Solo: The Hero’s Journey (Part 3)

After generating all the names for the main people in Toby’s life, I came up with a bunch of background – all of this just came to me as I typed it into an IM to Matt. I think having the location and other basics already decided made all this detail very easy to come up with.

[aidan] I’ve decided my character grew up in Grand Rapids.
[aidan] So he’s a Michigan boy.
[aidan] but the other side of Michigan.
[aidan] And that’s where his folks still live.
[aidan] His sister lives in Chicago, and works in advertising.
[aidan] Toby works in the bookstore because he can have flexible enough hours to pick up his daughter after school, although he has to usually do one day in a weekend, which he hates.
[aidan] Toby and Joanna have been married 8 years, and have a relatively affordable mortgage on a 3-bed house in Ann Arbor.
[aidan] Toby drives an old blue Chevy Camaro that is half transport, half restoration project. In the winter, he drives an old Ford truck. He likes old cars. Joanna has a Prius.
[aidan] He is in reasonable shape – not superfit, but not overweight. Plays basketball once a week with the guys from work, and leads a fairly active life with his daugther: park trips, bike rides, etc.
[aidan] He has short dark curly hair with smatterings of grey, and is clean shaven.
[aidan] Joanna’s hair is medium brown and straight. She has green eyes, Toby’s are grey-blue.
[aidan] Katie looks like her mom 🙂
[aidan] He’s pretty smart, but his wife is smarter (and Katie’s smarter than both of them). He reads a lot, particularly history, politics, philosophy, American literature and the odd thriller.
[aidan] They both like to drink wine.
[aidan] They are both members of the Democrats, and the whole family will help out at political rallies, campaigns, etc.
[mj] Other important people. His boss. Other assistant managers?
[mj] lol, for later

[aidan] Heh, yeah. I’ll add more in.

Part of the reason we’re blogging all of this is to show how we are generating this character in a narrative way, how the story starts without any real role-playing, and to give everyone a feel for the main characters so that it becomes easy to follow along with the story once it starts.

I know Matt is busy working on story – I can see he has protected some pages on our internal wiki and filled them full of notes – so I expect once I’ve finished with rounding off this character, we’ll be underway.

Solo: What’s in a name?

I’ve seen a bunch of name generators, especially around generating random fantasy names, or names that look Tolkien-esque. However, this random name generator is for normal first and last names, as might be found in the USA. I can set an obscurity factor (from 1 to 100) and select a gender. It uses US census data as the source for the names.

The names

My character is going to be from the Midwest, so I want a reasonably common name – I’ve set the obscurity factor to 40 (to rule out names like Modesto and Britt). Here’s what I got:

  1. Toby Sandvik
  2. Darrin Ruta
  3. Dominick Purdon
  4. Emmett Krane
  5. Toby Rayne
  6. Cary Montpas
  7. Santos Gettle
  8. Winston Citrano
  9. Darnell Laskowitz
  10. Van Arnaud

I’ve opted for Toby Rayne. It’s nice and short and has a good ring to it, and I’ve been watching a lot of The West Wing lately. I also like the name Winston Citrano, so I’ll use that for his best buddy. I figure Toby’s middle name will be the same as his dad’s first name, so let’s find out who Dad is, using the name generator but ignoring the surname. I’ll run through Dad, Mom, Wife, Big Sister and Daughter:

  • Dad – Charles (Charlie)
  • Mom – Rebecca
  • Wife – Joanna
  • Sister – Erica
  • Daughter – Catherine (Katie)

Given the names that have come up, I’ve decided that Mom is part-Jewish, but that the family are loosely Christian (i.e. church at Christmas). I also decided that Dad ran his own auto repair shop.

The updated R-map now looks like this:

A Box brimming with Scary Things

Joshua Hoffine’s online portfolio is truly creepy. Take one part Little Fears, one part Monsters and Other Childish Things, add in a little Lovecraftian degeneration and a dose of John Carpenter and Clive Barker.

Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. Fills my head full of ideas and sends me scrabbling to the local game store to see when they will have ‘Monsters’ in.

Solo: The Hero’s Journey (Part 2)

mj: I do wonder how superheroes pay their way
aidan: Ever see ‘Dead Like Me’ ?
mj: one or two eps
aidan:They addressed that a bit.
mj: didn’t they all have to have full time jobs?
aidan: Pretty much 🙂
mj: See, that would suck…
aidan: shrug
aidan: But it’s realistic
aidan: In my character’s case, his wife probably earns a substantially larger wage.
mj: We know our Solo works at Borders. But wife is ‘generic lecturer’
aidan: Yes.
aidan: Let me pick a subject.
mj: I reckon we should attach the R-map as a graffle on the page as well. Thought is that when we add new material we can update. I’m going to want to add in stuff is all.
aidan: Yes.
aidan: Economics.
aidan: She’s not tenured.
aidan: His daughter is in Kindergarten.
mj: What ages are you?
aidan: He’s 35, she’s 34, daughter is 5.
mj: what else do we need to cover? Siblings?? Living family? Best friend?
aidan: Yep. He has an older sister. Parents are both still alive.
aidan: Friends: he has a good relationship with the other staff at the store, but not much beyond normal colleagueship. His best friend moved to Los Angeles after college, to practice law. They were both law students. My character didn’t want to be a lawyer after going through law school. He got involved in the 1994 congressional elections toward the end of college. Which was how he met his wife.

Next, we give them all names…

225 days

SI 1995/3297, also known as “The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995”, this UK law came into effect on January 1st 1996. At its most basic, it extended the copyright for any written work from 50 years after the author’s death, to 70 years. Any work which had already become public domain prior to 1st January 1996 remained public domain.

H. G. Wells died on the 13th August, 1946. All of his works thus missed becoming public domain in the UK by 225 days, and now remain copyright to his estate until 2016. Bizarrely, his works are public domain in the USA.

We’re currently investigating whether it is still feasible to publish War of the Worlds: Earth after learning of this curious quirk of legality.

