Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dungeons of Dredmor

Get used to seeing this screen a lot. It ain't easy, but it's fun.
My Continuum campaign is on hold till the new year, so I've been filling my time playing (and modding) a wonderful little computer game called Dungeons of Dredmor.  It's essentially a roguelike, but with nice graphics instead of little ascii glyphs that populate that genre. So, more like Diablo, but with a wicked sense of humor (much of it fueled by anachronism and a keen understanding of the tropes of the genre. The remainder is fueled by lutefisk and booze.).

Dungeons of Dredmor has a ton of variation and is highly replayable, largely due to the various character builds interacting with the dungeon in completely different ways. It's not class-based, you chose your own combinations of 7 of the roughly 30 skill trees. If you can teleport, turn enemies into meat products, build your own armor from items found in the dungeon,  and rob from vending machines, you'll get a very different game then if you choose to be a vegan archaeologist with a pet mustache-golem. I'm not making that up.

Best part: Dungeons of Dredmor is dirt cheap. I got mine via one of the Humble Indie Bundles, but you can pick it up on Steam or Desura for $5 and the expansion is just another $3. The wife and I have logged over 170 hours playing it, and have shown no signs of slowing down. Seriously. You can't beat that value for your money.

As mentioned, I'm working on mods for the game, which I'll link to from this blog when they're ready for release.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Catalog of Continuum Corners

In Continuum, a "Corner" is a meeting place, secret lair, landing pad, fort, home or workspace for time-travelers. Some are hidden away in the middle of nowhere, others exist brazenly under the nose of the teeming masses that are unaware of the true secret history of time-travel. Corners frequently have clever nicknames, used to help spanners (time-travelers) coordinate activities in lieu of a street address. If you know a lot of Corners, it's easier to get around in time and space.

Since the PCs can travel time and space at will, the GM often needs to be prepared at a moments notice to detail a new corner. You hand the PCs a clue that's written in a dead language, and they'll suddenly go looking for Corners in remote centuries where they can learn to speak it. Which means its really helpful to a Continuum GM to have at their fingertips a list of Corners, their catchy names, and their locations in time as well as space.

The following is a lengthy snippet of the master index of Corners from my GMing files for my Continuum RPG campaign. I thought these 304 tiny summaries might be a helpful starting place for GMs launching a Continuum campaign, who want to get a running head-start on the Corners of their campaign. I have redacted all the narcissist dens and major spoilers off the list (I hope) so it shouldn't ruin anything if my players poke around on the list. The original is on a file on my computer with hyperlinks and wiki table syntax, but this version is stripped down for your use in porting it to whatever database or word processing program you find useful. In theory it's tab-delimited, but the inconsistencies of HTML and blogspot might nuke that.

You'll find there's very few corners mentioned as being in the United States, for which I apologize. It's mainly a function of the specifics of my campaign. There are clusters of corners around the times and places where the main plot has been - the UK on the Cusp, and various parts of Europe during the renaissance and reformation.

A large number of these Corners have full pages in my GMing notes which go into varying detail about the Corner and its relevant NPCs, but some Corners on the list are just a placeholder that exists as little more than the data listed below. Only a relative handful of the Corners listed here have actually been home to scenes in the game. Part of the nature of Continuum GMing is that you never really know where the PCs will go, so you have to be prepared for everything. Some are locations where my plotlines (or important events in the backstories of NPCs) have taken place, others are just moments in history that struck me as an awesome place to hide a corner.

Also on the list are mentions of every Corner I'm aware of from the official published Continuum RPG materials. The last part of each entry indicates where one can find out more about the Corner in question. "CoRPG" means the main Continuum RPG rulebook, and will usually include a page number. "FI" means the "Further Information" sourcebook, again with a page number reference. There's also a few Corners here taken from various PDF adventures that Aetherco (or fans) released, such as "Identity Is All" (which I used but heavily modified for my campaign) and "Death-Hand of St. No-One". "Short-bus" means it was a corner used in my first Continuum campaign, which may-or-may-not exist in the current campaign in the form listed elsewhere on this blog. A few entries include links to websites that cover interesting historical facts that inspired the Corner, or include search terms (such as names of historical characters) that should turn up details with a little Google-fu and elbow grease. Some include explanatory notes to help me internalize and remember the concept of a particular Corner before I got around to making a full page for it.

The list remains in its index and work-in-progress version and hasn't really been edited for public consumption (other than a quick scan for spoilers). So if there's anything on the list that puzzles someone who deems themself reasonably well-versed in Continuum jargon, just drop me an email (or comment on my most recent blog post) and I'll do my best to explain.

Entries with triple-question-marks ("???") indicate details I didn't have (or need) at the time the Corner first made it on to my list. Most have since been filled in on the individual Corner pages in my GMing notes, but if I can't be bothered to update my own index page I'm certainly not going to take the time to clean it up for this publication that might well be of zero interest to anyone. The fine art of GMing prep involves knowing which bits you need and what details you can ignore for now and improvise should they come up - and that goes double for Continuum.

Hopefully there's a couple Continuum GMs out there in the internet that will find this list useful. I sometimes fear I'm the only person running this wonderful game anymore.

