Monthly Archives: October 2007

Classic Movies Bore Me

Any movie that is a ‘classic’ is crap.  Utterly unwatchable crap.

There’s hyperbole there, but there’s truth.  Older movies are paced much slower than modern movies.

But Alien, now there’s a film that’s aged worse than most.

Here’s the deal with Alien- it’s supposed to be this great suspense/horror film, right?  You know what the big big suspense moment is supposed to be?  When the baby alien pops out of the guys chest.

The thing is- anyone in a modern audience knows exactly what’s going to happen, since that scene has been lampooned so many times- from Looney Toons, to most famously, Spaceballs.  The scene has no surprise, no uncertainty, only the long wait before a dumb looking puppet finally emerges from the guy’s chest.

Aliens at least had some cool action scenes.

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Chance and Randomness

I recall playing a game in grade school.  I must have been eight years old, give or take a year.  It was a project for a class- everyone had an airplane, and you were trying to get your airplane from one city to the next, and you would plot your course, height and speed, turn by turn.  A lesson in orienteering and maps, I guess.

To spice things up, there were random event cards- things like weather conditions and the like.  But one- I’m not sure if I drew this or if I saw it inflicted on someone else- was a hijacking, forcing someone to pilot to another city way across the other side of the map, before returning to their destination.

Even then, I thought, “this is dumb, with too much chance.”

Today, I’m a game-designer, and avid game-consumer.  And one thing I’ve learned is that you need chance and randomnesss- but the mix is hard to find.

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to define Randomness as the total factor of random elements in the game- zero randomness is a game with no random element, in a fixed situation, like Chess.  Every game starts the same, and any difference between individual games is a result of the decisions of the participants.  A game with high randomness has frequent die rolls or other random elements.  Settlers of Catan has a die roll every turn that effects every player in the game, and the board set up is random, making sure that every game is different from the start, and it cannot be certain what path the game will take.

Chance is the tendency for Randomness to produce wildly divergent outcomes.  Settlers of Catan is a game with reasonably high randomness, but fairly low chance.  One can reasonably infer, that over the course of an entire game, 8s and 6s will be rolled more often than 9s and 5s, making 8s and 6s more valuable.  The exact distribution tends towards normal, with the random tension tending towards when the various tiles will pay out, not if they will pay out.  A game like Candyland has lots of randomness, and even more chance- the outcome of the game is entirely left up to luck.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in collectible card games- there’s a fairly constant element of randomness, with the shuffling of the decks and the random order of cards- and among players with limited card collection and skill, chance plays a fairly high role.  But as player skill increases, chance decreases- two inexperienced players are more prone to the vagaries of fate, whereas the knowledgeable and skilled tend to be better able to play around a bad draw, or build a deck that minimizes the possibility- and when both parties are playing within realms of standard deviation, skill is where it’s at.

I think for a successful game design, we can dial Randomness way up or dial it way down, but we should find a way to dial Chance down.  And check this out- that airplane game I played in like 3rd grade- it had low randomness (the card draws weren’t that often) but high chance (since they could have a devastating impact on the game.)

This Was the Best We Had to Offer?

I’ve been toying around with Xbox Live Arcade, which has a number of free demos for downloadable games, and the games themselves are very cheap.  (I’m likely to fork over some cash for the Carcassone one, with online play!)  I saw that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was on there, and downloaded the demo for that one.

Is it just me, or has that not aged well?

I realize that the start is an homage to older games, with the art intentionally 8-bitty, but even the interface and the into text were pretty blocky.

 At the time, it was a favorite game of mine- I never owned it, but I rented it more than one.  I recall it being an excellent platformer- but looking back, the gameplay seems simplistic, some of the art pedestrian (but there are still some rather good bits- when I killed a big bear thing it blew up in a very sastisfying way.)

But time moves on, and the great games of yesteryear become the ‘meh’ games of today.

I Wrote a Crossword

You can solve it here.

(It says sample because I’ve been tinkering around with mycrossword.  Very seriously considering buying it.)

Boo!

Change is good.  Looks like a spooky, halloween colored, stark blog format!

Best of Willowrants, Volume III

It’s October again.  You know what that means?  Pre-winter frost, Halloween decorations, and oh-yeah, another Best of Willowrants.

Actual Play/Con Reports
Oshcon: The Septathalon (Very long, mature content, but a must-read.)
The Gencon Reports
Day Zero 
Day Zero, Part II 
Day One  
Day Two

Day Three 
Day Four 

Writing a Game
Am I Writing the Wrong Game?
Peeling Back Layers

Shadowfist
Top Ten Shadowfist Cards

Random Game Rants & Thoughts
Boys & Girls

I’m Okay, You’re Okay, But Your Game Sucks

Lolaris 

Oshcon: The Septathalon

(Disclaimer: Under normal circumstances, nothing I ever write, say, or mutter should be read by anyone, but this thread may require some special discretion, as there are some amazingly awesome emotional highs, and amazingly awesome emotional lows, and those who are sensitive to emotional issues would do well to proceed with caution. But it’s a wild ride, and well worth it.)

So, a month ago was OshCon, up in Oshkosh Wisconsin, where Tim and I ran Games on Demand, where we lay out a whole bunch of games, get a couple of friends to play along, and random strangers come up and pick something out to play. Total freaking awesomeness ensued, and I’m coming down from a haze of awesome meltdown. Sabe is probably snapping at the overuse of the word awesome by now, but he was frickin’ there, so deep down, he’ll have to admit that each use of the word is indeed appropriate, for awe has been inspired.

Anyway.

OshCon is a really good example of how to to a small con right. A weekend pass was $6, and cheap college former-dorm lodging was available for $24 a night. Parking was ample and many yummy restaurants were to be found nearby.
(The only improvement I could offer would be a seperate dealer room- the dealers with product in the gaming hall didn’t seem to do so well, and a psychological seperation, with ‘this is the room where we game’ and ‘this is the room where we buy stuff,’ could only serve to help the vendors, who put a lot of work into hauling their product in and out of the hall.)

