Monday, December 31, 2007

Zero Tolerance, Tempered by Trust

Between a weird experience I had while boardgaming this weekend, and some observations in a political essay a friend pointed me at, I've come to the conclusion that my Zero-Tolerance policy vs cheaters, and my willingness to assume total strangers are not cheating, are both something of a rarity.

The experience I mention was just a minor argument over semantics of lying vs bluffing. It was no big deal. But I was puzzled by certain reactions to it.

Specifically, someone I was playing with seemed adverse to the ideas that:
a) I'd only play certain games (in this case Shadows Over Camelot) with people whom I trusted completely.
b) I'd extend such total trust (in regards to gaming) to him just because he was a friend-of-a-friend.
c) That when playing such a game, I'd need no accountability. That is to say, I'm completely fine with bluffing rules that had no means of verification - I was willing to just take it on honor that no one would abuse such rules.

To me, the temporary rush of winning a game is worth significantly less than the long term value of my integrity and self-image. Not everyone feels that way. I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I can usually spot potential cheaters within the course of a game. So, I'd rather extend a person the benefit of a, b, and c than not do so. Assuming there's no money riding on the game, the most they can cheat me out of is a couple of hours of my time.

That said, when I have a hunch that someone is cheating, I'll call them out, and pretty much blacklist them. I've kicked people out of campaigns and casual gaming groups for being cheaters, even when I couldn't prove it. While it's hard to prove if someone did cheat in a specific instance, it's generally pretty easy to tell whether or not they have the sort of personality that's prone to cheating on a regular basis.

That said, money complicates this. People who would never cheat for ego will often do horrible things when $500 is on the line. You wouldn't last long judging Magic PTQs if you didn't know that.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bisociation in Scion

Posted a slightly different version of this at the white-wolf forums in response to something earlier today.

Mythology is rife with Bisociation. Bisociation is a term coined by Arthur Koestler. It refers to when something has multiple meanings and/or realities at once. It's somewhere between metaphor and contradiction. It's what powered Gnostic mystery cults in ancient days. It's superficially akin to Syncretism.

Examples relevant to Scion:
Saturn is both the barbaric Titanic father of Zeuss (aka Chronos, who ate his own children) and the merrymaking fun-god that Saturnalia celebrates. He's also the god of planting and growing grain.

Loki is both a Giant and a God. He is both a good guy and a villain. Both a humanoid and fire itself.

Most gods have multiple contradictory avatars. This is doubly true after the Romans got their hands on them. Most are also in some way metaphorical.

Helen of Troy's parents were Zeus and Leda (according to Homer and Euripedes) or Zeus and Nemesis (according to Asclepiades and pseudo-Eratosthenes). She was abducted Paris, went willingly with Paris, fled to Egypt instead, and was abducted by Theseus, depending on the author. Troy itself lies in Turkey, Greece, and England.

The holy grail is the chalice of the last supper, the cup that caught Christ's blood, the philosopher's stone of paganism, (the secret child of Christ and) Mary Magdelene, and the Merovingian bloodline. It was found by Galahad, the Templars, Indiana Jones, and Tom Hanks.

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, Apollo's Chariot, Horus's golden barque, a bright flaming diamond orbiting the earth in a crystal sphere, just another star, and a giant nuclear furnace.

Horus, Jesus, and Mithra were all born of Virgins on the 25th of December. Christmas roughly coincides with their births, Viking Yule, Roman Saturnalia, the Solstice, and the time when Jolly Old St. Nick (not to be confused with Old Nick, unless you're really messin' with the PCs) shimmies down chimneys.

The trick to using Bisociation in Scion is to except every mythic metaphor as truth. When the players point out the contradictions, acknowledge them out-of-character, but be brief and vague about it. "Yes, that does seem to contradict, doesn't it? I wonder what that means." Fate has tied everything together in ways that make objectivity impossible.

In-character, mortal NPCs each pick a single truth (or are just clueless). Gods accept every contradictory truth from their own pantheon's point-of-view, and the Norns accept multiple trans-pantheonic truths. All other NPCs fall somewhere between those extremes.

Further reading: The best article on relating Bisociation to gaming is Kenneth Hite's "Two-World Minimum: Bisociation and the Art of High Weirdness" which originally appeared in Pyramid, but is reprinted in Supressed Transmission: The First Broadcast

Friday, December 28, 2007

Divine Wrath

There's a knack called Divine Wrath in Scion: Demigod. I never really looked at it before, not in any serious way. Now one of my players wants it. Problem is, when I look at what it does mechanically, I start to think it's broken.
  • It transforms your Grapple attacks into Aggravated Damage.
  • This means they heal very slowly and few powers can speed that up. I've already decided such powers didn't fit the setting. But without them, is Divine Wrath broken? Most NPCs aren't going to have access to that specific Knack or 7th-level Boon, so it makes no difference. Most NPCs die in battle, rather than escaping to heal later, anyway. Maybe that healing time is irrelevant.
  • The more important issue is Soak. A typical Elder (Legend 6) Giant soaks 20 levels of Lethal (24 levels of Bashing) but only 5 levels of Aggravated. So, comparing this to other powers: should 5 XP grant +15 levels (roughly 30 dice) of damage? The answer to that has to be "no", especially when you consider it's adding agg damage to an attack mode that already renders the foe inactive with a DV of Zero.
So, I need to: house-rule Divine Wrath, house-rule Agg soak, or just deny the Knack entirely. And I have to make that decision before the game this Sunday.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

things to do in Sumeria when you span

More continuum notes from Sumeria in the Tauran age.

Fun things to do in Kish:
  1. Agriculture and Husbandry. Life is simple, cows are rare and sacred. Plowing, raking and manuring. Barley & Onions are the main crops. Packs of wild Jackasses roam the countryside, and they’re really mean-tempered. Maybe this one’s not so “fun”.
  2. Pottery & Science. Mud & Clay Brick. Clay so hard it can be used to make knives and nails. Cuneiform tablets. Business Contracts are made using clay figurines sealed in a clay ball. Breaking open the ball invalidates the contract it contains.
  3. Get drunk. Beer is a big deal here. Only women can be brewers or bartenders, which are both high-paying jobs. Food is not so great. Most everyone eats nothing but bread & onions, and maybe some barley soup. Musicians at a bar will play the lyre and the Auloi (double-clarinet), plus some percussion.
And after the apology, but before you leave: En Hakana gives each of you your choice of furs and skins. She says there is no culture older than hers, and the same ragged primitive dress will serve you in all previous eras. She says the days grow colder as you travel down, so overdress. She arms you with weapons of stone and wood. She gifts each of you a skin of beer and a bag of barley, which will be of great value to the primitives you will interact with.

It was even clearer in the game then in this bit of notes: En Hakana is very predjudiced. She feels strongly that her culture is both the birthplace and the height of civilization.

Unexpected Orgy

More notes from the Short-Bus-Spanners Continuum campaign. This was certainly the most "adult" (read: juvenile) session of the campaign, but it was well received by the play group. I have fond memories of the synchronized head-turning.

-3241 BC - March 20th at 6:32 am - Kish, Sumeria - Tauran -
Dreamer Corner atop a ziggurat. Playlist: Middle Eastern

When you arrive: Span onto the roof of the tallest building in a large city. It’s the top of a huge stepped pyramid - a ziggurat. Bronze poles in each corner of the roof suspend a heavy white tarp above your heads as a sunshield. Even with it providing shade, the sun is painfully bright up here.

An uncomfortable looking glazed bed sits in the middle of the roof. A sexual act is taking place upon it. Music and moaning can be heard below.

Ooops! Izzy’s a little ticked off. This timing on the morning of the Equinox, proposed by En Hakana, made Izzy a little suspicious, and now she’s going to be in a little conflict with her host.
“Pam, be a dear and Span up to noon on the 21st. I’ll make sure it’s safe when you get then. Anyone else who’s not so keen on surprise Sumerian Crop orgies, feel free to span with her. I’ll stay here and try to explain to our host that this is rude where you guys come from.”