Corner Name     Locality     Years     Type     Further Information is available…
Absolution     United States     2001 to 2152     Moneychangers     FI, pg 88-91
Abtu'o (the House of Abtu)     Thebes, Hat-Kaptah (Ancient Egypt)     1287 BCE to 1242 BCE     Midwives     FI pg 80-81
Aedes Saluto     Rome     249 BCE     Antiquarians     Short-bus
All The Globe's A Stage     Globe Theatre, London, UK     1599 - 1642     Thespians   
Alpha Error     CDC, Atlanta, GA United States     1970 to 2070     Physicians     false positive
Always Thursday Night     New Brunswick, NJ, United States     1983 to 2014     Novice Corner     FI, pg 19 & 24
An Nadaba     Biada (Northern Europe)     4927 BCE to 4413 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 64-69
Analytical Difference     London, United Kingdom     1820 to 1871     Engineers     following up where Charles Babbage didn't
Antiquities Survey     Atlantis, and ruins of Antedesertium     12969 BCE to 12201 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 40-45
Anyway     ???     2117 to 2212     Thespians     FI, pg 88-91
The Art of Warsaw     National Theatre, Warsaw, Poland     1831 to 1924     Thespian     National theatre was closed by the Russians in the wake of the November 1830 uprising led by Piotr Wysocki
Atavis Vox     Rome     96 BCE to 234     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Atl echiechi Atl     Aztec Empire     1376 to 1482     Thespians     FI, pg 82-87
Avenue of the Dead     Teotihuacan (Mexico)     117 BCE to 630 CE     Engineers   
Axabeneixa     Persepolis (in modern Iran), and elsewhere with Xerxes     555 BCE to 431 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 76-81
Baconiana     London, England, (United Kingdom)     1586 to 1626     Mixed Fraternal: Thespian, Scribe, Engineer     Francis Bacon
Barcode         Piscean-Aquarian Cusp     Moneychangers     "Barcode" is the name of one of the algorithms that automates stock transactions.
Barnaby's Undertaker Supply and Chemical Transportation Company     London, United Kingdom     1814 to 1902     Quicker     CoRPG, pg 82
Bartschious     Germany and Poland     1620 to 1638     Thespian     Personal travels and mysteries  of Susanna Kepler - Bartsch - Kowalska
Bavmaiachi     Vayana     6032 BCE to 5626 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 64-69
Befewa     Sut (Eastern Europe)     7006 BCE to 6847 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 58-63
Bell Telephonic     Cambridge, MA, Washington, D.C., and Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, Canada     1875, 1876… 1922     Thespian Understudy performance of Alexander Graham Bell by Waith Go     CoRPG, pg 69
Benjamin's House     Hoboken, NJ, United States     1943 to 2011     Moneychangers     FI, pg 19, 24-25
Bernhard Bunker     London, UK     1943 to 1962     Moneychangers     Preventing and profiting from Nazi counterfeiters
Beverly Hills Copse     Hollywood, CA, United States     1947 to 2046     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Big Mike     Banana Fields of Panama     1950 and the Libran Era     Moneychangers preserving the Gros Michel banana
Binocular Disparity     ???     2362 and Up     Physicians Boxed Mental Institution     Psyche
Blazon     (United Kingdom)     1127 to 1492     Antiquarians     serious heralds
Blitzguides     London United Kingdom     1940 - 1944     Service Corner run by Midwives, Scribes & Antiquarians   
Blue and white diagonal descent     Red-Aqua-white (also known as "blurred clockwise from lower right, candy red - pale aqua - dull white", a telepathic representation of the city), Upsilon Andromedae 3     1830 to 4261, and 4318 to 4319     Quicker     CoRPG, pg 82
Blue Box     Cardiff     2003 to at least 2011…     Goof-off pad for geeky Antiquarians     Dr. Who starts filming here in 2004.
Blue Jewel In The Sky     Lake Puma Yumco, Tibet     1641 to 1855     Novice Corner     Penuri Pemba, and Prop A
Blue Sky Rising     West Orange, NJ, United States     1981 to 2014     Novice Corner     FI, pg 19-26
Bluestocking     Le Marais, Paris, France     1605 to 1683     Midwives     literary salon, ruelle style
Bound Periodical     St. Pancras Library, London, United Kingdom     1971 to 2022     Scribes Overdue Brigade     The British Library
Breviograph     ???     Sometime Down from the 17th Century     Scribes   
Bull Market     Manhattan Financial District, New York City, United States     1884 to 2058     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
Buthaz     Tireken     2438 BCE to 2260 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 70-75
Cada Bastu Detu     drifting boating communities of Cada Bastu (ocean-going people called the Basturo)     12707 BCE to 12366 BCE     Mixed Fraternal Corner, Spans 3's and 4s.     FI, pg 43-45
Cadency     (United Kingdom)     ??? Middle Ages or Elizabethan     Midwives     Cadency is Heraldry term for small elements that distinguish between arms within the same family
Caerphilly Cep     Caerphilly Castle, , United Kingdom     1989 to 2012     PC's Novice Corner     Caerphilly Cep
Canarias     Portugal     2077 to 2153     Midwives     FI, pg 88-91
Canting Arms     (United Kingdom)     1485 to 1603     Antiquarians     fun-loving heralds
Capitulus     Rome     69 BCE to 247     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
Capone's Vault     Lexington Hotel, Chicago, IL     1892-1978     Moneychangers   
Caress     South Asia     11902 BCE to 11709 BCE     Physicians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Casa Pasadena     Hollywood, CA, United States     1842 to 1987     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Cemetery Dogs     Greyfriars Kirkyard and Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom     1841 to 2022     Quicker   
Ch'ien     Chou     522 BCE to 457 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 76-81
Cha me hedipa     Mayan Empire     997 BCE to 762     Midwives     FI, pg 76-81
Chamberlen's Machine     London, United Kingdom     1572 to 1728     Midwives     Birthing Forceps where the Chamberlen family secret.
Cheik Utba'e'     Maihur Riki     10072 BCE to 9966 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 52-57
Chippies     London     Aquarian Cusp     Novice Corner   
CIA Headquarters     Washington, DC (with second cornerhouse in Langley, VA), United States     1947 to 2070     Foxhorn     CoRPG, pg 72
Circe's Dance     Paris, France     1581     Thespians     Ballet Comique de la Reine
Coal Boat     Cardiff     1903 to 1955     Engineers     Cardiff is the worlds largest Coal port for 50 years
Cold Storage     not far from the center of the Universe     Lower Capricornic Era, perilously close to the Big Bang     Quicker and Inheritors corner and containment facility. Matter that is unsolvably fragged is brought here to isolate it from Earth and the other inheritor systems     CoRPG pg 170
Coconut Reactor     Palymyra Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean     1959 to 2022     Engineers   
Conquest Slab     ("Building J" of Monte Alban), Zapotec culture, Oaxaca (Mexico)     393 BCE to 811 CE     mixed Foxhorn & Scribes     Wikipedia
Counterculture     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 40-45
Crystal Triangle         Piscean-Aquarian Cusp     Moneychangers     "Crystal Triangle" is the name of one of the algorithms that automates stock transactions.
Danse Peste     Strasbourg     1515-1523, 1568     Physicians     Dancing Plague
Dark Tower     New York City, United States     1872 to 1931     Foxhorn   
Delphine Tinte     Basle, Switzerland     …1568     Thespians Understudy, with some Scribes supporting.   
Dendy's House     Mrs. Dendy's Theatrical Lodging House, London, United Kingdom     1806 - 1968     Thespians     Inspired by "Tipping the Velvet"
Der Spanner     Zurich, Switzerland     ??? late 20th to early 21st Century     Engineers (Patch and Anticipare)     CoRPG, pg 70
Dheesra Yalpaht     Heerbat (Central Asia)     6534 BCE to 6312 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 58-63
Dies Magni     Rome     618 BCE to 432     Foxhorn     FI, pg 76-81
Digital Divinity     Bristol, UK     Aquarian Cusp     Engineers     inspired by name of real-life Bristol technology company
Dream of the Atlantic     sailing the Atlantic     Geminid Era     Antiquarians collection of lost ships     CoRPG pg 161 - 162
Drop By Drop     Tibet     1578 to 1959     Novice   
Dust     Southeast Asia     11759 BCE to 11644 BCE     Quicker Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
E'yt Turem     Inet'tchedese     6648 BCE to 6432 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 58-63
Ede Tre'idt     Africa     7811 BCE to 7750 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 58-63
Editio princeps     Basle, Switzerland     1468-1568     Scribes     Latin for the first printed edition of a previously hand-copied manuscript
Eithechtheikya     ???     8516 BCE to 8114 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 52-57
Empty Wrench     South-Central Asia     10850 BCE to 10537 BCE     Engineers Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Ermu Ga-re-lash     Cheth-edn (West Asia)     7129 BCE to 6984 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 58-63
Esa Thunt     Shu Siapte (Southeast Asia)     4756 BCE to 4428 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 64-69
Eyeglass Case     Central Asia     11817 BCE to 11762 BCE     Antiquarians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Eyo Ueiruh Reruh (“Hard Climb Penthouse”)     Maihur Riki (Virgin city whose ruins are hidden in north Siberia until 2023)     9952 BCE to 9899 BCE     Novice Corner     FI pg 55
Fall and Rise Again     Newark, NJ, United States     1951 to 1993     Novice Corner     FI, pg 19, 24-25
Fene Feleen     Ruabet     6766 BCE to 6497 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 58-63
Fest deer Esel     Basel, Switzerland     1431     Thespians     Feast of the Ass
Field of Cloth of Gold     Balingham, near Calais, France     1520     Thespians stage manager     2,000 tents and a fake castle for 3 weeks
Fire Formula     Constantinople, Byzantine Empire     600 to 1099     Engineers and Thespians     Greek Fire
Five Brave Hunters     “Grey Deer Men” Neanderthal tribe, north of the Fresh-Winding River (Piscean Name: river Seine, France)     Virgin Era     Neanderthal Span 4s and 5s, most born Down of the Fields of Barabande. Here with permission.     FI pg 49-50
Flicker Fusion     Trans-Asia District 2     2152 to 2222     Physicians     Dr. Lainshaw corners Here
Flying Crow With Magic Fire     Nanyang, China     1355 to 1412     Engineers     Wikipedia on Fire Dragon Manual
Flying Squadron     Paris and other parts of France     1547 to 1589     Midwives     Catherine de' Medici
Footlights     Manhattan, NY, United States     1899 to 1975     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Fortress Hanseatic     Visby, Germany     1043 to 1277     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
Fortress on the Street     Strasbourg     1349 to 1870     Foxhorn   
Fray Blue Blushing     Beijing, China     2137 to 2220     Foxhorn     FI, pg 88-91
The French Resistance     Merankea (what will be southern France)     …6231 BCE…     Engineers     Short-Bus
Frequently     Unity     2175 to 2310     Scribes     FI, pg 88-91
Frostgreen/Forestgreen/Richer Hue (This is one three-part telepathic name)     small Upsilon timeship that visits Earth frequently.     variable     Fairly typical of Inheritors spacecraft.     CoRPG pg 186 - 187
Fumo e specchi     Florence, Italy     …1504…     Engineers and Thespians. This corner spies on Michaelangelo Buonorotti and Leonardo DaVinci.     Casa Buonarroti
Galgen     Basle, Switzerland     1543     Foxhorn and Physicians    Jakob Karrer Von Gebweiler dissection
