Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wushu (longer review-ish, plus Wushu/7th Sea hybrid)

Two days ago, I GM'd Wushu for the first time. I'd played it once before, a week and a half ago. This week's game was set in the world of Theah, the setting of 7th Sea. Here's some observations:
  • In general, I really like Wushu. The best innovation it has is that the paradigm of "state what you want to do, then roll to see if you do it" has been done away with. Instead, you state what happens, and once it's been said, it happens. If you say "I stab him" then you stab him. The die roll determines how effective the stab is, but the die roll can't make you miss.
  • The second best innovation (which, honestly, is just the second half of the first innovation) is that you aren't describing a single action, nor just your own actions. When you watch a sword fight in a movie, it's not a matter of one person moves, then swings, then the other person moves, then swings, then the whole series repeats. Instead, the fight takes both parties all around the scenery, and involves aggressive flurries, combo moves, and colorful stunts. If you say "I swing across the room on the chandelier, and drop behind him. He spins around just in time to barely parry my initial assault. I beat my blade against his several times, making openings and forcing him to give ground all the while. He manages a few counter-attacks, but eventually I back him in to the corner from whence there's no escape, and that's when I carve my initials into his shirt," it happens. If someone narrates an action that your character would never do, you may invoke a veto, but otherwise what's said happens, no matter who said it.
  • Wushu is light and flexible, and readily ported to other settings. It's easy to use it to handle games (like 7th Sea) that have great, fleshed-out settings, but slightly clunky rules sets. A complicated system from 7th Sea, like a Swordsman School or any one of the 5(+) styles of Full-Blooded Sorcery, can be boiled down to a single Wushu attribute. Rather than having to memorize and understand a complicated system, you can use it as a summary and springboard for stunts and ideas. This will of course work best when all or most of the players have read large sections of the complicated rulebooks, so that everyone knows roughly the kinds of things various powers are allowed to do within the setting. It's still worth buying and reading more complicated games, but you now only have to understand the nutshell concepts, not the fiddly minutia.
That said, the Wushu system isn't without its flaws. It's a good system, but not perfect.

  • The decision to make low dice successes on pool rolls was a strange one. Players are trained by the majority of games to feel like a high roll is a good roll. Going against that isn't a big deal, but neither would it have been a terrible burden to invert the number system. Doing so would have made character creation a tiny bit more difficult to explain, but certainly no harder to play. It's also worth noting that the game uses two types of rolls: pool rolls and scab rolls. One one type of roll you want to roll low, on the other you want to roll high, and there's no mechanical need for this discrepancy. Given the choice between two decisions, one of which will save 1-2 paragraphs in the rule book, and the other makes play more intuitive and more psychologically rewarding, I know which decision I would have made.
  • Wushu Open has pretty much nothing in terms of timing rules. With the right group, that's a big plus, but I think they may be limiting their market to experienced RPG groups by doing so. The lack of timing is the only thing that keeps this from being the sort of RPG to cut your teeth on. New players, especially those new to gaming (not just new to this game) need a little more structure. Without it, more boisterous players will hog the glory while quieter casual gamers sit around doing nothing. Similarly, inexperienced GMs would probably get overwhelmed (out-of-character) the first time the PCs decided to dogpile on an NPC Nemesis.
  • Wushu is at it's best when the PCs are heroes. The lack of timing rules, coupled with the lack of actions for mooks, requires the villains to do some villainous at the start of the scene to justify the PCs smacking them around for the rest of the scene. If the PCs are anti-heroes, or if the NPC villains are initially passive, flaws with the (lack of a) timing system become much more pronounced.
  • Likewise, the mook battles don't leave much for the GM to do. This is especially pronounced in a one-player game, where by the rules, a GM's only action in a minor fight scene might be to announce the arrival of the mooks. With 2 or more PCs, there'd be more interaction, but with 1 PC and a GM it's almost a solitaire game at points.
  • Our 7th Sea / Wushu hybrid game was a one-player (plus GM) scenario, in which Sarah's character was a Pirate. Man, did that ever make the first scene awkward! She picked [as in started] the fight, and at cannon-range it's pretty much just a mook battle, so there wasn't much for me to do. She'd only played Wushu once before (and never actually RP'd a high-seas cannon battle) so she was having a hard time getting into the feel of the system and what kind of stunts are appropriate during a cannonade. The only way I could help was by breaking the rules. Which I did eventually, and thus it all worked out, but the first 5 minutes were really odd. Having learned that lesson, it won't be a problem the next time we play.
  • Other areas that are a little weird in the Wushu Open rules is the transition from 'acting' to 'action'. There's really no GMing advice in Wushu Open, and with no timing rules, it's hard to say exactly when a parlay becomes a melee. Again, this is the type of problem that sorts itself out with familiarity and experience with the system, but it's gonna be slightly awkward the first time it happens. (Why would this be awkward in Wushu, when it isn't in most other games? Because in Wushu, when you act, you aren't just narrating your own actions, you're also saying what the foes are doing, what's happening in the background, etc. But prior to the fight breaking out, the GM is presumably the one playing the NPC. When and how the transition happens isn't clearly defined).
  • The flaw/weakness system in Wushu is just so-so. On paper it looks good, but in practice it doesn't quite feel right. The vampire example (given in the Wushu Open rules file) doesn't just make Vampires take more damage when struck by a wooden stake, it makes the Vampire significantly less effective on it's own attacks, less capable of using it's magic, etc, any time the foe is holding a stake. It doesn't seem logical that holding a stake should protect me from his hypnotic gaze.
  • When we do the 7th Sea / Wushu hybrid again (which we will since, despite all the above complaints, we both really enjoyed it) I have a "fix" to solve the weakness of weaknesses. We'll do away with the weakness rules as written. Instead, each PC (and major NPC) will have a Flaw or Hubris, chosen from the corresponding charts in the 7th Sea books. Obviously, we won't have Drama Dice to activate them as one would in 7th Sea. So instead, the Flaw will be revealed (a peek behind the curtain, so to speak) at the start of the scene. That way all parties involved know what the weak spot of the enemy is. Rather than affecting dice rolls, it'll just be stated that no one can use a veto to over-ride a situation where a described action plays into their Flaw/Hubris.
  • Wushu has no experience system or character advancement. That makes it somewhat unappealing for a long-term campaign. If it had a finer scale of gradation (d10 instead of d6, for example) it might better support an XP system, and thus have longer legs. As is, it's a sweet little one-shot engine.
For those now interested in Wushu, here's some links:
  1. download Wushu Open the free version
  2. various Wushu PDF books priced from $2 to $5 at drivethruRPG
  3. Wushu resources
  4. a very thorough and insightful Wushu review
  5. a short Wikipedia article (which doesn't meet their notability guidelines, and thus may disappear sometime soon).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mii and Mi Wiiness

Wii got a Wii. Mi Wiife and Mii. So, wii made some miis.

At first I was bummed out. I figured I could never make a Mii for my buddy Jake, 'cause there's no way to make piercings. Then I realized, you can place a mole way off the side of the head (about where an ear would go), and that there was a way to fake a nose piercing, too. Jake's mii is still lacking about 50% of the real Jake's visible piercings, and I still haven't figured out a good way to give him a mohawk.

