Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, Bonne Annee, or as they say here in Kyoto, akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

To keep you safe from youkai in 2014, here is a little video:

http://www.pechakucha.org/presentations/how-to-survive-a-kappa-attack

Monday, December 30, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Project plans and Palladium 'missile circus' houserules



Wow. That whole 'Weird in Mystic Japan' thread went on longer than I had intended. I still have one more post, maybe two maximum, but thought I'd break things up with this.

I have a prelim exam first week of January, so expect a slowdown until after that. Projects I have simmering are (in no particular order) some dystopic Traveller tables; finishing my Stormbringer 1e adventure 'Spiders and Angels'; more D&D semiotics; and starting my retroclone, Iceships & Inuit.

I also intend to roll out my Palladium Patch at some point. Anyone who responds 'Why bother?' has missed out on some gonzo playing with an admittedly clunky old ruleset. My patch aims to make Palladium's funky old school games playable to gamers with more modern sensibilities who'd dismiss them offhand because of their rusty rules.

To give a taste, here are the Mecha Missile and Melee Mayhem Houserules. We used these back in the day last time I played and the feel of an Itano missile circus a la Robotech was pretty spot on. Give em a try and tell us what you think.


Mecha Missile and Melee Mayhem Houserules

High Explosive Missile – Does an equal number of dice of SDC damage to human pilot or each passenger, pilot can roll for half. Ignore MDC damage multipliers. (i.e. 1d6x10 MD missile does 1d6 SD to pilot or passengers).

Fragmentation Missile – Apply each dice of damage to a different part of the mecha within the blast radius. (i.e. a missile doing 3d6x10 will instead do 1d6x10 to 3 different parts of the mech).

Armor Piercing Missile – In addition to damage, causes critical damage per critical damage tables if any of its damage dice rolls maximum. (i.e. a missile doing 2d6x10 will also inflict critical damage if either dice comes up 6).

Plasma Missile – Does full number of dice in damage first round, then one less dice per round thereafter until no dice remain. Pilots may make a stunt roll to shake plasma off, but can take no other actions while doing so. (i.e. a missile doing 2d6x10 MD will do that the first round, 1d6x10 the second, then 0 thereafter).

Multi-Warhead Missile – Attacker rolls a number of d20 equal to the damage die, then takes the best as his attack roll. (i.e. a 2d4x10 MD missile allows the attacker to roll 2d20 and keep the best as his attack roll, while a 4d6x10 MD missile allows 4d20 to be rolled).

Hand to Hand– Always does critical damage on a maximum damage roll. (i.e. a 1d4 damage punch also incurs a roll on the critical damage table if a 4 is rolled).

Chaff (NEW!) – Each chaff fired automatically leads a number of missiles off course as follows: Mini-missile chaff 1d4, short range 1d6, medium range 2d4, long range 3d6.

Penalties to Dodging or Shooting Missiles – Either roll gets a – 1 per multiple of 5 missiles/ (i.e. – 1 to dodge or shoot down 5-9 missiles, – 2 for 10-14 missiles, – 3 for 15-19 missiles, etc).

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan – Part Three




ADVENTURE SEEDS
Here are a few adventure ideas ripped shamelessly from Japanese sources. All adventures take for granted that PCs are under orders of a lord and follow his decrees largely unquestioningly. If not, DMs will have to find different reasons for adventuring. Try to enjoy the weirdness of the adventures and not punch them up with combat too much to please western audiences. Make interactions and social restrictions a vivid part of the world, and you should have the right feel.


1. Possession (Genji Monogatari)
Several murders of night watchmen and travelers have occurred and PCs must find the cause. The bodies are mutilated as if mauled and partially eaten by some animal. Either by stakeout, investigation, or scrying they find that a noble lady is possessed by a demon which turns her cannibalistic at night. The lady is kin to their lord, so they must find a way to out the demon without harming her, all the while keeping the incident quiet from villagers who might raise arms to protect themselves.


2. The Peony Lantern (Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan)
A nobleman has started wasting away, losing strength and becoming wan due to sleepless nights. He refuses to divulge the cause of his lethargy, and so the PCs are sent to find out. By either surveillance, consulting a medium or other means, they discover that the lord is haunted nightly by the ghost of an old lover he spurned and caused to waste away from grief or commit suicide. PCs must drive away the spirit, either by satisfying its demands for justice, or convincing the nobleman to repent and either become a monk or publicly shame himself by professing his dalliance.


