Old School Sucks

Well, kind of. I think many  of us are blinded by nostalgia and fail to recognise the advances that have been made in games. I’m not being subjective when I say ‘advances’ either. Things like unified mechanics, dramatic mechanics and systems that allow for players to ‘buy in’ to the narrative in a more formal fashion are improvements. Skills are an improvement, guidelines and examples on how to handle various ‘stunts’ and tricks are also an improvement.

A while back we tried a session of our favourite old school game, Dragon Warriors. Almost immediately we fell into problems and it’s not like we didn’t all play these older style games back in the day. Something was definitely off though.

  • Nobody felt heroic, or even competent.
  • The ‘whiff’ factor on attacks was huge.
  • The game – as written – had no way to cope with typical player actions such as disarms and so forth, without gaining enough levels to access them as special skills. This seemed to cut them off from being done earlier on without that ability.
  • Dragon warriors doesn’t have quite the same magic issues as early D&D or its clones, but there was a definite ‘holding back’ on the spell front.

I resisted the temptation to ‘fiddle’ with things for a long time. I wanted a true, old-school experience, I wanted the nostalgia but as it turns out, as written, and for our grown up selves, spoiled by FATE and Storyteller, the old school experience is a crock of shit.

I started bringing in flanking rules, allowed them to pull off stunts and tricks, adjusted the monster stats on the fly, interpreted the healing rules in a more generous way and so on. Basically, betraying everything I originally set out to do for the sake of a better game.

You know what? I think that’s what we actually used to do. I think that was the ‘old school’ game experience. Every individual group fixing things in their own way, playing their own game and that was what made for these formative experiences rather than the games themselves. We were all playing our own variations, our own ‘perfect’ games derived from games that were loose and incomplete and subject to interpretation.

Dragon Warriors’ background is always the thing that really appealed to me, much the same with Fighting Fantasy. If we play it again, I think we may use some different rules.

We’ve definitely changed.

NEW RELEASE!: The Little Grey Book

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

The Little Grey Book is an exercise in futility for two or more players.

Get it HERE

Libertines Vs The New Puritans

There’s a constant clash going on between two minority groups in gaming. Those who give a flying fuck about art/representations/gender pronouns and those who want to defend the creative freedom that we – in theory – have. The majority of people, whatever their gender, sexuality or whatever, don’t seem to give the flying fuck in question and are happily getting on with their games.

That said a lot of pressure – or at least what feels like a lot of pressure – is being applied upon creators to do what they’re ‘told’ by those seeking to pressure. This goes on to the point where you can be called all sorts of nasty names, have boycotts organised of your material and people can dedicate their lives to hate-mailing you and posting constantly on fora about what a terrible person you are.

The argument itself is pretty redundant at this point, people are too entrenched and won’t countenance thought or compromise but it might be an idea to give an historical perspective on sex/representation in fantasy and science fiction literature and film. That might also give some of the hardliners a bit of a better idea why there are some of us who enjoy sexy material, sexual material and whose eyes roll hard into our heads any time someone starts whining about armour or clothing styles.

SF and Fantasy have long been ahead of public attitudes when it comes to sex and sexuality. The fantastical has often provided a safe forum to examine these ideas, particularly when it comes to matters that are transgressive, experimental, odd.

Sexual repression. Not a good idea.HG Wells was a prophet of the sexual revolution and something of a ‘player’ himself. Many of the great masters and mistresses of SF and Fantasy cut their literary teeth during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Going back to the Victorian period (Pearson’s magazine etc) one would find at least ‘racy’ descriptions, if not illustrations, women characters in positions of power and authority and so forth. Lest we forget, in the formative and hidebound Christian years of the 19th and 20th centuries – which so inform society even today – women were barely even seen as sexual beings, not so in fantasy and SF.

Fantastical writings brought sex and sexuality out into the light, examined it, made it plain. Pulp covers might be lurid and titillating, but there was nothing wrong with that. Even Burroughs had his Martians – of all colours and genders – running around naked. Not that that will make it to the films I’m sure.

