Artistic Proofs

Thing I appreciate: Self-deprecating humour
Thing I don’t: Humour that deprecates others.

Self-deprecating humour is related to Ethos, one of the “artistic proofs” in rhetoric. Ethos is an appeal to the honesty, authority or qualifications of the individual. In humour this would be an attempt to identify with the audience by describing what a terrible state the comedian is in.

The other artistic proofs are Pathos (an appeal to sympathy or emotion or a need for justice) and Logos (appealing to the audience through facts and figures).

A compelling argument should touch on all three. To argue the point, you have to be clear that you are being an honest broker and there is no ulterior motive or that you are uniquely qualified to make the point – this is your Ethos. This will the lend authority to your Logos – the facts and figures which will help the audience make a decision based entirely on rationality. Lastly – Pathos – especially if the audience can relate to a miscarriage of justice or how life has been unfair to someone – will drive the point home and silence anyone. Taken in any order they work fine – appealing to those who need authority, those who need facts and figures and those who are controlled by their emotions.

e.g.

  • I’ve been working with these people for five years and I think this should be done for them.
  • Based on the costs, it’s extremely affordable at only a pound a week. That’s less than 15p a day.
  • They need this to live, it’ll keep a roof over their heads. Isn’t that a basic human right?

The arguments above can obviously be recycled. These could be applied to starving families in drought-plagued Ethiopia or the recent government bailout of our banks and financial institutions.

Apologies for the odd segway into artistic proofs but I had something to say and it seemed a little whiny without a little more meat.

SinglePlayer AI vs MultiPlayer

Scott Anguish writes about Left4Dead:

The other game I just tried out today was Left 4 Dead. This is one hardcore shooter that really ramps up the ‘fast zombie’ genre. Again, you come away feeling like you’ve been immersed in the game. I’m hoping the single player mode is long lasting (I hate playing online. I think in many cases it’s a cop-out for the developer to limit the AI that they have to write. …

I guess this is a worry – single player longevity.

For me, the Single Player Game is just a training mission for the online play/multiplayer modes. In the Single Player (as with Bots on your team in the multiplayer), you lose a little of the “stupid mistake” that makes the zombie genre so appealing. Like tonight – a reasonably seasoned group took 24 seconds to die (or so it seemed) because one guy went off by himself, got immobilised quickly and while the rest were coming for him, they got picked off by the admittedly well-timed attacks of the Infected team. Hint: you need all four people.

I enjoy the stupid mistakes that humans make. I laugh out loud when we make dumb mistakes. I howl in mock pain as my survivor is dragged by the Smoker’s tongue. And I laugh when my brother (@savage_mf) blows my Hunter to bits with two shotgun blasts! It’s just good fun.

I’ve been really enjoying Left4Dead. Scott now has me looking at Mirror’s Edge to see what all the fuss is about!

23rd Letter RPG

The time is now.

Psychics exist, not many, but enough – enough to worry those in power, and interest those who seek power. Governments and Corporations fight over them. The Network provides an imperfect refuge for those that escape the clutches of those who would abuse them or their powers.Thousands are maimed and killed each year by the Corporations and Governments. Some do this for power, some for defence, but they all do it, – for the next war will be fought with the mind – and the victor will control the destiny of the human race.

Stock currently 100+

Downloads:

Zombi RPG

the earth won’t hold the dead

What if the people who were dead got up one day?
What if they got up and started killing other people?
What if the people they killed just got back up and killed some more people?
What if it had already started?
What if that day was yesterday?

Download the book in PDF form here. This version does not include art.

We’ve put some Zombi Ts on CafePress.

Click on the image (or here) to go through to Store. We’ll be adding more Ts as time goes on.

The Great Game

Alternate Reality Games (or Layered Reality Games) are going to be big.

When someone mentions ARGs, I always think of Total Recall (the film) [thanks Eamon]. The protagonist takes a virtual holiday which interweaves the real world with a spy conspiracy in his head (or is it?). Everything in his life becomes involved in the game – a girl he picks from a menu becomes his lover, his wife (with whom he has difficulties) becomes a killer spy, his co-workers seem to be sleeper agents designed to keep him quiet and the whole movie is left for you to wonder is it real or has he been placed in a sleeper community after some deep cover espionage?