Gereg Nalgob     Uiualaga (Western Europe)     5382 BCE to 4826 BCE     Physicians     FI, pg 64-69
Geren     Urut He (South Asia)     6951 BCE to 6821 BCE     Dreamers     FI, pg 58-63
Gilt Lady     London, UK     1734 to 2152     Moneychangers     Bank of England
Givrek     Vielavayan Empire     5717 BCE to 5695 BCE     Secret Military Corner, infiltrating Vayana     FI, pg 68
Glamorgan Scrum     Cardiff (and surrounding area), United Kingdom     …2004…2010…     Foxhorn   
Goddelijke Bloesem     Amsterdam, Netherlands     … 1636 to 1638 …     Moneychangers   
The Golden Stars     Basle, Switzerland     1412 and Up     A series of Novice Corners operating out of Zum Goldenen Sternen (Golden Stars Inn)     See also Second Star, Wandering Stars, etc.
Gone Gotha Gone     London, United Kingdom     1907 - 1917     Antiquarians   
Goseck Lucidity     Goseck Circle, near what will be Berlin     4900 BCE     Short-lived Dreamers Corner that first exposed the Hunt of the Sun     Goseck Circle
Gizmonoco     St. Paul, MN, United States     1987 to 2222     Engineers     CoRPG, pg 70
The Great Librarium     Atlantis     12969 BCE to 12191 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 40-45
Green Barn     Atlantis     12969 BCE to 12191 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 40-45
Gret     Wurise     9153 BCE to 8832 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 52-57
Groeg ydy abar a ognise bod 'n lladdedig ail a ail     Illium on the Cam     …1248 BCE to 1238 BCE     Midwives     Where Troy Once Stood by Iman Wilkens, also “Short-bus”
Gurhuen     The Nurisen     8392 BCE to 7806 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 52-57
Hair Bundle     Tikal (Guatamala)     111 to 561, 682 to 812     Dreamers     Wikipedia
Happy Desertion     Watchpost cities of "Happy Valley" Pueblos (four corners region of SW North America)     1280 to 1300     Thespians     entire 4 corners region migrates out of the pueblos because farms fail at borders of the Happy Valley and the watchpost cities are emptied. Inner areas of valley collapse because they no longer have the guard/look out cities
H'iesh'håshaa-U'sÿss (Leafnest of the Visitor)     ???     106,234,822 BCE to 106,234,071 BCE     Quicker     CoRPG, pg 82
Hatchet     North America     11246 BCE to 10982 BCE     Midwives Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Hearts Singing     Well-woman clinic in West London. London, United Kingdom     1985 to 2010     Midwives     CoRPG, pg 74
Helpers Ass'n of Washington     United States (Washington, DC?)     1937 to 2017     Midwives     FI, pg 82-87
Heron Lakes Lodge     Ohio Valley, North America     106 to 1244     Foxhorn     CoRPG, pg 72
Hewing Hewer     Caerphilly     1327 and 2152, but not between them     Mixed Fraternal
Hireaunkh     Hireaunkh Forest     9869 BCE to 9723 BCE     Physicians     FI, pg 52-57
Homely     Polynesia     10762 BCE to 10544 BCE     Midwives Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Hook and Wheels     Brooklyn, New York City, United States     1993     Novice Corner     "The Death Hand of Saint No-One" adventure pdf
Horse God Thunders     Urudolyan Foothills (Russia)     5746 BCE to 5570 BCE     Foxhorn     CoRPG, pg 72
Horsemen     Cardiff, but with additional Cloisters in Clevedon, Alton Barnes, and Bristol, UK, at least     2002 to 2011     Foxhorn   
Horses and Torpedoes     Arab Syria     1271 to 1277     Engineers     The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices
The Hospice     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Physicians and Quicker     FI, pg 40-45
House of Knowledge     Fatimid Caliphate (Egypt)     1004…     Scribes
House of Wisdom     Bagdhad, Abbassid Caliphate (Iraq)     762 to 1258     Scribes
House of Sleep     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Dreamers     FI, pg 40-45
Hu Nar     Brudhlk (Central Europe)     8873 BCE to 8712 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 52-57
The Hunt Club     London, United Kingdom     1797 to 1919     Foxhorn (most important Foxhorn counter this side of the Virgin Era)     CoRPG, pg 72; FI pg 82-87
Hwa     Hat-Kaptah (Ancient Egypt)     300? BCE to 2000 BCE     Physicians     FI, pg 70-75
Iakka Pneima     Kena'ani     1872 BCE to 1567 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 76-81
Ie've-ya-wast     Vayana     5966 BCE to 5634 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 64-69
Il Ridotto ("The Private Room")     Venice, Italy     1638 to 1774     Moneychangers     state-run casino whose dress code includes mandatory masks
Ilkad Ledash     Eridu     3108 BCE to 2999 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 70-75
Incunabula     Strasbourg     1440-1500     Engineers & Scribes     Incunabula are pamphlets printed before 1500 AD
Interlineation     London, United Kingdom     Not far from the Aquarian Cusp     Scribes   
Intermedio     Florence (Italy)     1513 to 1589     Thespians   
Ipt Awyut     Hat-Kaptah (Ancient Egypt)     2981 BCE to 2690 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 70-75
Iy     Mui O     6839 BCE to 6754 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 58-63
Jerda Ko     West Asia     5662 BCE to 4381 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 64-69
Jongleur Temperance     Lille, France     1091 to 1562     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Kali Yuga Moksha     Chattisgarhi, India     1582 to 2000     Midwives     CoRPG, pg 74
Kare'i Tudo'eyi     Oyo'tu village of No'pa'a     9844 BCE to 9686 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 52-57
Kejaweni     Yeberen (Asia Minor)     8321 BCE to 7972 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 52-57
Keramos Asclepiadae     Isle of Kos (off Asia Minor)     990 BCE to 182 BCE     Physicians     CoRPG, pg 80; FI pg 76-81
Klaba Chebyenami     Vayana     5721 BCE to 5350 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 64-69
King's N'cle     Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom     1834 to 1934     Physicians     Newcastle University School of Medicine and Surgery
Knight Fisching     Yugoslavia, Japan, and Iceland     1992, 2004, and 2005 - 2008, respectively     Thespians, with some Midwives     Following Bobby Fischer
Kopros Athenoi     Macedon     360 BCE to 294 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 76-81
Ks'ara yti N'stana     Pacing the traveller Tsantatur on his worldwide journeys     2725 BCE to 2661 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 70-75
Kwi-yche     Kohyo'a-e-e (Southeast Asia)     8026 BCE to 7754 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 58-63
l'innocence galvaudé (Overused Innocence )     Catacombs, and Saint Innocents cathedral/graveyard/fountain area, Paris, France         Quicker   
Lalys Bailey     Palestine     1100     Engineers     Lalys is a semi-mythical Byzantine crusader castle maker
Landscape Heraldry     (United Kingdom)     10th Century to 19th Century     Dreamers     dream-time fantasy realm
Laserwort     Cyrene, Northern tip of Africa (Libya)     circa 5th Century BCE to 1st Century     Midwives source of Silphium
Lawton Cathouse     Reno, NV, United States     …1982…     Novice Corner
Lenore     Iberia (Spain)     11065 BCE to 10899 BCE     Scribes Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Let It Be     London, United Kingdom     (1963 to) 1969     Thespians     Beatles Rooftop Concert, Jan 30 1969
Level 1     United States     1932 to 2002     Engineers, Foxhorn, Physicians, and Quicker     FI, pg 82-87
Library of Congress     Washington, DC, United States     1790 to 2122     Scribes     CoRPG, pg 84
Litchfield Hills Pediatric     Bantam, CT, United States     1992 to 1998, 2043     Physicians     pertaining to a CDC containment “hot zone” in 1993
Lost and Foundation     high in the Andes mountains, (South America)     Cancerean Era     Antiquarians collection of lost buildings     CoRPG pg 161 - 162
The Louvre     Paris, France     1844 to 2045     Antiquarians     CoRPG, pg 67
Llywelyn's Head     Caerphilly, Wales, United Kingdom     1268 to 1326   
Long Land Dreaming     Northern Australia     13021 BCE to 1683     Dreamers     CoRPG, pg 68; FI pg 40-87
Lundy Lines     Chicago, IL, United States     1891 to 1979     Engineers   
Macbeth     North Asia     10969 BCE to 10628 BCE     Thespians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Maison Rousse     Neufchateau, France     1330 to 1572     Novice Corner (where Jeanne D'Arc is a novice)     CoRPG, pg 184
Mandala     Asia     ???     Quicker   
Maquahuitl Apex     Aztec Empire     1519 to 1521     Engineers     Maquahuitl = obsidian "sword"
Mercury     East Asia     11679 BCE to 11482 BCE     Moneychangers Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Middle Span     Central America     11983 BCE to 11842 BCE     Engineers Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Morse Mill     speak easy in Chicago, IL, United States     1878-1936     Novice Corner     Public name was Pop Morse's Gardens till 1914, public name changed to Green Mill thereafter.
Mosquito     Atlanta, GA United States     1942-1946     Physicians     Office of National Defense Malaria Control Activities
Mound Monks     Cahokia, Mississipian culture (Illinois, North America)     892 to 1270     Moneychangers   
Mraiset Jet'th     Mrasiset     10849 BCE to 9881 BCE     Physicians     FI, pg 52-57
Mref Kafa     Afaset     9154 BCE to 8923 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 52-57
Mreten     Uen Tae (North America)     7841 BCE to 7532 BCE     Physicians     FI, pg 58-63
Musei Vaticani     Vatican City, Rome, Italy     1503 to 1778     Antiquarians     CoRPG, pg 67
Museum, Sarapeum et Caesareum     The Great Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Hat-Kaptah/Egypt     285 BCE to 690 (with burnings at 48 BCE, 265-270 AD, 305, 391, 415, and 686 CE)     Scribes     CoRPG, pg 84; FI pg 76-81
Mut Haat     Lake Region (where Vielavaya will be)     7529 BCE to 7218 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 58-63
MWPP (Medieval Witness Protection Plan)    Strasbourg, Alsace (border of France and the Holy Roman Empire)    1515 to 1550    Service Corner created by the PCs of my campaign, relating to the dancing plague and actions against a narcissist serial-killer in Strasbourg (and Basel Switzerland)
Nate's Hardware Store     Akron, Ohio, United States     1932 to 2001     Engineers     CoRPG, pg 70
National Palace Museum     Taipei, China     1958 to 2043     Antiquarians     CoRPG, pg 67
New You     Hollywood, CA, United States     1949 to 2043     Physicians     CoRPG, pg 80; FI 82-87
The Niagra Twelve     Planned Parenthood in Buffalo, New Jersey, United States     1972 to 2018     Midwives     CoRPG, pg 74
Nmetseshi     Ur     3986 BCE to 3662 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 70-75
No Fu Go     Washington, DC, United States     1943 to 1945     Scribes (with bomb-disposal help from Engineers)     keeping Japanese attacks out of the papers
No Laughing Matter     Kashasha, Tanganyika (Tanzania)     1962 to 1963     Physicians     Tanganyika laughter epidemic
Nonsuch Knick-Knacks     Nonsuch Palace, England     1538 - 1547, 1670 - 1683     Antiquarians     Henry VIII's dream palace, torn down by Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine
North of the Moon     Northernmost plaform of Huaca de la Luna, Cerro Blanco, Moche culture (Peru)     186 to 536     Midwives     "Ayapec" ("All-Knowing") and "Wrinkle-Face" appear in oldest murals. Built by over 100 teams of laborers.
Notae Socratae     Athens, Ancient Greece (Greece)     roughly 400 BCE to 350 BCE     Scribes     Socrates, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, etc
Nuen Djaret     Zaraja (Central Asia)     9824 BCE to 9399 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 52-57
Nurgush Karinesh     Mesopotamia     3877 BCE to 3014 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 70-75
