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#TTRPG – On Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone

There’s yet another kerfuffle in the RPG Twitterverse, but when isn’t there? This time it’s around various alleged behaviour and unprofessionalism from Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone. Now, I don’t know Jamison from Adam, but Satine I do know – at least a bit – and these allegations do not sound like her.

Of course, finding professionalism in the RPG industry is like finding stripes on a leopard. It’s a hobby industry and runs on goodwill and handshakes, for the most part. It’s low pay, low appreciation and – increasingly – a very hostile place to work. You do it for the love and, like many creative industries, you’re lucky to be paid at all, let alone on time.

The initial issue seems to have been over tattoos, and the intellectual property involved, along with the related contract. Having been boned by contracts in the past (Munchkin) and having seen how people freak out over the wording of Facebook’s terms of service: “THEY’RE GOING TO STEAL YOUR CONTENT!” it’s hard to get worked up about this one.

A lot of the rest seems to be down to mismatched expectations between the RPG industry and the rest of the entertainment industry. Someone involved seems to have higher expectations of the hobby in terms of celebrity treatment and someone else seems to have lowered expectations.

Some of the behaviour seems to be truly assholish, but a lot of these claims are coming from people who I know to be proven arseholes. The kinds of people purity-spiralling the RPG industry into oblivion and finding any excuse to ‘cancel’, berate and be horrible to anyone – yours truly included. None of them have ever cared about what’s true in the past, so I find that I ‘haz a suspicious’ whenever they turn on anyone.

Like I said, I don’t really know Jamison at all, but Satine I do.

Back during the ‘I Hit it With My Axe’ days, Satine – and the others involved – were frequently attacked by both social conservative types and so-called progressives due to their involvement in adult/sex work. This always struck me as obviously wrong and regressive and I felt that the whole group were doing a lot of positive things for the image of RPGs and the creativity involved.

Later, in 2013, I offered Satine work on Machinations of the Space Princess, doing the cover and much of the interior art. I couldn’t pay very much (being an indie creator) but Satine was nothing but professional, grateful and accommodating throughout the process of doing the work. Her celebrity and brand took off after that and we didn’t really get the opportunity to work together again, but I would have had no hesitation in doing so and would do so again.

Some years later we had the opportunity to meet up when Satine travelled to London on a whistle-stop your while working for Wizards of the Coast as their community liaison. I felt a little like a tag-along through the whole thing, but people weren’t coming to the meet-ups to see me and during the whole visit, Satine was nothing but gracious, thankful and compassionate with me and her many fans who turned up to meet her. Satine and her companions covered my lunch, seemed glad of the company and I was made to feel welcome and wanted – even if it was just to hang out.

The only fly in the ointment of our friendship was following the UK Games Expo controversy a couple of years back when I stood up for someone else being spuriously accused of various terrible things. For the awful crime of giving an accused man a platform to defend himself I was – again – subjected to attack, and amongst those attacks was a concerted effort to get various friends to disown me. Satine was amongst those targeted by the mob and she, sadly, gave in to the pressure.

I can understand why. It is a lot of pressure to be put under, but the people doing that were many of the same people going after her now. It doesn’t seem like they can ever be appeased, and trying to do so seems like a fool’s errand. Little wonder then, that I’m suspicious of these accusations now, though they do seem to be undeniably consistent and profligate, so I’m beginning to wonder.

Whatever the case, in this feeding frenzy that’s going on it’s worth noting that Satine was never anything but professional, grateful and compassionate with me – or anyone else I saw her interact with. If anything has changed, it’s recent. Everyone deserves a chance, and I’d rather be trusting and forgiving than the alternative.

Whatever anyone has done or hasn’t done, it’s not acceptable to drag them for their past or their tattoos. Be better.

Zang.

#TTRPG – Does anyone know anything about this game? IMPERIL?

Does anyone recognise this cover, or anything like it?

Apparently it’s an old game, perhaps an early RPG or RPG-like boardgame from 1980 that only had a very limited release.

I found the image in some of my old zip archives, but can’t remember where I got it. There doesn’t seem to be any other material in that archive (just some very old ‘zine content from the mid 70s) and any help, or even speculation, would be appreciated in tracking down more information in Imperil or ‘WISS’.

Cheers,

G

#RPGaDay2021 – Mention and Thanks

There’s too many people deserving of a mention, or of thanks, so I’m not going to name anyone for fear of leaving someone out 😛

#RPGaDay2021 – System

While it’s true that a good Games Master can make a good game out of just about any system, that doesn’t mean that system doesn’t matter.

There tends to, still, be a trend of people using mismatched systems. Either for economic reasons (2d20, 5e) or because of fashion/cultish reasons (PbtA). As a result there’s a lot of compromised games out there without tailored, or even properly selected, systems for their game world.

Imagine trying to run a Hong Kong action film game using Basic Roleplaying.

Imagine trying to run an existential horror game with Feng Shui.

The best games work well more often, because their system and setting are in synergy, complimenting one another.

Call of Cthulhu works best with BRP, because BRP is granular, simulationist in many respects, and yet its monsters break all the rules and there is a way of tracking sanity.