Deep Cover Espionage, of course, leads us on to The Prisoner. Progressive and not a little confusing, it’s propensity for involved games and the inability of the protagonist to leave the game does indeed suggest it’s an ARG gone bad. The game element can be seen every episode

Michael Douglas played “The Game” in this 1997 film where an ARG went wrong and involved all sorts of violence. I kept wondering during the movie whether or not the twist in the tail would be I expected. Would everything in the film just be part of the Game? Or did the Game start and his actions make it spiral out of control?

Hollywood loves disasters. Look at Jurassic Park. Never have I seen science maligned as much as in that movie. The same is true for ARGs. It’s a new idea so while they use ARGs in their marketing, they’re also happy to point out how these things can go wrong.

Why is there such a need to have ARGs go wrong? Is it because the idea of story involving us must mean action, death and violence at every turn? Why can’t the fun of the game just be in the game? Possibly because most games would involve messages on a phone or computer and wouldn’t really involve guns or sex – which, at the end of the day, seem to be what sells movies. And a little too much sex and violence in an ARG would probably get you in trouble with your partner.

Mission Impossible enjoyed the use of elaborate reality games when they would convince enemy agents they were in their home territory or being held far from home in order to confuse and disorientate them. Once the information had been gained, the elaborate hoax dissolved leaving the mark feeling very much in the dark.

Viral campaigns for movies such as Cloverfield and A.I. worked really well to weave a pattern around the events in the movies. This makes you wonder though – there’s obviously a class of writer that is now being created in the industry – someone who’s job it is to weave elaborate ARG plots which in itself is a very specialist skill. It would indeed be a challenge I would relish – a project for another day definitely.

Live Action Role Play (LARP) and Murder Mystery Parties represent a limited ARG. The environment you can move around is limited, the people you encounter will all be in on the game. There was an urban legend I was told about a LARP group that had hired a hotel ballroom and some extra rooms for a “Victoriana” game. During the evening, some guests from the hotel who were not involved in the game, wandered onto the “set”. Interacting with the Victoriana gamers had the guests convinced they had walked into another world. LARP isn’t all about foam boffer weapons and men with masks wandering around damp forests – it’s about playing a role in a game but using the whole body.

Treasure Hunt was a Channel 4 game show which ran for nearly a decade with the winning formula of clues, a studio research team, a helicopter and a pretty girl. If the contestants managed to guide the ‘runner’ to the treasure using the clues, then they would win a cash prize and all of this was against the clock.

This is related to Geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game where the participants use a GPS device (like a modern mobile phone) and search out hidden treasure, usually a logbook and toys or trinkets. According to wikipedia, over 800,000 geocaches, over 100 countries across seven continents are registered on various websites.

The Adventure Game was another ARG-related game show, aimed at children, from the BBC during the early-mid eighties. The story was that the contestants had travelled to the planet ‘Arg’ (was that prescient?) – the game seemed, from the viewer point of view, internally consistent and the contestants played along with the game format. The Vortex task at the end of every episode, also presented a unique perspective – rather than being a physical or mental task, it was a tactical task based on the presence of an invisible destructive force on the game grid – a force that could only be seen by the television viewers.

Knightmare came pretty much after the Adventure Game where a ‘blindfolded’ child was led around a maze by three friends and had to interact with various physical tasks and puzzles. The environment was a mix of physical sets and computer imagery (using Chromakey). Wikipedia states that Knightmare was conceived by taking the computer game “Atic Atac” from the ZX Spectrum and ‘revolutionising’ it using television. Somewhat ironic.

Flash Mobs would be another nod to Alternate Reality Games – when a mob of zombies descends on a mall or participants engage in a massive and worldwide pillow fight, there is a ‘game’ element that is being used. The activity is usually coordinated by the internet and can bring a lot of attention. The concept itself seems to have originated in a Larry Niven story “Flash Crowd” from 1973.

De Profundis is a final example of an Alternate Reality Game. It’s a story-telling game involving the posting of letters from participant to participant. De Profundis has also been played using email or blog posts across the internet. It ties literary story-telling to the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos – encouraging participants to describe their descent into madness and the occult in flowery prose fitting the style of the genre. Described as more of a psychodrama than a role-playing game and certainly having more in common with creative writing than table-top games:

In De Profundis we don’t declare to the Game-master that we are going to do a library search. We go to a real library ourselves to look for vague comments and hints which cause shivers of cosmic terror. We have all the books of all the libraries in the world to look through and fish for secrets and hidden, disguised truths.

