Bioshock: Infinite Possibilities

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Bioshock Infinite

I’ve been watching the missus playing Bioshock: Infinite, the indirect but sort of direct sequel to Bioshock and Bioshock 2. As you may or may not know I made an RPG resource for Bioshock which can be found HERE.

Without getting too spoilerific, Infinite lives up to its name and potentially opens up the role-playing possibilities and opportunities in a whole variety of worlds, not just the ones that are presented or hinted at in the Bioshock series so far.

Bioshock, as a game, has great hooks and gets its hooks into you, but it does follow a sort of a formula. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. A formula or structure can help channel creativity and doesn’t (obviously!) indicate any paucity of imagination.

The Bioshock Formula

Extreme Ideology

Each Bioshock game taps into a form of ideology and dials it up to eleven. While the setting and expression of that ideology may be extreme and twisted it is something we do find or have had in history.

The first Bioshock presents a ‘Galt’s Gulch’, a Libertarian extreme. Bioshock Infinite presents a nightmarish extreme of American exceptionalism, theocratic tyranny and constitutional worship of the founding fathers that can still be seem in aspects of modern American politics.

Counterculture

A strong ideological culture tends to create a strong counterculture and Bioshock tries – not always especially convincingly – to present the flipside as being as bad in its own way as the dominant culture. The counterculture may exist in multiple forms. Some more extreme, some a genuine counterpoint, some wanting to take over and claim power for themselves.

Singular Genius

Each Bioshock world is centred around a cult of personality, a singular force of will that creates and/or guides the society. The counterculture also, often, has a particular voice as a counterpoint to this leader. A reaction as forceful in its own way.

Unfettered Technology

The more obvious technological aspect in Bioshock is in the form of the special powers that characters can access, giving them superhuman abilities (though at what cost). There are other technologies of course – some retaining their mystery – but consistently each Bioshock society is technologically ahead of the outside world around it by a significant degree.

How these developments came about isn’t necessarily clear but in Bioshock it is likely that many of the great leaps came at intense human cost through experimentation not unlike that carried out by the Nazis in death camps during WW2.

Isolation

The Bioshock societies are isolated – through choice – from the rest of the world in some way. In the existing Bioshocks this is a physical separation – in the air or beneath the waves – but there are plenty of other options for ways to separate one society from another. Rapture is self-sufficient it seems, while Columbia must engage in trade but despite this both maintain separation from the world at large.

Crisis Point

The Bioshock games take place at the culmination of events, where the society comes to a crux point of change and goes into a crisis – seemingly, essentially a violent one. Things shift, the society changes and is either destroyed or changed forever. The crisis point gives you your hook for any adventurers to dig in.

Example

storming_heavenBioshock: City of Love
Ideology: After the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 San Francisco was shattered and turned into an archipelago of ruined islands which were left to rot for decades until they were eventually settled by revolutionary, counterculture hippies moving into the sixties. The islands have since become a ‘free state’ under control of ‘The Guru’ and his acolytes dedicated to peace, love, drugs and freedom.

Counterculture: The dominant culture is pacifistic and insular, setting themselves aside from the ‘squares’. They believe that their way of life will naturally take over the world. The counterculture thinks that the Age of Aquarius needs a little impetus and wants to take on the world outside directly and violently as it believes is necessary. The revolution needs to begin at home by sweeping away the existing order though. The outside world is paranoid in the extreme about the islands and the strange stories coming from them and constantly tries to get their own agents to the islands.

Genius: Dr Jim is ‘The Guru’, the leader of the City of Love. A powerful, psychedelic ‘magician’ he is the visionary who opened the doors of perception and synthesized the drug derivatives, ‘tabs’, which give the denizens of Love so many of their advantages and powers. Monroe opposes him, his opposite. An intensely political individual who wants to ‘deploy’ Love’s power to end the Vietnam war and bring on the Age of Aquarius by force. Both have their problems, The Guru’s pacifist internalism leaves the world to rot and is self indulgent while Monroe seeks to impose his utopia.

Technology: ‘Tabs’ unlock metaphysical powers which can then be powered by neurotransmitters and chemicals released in the mind by sleep and drug use. Some have greater reaction to Tabs, giving them flashes of inspiration that have allowed them to create new tech that protects the islands. Weather machines, orgone collectors, new materials, imagination-shaped substances and alternative energy sources all on an artisinal scale and an economy that doesn’t work on money.