Solo: The Hero’s Journey (Part 1)

[09:15:14] So, have you thought about where you want to set Solo?
[09:16:11] Nope. ? A lot of that is up to you. Want to be a yank?
[09:18:07] It makes things easier to visualise in some regards, because we’re so brainwashed by Hollywood. However, it’s also very clichéd as a result. I’ve no desire to roleplay someone from N.I. though.
[09:22:50] I’ve zero desire to set a game here. For me it would be started either in some city in the US or a major city in the UK
[09:27:03] *nod* Let’s go with the US. It’s easier for other people to read too.
[09:29:01] which city rings and sings for you?
[09:34:13] One with a bit of character. Pick from Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle.
[09:36:04] Instinct says to pick Philadelphia but let’s go with Ann Arbor
[09:36:27] OK 🙂
[09:45:34] I can be from Michigan.

[09:48:44] you can be whatever you want to be
[09:54:52] Aye, but that’s a good starting point.
[09:55:26] Somewhere in Middle America works for me. I’m just reading the Wikipedia article.
[09:57:11] I looked at Ann Arbor as a possible living place, during one of my many interviews last year.
[09:59:24] 114K people. So not far from the size of Lisburn.
[10:00:37] Right. But close to Detroit. Population 6m.
[10:01:13] Though it has UMich so….BIG DIFFERENCE
[10:01:32] Yeah.
[10:01:57] Which is tough because I’m a Buckeye fan.

[10:01:51] What’s Buckeye?
[10:02:12] Ohio State
[10:04:33] So pick somewhere in Ohio?
[10:05:55] No, Ann Arbor is great.
[10:07:23] I’ve never been there 🙂
[10:07:45] Columbus works
[10:08:57] I love Columbus. It’s a beautiful city.
[10:09:16] But I’d rather it be Ann Arbor.
[10:10:11] Okay. As of December 2006, Democrats hold the mayorship and all council seats. It’s a hot-bed for left wing politics.
[10:17:28] pot is decriminalised…
[10:29:35] “Ann Arbor is also home to the headquarters of Google’s AdWords program” Borders Books *started* in Ann Arbor. Domino’s Pizza is HQ’d there too.
[10:30:05] OK, cool.
[10:30:15] I’ve got stuff to think about now.
[10:48:29] OK, I have a character concept.
[10:48:37] Something near and dear to my heart 🙂
[10:49:19] He’s one of the assistant managers at the Ann Arbor Border’s branch.
[10:49:34] Mid-30s, married, 1 child.
[10:49:59] Child is 5, and his wife works as a lecturer at UMich.

[13:20:21] Wikipedia says: “With tongue-in-cheek reference to the city’s liberal political leanings, some occasionally refer to Ann Arbor as The People’s Republic of Ann Arbor or 25 square miles surrounded by reality,”
[13:24:36] Yeah, I had in mind someone who was reasonably politically active.
[13:25:07] He’s not from Ann Arbor originally, but his wife works at the university, which is why he stayed.

First iteration of Hero’s R-map


I’ve only run Solo-play (one player, one GM) once. It was 23 years ago, I hadn’t been gaming long and this was my first attempt at GMing. I’d bought the Games Workshop boxed edition of Middle Earth Role Play (MERP) and then tried to run it without really paying much attention to the rules. What I ‘ran’ didn’t last long and also bore little resemblance to the MERP rulesystem as I recall. It was the first and it was also the last time I ran a solo game.

The problems I have considered with Solo games is that, much like my liking for computer games, the fascination is all about the interactions with others. I like video-game racing or combat with friends and strangers, I like roleplaying with other humans too. This is why the Fighting Fantasy books didn’t hold my interest much and though I admired the technical excellence of NeverWinter Nights, I never could be bothered doing it all by myself. Online MUSH games resolved some of this because it was a pure role-playing experience, involved a lot of imagination (it’s text-based so, much like a novel, most of the imagery comes from your own imagination.) With Solo play, you’ve only got one person to deal with, one person to bounce ideas off and as a result the interactivity is limited. Plus, if one person fails to show, your entire game is SOL.

One of the advantages of a Solo game is that you only need to schedule with one person (which is only marginally harder than scheduling only for yourself). Scheduling with four other people can be a real pain (especially now we are adults with wives*, family** and social lives***).

So, endeavouring to start a Solo game with Aidan (who inconsiderately can’t stay in one country for any length of time) seems like a good idea for me (and him) to get the gaming fix. The game we’re choosing is Wild Talents. And the premise is simple, it’s the real world, but now, at game start, there is a single superhero (the player). The Powers are going to be rolled randomly but it’s up to Aidan to provide the background and personality for the character. The campaign, fittingly, will be called Solo – respresenting a solo player and a solo superbeing.

*yes, this tells you that we geeks have something that interests a woman (and also that my gaming group are all male)
**this tells you that we geeks, however awkward, have had sex. Yes, hard to believe.
***again, breaking the stereotype, we find it hard to find time to game because we’re busy with our social lives.

The Philosophy of the Superhero

“There are men, wrote Aristotle, so godlike, so exceptional, that they naturally, by right of their extraordinary gifts, transcend all moral judgment or constitutional control: ‘There is no law which embraces men of that caliber: they are themselves law.'”Superhero, Wikipedia

“A temperamental consciousness of material force brought Hugo Danner into being. The frustration of my own muscles by things, and the alarming superiority of machinery started the notion of a man who would be invincible. I gave him a name and planned random deeds for him. I let him tear down Brooklyn Bridge and lift a locomotive. Then I began to speculate about his future and it seemed to me that a human being thus equipped would be foredoomed to vulgar fame or to a life of fruitless destruction. He would share the isolation of geniuses and with them would learn the inflexibility of man’s slow evolution. To that extent Hugo became symbolic and Gladiator a satire. The rest was adventure and perhaps more of the book derives from the unliterary excitement of imagining such a life than from a studious juxtaposition of incidents to a theme” – Philip Wylie


This post surprised me

But I think I’d have a real ethical problem role-playing in a world that was Christian-realist. – some dude on RPGnet

There are reasons why I find this odd.