3. Space Girl (Osamu Tezuka, Hi no tori)
A peasant’s wife has run away while he was at war, and now returning as a minor noble he asks the PCs to find her and his child. She has left behind a magic kimono of shimmering, unearthly colours that radiates magic. The kimono can only be worn by female characters, and transports them to the moon, where the wife originally came from. The kimono-wearing character can miniaturize two other characters and carry them in her sleeves, but any more PCs will have to find alternate transport to the lunar surface. The moon people are pacifists but also great sorcerers using magic items, and PCs will have a hard time convincing the woman and her now grown son to return to war-torn earth and live with a former soldier. One complication may be that the son wishes to return but the mother doesn’t, forcing PCs to help him make his escape back to earth. Another complication is that miniaturized characters stay that way on the moon.


4. Wolf Head Kashira (Osamu Tezuke, Hi no tori)
PCs are ordered to stop a bandit chieftain has been terrorizing the mountain roads, but investigations shows that he is only attacking the wagons of a certain clan. The chieftain is said to have a wolf’s head and is magically protected by animal familiars. If PCs meet the wolfhead, he reveals that he is the clan’s disappeared heir, whose face was flayed by the current clan head, covered with a wolf’s head as an insult, and then left for dead. By some strange magic the heir recovered but with a wolf’s face and animal powers. He will only stop his attacks when the current clan leader is dead and the heir’s rightful place and face restored to him. PCs may have some serious questing to do to achieve this.


5. Moth woman (Osamu Tezuka, Dororo)
Children from a small village have been disappearing at night from their houses, and the lady of the village has asked for help to calm her subjects. PCs are sent to investigate and sensitive characters or priests may be lead by the beckoning of ghostly children to the run down old hut under which their bodies are buried. Under the tatami mats in a tunnel are the children, wrapped in cocoons and undergoing a horrid transformation into mothmen. Following the tunnel to its end brings the PCs come face to face (tail?) with a grotesque moth creature, who turns out to be the underside of the lady of the village. They must battle to stop her while defending themselves from the child-mothmen she awakens with her screams.


6. Dirty Old samurai (Shigurui/Vagabond)
In a small village on the stormy coast, a veteran samurai lives and protects villagers from bandits and rival clans. On a visit to the village, PCs see that the old bushi has gone rogue, is often blind drunk, tests his blade on villagers, and takes their daughter’s maidenhood when they are 12 or 13. The samurai must be stopped, but as he has higher rank than the PCs, is an expert swordsman, and has magical arms and armor from his past adventures, they will have to find some subtle way to discredit or destroy him. Note that the samurai is paranoid and wily, and will not fall foolishly into any old trap, but will kill all who shows animosity towards him. He is just as deadly when drunk or sober.


7. Freak Circus (Suehiro Maruo, Shojokan)
The circus comes to town, and the elder son of the lord starts dallying at the tents of the freaks. The PCs are sent to drive the freaks off, but must deal with threats including Snakelady, who can shoot poisonous snakes from her orifices; Rotting Man, a bandage-enwrapped ex-soldier who cannot be killed by mortal weapons but simply loses gobbets of flesh; Giant Baby, an ogrish man with the temper and jealousy of a child; The Mouth, a limbless obese giant who rolls over PCs attempting to crush then eat them; and Dr Ching, an evil sorcerer from the continent who can thrust characters into their nightmares. If PCs are victorious, they find the son in a sorcerous sleep, which may require questing for holy objects to break.


8. Shadow Banquet (Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan)
A distraught young musician begs the PCs to save him from ghostly samurai who visit him every night. He hasn’t slept in days, and if he falls asleep at night when the samurai come to hear his music he will be forced to join them in the hell between worlds. PCs can either fight off the samurai if powerful enough, or more likely should quest to various temples and apothecaries for magic ink to write wards all over the musicians body and Buddhist Sutras on paper which can bind or wound the ghosts.


9. The Phoenix (Osamu Tezuka, Hi no tori)             
The high priestess of the clan is growing old and has started fearing age and death. She sends the PCs to an island where the legendary phoenix has been spotted, with orders to kill it and bring back its rejuvenating blood. The bird is deadly and fearsome, but getting to its lair is made difficult by the presence of savage natives who revere it as a god. If players do manage to kill it and retrieve its blood, which is always boiling hot, the death of the bird causes an eruption of undead who begin plaguing the countryside. PCs may seek to revive the bird, which can only be accomplished by throwing its body into a volcano. If they do bring its blood back to their mistress, she drinks it but is ironically consumed alive by fire bursting from her innards, also giving birth to a newly formed phoenix which flies off back to its lair. Irony!