The party's hostess will of course be atop the ziggurat, where she makes love to all three of her husbands in ritualistic succession. The Tauran symbol is painted on her forehead.
Izzy knows her from dreams. The woman’s name is En Hakana, the high priestess of the Goddess Innana. En Hakana has three husbands, named Kahlil, Gilgamesh, and Nippuren. And no, it’s not THAT Gilgamesh.

There's a very good reason for this big orgy. We’re at the end of The Hunt Of The Sun, where Antedessertium attempts mystical earthworks to turn the planet into a sort of reactor. The bad guy’s idea is to cause the sun to collapse into a tippler cylinder, destroying the future. The Sumerians have the technological advancement to build the massive components of the macrocomputer and drop them on the Chi points & Leylines of mesopotamia. The continuum’s only found one good way to keep them controlled and distracted: sex worship. This morning is one of the big orgies.

Before you leave: En Hakana apologizes. She’s never been to the Piscean Age physically, only by Dream Projection - and people’s dreamlife in the your time is every bit as sexual as here. Orgy dreams are less common than individual encounters, she should have inferred from that.
She genuinely thought you’d be honored to be included - timing your arrival this way was intended to make you the guests of honor in the most important celebration of the year.
The continuum’s only found one good way to keep them controlled and distracted: sex worship.

The players had a lot of fun with this - either playing out there shock and disgust, or their curiosity. When in Rome... er, Kish...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fluxx for the Holidays

I used to play a lot of Fluxx - we'd use it as warm-up and/or wind-down at that big Amber campaign from way back when, and we'd often haul it with to game night at the Blue Dragon Cafe. One year, FLUXX gave me a killer idea for something to add to our White Elephant gift-exchange.

I ordered a stack of Fluxx blanxx, and mostly completed them, but left a spot on each to be filled in later. So it'd say something like "New Rule: _____ Draws an Extra Card. If _____ is playing this game, they draw an extra card each turn." Each one was different, and I made more of them than we had people attending the white elephant party.

At the end of the White Elephant exchange, each person would enter their own name (in sharpie) into the blanks on the cards they ended up with. Then, instead of keeping the card, they'd put it in my deck. From then on, whenever we'd play, there'd be a chance of a card coming up that helped them specifically. I was the only person in that gaming group who didn't/couldn't get such a card.

PCs at Xmas

I like to give holiday presents to the PCs in my campaigns. (I haven't been able to do so in recent years, due to campaigns ending right around the holiday season).

This year, I had an easy gift for my Scion campaign. The PCs all ascended to Demigodhood for the holidays. This effectively doubled (at least) the power-level and XP total of the PCs. (And the irony of doing this for Christmas was not lost upon me. Umm... sacrilicious.)

In other years where we've done "White Elephant" random gift exchanges amongst the whole play group. When that's going on, I generally make little "gift cards" to put in the mix, with presents such as "+5 XP", "you gain a 3-pt henchman", "+1 die to the Ability of your choice" or "You are now Dworkin's favorite (for good or ill), and as such he brings you the jewel of judgment", whatever sort of stuff is relevant to the game we were playing.

The best gift card I ever made was my "Pound of (Drama) Dice" for 7th Sea. I had a single-player campaign going in 2002 - 2005. For Xmas one year, I made a punch card for the player (my wife) including one use of every single different thing a double-blooded sorceress-swordswoman (such as her character was) could get out of a drama die or reputation die. It had 17 entries, and was limited to 1 use per session.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

References for Continuum

Prior to the "Blink" episode of the new Doctor Who, there were really only two mass-media sources to reference when explaining Continuum's take on Causality and the cool things it let you do...
  • 12 Monkeys. This film is a great example, as long as you double-check that the player understood the ending. Sadly, most people don't "get it" on the first viewing. 8 out of 10 first-time viewers think the lady on the plane prevents the plague from ever happening.
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. The classic and most widely-known internally-consistent time-travel tale. Yet you hate using it as your primary example because it makes potential players think the game is set up to be a comedy. You'd also never want your Continuum players hauling all those historical figures through time, as it'd Frag everyone.
Very little in the body of (TV/movie) Time-Travel stories is internally-consistent. Those two (and Blink) are the only ones that are executed properly and follow the same causality laws as Continuum. Assuming the potential player understood what was really happening in 12 Monkeys, those three sources will do a great job of explaining the laws of time-travel. B&T is indispensable for explaining Slipshank. Blink is packed with great ideas.

Other things that you'd like to use as references for Continuum, actually turn out to be bad ideas...
  • Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The sequel to Excellent Adventure has the same drawback as the original, in that it's funnier than Continuum and never shows Frag. Then it muddies the picture further by bringing in all that baggage about the Grim Reaper and the Underworld. B&TEA could take place in the Continuum setting with a GM who handles Frag very softly and subtly. B&TBJ is clearly and definitively set in a totally different universe than Continuum.
  • Primer. The characters suffer nerve deterioration and random bleeding, giving you perfect examples of Frag. This film is filled with intentionally-created paradoxes (not just plot holes like most time-travel films), and handles them all with a set of internally-consistent laws of time-travel. But the time-travel laws it's being so consistent with are quite distinctly different from the ones in Continuum. The timeline is mutable, and characters can choose to just live with their Frag. Primer would give you a good insight to how Continuum's Narcissists think the universe works.
  • Back to the Future. The bit where you see Marty's hand turn transparent is a great example of extreme Frag. Problem is, at the end of the film he's happy with his still-radically-altered future. If it were a Continuum game, he'd have a ton of unresolved Frag and the future wouldn't have changed. As a Continuum PC, he'd have to go back in time again and solve that.
  • BttF 2 & 3. As if the that weren't enough of a problem, the sequels then break their own time-travel laws, thereby exacerbating the flaws of the original.
  • Star Trek. Let's not even go there. This will screw your characters up big time.
  • Momento isn't about time-travel at all. It's just damn cool and appeals to the same part of the brain that seeks consistency in time-travel theory. I'm sure I'll use those tattoos in a game one day.

Blink and Continuum

The episode "Blink", from the 3rd Season of the new Doctor Who is not only the best episode of that program yet (achieving it's greatness largely from how it defies the series standard conventions), but it is also a perfect example of the kind of intentional looping you can do in the Continuum RPG, provided you ensure that the Junior character experiences it before the Senior.

They even do it the right way in the episode - the character who experiences it first (and documents the details) gives her notes to the (Junior version of) Doctor, who('s Senior self) then goes back and causes it in the first place. He dutifully strives to carry out the exact tasks she charged them with so as to prevent twisting the time line. In Continuum terms, he's fulfilling his Yet to prevent Frag. A GM could have a lot of fun emulating this set-up.

"Blink" is an incredible resource to the Continuum GM who's trying to explain the game to new players.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Solfjellhytte was lackluster

In retrospect, this was my least favorite stop on in Phase II of the "Short-Bus Spanners" Continuum campaign.

The point of this stop was to create a place where long spanning travelers could have some modern comforts and get away from the stressful catch-as-catch-can of prehistory. I'd considered doing a hidden gallery of all the best works of art that were "lost to the mists of time" but chose a ski-lodge instead. And looking back, I can't imagine why I made the decision to go with this far less compelling location - nothing in the surviving GM's notes explains that decision. I guess it was because my Timelines of History reference book indicates skis date back to 2500 BC in Scandinavia.

I vaguely recall improving a couple of cool things here, but inflicted some lameness as well. A recording of Phantom Menace was in their entertainment system, with a note saying something to the effect of "Warning: Preventing this from being made would Frag us all". I'll let you decide whether that falls in the cool column or the lame one. I think there was also Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

The one good thing I have to say about Solfjellhytte was that it gave me a chance to make each PCs "One Big Score" actually impact the game. We'd had massive differences in PC savings - a few dozen thousand vs over 100 million. Generally, the campaign hadn't involved enough shopping opportunities to make that difference noticeable. But here, being able to drop credit on a few luxuries let the big rollers feel like their money roll mattered.

Solfjellhytte at 2244 BC

More continuum GM's notes...

