: What is this Faces function within the office? Archivist? Weaponeer? Spirit Talker? Office supply guy? Public relations(such as they are, mostly they deal with the papers)?
Trouble: this is the same as trouble for the PCs. Come up with a way for this aspect to make the story more complicated at least once every other session.

Now you have the Home office fleshed out a bit, you can make characters. You have probaby been making parts of your characters as you went through this process, so just finish them up and get ready for action. Next post I will walk you through Character creation and the skill list.

Fate Core:Stress...what the hell?

Stress is not damage. It looks like damage. It acts like damage. But brother, damage it is not. Consequences are damage. Stress is just your ability to avoid permanent, or semi-permanent harm. I have been involved in a lot of conversations about what stress is, and what it is not. There are, essentially, two views on stress. On the one side stress is viewed as a type of damage. On the other it is not. I think I have established which side of the argument I fall under.

See the problem I have with stress being viewed as a type of damage is that it doesn't really behave like damage in a few key areas. It has no lasting effect. It is not immediately statistically relevant. It does not require any sort of recovery action. To me damage must have at least one of those factors to count as damage. I could be wrong. Hasn't happened yet, but there is always the possibility.

If stress isn't damage, what is it then? Stress is a pacing mechanic. Its the ticking clock that pushes conflict forward. It is also a damage mitigator. It is there to help the players avoid consequences. Here is where I tend to get into arguments with folks. They look at stress the other way around. They see consequences as a way to avoid stress. To me this is baffling. Why would the longer lasting issue be the mitigating factor?

This is the beauty of stress and consequences for me. it is a constant balancing act to keep you dancing around in pain and moving toward the end of the conflict. Conflict becomes a game of chicken. Which side concedes first? How bad do you want, or need, to win? This interplay makes every hit you take a choice between shortening the conflict(taking stress) or making your life harder(taking consequences).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Magi v001

I finished(sort of) the first pdf version of Magi. There are a lot of things that still need work. Think of this as a working play test document. To use this you will need to have access to the Fate Core rules. I would love to hear any feedback about this, either from reading and finding problems or from actually playing it(should you feel the urge to do that).

Anyway here is the pdf:

And here is an epub version: pdf version
Sorry about the quality, I can never get these things to turn out right, sorry.