We suffered our setbacks at the hands of the moral majority, the comics code, the banning of horror comics, furore over the pulps, moral panic at the content of works by Harrison, Farmer, you name it and those aren’t even the authors who went after sexuality as a topic all out. Women in these works might have been sexual, but one must remember that this itself was, still is, somewhat revolutionary. No slut-shaming here, just an enjoyment of male and female sexuality and – often – the imaginings of more liberated, promiscuous and less dysfunctional socio-sexual politics from the group families of Heinlein to the incestuous what if of Sturgeon’s Notorious ‘If All Men Were Brothers, Would you Let One Marry Your Sister?’

Women tagged along in SF/Fantasy long before it was acceptable to the morals of the world at large, wore trousers first in SF (or Bloomers, a solution to the skirt issues of zero gravity). It’s taken women from closeted and protected McGuffins to leaders and warriors. Wilma Deering, Samus Aran, Eowyn, Red Sonja and a part of that liberation has also been to recognise the female as a motivated sexual being.

So, when the censorious come to call, whether they be motivated by religion or gender studies those of us who lived in, or studied, or appreciate all the effort, time and battles that have gone into creating a liberated and anything goes field of fiction bristle. I think it’s understandable that we do so. What I don’t understand is why anyone would seek to drag us back to puritanical outlooks, particularly those on the liberal or leftist side of things. That’s where I place myself politically, but I guess I’m a libertine.

No hyperbole. Remember, sexual repression was used to enforce EngSoc OrthodoxyThere are valid concerns to be had about representations in advertising and celebrity, but the fantastical is pure fantasy. Nobody, hopefully, expects Superman or Wonder Woman to be someone they could ever really aspire to be and we need our ‘gods and monsters’, our archetypes, our ‘gods’ even if we know that they’re not real. These things are about escaping, dragging real world bullshit into games and escapism rather defeats the object of ‘escape’.

I don’t want to turn the dial back to a more repressed age and I think we lose more than we gain that way.

You’re free to not like something, just try to be consistent, knowledgable, tolerant and don’t confuse ‘I don’t like X’ with ‘X should not exist’.

New Year, New Regime

I’ve been taking December off in order to reassess where I stand on work, depression, how I go about working, promotion and so in. Introspection often isn’t a good thing if you suffer from depression as you will tend to ruminate and be extremely self-critical which really isn’t any good for you. At all.

Still, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what needs to be done to make some changes and how I plan to attack these changes come the new year.

Plucking a stereotypical definition of your average working stiff out of thin air, at least in the UK, he’s going to be working 9-5, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year with something like 20 days off as holiday per year, not counting bank holidays and so on. That amounts to a working schedule of 240 normal work days per year, minus some, but let’s go with 240.

If I wanted a modest income of, let’s say, £12,000 at the best rate I can expect for my work ($0.06/£0.04 a word, sometimes more, usually less, self-publishing is harder to track) that would entail writing a minimum of 1,250 words per day, of sale quality.

Here’s how my days currently run, when I’m fit and able:

  • 7:40am – Get up, check e-mail, reply to work mails where possible. Mess about on social media games/work related topics mixed.
  • 8.00am – Start work properly.
  • 12.00pm – Lunch
  • 12.20pm – Back to work.
  • 1.00pm-2.00pm – Sometimes a nap, otherwise working. The nap is something that came in with the depression which often manifests as exhaustion.
  • 7.00pm – Finish day’s work. Cook evening meal.
  • 8.00pm – Blogging/Reading, semi-work related.
  • 11.00pm-12.00am – Bedtime.

Thing is, I’m often not fit and able. I’m not sure when I became such a workaholic, it doesn’t sound like me. Somehow though, I did. Other writers/creators tell me they’ve never worked as hard as I do and that I even put them to shame. I am, quite literally, killing myself by exhausting myself this way though. Things seriously need to change and I need to learn to relax again, to regain focus and to put it onto one main project at a time so that shit gets done.