The Nursery     Atlantis     12969 BCE to 12191 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 40-45
Nuruch Heng     Heng     9436 BCE to 8976 BCE     Antiquarians     FI, pg 52-57
Nuts!     Bastogne, France     1944 - 1945     Thespians     See "Band of Brothers" for more ideas.
Oasis     In the Sahara desert     Leonid Era     Antiquarians collection of lakes, is a common stopover for Foxhorns heading to attack Antedesertium     CoRPG pg 161 - 162
Objective Reticle     ???     Aquarian Cusp     Foxhorn Strike Team   
Old Berm     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 40-45
Oraklos Dalphe     Delphi (known as Pyth prior to 617 BCE), Ancient Greece     4228 BCE to 394     Dreamers     CoRPG, pg 68; FI pg 82-87
Pethah Htakep     Hat-Keptah (Ancient Egypt)     3156 BCE to 2795 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 70-75
Phle'chea     Ibrag's Tribes     9308 BCE to 8955 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 52-57
Pie Police     Hayfork, CA, United States     1995 to 2006     Quicker?   
Plastic     South America     11560 BCE to 11429 BCE     Antiquarians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Present Moment     ???     ???     Quicker or a spiritual Retreat
Puma Plan     Qusqu, Kingdom of Cusco / Inca culture (Peru)     1207 to 1532     Engineers   
Punch In II     Unity     2162 to 2269     Engineers     FI, pg 88-91
Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent     Teotihuacan (Mexico)     161 to 298     Physicians   
Rag & Bones     London, United Kingdom     1945 - 1959     Novice Corner     Chloë Timblin
Red Carpet     then-warm expanses of Siberia and Central Asia     Virgin Era     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87, this is the most popular private party spot for high ranking Thespians
Rentes Nouvelles     Strasbourg, France     1481 to 1524     Moneychangers   
The Repository     Colon, Germany     1822 to 1937     Antiquarians     CoRPG, pg 67
Restful House     Edo, Japan     1683 to 1794     Physicians     CoRPG, pg 80
Retry     Australia     1968 to 2014     Scribes     FI, pg 82-87
The Rousers     Britain (United Kingdom)     1597 to 1616     Novice Corner to future Scribes     FI, pg 82-87
Safe House     Safehouse Nightclub, Milwaukee, WI, United States     1966-2010...     Foxhorn     safe-house dot com
Scenic View     Southern Brookhaven Township (near Brookhaven National Laboratory's particle accelerator), Upton, New York, United States (60 miles east of Manhattan, New York City )     2001 to 2020     novice (in my campaign, changed to Engineers)     vanilla "Identity is All" adventure
School of Dreaming     Thebes, Hat-Kaptah (Ancient Egypt)     2216 BCE to 891 BCE     Engineers     CoRPG, pg 70
School of Night     London (United Kingdom)     1503 to 1601     Scribes     CoRPG, pg 84
The Scribal Librarium     Jerusalem     2101 to 2400     Scribes: more Scribes here than anywhere else in the Societies     CoRPG, pg 84
Scuola Cecilia     Milano, Italy     1447 to 1620     Engineers     CoRPG, pg 70
Second Language     Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom     1963 to 2120     Thespians and Scribes     Newcastle University, School of Modern Languages
Second Star     Basle, Switzerland     …1512 to 1532…     Novice Corner operating out of Zum Goldenen Sternen (Golden Stars Inn)   
Secretary Hand     ??? - (Could be in England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, United Kingdom, or maybe even Germany)     16th Century and 17th Century     Scribes     Available for GM improvisations
Seras     Yeberen (Asia Minor)     9348 BCE to 8978 BCE     Midwives     FI, pg 52-57
Serekh     Ancient Egypt     6000 BCE to 332 BCE     Antiquarians     Serekh is the word for predynastic Egyptian heraldry, a box around heiroglyphs that indicates the combined symbols are a royal name.
Seventh Belt     Amazon Basin, South America     11843 BCE to 11762 BCE     Thespians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Shih Tuan     Ch'in     260 BCE to 210 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 76-81
Shrift     Saxony     997 to 1216     Moneychangers     FI, pg 82-87
Sideways     Madagascar     11532 BCE to 10876 BCE     Quicker Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Silicon Valley     Silicon Valley, California, United States     1919 to 2103     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
Silver House of the Second Ring     Atlantis     12969 BCE and various locations in spacetime     Quicker     CoRPG, pg 82
Skivvy     West Africa     10552 BCE to 10364 BCE     Scribes Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Small Change     Mesopotamia     11246 BCE to 11243 BCE     Moneychangers Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Smithsonian Castle     Washington, D.C.     1847 to 2065     Antiquarians   
Smithy Ice Folds     Unity     2203 to 3651     Quicker and Inheritor     FI, pg 88-91
Snomalshee Lodge     Pacific Northwest of North America     4238 BCE     Individual spanners sweat lodge, arguably a Quicker corner     transitive
Soigne Démasqué     Roman Baths at Reims, France (Now gone and replaced by the Notre Dame Cathedral)     511 to 751     Midwives and Thespians,    Short-bus had rough draft, successful in this campaign
Solfjellhytte     High in the mountains of what will be Norway     …2244 BCE…     Engineers     short-bus
South Seas Bubble     London, United Kingdom     1711 to 1784     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
Speedy Danfoniad     Wales, United Kingdom     1990s     Scribes
Spelling Bee     Southern Europe     11624 BCE to 11466     Foxhorn Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Spiral Teeth Wandering     Central Asia     9824 BCE to 9399 BCE     Foxhorn     CoRPG, pg 72
Sponge     Northeast Africa     11144 BCE to 10858 BCE     Physicians Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Star Garage     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 40-45
Stratford Grammar School     King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, England (United Kingdom     1553, 1564 to 1585     Foxhorn, posing as Scribes     Protecting young William Shakespeare from narcissists.
Studio One     Caerphilly, United Kingdom     1990 - 2000     ???     Gwilym Pearson
Styx     Port Jefferson, New York, United States     1985 to 2005     novice     vanilla "Identity is All" adventure
Sublime Gate     Constantinople (Istanbul), Ottoman Empire (Turkey)     1522 to 1676     Midwives     "Sultanate of Women" era
Sunrise     Zhugguo (District Zero)     1997 to 2116     Dreamers     FI, pg 88-91
Sunstreak     Fort Meade, MD, United States     1976 to 1995     Dreamers and Quicker     CIA Project Stargate into Coordinate Remote Viewing
Surveillance State     London, UK     1991 to 2046     Foxhorn     Starting with IRA bombs in 1992, London sets up a Ring of Steel and slowly transitions into a Police State. These guys take advantage of everything that entails.
Swap Meet     Gary, Indiana, United States     1933 to 2019     Antiquarians     CoRPG, pg 67; FI pg 82-87
Swordplay     Higgins Armory Museum, Worchester, MA, United States     1978 to 2027     Antiquarians sword and armor collection   
Tangent 1     Atlantis     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Quicker, plus Inheritor/Late Aquarian     FI, pg 40-45
Tenez! (Take that!)     a monastery somewhere in France     around 1200     amusements corner? novice?     Tennis was invented by French Monks, who'd shout "Tenez!" ("Take that!") while playing. By 1200 AD, there were over 2000 tennis courts in france. Early courts were hour-glass shaped.
Tennis Anyone?     Lisle's Tennis Court, London, United Kingdom     1661 - 1705     Thespians   
Theatreland     West End, London, United Kingdom     1967 – 2012     Thespians   
Thiss Tered Aga     The Nurisen     8408 BCE to 7790 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 52-57
Threadneedle     London, United Kingdom     102 to 2140     Antiquarians and Moneychangers Service Corner     Lord Quentin Whitbread
Three Cocks     Strasbourg     1352-1354, 1547-1574, 1838-1843     Engineers     Strasbourg Astronomical Clock
Thrn Ghedl     Brudhlk (Central Europe)     9014 BCE to 8785 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 52-57
Tiger     Northern Africa     10261 BCE to 10021 BCE     Foxhorn Waystation     FI, pg 46-51
Tour la Jetée     Paris, France     1555 to 1720     Novice and Foxhorn, mentor is Jeanne D'Arc     CoRPG, pg 184, further developed in Short-bus
Trade Secrets     Atlantis     12969 BCE to 12191 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 40-45
Tui Lung     Hsien Chen     999 to 1317     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Tulpen Knop     Amsterdam, United Netherlands     … 1634 to 1638 …     Novice Corner   
Twelve Lucky Apes     British sector of Shanghai, Manchu China     1850 to 1911     Quicker     FI, pg 82-87
Umbris Dei (the shades of God)     Espana     419 to 710     Novice growing into mixed Fraternal     FI pg 86-87
UMDNJ - University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey     Newark, NJ, United States     1984 to 2133     Physicians     CoRPG, pg 80
Undercroft     Aberystwyth, Wales, (United Kingdom)     1110 to 1221, 1282 to 1294, 1307 to 1408     Engineers   
Unt Stenel'a (“Light Ascending”)     Hehang Bei, Ohistla (Mexico)     7464 BCE to 7320 BCE     Quicker     FI pg 61-63
Uroczystości     Gdansk, Poland     late 1500s, early 1600s     Novice corner     translated from Polish it means roughly "celebration", and is pronounced oo-row-shih-stow-see
Ut Torabata     Heghur     3571 BCE to 3314 BCE     Moneychangers     FI, pg 70-75
Vadistokli Arkun     somewhere in the Baltic     5236 BCE     Novice Corner     short-bus
Valves     Great Harbor     12970 BCE to 12191 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 40-45
Ventura Rosehips     Hollywood, CA, United States     1890 to 2007     Thespians     CoRPG, pg 87
Vielavayan culture     Vielavayana / Vayana     6120 BCE to 5583 BCE     Whole culture that's in league with Antedesertium.     FI 64-69
Villa Lewaro     Just North of New York City     1919 - 1931     Personal residence of A'Lelia Walker
Wandering Stars     Gypsy caravan across Europe     16th Century     Novice Corner on wheels  
The Watchman Society     London, United States     …1843…     Quicker     "Plum Pudding and Other Such" adventure pdf
We Shall Be Spartacus     Berlin, Germany     January 1919     Thespians     Rosa Luxembourg
Weekly Paper     Strasbourg     1605-1681     Scribes     Johann Carolus
Whalton     Philadelphia, PA, United States     1883 to 2077     Moneychangers     CoRPG, pg 77
When the Silence Speaks     Asia     ???     ???   
Windsor Watchers     London, United States     1917 - 1997     Midwives   
The Womb     Kish, Sumeria     …3241 BCE     Dreamers     short-bus
Words Under Water     Somewhere in Poland     around 1580 to 1670     Thespians & Scribes   
Worshipful Company of Barbers     London     1308 to 1940     Physicians     Barber-Surgeon's Guild
Yasdge     Tderegan     6532 BCE to 6086 BCE     Scribes     FI, pg 58-63
Yed dal-heht     Indus valley     7644 BCE to 7235 BCE     Foxhorn     FI, pg 58-63
Yeet     Singapore     2099 to 2140     Antiquarians     FI, pg 88-91
Yenmurta (“Moments of the Moon”)     Ethuvan I     2990 BCE to 2914 BCE     Novice Corner     FI pg 74-75
You'll Catch More With Honey     Keokuk, Iowa United States     1824 to 1849     Antiquarians engaged in the Greatest Game
Yssisha     Ikarne     4068 BCE to 3772 BCE     Thespians     FI, pg 70-75
Zedabek     Durdeka     10172 BCE to 9776 BCE     Engineers     FI, pg 52-57
Zoom     Chosen     2110 to 2210     Physicians     FI, pg 88-91
Zsidi nhi     Zsidi     8348 BCE to 8033 BCE     Quicker     FI, pg 52-57