But still, it's a lot closer than I'd figured I could accomplish, and that inspired some additional craziness...

Dr Horrible is, of course, the creation of Joss Whedon - with some help from Niel Patrick Harris's parents (and their DNA).

Hopefully self-explanatory. If not we failed.

The Ithorian mii only kinda looks Ithorian, and only from the front, but it's still worth a giggle to starwars geeks (guilty as charged).

The Salubri are a clan of three-eyed vampires from White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade.

Our baseball teams are a lot more interesting now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Boobs is 140 points

Not are, is. So is ass (in google image labeler). I hadn't realized that. I'd been undervaluing that portion of my vocabulary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wonky vs Broken

Nerd aside: That title kinda sounds like a lawsuit, doesn't it? Like Mr Wonky is suing The Broken Corporation...

  • Wonkiness isn't the same thing as broken.
  • Broken would be wonky taken to an extreme and likely giving someone an advantage.
  • Plain vanilla wonky isn't nearly as bad as broken.
  • In some ways, I find wonky more annoying, 'cause it bugs you but isn't worth changing a bunch of things to fix.
In Context: Scion is generally wonky, but only certain specific elements of it are genuinely broken.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2020's tech - Today!

Cross-posted, due to the fun gaming implications...

Lookie what they're making at the hospital my wife works at:

visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go.
Heads Up Displays on your eyeballs.
Ideally, installing or removing the bionic eye would be as easy as popping a contact lens in or out, and once installed the wearer would barely know the gadget was there, Parviz said.
That would be freakin' cool. Ending blindness way before Geordi Laforge.

But it kinda creeps me out. I'm one of those guys who doesn't like having his eyeballs touched. I can't do normal contact lenses, let alone these:
Building the lenses was a challenge because materials that are safe for use in the body, such as the flexible organic materials used in contact lenses, are delicate. Manufacturing electrical circuits, however, involves inorganic materials, scorching temperatures and toxic chemicals. Researchers built the circuits from layers of metal only a few nanometers thick, about one thousandth the width of a human hair, and constructed light-emitting diodes one third of a millimeter across. They then sprinkled the grayish powder of electrical components onto a sheet of flexible plastic. The shape of each tiny component dictates which piece it can attach to, a microfabrication technique known as self-assembly. Capillary forces -- the same type of forces that make water move up a plant's roots, and that cause the edge of a glass of water to curve upward -- pull the pieces into position.
So far, they've tested it on rabbits. It's safe on them for 20 minutes, at least. As long as you wear your contacts for no more than 20 minutes, it's unlikely they'll explode and jam microscopic circuitry straight into your optic nerve. Fear nothing, my friends.

Think of all the practical applications. It has so many advantages:
"There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation," Parviz said. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens, Parviz said.
Solar cells in your contacts! At last, that extra reason I needed to justify staring directly into the sun all day long. Wireless calls directly too and from your eyes! Now you can search the net while stumbling blindly down a hallway. Heads up displays so we can save millions by making newer gas-guzzling hummers that lack steering wheels and dashboards! LARPers and Goths are no longer restricted to cat eyes and the Union Jack, either. The possibilities are endless! There's no limit to what crap you can stick to your eyeballs.

I can't wait till they make the ones that subliminally flash the words "Obey" over everything, like the inverse of They Live. Or the ones that selectively alter your world view, making your friends look less ugly, and the environment less polluted. Ah, sweet blessed miracles of science.

Identifying your Boonhole

Ahem. A boonhole, for the sake of this post, is a hole in the Boon charts of a given Purview in Scion. As in, a place where an alternate boon is needed. This could be because existing boons at various levels are redundant, such as Water 2, 7, and 10. Or it could be most people who take a given Purview find certain boons to be lame, such as Death 2 or War 8. Or it could be because certain basic things you expect to find in a particular purview either don't exist or don't show up until the mid- or late- game, like any attack power for the Fire Purview.

Here's the lists we brainstormed:

All Purpose Boonholes
  • Darkness: 2 or 3 (just make sure it's not about hiding/disguise)
  • Death: 2, also something at a level 4-7 that isn't about Ghosts
  • Fertility: Any 2 boons at levels 5-10, and/or possibly a new level 1.
  • Fire: 3 (either control/manipulate fire or be a hero-level attack power)
  • Psychopomp: 2
  • Sky: 3 and 5.
  • Sun: 1 or 2 (should function like smoking mirror)
  • War: 2 or 3, plus 8
  • Water: 2, 7, 10 - they overlap, I'd probably just replace 2 of them
  • Death and Psychopomp: The general power that PCs with these purviews have to enter portals to their underworld should be codified into specific low-level boons.

Special Boonholes
  • Magic: New spells are always welcome, since magic's supposed advantage is that it has more spells than the other purviews have boons.
  • Mystery and Prophecy: Alternate versions can be found here and here.

Pantheon-Specific Boonholes
  • Heku: 2 or 3 or 7 or 8 or 10. (However, Heku levels 1-3 are so darned good, they kinda make up for the wonkiness later, so perhaps it's best to leave Heku alone. If I did anything to improve Heku 7/8/10, I'd knock Heku 1 - 3 down a few notches to balance.)
  • Tsukumo-Gami: 10
  • Of course, touching TG or Heku opens the doors on all sorts of Pantheon Specific craziness. Itzli just does the same thing at level after level, so you'd need 2-4 alternate Aztec boons. Cheval is more open-ended, but really the powers are similarly redundant. Arete would need to be redone entirely, since it's "just" a die-adder. The alternate Jotunblut now would need revising, perhaps so that both sets of Jotunblut boons could exist in the same campaign, etc. And since Heku 1 and 3 are so incredibly good (and making alternates just bumps up the power of Egyptian heroes), perhaps it's just best to leave well-enough alone.
  • Overworlds and Underworlds. The various Axis Mundi and the general ability of any PC to enter their pantheon's underworld from various places could be codified into specific boons.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brute Squads of the 7th Sea

At the Scion forums there's a discussion of how to streamline the use of followers, a topic brought up by someone with a 12-player Scion campaign. This made me think about the 7th Sea RPG, which really handled followers and squads well.

7th Sea had "Brutes". Brutes came in squads, and could act independently, or under the direct command of a named character.

If acting independently, they had kinda meager stats, simplified a bit and toned down (like Extras in Scion, but taken to a further extreme). One hit was enough to drop them. The cool part was you could choose to raise the difficulty of your attack roll in order to take out an entire squad at once, instead of having to harm them individually.

If used as a bodyguard / assistants, Brutes wouldn't get an action of their own. Instead, they'd act when their boss did, and simply add bonus dice to his roll. They also added their health levels to the boss. You'd have to take out the brutes before you could do any actual harm to the Villain.