-2244 BC - May 12th at 12:00 noon - Norway - Tauran -
Solfjellhytte. Engineers Corner high in the mountains of Norway. Playlist: Fantasy Soothing

When you arrive: You’re in the inner room of a round wooden structure. It’s cold outside, but a central hearth and solar-powered space heaters keep this room warm.
Extensive woodcarving and tapestries on the dark wooden walls give the place the overall feel of Edoras from The Two Towers.
Benches along the walls are covered with furs and 20th century winter gear, snowshoes and skis of both primitive and very modern construction. There are also bottles and skins of liquor.
There’s a chalkboard on the wall, with greetings on it in English, Spanish, and two Scandinavian languages. The Tauran symbol is upon the chalkboard as well.
There’s rope to ring a bell.
Turns out this place is sort of a spanner hotel or safe house.

Eventually a woman named Ullabrit appears, think of her as the Engineer’s concierge:
“Make yourselves comfortable. Private rooms are One Small Favor or $10,000 US per day, in bills dated prior to 2001. Skiing instruction is included. The slopes are good even during the off season for most other places. We are high above the level population.This room is safe to span to when you think you’ve skied far enough down the slope for one run. The closest building to the exit houses hot springs. Feel free to have all the Mead and oxygen you’d like. Our chef will provide lunch within the hour and dinner at 7 pm.”

Fun things to do in the Mountains:
  1. Ski-ing. Snow’s only on the upper peaks. One week grants Novice. Each day scores you a clock. That’s assuming you access their instructors. Otherwise it’s 60/20 like normal for Athletics.
  2. Hot springs. Outlying buildings house multiple hot springs. Scandinavian tradition is to relax and chat in the springs, then jump out and dive into the snow. Roll around, then get back in the springs to prevent hypothermia.
  3. Eat & Drink. Relaxing night with lots of mead. Imported food from a variety of times, but the Chef brings whatever he wants - you have no choice what 5-star delicacy he’ll bring, but you may submit dietary restrictions and special needs before the meal.
  4. Sleep. Modern beds in a few of the private rooms. Solar-powered space heaters are available. Each room has a stocked wardrobe - winter jackets, swimsuits for the hot springs, several varieties of long underwear, slippers, pajamas, etc.
  5. Study. Extensive language and culture databases for every major culture in 3,000 BC to 1,000 BC. Two weeks will grant Novice in any language that makes sense for that era. Each week thereafter will grant a clock. Etiquette for any such culture may be learned at the rate of 1 clock per week, 1 week to gain Novice. Again, like with skiing, this all assumes you make full use of the facilities, resources, and instructors.
Before you leave: Ullabrit takes your measurements to prepare clothing for all your other stops, even the ones that have already happened. She then presents you with a few choices of clothes for Kish. Let the PCs look at the sections in Chronicle of Western Fashion for Persia, Assyria, Babylon and Crete.

Wikiland Revisited

The more I think about it, the more I like the toxicity. The danger is what would make this fun. Well, that, and the confusion it generates when people who aren't aware of your campaign start looking at the crazy new content you've posted to their wiki.

On further consideration, there's no real drawback to somebody posting stupidly broken houserules. Since most wikis are set up to let you see the history of changes, you'd just go edit them away. I guess there's the drawback of all the time you'd waste setting things back to how you wanted them.

Explaining "meta-RPG"

This used to be part of my Wikiland post, but I decided it needs it's own post I can refer to later.

By "meta-RPG", I mean an extra-layer of RPG you apply on top of another RPG (which I'll call the Host). Without a Host, you'd find it very hard to play the meta-RPG, as it provides few rules and precious little structure on it's own. I didn't make up this term, I suspect it was coined by John Tynes.

Examples of existing meta-RPGs include:
  • Tynes' PowerKill, which is played for 5-10 minutes before and after it's Host RPG.
  • The world-creation system from Universalis is sort of a meta-RPG. Universalis comes with it's own Host built in, but it's very simple to strip the basics of the meta-system out and apply it to a new Host as a way to build unique worlds and settings.
  • By the same token, the d20 System and GURPS can both almost qualify as a meta, or perhaps more accurately as a Host for campaign settings. The same goes for True 20, though intentionally even more so, such that I'd be tempted to remove the "almost". But I wouldn't actually give in to those temptations.
  • Moebius Campaigns (a concept Jeff Tidball first presented in Games Quarterly Magazine, if I recall correctly) are definitely a meta-RPG structure.
  • Wikiland is a meta-RPG I created earlier today, 12/21/07.
Are there other meta-RPGs out there that I'm missing?

The Wikiland meta-RPG

Here's my idea for a new meta-RPG, called Wikiland.

In it's simplest stages, Wikiland is an online version of any other pen-and-paper RPG. You play it on the official wiki for that RPG, with everybody posting their actions via the wiki instead of email or instant-message. You start with a page that defines that you're playing Wikiland, and includes links to as-yet-unbuilt pages for character sheets and an a page that is the campaign's narrative, where players can post their actions. So far, so simple. What makes wikiland special?

In wikiland, the only valid source material is what's on that Wiki. That applies to both setting info and rules systems. If you want to have a power from a rulebook, you'd better hope someone has wiki'd the gist of it. If only one monster (presumably homebrewed) has stats on the wiki, then that's the only monster you can fight. Clearly, some sort of character creation rules need to be posted to the wiki right away.

Furthermore, if something is on the wiki, it's treated as canonical and is considered applicable to the narrative. When the wiki contradicts itself (and it will, in fact it probably did long before you got there) each player gets to decide personally which version he or she will use at any given time.

Which sounds like a scary amount of power in the hands of the players (can't they just go wiki some new broken house rule that totally makes them ubermunchkins?) until you realize there is no GM in wikiland. Since anyone can alter the narrative, or post new rules, you all have GMing powers. Everyone is a player and a GM. As a result, the story would go crazy places, the rules would mutate constantly, and sometimes the history would shift without you noticing.
(If the Narcissist: Crash Free RPG had a wiki, it would be the perfect match for Wikiland)

Depending on who was playing and what their play style is, Wikiland could result in rapid, abundant (and healthy) growth to that wiki, with much of the rulebooks being paraphrased and summarized, and tons of new house rules being authored. The trick is, where does copyright law draw the line? You want enough info to play a fast-and-loose version of the game. What you don't want is to make purchase of the rulebook irrelevant and hurt the financial bottom-line of your Host.

On the other hand, unscrupulous players could author broken rules or pages that assert craziness in stark contrast to the official setting of the host RPG. In that way, Wikiland is a guerrilla RPG. It's a meme that has the potential to go toxic at any moment. Wikiland directly tests (challenges?) the hypothesis that the implied social structure of a wiki overcomes (i.e.: edits back to a semblance of reality) the extravagances of overzealous editors and the inaccuracies of manipulative editors. How long can Wikiland exist before someone deletes all references to it on it's Host's wiki?

Wikiland probably needs some more form. Depending on whether I decide to ever try it, I may expend some more energy on this topic, hashing out formatting rules. Here's one I'd like some feedback on: One way to reduce the toxic potential of Wikiland is to restrict players freedom to post outside the narrative page. Another way would be to require any rules or stats posted purely for use in Wikiland to carry a disclaimer so the wiki remains usable to non-Wikiland players. Should either such restriction be applied/enforced? Or is that guerrilla potential the very thing that makes Wikiland tick? Is it better to straight-jacket the game, or to run the risks inherent to the honor-system?

a couple lines on game-system style

From something I posted elsewhere...
Scion is a complex game. Certain decisions and tactics work better in specific situations or at various Legend or Strength ratings. On one hand, I wish it were all perfectly balanced, but on the other hand I imagine there'd be less room for individual coolness if everything worked the same.

That's a tough rope to walk as a game designer: do you want play-balance and consistency, or a game system that rewards players who spend some time getting to know the twists and turns of the rules?
Myself, I prefer the play-balance and consistency side of things. I'm largely a system-minimalist. Setting and story are more important to me than mechanics.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

in-character procrastination

I've run three different Amber campaigns utilizing a timeline that would eventually lead to the reshaping of the universe if the PCs don't figure out who the real villain is in time to stop them.