So what?

ARG’s tie together several things. They bring the ability to source material from the Internet (giving a virtually unlimited amount of virtual scenery to the Game) and then link that to a location (hyperlocality) using a GPS and a time (temporality) in order to weave together puzzles. There’s also a virtually unlimited amount of interactivity. We have to answer questions like whether ‘participants’ are also ‘creators’ within the game. That’s something that really interests me with my background.

I have also been contributing to (viewing mostly) the 4IP social network (hosted on ning) called ’38 minutes’. In particular the area that interests me on 38minutes most is “Alternate Reality Gaming”. I’m sufficiently interested in ARGs that I
intend to start a Masters degree to study them. I just need to flesh out the concept and learn to program computers!

Over the next few blog posts I’ll examining the following steps.

Step Zero: The Concept
Step One: The Engine
Step Two: The Game Rules
Step Three: The Plot
Step Four: Profit!

It’s been slow here…

…and I apologise.

From June last year until July this year I was working in a very low creativity (but nicely paid) job which meant that from the very minute I left the office, I was bursting with creativity and had to get stuff written. In July, I left that job and started working as the Network Facilitator for The Digital Circle.

I speak to creative people every day. I’m on the road most of the day meeting and greeting. And when I got back from my honeymoon, I was brought into the fold of possibly the greatest thing to happen to digital media this century which is only a small amount of hyperbole. So, the situation has changed considerably.

That said, I have felt the impact of this lack of personal creativity and, lacking a suitable medium during the day, I turn again to LateGaming to provide me with the outlet I require, the relief from the frustration of not being a writer, a creator.

It’s probably hard for other people to understand, especially as I’m probably a mediocre writer in the first place but it’s a need. And the writing does give relief.

Anyway. I shall endeavour to do better.

MURDERDROME: iPhone comic reader BANNED!

Wednesday afternoon I popped round to Paul’s house for a quick chat (and a couple of headache tablets) and I saw a demo of MurderDrome, the first iteration of a new comic application for the iPhone.

There have been a few comic reader apps for the iPhone/iPod touch out there, most notably ClickWheel Comic Reader which gives access to a lot of content produced for 2000AD.

The Murderdrome iPhone comic demoed to me that day had a few very startling and fresh ideas.
The content was perfectly sized for the high res (160 dpi) screen of the iPod touch and iPhone. The side-side swipe of the finger moved from page to page but the UP-DOWN swipe of a finger took you through the content on that page. It removed colour, then inking, then brought the images down to the base wireframe. You could see the process on how it was made. You can, at a touch, remove or re-add speech bubbles and there are other settings (greyscale etc) which I didn’t have time to play with.

Paul (art, letters, colour) and Al (writer) have collaborated to make Murderdrome specially for the iPhone/iPod touch screen. The code was written by Philip Orr who you’ll also recognise as one of the names behind infurious. Watch Phil’s Blue Pilot for some very interesting developments soon.

See the Youtube video for more

The business model is simple. Aiming for a $1.99 price for a standard comic (equivalent to 22 pages in a standard American size comic), Apple take 30% of the money as their commission. InfuriousComics take 10% and the remaining 60% goes to the creators. Seem harsh? Not so much when you hear tales of how much comic creators get when their comics are sold – sometimes they have to sell in excess of 9000 copies just to break even – even if carried by a major publisher. This new model would mean creators get paid for every book they produce. If you sell 200 copes, you get 60% of cover. If you sell 3000 copies you get 60% of cover. That’s a lot better than the rates offered in print.

BUT….

MURDERDROME has been banned from the App Store for breaking rules about content. Please view the video and show some support for content being made available on the App Store by commenting on the article here.

You’ll also find links to other coverage of this cool new application.

Why is this relevant to LateGaming?

Apart from my association with Paul and Philip and subsequent involvement in InfuriousComics, there has been discussion about using their cool reader technology to build ‘decision tree books’ or as we used to call them ‘Choose your path’ style books. That has interest to me!

D&D 4th Edition … now with more!

I had a poke through a friend’s copy of 4th Edition D&D. It seems it has been genericised to the nth degree, and everything has been made more powerful from the word go. On top of that, alignments have been simplified and there is even the concept of “unaligned” (maybe they read my previous article). More races, more abilities, more, more, more! I remain unconvinced that the gameplay has improved any since the first edition. Can’t be arsed with any more words on the topic.