It was a pretty sweet mechanic. Elegant and streamlined, and lots of fun. It really captured the feel of cinematic battles, where the mooks aren't really important, yet having dozens of underlings is an advantage somehow.
  • I've considered adapting it to Scion on more than one occasion, but have never gotten around to it. I could see such brutes work as a Charisma Knack, or as a War Boon, or as just a general tactical rule not unlike Coordinated Assault, or as a specific type of Creature/Follower you can buy. The big flaw with using it for Scion has to do with the greater extremes in character power level. In 7th Sea, PCs were human, and so were the brutes. They moved about the same distance, had similar biology, etc, and the rules were abstract enough to make that work. Scion is bit more crunchy, and a much higher power level. You could have a Hero-level PC that can leap 25 yards or run 72mph accompanied by his followers that can only manage to jump 8 feet or run 18mph. At that point, it stretches credibility for them to move with him and assist his rolls.
  • This is one area that Wushu doesn't handle as well as I'd like it to. That game seems to take the abstraction to slightly more of an extreme than it needs to. The lack of timing rules doesn't seem to support using mooks and a nemesis at the same time, and there's nothing to stop PCs from just concentrating on the big bad since Mooks can't fight you if you don't fight them. There's also "nothing" for the GM to do in a scene where the PCs fight only mooks, since Mooks don't act or roll. This could be very easily and elegantly house-ruled, though, so I may just do so if I ever run Wushu.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Wayward Coffeehouse

3 posts about Thursday:Part 1 Part 2 Part 3:

And now, a tangent about the Wayward Coffeehouse. That place has got it's geek on. It's the HQ of the local Browncoats. They feature sandwiches named after all the crew of the Firefly, and drinks referencing the same plus Dune, Star Trek, Farscape, and The Princess Bride.

I wish we'd tried more (what we did have was very tasty)... but at the same time, there's something very intimidating about a latte flavored with iocane powder.

Hollows & Hobgoblins

3 posts about Thursday:Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Last night, we played Hollows and Hobgoblins. It's a dark fantasy RPG based on the Wushu rules. Humans were the minority, forced to live in the impoverished wastelands, not far from the haunted Hollows. The setting had a lot of depth behind it, I could tell, but our one-shot about a bar besieged by corrupted animals and something akin to a barrow-wight didn't provide us much opportunity to explore. We had fun, though, and I'd enjoy a chance to explore the setting further.

Wushu is a great system, a "hippy game" as they called it, since it's rules light and very flexible. Our characters were three descriptors, a magic item, and a signature move, all of which we made up. I made a somewhat Bleys-ian flamboyant warrior type, spiced up with magical power over metal. The magic was fast and loose: I made a doorknob bite a badguy, directed a coat-rack to grapple someone, and when the leaded window-glass shattered it fell onto the floor as caltrops per my command.

The best part of the mechanics is the huge amount of power granted to the players. On your action, you say what happens. Not what you want to happen, but what actually happens. The thing you described happens regardless of how you roll, but the roll quantifies the effects. For example, we faced an unspecified number of mooks, so we could freely narrate how many any given action killed and how we drove the enemy legions back. But until we scored 20 or more aggregate successes, there'd always be more mooks.

The cooler your description of your action, the more dice you roll (like Scion's stunt system, but more integral and more potent). The battle against the big bad was a bit more structured than the mook fight, but we were still empowered to describe amazing acts of heroism and skill. For example, we couldn't chop his head off until and unless we'd worn him down a lot, but nothing stopped us from using our actions to throw him off balconies or into the fireplace.

Actually, I could get the hang of Thursdays

3 posts about Thursday: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

My wife and I finally got to go to the Emerald City Game Feast. The feasters are a weekly RPG group that mostly does "short-shots" (one-shots and slightly longer), trying many different systems and settings over time. We'd been meaning to join them for months, but it kept not happening. Sarah's Mondays tend to be heavy workload days, and her Tuesdays are packed with meetings. As a result, Mondays just aren't a good night for us to commit to gaming. That coupled with uncertainties about the membership dues at the Seattle Metro Gamers facility, kept us away.

Thankfully, the Game Feast decided to try a second night a week, Thursdays, and instead of running it at the SMG clubhouse, they're hosting at the Wayward Coffeehouse. Sarah telecommutes Fridays (meaning she can sleep in 1.5 hours later), so Thursdays are a perfect day for us to stay out late. Plus, the coffeehouse is within walking distance of our home.

I'm glad the opportunity came along, because we had a lot of fun last night. This may well become a regular weekly thing for us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


It was brought to my attention today, that while I'm still bitching at the Scion Forums, I haven't contributed much quality material lately.

Partly that's 'cause we've already house-ruled all the easy-to-fix issues. What's left is the ones I don't have good solutions for.

The other factor has to do with how many house-rules we've already installed. Our campaign is so full of patches and clarifications and decisions-on-the-spot, that it's become increasingly harder to write things that are universally helpful. My campaign, with it's "generalist" PCs (at least 2 dots in all 9 Epics), and large volumes of errata, just isn't facing the same issues that new campaigns are. Sometimes I'll start to contribute something, and then realize it's not generally helpful, so I stop. Other times (like today), I don't catch myself, and then someone calls me on it. I really don't want to be that jerk who does nothing but bitch.

I'm tempted to go post my recent Knacks, but I'm not prepared to defend them (since, despite my calling them "recent", they were composed over 2 months ago), and more knacks ain't what the game needs. *sigh*

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dr Horrible's Sing A Long Blog

This very odd-looking miniseries may be the dumbest thing Joss Whedon has ever been involved in - and that's saying something. I mean that as a compliment. Whedon has a talent for making things work that just rightly shouldn't.
Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.
The first section goes live tomorrow (July 15th 2008), and the whole thing is only up on the web for a week. View it this week, or not at all. (Well, I expect it may one day come out on DVD.)

I'm specifically pimping this show because I want to support Whedon's attempt at creating a new market for series projects outside of the Hollywood & Network machine. I'm not sure exactly how a free program on the web for less than a week will do that, but I'm willing to give him a chance. Besides, I'm secretly hoping that we'll get to see Malcolm Reynolds kick Doogie Howzers butt.

What does this have to do with Gaming? Crap if I know, but my other blog is so full of stuff these days. This would just get lost there. I guess I'll justify this by mentioning the many gaming tie-ins to Joss Whedon. Eden Studios did a Buffy RPG, Margaret Weiss (of Dragonlance fame) wrote the Serenity RPG, here's a link to a yahoo group for an Aliens vs Predator RPG (Joss wrote Alien Resurrection, so gimme a break. I know I'm stretching.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Knackathon

I just posted a bunch of new Knacks for Scion. Does this mean I spent the day dreaming up new Knacks? NO! It means I came up with these months ago, and shelved them with the intention of waiting till Scion Companion part 2 came out. I didn't want to do a bunch of work designing and developing knacks if that book was just going to render them redundant them a week later. Surprise! It didn't. But hey, once bitten, twice shy.
  • EDIT: It's worth mentioning that since these were written several months ago but have yet to see any use in game or development analysis at the forum, I can't attest to them being perfectly balanced. No big problems with them jump out at me, but I haven't looked that closely at them, at least not lately. Use at your own risk.
Here's a list of what I just put up:

Charisma Knacks: (Most of today's posted knacks are Charisma knacks, because at the time, that's what it seemed we'd run out of first with my group. All the PCs have at least 3 or 4 dots of Epic Charisma, and about 30% of the published Charisma knacks in the Hero/Demigod/God books are willpower refreshers.)
Band Of Brothers
Standing Invitations - Behind Closed Doors
Nothing But The Truth
Entourage - Worshipful Throng

Strength Knack:
Like A Fish In Water

Stamina Knack:
Aggressive Immune System

While I have a big brainstorm list that may one day become another 20 or 30 finished knacks, it probably won't be for a while. In the wake of Manifestations of Ichor (Scion Companion, part 2) there's a much stronger demand for new Boons than for more Knacks.