We weren’t really sure if we would get too much turnout, or if we would just end up driving two hours to play games we could have played in Madison, or how much Games on Demand we would actually do compared to other games, but early in the morning, Saturday, I began setting up and pondering what would be ran.

Aaron and Joe, two fine young gentlemen who mostly just played D&D, and by their own admission, highly enjoyed power gaming and min-maxing, dropped by, seeing our Games on Demand flyer, and very pumped to play the Mountain Witch. And so it was.

Game One: The Mountain Witch.
GM: Me
Players:
Daniel (from Madison)
Tim (from Madison)
Sabe (from Madison)
Aaron
Joe

I had never ran or played Mountain Witch as a one-shot before, always prefering a 3-session approach, and I was skittish about how it would work. I found that by keeping a close eye on the time, and pushing very hard to make sure everyone did Dark Fate stuff, I was able to proceed with 4 chapters, each roughly an hour long, following the standard Mountain Witch arc. There was less emotional and dramatic buildup than I get in my 3session games, but what would you expect?

Aaron and Joe took slowly but eagerly to the witch. Aaron played a half-dragon character with retractible Dragon Wings. Joe’s big schitck was that he was a shuriken master (I don’t recall any other abilities the two had.) They had allied signs, and knew each other, so were fairly- but not completely- buddy-buddy. There was a tense showdown with Yuki-no-Onna in the forest where I made it very clear that they needed to start some kind of conflict to escape, but they kept seeming reluctant to do so, despite very clearly wanting to get away. They insulted her, refused her hospitality, destroyed her stuff, threatened to kill her, but didn’t seem to actually want to kill her, and I think finally it sunk in what they needed to do to get away and they did- and on their total success, they added burning down her cottage. Awesome.

Oh, and Yuki-no-Onna turned out to be in love with Daniel’s character, and vice-versa, Desperately.

Early in the game, Aaron seemed very prone to react to each encounter by drawing his sword and threatening the NPCs, but interestingly, began backing down from this technique and branching out a little bit. It’d be keen to play with him again sometime and see what tactics he uses.

For the story, Daniel ended up forcing Sabe’s character to take Yuki’s place as forest guardian (which turned out to be a ‘happy’ ending for Sabe, since his character got power, and was Afraid of being powerless and defenseless.) Daniel gave himself an unhappy ending- after all he did for Yuki, she ended up leaving him for someone else. Awesome.

Aaron, Joe, and Tim, despite their differences, teamed up to kill the Witch, put Aaron’s former lord on the Witch’s throne, and Aaron and Joe got corrupted and plotted to take over the world. Tim got his lands back, but was about to lose them to Aaron and Joe. Awesome.

Daniel noted at one moment that there was a trend where Aaron would ask for something cool, and I would say ‘Cool!’ and give it to him- but put a complication in the way, or add a counter-stake, and Aaron would say ‘Crap!’- but with a smile on his face. Ahh, ‘Yes-But,’ at it’s finest. So, before Aaron and Joe showed up that morning, Daniel demanded of me that I run My Life With Master. I was taught by the best (Micheal S. Miller), but had never ran MLwM, and was eager to do so. For our 10AM slot, Aaron and Joe made Mountain Witch a reality, but after lunch we set up for MLwM, and another gamer, Travis showed up, very interested in the prospect of minioning, and it was made so.

Game Two: My Life With Master
GM: Me
Players:
Tim: Bobo, the Monkey Boy
Daniel: The Star
Sabe: Hans (The Hand)
Travis: The Speaker

This game stretched my GMing talents- largely in part to me never having ran it before.

One of the players suggested a Vampire as the master, and then Daniel came out with some crazy- a playwright, and a screwed up theater troupe. The playwright became someone who drained the creativity from his audiences- an emotional vampire- and aspired to gain the fame of the theater guild. Oh, and he was a Beast.

His retainers were a bunch of freaks who all had Less-thans related to being seen or heard- Bobo, who incited fear (except in children) and handled the stunts, the Star, and androgynous amourous beautiful masked actor, who wouldn’t be believed except when lying, Hans, a nimble rigger and propmaster who had a stuttering problem, and the Speaker, a very persuasive and melodious narrator, who couldn’t talk plainly.

We started with 2 fear, 2 reason, 2 love each to go around, and I quickly put the minions into troubling situations- Bobo and Hans ended up kidnapping small children- Bobo felt so bad about it, he ended up eventually setting both of them free. Bobo was sent to steal some food, and Tim did a dellightful looking monkey-walk, miming Bobo carrying the food away. Hans was ordered to kill the local priest, failed to resist, and killed the poor father. Right when people were coming in for mass.

The Star and Speaker were really at each other’s throats. They both had lady loves in town, and the Master sent them to do bad things to each other’s respective loves. The Star maxed out his Self Loathing and quickly became a killing machine, choking the Speaker over his love, killing anyone who got in his way, and doing lots of bad stuff. Eventually, the reigning noble (the Speaker’s love interest) signed over her manor to the Master to use as his new playhouse, and the Star’s love interest was ravaged for the Master’s carnal pleasures.

The Master got increasingly insane, petty, and hackish as the story progessed, and when the Master ordered the Star to cut off his/her lover’s hair, the Star said no- and the mob descended on the troupe’s camp, pitchforks and fire in tow. Bobo saved the little girl from her imprisonment (and a fiery death!), Hans and the Speaker avoided the mob as their camp collapsed around them (the Speaker rescued the Star’s love interest), and the Star ripped off the Master’s manhood and left him to the mob.

A happy ending was had for Bobo and Hans- Hans was adopted by the baker’s wife as a son, and helped her rebuild her business. Bobo the Monkey Boy was adopted by the little girl as a pet. The Speaker was killed by the mob, and the Star, thinking his love interest was still in peril, descended into the basement of the flaming manor house to save her, never to return.

Awesome, right? But here’s where it gets better. At Gencon, Ron Edwards told me that when you choose your character’s epilogue, you’re making a moral judgement on them. That was a mind blower for me. Think about that, and go back and re-read that paragraph about the character’s ends.