Isolation: The islands are protected by reefs and rocks, fog and the powers and technological wonders that the islanders have created. Its still in sight though and a constant ‘threat’ to mainland America.

Crisis Point: Monroe and his followers are read to take independent action to end the Vietnam War. They’ve been inventing and using more war-like tabs and technology and intend to interpose themselves between the two sides and beat them into submission. This will provoke the US into action and they have been conducting their own drug experiments on a unit of battle-hardened Marines, intending to assassinate the key leaders and open the islands up to reconquest.

What are your ideas?

Autopsy 4: Released!

The New-Look Autopsy. Cleaned up and expanded blog articles, support and other material for a variety of games in a more screen/tablet friendly format.

This issue:

  • Shadow World: Cantrip Comprehensive, The Ourobowrong,
  • ’45: Psychobilly Retropocalypse: The Pukes of Dannger
  • 4E: Groin Weasels
  • Blood!: Tips/errata
  • Pathfinder: Flenser Swarm
  • Invaderz!
  • Grim’s Tales
  • ‘Beta Planet’ *Nudge, wink*

Buy it HERE

Chav: A New Straight Cold One – Jorb-Sheekar

Chavthulu’s dominance is under threat. As foretold in the PneuLabourtic Manuscript the Stars have changed and where Chavthulu loses power the other Straight Cold Ones gain it. Of late in accordance with the prophecy, the changes in the universe have grown to favour Jorb-Sheekar, He Who Eats Hope.

When the blue is ascendant in the house of the clock and the red is consigned to the shadows. Then the Man With the Plastic Face will bond with the Prince in Yellow and the time of Jorb-Sheekar will come again.

Jorb-Sheekar’s strength rises and he attacks Chavthulu through his proxies. While Chavs hate to work and avoid it at all costs the servants of Jorb-Sheekar are those who are jobless through no fault of their own. Cast aside by the changes in the stars, losing the life they sought and wished for, entangled in bureaucracy the servants of Jorb-Sheekar lose their souls, their ambitions, their very identity.

The Jorbless, as they are known, share powers with Chavs – save Voodoo – and also become part of a brainless hive anti-mind, desolate, downtrodden and controlled by Jorb-Sheekar. They lose hours to his service and all they remember is daytime television.

The Jorbless gain bile from hanging around at Job Centres, especially if there’s a queue. The queue is also how they form themselves into the most dreaded of Jorb-Sheekar’s servants.

The Dole.

Doles are giant worm-like queues of people that share one body, one mind, one soul. They have the highest individual stats from the people forming The Dole and additional health columns. One for every extra person hooked into The Dole.

Bloodsucker: The Angst – Puma Crepusculum

Since 2008 the world of the Bloodsuckers has been subjected to a terrible, terrible scourge. Seemingly out of nowhere marauding gangs of ‘women of a certain age’ have taken to vampire hunting. Not out of some misguided and inaccurate religious outrage or personal horror, but for an altogether more sinister and disturbing reason.

Sex.

Needless to say this horrifies a great many Bloodsuckers (save those who can’t get dates or a bit of the old slap and tickle other ways, or who prefer ladies with experience – and it is always ladies). Great lengths have to be taken for young male Bloodsuckers to avoid their attentions and to escape with their honour intact.

Puma Crepusculum are just normal women, mostly in their 40s and 50s. They typically have statistics of 3 and a wide variety of life-experience skills at rating 2 and 3.  What marks Puma Crepusculum apart from your normal, run of the mill, mundane mortal is their lust for young, male, vampire flesh and their peculiar abilities to be immune to, even invigorated by displays of vampiric power.

Puma Crepusculum can absorb a Bloodsucker’s Juice. Whenever a Bloodsucker uses a power upon or within sight of a Puma Crepusculum they lose a point of Juice and it goes into the Puma’s pool. They can each store up to twenty points of Juice.

A Bloodsucker who succumbs and sleeps with a Puma loses all their Juice, and she takes it all. Any going over her maximum pool is lost.