The Morality of AI

On the Morality of AI (from an rPG net thread about Eclipse Phase

“Their morality may seem alien because we may not want to grasp it but, at the end of the day, these will be our creations, our monsters.

If they see us as annoying bugs, then it will be because we will have been acting like an annoying bug. We may not be able to grasp the mentality of a being that thinks in ‘billionths of a second” and yet will never grow old, never die.

The ennui would be stifling.” —Me

Gallifreyans do it in Time…

Wired writes about Gallifreyan incest:

“Doctor Who star David Tennant is currently dating Georgia Moffett — the actress who portrayed The Doctor’s daughter in the Who episode of that same name.
Moffett is the daughter of Peter Davison, who played The Doctor’s fifth incarnation. So, she’s a Doctor’s daughter playing The Doctor’s daughter. She’s also the first Doctor’s daughter who played The Doctor’s daughter to date The Doctor.”

Georgia Moffett is insanely hot and, if you haven’t seen the episode, will be returning to Doctor Who at some point in the future. Seeing as she was built 100% from Gallifreyan DNA, you’d have to wonder why the tech used to create her isn’t used to repopulate the Time Lords and, frankly, any other species in danger of dying out.

Or maybe the Doctor likes to be a lone ranger standing on the gates of oblivion and quite likes the fact they’re all dead – and only resents the perennial resurrection of The Master and treats this new ‘daughter’ as an interloper.

Erick Wujick has passed away

Kevin Siembieda writes:
“Erick passed away as gentle as a snowflake.”

That’s how Kay Kozora, Erick’s ‘Beautiful Kate’ of nearly 30 years put it when she called with the sad news. She and other loved ones were present when Erick passed away, Saturday evening, June 7, 2008. A Press Release with more details can be found on the main page of Palladium’s website. These are my personal thoughts.

Yep, Erick makes me smile. Right now, I envision Erick tooling around Heaven, bouncing from cloud to cloud to see who might be available to chat with. I can see him hunting down his old pals, Dan La Flesh and Roger Zelazny, and then grabbing Leonardo Da Vinci, Gandhi, Confucius, a few Roman Emperors, some saints, sinners, and Chinese Geomancers, and sitting them down to play test a new game idea. And when they are done, they’ll take a walk and discuss the I Ching, game theory, nanotechnology and time travel. And knowing Erick, he’ll eventually turn the topic around to, “So guys, what can we do about helping out Palladium Books?”

Erick did a heap of work. Paranoia, Amber, TMNT, Rifts, Beyond the Supernatural. I feel really sad about this and wish my condolences to his family and friends.

Questions about Frontier

Back in the day, Eamon, Colin and I did spend some time discussing the concepts a long time ago but it’s clear that we had divergent ideas. Some of these were because we knew too much (when you mix biologists and physicists and try to make a far-future sci-fi setting) and some of it was because we were simply different people. I wasn’t entirely happy with their vision of ‘alien races’ and I feel they were equally dissatisfied with my ‘handwavium’ approach to theoretical physics.

Eamon emailed me with some questions about Frontier development as I see it.

Q: What do you see as the general Frontier missions for PCs?

There’s a reason why the Captain of the Explorer is an AI. He can’t beam down to the planet (Ho ho!) The following scenario threads immediately present themselves:

  1. mission ‘statements’ from Kumbu – this can cover trade, surveillance, colonisation
  2. SPR – humanitarian ‘rescue’ mission (from Saving Private Ryan)
  3. Free exploration (‘boldly going’)
  4. Escorts for other vehicles
  5. encounters with other vehicles, weird phenomena, unexpected aliens
  6. espionage/combat – very special circumstances, political maneuvering

Q: I was wondering if there’s room for freelancing, or at least hiring space on starships. It would give the possibility of being dropped off in a system with a few systemships, do you job and go home (save for Factor X which messes things up and produces Adventure!). Or dropped off at Station X, or on Planet Y, or Asteroid Z.
Of course, you don’t need to be a freelancer for these missions to occur. Modular starships could easily achieve the same effect.

I don’t recognise this as being part of the setting per se, due to the immense cost of running a starship and limited access to Keyhole drives. Another category could be similar to the ‘mission ship’ game we played briefly, the Halo effect…players find some ancient tech which is flippin’ class.

Also – remember that HU is post-scarcity. Trade exists but in a barter system. There is no universal credit, no gold-pressed latinum….