Hans was basically a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to get by doing the right thing but held in thrall by his fear of the master. After all his pain, he ended up having a happy ending.

Bobo the Monkey Boy- well, he did some pretty awful things, like kidnapping young children for the Master’s insane theatrical notions, but he realized that he had screwed up in a big way, and went far to redeem himself. He managed to live a life of happiness, but I think it’s interesting that he did so as a monkey, not a man.

As for the Star and the Speaker, they were the most villainous of all, and a line of broken bodies and lies followed in their wake. The Star’s attempt to save the one thing he truly cared about was a shot at redemption- but death was what they wrought.

Cool stuff, huh?

I *really* look forward to running this again. In addition to going someplace on a really deep emotional level and hitting a particular spot that I’ve never really seen any other game hit, the game play, the antics and hijinx of playing an evil minion are so darkly humorous that the game is constantly enjoyable on that level alone. By now, it’s pushing six. We only officially had the table, and the obligation to run games, until two, but my game mastery drive is fueled by caffiene and these overpriced but delicious Starbucks Frappachino Iced things, and Justice Platt wants to play Burning Wheel, I want to run it, and Mark of Flames Rising orders two people that were going to play in his demo to play in my game. So we grab another table, turn them around, and get ready to play The Gift.

Game Three: Burning Wheel
GM: Me
Players:
Dwarves:
Mike: Prince Vost
Tim: The Warden
Justice: The Seneschal
Sara (latecomer, from Madison): Aunt Oxen

Elves:
Sabe: Prince Fanrir
Daniel: The Loremaster
Travis: The Bladesinger

Yeah, I just said ‘Aunt Oxen’. It’s an Uncle in the character write-up. Eat me, Patriarchs.

By this point, my desire to explain games is fading, and familiarity with Burning Wheel is limited. Travis and Mike have never played, Tim and Justice have limited exposure. I give the most cursory of explainations, and Daniel pitches in- dice, obstacles, ForKs, artha, and shade- basically just what you need to get started and do some versus tests. People are on board and we go.

Note: Travis was constantly bitching about how he was about to Grief-out, but every time he did so there was the world’s biggest smile on his face, so you could tell he was having a great time.

For those of you who haven’t read the Gift, it’s a Burning Wheel con scenario for roughly 4-8 players. There’s a newly crowned Dwarf Prince, and Elven delegation, a custom of gift giving- and the Elves forgot to bring a gift. And the Elven Prince has mythril armor. And there’s conflicts built into both sides. Hijinx ensue.

The Elves offered a gift of a sword and a bottle of wine, which the Dwarves found most insulting. The Seneschal and the Loremaster went at it, debating (with Ettiquete rolls, Elf-Wises, and Dwarf-Wises) fine points of the situation, and in general, digging the holes deeper.

The Bladesinger wanted to make it so he’d never leave the Prince’s side. I told him all he needed to do to make it absolutly, inviolately so was cross off one of his instincts and right it down. But he liked all those. And so, the Dwarves pulled him away from his lord… The Seneschal cornered the Bladesinger (“Griefy Joe”, as the player put it crudely), and got into a Duel of Wits- not the Bladesinger’s strongpoint. I put the other four players to work here as the audience, having them give a die to whoever they felt made the better argument.

Both players scripted Point-Point-Point. Blood would be in the water.

The Seneshal, unsurprisingly, very much outrolled the Bladesinger (with the help of the peanut gallery), and the Bladesinger agreed that he needed to make sure the Dwarves were content to serve his prince- but the Seneschal agreed that the sword and wine were given in good faith- the social gaff was forgiven, but the Elves still had to come up with a greater gift. (The Bladesinger’s stakes were to get the Dwarves to accept the small gift.)

Sara showed up, I handed her the Aunt, and things started to get crazy.

Aunt Oxen, three days late to her own nephew’s coronation (at this point, Tim starts freaking out and saying ‘wait- is she THAT Oxen? Oh crap’)- and as her gift, she brings a young dwarven lass (slung across her shoulders)- a virgin for the young prince.

Yeah.

The Prince announces some sporting events. There’s an Axe throwing contest- the Elves, without an Axe thrower of their own are at a loss, so the Loremaster cleverly Circles up a Dwarven axe thrower from a rival clan that would love to see the Clan Ibuniz embarrassed. The Warden still wins- he’s just that good.

The Loremaster is angling for a footrace next- he wants to cheat and use some Elven wonderment songs- the Aunt is angling for a ‘beard lifting contest,’ where Dwarves tie heavy things to their beards and lift them- and she helpfully suggests that the Elves be allowed to tie heavy things to their long elven hair and lift them- but a melee is what Prince Vost wants.

The Elves think they can win this, what with their Bladesinger being the baddest swordsman in all the land, so they get a wager- they wager the Prince’s frickin’ Mithril Mail (I have no idea how the Loremaster managed to convince the Prince this was a good idea, but he went for it)- against the greatest gift the Dwarves recieved (a bejeweled and ancient horn). The Dwarves say yes, greedily eyeing the mithril.

(The plan is they get the Horn, and then gift the Dwarves with it, since it’s already been established as a most worthy gift. Clever, eh?)

But what kind of Melee? There’s not enough Elves for a mass skirmish, and Prince Vost wants to participate, so it’s a Fight! with blunted weapons, the Warden and Vost against the Bladesinger and Fanrir.

There’s some craziness with the Aunt trying to talk sense into the Prince and the Seneschal running off and ringing the fucking alarm bell so the Aunt can’t get a word in edgewise, but the two on two melee commences.

Did I mention they were all in their full armor?

We script a single round. The battle of the really skillful people, Warden vs. Bladesinger, is painfully boring. As one of my players said, “I don’t want to roll dice for a minute and a half, only to find out my blow bounced off your armor.” There’s a lot of really keen things about the scripty combats, but with high-end people, you can stalemate and circle around for a long, long time.