Most gamers will play in a setting where some sort of religion is real. Think about it, this covers any fantasy setting which refers to gods from which player characters can draw magical power or where faith in a god has a direct effect (I’m thinking D&D, Runequest and Ars Magica here)

Ars Magica is certainly as “Christian-realist” as Testament. As are most of the World of Darkness settings.

As someone who would self-describe to humanism (note the lower case ‘h’), I don’t believe in any religions per se because I don’t believe in supernatural mumbo-jumbo that can’t be measured or experienced by me. I’m willing to subscribe to the doctrine of faith in science because a significant amount of science has been demonstrated to me first hand, I’ve practiced it’s lore and, perhaps the best reason of all, it is peer-reviewed.

Why would someone have problems with playing in a world that was Christian-realist?

Well, it has to be some deep seated bigotry there. Why else would someone have that reaction? Did someone persecute him? Or did he just look at the atrocities performed worldwide for the last two thousand years in the name of Christianity?

At it’s fundaments, Christianity isn’t a bad idea. It’s essentially ‘love god, and love other people’. It’s a social religion in that aspect. But like all good ideas, humans manage to fuck them up.

Testament, Creed and Rapture are all about how the GOOD people are gone. These are the people who lived their lives according to the tenets of ‘love god and love other people’. Chance are, these are not your common-or-garden Christians that you’ve come to know and resent. They’re not going to be holier than thou. They’re not going to be the sort who walk past a homeless person without giving up their coat or whatever. So in essence, the people who behave badly to others, Christian or not, are still on Earth.

It’s not a game about religion. It’s not a game saying that Christianity is right. It’s about saying that something has happened to the world and the truly good people have been taken from it (by God or aliens or whatever, it doesn’t matter). And it’s just the rest of us who are left behind. Someone in the thread mentioned a Left Behind RPG. I don’t really know what that is.

Superheroes can be dicks

Forget Iron Man.

PJ pointed me at the new Hancock trailer.
It’s true, Hancock has gone from being a “Wild Wild West” kind of camp nonsense movie to a movie I’d really like to see and a game I’d like to run. That said, Iron Man, much more than the Fantastic Four or Spider Man has always been a bit of a dick when he was Tony Stark – and I loved reading his stories for it.

(He also links to Superdickery)

Superheroes are often dicks.

In the first Watchtower game, there were really three ‘dick’ moments. None of these were bad on the part of the player and they made for some excellent role-playing moments but they represented times when the superhero did things that were unexpected.

  • Gavin’s first character, Atomic III, was a non-powered descendant of a dynasty of superheroes. He worked hard, he built himself some superpower-providing devices and he started doing what superheroes do – prowling around trying to find people to pummel. In the end this played out very well as he went a little power mad, fueled by his ‘power inadequacy’ where, even though he was the most powerful of the heroes due to his devices, it wasn’t enough. He ended up becoming a villain and threw a train at the player characters (one of whom were superstrong or supertough). Then he killed their healer. Ouch. Gavin has an amazing sense of comedy for these kinds of things.
  • Gavin’s second character, Wraith, was a cross between Batman and Hawkeye (but ten times cooler than Hawkeye). His actual power was the ability to be invisible and undetectable. He could sneak into places, collect evidence that was inadmissible in court and then when the criminal was acquitted, despite being guilty, Wraith would follow him home and thrash him into unconsciousness. On one absolute gem of a game, Wraith sneaked into a woman’s house (he suspected she was the supervillainess Malice) and then when nothing untoward happened (she got home, put away her groceries and sat down to watch TV), rather than sneaking out, he just turned off his power in the middle of her living room. He appeared, she freaked out and he admitted he was her creepy stalker. Turns out she was actually Malice. Go figure.
  • John Dean’s character, Ebony, discovered that his teleport skill also worked for time travel. Note to other GMs: I was a lot younger and lot stupider and had never really given unlimited time travel to players before. The ‘dick’ moments came when the player characters, after traveling into the past and modifying the future just….couldn’t….stop…..going….back to tweak things to their preference. Jade Dragon lost his restaurant, then got it back. Wraith discovered he was dating and co-habiting with Malice but had no memory of their many-month relationship. I think they all deserved to be ‘dicks’ but the biggest dick of the lot was the GM. Oops.

In the more recent WatchTower game, they all had their fair share of dickery though Paul’s character, Balance (the priest with uncanny matter shaping abilities) probably had more moments which, though caused for the most part by the possession and emotion control powers of the villain, were roleplayed brilliantly. Like when he completely blasted the whole team and caused their flesh to slough off. That was beautiful. Or when he sealed mind-controlled proto vampires in an underground tunnel (rather than seeing if they could be cured). He was decisive, let’s be honest.

I like flawed characters, especially in superhero games because they can be flawed in much more effective ways. If you’re a dick in a Zombi game, then no-one cares because you could just be left outside at some point and that would really ruin your picnic. If you’re a dick in The 23rd Letter, again, there’s a damage limitation as even psychics don’t get an easy break. It ain’t all fun being an Esper.

But in a Superhero game, you’re often the possessor of a unique ability (at least within your team) and that means you’ve pretty special. When you’re pissed off and do something about it, people notice.

We (Aidan and I) going to try playing a Superhero game online in the next couple of weeks. One player, one GM (for a while at any rate). I’ve asked Aidan to think of a character and some of the things he wants to do, or components of the world we will be playing in. I’d have asked him to do it in Wild Talents colour codes but, frankly, I’m not very keen on them and also he doesn’t have the book so it would be impenetrable to him. (It does make me want to create a ‘world builder’ for superhero games. I have it in my head how to do it (and it could be done in software too – a simple web form, oh yeah!))

I wonder about the playability of a world where there is one superbeing. And he’s the player character. Who are you foes? Do we spend more time looking at interpersonals? Do we add ‘reality’ while accepting that there is one guy in the world who can chew through steel? How does he live? How does he pay his way? Handouts?

I don’t know what Aidan will bring to the table but I’m excited about the opportunity to play a bit more.