The darkness hides many terrors for our kind and there are many who hunt the hunters. There are those who seek your blood, your magic and then there are those who seek something more. They desire your innocence, your very essence. There is nothing so deadly, so feared as… ladies who lust.

’45: Psychobilly Retropocalypse – Mom’s Truck Stop

At the side of the half-shattered remnants of the road sits an almost pristine, gigantic, silver trailer with a sprawling wooden shack build onto the back of it. The delicious smell of sizzling meat wafts out from the spinning fan set into the grubby window and a few battered road-warrior cars are parked outside. It seems popular enough so maybe it is safe…

Mom’s truck stop is run by Mom & Pop, conjoined mutants. Mom is a… large woman (never trust a skinny chef) and her ‘husband’, ‘Pop’, is joined to her back which only increases her mass. Both of them are charming, down-home, lovely people to talk to and genuinely try to run the truck stop the best way they can and to look after everyone who stops by.

Of course… it is suspicious where they get all that meat, which they trade for the rest of the food and other produce they sell. Mom and Pop’s extended family – of which there seems to be an endless number spread out over the surrounding area in a large, extended clan and all of which look uncannily like Mom and Pop (both of whom were lookers at a younger age) only with a wide variety of strange mutations, to which they seem to be particularly susceptible.

Players being players the first thing that they’re going to expect is probably ‘CANNIBALS!’ but the truth is somewhat more tragic. Mom and Pop can’t help but have a huge family because they’re fused in such a way that Mom’s pregnancies were inevitable, a form of parthenogenesis almost, making ‘clones’ of Mom or Pop depending how things went along.

One of their mutant offspring (while they’re clones they’re often highly mutated) was Jedadiah. Jed is really little more than a constantly growing, cancerous lump of regenerating flesh. He’s a nice enough boy, somewhere at the centre of that fleshy mass, but without constant ‘harvesting’ of his tumorous flesh he would soon be crushed under his own weight. In order to help him and to support the clan they hit upon the grotesque solution of selling his ‘meat’ at the same rate that they harvest it. Something that has made Mom & Pop – and the clan – relatively well off, but which is disgusting and sooner or later may get them into trouble, even if they are genuinely good folks who are just doing what they can to survive.

Plots:

  1. The characters discover what’s going on and it’s down to them to decide how to react.
  2. A gang has discovered Jedadiah’s existence and want to snatch him away so they can profit from his prodigious man-meat. Mom & Pop are forced to look for help!
  3. Jedadiah wants to get out and see the world. A really good ‘harvest’ might allow him to move for a while and maybe Mom & Pop can hire someone to escort him and show him a good time before his flesh rebels again.

@ctiv8: Occupy Wall Street

I wrote @ctiv8 in 2005, two years after Anonymous first hit the scene and inspired, in part, by Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency. Where he had it centred around a leader in the form of the organisational knowledge, personal loyalty and dominance of Miranda Zero I wanted to take a more anarchistic slant which, it seems, is what’s tended happen in the real world. Ad hoc groups coming together on particular issues and the use of social media and secure lines of communication to fuel revolts, direct action, alleviate poverty, raise money for causes and so on.

It’s been weird to see so many of the themes and ideas I was playing with come about in real life.

The latest thing that’s triggering these sorts of thoughts is Occupy Wall Street, this is a case study in new media, the ineffectiveness of old forms of protest, the possibilities of new forms, the interplay of stereotype, miss-step, watching the watchmen and so much else. A great case-in-point example of many of these points is found HERE.

This is a perfect set up for an @ctiv8 cell to get involved in. There’s just so many aspects to this where they could make a difference.

The mainstream media paid no real attention until the police were caught on video being heavy handed.