For the record, the players have dropped the ball every time. The score is Fiona 2 - Eric 1 - PCs 0.
I think people secretly like to watch Amber boil away into chaos.

Scions in Space!

A few minutes ago I posted some handy facts about re-entry and vacuum-exposure on one of my other blogs. Here's how it relates to Scion:

If pushed out the airlock of the spaceshuttle, a Scion would have four factors to deal with:
  1. Hard Vacuum: 6B/Action, Trauma 5
  2. Heat: 4L/Action, Trauma 3
  3. Cold: 4L/Action, Trauma 3
  4. Asphyxiation: 1 unsoakable bashing per 30 seconds after (Stamina+Fortitude)x30 seconds
If they were in a shadow, the Heat danger would go away, but the trauma value of the Cold danger would increase. The Fire Purview could render you immune to the heat. An astronaut in top physical shape (8 to 10 dice on Stamina+Fortitude, Bashing Soak of 4 or 5) could survive for a couple minutes with some lucky die rolls, but eventually they will die.

A Legend-4 Scion with Epic Stamina 3 would have 4 auto successes plus at minimum of 3 dice on the rolls. He'd have and a minimum Soak of 5 Lethal, 6 Bashing. And he could hold his breath for 8 times that of a Mortal with his mundane stamina. So, he'd stand a good chance of being unharmed until he'd spent at least 12 minutes in earth orbit. He'd be immune to the extreme temperatures, rarely take damage from the vacuum, and eventually die of oxygen deprivation somewhere around the 16-minute mark.

Re-entry is another matter. Damage would likely be 12L/action, Trauma 10. It may even be Aggravated - I tend to think not (since fire does only Lethal in Scion), but it could be argued. I'm unclear how long you'd be subjected to that.

Impact, upon landing is 25 levels of Bashing or Lethal, depending on where you hit down.

A Legend-7 Demigod with Stamina 6, Epic Stamina 6 (and therefore Soak of at least 6 Aggravated, 19 Lethal, 22 Bashing) and Fortitude 1 could survive in outerspace unaided for at least 58 hours (210,000 seconds before taking any damage) and then survive re-entry and impact.

Built (and advanced) to maximize for this,
including maxing out your Legend and Stamina during both Character Creation and Demigod Upgrade, plus putting all your XP into Legend, a starting character could get to that level of Soak in about 6 sessions.

The PCs in my campaign are about 20 sessions in, and thankfully nowhere near that min-maxed.

What kind of Nomic am I playing?

Yesterday I whined about how complicated the process of administrating Nomiblog has become. At the time, I suggested the best course of action is to start proposing rules that establish winning conditions, and gently nudge it into an end-game scenario. (mild pun, or at least double-meaning, intended)

Having slept on it, I feel a little differently. So today I proposed a bill that would reset the rules every month.

After all, this Nomic wasn't really intended as something with an attainable goal or a single winner. Instead, it was meant to be an ongoing clever diversion. Inspiration for zaniness. I think a monthly rule repeal will keep it on the intended course. I'll let you know if this bill passes and how it works out.

Speaking of Calvin's Clocks: Bridging the XP gap

XP is supposed to be a all about rewarding players who:
  1. achieve certain goals,
  2. role-play well,
  3. -or even just-
  4. show up consistently.
However, depending on the system, and just how spotty someones attendance is, XP can actually be a deterrent to consistent attendance and performance. If you miss a few sessions and the game goes on without you, other players begin to out-pace you in XP. Depending on the game, this will either be barely noticed or hugely obvious.

In that later situation, a person who's lagging behind gets delegated to the role of sidekick, or just gets overshadowed constantly. As such, they begin to enjoy the game less. This in turn causes them to re-prioritize the game a little lower on their to-do list. That results in them showing up less often, and thus lagging further behind in XP. It's a vicious cycle.

Have you ever seen this (regrettable) process in action? If so, how did you cope with it?
Do you know of any games that deal with this, or side-step entirely?

Why Calvin?

Calvin was played by Eddie. Eddie is an old friend who I used to game with when I lived in Seattle. Eddie was a bit unreliable as a gamer. You'd never know if he'd show up or not.

He has a vivid imagination, a very active sense of humor, and he likes to play very quirky characters. So, when he's there, you really notice him. It changes the course and tone of your game. Often the change is for the better, but it's always unpredictable.

I gradually learned that it was a good idea to have some tangent prepared anytime I thought Eddie was likely to show up. Something related to the plot, but kinda odd, so he'd focus on it instead of derailing everyone with his own craziness. That's why I decided to do the Kassandra thing. I chose the training aspect because his spotty appearances had left him far behind the group in clocks (aka experience). It also provided an opportunity for characters to develop in different directions and have their own stories despite the group-travel dynamic that Phase II had forced upon them.

As it happens, it worked pretty well. He got to act out failing to fend-off Kassandra. We role-played just a tiny bit of her hauling him off, then I dropped character and asked him how long he wanted to spend with her. He chose a year, and I handed him the list of clocks to mark down. I returned him to the group a scene or two later, and he had his tangent to talk about: "How you guys doing? Haven't seen you in months! Did you know this place is about to be invaded?"

Later (or earlier, depending on whether you speak of narrative or leveller time), I did the same thing for Aaron/Jeremy, though for entirely different reasons.

Calvin & Kassandra

More continuum GM's prep/notes. This involves Eddie's character, Calvin, and the famous Kassandra of Troy.

Calvin & Kassandra:
Kassandra had a dream in which she meets Calvin the night before something horrible begins. In the dream they are together for several months at the start of the catastrophe, teaching each other.

If Eddie is present, put him into that dilemma.
Does he stay with Kassandra, possibly against Izzy’s wishes?
Does he leave Kassandra, causing her to doubt her own abilities.
If he leaves her, she’ll start trying to reach him in dreams. And wouldn’t it be fun if she’s a bit obsessive?

The next day Kassandra’s parents lock her up. (Her parents are King Priam and Queen Hecuba. This means she’s a sister of Paris.) She’s kept away from the people, in a tower atop one of the hills of gog magog.

Calvin can learn a lot by spending time with her. If Calvin stays with Kassandra: (include all benefits of earlier ones)

30 days:
Language (ProtoCeltic): Novice, based on Mind
Clairvoyance: +1 clock
Anthropology: +1 clock
Locality Knowledge (Trojan War): Novice, based on Mind
Occult (Celtic): Novice, based on Mind

90 days:
Language (ProtoCeltic): +2 clocks
Clairvoyance, +1 clock more
Anthropology: +3 clocks more
Locality Knowledge (Trojan War): +1 clock more
Occult (Celtic): +2 clocks
Dreaming: Novice, based on Quick

1 year:
Language (ProtoCeltic): +9 clocks more
Clairvoyance, +3 clocks more
History (Bronze Age) : Novice, based on Mind
Anthropology: +8 clocks more
Locality Knowledge (Trojan War): +9 clocks more
Occult (Celtic): +10 clocks more
Dreaming: +3 clocks
per year thereafter (8 more years at maximum):
Language (ProtoCeltic): +12 clocks more
Clairvoyance, +5 clocks more
Locality Knowledge (Trojan War): +12 clocks more
Dreaming: +4 clocks more
Occult (Celtic): +6 clocks more

Kassandra refused the amorous advances of Apollo, and was cursed by him. His snakes licked her ears, which made her able to hear the future on the wind. But the curse made it such that no one will ever believe her.

Even I don't know what that last paragraph meant in the context of Continuum.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nomiblog is getting complicated

Took me over an hour to tally votes, award Wenceslasmas gifts, update sidebars, and adjust totals. Yuck. I guess I need to start proposing bills with win conditions.


At this point, I must talk about Cyberpunk. Sometime last year my wife ended her very odd Cyberpunk 2020 campaign. The PCs of that campaign were members of a booster gang. Not just any old booster gang, we were the unambitious loser goofballs of a gang called MOC. Nobody really knew what those three letters stood for, but we tagged them everywhere. We even got experience points for doing so.