Prince Vost vs. Prince Fanrir is another story. Vost gets a really good Tackle in on his Elven counterpart, forcing him to the ground (whos uses Oh Fuck! and loses one of his actions to get on his knee)- and then Great Striking. Vost gets a very good roll (he did use his Greed and lots of Artha)- and gets a good solid hit in on Prince Fanrir, which actually goes through his Mithril!

So, this took a while, pushed the players, none of whom were that familiar with the system, in some uncomfortable directions, and looked like it would keep being more of the same, (and alienated the two players who weren’t involved) so I decided no more scripty-combat this session. No matter how big of a deal.

So Prince Vost was the only one to get a wound in, so I proposed to the Elven players that the Dwarves won the fight. They accepted, so the Prince would have to give in-

And then the Bladesinger freaked out.

Seeing his charge pushed down, beaten, and humiliated, something inside him snapped, and he lunged for Prince Vost, rolled upwards of a dozen dice on his Grief aided ‘cut Prince Vost in half roll,’ pwned the Prince, and turned around, walking for the exit of the keep, to go West and leave this mortal coil.

And of course, the Dwarven house guard shot him full of arrows.

And then the Loremaster said, “you know, they should really kill me at this point.”

And the Elven Prince said, “I don’t want to die.”

And so it was, his entourage slain, that Prince Fanrir knew when he was beaten, and gave his Mithril to the Dwarves, rightfully won in combat. And so it was, that Aunt Oxen, remaining heir to the crown of the Ibuniz, ascended to its throne.

So here’s some analysis. This game rocked in some very big ways- the players were really in it, the Dwarf/Elf dichotomy kicked ass, and the players came up with crazy setting details and went with them. However, as I alluded before, the play seemed strongest when things were just versus rolls, and weakest when the scripting sheets came out.

Here’s what it comes down to here: I don’t see what I’m getting out of the increased handling time of the combats. Duels of Wits I sorta like because of the compromises, but the combats seemed to suck energy out of the game.

But just the banter that this one brought out of the players, woah. Luke, good job on this one! The author, at this point, exhausts herself. Thai food is had, at a restaurant with weird Thai love saga music videos, with Thai subtitles. The author speculates, loudly (and badly) to the plot content of the music videos, to the amusment of the Thai staff. Gaming conversation is had.

It’s ten pm, Con’s closed, we’re back at the hotel dorms, and I’m off the hook. We play:

Game Four: Dust Devils
GM: Daniel
Players:
Me
Tim
Justice
Sara
Sabe

Daniel’s running his extra-spicy, front-loaded, frothing at the mouth Dust Devils Scenario, Three Days in Hell, which for the purpose of this Actual Play report, I’m going to assume you’ve read. Pay special attention to the Cartwrights.

Since this thread is about me and my gaming experiences, I’m not going to get too much into what the other players were up to. But there were stashed-treasure hijinx consuming most of the others, and Justice played the NPC Charlie more than he played his own character- doing an excellent job, and very much adopting the character as his own. There were twisty, topsy turvy alliances and shootings, and ultimately, Sara’s character- who hadn’t seen much screen time- escaped with the cash.

But my story wasn’t about riches. It was much more personal.

It starts with a vile young woman, a holier-than-thou spoiled rotten bitch, Patience Cartwright, daughter of the mayor, a cunning, sneaky, self-entitled misanthrope, this was my character.

My brother, the black sheep and neer-do-well, James Cartwright was langoring in jail. They would haul him away, and that was a fate no Cartwright would deserve, not even a screwup like James. I got a private audience with James, using the veiled threat of getting the Sheriff fired, and told James I’d help him escape- James was played by Tim here, and I ended up playing James frequently in later scenes- riffing off his buffoonish portrayal to present someone who was perhaps cleverer than he at first seemed- and by all accounts, dangerous.

Patience went back to her home sulking about, looking for the combination to her daddy’s safe, so she could crack it open, get the master keys to the jail, and free her brother. But her Daddy was a clever man, and he caught her red handed. Here’s where things kick up a notch.

Daniel narrates Bartholomew Cartwright taking off his belt to discipline his daughter. There’s the opportunity for a conflict here, and I think long and hard about it. Something at the back of my mind is telling me something- some ineffible instinct- and I give- Patience swallows her pride- she knows she’s done wrong here, and accepts the punishment. Daniel starts narrating something, but I hold up a hand and cut him off. The thought is coming to form. It’s dark. It’s terrible. It’s horrible. It’s awesome. There is a silent understanding.

And that’s when Patience stops being a horrible person, and becomes a human being.

Because that’s when I realize her Daddy’s been raping her.

Holy Fuck!

It all kinds of slides into place, with a sickening click, and Patience goes from someone I hate, to someone I feel sorry for.

There’s some more hijinx with the money, and then some crazies with guns break into the house, seeing what’s going on, and looking to blackmail Bartholomew. Not so pleasant as a peach, anymore, eh? I try to kill my Daddy in the ruckus, but Charlie’s got control of the situation, so I run off into the night, scared, vulnerable, and hurt.

Courage is found. As is a shotgun. There’s some nasty, nasty shootouts involving Charlie and the Deputy, leaving them mutually horribly wounded, and Charlie’s running out of town with the money.

And I’ve been fucking him too. If everything else is any guideline, this can’t be a healthy relationship.

Patience says “I’m tired of being fucked by guys like my Daddy, and I’m tired of being fucked by guys like you.” Charlie talks her down, gets on his horse to ride away, and thats when she plugs him in the back. The money’s lying there on the ground, but Patience doesn’t even care about it.

She’s off to go find her Daddy.

He’s being tortured by the corrupt Deputy to spill the beans on his sexual abuses. It’s Bartholomew’s the End encounter, and we all think it would be awesome for him to get shot in the face by the girl he’s been raping, so the conflict he’s in isn’t about that- it’s about whether or not he gives in to the Deputy.

I don’t remember if he does or not. What I do remember is that he sees his daughter coming, and his lasts words before she shoots him are a very genuine “I’m sorry.”- and since she’s at zero Eye and at The End, he redeems her back up to 1 Eye, possibly the first step in her rebuilding as a human being.