  • Set up some fake police brutality against someone who doesn’t look like a ‘smelly hippy’ and make sure it’s caught on camera.
  • Set up citizen-media resources. The internet and other alternatives are the only way to get on-message info out there.
Should this become a full on confrontation with violence on the part of the protesters it’s likely that public sympathy will rapidly vanish.
  • Make sure that police agitators aren’t amongst the protesters and that, if they are, they’re known and identified.
  • Rein in/delay or stop the black bloc and others who are most likely to kick off.
Turning police tactics against them or finding ways to get leverage – especially over the blue-collar police, may well have a good effect in turning public sympathy and making the protest more effective.
  • Find ‘hooks’ into the working police. Budget cut and layoff documents might help, even if they have to be faked up but look convincing. Blackmail may also be effective against some, especially dirty cops who may well be known on the street and thus can be manipulated.
  • Set your own infiltrators amongst the police to pass intelligence back to the protesters and to instigate events that will make the security forces look bad.
If you want to get involved ‘IRL’ you can donate to this project, or head down to Occupy Wall Street (or one of its mirror protests) yourself. Ordinary people need to get down there if any sort of genuine difference is to be made. I donated what I could and… well, I wrote this. I make games that – hopefully – make people think. That’s what I can do.
Last time I posted something like this, I believe it was about the Royal Wedding and I apparently rubbed a few people up the wrong way. Some people even think that it’s somehow inappropriate for a games writer to put their own religious, philosophical or political slant into their games. You’re free to disagree with me, even to use @ctiv8 to run games based around your own activist tendencies, whatever side of politics you’re on. Just don’t try to tell me that I can’t write about the things that engage and interest me.

Wizkid: Cantrip Comprehensive CONFLICT!

All great stories rise out of conflict and, as anyone who wasn’t homeschooled knows, school is full of conflict. This means you can have plenty of adventure without even having to break out the man-eating doll-spiders or bands of killer non-copyright infringing smurf-like micro-demons.

Students Vs Staff

The teachers are, obviously, in positions of authority and that puts them in immediate opposite with students who would rather build paper aeroplanes, sleep, text, smoke, get high, get drunk or cop a feel off each other behind the bike sheds. Some teachers are always worse than others however and certain teachers are set up to be the character’s arch nemesi.

Miss Encephela is an obvious choice, Mr Punch likes to hide away and she’s a hideous, octopoid bitch. She hates children and will go out of her way to come up with cruel and unusual punishments.

Madame Gorget also makes for a nasty and troublesome teacher who is ready to dish out punishments, usually after shouting at the student in a variety of incomprehensible languages, Like Miss Encephela she has a horrific edge which adds tension to her tirades.

Mr McBastard is less sinister and more angry, which makes him good for shouting and/or headbutting people. Given that corporal punishment is still applied in magical schools, he can be scarier than his conventional appearance might suggest.

Mr Noot on the other hand is a complete walkover and can be thoroughly bullied by the students with virtual impunity. As a victim he makes a good comedic punching bag compared to the nastier teachers.

Clique Vs Clique

As well as the specific cliques mentioned in prior articles there are always broad cliques based on academic accomplishment, popularity, fashion and music choices, remedial education status, sexiness, sexuality and just about any division you care to think of. Kids hatred and cruelty to each other is boundless and a rich source of bitter conflict that can last for years and scar for a lifetime, all without anyone getting killed!

School Vs School

Occasionally some teachers, educators or governments get funny ideas about ‘encouraging competition’ and try to get schools to play games against each other or engage in competitions. Cantrip Comprehensive tends to suck at Bigpitch and private schools do so very much love to ‘stick it to the oils’ but they’re willing to be underhanded more than the more privileged and there’s more than one thing they can compete at. Brutality can make up for a lot.

Staff Vs Staff

Teachers often clash over what they think is fair and over educational ideology. Some hate kids, some love them. Some believe in a soft approach, some a hard approach. Some like to punish, others to reward. Some like to threaten, others like to inspire. Canny students can latch on to a favourite teacher in a favourite subject and set the staff against each other, getting away with murder in the crossfire.

School Vs Town

The town is deeply suspicious of the school and the odd people that go there. It might be a Comprehensive but it doesn’t take in people from the local area. What’s all that about then eh? Plus the kids who go there seem to think they’re better than everyone else, which is bound to get someone’s back up. While the local shops are happy to take their money the local youths – and others – have their eye open for trouble, or the opportunity to cause it.

School Vs Government

Schools are subject to a lot of examination and scrutiny and every time the wind changes so does educational policy. It’s no different for magical schools and inspectors, interfering PTA groups and government secretaries are likely to turn up and put the school’s funding or existence under question from time to time. Students and staff will have to club together to keep these evil forces of bureaucracy out of their business.