Heads Up! – Limited/No Internet

StrandedMy Internet has been ballsed since Sunday night. I have been commuting over to my mum’s poaching her internet to work, but it’s not the best way to go about things and her internet isn’t the fastest and has a very low usage limit.

When we recently upgraded our Demon Internet they upgraded the wrong line (we’d had to change our number due to malicious phone calls and harassment a few years ago), this despite me telling them otherwise. We’ve stuck with this old ISP for two very good reasons.

1. Everyone knows where to find me.
2. Their support has previously been exemplary.

Our legacy connection went dead Sunday night and calling support we figured out what was wrong. Monday we re-ordered. Apparently the agent ordered for the wrong line again and screwed up a bunch of other stuff. Since then we’ve been trying to work out what’s wrong and to get it fixed. They still seem to have no fucking clue what’s wrong and apparently we could still be out until next week.

Living rurally and dealing with depression and anxiety the internet is not only essential to my business but also to my wellbeing. It’s a safe, effective, non-stressful way to socialise (believe it or not) and to keep up with scattered friends too far away, often, to ever visit. Especially since I find travelling and especially driving a butt-clenching ordeal of pain and misery.

This really isn’t good enough. At all, and it’s really starting to make me twitching. It’s like being stranded, alone, on a desert island, very abruptly.

So if I haven’t replied to emails etc, you now know why. Please be patient until this is sorted out!

Progressing from GNS Theory

GNS theory is, or was, a popular theoretical tool for the examination of tabletop RPG game design, though it was mostly fixed upon the player, rather than the game itself. Ron Edwards, and the forum that the theory came from, have a bad reputation in some circles, but regardless of these issues I have found the theory structure useful in the past while working on games and judging the design in terms of something to aim for.

That isn’t to say that GNS doesn’t also have some issues and I’ve been rooting around for some time to improve it to aid with my own game design structure and I think I have hit on the missing element for a structure to examine and design games of most types. The idea of something being a ‘Toy’.

There would, then, be four elements to any game.

Game

The Game factor is the element of skill to the activity. This can take many forms from honing reflexive skills to learning how to build characters with maximum damage output. The Game factor is the amount to which you can ‘git gud’ and improve your personal skill and interaction with the game. Game elements tend to conflict with Toy and Narrative elements.

Examples of high ‘game’, games would include Dark Souls, 3.5 Edition D&D (character builds), or Chess.

Narrative

Narrative is the extent to which story constitutes and controls the activity. Narrative factors tend to conflict with Toy and Game elements. Narrative elements can include story heaviness (often limiting free exploration) and tends to create a more passive, less player oriented experience.

Examples of high ‘narrative’ games would include Choose Your Own Adventures, visual novels or Once Upon a Time.

Simulation

Simulation is the extent to which an activity tries to faithfully replicate something. This does not necessarily mean realism, activities can attempt to replicate the tropes and conventions of unrealistic genres (superheroic comics or action films for example). Simulation tends to conflict with Narrative and can conflict with Game elements.

Examples of high ‘simulation’ games would include Basic Roleplaying, Microsoft Flight Simulator and SSI Wargames.

Toy

A Toy factor determines how much the activity is a ‘plaything’ and how much it is self directed. This is another way of expressing the degree of ‘sandbox’ and latitude a game might have. Toy elements tend to conflict with Narrative and Game elements as a sandbox must allow for latitude and escape from the directed narrative and the constriction of needing to ‘git gud’ gets in the way of freedom.

Examples of high ‘toy’ games would include Lego, Minecraft and Hexcrawl tabletop settings.

You could then plot a game’s position by measuring the tension between these various factors to measure it against other games.

GNST

Rotating this 45 degrees and using it as a ‘political compass’ could let you plot and compare games.

 

 

#RPG – Pen & Paper & Laser Guns is rad, & you Should Watch it

Pen and Paper & Laser GunsΒ is how I always imagined presenting an RPG-oriented TV show, cutting back and forth between the game and the action and it works well. It’s at least as good as a Syfy show (though I appreciate that’s not a ringing endorsement).

As a bonus, this could easily be a Machinations of the Space Princess game brought to life πŸ™‚

#Gor #RPG Art Update

Just to prove things are still being worked on and getting closer to completion!