New Knack: Band Of Brothers

Band of Brothers
Charisma Knack
You are not merely a charismatic battlefield commander, you are also a good friend. As such, your followers are exceptionally brave and loyal.

All Followers and Creatures (both those you already have, and those you purchase from here on out) gain the Loyalty virtue at 3 dots, thus making them unlikely to flee or betray you. If they already have the Loyalty virtue at 3 or 4, it increases by one dot instead. If they lack Loyalty but have other virtues, you may instead replace any one of their existing virtues (at it's normal rating) with Loyalty.

In addition, the permanent Willpower Rating of all your Followers and Creatures is raised by one.

New Knack: Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors
Charisma Knack
Prerequisite: Standing Invitations

The prerequisite knack will open many doors, and get your name on invitation lists. Some events, however, are more exclusive than that. Judges chambers, Senate investigations, boardroom meetings, palaces of the Gods, and the hidden grottos of secret cabals are typically above that power. Luckily, this Knack prepares you for exactly those situations, by extending the lure of your presence beyond closed doors.

If you are standing at the last public place outside a private meeting, such as the front gates where armed guards or Cerebus himself stands watch, you may spend any number of Legend points. If you spend more points than the Legend Rating of any of the authority figures inside, one of them chooses that moment to step outside for a status check or smoke break. As you can imagine, getting Condi Rice to take a break from the meeting in the Oval Office takes but a point or two, whereas getting a response at the Windowless House of Mictlan will run a good 12 or 13 points.

If you do so, this reveals your presence to those inside. Further, it does so in a way that strikes them as coincidental, polite, and unintrusive. Thus it provides a window for you to attempt to convince them to let you in. In the absence of other factors, the difficulty (of a Charisma + Politics roll) to get them to grant admission is 1 + the combined Legend Rating of everyone attending the secret meeting. Clever roleplaying, situational modifiers, and preexisting relationships (if any) between the PCs and NPCs can all lower that difficulty or add bonus dice to your roll.

New Knack: Standing Invitations

Standing Invitations
Charisma Knack
You are the social darling and media celebrity, recognized at all the hippest clubs. In addition, you possess honorary memberships to exclusive meetings you aren't 100% qualified to attend.

By spending a single Legend, you may automatically and immediately get past any mortal bouncer. This does NOT automatically extend to armed guards or watchdogs - anyone who is authorized to kill intruders is immune to this power. Those it affects, it also shields. The bouncer will not loose his job nor suffer penalty from any mortal agency for having let you in.

Alternately, for 1 legend you may improvise the "fact" that you no doubt received an invite via email or mail. If, indeed, invites were sent out via mundane mail or email, you'll retroactively have an invitation handy or otherwise be able to prove that your name is on the guest list. You just get so many invitations, this one had failed to draw your attention previously. Any mortal wedding may be crashed or award show attended, and everyone on the planning committee just assumes someone else must have invited you.

New Knack: Nothing But The Truth

Nothing But The Truth
Charisma Knack

This knack functions identically to God's Honest (the Manipulation Knack on page 131 of Scion: Hero) with one major difference: It only works if you are telling the truth, or believe you are telling the truth. You cannot use it to make a lie seem real.

New Knack: Worshipful Throng

Worshipful Throng
Charisma Knack
Prerequisite: Entourage
Your friends and supporters don't just dote on you, they positively worship you. Any roll you make gains a dice bonus based on how many of your adoring fans are present. If you are their Hero, they provide one bonus die each, up to a maximum equal to your Legend Rating. At Demigod both those numbers are doubled, and at God they are tripled. These bonus dice function as mortal reverence - replacing dice gained as such, not stacking on top of them. In effect, this knack is quantifying the level of fated connection between you and your Entourage. Under certain circumstances, the GM may award you a greater bonus, this power merely ensures a baseline minimum amount of reverence.

Note however, that in order to grant such dice, the Entourage member must be present and aware of roughly what you are doing. So, to grant you a bonus on a Boon activation, they'd need to be nearby and know that you're doing something magical or godly.

All the members of your Entourage are assumed to have beneficial fated roles relative to you. They do not penalize your action (unless you are leaving them to die or taking other patently unheroic activities) and will almost never be a burden to the player or character.

New Knack: Entourage

Charisma Knack
You have a network of friends, supporters, assistants and hangers-on. While any child of the gods could have as much with a little effort, for you it just comes automatically. Mortals just like you. Taking this knack grants you mortal entourage. These are just normal people who want to be involved in your life. They aren't bodyguards, and aren't necessarily worshipers, either. Unlike the Followers birthright, they won't willing follow you into death or even battle, though they will defend themselves and you to the best of their meagre abilities should escape be implausible.

The members of your Entourage come from whatever walks of life seem appropriate to your character's backstory. Rather than building them individually, the GM uses generic mortal stats (per page 280-281 of Scion Hero) to represent them. At any given time, a number of them at least equal to your Legend Rating are free and available, and not more than a couple minutes away unless you have been intentionally avoiding people. Given 12 hours notice, you can draw a crowd of supporters to any social function at least as large as the successes you score on a roll of Charisma+Presence+Legend. Again, they don't do your exact bidding, but will try hard to earn your attention. They are great for populating a party or political rally, making yourself look (or feel) loved, and for getting large teamwork bonuses on relatively mundane non-combat rolls.

New Knack: Like A Fish IN Water

Like A Fish IN Water
Strength Knack
You are a great swimmer, capable of using your divine strength to forcefully propel yourself at tremendous speeds through the water. As long as you are doing nothing but swim (no multiple actions) you may travel a number of yards per tick equal to 3 + your mundane strength + your epic strength autosuccesses. Doing so is a Speed: 3, DV -2 action, which leaves a very noticable wake as you displace water quickly and efficiently. If combined with Water Control (Water 2) you may travel at twice the above speed.

New Knack: Aggressive Immune System

Aggressive Immune System
Stamina Knack

Your immune system is so hyperactive, it can invade other's bodies and trigger allergic reactions or even eat them alive from the inside. To trigger this effect, you must expose a person to your bodily fluids, and spend a legend. This can be done covertly or amorously, or even via the blunt and insulting act of spitting on them. (Spitting during combat is a Dexterity roll, generally with all the usual penalties of being unskilled, though a player who wishes to develop this aspect of his character may purchase "Spit" as an Ability not unlike Marksmanship. Range is yards equal to 1+ Legend Rating. Speed for a good mouthful is 6.)

Your immune agents function as a poison. It has no Tolerance value. The damage rating is (Epic Stamina)L/day. Toxicity is (your Legend Rating)L.

Per the poison rules on pages 183-184 of Scion: Hero, this means (per dose) the victim takes one level of unsoakable Lethal damage every day, until they've taken total levels equal to your dots of Epic Stamina. Each time they take damage they can roll Stamina + Fortitude with a difficulty of your Legend Rating - if they succeed, that day's level of unsoakable Lethal is instead taken as a die of unsoakable Lethal. If they score double your Legend, it's a die of unsoakable Bashing. Rolling three times your Legend would prevent all damage that day.