We weren't a gang that tried to make money, or win some nasty turf war. No, we were just hoodlums. Creative, random, hoodlums. The game owed as much to Morton's List as it did to Cyberpunk. At the end of every session, we'd (in- and out- of-character) roll on Morton's List. That would tell us what next weeks session was going to be all about. Bizarreness and hilarity ensued.

The game flew in the face of anything I'd RP'd before. I'm a big narrativist, with strong method-actor motivations. But this campaign was primarily quasi-simulationist with a touch of gamist thrown in. Each week, we'd partake of some randomly-determined and totally unpredictable hijinks in or near Night City's downtown war zone. There was no ongoing plot (unless you count the endlessly foreshadowed but never appearing Red Dragons gang, or that Haunted House we just couldn't leave alone) no goal (beyond the random broadly-defined task of the week) and really no story at all. It was inspired chaos. To get an idea of how completely unheroic most of our scenarios were, download Morton's Lite, a free pdf demo version.

Behaving like a Hero in cyberpunk gets you killed - it's a very different paradigm than most RPGs. But in this campaign, behaving like there was a point or a plot cost you fingers (repeatedly), yet acting like a self-righteous gun-toting idiot-savant slacker paid off in spades. There was a big frightening world out there, and we were the most insignificant minor characters in it's tale. Unlike most CP2020, there was barely any combat. We responded to any threat in the most ridiculous and cowardly fashion. Wetting yourself was almost a badge of honor.

Sarah experimented as a GM, making strange playing-aids and unusual (often intentionally anti-climactic) situations. Sometimes it paid off huge, and once or twice it cost her players. But I really admire her courage and innovation, even when I was falling in to her unintended traps. There's material in that campaign for at least a dozen posts here, most of them painfully humorous.

I mention all this to give credit where credit is due. My whirlwind tour of the Continuum setting for the short-bus spanners would never have happened if not for the inspiration I drew from Sarah's CP2020 MOC campaign. I would have stuck to the plot of Phase I, and never diverted to Ancient Rome, Troy In England, Sumerian Orgies or the like. But that MOC game showed me (reminded me?) that sometimes RPGs can be fun without a narrative or plot. Once the players are established in their characters, you can just let them coast and everyone will have fun without ever accomplishing a damn thing. Bravo, Sarah!

Fun things to do in Illium before the war:

The following is from my GM's notes for my Short-Bus Spanners campaign...

Fun things to do in Illium before the war:

Chariots. Chariots are everywhere, the main means of transit for the wealthy. It’s THE WAY to get around. But will the PCs be thrilled about it considering the wreck they saw at the Circus Maximus a few days of Age ago?
Horseshoes here have rings, straps and garters tying the bright shoes onto the horses legs. No Nails.

Explore the city. Illium sits upon large hills. These hills look down upon the Trojan plain and out the sea many km away. The city is a fortress, a series of twisting walls and stockades. It’s a spiraling maze that would render frontal assault a nightmare. The roads are broad, and much traffic is by chariot.

Party! These bronze age celts sure know how. Good wine, and lots of it. Celebration with musicians and dancing. Instruments include lyre, trumpet, tamborine and a type of guitar. Food is more basic than in Rome, but also much less scary.

UFO Sighting: Aaron, with his Master-level Observation (Artistic Details) will be staring out at the beautiful skyline (perhaps sunset) and after a few minutes realize there’s a detail that he’d orginally missed. It’s a big silver object in the air, a UFO. It’s really hard to notice it, even if it’s pointed out to you it takes a Apprentice-level Observation roll to successfully see it. It’s big, and should be obvious, but the eye just tries to move right past it without noticing.
Once spotted, it’s Wheels within wheels, angels of fire on the corner edifaces - everyone who does spot it sees it a little differently. If they point it out to Kelly, he sees a big silver cigar, for example.
If mentioned to Paris, he says it’s the machines of the gods, come from the end of time to watch our the stoic bravery which we exemplify for future generations.
If mentioned to Izzy, whose already seen it, she admits she knows what’s going on. It’s the Inheritors, they’ve been following and watching over us since Versielles.

Meme Theory. The celts understand that thoughts have a life of there own. The bards, and Homer in particular, are well skilled in Memic Imprinting. That’s why Antedessertium uses him. If you have the Teaching skill, you get one Clock just for interacting with Paris.

Mystery Ceremony. Invited to a late-night Drus ceremony in the woods on the banks of the Caymandyr.
Everyone at this ceremony knows about the coming war, and each has some knowledge of magic, which may include spanning.
Each person brings a personal offering to cast into the river.
Once in the cover of the woods, they dance naked around a fire.
The High Priestesses (Breesis) chooses one man. They board a gilt chariot. A young boy drives it round the circle, while Breesis and the chosen have ritualistic sex in the back. Then the chosen is sacrificed (via knife) and the chariot pushed onto the fire.
If Amy’s not present: They also sacrifice the horses from the Chariot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Point 10 of In Case They Scoff

More notes from my Continuum campaign. I was very concerned that my players wouldn't swallow Troy being in England. Turns out to be an unwarranted fear. If the players could handle Greys inheriting the earth, Atlantis as spaceship, and St Germaine as a paradox-causing time-travelling supervillain, they could probably handle relocating Troy by a 800 years and a couple thousand miles.

Points 1-9 I beat to death in other posts. Point 10, on the other hand, is unique to the Continuum perspective. It was a cool coincidence I was able to inject with meaning. If you're already familiar with Wilkens' theories, just skip to point 10, below, and my observations following it...
In Case They Scoff: Here’s the simplified facts put forth by Iman Wilkens to support his theory. Spanners don’t need them, after all they can just see that this is Troy. But for the players, here’s some data to reinforce the versimilitude.
  1. Names of the Factions. Homer never uses the Greek word for “Greeks”, nor the word for “Barbarians” that the Greeks were so fast to apply to “lower” cultures. Instead, the two sides in the Illiad share the same culture.
  2. Name of places. Most of the Homeric place names can be dated to the reign of Alexander the Great. As he conquered, he renamed new greek colonies after the marvels of the heroic age.
  3. Oceans. Homers ocean descriptions are not of the gentle blue Mediterranean which rests next to Greece. He describes the wine-dark swelling waters of the Atlantic.
  4. Weather. The Illiad describes ceaseless rains, heavy fog, and a good deal of snow. That does not describe Turkey, it’s a far better match for England.
  5. Vegetation. The plants he describes are from temperate northern europe. The descriptions are far too lush for Turkey.
  6. Chariots. The Greeks fought exclusively on foot or on ship prior to Alexander. The Celts, however, have been fighting from Chariot-back since 2000 bc.
  7. Cremation. All the dead of the Illiad are burned, but Greeks buried thier dead with gold funeral masks. The celts burn their dead, however.
  8. Religion. Like the Romans and the Assyrians, the Greeks adopted the Gods of other cultures they encountered, so as to not offend any supernatural being.
  9. Hisserlik and Schliemann. The ruins in Turkey that leveller archaeologists claim are Troy are of a city the size to hold 2,000 to 5,000 people. Not so epic. As you can see, the real Troy is much larger. In the next few days, they will mobilize a defense of over 50,000 warriors.
  10. Ants. O’Killey is a Spanner. Homer mentions Achilles’ Myrmidons, which is the greek word for Ants. This is a civil war (see point 1), with spanners on each side. Therefore, Homer is a Narcissist intriguer. Not following? Antedessertium and Crasher Subculture both call the Continuum “The Swarm”. We’re everywhere, we work together, we descend en masse upon their incursions to societal space time. From their point of view, we are are a hive mind.

I am particularly proud of the implications of point 10. Basically it means it's no coincidence that History gets it wrong and from the Greek Dark Age onward everyone thinks Illium is in the mediterranean. Either Homer carefully constructed wrote the most famous chronicle of the war to hide the truth, or else some Narcissist came along and messed with things to plant that account in the wrong culture's history.

