I bought a White Wolf game this week

I was doing my six-monthly browse through the stacks at Replay in Bangor and as usual found myself not wanting to leave without parting with some cash. It wasn’t due to the intrusion of the proprietor who helpfully inquired if there was something he could help me with (wow, it was kinda irritating), but because I like to support my local game store. The plight of game stores is legend.

So this is why I find myself with a copy of the main book from White Wolf’s latest line: Scion

Scion Hero is about people finding out they are the sons and daughters of gods long past. To their credit they include a good description of the pantheons they think would be fashionable (Norse, Japanese, Aztec, Egyptian, Voodoo, Greek) and if the company’s past is anything to go by there will be new pantheon splatbooks out in the next few months as well as some net-pantheons created by rabid fans.

It’s not a bad book, ideal for the generation of low powered heroes along the lines of Hercules, Perseus and other offspring of the gods. Of course I’ll never get around to playing it having neither the players nor the GMs available even though it’s a low level superhero game.

Scion Hero is the first of a series of books which continues in June this year with Scion DemiGod which will be covering the more powerful scions – I suppose it might be the equivalent of the D&D Expert or Master set if Scion Hero is to be considered the Basic set.

I’m not mad struck on the layout but then this is the first WW game I’ve bought in a long time. The art ranges from very good to “uh, what is that meant to be” which isn’t to say any of it is bad.

It’s a lot of fun to read too.

Heroes

Heroes is a lot of fun, one of the two series that I can be bothered watching (the other is The Dresden Files).

Of course, they just revealed both Eric Roberts and Malcolm McDowell on staff. I’m sorry guys, but I realy don’t think this is going to turn out well for anyone. Eric was over the top and a major reason why the recent Dr Who film was such a stinker. And McDowell, whether you see him in Star Trek Generations or Tank Girl is just the same over the top villain.

If you HAD to cast them, why not break with tradition and cast them as the good guys?

Art:

northerain is the blog of the artist behind Bloodsong Media. I like his stuff which he describes as:

My style is more or less based on existing photographs. I use those to paint over them in photoshop. Since they’re not sketches, it’s impossible to do it in black and white.

Sounds perfect for both The 23rd Letter and what I also envisaged for Qabal. And I am interested in finding out what this image is about.

Diddlysquat is dead

Mark notes that Diddlysquat is dead.

I didn’t know much about it, to be honest but reading the testimony of specky I’m reminded of lots of the silliness that went on within Crucible Design.

In the end, projects like this are fuelled by a small core of people (usefully termed schemers and collaborators.). Everyone else is pretty much surplus to requirements but as these types of projects tend to be started by friends, people can be a little over-cautious about being honest here. Allowing a project to slide (or worse fail) because you didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who isn’t contributing seems silly on the face of it. But we all do it (at least those of us who are human have).

The most annoying thing, when a project is failing or when someone is being asked to leave a project, is the tendency for some to be passively obstructive (or even actively destructive). I’ve seen this in the RPG industry as well as in The Real World. Failing to fulfill promises again and again, blame-shifting, becoming upset when duties are removed and yet, when the deadline comes, their inactivity causes the deadline to slide. Problems like this plagued our fanzine WildTalents and seriously delayed the production of every single book we ever published. And when I stopped propping people up, when I stopped doing the extra work to make things happen and when I refused to give credit where it was not due, then Crucible Design stopped producing books.

Q-CON, another project I invested hugely in (I did the preliminary research, coving everything I could from WARPS, got the budget for Q-CON 1, got the people together, ran Q-CON 2 and 3) was always beset at the start of the year by people who had ideas but no intention of implementing anything or completing anything. It meant that with 2 weeks of preparation (after 6 months of failed investigation by two people), I was left alone to run the convention and pull together the Star Trek Megagame. I had to rely on real people with real commitment to fun to get it done (and a wave goes out to Colin and Lesley on this one). Sure, we pulled successful profitable conventions out of nowhere but it wasn’t without a committee that was so supportive that they had a vote of no-confidence in my ability to run the convention which failed:- probably more to do with the individuals not wanting to have to take over…

When relations break down within a project, it’s best for everyone and best for the project if you take the steps to cut out the chaff. I wish I’d done it with Crucible wayback when but even now I find it hard to do probably because I’m not the git everyone thinks I am.