Saying "No" to Knighthood, I'm afraid.

My ol' buddy Brad has suggested I play Knighthood. He says I'd really like it. But, to play, you need a Facebook account.

A lame demo of Knighthood, with like NO VOLUME. Learn to use a microphone, dude!

I can definitely see how there could be some fun there, despite the lackluster promotional video that's only for those with super-senses. Brad swears its the best of the free online RPG -style games, but I'll never play, I'm afraid.

It's not just 'cause I have a myspace page I never use, and don't need yet another social network gathering dust. It's not just 'cause my wife talked me into plurking, and I don't want yet another way to waste time on line. It's that Facebook scares the crap out of me.

2 vids explaining why Facebook is the spawn of Satan:

Chances are, it's all blown out of proportion, but the consequences if it's not are serious enough that I'm just gonna play it safe and avoid facebook. Sorry, Brad!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chunks of Ichor

The new Scion PDF (Scion Companion, Chapter 2: Manifestations of Ichor) is full of new Knacks and Boons. Most are really cool, and a great addition to the game.

Unfortunately, some of them blow chunks. Here's a list of ones I'll be house-ruling or just not using:

One Inch Punch - anything you can do with this Knack you could already do with Making It Look Easy and a decent stunt. This knack just devalues Making It Look Easy, which was already kinda weak as knacks go. What's more, Making It Look Easy doesn't have a prerequisite, and One Inch Punch does.
I won't be using One Inch Punch.

Titanium Tools - I'd expect few or no GMs currently apply real world physics to the majority of weapons, especially not where Epic Strength is involved. This knack is only useful if your GM is the kind of jerk who makes swords shatter when your super-strong hero swings them. While there's some merit to the higher end uses of this knack (using a 2x4 to shatter a concrete bunker), they don't justify the can of worms this knack's existence opens. The game doesn't have simple rules to determine when and what weapons break, so your basically forcing any strength-based weapon user to buy this knack.
I will probably allow Titanium Tools, but I'll make it abundantly clear to my players that anything built to be a weapon by skilled craftsmen already survives without this knack. As a result, the knack is of somewhat lessened value.

Microscopic Precision - Since it doesn't give any mechanics for reducing the difficulty of microscopic movements, this knack is of dubious use. A Scion with high Epic Dex (but without this knack) and a scientific microscope (or just the right Perception knack) will feel they should already be able to do this. A Scion with just one dot of Epic Dex and this knack is likely to fail at any Microscopic Precision rolls they make, since the GM will probably assign an arbitrarily high difficulty number. By forgetting to give the knack any tangible mechanical benefits and providing no difficulty guidelines for the GM, the knack fails to be helpful.
I will probably house-rule this to "Microscopic precision reduces the difficulty (or difficulty penalty) of microscopic maneuvers by an amount equal to your dots of Epic." I'd considering switching it to a Perception knack, so that you can have a character who's not a good fighter but can build nanotech by hand, except all the PCs in my campaign already have Epic Dex, so there's no need to do so in my game. Need to think about whether this knack is even needed in my campaign.

Shot To The Heart - Richochet Symphony and a stunt already do this, and more, and do it without the prerequisite. Plus, it's not like there's a lot of creatures with weak spots in the game - as much sense as it would make for leviathan's eyes to have lesser soak, they don't. Unless you radically alter the existing rules for DV, Soak, Disarming, and stunting, this knack is next to useless. It gives you a bonus on a situation that just doesn't happen in the current rules, and it's not enough of a bonus to really justify going to the work to make it useful. In fact, it just eliminates penalties - so why go to all the trouble of adding such penalties to the game if you're just going to make them go away with 5xp?
I'm probably just going to pretend this knack doesn't exist, instead of redoing all those rules or monster stats.

Under Pressure - My initial reaction was "this is so narrow, it's useless." Then I realized it completely eliminates the environmental hazards of The Drowned Road. If you intend to send your PCs there, it's incredible. But since more than a dot or two of Epic Stamina will ensure you make the Trauma rolls anyway, it's still dubious.
Not sure what to do with this Stamina knack.

Blame James - This should be a Manipulation Knack, not Charisma. Of course, that would make the prerequisite tricky, since it's Charisma-based.
House-ruling this to be a Manipulation Knack. The prerequisite is now God's Honest.

Instant Seminar - Doesn't list a duration.
House-ruled to last till the end of the scene.

Paragon of Virtue - Doesn't list a duration.
House-ruled to last till the end of the scene.

Do Not Want - Activator uses Attribute + Epic + Ability + Legend. Resistors use Willpower + Ability + Legend. At low levels that makes this week. But at high Legend, this is huge - especially since you could expend a Deed on the activation. In fact, for high-legend social PCs, this is arguably better than Untouchable Opponent. And UO is widely regarded as the most broken knack in the game, everyone house-rules it. Worse yet, this knack has a lot of rules baggage attached. Worst of all, there's nothing that prevents you from combining this with Epic Dex, UO, Arete: Athletics and Arete: Presence for a DV of 200+. At the legend where that's possible, the activation cost won't deter you from popping it every battle. The game didn't need another big DV booster - what it needs is ways around DV.
Despite the funny name, I won't be using this knack. There's no good way to fix it.

Not The Face - This shouldn't be resisted with Willpower + INTEGRITY + Legend. Command or Larceny would make more sense. Using integrity means that a cruel backstabbing bastard is more likely to grant you mercy than a pious humanitarian is.
House-ruled to be resisted by Willpower + Larceny + Legend.

Return To Sender - Has the wrong prerequisite. Instead of Overt Order (which lasts only a few seconds) it should be either Instant Hypnosis or Kill The Messenger.
House-ruled to have Instant Hypnosis as the prerequisite.

Visage Great And Terrible - Examined against merely the Scion cannon, this knack is fine. However, as discussed below, this knack is inferior to at least two very similar fan-made knacks, neither of which is the least bit broken. (Some bias is possible here, as I made one of those knacks.)
Using Terrible As The Dawn instead.

Axiom - Seems to overlap heavily with Mystery, and will generally out-perform it. Rather unfortunate that single knack is better than an entire Purview.
Luckily, I've house-ruled Prophecy and Mystery, so I'll be able to use Axiom without a problem.

Concept To Execution - Overall, I love this knack (though I wonder why its Intelligence + Craft + LEGEND for the roll). It's the Hitori Hanzo fix we've all been craving. However, I do have one fairly serious problem with it. The entry for the difficulty chart says "Item runs counter to part of the story, theme or plot: +10". Shouldn't that be a bit higher in a game where PCs can have rolls that baseline at 45 before even looking at the dice or power-ups?
House-ruling that one line to be +20 to difficulty. That should keep the story/theme/plot from being wrecked until very late Godhood, at which point PCs should feel entitled to do so.

Adaptive Fighting - I see no point to the increasing cost, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding something since it's all written a little vaguely. Seems like they mean your Epic Wits Dots, not Successes, in which case the increasing cost is unneeded. Unless the "if this fails or you choose not to attack" is meant to be taken literally - as in, if we're supposed to infer the bonus lasts as long as you keep hitting, then that's really good and the extra cost is justified. But it's hard to say for certain what they mean, and if the bonus is dots and lasts for just 1 attack, there's no need for the stepped costs and limitations.
House-ruling this as follows: Works for next attack/action only. Costs just 1 legend. Bonus is equal to dots in Epic Wits.