To that end I’ll be making the following changes next year:

  • Assisting/fronting for more creators under my ‘brand’ as Ian and Uri, and others, have. This is less work for me, keeps a good product flow and lets me help people out and even mentor new creators.
  • Working on more fiction. I enjoy writing. I want to spread my wings this way some more. You can see some of the stuff I’ve written over on talesofgrim.wordpress.com
  • Setting my workday target to a ‘mere’ 1,250 words. I know I’ll go over that (I’ve been known to crank out 10,000 a day) but as a target that’s achievable even when I feel bad and a mark of progress day to day. Achievable goals are important.
  • Concentrating on one project at a time and once I hit my goal spending my time on projects that my brain WANTS to work on. (I will finish all my outstanding projects before this new regime starts).
  • Picking up my exercise regimen.
  • Learning to relax and ‘consume’ media as well as produce it again.
  • Less freelancing. People can come to me, I shouldn’t need to pursue them for work any more. I’m known now. Hopefully somewhat respected and valued as well but I’ll settle for known.
  • I tend to undervalue my work. A common comment at cons is that people expect my material to cost more. I need to value what I do more and bring myself a little more in line, price-wise, with other indie producers.

I’m telling you guys this because it means that things will likely slow down, but quality should go up. Also because I need the support and understanding of my customers, friends and fellow professionals to make this change. I hope you will indulge and assist me as Postmortem Studios moves forward.

Putting Skyrim into a Tabletop RPG

I’ve been playing and enjoying Skyrim a great deal, as a great many people have. One thing that I particularly like is the near total irrelevance of the levels (they’re really unnecessary, you could work stamina and health upgrades into the perks system) and the ability to customise your character simply by DOING.

I found myself wondering how you could recreate this feel on the tabletop and a couple of obvious inspirations leapt to mind. Dragon Warriors uses fixed damage in a way that would work quite well but the most obvious system to recreate a Skyrim experience on the tabletop is BRP/RuneQuest/Legend/OpenQuest and all its ilk.

You would need to change a few bits and pieces and you would need to expand the basic rules to an heroic scope by introducing a perk equivalent (Legend/RuneQuest already did this to an extent) but what I would suggest is using a skill threshold of 50% with every five points above that skill level granting a Perk point and with perks spent to provide specific bonuses and heroic qualities.

It would take a lot of work to produce Perk trees for every relevant BRP skill, but as a vague sort of thought along those lines, here’s my Skyrim character rendered into BRPesque system, though with some alterations along my own lines towards a system change I’ve also been considering. Two birds, one stone and all that…

Corwin

Race: Breton
Gender: Male
Handedness: Right
Height: 5’8″
Weight: 155 lbs.
Age: 35

STR: 10, CON: 12, SIZ: 11, DEX: 12, APP: 14, INT: 13, POW: 10, EDU: 14

Hits: 3 (NB: This is the other change I was on about, all combat becomes single roll, Crit = Dead, Special = Out, Hit = Hit, Miss = Miss. Tougher characters can take multiple hits before upgrading to ‘Out’).
Toughness: 10% (35%) (NB: The single roll is a combination of hit/wound chance based on the resistance table. A character’s toughness helps protect them from harm).
Wound: 5% (NB: Weapons have a ‘wound’ value, that is their chance of scoring a ‘Hit’ as a wound. Stronger characters get a bonus).