Creed/Testament/Rapture – queries and comments

It’s always nice to get some kudos from people you respect and Balbinus on has come through again with Creed/Testament/Rapture – queries and comments.

He has a few comments, mostly clarifications and does make me realise that the character sheet I provided for Creed was entirely inadequate. Or, if I meant something else I should have noted it by pre-filling in one of the sheets.

It puts me in the mood to work on something – like tidying up Creed and maybe even finishing the text for Rapture. I’ve already got so much on my plate (getting a new job, house stuff, kids, never mind working on War of the Worlds) that it should be the last thing on my mind. Ahem.

It was also cross-posted to TheRPGSite. I reckon I should hire Balbinus as my publicist.

WotW: Earth – Vox Populi

“Have you seen my Jim? Have you seen him? My son? About four feet tall, blond hair, covered in freckles? … what about you, sir? Have you seen my Jim? He’s about four feet tall–“

– worried mother, Ealing, Day 1 after the end of the invasion

“We opened fire with the mortars, next. I tell ya there was nothing like that feeling when we first got one of ’em. After that bleedin’ Heat Ray had wiped out ‘alf the squadron, including Sergeant ‘arkins, remember ‘im? Sometimes I wish those Invaders ‘adn’t all been killed by the measles, or whatever it was. That way, we’d get to kill ’em proper.”

– Corporal James Walker, East Surrey Regiment, Day 10

“The wing itself is curved like a teardrop, causing the air to move over the top of it. The air below the wing is thus at a lower pressure than the air above, causing lift. It is brilliant in its simplicity, and eminently reproducible.”

– Hiram James Maxim, addressing the Royal Society, Week 3

“Of course I’m sure. I ‘ad it from Bert Tate’s sister, y’know the one with the big ears, who ‘ad it from her brovver-in-law. ‘E’s a sergeant in the Buffs and ‘e saw one of the Fightin’ Machines go down into the water near Margate. There’s been nothin’ about anythin’ being recovered in Margate. I reckon we could make a bloomin’ fortune.”

– overheard in a pub near Canterbury, Week 5

“If you thought Black Strawberries were strange, you should see the Black Barley that’s growing round our way. Not sure I’d drink the Black Beer that might come from it.”

– farm hand, Sussex, Week 37

WotW: Earth – The Death Of The Martians

“My knowledge of comparative physiology is confined to a book or two, but it seems to me that Carver’s suggestions as to the reason of the rapid death of the Martians is so probable as to be regarded almost as a proven conclusion.

At any rate, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by no means a proven conclusion.”

It is my firm belief, in the face of the evidence presented, that a Martian could survive on Earth, in our air, indefinitely. In our post-mortem examinations of the Martian carcasses, we discovered three facts.

  1. The Martians possess blood, as we men do, and utilise the molecule Haemoglobin for transport of essential gases around the body for they too metabolise oxygen gas in order to generate energy for movement and thought.
  2. The only bacteria present in their systems were similar to those present in the normal human flora and fauna. There were no signs of abnormal tissue necrosis.
  3. The Martians studied suffered from intravascular coagulation following their injecting of Human blood. This would have caused them severe pain and eventually proved fatal.

It is therefore my belief that the Martians lacked foresight into their food supply upon Earth. It is entirely possible that with appropriate treatment, perhaps rivalling Landsteiner’s seminal work on blood typing and coagulants, the Martians may be able to safely inject Human blood. It is not known whether animal blood will have the same effect as we have no test subjects.

The urgency remains that in the event of a second attack, if the Martians bring blood purification devices or even more of their common biped food supply that we will not escape so easily.

WotW: Earth – Weapons of War

“Neither is the composition of the Black Smoke known, which the Martians used with such deadly effect, and the generator of the Heat-Rays remains a puzzle. The terrible disasters at the Ealing and South Kensington laboratories have disinclined analysts for further investigations upon the latter. Spectrum analysis of the black powder points unmistakably to the presence of an unknown element…”

The disaster at Ealing laboratories was the first attempted removal of the Heat Ray device from a Fighting Machine. What is known is that, despite the dormancy of the machine, the power generator was still active and caused an explosion which claimed the lives of the entire scientific team.

The second disaster, at South Kensington, involved the death of only one technician but caused many thousands of pounds worth of damage. The power generator device and heat ray had been decoupled from a fighting machine but upon activation it was found that there are sensitive control mechanisms within the cowl of the machine. As many of the components communicated with the power generator using unknown wireless means, this was an understandable error.

For the next few months, all investigations of the Heat Ray have been within the confines of intact Fighting Machines. Thankfully, there were still several of them with which the military scientists can work. Even with this limitation, there were amazing breakthroughs in the areas of adaptive hydraulics and inorganic ‘muscular’ machines for lifting and loading.

In an unparalleled level of co-operation, the Government permitted the Americans to send some of their top men to view the Martian devices. These scientists worked with the Naval Science Liaison, Harry Matthews, and successfully decoupled the Heat Ray from the generator. One of the scientists involved, Nikola Tesla, would later ‘defect’ to the United Kingdom in order to spend more time with the technology, a move which caused strained relations with the Americans for several years. Treaties of mutual co-operation and sharing of technology were only a partial solution and the scientists were forever escorted by bodyguards due to the danger of espionage.

Tesla and Matthews quickly became the acknowledged worldwide experts on the process of understanding and reproducing Martian technology.

WotW: Earth – The Flying Machine

“The sun sank into grey clouds, the sky flushed and darkened, the evening star trembled into sight. It was deep twilight when the captain cried out and pointed. My brother strained his eyes. Something rushed up into the sky out of the greyness–rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, and vanished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.” – Chapter Seventeen: The Thunder Child

The atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than on Earth and despite the lower gravity, it would be almost impossible to engineer a glider to achieve aerial transport on Mars. It is a testament to the cerebral abilities of the Martians that they were able to engineer and build a flying machine in a matter of weeks following invasion. While our best minds on Earth, with years of experience manage to glide awkwardly, these invaders soared!