Don't Read The Manual - This knack steps on the toes of Well-Read Virgin and Jack Of All Trades. Depending on whether or not you interpret it as getting around the "no Epics if you don't have the Ability" clause, it's either strictly better or strictly worse than both those knacks. I'm not sure what the writer's intent was.
Both the knacks it supplants have yet to be taken by anyone in my campaign, so I'll probably just not worry about this, and rule in the way that makes it strictly better than them.


Scire - This purview has some neat powers, but unless you've got Atlanteans in your game, there's little chance you'll find it useful. I won't spend much time on it.
I'm not using this Purview, as I have no plans of incorporating the dead Atlantean pantheon into my game.

Faunaphagia - Is a die-adding power, and unfortunately the existing Level 3 of Animal is also a die-adding power. This version is a lot more balanced than the existing power, so that's a nice plus. I'm more comfortable with this as a 3-dot boon, despite it being a lot more limited and taking more work on the GMs part if the PC chooses a non-standard animal. At least it works for the scene, so it's not strictly inferior.
Since I'd house-ruled the existing Animal 3 to reign it's power in, I probably won't be using this boon in my campaign.

Paper Tiger - Is fun, but ultimately it just duplicates the existing Animal boon of the same level.
I'll allow this Boon, but I think it's redundant, and doubt anyone will want both boons of this level.

Unlikely Pattern - Awesome power, but the costs and difficulties are silly. Making a handful of change land heads-up shouldn't cost a Willpower and 10 Legend - at least not for a level 8 power. But you can't lower the level since a mere 50 successes lets you create your own Pocket Universe. Ultimately, it's too costly to use for parlor tricks, so it'll only see use for things that are truly busted. PCs can score 50 successes by low Godhood, and that chart pretty much implies a top-end to difficulty.
I'd probably cut the legend cost to 1/3 the difficulty, rounded down, or just add it as a seperate column to the chart. The coin trick would cost 1 legend, making a cake would cost 6 legend, and making a car would cost 8. I'd then adjust the upper end of the chart. I'd add "rubies, chemistry set, batteries, and aluminum tubes" into "industrial laser" at difficulty: 35 / legend 11. I'd add "shipyard" into "aircraft carrier" at difficulty: 50 / legend: 16. Then I'd push the existing "dark matter becomes pocket universe" entry up to difficulty: 75 / legend: 25. Even then, though, someone will eventually get a helium tank and try to make a portable sun out of it, and the GM had better be prepared for it.

Absorb Light - This 4-dot Darkness boon provides weaker invisibility than the existing 3-dot Darkness boon or the existing 3-dot Moon boon. On the other hand, it renders you immune to lasers and radiation, so it's not entirely useless. You'd still be killed by the concussive force of a nuke, though. And you'll have to house rule whether immunity to infrared energy means protection from fire - I'd think it would, but the text doesn't specify.
I wouldn't criticize any GM who chose to alter it's stats or rule it doesn't stop fire and then downgrade it to a 3-dot boon. I'll probably rule that it boosts all your soaks vs fire, heat, and radiation by your Legend (instead of granting total immunity), and then leave it at 4-dot.

Death of the Soul - Technically not a 1-hit kill, but it feels like it. Everything hinges on a single die-roll, and if you don't resist it, there's nothing you can do to come back. Uncertain what I think of that. Also, it says the victim is now restricted to 5 dots in Abilities. They must have meant Attributes, since abilities are already capped at 5 dots.
I'll be leaving it alone for now, but reserve the right to house-rule later for power concerns later. My existing house-rules allow Abilities to go above 5, and Attributes cost a lot more than Abilities to buy up, so I'll probably not house-rule the likely typo, but just interpret it literally.

Rust/Shine - Is under powered. Hardness is laughable. It doesn't affect Relics, either. 4-dots and 2 legend per activation for a demigod to make a gun have a 50% chance of malfunctioning? Not good enough, especially since rusting out a sword or axe won't stop them from attacking you with it. The only thing that could make it worth it is being able to do so subtly over range - but the vague write-up implies you have to pass your hand over the item.
If any of my PCs pick up Earth, I'll probably downgrade this to a 3-dot Boon. To be safe, I'll house-rule that it can't work on an item in someone else's control, just free-standing items and things you're holding. That seems to be the intent of the original text, but it's nice to make it specific. Or maybe I'll just make a 2-dot version that's just Rust for small objects, and then house-rule the 4-dot version to work more offensively and/or restore items at range.

Toxic Thorn - I know this isn't meant to be a huge combat power, but to make a poison that would reliably kill an average mortal extra in 10 minutes after getting a single dose you'd have a difficulty of around 26. If the mortal's not an extra, the difficulty is around 35. That indicates to me that the author might not be using the poison rules as written in his home campaign.
I'll be leaving this one as-is, but I have no illusions that it's potent, at least not until you get to Godhood.

Flamin' Bullets - Has been criticized in a previous post. It's way underpowered, being weaker than the existing Fire 4, and Sun 4, and the Frost 2 boon in the upcoming Ragnarok.
I'll be house-ruling this to be Fire 3, and I wouldn't argue with any GMs who wanted to knock it down to Fire 2.

Hotter Than Hot - Sounds great until you get to the part about the die roll. So, someone who's Stamina+Fortitude+Legend trumps your Wits+Control is still immune, even though it was written that it "suffers no such limitation". It's like the author (or editor) wussed out at the last minute. Since all this power does is override resistance against your other fire powers, this is sad.
I'll probably strike that last paragraph.

Bolster - Doesn't state whether the bonus health levels are damaged first or last. This makes a huge impact on the power of the boon. If they fill last, it saves lives but doesn't prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. If they fill first, then this power (especially with high Epic Stamina) is bustedly good, since you could effectively cancel the first 50 levels of damage to get past someone's soak - and that's too good for level 2.
I'm house-ruling that the bonus health levels are the last to fill, and that they have whatever penalty the characters normal last pre-incapacitated health level has.

Antidote - Overcoming Jormungandr's venom is just difficulty 5. But if that same venom were made via Toxic Thorn, the difficulty to Antidote it would be 60. Seems like Toxicity might not be the right thing to base the difficulty on for Titanspawn.
I'll houserule it to be double the higher of (Toxicity or Damage). Instead of supernatural venoms running difficulty 3 to 5, they'd have difficulty 12 to 20. Mundane poisons would remain an automatic cure.

Drown - This is a little nitpicky, but here goes. When the existing level 5 is an attack power, why make the new attack also be level 5? Also, when the game has rules for drowning, and other rules for environmental effects, why not use one of those two systems for a power that makes people drown? Instead, this power uses a totally new system, that doesn't even match the games general rule of making things harm you on your tick, but instead requires keeping track of a separate 3-tick cycle on the battle wheel.
I may eventually work up my own drowning power, based on the games drowning or environmental rules.

And that's all the Knacks and Boons. Most are really good, but the ones mentioned above need house-ruling. I suppose that's not surprising, since so many boons in the original books needed fixing, too.