Information Is All - and sometimes that drives me crazy!

As some of my readers know, I'm running this time-travel game two nights a week. It's the setting of the out-of-print Continuum RPG, but with mechanics derived primarily from the Gumshoe system (Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists, etc.)  It's a game where PCs can teleport and time-travel at will, in a deterministic universe where the past (and future) is unchangeable and set in stone, but you can often reverse-engineer alternate explanations to the events that have already been witnessed. (Sort of like when Doc Brown puts on the bullet-proof vest to survive that time when Marty saw him get gunned down by the Libyan terrorists. You can't stop the established events from happening, but you can finesse the unknown details.)

1. Information Is All

Upon whether I know or not know a thing, depends my existence. If I know a thing is to happen, it is my foremost responsibility to see that it happens. This is my Yet, or Required Future, and it is the price I gladly pay to span time. Change of the known is resisted by the Continuum ceaselessly so that our greater liberties and lives will be fulfilled.

- The First Maxim, CoNTINUUM: roleplaying in The Yet, by Adams / Fooden / Manui

I'm constantly working on the myriad small details of this campaign. It's got a huge cast of NPCs spanning centuries, and multiple interwoven long-term plotlines. While Gumshoe is a pretty rules-light system, converting the very heady and esoteric concepts of Continuum's "Time Combat" (not to mention Narcissist's "Mnemelos Scale" of "Map Coordinates") into Gumshoe has also produced a fairly lengthy body of text. I'm really proud of the hard work I've been putting into it for the past two years.

And yet I am continually frustrated by my inability to share most of that work Here. The bulk of the mechanical conversion work would push the boundaries of "fair use" to just post it on the wide-open internet. More to the point, the plot- and character-related material often runs into spoiler territory. Given that it's a game where the PCs can hop down to 1518 on a whim (as they've done recently to check out the dancing plague), the GM has to spend a lot of time prepping things that may or may not get used, any of which would totally wreck the mystery (of a very-much puzzle-and-mystery-driven campaign) if they were leaked to the players out of sequence. I'm sure all GMs of mystery-based games get a certain amount of this "keep the plot to myself" anxiety, but it is most definitely intensified by the non-linear nature of time travel (the PCs can pursue plot threads in any sequence and with no time-pressure to keep them on-task) and the particular deterministic wrinkles of the way Continuum's in-game consensus reality is formed. There's never really a moment where you can definitively say that a specific piece of unrevealed plot twist is no longer relevant. Every piece of information the characters have determines things that are set in stone and cannot be altered except by fiddling with the details that they clearly didn't observe. This means spoilers don't just undermine dramatic tension, they also force the wave-form of the universe to collapse into a particular resolved quantum state. Disentangling in-character vs out-of-character information is harder than in most other games, which provokes a paranoid degree of caution and silence when discussing the game other than in-character and "at the table".

Sometimes that need to play things close to the vest makes me feel like I'm going to burst at the seams. That's my recurring bugaboo that nags at me no matter how much fun the game is -- in fact this specific frustration gets worse when the sessions and plots are at their best. Despite two years of continual experience with it, I still haven't grown comfortable with the feeling, and the growing body of work I can't really share without ruining future surprises just about gets the better of me at times.

I really need to figure out ways in which I can share a larger portion of the data, work and writing without undermining the ongoing campaign. I've been saying that for two years now - it's about damn time I make good on it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Save the Internet!

It's American Censorship Day.   In honor of this holiday, I intended to [DELETED] a [DELETED] with a [FNORD] on my [DELETED].

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The  Internet from Fight for the  Future on Vimeo.

I strongly encourage all Americans to take a few moments this morning to email or call their Senators and Representatives and complain about SOPA and the Protect IP Act, two pieces of legislation that, if passed, will cripple the internet. Hollywood and big music are trying to take your internet away. The laws they are trying to pass will chill and censor online creativity and expression, while mostly failing to actually stop piracy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Other End Of The Microscope

I've played four games of Microscope so far. After this most recent session (admittedly, about a month ago), I feel like I've learned a bit about how to get the most out of the game. Sadly, in order to learn and improve, we had to fall over a few times.