I didn’t narrate a lot in the way of an epilogue. I figured Patience would still be very broken and unsure after this- everything she knew would have been turned upside down, and she’d have to cope with some very serious stuff. I said she married the Sheriff, who was a positive character in the scenario, but what I didn’t say at the table is that that would probably be only after many months, maybe years- and it would be a very, very, long time before she would feel comfortable in her own skin again.

I don’t know why I didn’t want to share that then. But it felt like my epilogue, and by golly, I just felt like keeping it to myself and handing out the cliffs notes version. This was a sensitive time you know.

I am still amazed at this session. Sexual abuse isn’t an issue I’ve ever really touched at in gaming- maybe hinted, maybe said, but not ever addressed. It made me feel something horrible- about myself, about humanity, about our capacity to justify the violence we deal and recieve, and about other stuff that I can’t even begin to articulate.

Yeah, heavy, heavy stuff. And really awesome.

That’s the emotional bottom of the roller coaster ride. We’ve got some pits to drag ourselves through, but there are highs yet to come. Interlude

At 1:30 AM, weary from what combined was roughly fourteen-odd hours of near non-stop gaming, we crash in the dorm room.

But first, some neurotic fucking around with beds.

Because it’s a dorm room, there’s these little tiny beds- they aren’t even made, we have to do that- but at $24, what are you going to do, complain? I take the bed in the corner, just the way I like them. And Tim makes a big deal about pulling the other bed all the way across the room, putting it next to mine. So, you know, we can be next to each other. Aww, sweet. But kind of neurotic.

Except! Every night, without fail, 15-30 minutes after lying down for bed, I have to get up to go to the bathroom. It’s just one of those things. Tim’s bed is currently blocking the door. I note that I won’t be able to get out, and I can already tell that while I don’t have to go to the bathroom right now, in 20 minutes or so it will be naggling enough that I won’t be able to sleep. Yeah, neurotic.

So Tim pulls his bed a good foot away from the door, and then pulls mine away from the door, so they line up. (Neurotic) Then I complain that the head of the bed is no longer against the wall (Neurotic), citing ‘bad feng shui’ when he asks why it’s important. So I shove my bed back (Neurotic), and he shoves his back. (Neurotic.)

And of course, 20 minutes later, I have to pull his bed, with him on it, far enough away from the door to squeeze through to get to the bathroom, and then when I get back, push him more or less back into place so he won’t complain. (Neurotic.) The next morning there’s a great quest for breakfast; I get overpriced Starbucks sugar chocolate mint drink, an apple-pie flavored bagel, and some sort of energy smoothie. It’s Strawberry, but not quite the right flavor of Strawberry.

We return to the gaming hall, set up. There’s some deep enthusiasm for Dogs in the Vinyard, but we’ve got six people milling around- a bad number for the game. Daniel and Tim go off to play Beast Chasers. (It was originally going to be Daniel and Sara, but they play that all the time, so I suggested we “swap.”)

Game Five: Dogs in the Vineyard
GM: Me
Players:
Sara (Sister Bethany)
Sabe (Brother Nahum)
Justice (Brother Pericles)

I was running my town Zion’s Stump, which was featured some light discussion over on the Forge. Familiarity with the town isn’t that important. There’s a reluctant mother-to-be, a dead lover, and some homosexual rights issues that just didn’t have time to come up. What the game really turned out to be about was abortion rights.

Fuck, sexual abuse, now abortion.

And remember, these are pretty hard-line fundamentalists.

Anyway, Sr. Bethany just about raised her whole family herself, and she convinced her brother, who left the family to go back east, to stay home and rejoin the faithful.

Br. Nahum, a closested homosexual, judged a lesbian couple, splitting them up and setting them straight on the ways of the faith. I found it fascinating the torment Sabe was projecting- the character with perhaps the most to gain by deviating from the tenets of the faith was the one who seemed to hem most closely to them in game.

Br. Pericles, who spent some time back east, and was a very complicated young man, won a fist fight with some other Dogs-to-be, but took some deep deep blows, and won only after getting his ass thouroughly kicked.

Sabe had a relationship with his judgemental father. I asked him if he wanted his father to be in the town- he said yes, so Sabe’s father was Br. Hazeah- and suddenly, even though I made sure everyone had relatives in town, the dead boy, the pregnant girl- these were people he knew and grew up with, and their conflicts hit him pretty strongly.

Our heroes started out by talking down Br. Jabez from going out and killing Br. Merari right away- he wanted the Dogs to join him, but they were too wise in the ways of the faith for that.

(It was decided that there had been some intimacy between Br. Nahum and Br. Matthias in the past, before the later’s death. That was awesome.)

Sr. Bethany, related to the pregnant girl, found the truth of her situation pretty quickly, and went to that heretic Hebrew abortionist doctor to get him to do his magic- literally. Sara said she thought it would be cool if he had an elixir that would make a woman miscarry, so Doctor Victor Bernstien, originally a simple apostate doctor from back east, became a Kabbalistic Alchemist. (I even gave him an Excellent Yarmulke, 1d8, though it never came up in a conflict.)

Bethany was joined by Pericles, and Dr. Bernstien refused to hand over his elixir to any but the girl herself- he feared it being used on someone without their knowledge, and there was an interesting conflict here about informed consent, patients rights, and moral authority. Pericles took Dr. Bernstien’s side, and Sara was soon running low on dice. She agonized long and hard over if she’d kill the good doctor for his elixir, but decided against.

Our heroes converged on the house, Bethany and Pericles planning to steal away the girl so the abortion could occur. Nahum was strongly set against this- there was a very very tense conflict here, with the two Dogs arguing that Delilah was an innocent, and didn’t deserve to suffer, and Sabe busted out the great line “It’s the child here that’s the innocent.” Wow, heavy stuff.