Really.

Now, identifying the difference between chaff and rot is difficult and I dont think anyone gets it right. Chaff are just people who serve no useful purpose. They probably slow things up because in a democratic committee you have to ask everyone’s opinion. Chaff won’t kill you but they may bore you.

Rot are much worse – these guys are scheming against you and against the success of the project. These are the guys who will plot with junior members of the team and do their best to make sure their name is at the top of the list of every success and nowhere to be seen in the event of a failure. When you’re presenting your work, at a convention or whatever, they’re usually the first out with the pen when someone asks for a book signing.

In my experience, the speed at which someone gets a pen to sign a book at request is inversely proportional to their contribution to the book and you can be pretty sure that if someone has their pen out before you ask then they likely were responsible for delays in the product rather than actually being productive.

Thing is: if you’re a team leader then you already know who the chaff and the rot are. Be honest with yourself.

Riffing off The 23rd Letter.

Ghost Whistler on RPG.net came up with a23rd Planet idea. He was riffing off the name of the game but it made me think tonight about:

The 23rd Century

Fast forward events in The 23rd Letter by two hundred years and you might have an idea of a micro-setting.

Making psychics essential for space travel just seems really tired these days, probably due to Warhammer 40K more than anything. If it were up to me I’d probably promote the importance of biofeedback in maintaining cold sleep. Telekinesis for construction or, probably more usefully, handling of hazardous materials or handling of goods in Zero-G and microgravity. Or the use of Regent for rehabilitation of criminals.

And if everyone had the opportunity to be psychic? If it became a natural part of humanity? Would you see a Gattaca-type society where there was a psychic overclass? How would you FAKE psychic powers in order to advance? Would they have found ways to reduce the Stress involved in psychic abilities?

What about alien contact? Do the aliens have psychics? Perhaps they do and thoughts are in their own language and therefore psychics are important as translators. Or are alien minds so different that they cause immediate madness in a psychic who tried to read one?

Bit of a buzz on these days

I’ve been writing a lot more these last few days – ironically not much on the two tasks I have been given – but plenty on other stuff which I shouldn’t be doing. I got some new books as well which I hope to tear through and get reviews up as soon as possible.

Maybe it’s because I have a lot more time these days to wallow in self-pity … read and contemplate the world.

Hm.

Renaissance Magic

The Guardian has a book review on De viribus quantitatis (On the Powers of Numbers) penned by Luca Paciola, a man who was a personal friend of Leonardo da Vinci and who is considered not only the father of modern (double entry) accounting but also one of the leaders in magic tricks. The book covers mathematical puzzles, tricks, proverbs and verses and codes.

Don’t try this at home…

For washing your hands in melted lead

Take cool well water and soak your hands for a while; then shake them, you can put them in a pan full of melted lead over a flame, and it will not cook you. It is even better if you put some ground rock alum in the water … to the uneducated … it will appear to be a miracle.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

I’m in a bad mood today and Crowley suits my mood. What are you meant to do when you’ve tried to sort out issues in your own life and someone interprets a “self-enhancing” action as “them-destroying”? Th reason? Because you didn’t come to them for assistance, because you might want to stand on your own two feet, they interpret it as rejection. People, on the whole are stupid. Crowds moreso.

It reminds me of the utter stupidity of adults who lay a whup-ass on their kids and when the kids say “What have I done?” the adult invariably replies “Oh, don’t play stupid with me!”

I was the recipient of more than one can of whup-ass ignorance during my early years. I came away with the welts of a leather belt and in some cases never knew what I did wrong. Partially for this reason I support the idea that “spanking” is something reserved for consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom and not something applied to children in punishment for them being naughty.