10. The Spirit Gun (From a Big Comics Original supernatural manga about an antiques shop whose name and author I forget)
Officials of the clan are being assassinated at night by a young gunman who disappears like smoke whenever guardsmen give chase after a killing. PCs are given sketches of the assailant and must try to find him. If they go to the burakumin (social outcast) district, they will find that the boy was from there but died many years ago, and that his father is a woodcutter on the edge of town. If they meet the woodcutter, he is a kindly old man who invites them in for tea, and tells them the tale of how his son died out hunting. In truth, the youth was killed accidentally by a noble also out hunting, and his spirit now haunts his rifle, which the father keeps hidden in his house. PCs will have to assuage the spirit by somehow getting it justice.


11. The Fox Stole (as above)
A lady of the clan is found strangled in her chambers, but with no signs of struggle or intrusion. If characters investigate thoroughly, they find a few items of the lady’s clothing are missing. A few nights later another lady dies in the same way. If characters investigate, they will find more clothes are missing, and one item, a fox stole, is on both missing item lists. If they interrogate the handmaidens, they find one in either case has sold their deceased mistress’ articles to support their family. Tracking down the fox stole to the antiques shop where it was sold, PCs find that it has just been purchased by another lady. They have scant hours to find the cursed garment and stop another killing by the fox stole, which was cursed years ago by a rival clan to strangle the wearer when placed around neck and shoulders of a noble of the clan.

12. Mud Flinging (Ge ge ge no Kitano)
Construction on a new fort has halted as workers are attacked by a strange giant humanoid rising from a nearby pond who flings enormous balls of mud at them. Men have nearly smothered under the mud, and a death will occur if something isn’t done. The PCs are sent and are easily overwhelmed by the creature. Any PC speaking youkai language will learn that the creature is yelling “tanbo kaese!”, or “Give me back my fields!” It is actually the guardian god (kami) of rice fields that have been destroyed  The PCs must find a place for the youkai, preferably in a rice field that is clean and well-kept.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan – Part Two




It seems like my post on Mystic Japan coincided with some other great thoughts on the same subject. Age of Ravens did a great post on his ‘Age of Yokai’ concept for Lo5R, which incidentally made me rethink my opinion of the system and its setting. Wine & Savages responded to my post and mentioned his own post Mappo Monogatari, another interesting setting for Savage Worlds.

I should state that I am not trying to devalue anyone else’s Japan game, just clarifying where I come from and how I would run one based on my experiences here in Kyoto. Someone living in Texas would have a different idea of a western game than someone living in Tokyo, and having lived nearly 1/2 my life in Japan I have a certain perspective on games set here. If you agree with some of my thoughts and could steal them for your own table, have at it. If not, fair enough and good gaming nonetheless.

Back to the subject, there are a few cultural notions that will color character actions, while adventures themselves based on indigenous canon are very different from western stories and adventures. Below I present the concept of girininjo, which I think is integral to understanding things Japanese. In the third and (hopefully) final part of this series, I will give examples of adventures based on literary sources, and end with some youkai monster examples.

THE TWO POLES OF JAPANESE BEHAVIOR – girininjo


If I remember correctly, the old Oriental Adventures added the attribute of Honor to D&D to emulate Japanese aesthetics. Although honor (meiyo 名誉in Japanese) is as important a value to Japanese as to other peoples, the idea of Asian ‘honor’ and ‘saving face’ is largely a western conception used to try and explain Japanese motives. Understanding the Japanese language and people first-hand, one realizes that honor may accord with the outward show of behavior, but often fails to explain the inner moral mechanisms that underlie it. Trying to evaluate Japanese thinking or behavior simply in terms of honour leads to mistaken conclusions or apparent contradictions, especially since what westerners mean by the term ‘honour’ and Japanese mean by ‘meiyou’ can often be very different. A more useful concept, and one that Japanese people commonly apply to their actions and thoughts, is that of ‘girininjou’.

GIRININJO (義理人情)


To understand the motivations and actions of Japanese characters in fiction, and thus reflections of Japanese people in real life and throughout Japan’s history, one has to understand the concept of girininnjou. Girininnjou is a collocation of the terms ‘giri’, or duty or moral obligation, and ‘ninjou’, or humanity or humane feelings. In other words, most Japanese actions can be understood by the paradigm of two values – how they relate to a characters obligations and/or his humaneness.