I've skipped Magic. It's a tiny bit complicated, and none of the PCs in my game have it, so I'm not really up to speed on it.
I can comment that the new 2-dot Spell "Legendary Surge" is really close in effect to the 9th Dot of the Aztec-specific purview. That's pretty awful. Mind you, Itzli 9 isn't that impressive, but to see that somewhat at White Wolf thinks it's balanced to put the same effect as a 2nd level power says something. Either one is grossly over- or under-powered for it's level, or their both off by a few dots from where they should be, but I couldn't say for certain which.

In general, the new powers that are just plain inferior to an existing Boon of the same or lesser rating in the same Purview (or an existing knack for the same Epic) really piss me off - that seems like a fairly amateurish mistake. I'd think it would be something you actively try not to do when designing powers for an RPG. That's one of the standards I've used when making things for my own campaigns, and I've observed a similar rule in published games like D&D. So why'd this happen?

Maybe the campaign Jesse (the author of most or all of that chapter of the Scion Companion) is running is operating at a subdued power level compared to the original rules? I don't know.

What I do know is, I'll be filling in additional Boons and Knacks for my own game.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

a Knack that is Great And Terrible

Some time back in April, I posted that I had a story to tell, but it would have to wait until early June. June came and went, and I was still sworn to secrecy because a product kept falling back. But today I can tell the story...

That product in question is the Scion Companion, chapter 2: Manifestations of Ichor. It was originally supposed to release in May, but y'know, this is White Wolf we're talkin' about. This new chapter, available as a PDF (and eventually as part of a hardcover book) if packed full of knacks, boons, and the like for Scion. I've been waiting impatiently for it, and my wait was all the more painful because of the story below. Part of my growing dissatisfaction with Scion, and my related tendency to post here less often, has had to do with this.

The chapter includes one knack in particular called "Visage Great And Terrible". It's an Appearance Knack that lets a character flip-flop between having Epic Beauty and being Epically Ugly. You may recall that I made something similar way back in January - a knack called "Terrible As The Dawn". The name of both knacks refer to Galadriel's transformation in the Fellowship of the Ring. I quoted her lines in the name, the White Wolf staff just referenced it, but it's clear where they were coming from.

I'm by no means the first person to come up with such an idea. My wife actually thought of it first. She's playing a daughter of Hel, and wanted to be alternately alluring and horrifying. She'd asked me to make a knack to let her do so, and I gladly did so. One of the forum posters replied to my initial post of the knack by saying that one of his players had made up a similar knack called "Scary Hot" so the concepts not terribly unique.

We briefly debated the merits of the various versions at the time. Scary Hot's main benefit was that it's elegant. It was like a two-sentence knack, super rules light. Something to the effect of "You can be frightening or sexy as you see fit. You can buy and use any Epic Appearance knack, regardless of whether it's normally restricted by whether your Epic Appearance represent beauty or ugliness ." Scary Hot didn't indicate whether it was a reflexive action, or a diceless 5-tick action, which could matter in some situations. It also didn't give any clues as to how the transformation took effect, which is both a strength and weakness, as it leaves it to the player or GM. And of course, Scary Hot didn't take a stance on whether or not your various versions still looked clearly human, and whether or not observers could tell you apart. There's games where such a vague power is perfect - I've played, GM'd, and enjoyed many of them. But, for a game with rules as fiddly as Scions, I think that stuff needs to be addressed, so I'm happier with "Terrible As The Dawn" than I would be with "Scary Hot". It's worked well for our campaign, and is useful without being overpowered. But I digress...

The real point is that in April, one of the staff at White Wolf took a peak on the Scion Wiki. There they saw my knack Terrible As The Dawn, and saw it's credit as being created by r_b_bergstrom. And one of the staff at White Wolf thought that meant Rebecca Borgstrom had made it. Friends and long-time readers will know, I am not Rebecca. I've had to post explanations of that here, on the Scion Forums, and on my user page on the Scion Wiki. I'm Rolfe Bergstrom.

So, since Rebecca Borgstrom sometimes works for White Wolf, but didn't work on the Scion Companion, the WW staffer sent me an email:
Hey Rebecca,

...wrote an Epic Appearance Knack that works very similarly to one that you wrote, in that it allows the user to switch back and forth between hideous and awesome appearance. Thought I would drop you a line and let you know so that you didn't wind up cracking the Companion and thinking "Hey . . . that was totally ripped off from my material!"
(Incidentally, I even had one of the same inspirations as you, namely Galadhriel, which led to the name I ultimately used for the Knack.)
Though tempted to pull some shenanigans, I behaved myself. I replied, indicated that I'm not Rebecca, and that I've never signed an NDA for White Wolf, but that I'd be happy to keep a secret for them till the book released. To which they replied:
...since Rebecca Borgstrom is an NDA'd writer, she'd generally have the ability to access and discuss material in process. Sorry to be such a downer, but it was simply an error.

At least now you know - when you grab the next installment of the Companion in May, you'll see it there.
I can't begin to tell you how hard it has been to keep that one under wraps. I'm playing the game week after week, my wife (whom I never keep anything from) gave me the inspiration for the knack in the first place, and the product was two months late. Man, I nearly burst on so many issues. Every time my wife's character would use the power, I wanted to comment, but couldn't. Every time some random Scion forumite would assume I was Rebecca, I wanted to say "don't worry about it, even the White Wolf staff has gotten confused!" but I was afraid that would cause trouble for the person who emailed me. I figure said staffer is safe now that the book has come out and I was able to keep my vow of silence. (You're welcome, by the way.)

But now, I'm afraid the next thing I'm going to say will sound a little snarky. I'm sorry, but my critique of Visage Great and Terrible is that it's more the latter than the former. Lets compare it to the knacks mentioned above (and for disclosure's sake, I'll remind you that I wrote Terrible As The Dawn).

KnackElegantCost EffectiveDisguises
Scary Hotyesyesno
Visage Great And Terriblenonoyes
Terrible As The Dawnnoyesyes

Like Scary Hot, Visage doesn't mention if the knack is reflexive or diceless ("at will" has no rules meaning in Scion), so there's still a ruling to be made by the GM and different campaigns will handle it differently. Unlike Scary Hot, it doesn't have the elegance of being two sentences, Visage is 3 paragraphs yet has no added functionality within them.

Like Scary Hot, (and unlike Terrible As The Dawn) visage does nothing to disguise you. In fact, Visage states quite explicitly that it doesn't change your appearance at all. You still look the same unless you also have the Detail Variation knack from Scion: God. Somehow, you're just ugly, but you "can change from an elegant, refined woman to a vengeful, nerve-wracking hag in the blink of an eye." Honestly, good roleplaying can do that without a Knack. But as long as it's free to activate, it's no big deal, and would be nice as a cheap tool to make up for lackluster acting.

However, Visage isn't free - has an activation cost - you must pay 3 Legend Points per transformation. What are you paying for with Visage? The ability to use the 2 or 3 knacks that require you to be ugly/beautiful? I'd have thought that the 5 xp you spent on Visage was payment enough - but 5xp and +3 legend per activation seems overkill. Terrible As The Dawn also has an activation cost, but it's 1 willpower (roughly = 2 legend), and you get +1 auto success on disguise rolls and get to specify what physical change makes your alternate version look so horrific. So Visage does rather less than Dawn, and yet costs more to activate.