Hong Kong action movies work best with Feng Shui because Feng Shui encourages over the top descriptive action with nigh indestructible heroes.

Military SF works well with Silhouette, because it scales and can be used for skirmish-level miniatures play as well as standard tabletop RPG.

Whether you’re making up a new game or kitbashing an old one into shape, the right system can make all the difference, or at least do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

#RPGaDay2021 – Solo

Ibrahim Swaid

Bonzai Street Fashion Hat: 100eb, a delightful Asia-Pop design, straight from Tokyo.
Cherry Blossom Breath Mask: 250eb contains active nanites in a composite layer that actively hunt down and destroy any rogue particulates, bacteria or anything else that shouldn’t be there. Updatable via an agent app to block new diseases and poisons.
MunguNgozi Pauldrons: 100eb, made of a complex, semi-transparent smart-polymer. Provide 5 protection to arms, but repair themselves of 1 SP per day.
MunguNgozi Breastplate: 100eb, made of a complex, semi-transparent smart-polymer. Provide 5 protection to arms, but repair themselves of 1 SP per day.
Sweet Fanny Pack’Ems Utility Belt: 50eb a useful and secure belt with pouches and hooks for easy storage and use of items.
Sheya Compression Leggings: 200eb, provide 2SP to the legs, and should you suffer a life-threatening wounds to the leg, constrict and contract around the wound, stemming the flow of blood and providing anyone stabilising you with a +2 bonus.
TMH Adroa Heels: 200eb, smart-heels that help steady your balance, allowing you to move – at speed – in heels. +2 to rolls for balancing and no penalty to running/climbing etc from wearing them.
Skinwalker Cyberlegs: Install: Hospital, a cyberlimb that can cover itself in realistic skin, or draw it back as and how you want to fit different occasions. Comes with a standard hand at no extra cost or Humanity loss. Cost: 650eb HL: 1d10
Skinwalker Cyberarms: Install: Hospital, a cyberlimb that can cover itself in realistic skin, or draw it back as and how you want to fit different occasions. Comes with a standard foot at no extra cost or Humanity loss. Cost: 650eb HL: 1d10.
Orbitix crystal throwing stars: 1,000eb each, monoedged, orbital crystal blades,1d6+1 damage, treat armour as though it were 1/4, rounding down. So finely tuned and balanced that they give +1 to hit.
Digitus Impudicus Cyberdigits: These colour coded fingers change from yellow to red once fired. Each digit contains a 20 gauge sort shotgun shell, with an effective range of 5 metres, doing 2d6 damage on a hit. 100eb each, HL 1.
Mirai-Ha Ninja-To: A short, ‘ninja style’ sword of almost unbreakable alloy, with a climbing wire hidden in the handle (50 feet, will hold 250lbs of weight, the handle comes away to stop you cutting yourself). 2d6 damage, 1/4 armour (round down).

#RPGaDay2021 – Fraction

Dice probabilities and fractions can be a bit of a pig, even though we play with dice all the time, they can still trip you up.

What’s the likelihood of rolling a 6 on a d6? 1/6.

How many times must I roll to all but guarantee getting a 6? 9 times, not 6. You only have a 66.5% chance od rolling a 6 in those 6 rolls.

If you’re making tables using more than one dice, there are more combinations that will hit the middle numbers, so put the things you want to be more common in the middle (on 2d6 5-7) and the things you want to be rarer on the ends (1 and 12).

The chance of rolling an 18 on your 3d6 Ability roll is 1/216, and even with roll 4d6, drop the lowest, it’s not that much better. Yet in our games, the statistics are linear, when they might be better off being logorithmic – to get really complicated.

This is also what drives one of the most important system decisions in many game designs, whether you use a single flat die (d20) or a combination of two or three dice to better represent a probability curve around the average sorts of result.

Something that really hasn’t been explored, given the advent of online random number generators, that can pick between any values, are truly large die ranges (d1000 only seems to have been explored in FATAL of all things) or very specific ranges: An axe that does 1-37 damage potential, for example. There’s interesting possibilities there.

#RPGaDay2021 – Theory

Most gaming theory is bollocks. Esoteric, mutually contradictory nonsense, often misapplied from other disciplines. Most of that theory is also applied to computer games, while role-playing games are very much their own creature.

What little game theory has come out of gaming itself isn’t that much better. Mostly attempts to categorise and define the different mechanics, modes of play and their overall feel.

Perhaps the most well-known of these, though it has since been dropped, is ‘GNS’ theory. That games are a mixture of Game, Narrative and Simulation – to which I would add ‘toy’.

A low Game system might be something like Amber Diceless Roleplaying. A high Game system might be something like Iron Kingdoms or Cadwallon.

A low Narrative system might be something like an OSR game, where the dice lead the action and story emerges from action. A high Narrative system might be something like Apocalypse World, where there are constant modifications of narrative and the narrative leads very much over any other aspect, moreso even than FATE.