I'll start with nutshell summaries of the four games, in order of when I played them:
  1. Alternate History / Steampunk: Leonardo da Vinci's craziest inventions all work, which leads to floating Italian city-states ruling the world.
  2. Science Fiction: The trials and social upheavals of a generation ship on it's centuries-long voyage to a new eden.
  3. Urban Fantasy / Secret History: A conspiracy to protect the unwitting masses from their own imagination in a dark world where popular literary characters can sometimes spontaneously come to life.
  4. Epic Fantasy: A "bigger-is-better" take on high fantasy with city-sized dragons, meddling gods, and the infamous 'Goarcs' (Goat-Orc Hybrids).
If I had to rate them in terms of enjoyment/fun/coolness, the literary urban fantasy world was the best, italian steampunk was a very close second, and the other two were tied for a distant third/fourth.

In the two games that didn't work as well, the players weren't really seeing eye-to-eye, and we were all over the map thematically. It just didn't come together as it should, which I'm thinking probably means our palette wasn't refined enough.

Good Palette, Bad Palette: Less Is More

(For those unfamiliar with Microscope: the palette is a list of thematic elements that the players nominate for inclusion or banning during a particular session of the game. The palette is constructed first, taking a couple minutes at the start of any game of Microscope.)

Not surprisingly, the best games are the ones where the setting was most clearly defined. Microscope really shines when the players are on the same page: riffing off each other's ideas, and reusing characters or concepts. As near as I can tell, there are two ways to achieve this:
  • Alternate History (with a defined sub-genre and deviation point): A setting that looks like Earth, or like Earth until a particular event or time. This gives you a common well of ideas to draw from, and ensures everyone is picturing roughly the same images in their mind. The trick will only work if everyone has some grounding in the history, theme, or sub-genre you're proposing. Steampunk Renaissance (and the world that would evolve from it) was easy to grok, but a more obscure era or culture might not have worked so well.
  • Really narrow palette: I believe you could make any setting work, provided the majority of the palette were "no" statements instead of "yes" statements. Confusion and vagueness are the enemy in Microscope, but too much freedom can likewise be disruptive. You want a couple of cool simple ideas to play with and explore. The game is at its best when you explore an idea and its ramifications thoroughly, and when individual characters or events get revisited and built upon. To quote an art teacher I once knew, "restrictions breed creativity". A large number of "yes" statements encourages people to just keep adding new eras ("periods" is the game-term, IIRC) and events that exist in isolation from the rest of the narrative, trying to shoe-horn in anything from the palette that hasn't yet been introduced. If you leave the field open for just about anything, you end up with an ugly mish-mash that doesn't hold together conceptually.  
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. In our epic-fantasy game, we had dragons, demons, gods, eldritch abominations, chimeras, kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, goat-orcs, elves, amazons, heroes, wizards, humans, and undead empire, and yes, even dinosaurs.  Most of those things made one or two appearances, and then were left by the wayside.

Early on, we had a notion that monsters would occur mostly as one-offs, the way they do in Greek myth, where there's one minotaur, one hydra, three gorgon sisters, etc. But that was expressed as a "yes" option in the palette, and it was followed up by another "yes" that we could also include races of monsters if we wanted. Which meant the number of races in the setting kept creeping up. You know how I said that there were orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, kobold, and goat-orcs in the setting? Want to know all the established facts about them? Curious what the difference was between a kobold and a goblin?  Here's all we knew:
  • Orcs got a well-defined culture, especially for a one-shot. They had dinosaur-riding shamans early in the timeline, who were then overthrown by magic-hating orc-amazon heroines. If you were playing an orc, you had some backstory to play with and have opinions about.
  • Goarcs were created by a wizard who magically crossbred goats and orcs. Some where centaurian, others were goat-headed orcs, and still others were a random mix of goat and orc parts.
  • Humans were also made by wizards, not gods. In an inversion of an established fantasy trope, humanity was created by breeding orcs and elves.
  • Kobolds had big families with lots of children.
That's it. Nothing else was defined about these 5 supposedly different species. There was a goblin army, and a hobgoblin army, at two different wars in the same period, but we never got a description of them. There was even a scene where one player was a goblin and another was a kobold, and one of the two players didn't realize they weren't the same species till the scene was over. Other than orcs, they were all effectively interchangeable. 
An aside about Goat-Orcs: Alas, the Goarcs were introduced too late in the game to get used. We all responded to the concept, but they didn't get proposed until probably half and hour before we folks had to start heading out to their buses. Had the Goarcs shown up 2 hours earlier in the night, they would have defined the game. If we'd had Goarcs early on, I doubt anyone would have bothered with Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, or other generic fantasy races.
I fully expect that Goarcs will show up in other games we run, and not just Microscope, either.  I may just need to write a Goarc RPG.

What's the point of having all these races if you don't develop them? At least in D&D, you've got game mechanics and illustrations to differentiate them. In microscope, we had nothing. If the player needed a threat, plot device, or faction for a new scene or event, they'd just name-drop a generic fantasy monster race and leave it at that. Since we're not a D&D group at all, I'm guessing we had different people picturing different editions (and games) versions of these monsters, at least to the extent that they were being pictured at all. Mostly they were a blur in the background.

I'm going to contrast this with the gods. If there's one thing we did right on the palette of that epic-fantasy game, it was Peter's awesome restriction of "no" to there being more than 5 gods. I should note that 5 was also the number of players. This restriction ensured that people wouldn't just throw out gods casually, or mix pantheons. All of the gods that showed up were unique creations. You'd give them a cool name, a description, and a large purview / dominion (like "Goddess of Ice, Suffering, and Childbirth") that suggested even more about them. Only 3 of the 5 possible gods entered the narrative, but the two that got introduced early on showed up again and again. They rocked.

I strongly suspect that similar limitations being applied to other areas would have worked wonders for this game. If there was a limit of roughly the same number of fantasy species as there were players, then we would have reused species instead of paying lipservice to them. If wizards were defined individuals, not just a race or profession, we might have ended up with them being a bit more flavorful.

The more you reuse something, the more definition it gets. Confusion and vagueness are the enemy in Microscope. The whole point of the system is to keep narrowing in and discovering new things about what you've already looked at from a far. When allowed limitless freedom and left to their gut-instincts on a blank canvas, we end up just throwing around cliches, tropes and buzzwords, doing the same old thing we always have. When you have a limited palette is when the really interesting revelations come up.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1,000 Blank Pink Sheep

A few weeks ago my wife and I taught 1,000 Blank White Cards to some friends of ours (Mark and Laura). We played two games in rapid succession. Here's a bunch of our cards:

1kBWC - Teabagging Sheep, a set on Flickr.

Friday, August 26, 2011

TROOPS: Cloud City

Last night I ran a one-shot based on the cool old Star Wars fan-film TROOPS. This was the second time I'd run such a game, but the last time was way back in February of 2009.  For last night's reprisal, I moved the game from Tatooine to Bespin. Filmed live on the platforms of Cloud City.

Here's a link to my post about the old game.  For those unfamiliar with the general TROOPS concept, here's a link to the very entertaining video that inspired this madness.

We used the classic d6 system, with the PCs assembled quick and easy via the game's template system. The PCs were mostly Stormtroopers, plus one contract Bounty Hunter (an Ewok of all things) and a probe droid operating as embedded journalist / camera crew. Surprisingly likeable PC Stormtroopers, as in the video, with completely dysfunctional shady NPCs. "All NPCs are Guilty - Otherwise they wouldn't be NPCs." A few of the PCs were reprised from the other scenario two years ago, but any who got promoted had since been busted back down to no more than junior officer status so it would still feel like TROOPS.

This time I ran them through the background events of the last third of Empire Strikes Back, explaining why the 'Falcon's hyperdrive is deactivated, how C-3PO got shot, and what kind of trouble you can get into when someone's severed hand lands on your back porch.

At the start of every scene, I handed a random PC a short written script. This was their narrative monologue to the camera, used to set up and lead in to the next scene, and establish background details. For example, to start the session, I had someone read:

We’ve just been recently stationed out here on Cloud City in the Bespin system. I know, you’ve probably never heard of it, neither had I. It’s one of those fly-by-night corporate towns, mining Tibana gas out of the sky. Not sure you can even call that mining, it’s more like sucking. Can I say that on TV?

The local governor is kinda shady, 'cause the place is almost small enough to not be noticed. He’s not even enrolled in the Mining Guilds, and he owes a lot of back taxes and gambling debts. Anyhow, the citizenry aren’t too pleased with the way he’s running things, and there’s been some disturbances as a result.

That’s why we’ve been called in, to bolster the local police force.

Sometimes that ruffles a few feathers with the local big whigs, of course, but in the end everyone agrees quality of life improves once the Empire gets involved, and that’s what really matters. 