Either way, it makes a perfect remnant of a failed Antedessertium attempt to Frag the future out of existence. By establishing "facts" that aren't true, they muddy reality and cause all sorts of problems for Ariesian-era spanners. It suggests such time-combat tactics as Cobwebbing and the Cheshire/Statue-of-Liberty gambit.

I suspect it went right over the heads of my players, which is a shame, but there was so much going on in that game, I can't blame anyone for missing odd bits here and there. While I did have Izzy make comments about it, it's not like I drove the point home by having a blind bard span in and attack them. That's saved for the sequel. :)

Paris asks Aaron to teach him the bow. Huh?

More GM notes from the Short-Bus Spanners Continuum campaign. This was one text box at the top of a page in the Troy-In-England section....
Paris asks Aaron to teach him the bow. Huh?
Paris has traveled beyond the war. He knows that it is in his yet that Aaron gives hims a marvelous bow, and introduces him to a culture of the greatest bowyers in history. Paris doesn’t know when or where that culture is, it’s told to his elder self by Aaron in a dream. But he knows his older self goes where Aaron suggested, and learns archery from Aaron or from that culture. And with that unparalleled skill Paris is able to strike O’Killey.
What I really enjoyed about that was the ability to foreshadow a totally unrelated thing. Aaron (Jeremy's character) had no Archery experience, and no reason to be interested in such. He was a complete non-combatant. But here I suddenly drop it in his lap that his character will somehow be the one who teaches Paris what he needs to kill Achilles. The itinerary (and other advance prep work) enabled me to work this in to the tale 5,000 years (and 4 to 6 sessions) in advance. It's his destiny, so he has to fulfill it. Continuum dreams destiny and kicks butt.

preventing Me Too -ism

One of my pet peeves in RPGing is systems that encourage "me too"-ism. In other words, systems that encourage everyone rolling for the same thing, one at a time. Specifically in situations where it was one player's idea to do *action* and they have the best die pool for it, yet when they fail everybody else grabs dice and tries it, too, hoping dumb luck and law of averages will succeed where character creation failed.

The classic example is heavy lifting by means of a strength-check. Hercules and Einstein are standing see their escape route is blocked by a massive boulder. Hercules tries to roll it out of the way. He botches the roll, and fails. Einstein's player says "I'll try!" and rolls a critical success. (In D&D it's Herc gets a 1, and Einie gets a 20, but most dice systems have their own version of this disaster.) While on the surface both players are happy because they're escape route is clear, the truth is that Hercules' player is secretly resentful. He built a character designed to do this sort of brutishly heroic stuff, but he just got upstaged by a another character whose very concept stands at odds to this.

A good GM can reduce that pain - in this case, I'd narrate that Einstein didn't just push, he used physics and leverage to figure out the way to apply the least amount of force for the greatest payoff. While Herc was pushing the first time, Einstein was running equations and figuring the center of gravity of the object. But that kind of narrative smoothing-over doesn't always work, and often comes to mind 10 minutes after the point where you needed it.

So the first house rule I implement in any campaign is to take the existing cooperation or "aide another" bonuses of a game and double them, even if that stretches credibility slightly. The goal I'm aiming for is to make player's reactions be "can I help him?" instead of "can I upstage him?".

I've even been known to tell players "I'm sorry. You can't roll. We all know he's at least twice as strong as you, so you fail automatically." I don't like doing it that way: it's heavy-handed and manipulative. But generally speaking, I don't want the game to ground to a halt while everybody tries (in sequence) for a 1-in-a-million roll that lets them do the impossible at the expense of the one PC that was built to be in the spotlight this moment.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Groeg ydy a what the heck does that mean?

Groeg ydy abar a ognise bod 'n lladdedig ail a ail
To get that, I took a quote from an archaeologist: "Greece is a corpse that must be [killed? murdered? buried?] again and again", and I ran it through an English-to-Welsh translator. It certainly wasn't 100% historically accurate for me to put it into modern Welsh, but it was the closest-to-accurate translator I could find in the time I had available.

Nowadays, that same translator site refuses to put it back to English, so I'm missing one critical word mid-sentence.

The original quote was a comment (by Sir Moses Finley, if I recall correctly) on how historical evidence in the Mediterranean does not support the idea of the events of the Illiad happening during the lifetime of the Greek civilization. He was arguing against the view of Hisserlik being Troy. Iman Wilkens references him in "Where Troy Once Stood".

I've always thought that Iman Wilkens' Troy-In-England would be a really cool time & place to set a game. So it was only natural that my time-travelling PCs would have a layover there. Since I'd only have 1 or 2 sessions to explore it, I needed to focus on communicating the concept, not aiming for historical accuracy.

Here's some relevant links about Wilkens' research and ideas:
I wrote my own summary of Wilkens' theories in a post on repeatedexpletives.
Wilkens' own site which goes into a lot more detail on Troy as an ancient Celtic Oral Tradition that the Greeks merely adopted.
Wikipedia has a decent-enough article on Iman's book, though the various editor's biases show through in places. The contrast from section to section is somewhat amusing.

Groeg ydy abar a ognise bod 'n lladdedig ail a ail

Another page of GM-notes from my Continuum Campaign....

-1248 (BC) - May 12th at 12:00 noon - Ariesian - Troy.
Groeg ydy abar a ognise bod 'n lladdedig ail a ail. Midwives Corner in troy. Their job will be to protect certain important bloodlines, keep them alive despite the bloody massacre that’s coming soon. Playlist: 7th Sea Celtic

When you arrive: A man and a drop-dead gorgeous woman are waiting in the room for you. They stand with arms crossed and stern looks on their faces. Their anger is intimidating, especially coming from someone as beautiful as the woman.
Both wear brightly colored, richly embroidered clothing, accented by jewelry. Their eyes move back and forth between Aaron and Izzy.
With a trace of an almost welsh or scottish accent the man says says: “Urn of the North Wind and Izzygenia of Isle of Cranae. What makes the two of you think we’d ever let you set foot in Ilium agin after what you did last time?”
He pauses for the effect, and to watch the two of them scramble. “We were assured safe harbor.”
The woman smiles, and speaks: “Relax, friends! My husband makes a joke! Your future selves cause no trouble at all here, or at least none we’ve experienced yet.” Both laugh. “I am Hellene, he is Paris Alexis. He is the son of Priyam, King of Illium.”
Smiling now, the man speaks again: “Welcome to the Troad. My wife & I will be your hosts while you are level here. Tonight is the last easy night in the lands of Tros and illus. Tomorrow the first of 1200 ships lands, O’Killey the Narcissist and his Ants will burn Lyrnes, Aggamemmenon will demand tribute in tin, and a decade of tragedy and death begins. ”

Paris - Span 4 Spanner - Aaron Northwind’s elder self is a really good friend of Paris’s.
Hellene - Span 3 Midwife - Paris’s wife. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, with long golden hair. She’s lived here 9 years. Tomorrows war is not really about her, it’s about Tin and Bronze.
Darus Fryggya - Span 1. Bard-priest of Hefahstus. Friend of Paris and Aaron.
Hector - Leveller. Older brother of Paris, heir of Priyam.
Priyam - Leveller. Elderly. King of Troy.
Kassandra - Leveller, but possessed of powerful psychic potential. Will be a spanner eventually.

The culture is bronzeage protoceltic. Leather, bark, copper, bronze, tin, clay. No written language. Bards, druids, oral tradition, and mystery cults.

Explore the city. Illium sits upon large hills. These hills look down upon the Trojan plain and out the sea many km away. The city is a fortress, a series of twisting walls and stockades. It’s a spiralling maze that would render frontal assault a nightmare. The roads are broad, and much traffic is by chariot. Horseshoes have rings, straps and garters tieing the bright shoes onto the horses legs.

Fun things to do in Illium before the war:
  1. Party! These bronze age celts sure know how. Good wine, and lots of it. Celebration with musicians and dancing. Instruments include lyre, trumpet, tamborine and a type of guitar. Food is more basic than in Rome, but also much less scary.
  2. Mystery Ceremony. Invited to a late-night Drus ceremony in the woods on the banks of the Caymandyr. Each person brings a personal offering to cast into the river, then they dance naked around a fire. The High Priestesses (Breesis) chooses one man to have ritualistic sex with, then he is sacrificed and put on the fire. Everyone at this ceremony knows about the coming war, and each has some knowledge of magic, which may include spanning.
Before you leave: Taken to a high vantage point within the largest building of the city. Far out on the horizon can be seen tiny shapes upon the waters surface. The landing has begun.