Sabe knocked Sara out of the conflict- there was an argument she had to take, and she couldn’t find a way to raise and still stay in. The Madison Dogs rule of thumb- which Justice immediately grokked and thought was awesome- was that you can do ‘yes but’ on a block, but you gotta do ‘yes and’ on a take the blow. (As he later said, he sees how this would get around people throwing the same arguments at each other until the run out of dice.)

Then there was some physical posturing, but the conflict was about convincing Sabe, so Justice backed down. Sabe won a conflict against two other Dogs- very nicely done!

We were nearing time to wrap up the event, and so we went for all the marbles- a conflict to see if the child was aborted or not. None of this ‘convince the father’ or any of that. Let’s get straight to the guts, as it were. Sara sat this one out- her Dog wasn’t sure what was right any more, and rather than have the father involved, I said he was out, having dinner with the Steward. The Dogs would have to settle this one themselves.

And they started with a fist fight, because that’s the only way Nahum would be letting Pericles in that door.

Awesome.

Pericles pulled a hatchet, but he didn’t strike- he intimidated Nahum, warning him.

And then Sabe escalated to gunplay.

Now, Sabe was low on dice, so escalating is great, and he’s being threatened, so it’s only reasonable in a western that the guns would come out. But I’m of an opinion that anything in a Dogs conflict actually needs to be at the conflict at hand- once you start going off on tangents, you need to give and start a follow-up. It’s one of those things that’s hard to define when it’s happening and when it’s not, but I know it when I see it. And I don’t think Sabe was doing that- not at all- but I’ve seen the guns come out because the player feels threatened. And that’s not what guns are for in Dogs- they don’t defend you, they kill other people to get what you want. If you’re pulling a gun because you’re threatened, don’t. Give, and then start a follow up- “I drive him off/I kill him/I whatever” about what pulling the gun is really about.

So I looked very pointedly at Sabe and asked him if he was doing this because he was willing to kill for this baby, or because he was being threatened.

Sabe and Justice gave me looks like I was speaking crazy moon language.

So I gave them the above explanation, and repeated the question. And Sabe thought long and hard- you’d have to ask him, but I’m guessing his reflex was to draw the gun because he was threatened, but deep down, upon examination, he really was willing to kill another Dog for this baby.

Now it was Justice’s turn. He had a mighty gunwound coming in, and he was reaching for his gunplay dice. So I asked him- are you really willing to kill for this child? And since he has that big blow coming in, more importantly, and you willing to die for it?

And he decided he wasn’t. So the baby wasn’t aborted.

Man I wish I had more time to devote to this town- it’s my tightest town yet, but I still feel like I barely scratched the surface of its potential.

The results were great- Sara narrated Sr. Bethany giving up the coat, unsure of her moral stance. Which was awesome. And there was cool conflicts all around.

Here’s some hippy reflection shit- abortion’s a heavy issue. And even though I was right there at the table, I wasn’t really the one having to make the hard choices. So there wasn’t the dark epiphany, like the sexual-abuse one I had in Dust Devils. But there was still a bit of a moral quandary contact high.

And I noted that it was awesome that we can play games like this, where we talk about really heavy, really sensitive stuff like sexual assualt or abortion or gay rights and treat it with the utmost seriousness. Think about it- if you ran D&D and had an abortion as a plot point, how seriously would most gamers treat it? I imagine many would end up spouting dead baby jokes. So, Saturday night, while we were playing Dust Devils, and shouting loudly about rape and murder and throwing f-bombs about like it’s no one’s business there was a family- a gamer couple, and their young teenage daughter.

And remember, at the time, I’m exalting this game about incesteous rape as if it’s the awesomest game ever. (It was, but that’s not really the point.)

I ended up striking up a conversation with that couple the next day- they said that they had overheard a number of our games (hopefully not just Dust Devils!) and that they thought I was a really good GM- which is good praise coming from someone who’s only overheard your games, and I explained the idea behind Games on Demand, and the rough concepts of some of our games- Mountain Witch and Dust Devils in particular, although Dust Devils’s description was general, that the characters were deeply flawed and self-destructive. We hit it off- Mom and Dad had games they were playing in, but they thought their daughter should play a game with us.

Their young daughter, Crystal, probably not more than 15, who’s played little in the way of roleplaying games but kinda sorta wants too. They sent her to play with the crazy people who were playing a game about incest.

That takes a level of trust I find amazing, and I am very grateful it was placed in me. I have more to say on that, but it’s for later.

I explained some of our games- Crystal seemed keen on Savage Worlds, Spirit of the Century, and Inspectres, and Tim had been pushing hard for SotC all weekend, so we whipped it out.

Game Six: Spirit of the Century
GM: Me
Players
Sara: Liz Smart, Egyptologist Extraordinaire
Tim: Red Rockefeller, Gentleman Adventurer
Sabe: Kitty Minx, Catgirl Burglar
Crystal: Wendy White, Friend to all Primates

I decided to play Stuntless- Crystal’s rpg background was so minimal that simplifying the game could only help her get into it, and it was a change I wanted to make for my own benefit so us dirty story gamers could make it more about the player-defined powers.

Sabe and Tim were old hands, so they needed little supervision. I positioned myself near Sara and Crystal- I needed to keep a close eye on her to make sure one of her first few gaming experiences would be a blast, and Sara was unfamiliar with the system as well, but she picked up quickly.

I was careful to give Crystal lots of good, positive feedback- she started out very shy, perhaps worried to make a mistake. (As Sara noted, it can only take one naysayer to bring someone’s self-esteem down.) Her background was fairly simple- an Irish farm girl, good with animals. Mom popped in a couple times during character creation- Crystal was struggling with an exciting adventure during the war period. Mom mentioned Amelia Earhart and airplanes, which Crystal kind of frowned and said she wasn’t interested in.

I just kind of started spouting off different things one could do- and said, “well, you could go to darkest Africa, and train gorrillas.”

Crystal’s face brightened up immediately. “Or how about monkeys?” Sure! Awesome! It turned out Crystal loved monkeys- she had a collection of stuffed monkey animals, so her story ended up being monkey related- she had a monkey companion named Mr. Chips, had helped Sara’s character by fending off some angry mummy monkeys, and after being bitten by a strange feral monkey, she could summon some monkey powers and turn into one.