Thus, Japanese characters would put their obligation to their clan, tribe, sect, or family before others, while these obligations would be tempered by the character’s humanity or humaneness. In Shusaku Endo’s classic novel ‘The Samurai’, if I recall correctly, the youngest brother of 3 samurai ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) is allowed to go first so he can show his older siblings he is worthy of the family and his title of samurai, a ‘kindness’ allowed by their guards. Although the order of death may seem inconsequential to us westerners, as is the kindness of allowing a person to commit suicide at all, Japanese readers would most likely be as moved by the guard’s ninjou and young samurai’s giri as the characters in Endo’s novel are.



In game terms, characters whose actions are lead by girininjou should receive bonuses to XP and NPC reaction. Following one’s lord despite the burdensome nature or questionability of their orders, or letting a downed foe escape because they showed bravery in fighting against insurmountable odds would be examples of giri and ninjou respectively, and should consequently earn rewards and renown for characters. Conversely, NPCs should also be bound by girininjou, and will be helpful or merciful to to PCs who show girininjou and merciless or scornful to those who lack it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mystery Solved

It seems Alex took down the OSR Planet due to some complaints about copyright mumbo jumbo.

I guess some may have valid gripes, but it just seems to me another case of some folks peeing in the water and poisoning the well for everyone.

Oh well, thank you for the hard work Alex. First Eternal Keep, next Old School RPG Planet - looks like anything nearing a community forum gets destroyed. Is this some natural OSR cycle of creation and destruction I wonder?

OSR Planet Takeover?

Is it just me or has the Old School RPG Planet website been taken over by RPG Bloggers?
I suppose it is a free site so no cause or right to gripe, but a head's up would have been nice.

Oh well, the layout is a bit commercial, but is also clear and has categories that may steer traffic a bit more.

Wonder what happened?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Perfunctory Dyvers Response

So anyway, everyone's talking about Dyvers' list of OSR blogs. Might as well jump on the bandwagon.

Charles Atkins' list of OSR blogs with mini-reviews is one of those ideas so brilliant in their simplicity you slap your forehead and wonder why you hadn't thought of it first. More importantly, OSR blogs are sometimes like icepans (as a Newfoundlander, I am familiar with those miniature icebergs and icebits the rime my arctic island homeland), old ones submerging and news ones rising, disappearing and reappearing, being sometimes solid and others treacherously transitory. It is good to have a guide like Dyvers to what is out there and where to aim your feet (or clicks in this case).

Like any blogger, I get a kick (what psychiatrist Eric Berne would classify as a 'stroke') from other people reading and responding to my blog posts. Atkins' review of this blog is refreshingly positive:

Tomb of  Tedankhamen A relatively new OSR blog (it started in March of 2013) that has lost a bit of steam due to the author's attempt to get through his thesis papers. I'm hopeful that once their through with the academia side of things that this insightful blog will pick up steam and continue to look at those little words that bother us all so much: like railroad, profile, and like. Updates: About five times a month.
 .
Finding your voice as a blogger takes time for most, and although Atkins' review focuses on the semantic exercises I sometimes indulge in, I don't see myself as limited to those, but will continue to write whatever pleases me. Instead, Atkins' identification of what works on my blog implies I am finding my voice and subjects that both I and others find worth writing and reading.

And that's what it's all about isn't it?

Good job Charles, keep it up!

PS: I have a few months before the (hopefully) final chapter of the dissertation, so expect more posts in the near future.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan





From Bushido to Legend of Five Rings, Oriental Adventures to Big Eyes Small Mouth, I have read a lot of rpg material about Japan. As a Canadian who lives outside Kyoto, is fluent in Japanese (日本語能力試験1級獲得), has gotten permanent resident status after 13 years living in Japan, and has studied Japanese mythology, I can say one thing about them all.

They aren’t weird enough.
                 
I don’t mean weird in themselves, as both Lo5R and BESM especially have lots of crazy elements, I mean they lack the delicious alienness, often described as ‘weird’, that Westerners perceive in cultural products from Japan.

Western rpgs about Japan are uniformly examples of the Western tropification of Asia. Characters may wear kimonos and carry katanas, but are usually the same old fighter/thief/cleric/mage made up in Oriental dress as samurai/ninja/soryo/shugenja. In Japanese fiction and fantasy, if characters are not running in terror from peony lanterns, or willing to slice someone’s throat or their own belly at the drop of a hat, something is missing. Ironically, the alienness that makes Japan inherently gonzo to us brought up in Western culture is also the hardest thing to transmit when bringing Japanese concepts over to English contexts.

What is missing is not merely the act of suicide called hara-kiri, which is unthinkable to most western gamers and thus the most prominent symbol of what is lost, but the alien cultural milieu that surrounds it. To Japanese people, tattoos of cherry blossoms (sakura ) representing the transitory nature of life or carp (Koi ) representing luck are far more inspiring than tacky dragons or (Oshakesama forbid!) Chinese characters that so many Westerners love.