Since over 5 months of play with Dawn in the mix has shown it to NOT be broken in any way, I can only conclude that Visage is just over-costed. I'll definitely be sticking with Terrible As The Dawn.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Google Image Labeler Strategy Guide

So, I've tried playing google image labeler some more, and am getting increasingly frustrated with the idiots I've been paired with. Back when I first tried it a few months ago, I was scoring over a 1,000 points per game quite frequently. Now, it seems like I average 600. The big change since then is that's it's off Beta, which probably means there's an influx of people just finding out about it now.

Rather than just bitch about the noobs, I thought perhaps I could take a stab at making a useful Strategy Guide for the game. Before doing so, I thought it'd be a good idea to check if anyone else had already done so. There's probably some other articles on the topic out there, so I should read them first, so I don't just duplicate their work. Here's what came up on the first page of a search:
So let's talk about that purpose / function for just a moment. Aside from being a light-hearted game, Google Image Labeler is a tool for labeling images to make them easier to find via Google searches. That much is obvious.
Here's what people aren't thinking about: If that function isn't being fulfilled, the tool is unlikely to be supported for long. There's no advertising revenue being generated when people play it, and it no doubt uses up server time and power. If it's not doing them any good, it might not stick around. So if you like the game, cheats like the Sky-Man strategy aren't necessarily a good thing.

I understand that not everyone plays for the same reasons, so for every strategy tip below, I'll give it three ratings: Score, Speed and Function. "Score" refers to the likelihood that the tactic will score you lots of points per entry. "Speed" refers to how quickly this lets you get a match, which sometimes does and sometimes doesn't result in high scores. "Function" refers to how well that tactic serves the games stated function of improving searches on google.

What follows is very much a rough draft:

Type as many things as you can think of. Score: High Speed: High Function: High
This strategy has a lot going for it, yet it seems most players of the game haven't mastered it. I'll often get paired with someone who enters a single label, waits 30 seconds, and then asks to pass without entering a single label. I'm always puzzled by this, since it seems to go against the goal of the game and even the most simple strategic analysis. While an unusual word is worth 2 or 3 times as many points as a more common word, it's still better to get a match than to do nothing at all. If there's a picture of a car, don't just type "car" and leave it at that - type car, hit return, type vehicle, hit return, type the color the car is, hit return, type what style of car it is, hit return, etc.

Type what you read: Score: High Speed: High Function: High
This is the amongst the best advice I can give: If the image has a word in it, type it. A lot of times you'll get logos or captions on the picture. Unless it's a very generic word (like "sky") you'll probably get over 100 points for it. If everyone gets in the habit of typing the words in the picture, it'll make matches happen quickly. And since the words presumably have something to do with the image, it performs the labeler's function quite nicely. I even recommend this tactic when you don't know what the word means - nobody will know.

Type fast. Score: Medium Speed: High Function: Medium
Never delete or edit. Score: Medium Speed: High Function: Low
The goal should be to type like a stream of consciousness. When a word enters your mind, type it immediately. There's no penalty for typing something that doesn't apply to the picture, except time wasted. Don't agonize over whether or not to type a particular word. I'm amazed how sometimes people will type just one label, and sit there paralyzed. Don't worry that you're typing something dumb, just type it. Don't worry that you're spelling is awful - if you know you spelled it wrong, hit return, and type it again. Don't delete, don't edit, don't worry - any of that will just slow you down. You'll get more points over the long term if you concentrate on speed over accuracy.

Retyping long or odd words: Score: Medium Speed: Debatable Function: High
If there's just one obvious answer, and it's not a word you spell daily, type it again. Chances are the reason you haven't matched on the really obvious word is that one of you has misspelled it. Cholesterol becomes cholesteral or hcolesterol. If there's an impass, and you can't imagine why they haven't typed the obvious, assume you made a typo. After the game you can examine your partner's unmatched guesses. I've frequently seen typos in those cases where someone entered a single word and just sat around without making a second guess. Seems like retyping could be a good tactic if it's taking a long time to get to a match. I've given this a "Speed: Debatable" rating because it's hard to categorize. While it's actually quite useful for speeding up a stuck game, you hope to be making matches fast enough that you won't have time to even consider this tactic. And retyping if you didn't actually make a typo could just be a waste of time.

Keep your mind in the gutter: Score: Medium Speed: High Function: Debatable
There's a great truism about the net that goes like this: "Until you've met them in person, assuming everyone you interact with online is a 15-year old boy." Guesses like "hot" and "boobs" get matches an alarming amount of the time. Whether such labels actually help towards the avowed function of the labeler is debatable. "Sexy" on every female under the age of 50 is probably not so helpful, but "Penis" or "Porn" on pictures that contain explicit imagery probably is. Fighting a moral battle against it will just lower your score, and suggests you lack a grounding in the reality of the net.

If all else fails, guess colors: Score: Low Speed: High Function: Low
"Red dress" will score two or three times as many points as just "red" does, but it's a lot more likely to make an instant match. I tend to save simple color words for later, never starting with them, but there's some merit to the idea of going as simple as possible as quickly as possible. Just the same, a game with a dozen 50-point matches doesn't score very highly.

Overall, hitting the right balance between Score and Speed is tricky, and paying more than lip service to Function at the same time is difficult.

If I find time, I may add a write-up of strategies that just don't work, and tactics to avoid.

Crazy cyberpunk weapons in the real world

Info on the pepper ball guns and goo guns being used at this year's political conventions, along with tantalizing bits about the sonic weapons and microwave weapons that the government will neither confirm nor deny are being used. The goo gun footage is the coolest part of this:

And if that's not sci-fi enough for you, here's a bit on the SWORDS project, real life armed robots being used by our military today.

It's called the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's just a detector/sensor of some sort. It's armed, and can carry a 50-caliber machine gun or "the M202 –A1 with a 6mm rocket launcher"

Number Five is alive.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My submissions to GwenCon

I just emailed Andy Collins the events I'd like to run for GwenCon:

The first is an RPG:
Lost Waaaagh!
system based on Dark Heresy / Warhammer FRP
6 Players
4 hours
No knowledge required
A small band of Orks miraculously survive when their space "plane" crashes on a mysterious planet. Now they must fend off smoke-tyranids, flashback sequences, and even "Da Uvvers". Familiarity with ABC's Lost and GW's WH40K wouldn't hurt, but is not required.
As you can see, it's not at all related to the various games I'd discussed here before for possible GwenCon games. Many of them had been based on Scion, and I've decided I hate the Scion mechanics. No doubt I'll probably find the Dark Heresy mechanics intolerable as well, but for a one-shot, I should be able to distill them down into a rules-light version.

The second event is a card game I'd "moderate":
Blank White Cards
6 Players
2 hours
No knowledge required
It's kinda like a CCG, except you create the cards during the game. Each card needs a name, a quick (and awful) illustration, and then either a point value or explanation of what it does. Pens, colored pencils, and blank cards will be provided. Bring your own imagination. Winning is NOT the goal.
I plan to run BWC twice, back to back, since it's the sort of game people can leave (or dive into) mid-game without a real problem. That way no one's forced to commit to 4 hours if they only want to do 2, and we might get some fresh meat between rounds.