Keeping your Cards close to your GM Screen

I had a lot of fun misleading my players in this Saturday's session of Scion. They thought they were kidnapping a minor (but important) hireling of the badguys (to use for a hostage exchange)...
  1. To their surprise, the victim was a Scion with as much Legend rating as they have, and access to many of the same (powerful) knacks the PCs use. They were a bit surprised when the hostage gave a magical command for one of the PCs to throw her out of the speeding getaway van. Recapturing her and gaining control of the situation was pretty tough.
  2. A PC grappled her on the same tick that she activated Animal (Ant) 3, mystically gaining Insectoid Super-Strength. This gave her +8 dice on her next 3 dicerolls to wrestle free, and my dice were hot! The PCs grabbed her no problem, then got manhandled a few ticks later. Not realizing her strength was only temporary, the PCs threw everything they had into the struggle. Tons of Willpower and Legend were expended on someone they could have just waited out.
  3. They assumed once she was bound and gagged and unable to escape, she'd be powerless. But she still had some Legend and Boons to use, and rendered two of the PCs sterile.
  4. Eventually, they decided she was dangerous enough they had to take extreme measures, so they beat her to incapacitation. Then began a debate on whether to actually exchange hostages or just kill her. But all this time their NPC sidekick was present. The sidekick had once been enslaved by the power of Giant's blood - the PCs had spared her life and converted her to their cause. Suddenly she starts getting appalled that they wouldn't try to extend the same opportunity. "I thought we were the good guys? If you kill her, I'll runaway again, and this time I won't come back!"
Incredible role-playing came out of it all. A very memorable scene, with lasting ramifications. Characters arguing back and forth, and sometimes storming off to try to cool down.

Dividing Athletics

I find myself constantly annoyed by the "Athletics" skill in Scion. The game is very cinematic, so players are constantly rolling Dex+Athletics for various gymnastic actions in combat. That's all fine and good, but Athletics also:
  • Is a major factor in determining how much a character can carry or lift for the first 20 to 30 sessions of the game (it becomes less relevant after Legend 5+, Epic Strength 4+)
  • Is a large part of your Dodge DV, significantly impacting enemies abilities to hit you. (Again, post-Demigod Legend, it's less of a factor)
  • Is rolled anytime you're taking any sort of movement other than just walking or running, such as climbing walls and cliffs, swimming against a raging river, jumping a wide chasm, etc.
  • Reduces your damage from falling.
  • Determines how well you maintain your balance in other ways, whether that's climbing (as above), balancing atop a speeding getaway car, ignoring the penalties and dangers of Unstable Footing, or standing your ground when Atlas punches you (as Athletics is used to resist knockdown and knockback effects).
Compare that to skills such as Art and Science that:
  1. Hardly ever come up without the GM going out of his way to include them in the plot.
  2. Require the player to choose a specialty - a narrow field of focus such as "sculpture" or "geology" - and restrict you to advancing each specialty individually.
In retrospect, I should have deviated from the Scion skill list. I could have split athletics into two or more skills (say "grace" and "force" off the top of my head) and combined specialties into clustered skills (such as "visual arts" and "performing arts" and/or "life sciences" and "physical sciences").

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Follow-Up on Erdös-Bacon

As I stated earlier today, Sarah co-authored a scientific paper while working at Los Alamos. Her co-author was a fellow named Chris A Barnes.

If that turns out to be the Christopher Barnes listed in the collaboration distance finder it would make her Erdös-Bacon number 9.

If he's not that Christopher Barnes listed there, but is the other C Barnes listed there, then her Erdös-Bacon number would be 11.

More than 12 lines long

I was going to post this over at Nomiblog. While it's under 11 lines in the editing window, it jumps to 14 once posted in Nomiblog's narrower window. (Rule 63 penalizes that)
600a: Future bills may establish a Bacos-to-QI'yaH exchange rate. Until then, Bacos are worthless foreign currency and cannot be traded, given, removed, or spent, except as follows:
600b: Within 24 hours of the ratification of this bill, the Administrator will create a "Bacon Bits" post. Other players may respond with Bacon Bits posts of their own, once per week each.
600c: A bacon bits post includes the title "Bacon Bits" and the bolded name of a single person. Such a person is a then designated the "Bacon Target". With the exception of the first such bacon bits post, the poster must explain how the new Bacon Target is linked to the most recent previous Bacon Target.
600d: There can be only one Bacon Target at a time. Each Bacon Target replaces all previous Bacon Targets. The penalty for repeating Bacon Targets is Frag equal to your Bacos at the time.
600e: When you post bacon bits, you gain 2 Bacos. If your new Bacon Target is someone whose name is related to food or drink, you will gain 3 Bacos.

All About Bacon

Backstory: I was reading Suppressed Transmission: The First Broadcast by Kenneth Hite, and the chapter entitled "Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon" got me wondering:
  • What other variants of the Kevin Bacon Game are there?
  • What other references to said game in popular media could I think of?
  • Is there anyway I could work it into a bill in Nomiblog?
Kevin Bacon game: Everybody knows this one. One player lists a movie. The next lists an actor from said movie. The third lists another movie that actor was in, and so on around the circle. Several scoring systems and variants exist, depending on whether you're trying to cooperatively get to Kevin Bacon or actively trying to stump the other players. If playing with an even number of players, it's often best to have each person's turn be the listing of both a actor and a film.

I hearby propose a new name for an established Bacon Game variant: We'll call it Fakin' Bacon, after that lovely product that looks and tastes like Bacon but is actually made from soy. In Fakin' Bacon, you can count home movies, stock footage, voice overs, actors playing other actors, sound and lighting technitions, etc. As long as it was filmed, videoed, or digitally recorded and shown to at least one person who wasn't in it, it counts. I played a lot of Fakin' Bacon back when it didn't have a name.

To that, we add some other variants I've played or seen in print:

Sir Francis Bacon game: As Kenneth Hite demonstrated quite ably in the above-mentioned book, Sir Francis Bacon is very easy to connect to anything in the field of conspiracy theory: Masons, UFOs, Kabbala, modern-day assassination plots - they are all the fault of Sir Francis Bacon. I mentioned an example elsewhere today.

Hite also quotes Foucoult's Pendulum, wherein Umberto Eco connects "sausage" to "Plato" in 5 easy steps. That sounds like a variant of Kevin Bacon, but with fewer restrictions on what things you can connect and how you may connect them. Probably only a game in the same sense that Sim Earth is - a pleasant rule-less diversion you can never truly win.

The A. Harrison Game is kind of like Sir Francis Bacon, except played via snail-mail and probably dangerous under the current administration. Also pleasant, ruleless and unwinable.

I once played the Eggs and Bacon game, where instead of listing actors and films we listed menu items and restaurants. It was okay for something to do when you're trying to get kicked out of Denny's, but not really a good overall game. Getting from "Faux Chicken with Mangos" to "Kosher Latkes" is an exercise I'll leave to the reader.

The Erdős–Bacon Number involves people who are published academics and appear in films. It's not really a game, not even in the sense that Sims are, as it's just an equation with no decision tree. It's interesting none-the-less: you add your Erdos number to your Bacon number, and the total is your Erdos-Bacon number. The current minimum is a 3. My wife has a Bacon Number of 4 (see below) and co-authored a paper on plasma physics and using lasers to cause implosion (seriously) while working at the Los Alamos Labs, so she may have a non-infinite Erdös-Bacon number, I'll have to do some research to say for certain.