This cultural mismatch is equally evident in gaming - whereas Lo5R rpg has clans named after animals like Scorpion and Dragon, the famous fighting clans of the Heike-Genji War were named the less-inspiring Flat (Taira ) and Source (Minamoto ) Clans. Oriental rpg creatures are all too often just D&D dime store monsters with serial numbers painted over in Kanji, but instead should be truly weird specimens like the Long Necked Lady (rokuro-kubi 轆轤首), Eye for Asshole Man (shirime 尻目), or One Eyed One Legged Parasols (kasa-obake 傘お化け) of Japanese Spirit-monster (youkai ) tales. Finally, adventures should not be Samurai Jack style hack and slashes, but missions to protect a libidinous lord against the ghost of a spurned lover, or flush a cannibal doppelganger out of a village.


For those interested in adventuring in Mystic Japan, be warned that it might not match the heroic ideals of Western fantasy, but the experience of adventuring beyond the box of your own culture and embracing the weird of another mindset should largely be a reward in itself. To help GMs and players dip into Weird Japan, here is a list of essential sources.

APPENDIX N for NIPPON

For starters, Weird Japan’s appendix N has to consist of indigenous works, not Eric Lustbader or Frank Miller reflections of Japan. I give here my own anime & manga Appendix N, as these are visual and thus instantly accessible to outsiders.

4 Shigurui (Crazy for Death) – Not supernatural, but a great source for the samurai ethic, or basically the sadomasochism integral to feudal Japan’s hierarchical society. Incredibly bloody and engrossing as a story, this is a must-see anime. The manga on which it is based, although sumptuous with art omitted from the series, lacks the concision and punch of the animated series, so stick to the animation.


3 Inuyasha – There is a lot of pixel-bitching here (i.e. monsters won’t die unless you have the magical McGuffin), and it is more a Japanese RPG video game translated to comics than a traditional supernatural story. Nevertheless, the themes of reincarnation and helpful monsters as well as evil ones are good examples of Japanese weird.


2 Dororo – No supernatural Japan should go without influence from Osamu Tezuka’s unfinished masterpiece about a limbless samurai who uses katana blades as prosthetic arms and legs to hunt down and destroy the 1,000 demons that stole his bodyparts when he was born. Just read that sentence out loud again to feel how weird Dororo is. Tezuka gave up halfway to concentrate on another blademaster, the unlicensed surgeon Blackjack, but the 3 books of Dororo with their haunting Warring States Japan filled with 7-tailed foxes, ratmen, and child-eating caterpillar women is a must-read for weird. There is a live action Dororo that doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.


1 Ge ge ge no Kitano – This is the piece de resistance of modern Japanese Yokai tales. The first anime series has all the weirdness and gonzo a Westerner can handle, while later series were watered down to a Dragonball/Inuyasha-esque explosion of kewl powers. The manga are also fantastic. It is the story of Kitaro, a one-eyed ghost boy who flings his magic wooden clogs at evildoers and is counseled by Otosan (literally ‘father’), his other eye that walks around on its own miniature body. Over the series he is joined in his adventures by the flatulent and untrustworthy Nezumi-otoko (Ratman), the violent clawed Neko-onna (Catgirl), and the gigantic and ponderous Nurikabe (Stickywall) among other monsters. Written by Shigeru Mizuki (born 1922), who wrote and drew the series despite losing an arm in World War Two, this work deftly melds the sensibilities of Edo period youkai tales with the haunting nature of postwar Japan. There are also live action versions, but these are of middling quality.


For art inspirations, the manga of Suehiro Maruo is twisted and amazing, while for a more traditional perspective see  the yokai illustrations of Hokusai (1760?-1849?), who is mostly known for his famous depiction of a wave and also considered the grandfather of the manga style. If you are looking for weird reading, Lafcadio Hearn’s (1850-1904) Kwaidan is the ultimate source of indigenous Japanese ghost tales before the nation’s modernization.








NEXT TIME: SAMPLE MONSTERS & ADVENTURES

Great article on thieves' cant

Read it HERE

Friday, November 29, 2013

Japanese Art Inspiration – Bounty from the Sea





The above painting is by Shigeru Aoki (1882-1911), a Japanese painter of fantastic scenes who sadly died before the age of 30 from tuberculosis. Aoki is known for using impressionist and western religious painting techniques and applying them to Japanese myths. Aoki was of samurai lineage, and some of his paintings have been named important Japanese cultural properties.