Q: Are starships so expensive to be solely owned by governments? Can conglomerates/individuals ever hope to own them?

There are no comglomerates or super-rich in HU. The USA, probably still the strongest of the non-HU Earth nations, could potentially field something to this effect.

Q: Are there any chances of encountering ‘rogue’ ships.

When you’re MEANT TO BE the only bipedal humanoid species that speaks your anglicised dialect of Swahili (or a Swahili-ised dialect of English) for 200 light years, every other ship is a potential rogue.

Q: Taking a step down, the same question for systemships – everything from tugs to shuttles to asteriod prospectors. Who/what can own them?
“Who moves the cargo around Frontier space?” would be another way of looking at it.

Specialists – single purpose AIs, a hundred times less capable than an Expert AI. Why would you put a short-lived human through months of babysitting a rock?

Q: Do we have spacestations, mining stations, research bases, space colonies…etc in Frontier?

Yes, but again, these are not commercial interests within HU space.

These are not, by any means, the one true way to play Frontier but they represent the feel that I am aiming for. I think the genre I’m aiming for is under-represented in gaming as well as elsewhere. With the recent release of Traveller by Mongoose Publishing and the Thousand Suns rules from Rogue Games, the ‘Imperial Sci-Fi’ genre is well represented. Frontier is, to a degree, post-Imperial, neo-liberal in politics, transhuman in terms of taking what I see as practical and almost renaissance in outlook.

Citizen: a skill?

In our BRP-based Runequest game, Michael has asked a few times for rolls on ‘Gloranthan Lore’ and ‘Human Lore’ so that we can remember items from our own cultures. Because we’re all grotesque combat monsters (with the exception of Jim’s character), we’ve all spent maybe 10-20 points on these skills. Pretty feeble really but not surprising due to the way the BRP system works.

In writing for Frontier, I’m aware that there will be people who are on the peripherary of Human Unity, some who are embroiled in society and some who represent the pinnacle of society. My theory is that this takes time and effort and might best be represented in two ways?

  1. Skill – the knowledge and time invested by the character in realising their citizenship.
  2. Quality – the result of the time invested with applied knowledge.

For instance:

Chera Nyumba was born in a small village in Africa, in an area formerly known as Zambia. She lives with her husband and their three children. While the children are at school, Chera and Enzi work in their fields, collecting their crops. In the evenings, they watch and listen to the news feeds and Enzi tells the children stories until they fall asleep. Chera is interested in the environment around her as much as it affects her family and work. Chera is a Competent Citizen; she is part of her community and a functional, productive member of society.

Kesho has taken the skill “Citizen” at Professional. She grew up in the shadow of Kumbu and after her school years travelled through the Western European Expanses and the Americas. She now works with two Experts and four humans in the Explorer Crew Selection committee. For her leisure time, she enjoys sex and researching Explorer Disruptive Element reports. Kesho contributes to her community less than she contributes to Human Unity as a whole.

A character who has the Quality ‘Citizen’ is likely to belong to a family that has a reputation within Human Unity. By virtue of their heritage, their citizenship is seldom questioned even if they have not shown the character of their forebears.

A character who is within the Explorer Division should have Citizen at Competent or better. If generating an Explorer crew, give them Citizen at Competent for free but permit them to swap it out for any level higher. There is no way a character could be part of the Executive Team of an Explorer without this skill at least at Professional.

Description Difficulty
Be able to name the metropolitan centres of Earth or rhyme off the first items Traded. This knowledge is typical for school children to memorise. No dice
Prepare a presentation on Human cultures including those outside of Human Unity or know the likely location of the nearest Expert. 1d
Name all of the Governing Experts or Master Experts that exist or detail the best process for the Kumbu archives. 2d
Recite the laws and customs of Human Unity from memory or remember the primary missions of Explorer vessels in Human space 3d

I feel that with the introduction of ‘free skills’ we start to get a better feeling of the society. It acts like a “general education”, a little like the BRP skills as well as the BRP-based “Know” roll which you find in Call of Cthulhu. The existence of baseline abilities like these (other than the generic 5% Human Lore in Runequest) indicate the presence of established education and, by inference, a more advanced society. In a primitive society, there may be a rich oral tradition but very few games model this particularly well – then again, a ‘shaman’ is going to have this oral tradition and a player character Shaman is more likely to place points into ‘shaman-like’ skills.