If another adult was “bad”, would you strike them? No, of course not. What about a short adult? Still no? Okay, why is it okay for an adult to strike a child? Exactly, it’s not okay.

• Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law

Possibly the most famous Crowley quote, and later co-opted by the Wiccan cult.

Crowley was a nutter, this much we know, but he did come out with some fabulous quotes which I guess he borrowed and stole along the way.

• Love is the law, love under will.

I interpret this as Agapē. Love which is not sexual or filial. I interpret it as a non-discriminating general affection for everyone. The feeling of enjoying helping others without reward (a lot more apparent in these days of the Internet), of contributing to society (e.g. the Free software movements), of not complaining of hardships because you know others have it worse.

• I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.

A surprising quote here and I agree with it. I abhor the idea of a cult of personality (though I have it fully esconced in the notes in Qabal). Everyone must make their own stand in this world and we cannot always depend on others to be there for us. To a degree, this also tells us to not keep all of our eggs in one basket. Trusting only one person will lead you to ruin.

• The customer is usually wrong; but statistics indicate that it doesn’t pay to tell him so.

Not to be limited to monetary transactions but in any transaction: of ideas, of love and affection, of goods, of time. Any time there is a transfer and receipt, there is opportunity for the recipient to be disappointed. That said – sometimes it’s best to disappoint rather than further a sham.

• The supreme satisfaction is to be able to despise one’s neighbor and this fact goes far to account for religious intolerance. It is evidently consoling to reflect that the people next door are headed for hell.

Pick a topic that polarises. God or Allah. Mac or PC. Apple TV versus XBox. iPod versus Zune. Green, White and Orange versus the Red, White and Blue. D20 versus everyone else. I enjoy intellectual conflict for the pure exercise of my mind. I enjoy debate and the sharp edge of a sarcastic wit. I may shout and scream In CAPITALS during a debate but I’d still buy the next round if we were down the pub. Debate and disagreement do not equal hate. Or at least they should not.

• As soon as you put men together, they somehow sink, corporatively, below the level of the worst of the individuals composing it. Collect scholars on a club committee, or men of science on a jury; all their virtues vanish, and their vices pop out, reinforced by the self-confidence which the power of numbers is bound to bestow.

It’s not just men though my experience is heavily biased towards believing that men can be both the best and worst of people. Sadly the latter more often.

Episode Six – 28th October 2000

The team was immediately dispatched to intercept the intruder who seemed to be a humanoid waterspout, heading towards the land. Debate ended fruitlessly with the humanoid who called itself “Ocean” and a short battle ensued – Yellowfist, Balance and SkyCrane providing the muscle, Psiren and INDIGO the recon. Eventually a psychic targetting from Psiren enabled Yellowfist to strike at the source of the ocean manipulation, knocking him out.

The episode ends with the team holding onto Ocean and wondering what to do with him. If they turn him over they know for sure he’ll disappear into the depths of Fortress, never to be seen again. And what’s to be done about the several thousand miles of pollutants along the shores of North America?

Episode Five – 28th October 2000

“Any other business?” was the last words of the meeting spoken before the polished teak of the conference table began to dribble onto the floor into a congealing mess. The wood grain, melting and flowing like and oily slick. The assembled team, everyone minus Balance, had the same word on their lips “Balance”…the marble floor of the conference room began to sag and spill into the basement below and even the walls of the room seemed to curve inwards as if the massive weight of the building was pushing down upon itself.

The effect began to fade as soon as it appeared with only two notable clues. Both, impressions of some of the Ten Commandments, appearing on solid surfaces.

Balance returned to the WatchTower to find the place in disarray and assisted the technical teams in reshaping the walls and surfaces back to what they should have been. He had to endure some interrogation as he was not only the solution but the prime suspect. It was apparent however, that the WatchTower was under attack.

And it was not over, either.

As soon as the last block of marble was fixed, there was another attack. This time a series of bursts of psychokinetic energy which caused a constant 1 mm/sec movement of nearly everything within WatchTower. There was more prperty damage as fixed objects tore free from their housings and every few minutes there was a massive burst which smashed wood and bent steel.