Many of Shigeru’s paintings, with titles such as ‘Path to the Underworld’ and ‘Paradise under the Sea,’ are great inspirations for fantasy gaming. Look at ‘Bounty from the Sea’ again. Could it depict a group of Tanaroan tribesmen from the Isle of Dread returning with their catch to feed the village? Or perhaps a band of sea-elves bringing in shark heads as bounties to the fishermen who pay to keep their fishing grounds, traps and nets free from such predators?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Dwarven Miner Song

Being buried still under the thesis and digging for veins of gold in the dark dungeon of Academia, I leave you with a beloved dwarven ditty until I am free of my chains again.
- Tedankhamen




Dwarven Miner Song
(to the tune of Johnny Cash’s ‘Dark as a Dungeon’)

Oh come all you young fellers so young and so fine
Seek hotLY your fortune in a dark cheery mine
It'll form as a habit and seep in your soul
Till the stream of your blood runs as bright as the gold

Refrain:
Where it's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew
Where the danger is double and pleasures are true
Where the rain never falls the sun never shines
It's as dark as a dungeon way down in the mine

Well it's many a dwarf that I've seen in my day
Who loved just to labor his whole life away
Like a fiend with his gold and a drunkard his wine
A
dwarf will have lust for the lure of the mine

Refrain

And pray when I'm dead and my ages shall roll
That my body would shimmer and turn into gold
Then I'll look from the door of my heavenly home
And cheer the miner digging my bones

Refrain


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thanks for the Swords & the Sorcerors, FGG and Tenkar

As snowed in under thesis writing and parenting as I am, it was incredibly nice to get a gift.

I am talking about Swords & Wizardry Complete, which Frog God Games has generously offered as a free PDF for meeting its Kickstarter goals. I suppose it would be equally apt to thank all the contributors, who by the act of supporting FGG and purchasing S&W have also made it available to all of us lurkers, faraway exiles & foreign folk, and cheapies.

Heartfelt thanks to you all.

I'd like to give a special shout out to Tenkar, who has become the Johnny Appleseed for S&W.

Cheers man. You have inspired me to contribute more after I crawl out from under these real life rocks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

ROLEPLAYING SEMIOTICS


We roleplayers sometimes use words in weird ways.

Take the universally maligned ‘railroad’. In the real world, railroads have multiple tracks and bristle with straight-aways, switchbacks, loops, tunnels, bridges and dead-ends, all to get passengers somewhere quickly. Call of Cthulhu is often called out for railroadey adventures, with Horror on the Orient Express often cited as one of the worst. But ‘Horror’ takes the adventurers from London to Constantinople and back at a breakneck pace – hardly ‘going nowhere’.


Generally, a passenger has bought a ticket before boarding a train, and has acquiesced to both the length of the ride and the destination. If a gamer feels railroaded, he has gotten on the wrong train, and so it is with ‘Horror’. A passenger always has the freedom to get off a railroad, and can go whatever direction they want. They won’t travel as fast, and they might not find anything interesting. If the train leaves without them, so does the engine of the story.

That being said, I am sure there are plenty of ‘one-track railroads’ out there. In that case, it is up to the gamemaster to flesh out the adventure with sidetracks, switchbacks, loops and all other ‘Jacquaying’ options she can. But is also up to players to verify they have bought tickets on the right train, and to change plans if they haven’t.

What us gamers call ‘railroading’ should probably be called ‘one-tracking’, but this type of misnomer has a way of sticking around.

On the contrary, for all the talk of free exploration in ‘open dungeon environments’, a dungeon literally takes you nowhere. Dungeons were places where prisoners, often villains, lingered, forgotten, then generally weakened and died faster the further down they were sent. Games have inverted this, making dungeon delving freebooters into stronger and more indelible heroes as they descend deeper into the bowels of the earth. The word dungeon comes from ‘dominated place’, but most dungeons are free-wheeling environments filled with wandering monsters and fighting factions. Maybe ‘The Lost City’ and ‘Escape from the Slave Pits’ are the truest dungeons in the original sense of the word. Dungeon could also be used to mean a cell in a tower, but that usage is unheard of in gaming.


The dungeon also gives you the illusion of space and depth because you have to map and clear every square, when most are no bigger than your average mall or megachurch. In Temple of Elemental Evil, the Moathouse is barely 150 feet (30 meters) square, and the measly six floors beneath only bump this up to 200 feet (66 meter) square.