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gor-illo03_jards_600

gor-illo12_tabuk

gor-illo13_pencil

gor-illo015_tharlarion

#RPG – Fifth Edition goes OGL

dungeon-masters-guild-2FINALLY

And while various RPG companies have been sidestepping it to produce things for 5th edition already, this makes it far easier and – more importantly – seems to have learned from the 4th Edition situation with a return to 3rd edition era openness.

Wizards have also created their own, semi-open, online webstore in which D&D material can be sold called the ‘Dungeon Master’s Guild’ though, with a cut of 50% and more stringent rules on content etc, it’s really not that tempting to a publisher like me, save – perhaps – as a place to sling a few short products.

The good thing about it is that it’s just another ‘face’ to Drivethrurpg/RPGNOW, which means an account on one of their sites is an account on all of them. That should help bring more people over to the other sites and increased attention and sales all around. Again though, recent greater pushes for censorship under the Onebookshelf banner is a cause for concern and getting the D&D online sales is another concentration of power in a single place, vulnerable to censorious pressure.

So, what to do with it, now I can play with it?

Brainstorming

There’s a couple of projects I’ve been developing for the OSR:

  • A ‘city crawl’ inspired by Bloodborne and other Renaissance/Restoration/Victorian horror.
  • A post-apocalyptic fantasy hex-crawl across an environmentally ravaged landscape.
  • A dark-fantasy waste-world, mingling technology and magic in an interdimensional junkyard city.

A 5th Edition version of Machinations of the Space Princess could be done, though it would be a lot of work for a repeat project and probably not cost effective.

House rules options – like I did in the past for 3rd Edition – might be an option. Some people prefer grimmer and grittier rules more suited to low fantasy and dark fantasy but this kind of thing is more complicated than it seems if you want to retain game balance.

New races are always an option, but it’s hard to create something that truly stands out. The work I’ve done on various fantasy worlds makes me think I could come up with some possibilities.

New classes are popular, but it’s hard to find effective niches for new character types and there’s a lot of competition in creating them. The old Prestige Class system in 3rd Edition was a way around that, but doesn’t exist in 5e, though there are sub-classes to the classes which fulfil some of the same role. It might be interesting to do some anime-JRPG style classes, inspired by Final Fantasy ‘job’ systems though. A new ‘Actual Monk’ is a definite possibility though.

Backgrounds have plenty of room for additions, but are a thin thing to hang supplementary material on.

Equipment can always use additions, but as with background probably needs to be wedded to something else. A deeper crafting system definitely has some appeal.

Mass combat rules would be a useful edition, an updated Feast of Crows might be a good thing to do.

Feats were popular things to create lists of in 3rd Edition, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that they’d be popular again. Again though, a thin thing to hang a whole supplement off.

The Skill system is not remotely as deep or interesting – or adaptable – as 3rd edition and some alternative rules for skills might be a useful thing to introduce.

There’s always room for new spells, or types of magic.

There’s all manner of real and fantastical gods and pantheons to be potentially detailed.

There’s an insatiable hunger for new magic items.

People always need more monsters.

Then there’s adventures, but they never sell well and have limited long term use to purchasers.

Conclusion

If I do anything for 5e, I don’t want it to be the kind of mindless blown-through make-work that a lot of 3e products were. A few of the shorter ideas above appeal – such as the JRPG character classes – but otherwise I’m far more interested in the potential of creating worlds and lore and tapping into the 5e audience that way.

What do you think, what would you be after?

#RPG – Machinations of the Space Princess Companion – Skills

battle-angel-alita-last-order-2693461

Image from Battle Angel Alita

The Machinations of the Space Princess skill system is deceptively simple and much of it compensates for the -5 penalty rule, encouraging character builds with signature moves and capabilities beyond ‘I hit it with my axe’. Other Skills provide pools, bonuses or extra capabilities unavailable elsewhere.

The existing Skills are fairly comprehensive, but there is room for some additions and new ideas, as well as a new category of skill, a specialised skill that can represent the particular capabilities of specialist training or cultural capabilities.