The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon entry on Wikipedia lists plenty of good references to the Game. But it misses my two favorites:
  1. The DVD of Season 2 of Lost has an interactive Six-Degrees game that simply shows the links between the characters in the show.
  2. "James Bondage, 006.9 in A View To A Clone, Part 2: In The Mouth Of Cloneness" has an extended sequence wherein Bondage and the Clonemaster play Fakin' Bacon, though they claim it's the genuine Kevin Bacon Game.
My Bacon Number would be 4:
Rolfe Bergstrom is in the upcoming Black with Billy Garberina. (I also have a voice-over zombie moan and shuffle in Billy's Necroville, but that may be uncredited)
Billy Garberina was in Gimme Skelter (2007) with Kenneth J. Hall
Kenneth J. Hall was in Fear of a Black Hat (1994) with Nancy Giles
Nancy Giles was in Loverboy (2005) with Kevin Bacon

Therefore anyone else (Jake & Kris Roth, Audie Harrison, etc) who appeared in In The Mouth of Cloneness has a Bacon Number of 5, assuming you count minor video projects.
The original View To A Clone at least appears on the internet so it's perhaps a more legitimate Number 5 link for Jake, X, Daved, Kat, etc.
J. Starr Welty appeared in a couple Pizza Face Death films with me, in addition to writing and directing Black, so her Fakin' Bacon numbers are 4 or 5 depending on how you trace it.

I note that someone I went to high-school with has a Bacon Number (or at least Fakin' Bacon Number) of 3:
Tasha Hardy produced Star Trek: World Enough And Time which starred George Takei
George Takei was in American Summer (2007) with Tom Arnold (I)
Tom Arnold (I) was in We Married Margo (2000) with Kevin Bacon

The Oracle of Bacon determines Bacon Numbers quickly, though it does so only via Actors, so it ignores Tasha, for example. Jerks. Here's a fun fact:
"According to the Oracle of Kevin Bacon website, approximately 12% of all actors cannot be linked to Bacon using their criteria."
I assume wikipedia and the oracle meant all professional film actors when they said that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If I Am Ever Stupid Again

I have a file on my computer titled "ifiameverstupidagain.doc". It's the place where I put ideas I get for LARPs I could run. To say I'm jaded and embittered would be accurate.

If I were ever to run a LARP again, I'd have to take the game to Portland so I could host it at McMenamins Edgefield. That place is beautiful. It'd properly nurture your mind - the setting would enhance the game, not detract from it. It'd be pricy, but it'd be worth it.

In particular, it'd be incredible for a Prisoner LARP. "I am the new Number Two."

XP at High Legend

I continue to be a tiny bit nervous about the high-levels of play in Scion.

The XP system is set up so that PCs can advance something every session at the Hero stage. My players do so constantly. I suspect a session has never gone by that didn't end with someone spending XP on something.

The things you can spend points on get sickly good as the game progresses into higher Legend ratings. The costs go up with that power increase, but the XP awards stay the same. Meaning that the sessions still give out 5 or 6 XP, but relevant upgrades go from costing 3 or 4 to costing 20 or 40. What I fear is going to happen is that players will either:
  • a) Become disillusioned with the game because they have to wait so long to up their best powers. Player dissatisfaction could hobble the "legs" of the campaign, causing it to die somewhere mid-DemiGod.
  • b) Keep looking for cheap things to satisfy the "upgrade every session or two" mentality the early stages of the game fostered. This would result in PCs having nearly identical stats and/or each PC having virtually every Knack the game provides.
Despite all my bitching, I'm really enjoying the game, and would hate to see either situation develop.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carlsbad Caverns Scion Scenario

This scenario was written by r_b_bergstrom in the summer of 2007, played for the first time in the fall of 2007, and posted here (and on the Scion Wiki) on December 11th, 2007. Small portions were published on the Wiki a week previous, they too were also by Rolfe Bergstrom.

Carlsbad Caverns, Home of the Nemean Bat
Carlsbad Caverns is an amazing place. Located just outside White's City, New Mexico (Carlsbad itself is further away) the Caverns are a popular tourist site and one of the most breath-taking natural wonders of the U.S.

But, lately, the wonders have been eclipsed by the Nemean Bat that is confounding Park Rangers and terrorizing local cattle ranchers.

Read about the Nemean Bat

Read about chambers relevant to the Bat search

Read about other chambers in the Carlsbad Caverns

Read about how Scion RPG characters might break in to Carlsbad

This is intended as a challenging adventure for Hero-level Scions, especially those without much experience or without an anti-Nemean weapon. High-Legend characters would of course breeze right through it. My players smacked the bat pretty quick, but had issues fighting the Chupacabra I'd thrown in to spice things up.

Other Chambers inside Carlsbad Caverns

I posted a scenario to the Scion Wiki today (12/11/07), but am including the components here to preserve them from the editing hazards of the Wiki format.

Other Chambers inside Carlsbad Caverns
In addition to the Big Room, Bottomless Pit, and Bat Chamber mentioned in the Nemean Bat version of Carlsbad, the other chambers of the complex (listed below) may prove interesting for Scion gaming. These are additional real-world locations that r_b_bergstrom worked out Scion stats and descriptions for. Those his PCs visited are given more extensive details here.
Keep in mind that the lights to these areas are only turned on for scheduled guided tours and research. Light switches are discretely placed, and require a key to activate. Without the manmade lights, this place is cloaked by total darkness. There isn't even any murky vision. I'd be tempted to make the penalties exceed those indicated on page 186 of Scion Hero. Such complete sensory deprivation is something most humans never experience - if you haven't, you honestly can't imagine what it's like.

The Spirit World
This chamber is directly above the Big Room. This entrance is in the cieling of the big room, directly above the bottomless pit. Getting up here requires an arduous climb up a cable suspended far from the walls. An old and rarely-used cable dangles in the darkness. The cable was attached by means of a balloon and lasso system. Climbing such a cable takes an extended roll of Athletics, but it uses slightly different rules than most extended rolls. Potential climbers must roll Str+Ath, Dex+Ath, and Sta+Ath, once each. Difficulty on each roll is 1, and you add successes together. You'll need to get a success past threshold on at least one of the rolls.
0-3 successes (or failure/botch on any roll): You fall. Take 25 levels of Lethal / Piercing.
4-6 successes: takes 4 hours to get to the top.
7-8 successes: takes 3 hours
9-10 successes: takes 2 hours
11+ successes: takes 1 hour
The monkey climber knack will cut all the time estimates in half.
Flying up there takes less than 15 minutes.
Once you’re up there, this place is impressive and spiritual. A powerful spirit lives here, and the place was named for the angelic rock formations he sculpted - it looks like a chamber full of spirits. If the PCs get up here, and at least one of them has Death or Earth or Gami, they’ll be able to talk to said spirit.
Long ago the spirit had a wife, who gave her life to seal the gaping hole to the underworld. She plunged from the ceiling of the Big Room, and plugged the bottomless pit. Now, the work of evil Titanspawn has opened that gate again. Will the PCs convince him to join his wife? Or will doing so tragically collapse the worlds largest underground cavern? The fate of Carlsbad is in the player's hands.

Bifrost Room
Named for the Rainbow Bridge of Norse myth. To get here requires entering the lantern-lit "Left Hand Tunnel", taking it to series of large formations called "The Lake of the Clouds" and then climbing a cable up to the Bifrost Room's entrance in the cieling.
If nothing else, the place is likely of minor personal interest to Heimdall. Assume he's got it marked with Vigil Brand (Guardian 1) at all times, and may have it warded by a Ward (Guardian 3) providing a anti-Titanspawn forcefield if he's been here recently. Breaching such a forcefield might take 60 damage against Hardness/Soak of 10. Hiemdall becomes aware of anything happening here.
Depending on what is presented in Scion: God, you may choose to have this room be a touchstone to the actual rainbow bridge. An exciting early battle of Ragnarok could be staged from the Bottomless Pit to the Bifrost Room.
This is a high-legend, heavy-destiny area, where any Legend Point spent will result in a Fatebinding.

Hall of the White Giant
This room is officially named for the large pale stalagmite that dominates it, but in the Scion world there may be more to the story.

The Devil's Den
Again, named for fancy rock formations, or so the Park Rangers tell us. But do you think they'd own up to it if Pan or Lucifer lived here?