Of course, the limitations of paper width affected dungeon size, and I remember drawing a huge lost gnomish city on a meter wide architectural or navigational graph sheet I got from somewhere in my teens. But might the limitation also be conceptual? Maybe anything larger than a sheet of paper is too much for us to handle. Witness the popularity of the One Page Dungeon contest and the abortive Gigacrawler RPG of Zak S.

Why do gamers feel more free in a dungeon than an infinite open world?

What about the venerated sandbox then? Sandboxes are known for starting as nothing, empty frames that require human action to give the raw dirt that lines them form and function. They are places where children bring and forget their toys, where they fight and make one another laugh or cry, and which the next rainstorm wipes clean.


From Greyhawk to Dwimermount, the sandboxes we have seen are those already played through by others, and littered with their sand castles, battlefields, and dropped toys. Has there ever been a game that provided the raw, inchoate stuff of chaos from which players could fashion their own castles and roads, and run their toy cars and people along? Could we handle such a game if it did exist, or do we need the pegs of Hommlet and the Underdark to hang our imaginary gaming hats on? I suspect that we do, but the call of that blank space is still there, which is why we explore. I used to let players decide the name and size of every community they encountered, and only after working a few ‘Bumvilles’ and ‘Newtropias’ out of their system did they start breathing life into interesting locales.

Is roleplaying in general and fantasy gaming in particular the closest our rigid adult minds can get to the free imaginative play of youth? Is that why we love and take it so seriously?

I wonder.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Profiled!

The word 'profile' has such a bad ring  to it after all the years of police racial harassment...
Be that as it may, this little exercise is right what I need to scratch the gaming itch and blow off some phd steam. Without further ado, here is Tedankhamen's profile:

I'm currently running (at home): Nada. I'm 100 pages in to a 240 page PhD, with a 4 month old boy to look after, so not running anything for maybe 6 to 9 months. Last thing I ran was a short-lived Call of Cthulhu game.
Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: Zip, see above.
I'm currently running (online): Nil. Sigh.
Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: Rien, ditto. Last thing I played in was Justin's Vaults of Ur.
I would especially like to play/run: Stormbringer, Unknown Armies.
...but would also try: anything but Maid
I live in: Japan, just outside of Kyoto.
2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: I have been a cheap cnut and haven't bought anything in ages, but Death Frost Doom, Pornheim (sorry, Vornheim), Anomalous Subsurface Environment and Barrowmound sound awesome, along with a dozen other things. Time for a shopping spree when the degree is done.
2 or 3 novels I like: Elric cycle, Foucault's Pendulum, Ringworld, the one I am writing...
2 or 3 movies I like: The Thing, Conan, Paris Texas, The Audition
Best place to find me on-line: This blog, for games.
I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Stormbringer, Unknown Armies, free & half decent
I really do not want to hear about: How cool you are because you've published a game and how nobody who hasn't isn't entitled to an opinion...
I think dead orc babies are ....well, ok, it's complicated because I've never eaten any
Game I'm in are like this
Free RPG Content I made for BRP/Stormbringer available at this link.
Free RPG Content I made for Palladium is available somewhere out there. I posted a Palladium Patch on Scribd years back and it got good reviews, but seems to have disappeared. Time for a new version?
Free RPG Content I made for AFMBE, Robotech, and Stormbringer available on this blog.
If you know anything about converting Phoenix Command to BRP it'd help me with a project I'm working on
I talk about RPGs on this blog under the name Tedankhamen on this blog. Also under my real name at coffee shops and bars around Kyoto with my mate Sunglasses Jerk.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

SURVIVING OSR BUTTHURT & TWO TROLL QUESTIONS




So I am in ‘OSR Lurker’ mode as a few Real Life deadlines and challenges have jumped up on me, and the other day I dropped two innocuous questions on the blog of one of the OSR leading lights, “What do you get out of D&D?” and “Are all the different books & editions just grist for the mill?” To the first query I got the snide-sounding “Some of your questions make no sense.” I resisted the urge to reply in a snarky way “What word are you having problems with? Maybe a remedial reading course would help.” To the second question I got “I keep the good and drop the bad.” A blindingly obvious answer, to be sure, and also obviously impossible for us humans, as the plethora of heartbreakers, Synnibars, WTF D&D and failed Kickstarters attest.

Basically, someone just tried to OSR butthurt me. Who? That’s not important, I won’t call out anybody, but I am sure Google will help you if you want to now. Prepare to be unsurprised. The more interesting question is why, and by answering this we can also uncover some rules to help us survive the inevitable OSR Butthurt when it happens to us.