Still under attack, there was a more pressing concern. Reports of sewage and pollutants washing up on shores across the eastern and western seaboards had been a minor news story earlier and Red Shift had investigated. Now it was the most important thing as a humanoid figure was spotted at the edge of the pollution belt, heading for the Eastern Coast of the US. As the most capable team on the East coast, WatchTower NY was deployed….

Six Role-playing Annoyances

Here are some annoying habits that players can exhibit in your game. There are some suggestions as to how to deal with these problems, either by encouragement (as another player) or enforcement (as a GM).

  • Playing yourself, but with armour

Problem: the character has the exact same personality as the player, which means that every character that players plays has the same personality. The result is usually very forgettable characters a bland roleplaying experience for everyone else. Unfortunately, this type of player is often a roll-player also (see below). Even the two-word-personality is better than this.

Solution: The GM think about the character as a character, instead of a series of statistics. Write down the major motivations of that character and play them. Even two-dimensional role-playing is better than none.

  • Dick Ramhard, and other stupid character names

Problem: you try to play a serious game and someone comes up with a stupid name for their character. This leaves everyone either snickering or sighing every time the character introduces themselves.

Solution: keep your name appropriate to the game setting. GMs should veto stupid names anyway, so this could well be the result of poor refereeing or player-bullying.

  • Objection! Rules lawyering!

Problem: the flow of the game is constantly broken as the player points out the rules and loopholes that have been used or missed in every situation. This is common in players who are more used to GMing, and in those who prefer less narrative style games.

Solution: this is a tough one. Remind the player that the GM is the final arbiter in all things (stick). Reward the player for good role-play, ideally through creating good story,regardless of the rules (carrot). One way is to give a conditional award – e.g. Everyone gets 3 character points for last week’s session. One (or more) of Bob’s are conditional on him not pointing rules infractions in this week’s session.

  • Kobolds can’t kill us metagamers

Problem: the player knows the system/background really well, and knows what every creature or denizen is capable of doing. Often this results in the character taking unrealistic chances based on knowledge he/she wouldn’t have. Sometimes it’s saying something like “there can’t really be a huge dragon in that cave as we’re all puny characters and the GM wouldn’t do that to us”.

Solution: give standard foes a non-standard name and/or appearance. Give them abilities that they could have but aren’t in the published material. Kill stupid characters who go into the dragon’s cave – it’s harsh, but fair (make sure and give plenty of warning that this is a dangerous thing to do!). Don’t tell the players what they are up against – describe to the characters what they experience.

  • Solo adventuring for five (GM Hogging)

Problem: One player insists on taking up a large percentage of the GM’s time. Sometimes this is because of rules-lawyering (above), other times it’s just because they (the GM and the player) don’t realise what they are doing.

Solution: Whether you’re a GM or a player, the simplest solution is to engage the other players in roleplaying. As a player, you should also try to engage the GM-hog, which will free up the GM and get the game moving again. If you can’t engage him/her, at least the RP with your other team-mates will provide for an interesting session. As a GM, you need to get better at managing your time equally (as much as possible) between players – creating circumstances for inter-player RP is one of the most effective time management techniques.

  • Roll-playing, or role-playing?

Problem: a player insists on making a roll for everything (“It’s a … pleasure to meet you!”), which not only slows down the game, but many times doesn’t make any sense. This can often be frustratingly combined with rules-lawyering and playing oneself and at it’s worst can lead to min/maxing in order to ensure the best rolls.

Solution: as a GM, I’ve taken away a player’s dice and even his character sheet to prevent roll-playing. As a player, I’ve tried to lead by example – I keep my character sheet upside down as a rule, and roll only when the GM tells me to.

Got any more annoyances? I know there are lots I didn’t cover (like Munchkin, Hack and Slash, etc.) mostly because I felt like they were well-established (they have Wikipedia entries!).

Edit: apologies for the typo – I got roll and role mixed up at a key point. D’oh!