She had brought the awesome.

I wrote down everyone’s aspects, and looked for some common themes and juicy bits. Sara had a lot of stuff about mummies and ruins, Crystal’s of course was focused on monkeys, Sabe had theivery and romantic mishaps, and Tim’s was kind of all over the place. I wasn’t quite sure how to pull Tim deep deep in, but I had a plan. There would be monkeys, and mummies, and theft, and love.

It was Carnivale, in medias res. A bunch of guys in gorrilla masks had the Egyptian MacGuffin, and were getting away.

Tim said they had an underground hideout, and he activated the aspects to prove it. Red, Kitty, and Liz made off in hot pursuit, and Wendy sent off Mr. Chips to steal the amulet. (Spending a fate chip to bring him into play in a major fashion.) The underground lair was some ancient ruins- perhaps of Egyptian origin?- and those weren’t masks! These were actual gorrilas, working for Gorrilla Khan!

It was somewhere around here that I decided I wouldn’t be using the detailed conflict rules either. Just straight up skill rolls. And it speeded things up a lot, and made the game hum like a charm.

Red, Kitty, and Wendy (infiltrating the gorrillas in monkey form) were captured after I compelled various aspects of theirs- Kitty’s was particularly awesome: after being handed off the Amulet by Mr. Chips, she snuck in to the lair, and I did two compels: first she was Caught Red Handed, and second, I activated her “I Don’t Want Him, You Can Have Him!”: Gorilla Khan fell madly in love with Kitty.

(I was worried that Sabe, having his character locked up for a good chunk of the adventure, would feel deprotagonized. He said, “Are you kidding? That was awesome!” He might not have used the awe-word, but it’s what he meant.)

Our captured heroes were transported by boat across the amazon to an Aztec step pyramid- which had already been staked out and trapped by Liz Smart.

Hijinx ensued.

Mummies poured forth from the pyramid to fight the gorrillas. Prince Atuk-Kut emerged and dueled Gorrilla Khan for the prize of Kitty Minx. Boats exploded. Pygmy monkey mummies harried the Gorrillas. It was madness. It was amazing.

And Crystal was having an absolute blast.

We all were, but those other people? Fuck them. They already know how to have fun.

Liz and Red weakened Kitty’s bonds, but then she pretty much saved herself, breaking free. Atuk-kut was subdued with the Gem of Ra, which was swallowed by Gorrilla Khan, drawing the Mummies to him, and he fled to the jungle, waiting for it to pass through his system.

This is the third game of Spirit of the Century I’ve ran, and so far the most awesome. But I will run it again, and I am confident the awesome will continue. By this point, I was really, really wiped. It had been a long, hard, awesome weekend, and I was ready to crash. Tim showed a bunch of kids- kids literally, around 8 years old or less how to play Tsuro while I crashed a little bit and chatted about the Spirit of the Century game with Daniel. And someone whipped out Inspectres.

Game 7: Inspectres
GM: Daniel
Players:
Me
Tim
Sabe
Crystal
Elizabeth? (I didn’t really catch her name, and that’s what she called her character.)

Tim was originally planning on running Inspectres, and had printouts aplenty, but realized he didn’t remember the rules! (This may have been gaming fatigue talking.) Daniel offered to run in his stead, and Tim accepted.

Elizabeth, a neurotic ex-data-entry specialist was our CEO. Sabe played an elderly church-circle woman, who I decided was my grandma- I was a high-school cheerleader. Tim was a retired plumber, and Crystal was a nerdy-research girl.

What followed was a tale of revenge, love, betrayal, and hate. The Mayor of Oshkosh was followed by a portable thundercloud, a portent of terrible doom- which splintered off with a tiny thundercloud irritating our CEO. Tim fixed the Thundercloud with his plumbing skills, and some Interdimensional Caulk. I found the villainess and confronted her, with an odd turn of phrase that hinted Grandma had been targeted for very, shall we say, intimiate, reasons. Which wasn’t my intent at all, but how it came out, and more importantly, how those sitting in the Confession Chair interpreted it.

This was my second game of Inspectres, and although I felt the fiction didn’t have the oomph of the first one (due to generally better PC die rolls, and fewer wacky mishaps to get stuck in). On the other hand, I was much more at ease to sit back and let the system do its thing, and not get caught up in whether big meaningful decisions are being made. Because, really now, by that point I was too wiped to actually make big meaningful decisions, and Inspectres was a welcome, welcome relief. 

The Epilogue

We had dinner at a great, cheap restaurant, Mr. Cinders, talked about many many things, parted ways, and drove off into the sunset.

I don’t normally do Actual Play reports unless I have a reason for them. So, for me to do seven of them, it’s a pretty hefty thing for me to do.

Now, I think that every single one of those Actual Play reports has something cool to say, something we can take away from it, and maybe we’ll touch on some of those, but when you take all seven in concert, put them together, there’s something really amazing going on. The people who were there will know what I’m talking about- there was an energy at some of these games.

My favorite moment of all, during the entire con, didn’t even happen during a game. It was a short encounter with Lisa, Crystal’s mom.

Lisa and her daughter had overheard a number of our games on Saturday- including, as I mentioned before, our adults only Dust Devils game. And Sunday morning, she wanted very much for her daughter to play a game with us. Like I said here, the level of trust was high. But so was the payout.

Crystal’s parents had long been gamers- her Dad had been playing D&D longer than I’ve been alive, and both were avid card and board game players. Crystal clearly wanted to get involved with gaming, but I suspect was intimidated from doing so. And who can blame her?

At the Spirit of the Century game, Crystal started out very shy, but clearly wanting to get involved and play. It took some sparks to let her know that it was OK to be creative- sometimes, all it takes is letting someone know that they have permission to be awesome. And hillarious monkeyshines ensued.

And you know what? I had always pish-poshed Gorilla Khan before. If it hadn’t been for Crystal and her love of monkeys, there’s no way on earth I would have come up with a love triangle involving a mummy, Gorilla Khan, and a damsel in distress. Awesome.