REASON ONE – None of us are friends, all of us are strangers

Responding to blogs is a funny type of interaction in two ways. First, we have no qualms starting an online conversation with a person we’d never talk to on the street, or one whose house we’d never think of entering. Commenting online disarms us against strangers, we let our guard down thinking they will be courteous and kind when we may have just inadvertently challenged a major tenet of their belief system and set them into attack mode in their own territory. Add to that the fact that the emotionless & contextless nature of leaving online comments is like trying to teach the lyrics of a song with a kazoo in your mouth, then the possibility of misunderstanding and conflict is obvious.

Remember, none of us are friends, all of are strangers, and the chances we will misunderstand or argue are greater than those that we will get along.

REASON TWO – All of us are trolls at one time or another

I dimly remember making a positive comment about a blogger a few years back to which my butthurter objected. The details elude me now, but I remember not saying anything abrasive, and quite oppositely trying to calm down or show support for someone who had been riled up. Although this incident was unimportant to me, the OSR leading light seems to have remembered and decided to shoulder a chip and exercise a grudge against me.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty sad. Holding a grudge about an insignificant comment about roleplaying games for years is a terrible waste of a person’s energy and emotion, and brings me to my next point:

REASON THREE – The Smallest Thing In Real Life Is Bigger Than The OSR

Right now, I blog to let off steam and have a quasi-creative hobby while I finish a PhD on US economic discourse (don’t ask), look for a new uni to work at for the next 4 to 5 years, and simultaneously raise my beautiful 4 month old son.

The OSR and my blog is pretty far down my list of priorities. I enjoy the boundless creativity of many fine blogs out there, the amusing personalities and insightful comments, and even the scandals and flamewar of the week. But I never take any of it seriously. Sadly, over the years the OSR has lost some great biggies (ChogWiz and James M to name a few), and doubtless an uncounted number of unknowns to its frequent waves of drama. Me, I’ll take the good and leave the bad, just as my butthurter advised me.

REASON FOUR – Don’t Monetize Unless You Can Deliver the Prize

This last one has nothing to do with the incident that inspired this post, but as I have resolved not to charge for any material I produce, I thought I’d say a word about the OSR as business. I admire the heck out of people who do great work and deservedly make a living off the OSR in particular and RPGs in general. But there are far too many out there who think game design is a quick, fun job. A quick glance at Tenkar’s list of failed Kickstarters sadly reinforces this reality, and I for one both admire Tenkar for holding people’s feet to the fire while at the same time feeling what a great waste of his time and talents it is to keep the list updated.

Ask James Raggi – he may personally be having fun producing LoFP, but he’s also working his arse off. The two aren’t incompatible, but like any creative endeavor you can’t succeed in games without hard work.

TWO TROLL QUESTIONS

Finally, in a non-sarcastic way I’d like to ask you dear readers the same two questions that set off the OSR bigwig: “What do you get out of D&D?” and “Are all the different books & editions just grist for the mill?”

For me, D&D is both pleasant nostalgia for the games of my youth, as well as a great mental exercise that takes my mind of the depressing things I find in my thesis. Economics is starting to look like the greatest scam ever perpetrated to me, so the idea of bashing down doors and braving monsters and traps for gold is refreshingly pure and simple.

I’d have to say that with the exception of the Midnight campaign setting, which I L-O-V-E, I enjoy the mishmash of anything pre-3e. I have tried 3e and 4e, and maybe if they hadn’t been sold as D&D I would have liked them more, but playing them after years of 1st and 2nd edition was like switching to new Coke or Crystal Pepsi. Might have been fine if I hadn’t known better, but once you taste that classic stuff, new is not always better.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mountains and Valleys and the 30 Day Challenge

There is an old Japanese saying, 'yama ari tani ari' (There are mountains and valleys), which basically means everything has its ups and its downs. I am approaching a mountain in my work and studies, so my blogging will be low for the next month or two. Expect maximum a post a week.


I was glad that the 30 Day Challenge ignited my interest and enthusiasm. As much as I joked about its non-OSR taxonomy, I found it a great community building exercise for the OSR, and made me feel part of something while giving my mind something to chew on.

Anyway, all this blogging has revved up my writing muscles to where I feel I can blast through this next knot of work. I still have lots of gaming projects - finish my Stormbringer adventure 'Spiders & Angels', re-do my Palladium patch, playtest my DIY Robotech, and publish my D&D houserules (which will form the engine of Iceships & Inuit, my very own heartbreaker), among others. Once (If?) I pass my final mid-November work deadline I'll take a little break from everything and then find my way back here.

Until then, keep reading, writing, and most of all, gaming.

Tedankhamen