The Flying Machine was salvaged from the pit and moved to a British Army training ground for study. While scientists and engineers from all around the world clamoured for access to Martian technology, the Army sought out Hiram Stevens Maxim, an American-born inventor who had invented the Maxim machine gun and had spent over a decade working on winged flying machines up at West Norwood. Maxim was a portly gentleman with a bushy white beard and unkempt hair. He could often be seen pacing up and down past the massive sheds which housed the Martian machine and his many decidedly-earthbound prototypes, bawling loudly at his assistants. He would work twenty-hour days and expect the same of his staff: as well as insane, the man was profoundly deaf! He proposed to meld the design of the Martian machine with human engineering principles – adopting the work of Elling and Barber in the production of a reliable turbine engine.

It took months for Maxim to produce a flying machine which could be operated by a human. But then, what a sight!

WotW: Earth – 21 Days of Invasion

The Narrator of the book was close to one of the arrival sites but this was not necessarily the most active site. He also spent more than two weeks (or a three week invasion) hiding in a collapsed house. He was not the first to discover the dead Martians at the end of the invasion and perhaps was even one of the last. We have to speculate what else happened during the time he was hiding and we have only the barest hints from the book

Week 1
This period is overshadowed by killing and destruction as the Martians make their presence known and start to cow the human populace and deter any efforts of the Military to gain any meaningful intelligence on their movements. The Martians spend this time constructing their machines to defend themselves and then set about building their towers and handling machines. The Humans, when they are roused from their overconfidence in the stability of their way of life are immediately routed and the roads fill with refugees. Some individuals attempt to hide among the ruins. Others still try to fight, joining the hundreds who have become an informal militia, both under-equipped and relatively low of morale considering the onslaught of crushing defeats. Armed with only relatively static and heavy guns, the defenders have to face the physical might of the Fighting Machines as well as the dreadful gaze of the Heat Ray and worse, the deadly caress of the Black Smoke.

Week 2
The Martians start to establish themselves and build their main factories. They shift their production facilities at the cylinders to constructing Handling Machines which process their raw materials as well as herd their ‘food’. They have built great cages into which the Fighting Machines deliver hundreds of frightened humans daily. The Handling Machines also start to collect and manufacture food for their human herds, raiding homes and shops at first and then upon analysis, producing it from the earth itself. These captive humans are under constant threat of death but after the first few days of captivity, their cries and wails die down as they become resigned to their fate. For those who misbehave, food and water are withheld from an entire group and that quickly becomes the leveller. Most relevantly, the Martians have exhausted all other food sources and start to feed upon their herds.

Week 3
The Martians are already deep in decline and the Red Weed itself seems to be suffering from a similar malady. Though the Martians never managed to adapt to our gravity, it is noted that they have become excessively lethargic, even their Handling and Fighting machine seem to spend long periods resembling statues. And in some cases, their installations are completely abandoned. Cage farms quickly become the domains of petty warlords, those who are strong and charismatic enough to mobilise a breakout and take control. At the same time, the remnants of a once-proud military nation start to creep back to their cities and resume their lives to find domains carved out of neighbourhoods, the destruction of homes and landmarks, the looting of food and valuables. There is also the opportunity cost as the British Empire is upon it’s knees at home and lifting it’s head once more just as news of it’s fall was reaching the colonies.

Social Class in WotW:Earth

War of the Worlds: Earth is set at the dawn of the 20th Century. You have the legacy of Victoriana, the sunset of the British Empire and the rise of other nations including the independence of former colonies. Even back then, state education was available to all, the British Empire (even as late as 1921) held sway over nearly half a billion people and covered about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area. Britain became a global policeman (the origin of Pax Britannica) and due to it’s prominence in world affairs became increasingly influential even in economies where they held no sway. Remnants of their influence are felt worldwide in legal systems, economics, the military, educational reforms, sports and most obviously in language.

We have to remember, however, that War of the Worlds: Earth paints a post-apocalyptic picture of Britain. The Government had, for the most part, fallen during the invasion which lasted merely three weeks. Refugees streaming out of the flaming cities would be a melange of social classes with Lord and Lady mixing up with paupers and cadgers. The rigid barriers of society were shattered and with everyone seen in the same light, broken spirited and soiled from their rout from home, it was not possible to tell apart Prince from pauper.

Afterwards, rebuilding society would have been incredibly difficult with thousands dead or missing and even those who returned to their homes would not always be the same. What right of ascendancy did the nobility possess when all were equalised by the invaders? More than anything, the new society of the 20th Century must embrace the potential for revolution, for regime change.

Subversion for Writers.

TUAW has a link about Subversion for Writers.

Subversion is a popular open source version control system. “It allows you to work collaboratively with folks on the same files (in most cases code) without fear of overwriting the work of others. Subversion tracks all the changes made to those files, and who did them, and allows you to rollback changes or branch off into different directions with having to worry about mucking up the entire project.”

The instructions are a little hairy if you’re not used to the Terminal but you can always get someone to help you set it up and host it for you.

(Now, wouldn’t it be neat if you could find a collaborative text editor (like SubEthaEdit) which also had automagical Subversion built in?)

Collaboration, writing and vision

This weekend I was busy with family duties but still managed to do a bit of work on WoTW:Earth. Most notably taking the draft ideas Aidan sent through and turning them into mechanics and flavour.

Collaboration is hard.

I’m very conscious that I’m an ignorant so-and-so with strong opinions and a jeadstrong way of doing things. One sure-fire way to motivate me into completing something is to provide me with something that is not the way I’d do it. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong or that my way is actually better, but just the fact that it’s different is enough for me to work on something to illustrate my way.

Am I bloody minded enough to expect mine will be used? I’d like to think not but I think that even after all these years, I find it hard to work with others. Case in point: the lifepath systems we’re building for WotW: Earth can be done in a number of ways. I received Aidan’s notes and I wrote mine out and sent them on and I did say and will continue to say that it’s a work in progress. I don’t know, however, whether my personality (my bloodymindedness) can be put down by soliciting comment and inviting co-work. I’d have to get Aidan to be honest here about whether I am an ogre to work with.