Crystal continued to come up with suggestions and be active (with some encouragement) during the SotC game and into Inspectres.

I handed off to Lisa an index card with the website for indiepressrevolution.com and the games Crystal played. I think Crystal’s going to be getting a game of her very own in the near future.

So after the Inspectres game, the boys were packing up their massive piles of games, and I briefly stopped by Lisa’s Illuminati card game to chat. Crystal was there too, absolutely beaming. And Lisa thanked me profusely for running a game for her daughter. And her gratitude was palpable.

And Lisa, if you ever get a chance to read these words, that was my best Oshcon moment- the joy that I had made a positive, measureable difference in a family’s live, that my gaming actually meant something, that I had given a young girl the tools she needed (which, like the Wizard of Oz’s various rewards, it turned out she had all along) to follow her father’s path, or forge her own. And that’s where the awesome is.

The experiences had on Oshcon were amazing. The power of the emotions and excitement running through us was something unique- one of my best gaming experiences ever. If I can convery even a fraction of that power through my words, to form a crude impression in the mind of a reader who was not there and invoke an emotional response, than this Actual Play is a success.

I Have a Halloween Costume

The trick to Halloween, is that your costume should be innovative, quirky, a little hard to guess, and cheap.  Ideally, you use stuff you have laying around the house already.

Oh, and it should be scary.

I have figured out my 2008 Halloween Costume.  It’s odd, easy, and most of all, scary.

Bonjour, Homeboys

We should start speaking a pidgin of French and street.

“Comme ca, homeslice?”

“Mon freres call me ‘J’e n’e c’est quoi.'”

Lolaris

Inspired by Sabe’s thread on www.story-games.com

Pictures Frozen From the Flow of Time…

Once upon a time, on the internet, there were the greatest cats we will ever know. We cannot look upon them as they were, but we can understand them as memes are added to them, melting like a snowflake in the sun.
For those cats are gone now, destroyed as the internet destroys all beautiful things. All that remains are those which we call pictures, moments frozen from the flow of time.

This Is No Longer a Cat, This Is Not Yet a Lol.
This is all that remains. Whatever else is what you make of it.

At It Was…

Once upon a time, before the cheeseburgers, before invisible objects, before monorails, before ceiling cat watching you masturbate, there was a great network. Built of ones and zeroes and full of imagination and pictures and text, it was home to pictures of cats whos splendor we are not given to understand. Free of captions, they lived a life of bliss, eating cat treats, warming themselves in the sun, and beloved by all. The named their network the internet, for it connected the world.

The cats in that age did not yet measure time, for they did know memes. Who can say how long it lasted? Perhaps it was merely a moment, fading away as the sunbeams flashed into a monitor, passing as it was even born. Perhaps it was forever until it ended. Does it matter, or is the thing the picture that lingers?

Their King…
Amongst them, there was a cat, and yet, above them, he was their king. Pure of snow in his hide, happy in his heart, and long in his stature, his grace and cuteness was admired by all the people. And so it was natural that they named him Longcat, for he ruled over them, as the internet cradled the world.

And So It Came to Pass…
Could that night have been forever? Was it some error, or some choice, that summoned a caption into their history? Were posters lax, or failing, or unlucky in some way? Or was it merely the turning of the internet?
We cannot know why it came, or what could have been if it had not. We can only know that the sightings began with the anime fans. One and one they saw it, only fleeting and irregular, that website coming up at the edge of the internet, impossible and alien. They spoke of it, they wrote of it, they posted to it, they drew on it and sung its cacophonies on it. At first it was thought to be madness, that particular sort of madness that strikes the worst of them. But if it was madness, it spread, for more people saw, and more, and by the time it reached the highest, Longcat himself, it had already been given a name. Because it was new, they called it beautiful. Because it was new, they called it 4-Chan.
They saw Longcat then, and the 4-Channers cried over his length. And so it was that they called for a means that Longcat’s length could be measured, and construction of a great Photoshop, that they might increase his length. The thrummings and clicking clackings of the Photoshop filled the internet, and Longcat’s length was lengthened, and for the first time, the inhabitants of the internet knew a cat picture that was shopped. But they could not tell because of the pixels, because they had yet to have seen a number of shops in their time.

The /b/
By light of the internet, the /b/ festers like a neglected miscarriage, giving witness to the arrogance of the past just as the memes it spawns give the promise of dooms to the future.
Many stories are told about the /b/, its nature, its origins, and its history. Some say it has always been there- that the time of captionless cat pictures is simply a myth for cat fanciers. Others say it is not there at all, that it is only an illusion created by the worst in all of us. But most say that it was done, and that it was posted by people, and that we must take the blame for our own doom.
No one knows the truth, but they know that before the /b/, the internet was perfect, the cat pictures had no captions, and the people knew no memes, and now the people have learned lolcats, domo-kun, Bridget, and ten thousand other ravages of 4-Chan.
Such knowledge cannot be born without some excuse, some meaning, some explanation. And so the posters have made their own stories of how it came to pass.

Longcat and Tacgnol
The greatest of the demons of /b/ is not a caption at all, but a cat: Tacgnol.
Only rarely ever sighted, Tacgnol is the greatest general amongst the emocats, and greatly respected amongst their kind. He is one of the cats, but black as midnight, and long, long as Longcat.
Some amongst the cat fanciers say that Tacgnol is Longcat, turned by /b/ cruel irony and Photoshop’s filter into a mockery of himself. If you listen to the stories, or look at the pixels, this makes sense. But the truth is not that simple.
The oldest, weariest, and wisest amongst the cat fanciers- those that are near to giving up on the internet- know the truth. Tacgnol is every cat, who, attempting to win the internet with cuteness and lols, has put captions on its picture, turning to the lolcats with a corrupted and blackened heart. Tacgnol is terrible because he is mighty, yes, but he is even more terrible because he is the future of every lolcat that does not win the internet. They are most terrible, because when you think about the meme, you know that once, a forgotten age ago, they meant well.