A low Simulation system is something that is not trying to represent reality, or even genre emulation. Again, Apocalypse World would meet that definition. A high Simulation system goes to a great deal of effort to replicate reality – or a fictional hyperreality. Millenium’s End or BRP might be more in this camp.

To that I would add ‘Toy’, which defines how directed or directionless a game might be. A high Toy rating is someting like playing with lego, or a plot-free sandbox world. A low Toy rating is something much more directed. How much a Toy a game is might well depend more on the GM and players than the game’s default setting.

This might have fallen out of favour, but as a design framework it is still quite useful.

How important do I want to make the mechanics? How deeply can you customise and dick around with the system?

How important is the story? Do I want to include player overrides, remove some GM power, allow get out of jail free cards? Do I want the story to be more in the hands of the GM, or to emerge from play?

Is this more of a sandbox toy, with pieces that come together and fall apart, or is it something much more directed and pointed? Railroaded even?

My game Actual Fucking Monsters, for example, might rate (out of 10):

  • Game: 4/10
  • Narrative: 6/10
  • Simulation: 4/10
  • Toy: 8/10

It’s not mechanically complex or deep, it is a story-led game, but without much story led mechanics. It is more genre emulation than simulation, but it is trying to simulate types of horror tale (Near Dark, Nightbreed), and it is largely open-ended. It can run itself without the GM needing to do much of anything.

Theory is interesting, but I don’t know that there’s anything valid here yet. Studies, for example, show that representation matters in passive media, but not so much in active, interactive media like computer games. That would suggest that TTRPG representation is not as important as people are making it out to be – probably because you’ve always been able to make up your own characters.

TTRPGs are just too niche to attract decent scholarship, thhough there are notable exceptions. As we saw back in the DiGRA days, being a niche just makes you a target for ideological, rather than science-led scholarship.

More’s the pity.

#RPGaDay2021 – Welcome

I’m going to tell you something that most of you already know, but which a lot of you aren’t going to like.

The tabletop hobby has always been open and welcoming.

The tabletop hobby has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to being progressive, despite what you may have heard.

In fact, it used to be more open and welcoming than it is now. Ironically it is the efforts of the supposedly progressive that have made the hobby more closed off, wary and gatekeepy.

Why?

Because the old guard has been constantly insulted and painted as villains. Because it has had stupidity foisted upon it which harms the art and the fun of roleplaying. Because they’re being gatekept out of their own hobby. Because simply having different priorities in games, they get monstered and called awful things.

When you run an open house, it’s all well and good so long as nobody takes advantage.

After you’ve had Aleister Crowley over for dinner and he’s turned up naked and shat on the rug, you might well be excused for introducing a vetting process for future guests, and being a little less open.

This also rather makes one question why anyone would want to join a hobby that they seemingly hate everything about.

RPG gaming was tolerant and open precisely because it was escapism, because people left their bullshit at the door and whatever size, shape, colour or anything else anyone was they were there FOR THE GAME.

Now people seem to want to bring their bullshit with them, not to examine it with artistry, metaphor and allegory, but to just play themselves, in a kinder, softer version of reality. Not a challenging imaginary world of excitement, adventure and really wild things.

Leave people alone, stop hurling accusations, keep in mind that people who’ve been doing this for decades, might actually have a clue to do it well. If you actually love gaming, stop wrecking it. If you value its ability to bring people together across their divisions, stop fucking that up.

Both the argument from tradition and the argument from novelty are both fallacious. Keep that in mind.

#RPGaDay2021 – Translate

Here’s a quick cheat for you if you need to come up with fantasy names for locations, towns, natural features or even people.

Use Google translate.

Pick a couple of related or similar languages that have the right ‘feel’ to them, translate your phrase, mix match and mingle willy-nilly, and you’ve got yourself something that sounds like a real language (because it kind of is) and which has a ring of authenticity, even though it isn’t really.

Often the more obscure the better, though you may have to use piecemeal online dictionaries for Catalan, Cornish or Old English.

Couple of examples:

Dwarves, I like to think of Dwarves as Welsh rather than Scottish. It’s much more evocative given Wales’ reputation for coal mining and cultural cues that would make dwarves interesting.

Anyway, let’s try a couple of options for people, places and things, using a mixture of Welsh and Cornish (an almost lost dialect from England’s Southwest).

Person: Big Fat Black Lung.
Welsh: Mawr Braster Du Ysgyfaint.
Cornish: Torrek (Big-bellied) du Skeven.
Mix & Match: Tawrek du Skevaint.

Place: Silver Gold Mine.
Welsh: Arian Aur Mwynglawdd.
Cornish: Arghans Owr Hwel.
Mix & Match: Arawell.

Thing: Axe of Deep Shadow.
Welsh: Bwyell o Dwfn Cysgod.
Cornish: Bool a Down Skeus.
Mix & Match: The ancient axe ‘Boladunskus’.

For orcs you might want to mix Russian and German.

For elves you might want to mix French and Italian dialects, though wood elves might be better with a Tolkienesque inspiration from Finnish and Estonian.

Give it a go! Show me what you came up with in the comments 🙂