INNATE SKILLS
Effort 50%
Stamina 60%
Idea 65%
Luck: 50%
Agility: 60%
Charisma: 70%
Know: 70%
(NB: Derived stats experimentally become skills, like any other) 

GENERAL SKILLS
Bargain: 20 (45)
Etiquette: 10
Fast Talk: 20
Persuade: 30
Status: 10
Craft (Armourer): 30
Craft (Weaponsmith): 30
Craft (Enchantment): 10
Craft (Alchemy): 30 (50)
Fine Manipulation: 30 (50)
Sleight of Hand: 10
Appraise: 10
First Aid: 10
Gaming: 5
Literacy: 20
Insight: 5
Listen: 20
Research: 5
Sense: 20
Spot: 20
Track: 20
Climb: 20
Dodge: 20
Hide: 30
Jump: 20
Stealth: 30
Swim: 10

WEAPON SKILLS
Brawl: 10
1H Weapons: 30
2H Weapons: 5
Thrown: 10
Bows: 40 (60)
Shields: 5
Light Armour: 25 (NB: Armour skills are used for putting them on under duress, and to govern armour perks).
Heavy Armour: 0

PERKS
OOOOO Fortune’s Favour – Luck Reroll x5
OOOOO Charmer’s Bargain – +25% Bargain bonus
O Bow Kill +1% crit chance.
OOOO Bonus Bow Damage +20%

FIST – Wound 20%
HEADBUTT – Wound 20%
KICK – Wound 20%
SHORTSWORD – Wound 40% Iceblade: +5 wound chance, target loses an action next turn if hit, Shockblade +5 wound chance, target loses 1 magic point if hit.
Dwarven Longbow – Wound 45% (65%, Crit +1), Soul Draining – On a kill drains magic points into Soul Gems.

Mask of Krosis – Armour 10% Halve perception skills, +20% Fine Manipulation, Craft (Alchemy), Bows.
Fine Hard Leather Armour – Armour 15% -5% Physical Skill penalty.

Other Tips for Skyrimming Your BRP

  1. Average damage on hits, only circumstances (surprise/backstab) or criticals/special hits increase damage. Standard hit – average damage, Special hit damage +1, Critical hit double damage. EG: Longbow – 6/7/12 – Perks can increase this)
  2. Magic Points regenerate at one per turn, specific spells in specific fields draw hit and damage from skill, specific effects to specific skills.
  3. If you wanted you could introduce Stamina Points (from Con) that could be used to power more powerful physical/attack Perks. Also regenerating one per turn.
  4. Let people increase their HP/MP using Perks as well as by increasing stats.
  5. Don’t forget blessing bonuses, magic item bonuses etc, though these tend to be basic and workmanlike unless attached to epic and legendary items.

Ian’s Updates

Scandal Sheets
Volume IV Cover
Volume V Cover

Whore’s Blade 20,000
Sethian Warband
Administration Warband

Whore’s Blade Heroics/ Kittiwake Comics
Kittiwake Girl Concept

Kittiwake General
Grim & Gritty and Plays Review
Plays and Productions

YouTube
Christianity as a Cthulhu Cult
Is it Awesome- The Testament of Longinus

What’s Going On?

Quiet around ‘ere, innit?

Couple of reasons for that:

I’ve taken the month off, in order to catch up on my stack of computer games and just to do the ‘take time off’ thing, which I never normally do.

I’m reassessing a bunch of things about how I work and what I do, trying to find a healthier way to proceed that’s easier to fit around my depression and doesn’t put so much stress upon me.

In practical terms what that’s going to mean is that I will be:

  1. Finishing outstanding projects as swiftly as possible starting next year.
  2. Taking another short break.
  3. Upping the prices of new projects as they come online. The increased cost of living and various other factors make this a regrettable necessity and I’ve always ‘undervalued’ my products compared to other Indie authors. Part of this is about valuing my own work more to help fix my brain.
  4. Writing fiction.

Products are likely to turn out slower because of these changes but, hopefully, the quality of them will be better, in part because I’ll be working more on what I want when I want.

I hope my fans, friends and audience will continue to be supportive and tolerant as things move forward. Don’t forget that I crave feedback and interaction and the more you talk to me the better I can gauge what people might want.

Ian’s Updates

Fiction
New projects
Scandal Sheets Volume 3 Cover

Whore’s Blade 20,000
MLA Warband
Warband Profile: Quizzers
Casting Call

Is It Awesome
DC Universe Online