Writing is hard

Harking back to the post on Quality of Play that I made the other day – I need to be very enthused by a game before I’d write for it (which is why I guess I don’t get paid to write – though I’ve never solicited paid writing work nor been asked). When enthused (the Solo Play part), I tend to be quite prolific and productive with writing which is why Crucible Design only published three games and they were the games that I conceived and wrote.

The irony of course is that my most productive times were when I was busy. I worked a 9-5, had a girlfriend, had a weekly game (or two) and would often have to do additional work at the weekends for my job. But I managed to hammer out The 23rd Letter. The next most productive person was Colin who had the job, the girlfriend, the hobbies and managed to do some excellent work on the Projects for The 23rd Letter. Everyone else was either in full time education (and no, it is not more work) or unemployed and getting writing out of them was impossible.

Vision is easy

What it tells me is that it’s easy to have a vision about something. It’s easy to think up a soundbite of a concept and pitch it at a small group of friends. You can wow them with some names you thought up, maybe even some basic sketches that are a subsititute for ‘real work’. The ‘Ideas’ page for LateGaming is incredibly long and I know that perhaps only 10% of them will ever have any real work done on them (and yeah, you can ask and no, they’re not all my ideas).

What this means is that in over five years of ‘writing’, we produced three books and they were the brainchild of (and written by) one person. We had plans for other books and games but none of them were ever completed and few of them got anywhere beyond the most basic concepts. Fancy playing a pirates game? We intended to write one (about 5 years before 7th Sea came out). Cowboys? Check. Corporate Superspies? Check. Commercially-minded Superheroes? Check. But I think that natural selection weeded out the weaker ideas.

The conclusion to this is going to be ‘What about Qabal?’

What about Qabal

It’s just a little too big for me and I need to get back into the flow of writing, raise the bar in terms of production values for the next books I bring out and re-learn a lot of terms. I need to ask friends who do design work for a living to help me with the look of the books and help me visualise the whole process. And all of this before I put any more pen to paper.

At the moment, I have smaller fish to fry.

What’s He Building In There?

Title taken from the Tom Waits track.

This blossomed into a scenario where the PCs were sent to investigate a murder. A newcomer to a quiet US suburb was found beaten to death in his home. The house is trashed. And no-one else in the suburb heard or saw anything…

Anyone else have done something similar? Created a scenario out of a song? (And let’s face it. this song is pretty much the entire inspiration for Desperate Housewives. Imagine the pitch – “It’s like that Tom Waits track….but with boobs!”


I spent a couple of hours in the attic of my parent’s house excavating some old books. I have a notion to sell some of them considering that I’ve not looked at them in a decade but as I continued to browse I don’t think I could find one that I would seriously get rid of. Games like “Chivalry and Sorcery” and “Bushido”. I know the last time I looked at this pile was around 1995 because the most recent game in the attic was Nightspawn by Palladium which was published in 1995. I moved out in 1996 and the books were put into storage (and to this day I’ve still not read Nightspawn).

More importantly were the other things I found. Games and stories I wrote nearly a decade before I put pen to paper for The 23rd Letter. Pictures I drew of “SuperTeams” from my superhero games. Maybe a photo or two of the notebooks I would bring with me to school (we’re talking about the 80s here) and spend my lunchtimes and free study classes writing game materials and stories in. All personal to me.

I’m going to bore the shit out of some of you by reproducing some of them here in a new category called “Archaeology” so you can avoid them if you like.

Quality of Play theory

Levi Kornelson came up with this theory and posted it on TheRPGSite:

  1. The text inspires “solo play”.
  2. Personal play creates group play.
  3. Group play feeds back into personal play and pushes more group play.

The punch-line is:

The quality of solo play often matters more
to actually getting a game
than the quality of group play.

Effectively your enthusiasm for a game when reading it, or when generating characters or when making plots is directly proportional to the pleasure you will have when playing it with others and has a much greater effect than the interactive play.

I’d have to agree. The games I have run for others I enjoyed thoroughly.

Is your enjoyment of the game influenced by the ‘solo play’ of others within the game? Of course it is. Other who do not enjoy the game will make their negative feelings plain and, correspondingly, the actions of the solo individual within the group dynamic have a much greater effect.

They weren’t kidding when they said that gaming was a social hobby (and not an anti-social one). It absolutely depends on the collaboration of individuals to make the best benefit for everyone.

WotW: Earth – Art

Last night I commissioned two art pieces from Storn Cook for the upcoming War of the Worlds book. I really like Storn’s art (massive thread on here) and he was very nice when I enquired about the commission and explained what I wanted, even going so far as to suggest additional things.

The ‘look’ of the Martian fighting machine is very important. We’ve seen the interpretations from the 1953 Paramount film and the 2005 Spielberg film as well as the very recognisable version from the front cover of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds ‘opera’. We need to take a different direction to all of these and start from first principles. We need something that looks in place in the start of the 20th Century but also Storn suggested we do an updated model which I find encouraging. I am now beside myself with impatience at what the result will be.

Some of the interior art from editions of the novel are striking. The theme of it being like a round hut on legs is peculiar as my impressions from reading is that the machines appear ‘cowled’. More on this later.

Things are moving along and we have a great vision for the book.

(Minor edit – fixed the link)
(Minor edit 2 – added in the link)

One for the millennialists…

Mike Cane 2008 reports that NASA got it wrong and an asteroid that they reported to have a 1 in 45000 chance of hitting Earth actually has a 1 in 450 chance of hitting Earth. It took a 13 year old German schoolboy to validate the figures after NASA experts forgot to take into account the cloud of satellites which could cause the asteroid, called Apophis, to veer into Earth.

The date this is meant to happen is 2029. Now…here’s the math. In school, we had a class called Religious Education and one of the nuns who taught, Sister Mary-Jo, was one of the most progressive ‘persons of Religion’ I have ever met. She explained that the Bible was literal and also interpreted. That it was a historical document but not perhaps in the way it should be interpreted.