"Cloud City, Bespin, 7:00 am local-time" scrolled across the screen. Then the camerabot turned to another one of the TROOPS, who said (read from the telepromter, no doubt) this:

We’re responding to a call from the local Port Authority, seems they need a bit of help here.

There’s a ship that came in for repairs, had a malfunctioning hyperdrive or something, Put it in to dry dock at the local shop, and there’s some sort of animal problem. I’m guessing the owner left his pet on board, and forgot to tell the mechanics.

Normally, this sort of thing would be handled by Animal Control, not by the Emperor’s Finest, but apparently these here Gas Giant planets don’t have much in the way of wild life, so this town doesn’t actually have an Animal Control Guildhouse.

Looks like that fellow over there works here, we’ll start by asking him if he knows what kind of animal we’re looking for.

So the PCs enter the shipyard, where a pissed-off mechanic is bandaging his hand. He explains the owner of the ship has a real menagerie on board, some big fuzzy thing, a bunch of droids, and whatever it was that bit him. For a couple minutes I managed to imply it was Chewbacca that bit him, which was a total miscommunication red-herring. The players were wondering what the guy did that would provoke Chewie to attack, but had to proceed as the arrogant Imperial pigs they were.

The Imperials head over to the ship to check it out. One officer leans into the open hyperdrive port and bangs on it to scare out whatever the animal is, and ends up with a Mynock wrapped around his helmet.  There's a couple more in the engine block, and they start flying around.

It wasn't much a challenge for armed and armored troopers, but I broke out the Star Wars miniatures anyway and dipped our toes in a combat system none of us had used in a long time.. The first two Mynocks went down in the very first round, but the third one was surprisingly resilient. No one could get a decent damage roll on it, and a missed shot with a "1" on the wild-die left the NPC lying dead on the floor.

After the Mynocks were dealt with, the PCs put a "boot" on the Falcon's hyperdrive, broke one of it's tail-lights to justify a few extra tickets, and searched the holds. They confiscated the boxes full of money that Han was going to use to pay off Jabba. Aside from a little trouble with that little zappy ball that Luke used to practice his sabre work in the first film, the scene wrapped up without incident, and without the PCs ever meeting the main characters from the movies.

Next scene. One of the PCs reads:

This part of town has a bit of a reputation as a “red diode district”, if you know what I mean. That is to say, prostitution, mostly droid-related.

We’re just gonna do a little sweep through the neighborhood, mostly chase off the hookers and johns. Let them know the Empire is here now, and that sort of thing won’t be tolerated anymore.  They shouldn’t be out on the streets lookin’ for droid love, that’s what the Twi’Lek Dancing Girls Guild is for.

Of course, if any of the pimps, hos, or sexbots get uppity with us, we are authorized to use whatever force we deem necessary. That’ll send a message, loud and clear. To protect the decency and social welfare of the city, of course.

This lead to a small scene with an "obvious prostitute", I said as I placed a minature R4 astromech unit on the tabletop. When they eventually blasted the sexbot, it responded in the typical R2D2 method, rolling back, head spinning, and dozens of tools and attachments popping out of all the hidden compartments. So now the corridor is littered with vibrators. They question the other nearby bot,  PI-MP, who claims to know nothing about "that slutty little bitchbot".

"You want me to backhand her for you officer? I'm fluent in over 6 million forms of bitchslapping."

Surprisingly, PI-MP doesn't get blasted. He managed to convince them that he was innocent. Some random protocol droid came walking in at that moment, and PI-MP pointed at him. "Look, that's gotta be the pimp you're looking for officers. Look how much bling-bling he's made out of." So they let PI-MP go, and blasted poor C-3PO who just happened to wander in at the wrong time.

Meanwhile, the dirty little Ewok bounty hunter wasn't at all interested in cleaning up the prostitution of Cloud City. Since we were in a bad part of town, he went looking for other entertainment. Before long, he was involved in some illicit gambling with a bunch of Ugnaughts and Jawas, playing some high-stakes game called "Utini!" As their game wrapped up, his fellow little people said they were off to some big protest that was going on.

Which lead right into this scene:
There’s a lot of labor disputes going on lately. Not being affiliated with the Miner’s Guild, the local government is ill-equipped  to deal with it.

An informant told us that there was going to be some sort of protest going on, an attempt by the workers from “Deck Twelve an’ a Half” to unionize or something.

On the one hand you want everybody to be able to speak their mind and improve their lot in life, but at the same time... well, we all know that protests are often just the first step towards Rebellion and lawlessness. We’re gonna see if we can’t get them to disperse, kinda nip that in the bud before it gets too troublesome.

Ah, jeesh, look at all those little guys. They’re kinda cute. Hope we don’t have to disintegrate them. Set for stun.

I got out an actual map for this one, and set up a big cluster of ugnaughts, ewoks, jawas, and various short droids in a picket line. They were complaining about the working conditions on deck 12 & 1/2. Poor lighting, no safety railings, and the terribly low cielings. "First off, who are they trying to kid here? We all know deck '12 & 1/2' is really unlucky number 13. Secondly, why the low ceilings? Are they trying to say we're short? Just because we're not 2-meter tall freaks doesn't mean that some of us don't get claustrophobic! And what did Baron Calrissian do to 'improve' our lot in life? Longer coffee breaks and freakin' door to the brain of Moff Malkovich. I don't think even Moff Malkovich wants to see what happens inside Moff Malkovich's brain. I sure don't!"

Lucasfilm purists might complain about my bizarre choice to work in numerous references in this scene to Being John Malkovich. I know, it was silly, and doesn't quite fit in the Star Wars universe - not even the Expanded Universe. Just like the cameo by Tom Servo in the background in the TROOPS film, so I feel justified. And lets be honest, it's not like you would have been any happier if my references were to Willow or Howard the Duck, so cut me some slack.

The PC Imperial Officer starts making rolls of his command skill, threatening to blow up the protesters if they don't disperse. This gets rid of most of the crowd, except one little power droid who stands his ground shouting "Gonk no, we won't Go(nk)!" Time for some good old fashioned police brutality. The PC AT-ST Pilot chose to have her walker kick the Gonk Droid off the platform. She failed, with a dismal low roll and a spectacular "1" on the wild die.

So now the AT-ST scout walker is lying face-down on the terrain (a parked Imperial Shuttle on the platform, as a matter of fact) and the badly damaged Gonk droid is ominously whistling as if it's going to blow.
It ain't easy justifying this much SteamPork.

That's not nearly dire enough, so I chose that moment to have some of the other protesters return. Including several ugnaughts in a mecha war machine. I put my "Uggernaught" miniature on the table. I've been itching to use this mini in a scenario ever since I opened it in a booster of Star Wars minis a couple years back. Look at that thing, ain't it just ridiculously cool? Usually hard to justify, but this was no doubt the perfect game for it.

So now the PCs are pinned between the fire of a crazy ugnaught death machine, and the whistling overload of a malfunctioning power droid. Now that's drama!  :)

While most of the squad was pinned down, one of the Troopers did manage to use the cover of the buildings on the map to advance without incident and take out the rebel ugnaughts by means of a well-placed grenade. The whistling Gonk droid on the other hand was beyond their ability to multi-task, so most of the PCs took wounds from shrapnel damage that penalized their rolls the rest of the night.

The PC Imperial Officer went to fetch a change of uniforms, and came back with a new mission (and thus another of my short scripted monologues).

We’re responding to a possible domestic dispute. Neighbors called, said there’s a lot of yelling and the sounds of dishes shattering coming from one of the homes here.

I don’t expect too much trouble, though, as you can tell we’re in a nice part of the city. They’ve got a beautiful view of the bottomless shaft, there. That’s a doozy.

 If need be, we can take one or both of them down to the Detention Center till they sober up or calm down.

Dispatch says its the address is the home of one of the local city administrators, so chances are they’ll quickly calm down just to keep up appearances. These local government types are kinda slippery like that.

As it turned out, the home was that of Mr. and Mrs. Lobot. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Lobot was Lando's right-hand man on Cloud City. The bald guy with the computer sticking out of his head who follows Calrissian around, wordlessly directing lesser minions. He holds a position of importance, but he's very formal and not a particularly warm or communicative individual. So, it's no surprise that his marriage is a bit strained. Probably works late nights and weird back-room business deals with his shady boss in gambling dens and strip clubs. Who's to blame Mrs Lobot if she suspects her husband is secretly some sort of mob boss?

Lots of hysterics follow. The place has been trashed. She's in tears, crying and screaming, and he's standing there stoicly telling the troopers that everything is under control. Amidst all her sobbing, they eventually figure out she keeps repeating "it's on the balcony!" There the PCs find a severed hand. Mr Lobot swears he had nothing to do with it, that it must have fallen from somewhere further up the bottomless shaft. Mrs Lobot, however, is certain it's some sort of creepy mob signal, like waking up with the head of a Bantha in your bed.