Example Psi Skill

Bio Control

You have honed your body to sustain itself on psionic energy more than anything else. For each level in this skill you use 20% less food, air and water each day. At level 5 you no longer need to eat, drink or breathe if you do not wish to. At level 6 you not only need no sustenance, but can sustain another person without food, air or water for a day with a touch and the expenditure of a psi point. You can also pass for dead by slowing your metabolism, a Skill Roll will make you appear deceased to examination, or even a scanner.

Example Combat Skill

Body Weapon

You have honed your body as a weapon, increasing your capacity for unarmed violence to extreme levels. This is usually the result of some very harsh training and effort by doing things like punching bags of hot sand and so on. Each level in the skill increases your unarmed damage amount.

1. 1D3
2. 1D4
3. 1D5
4. 1D6
5. 1D8
6. 1D8 & +1 Close Attack when unarmed.

Example Scholastic Skill

Better Living Through Chemistry

You have good knowledge of chemical cocktails, drugs, psychedelics and other chemicals and their effects on your own body and that of others. By careful, constant tailoring you’re able to put together (relatively) harmless cocktails of chemicals that can enhance people’s abilities. Maintaining the precise balance takes a lot of work and devotion, so you can only apply these bonuses up to your Skill Level and this must be decided at the start of each game session – continuing until there’s a reasonable in-game amount of time passed for you to tweak (pun intended) the dosages.

Skill Points can be spent in the following ways…

  • 1/+1 Initiative.
  • 1/+1 Social Reaction (pheromones and chill)
  • 1/+1 to a Saving Throw
  • 1/+4 Hit Points.
  • 2/+1 to a Statistic
  • 3/+1 to an Attack or Defence score.

Example General Skill

Schmoozer

You’re good with people. You know what to say, how to carry yourself and how to make a good impression and look your best. You add your level in Schmoozer to your Social Reaction score.

New – Specialist Skills

Specialist Skills are skills that originate within very particular cultures, training regimens and secret orders. As such there’s usually a price to training in these skills and they’re not normally available at character creation. If you’re designing your own campaign you need to decide how powerful you want these to be, where they originate and what the cost of entry to learning these skills is.

Compensating for this is the fact that specialist skills are generally twice as powerful as regular skills, making them much sought after. The first level in such a skill is gained when it is trained – in game – and doesn’t cost a Skill Point, after that it must be increased with Skill Points as normal.

Example Specialist Skill – Ki-Tian

Ki-Tian is a form of ‘gun fu’, the application of zen-like principles to firearms combat as an integrated martial art. Ki-Tian claims to have been developed during the mythical time of the human diaspora when the human species was butting up against galactic society and the need for defence with cheap and handy weapons was particularly pressing. The kata involved somehow tap into the background psi-field. At levels 1-5 Ki-Tian provides +1 per level to Ranged Attack and Ranged Defence so long as the practitioner is using a pistol. At level 6 the Ki-Tian kata channel latent psychic energy to power the pistols, meaning they no longer require ammunition.

 

HELP NEEDED – ZelArt Scholarship 2015-16

We made our target, but I suspect a couple of donations may be fraudulent so I’d like to get a bit of a safety net, plus I’d just like to be able to offer whoever does gain the scholarship more money.

There’s a bigger problem though. Usually by this point I have received a half-dozen applications. This year I have received…

…none.

This is a problem. There’s no point having a scholarship scheme if you can’t give it to anyone.

So PLEASE HELP!

Share, tweet, Facebook, G+, mention on Youtube, pass this on in your blog, let artist forums and communities know, send up flares, smoke signals, whatever you can.

The scholarship is for science fiction and fantasy artists, primarily in school, college or university who could use the money for supplies or to make life a little easier. It’s also open to SF&F artists in reduced circumstances like the long-term unemployed and the disabled.

So please, pass it on, let people know.

I can be contacted at GRIM at POSTMORT dot DEMON dot CO dot UK

#RPG – Machinations of the Space Princess Companion: The Face

A little preview of some things coming in the MotSP Companion

The classes in the main book cover all your bases, but you might like some alternatives. Besides making up your own, more specialist classes another option is to model a character around one of their strongest statistics. Here’s a handful of classes, one based around each statistic.

Charisma: Face
The Face is a wheeler, dealer, ducker, diver and charmer. They can make deals with anyone and everyone to buy and sell anything, to get anything. They can scrounge up all kinds of things with little more than a wink and a smile to their name.