Some other games have provided copious amounts of information in an attempt to get the players to use the rulebooks as reference materials. Skyrealms of Jorune, Tekumel and Blue Planet spring to mind here. This has some pros and cons. Some of us, like me, really enjoy reading setting material and are considerably less willing to read rules materials. On the other hand, some people just can’t handle the huge volume of background information that a game can produce (and if you don’t believe me, I’ll give you the metric weight of the material Michael reproduced for our Glorantha game and, yeah, our characters should know this stuff!). How do we strike a happy medium? Provide good detailed background about your setting and also provide a way for the more casual gamer to intercept it – this latter point is made a lot easier by having fiction, audio books, movies, maps and other ‘props’ available.

COPS – Japan Stylee

Eamon, a technologist in the area of Cybernetics I know[1], posted this:

“If you peruse Japanese foreign-resident forums you’ll read a depressing amount of stories about foreigners being told to sign kanji-laden papers ‘so you can go’, only to find they’ve signed a confession – which the courts accept as totally truthful. That acceptance of the confession is because ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to work in Japan’. The chastened criminal confesses, justice is served, end of story. Foreigners get it even worse, because arguing against one’s confession is seen as insulting to the court. Bigger sentence time.”

…and some other observations of the police forces in Japan. It’s interested reading and story-nugget-laden as well. I don’t know what Eamon expected from Japan but it would be interesting to see what he has made of it so far.

Sub to his blog. You never know, he might talk Sci-Fi!

[1] Eamon was one of the contributors to Crucible Design and one of the go-to guys for Sci-Fi technology, physics and the interactions between bones and stainless steel joints (via a PhD in the wear and tear on hip replacement). I kid you not. In gaming sci-fi, his only failing was ‘knowing too much’ and therefore losing some of the ability to partake of ‘handwavium’ for plot elements. He does know an awful lot about Traveller but I don’t know if he games much these days.

Transhumanism

In 1966, Transhuman was defined by F. M. Esfandiary (later, FM-2030) as:

included physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values. (Source: Wikipedia

The word itself has come to mean “next evolutionary human” when it really means a stage of “Transitory Human”, where we start to notice differences. Of course, nothing in the above quote has anything to do with evolution as we can achieve transhuman status within our own lifetimes. The evolutionary process is described only in successive generations.

(RPG.net has a thread about a new game called Eclipse Phase – “a game of transhuman conspiracy and horror”.

From the thread and web page it seems like a Transhuman space-meets-Traveller-The-New-Era type background especially with:

the driving powers behind the wars—both AI and transhuman—were infected by a mutating virus with multiple infection vectors—biological, information, nano—dubbed the Exsurgent virus. Whatever its source, this virus has been known to sometimes transform its victims into something unexplainable … something monstrous and reality-altering.

…with a dollop of Cthulhu. I will likely buy the book (the same way I bought Sufficiently Advanced) though the blurb doesn’t inspire me. Is it that I want a game filled with some hope for a change? It might be that I’m not looking really for the inexpicable in a game setting (which also belies my general annoyance with Call of Cthulhu – in a world where there are snuff movies, special effects and Tom Savini, is it possible to actually go insane from seeing something horrific? Would the existence of something like that freak me out? I don’t think so!)

Horror and Sci-Fi sometimes works well. Alien would be the most obvious example of a resounding success. It’s more likely that you’ll find a dozen examples of where Sci-Fi didn’t work well with horror – the most obvious one I can think of being Event Horizon. I once ran a somewhat abortive game using the 2300AD system. The players were investigating a space anomaly (which turned out to be a Colour). It put the crew into a torpor and the ship sustained their bodily functions. They arise from their suspended animation nearly a hundred years later and find that Colours, sentient but not sapient, have been harnessed as a energy source and mechanism for ‘jump drive’.

I like Sci-Fi games but a lot of them end up with a resolute “What now?” after character generation is complete. Blue Planet and Transhuman Space have been accused of this at various times. I think it’s less a problem of the game (especially as we see the amount of material available) but more of an imagination issue – whether the GM can put forward a gaming framework. Jorune managed this well with the Drenn trials and SLA Industries with their BPN system.