She believed that Jesus was real and God was real, that Jesus was born in some time around 3-6 BC and that he died on a cross, aged 33 and ascended to heaven.

If Apophis does hit Earth and cause the “End of Days”, in 2029, then it proves one thing. Chris De Burgh may have been right.

“And just before dawn at the paling of the sky,
The stranger returned and said “Now I must fly,
When two thousand years of your time has gone by,
This song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry…””

4 BC + 33 years + 2000 years = 2029 (or so, I’m not really clear on how to handle year 0)

I don’t know what’s more upsetting. That the world might end or that the Lord chose Chris de Burgh to be his prophet?

Of course, as a result I’ll have to tie this into my Prospero mini-setting…

[This is a hoax BTW. See NASA statement. But of course, to avoid world panic, they would say that…]

23rd Letter: Projects Campaigns

A Project-based campaign is as flexible as the players want. The G.M. may choose themes as he or she wants. PCs working for a Project are relieved of many of the worries of Network members or other independent espers. Usually they are not on the run, living out of safehouses or mobile homes, lack of money should be less of a problem and equipment will be provided. Of course a devious G.M. may run a campaign where the PCs are on the streets and don’t know that they are really working for a Project…

A Project employee will draw a salary, probably live in a home of some comfort and work alongside a regular team of professionals from a government building. With the G.M’s discretion they may have access to additional resources as needed. Why they do this is up to the player and G.M. to decide. A PC may be a patriot proudly serving his nation as best as he can or a virtual prisoner, coerced into the dirty business by the regime and looking for the chance to escape. Most PCs will probably fall between these extremes. PCs which are outspokenly rebellious or disloyal may be subject to sanction or surveillance by their Project superiors.

Adventures for Project PCs may be gung-ho romps with lots of guns, action and clear villains. In this case the PCs are heroes and will probably believe themselves to be in the right. On the other hand the adventures may involve simply surviving in a grim bureaucratic nightmare where every decision will hurt someone. Yet another option is for the PC’s team to be investigators of paranormal events. There is no correct style of campaign, but it is recommended that G.Ms occasionally surprise the players by running a different type of adventure from usual. This should both stretch the players (including the G.M.) and reduce the possibility of boredom setting in. Project adventures have based on movies as different as Predator and The Witches of Eastwick so GMs ought to be able to please any kind of player.