Skills: The Face can spend their Skill Points in any category except Psion or Scholar.
Saves: At character creation the Face raises their Charm save by +3.
Fixer: Each level of Fixer counts as a level of Web of Contacts and a level of Savings, separate to any points invested in those skills. This counts as a reserve of those skills that you can roll after a skill roll fails – or if you don’t have the skill. It grants the same bonuses and capabilities as those skills.

Level Experience Points Hit Points Attack Bonus Skill Points
1 0 1d6 +0 4**
2 1,500 +1d6 +1 +3
3 3,000 +1d4 +1 +1 – Fixer I
4 6,000 +1d6 +1 +2
5 12,000 +1d6 +1 +2
6 24,000 +1d4 +1 +1 – Fixer II
7 48,000 +1d6 +1 +2
8 96,000 +1d6 +1 +2
9 192,000 +1d4 +1 +2 – Fixer III
10 288,000 +1d6 +1 +2
11 384,000 +2* +1 +2
12 480,000 +1* +1 +2 – Fixer IV
13 576,000 +2* +1 +2
14 672,000 +2* +1 +2
15 768,000 +1* +1 +2 – Fixer V
16 864,000 +2* +1 +2
17 +96,000/lvl +2* +1 +2
18 +96,000/lvl +1* +1 +2 – Fixer VI
19 +96,000/lvl +2* +1 +2
20+ +96,000/lvl +2* +1 +2

*Con Bonus no longer applies from the level onwards.
**Plus Int & Wis bonuses (minimum 1 after all modifiers) only at first level.

NB: Attack bonus is not cumulative. Skill Points are.

Closing the Gate

Hey+this+isn+t+getting+old+at+all_b5384f_5303836I decided to stop active participation in #Gamergate from midnight on the first of January. It’s customary, when one ‘leaves’ the amorphous hashtag movement, to flounce off with great drama and an enormous speech.

So this would be that.

I’d stress, however, that I still believe very strongly in the original and ongoing issues of Gamergate which are, and you can eyeroll all you like but it won’t make it untrue, more ethical and consumer-serving games media, and an anti-censorship stance.

So why leave and why get into it in the first place?

Why I got Involved

The broader ‘Social Justice’ issues in the creative arts are something I’ve been aware of for longer, and one shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that it dresses itself up in the clothing of laudable ideas such as equality and diversity. The situation we find ourselves in, and which appears to have crested, is a moral panic. As relates to nerd media it’s a replay of the Satanic Panic or Jack Thompson’s crusade against violence in games, just with different actors and set dressing. There’s one important difference this time though, this time there’s ‘treachery’, in that many of the attacks – no less ill-informed and unscientific – are now coming from within the nerd community.

Going back to the 80s and 90s, even in my tweens and teens I was already fighting in the precursor war on D&D and other RPGs. Arguing in presentations at school from religious groups on ‘Doorways to Danger‘, making pamphlets to counter the propaganda that was going around as an English project. Writing letters to help school groups get set up. Running games for the D&D Schools Competition. Reassuring parents and later on arguing with people on the internet or arguing for the educational and other benefits of gaming.

The Jack Thompson affair didn’t require much of your average gamer, since the press was on-side and the claims weren’t taken seriously by most people. They were understood, even by most of those uninvolved in games, to be stupid, censorious and troublesome.

As a metal, goth and alternative fan I also watched the goings on with the PMRC with concern, not to mention the Columbine backlash as it went international.

All of this resonated with the Comics Code issues I’d learned about and the other things which, as an avid reader, I’d learned about growing up. The role of censorship and moral panics against everything from film and TV to comics and fanzines.

Mary Whitehouse was still going when I grew up. Section 28 was governmental policy and even at 13 and not entirely sure what a ‘bender’ was, I knew it was unjust. When I was at college it was the height of the anti-road and hunt saboteur protests, which prompted more attempts by government and tutting citizens who didn’t like ‘crusty jugglers’ to control protests.

In short, I have a long established love of free expression, and have lived through some of the key battles around nerd media and endured several moral panics. There was no way I wasn’t going to get involved in Gamergate when it crossed my path.