While they're all out on the balcony trying to sort things out, the rest of a body falls past them. They look upward, and see this narrow promontory extending out to the middle of the chasm. There's someone else up on the damn thing, too, some black-clad Emo kid. Cut to narration:

We’re heading up a few levels, there’s a crisis situation, looks like a Jumper. It’ll be our job to talk him down.

We don’t get these suicide calls too often since most citizens of the Empire are so darned happy. You sure do see it more often out here on the Rim, though.

I remember a couple of planets back, there were these Jumpers just hanging from the ceiling! Hanging there. Wouldn’t come down. Stayed up there so long, they caught their death of cold.

Man, that place sure was chilly. C - O - L - D! You can ask my wife. On a frosty night,
laying in bed, I still say to her “Well at least I’m not back on Hoth!” I’ll remember that place for the rest of my life.
Hey, if you forgave a Being John Malkovich reference, I figure you won't mind me stealing a Bastogne line from Band of Brothers.

In the movie, after Luke throws himself off the ledge, Vader just heads back to his Star Destroyer like its no big deal. That of course is not what the PCs find when they get up there, though. No, I have a "fine tradition" in my TROOPS games that every session must end with a Drunken Darth. So Vader's out on the far end of this narrow ledge over a huge pit, all sad and depressed because his son just jumped. The Ewok bounty hunter walks out there to talk him back in. They end up sharing a few drinks - all those buttons and switches on Vader's chest plate are controls to his built-in minibar.

"I'm not a bad father, am I? I know I wasn't ever really there for him, but lots of people have workaholic absentee dads, right? That's no reason to shout 'you're not my father' and jump off a cliff, is it? I mean, it's not like he didn't know I exist, I left him with family after all. That's better than I had. You know what my mom told me? She said my daddy was a magic space virus!! You know what that does to a kid? Teaches him his mommies a damn liar, that's what it does! So at least I didn't lie to him like that..."

The Ewok tries talking him back in off the ledge, but without a lot of luck. In retrospect, I should have called for some sort of social roll to give him a shot at success, but it was a surprisingly complex scene and I was pretty deep in character, so I dropped the ball there. Not that I wasn't pleased with how it all turned out.

He's out there, waxing suicidally, and would rather down a six pack and a few bowls right here at the cliffs of doom than go back to work or blow off steam at some nightclub.

Someone suggests that the one female Stormtrooper in the squad try to coax him back to safety. She's rather reluctant, because the other time we played this, he made her be his date to his High School Reunion... and let's face it, Darth Vader is kind of a dick. Speaking of which, it's not long before she's ordered out on the ledge, pole-dancing on that vertical pipe or antennae or whatever the point of those weird bits on the bridge to nowhere are. This took a fairly difficult climbing & jumping roll, especially in the armor, but as it turns out she was up to the task.

As Vader is talking about what a great kid he had before he threw himself off the ledge, the PC Imperial Officer steps forward with their evidence baggie from the previous scene. "This son of yours, was this his by any chance?" he asks, handing Vader the severed hand.

I tell everyone that this is too much for Vader, and he feints. Everyone should roll initiative. I'll roll 3d6 for when Vader falls, only people who roll higher than him can act before he falls off the ledge. The first PC to act is also the only one who's too far away to do anything more than shout. The next two PCs try Brawling rolls to grab Vader, but fail and have to make a Dex check to keep from falling with him. The Ewok bounty hunter attaches a grappling hook to Vader, but there's some doubts as to how well a lone Ewok can belay the descent of a rather tall human in battle armor carrying a well-stocked wet bar. Yet another PC rushes out on to narrow promontory to try and grab him, and they also fail, this time with a "1" on the wild die.

Time for some final narration, this time improvised, by the GM:
There's a scraping metallic sound, and the camerabot pivots to see several bolts of the superstructure pop as the narrow platform buckles under the weight. With a sudden lurch, the entire promontory breaks loose and tumbles far down out of sight, taking Vader and the whole squad with it.
"TROOPS was filmed live in Cloud City." The theme music plays as the credits roll. "Bad Droids, Bad Droids, whatchyagonna do?"...
So I guess technically that's a TPK, but I've never seen a group quite that unanimously happy with a Total Party Kill before. TPKs don't usually get applause and laughter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Recent Gaming Shenanigans

I haven't gotten around to much blogging lately, so here's a quick run-down of recent games I've played or GM'd. Probably any of these could have been an entire blog post unto themselves, and a few might still be if I find the time and energy.

  • I played Lacuna at the Emerald City Game Fest. This nearly became part of my "A good GM can save a bad system" post, but after a couple weeks of keeping it warm on the back burner of my mind, I've decided I don't like the taste of it after all. It's certainly unique, and an admirable experiment, but not one I plan to subject myself to again any time soon. Reviews I've read since suggest that PCs can perform all sorts of crazy stunts, but our game was rather more restrained than that. Ours played more like a mystery or detective story in which all the PCs had amnesia and expectations of cause and effect were upended. I had too many questions about the setting, and the GM (not just the NPCs) had too few answers; I found it frustrating. I guess I was hoping for Inception meets The Prisoner, and would have been totally okay with The Matrix meets Blue Velvet, but what I got was more like Memento meets Eraserhead. Interesting to watch, but damn hard to game in.
  • The day after that, our Truth & Justice campaign wrapped up. I was likewise never quite rocked by that campaign. I really wanted to be challenged more. The plot was a little slow, the villains not as colorful as they could have been, and just not enough tension or drama to really engage me. I would have preferred to have the baddies be a bit more "in your face". The players (myself included) share some of the burden as well, as we never really worked together well and didn't chase plot threads perhaps as well as we could have. I guess I wanted less dysfunction, and more action. The game thankfully didn't meltdown or implode, but it also never seemed to get beyond a simmer.
  • My Continuum campaign has had a few out-of-character hurdles. Individual sessions have been really good, but since it's a game where Information Is All, I can't really blog about any plotline (like the basilisk deaths near the 1527 Paracelsus symposiums, or the part where Derren Brown was posing as Christopher Marlowe) that's still in process. And they've been in-process for a long time, as we've only been getting half as many sessions as expected. Normally, I GM twice a week for two different playgroups in the same timeline/universe. The Wednesday night group had to take a month off from play because of one player doing a lot of summer travelling. Just before the Wednesday group returned to the game, the Tuesday group also had to take a month off because a huge work deadline hitting a player. So I had a couple weeks without GMing my Time-Travel game, preceded and followed by less GMing than normal.

Knowing in advance about the month-long gaps in my Continuum group's schedules, I planned to GM as often as possible for our Thursday night one-shot group. However, between my wife getting a promotion that totally rearranged our home schedule, a friend at that game coming down with chicken pox, and me getting sucked into a video game, then mired in a short patch of writers block... well, the month shot by with me just GMing once. That puts me in withdrawal. It gets ugly. My wife came home from work one day, and found me passed out in the bathroom with 3d6 sticking out of my brachial artery.

  • The one time I did get to GM on the one-shot night was Og, which I totally only ran because I couldn't quite get the pregens finished for the Cyberpunk scenario I was planning on running. Og is a very goofy caveman game. I've run it a couple times before, more than a year ago, and worked in some Land-of-the-Lost references and time-travel nonsense which seemed to go over well. This time, though, I think I bit off more than I could chew. The PCs scattered every chance they got, and I was left with too much plot for their limited caveman vocabularies. I started grasping at straws, and pulled out of my belly  The Great Gazoo, an intervention team from the Planet of the Apes, [a Slip-and-Slide, the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds] and about half a Roman Legion. I felt like it was a huge cluster-failure, but most of the players seemed to laugh their way through it.

This past week, however, the gaming has swung back around and apparently I've been on fire (or just really obnoxious).

  • Thursday night we played Lady Blackbird. Honestly, I lack confidence in Lady Blackbird's mechanics, and I think a bit more definition to the setting (and magic) would be a huge benefit. Leaving so much up to the players is dangerous, especially when I've been role-playing deprived for a week or two. I played Snargle, the shapeshifting goblin pilot, and I hammed it up to no end. There was way too much discussion of goblin-porno and the proper inflating of boobloons.  I'm quite certain it was nothing like what the designer of the game intended, and it may very well have undermined what the others at the table wanted too, but at least it entertained the bystanders at the game store.
  • Then the night after that, dinner with friends lead to an impromptu game of Microscope. Our setting was an alternate earth with urban fantasy elements, where famous fictional literary figures became real. Dracula, Lilith, and Dr. Jeckyl all made appearances. There was this scene where I played Dr. Jeckyl (which I pronounced Gee-kell with a thick scottish accent so I could sneak past the initial round of character declaration without most people realizing who I was really playing till the scene got going) and turned into Mr. Hyde and crawled around under the table in some very inappropriate LARP-ish antics with my secretary. What happens under the table, stays under the table.

I am definitely looking forward to getting my regular fix of plot, puzzle and drama sometime soon, in hopes that it will pull me out of this over-the-top perverted character-actor spiral.