Projects Adventure Hooks

  • The government wants a powerful foreigner dead. He may be a drug baron, a terrorist leader or religious/political figure, but he is charismatic and has a large and devoted army of followers who are very anti-Western. If he dies an obviously unnatural death, he will be seen as a martyr by his enraged supporters, so the Project personnel assigned to this task must not simply shoot or blow him up. To discredit his memory, it is suggested that they made it seem he died accidentally while performing a sordid act. The mission may be carried out while the target is on a visit to the West or, better still, on his own territory, either way he will have many armed bodyguards.
  • It has been discovered that the Iraqi dictator is sponsoring his own Project (for games pre-2002, this works well). It is located in a heavily guarded complex outside Basra. The research centre is among flat farmland and has a company of 120 Republican Guards (with armoured vehicles and helicopters) assigned to protect it. A Project team must enter Iraq, travel to this place and covertly observe it to determine the Iraqis’ progress. They may discover that there are Nevada Project survivors from the 1991 helicopter held there. These people are helping the Iraqis, either willingly or under duress. What are the PCs going to do?
  • Satellite photos of a military factory in a foreign dictatorship suggest that a military aircraft of radical design is being built and tested there. Remote viewing by Project espers confirm this. The location is close to friendly territory so the PCs’ team are sent in to observe or sabotage the aircraft. But it is a trap. The aircraft is a non-flying mock-up, and a powerful esper (maybe a terata?) has planted illusions in the remote viewers’ minds to lure in subjects for experimentation. The PCs will be inserted by aircraft or submarine which will return to collect them some days later. A force of elite, but non-esper, troops (10 soldiers for every PC) will be waiting for them.
  • Reliable sources say that the Green Flag Commando terrorist group has obtained a 100 kilotonne nuclear device and is going to smuggle it into the US. The PCs will be assigned to a taskforce trying to prevent this. Other personnel on this task force will be from the FBI, CIA and another Project (the Western or Nevada). The CIA and FBI officers will either not take the PCs’ contributions seriously or resent their presence while the other Project’s people will be condescending. The bomb will be brought into New York harbour in the hold of an innocent looking Swedish freighter (most of the crew don’t know it’s there) on 30th June and detonated (by a fanatic terrorist on the ship) on 4th July. Can the PCs stop this? If they fail it may mean the death of millions of people, and the end of their own Project.
  • Police forces in California are seeking a serial killer who has murdered a young woman every month for nearly a year. The PCs’ Project has a precog who claims that the killer will be caught and found to be an esper with an interesting wild talent. Although it is outside the Project’s jurisdiction, their superiors send the PCs out to catch the killer and bring him back to their base for study (“After all, nobody will miss a creep like this”) . The Police and FBI are not informed about the PCs’ operation. The killer is Mario Xylander (see p51 and p57 of The 23rd Letter Rulebook) and is being protected by the Western Project. Xylander has had cosmetic surgery and no longer looks the same as when originally captured. Should a PC notice similarities between the present cases and Xylander’s original crimes, all records will indicate that Xylander is still incarcerated. Enquiries to the prison will alert the Western Project (but the PCs will not know this). Can the PCs capture Xylander without alerting the police or Western Project.? The GM might want to detail two of the FBI agents assigned to the case, the female is a hard nosed sceptic about the paranormal, however her spooky male partner whole-heartedly believes in psychic powers and secret government conspiracies.
  • An high-ranking official from a hostile nation has vital information, urgently needed by the government. He is completely loyal to his homeland, so will not willingly defect and kidnapping him is out of the question. In desperation, their country’s intelligence service turns to the players’ Project for help. The information is too extensive to be read by a psychic, but in their briefing the PCs will find their target has a weak spot, ripe for them to exploit. He may have a religious faith or other supernatural belief and be open to a psychically generated ‘miracle’, a beloved family member may be ill and could be cured by psychic healing or maybe just a threat of overwhelming power will work. The PCs must either bring about his (apparently) genuine defection or at least get him to give them the information. The PCs may have to travel undercover to the target’s country or he may be visiting the their own or an allied country.
  • The PCs’ team is to participate in a security exercise. They must either penetrate a high-security government installation and physically steal a particular file or guard the same file from a rival team, inside a seven day time limit. The building belongs to a ‘neutral’ agency (such as NASA or a police force). The PCs will be in competition with a team from another covert agency (for example the CIA, Delta Force or even the Nevada Project) who are to guard the file if the PCs are the thieves or take it if the PCs are looking after it. Either way there is to be no violence directed against the rival squad (or the workers in the installation), but the teams are free to use any dirty tricks they want. The winners will be heroes to their own organisation, and will be rewarded with improved status. If the PCs lose their superiors will make their lives very miserable.
  • At short notice the PCs are attached to the HooDoo Squad. The Project has received advance notice that a hitherto unknown, but powerful esper (abilities up to the G.M.) is to appear the following night on a live, prime time chat show. If the esper successfully demonstrates his or her powers on air it will be a disaster. The PCs are to sabotage the show or if that fails limit the damage. They may take any equipment they think they need, including doses of Psilence, and any of the HooDoo Squad. They will meet with several complications, the esper is somewhat paranoid and has several habits which make it difficult to dose him with Psilence (only eats or drinks foods he/she has prepared and brought with him/her, will not willingly take pills or injections no matter what the reason). Also if they do not want to take an NPC with them, the G.M. may want them to have to take Marcus Venture, and he will be obnoxious, lecherous and a pain in the neck.
  • The PCs are returning from a foreign mission and are tired and off-guard when the crowded commercial airliner they are travelling on is hijacked! The PCs do not have any weapons and the hijackers are armed and ruthless terrorists with impossible financial or political demands. The PCs will realise that the terrorists do not intend to let the hostages survive even if their demands are met. Can the PCs with their limited resources turn the tables on their captors? There are complications too, the airliner may land in a country where the PCs have enemies, or if it lands in a friendly country the authorities may launch a bungled rescue attempt, one of the hijackers may be an old enemy or even another esper. In the early stages of the adventure, the G.M. should confuse the players, is this something to do with the last mission or an unfortunate coincidence?
  • A country friendly to the PCs’ homeland is threatening to go to war with a neighbouring state. The allied nation’s President (or Prime Minister) is a charismatic fanatic, too macho to reduce the rising tension, and believes destiny is on his side. The war will be an international disaster, which the PCs’ government wants to avoid. The PCs’ team will be sent to this country under the cover of advisors to the President (who will trust them initially) and are tasked to avert conflict. They cannot assassinate the President as this is liable to trigger a war. The G.M. can throw in border skirmishes and assassination attempts as he sees fit.
  • An important Esper from the PC’s Project has successfully defected to a foreign rival Project. The PCs’ are sent abroad to recover her. This may not require drastic moves like kidnapping her, perhaps she regrets her flight and can be persuaded to come home.
  • The son of the President (Prime Minister/monarch/dictator) is lost in bad weather in a wilderness. A Project Esper has determined that he is alive but little more, and cannot pinpoint his location. The players must lead the search through difficult terrain, which will be arduous. Perhaps the young man’s disappearance was not an accident, in which case the PCs will find themselves in combat with armed kidnappers.
  • A vengeful father is searching for his lost child, an Esper forced to work for the PCs’ Project. The father is a former covert operative and is very clever and dangerous. The players must stop him somehow, the fact that their opponent is both sympathetic and in the right makes this difficult. Just to make things worse, the child may escape…
  • To draw media and public attention from a black operation by another agency, the PCs are to fake a series of non-psychic paranormal events on members of the public. For example they make set up mock UFO abductions, poltergeist activities or other Fortean events. The players are free to pick their victims, and should be encouraged to have fun. If the GM wants there may be a dark side, they may be so successful a victim may die of a heart attack during their manifestation or a really persistent media investigation may discover too much about their activities. The FBI operatives mentioned in Hook 5 may also become involved.
  • This is the reverse of Hook 14. The PCs are sent to investigate a sinister paranormal event which is sufficiently alarming to have attracted their Project’s attention. After a lengthy investigation they will discover that the phenomena is an elaborate hoax. The motive may be a prank, a stunt perpetrated by a local tourist commission to attract visitors, or by criminals to disguise their activities. It might be Old Mr Peterson the Janitor trying to hide his counterfeiting scheme by scaring away the yokels. He may get away with it too, if it isn’t for those meddling espers…
  • The PCs’ team is investigating a series of murders of agents from their national intelligence service or Project. When they make progress attempts will made on their lives by professional assassins. Should the PCs survive, they will discover a world-wide conspiracy by a secret organisation fronted by a wealthy and charismatic megalomaniac who enjoys caressing fluffy white cats. This person is near completion of a plan to undermine the international banking system, gain control of the world’s energy resources, provoke a major war or other drastic event. He operates from an elaborate hi-tech base with scores of armed guards, booby traps and technicians, and is also protected by a fanatically loyal bodyguard/chief henchman with a colourful physical or psychological abnormality. Depending on the PCs’ morality they may try to prevent their enemy achieving his goal or else offer to throw in their lot with him if this seems more promising.
  • On the PCs’ last mission they were careless and left enough evidence to incriminate themselves. As a result, a respected team of journalists is about to present a TV special which will embarrass the PCs and their Project. The PCs must stop this. Threats and actual violence may be counter productive, as the reporters are clever and have access to all manner of surveillance gear so the PCs may find themselves on tape. Possibly the best ideas are to undermine the programme’s credibility or buy them off by revealing a story of greater public interest. A juicy sex’n’drugs’n’politics scandal (real or fabricated) may do the trick.