Gamergate emerged out of the scandal surrounding Zoe Quinn. I was following Quinn on Twitter at the time and, as a sufferer from depression, had previously passed around links to her game ‘Depression Quest’ as an imperfect but helpful tool to help friends and family better understand the experience of depression – from which I suffer. I had defended her against early trolls, encouraged her and even donated to help her out when she was mugged – which I hope was something that did actually happen.

In short, I was invested.

When the scandal around her emerged I wanted information. Here was someone whose work I had supported and who I had helped out. Someone I had recommended to others. Her sexual peccadilloes and indiscretions are none of my business, though I felt sorry for Gjoni for the abuse and manipulation he’d suffered, but I was concerned – as were many others – by the revelations of undisclosed relationships, favours and corruption.

Trying to get information to confirm whether this was, or was not happening was incredibly difficult as all discussion was being shut down, everywhere, even – eventually – 4chan. A completely unprecedented level of censorship on an issue of genuine concern to consumers. Just how rotten was gaming journalism? We all knew it was bad, but exactly how bad was it? Why couldn’t proven, even admitted, bad actors be called out on it? Why were they being protected?

Then the ‘Gamers are Dead’ articles came out and the GameJournoPros list was exposed. Dozens of articles over a few days, in a coordinated attack on gaming media’s own audience.

Not only had gamers been censored, they were now under attack – by their own. Dismissed as misogynists, racists etc simply for pointing out problems, whether it be corruption or ‘criticism’ coming from the ideological overreach of people like Anita Sarkeesian. The ‘Social Justice’ attacks on gaming combined with the nepotism of the Indie scene and the collusion of a particular wing of activist journalism to create a perfect storm and a surprisingly effective false narrative of harassment which, combined with the censorship lock down, prevented the real issues getting discussed – for a while.

Revelation after revelation followed for those who cared to investigate, and lines were drawn.

Gamergate accomplished a great deal, and not just in its own niche.

Many gaming news outlets, albeit grudgingly, began using proper disclosure and adjusted their ethical policies, which was the first, major, underlining point. Bad criticism and ideological gatekeeping has continued, but it appears to have cost sites traffic and trust, and several people their jobs. New sites have sprung up, the audience has become more aware, there’s less trust and more demand for better reporting and the anti-censorship attitude has manifested in numerous other ways.

Gamergate has also helped inspire pushback in other areas, comics, film, TV, atheism and as university campuses have apparently gone insane, there too. It may be the turning point in a much larger culture war against censorious authoritarianism and moral panic on a broader basis.

Certainly I feel more optimistic about the future, coming out of it than I did going in. Despite lost friendship (and new ones made), the lies, the accusations, the nonsense and the hard lessons about just how bad even the general media has become, especially when reporting on technology and internet culture.

So Why Leave?

Why bring an end to my involvement then?

There’s still tons of good people involved and Gamergate has settled – mostly – into a sort of watchdog and ‘call out the stupidity’ role. It’s still doing good stuff and still has a lot of good people in it, but it’s a case of diminishing returns. The less obvious the need for Gamergate as a specific phenomenon, the less people are associated with it (and, I’m sorry to say, the demonisation and lies about Gamergate have had an effect as well).

The less people are associated with it, the more the hardcore fringe of horrible shits come to dominate the discussion and the less people there are to call them out on it. There are also less people to call out and point out trolls, and that further allows Gamergate to be misrepresented and probably, eventually, co-opted.

Lately the more extreme and paranoid elements, always there but previously marginalised, have been able to increasingly dominate discussions, drive away the more moderate and interesting people involved and to almost turn the ‘movement’ into the caricature it was always misrepresented as.

Bx2pIFxCUAAna4AThe fight for me was always more about the censorship issues and artistic freedom. Those battles are being fought elsewhere now and by a much broader coalition of interests, including genuine liberals, who are finally starting to speak up and make a difference to turn the tide.

Those issues are being fought in politics and universities now, in the public square as a whole. Even if the fight isn’t over in gaming and other nerd spaces (#1MillionGamersStrong and others), Gamergate itself is now a place of diminishing returns and more can be done in these other places and spaces and by creating. So that’s what I intend to do.

Doubtless I’ll cross paths with GG people down the line, doubtless issues will come up which I’ll help spread around, doubtless there’ll be battles we’ll share.