Of course, Frontier is my transhumanist game set in a far-flung post-apocalyptic future. Of course, in Frontier, Earth still has a major, advanced technological human civilisation and has fully recovered from the apocalypse that overtook most of the West. There is a reliance on technology for science, research, law, democracy and war. There are sapient and sentient artificial intelligences which act as both tool and mentor to humanity. My inspirations for Frontier are many and have departed considerably from the “Star Trek But Better” conversations that Eamon, Colin and I would talk about over a decade ago. We never specifically mentioned Transhumanism (probably because to a greater degree we were already living Transhuman lives.

At the moment I’m working on ‘6’, ‘illusion’ and doing bits and pieces on the other lines. Frontier remains, for the time being, a long distance project.

The 23rd Letter: in film?

Back in late 2006, I got a bit of a shock. Maybe you do as I do but I like to beachcomb through Google and see what people are saying about the things I have written. I pick up a few comments about The 23rd Letter and Zombi most often, usually through RPG.net which seems to be the big granddaddy of RPG-related internet portals. It’s pretty nice for the most part and I get to talk to some interesting people (and make excuses for the things I missed). As The 23rd Letter is still on sale via Key20, every now and then I get an email asking about it which is why I’ve started posting updated materials on the blog here. There have been some relative champions of The 23rd Letter, like Chris Lupton and Max Cairnduff, who have both gone above and beyond in the past to make the games known and for that I’ve always been grateful.

Anyway, this was the shock.

 

This page linked to Starway Pictures, a Hollywood-based production company, who were producing an adaptation of The 23rd Letter, a film about ESP and psychokinesis. I was utterly gobsmacked.

The script for “The 23rd Letter” was written by Jim Beck, an aspiring screenwriter who had also written gaming material for Paradigm Concepts , a small RPG company, but Jim Beck was mostly identified via his blog at blackroosterfilms.tripod.com. My stuff is also listed at pen-paper.net and a few years ago, t23l would have been a lot more on the lips of people.

Information on the 23rd Letter movie was posted all around on Filmmaker magazine, XLCinema.com and the Digital Video Information Network. The stars mentioned it on their myspace pages and there seemed to be loads of mentions of the name as I started digging deeper. Heaps more material is available on the Starway Pictures blog in February 2006, March 2006, April 2006, May 2006 and November 2006 including demo footage and pitch reels.

I found out about it in November 2006 and have been sitting on it for months. Why? Because I was really unsure at what to do about it. Am I supposed to assume the worst?

What do you do in this case?

[UPDATE: I’ve been talking to Robert Sanders @ Starway via email (and inadvertently to his lawyer (who didn’t get the hang of “Reply All”) and I think we’re resolving any issues. I do not believe that there was any infringement of IP so it’s now down to whether they change the name or we agree to jointly use the name).]

BRP

Let it be known that I hate BRP.

(because I fumbled a dodge twice tonight and put myself out of action both times.)

Really made me feel like a great and powerful warrior when natural rolls of 00 and 99 completely devastated me. Twice.

Balls to it.

RPGnet whiners strike again

I loathe it when the RPGnet whiner crew crawl out of the woodwork and accuse people of being passive aggressive with the threat of bringing down the mods.

You can’t even express an opinion without being asked to tone your language and the P-A finger is then pointed. That’s the absolute definition of the Ad hominem attack. I’ve ranted about this before.

Don’t like what someone says? For God’s sake don’t attempt to refute them, just dismiss their argument by calling them passive-aggressive.

Here’s a big fuck-you to anyone who uses that term in a debate when they can’t think of anything intelligent to say.

Resolutions: Dealing with Canon and Context

Canon is the past in the play. It establishes facts which have gone before. It doesn’t mean it can’t be retconned afterwards but for the most part it is immutable (or at least it should have immutable facts and mutable descriptors, the latter of which may be changed due to Context.

Context is the present in the play. It represents experiences more than facts and, due to the way we lay down memories, is probably more immediately mutable than Canon though if left, it can be harder to change because it forms part of our experience memory and not just written Canon (which is essentially the basis of ‘show, don’t tell’ – if someone visualises the experience they will have deeper connection to it rather than just having the story related to them).

Accepting is where you acknowledge and agree with the contributions from others to the Context settling it as Canon. This is most easily visualised when you try to reconcile the order of events taking place in a system which does not have a strict action-point (or similar) mechanic. In systems with Action Points or Strike Ranks, everything happens according to the time. To move the story along, it can be necessary to fudge the timings, e.g.

Zakary and Carey are two of the contestants in the Garhound contest and Zakary has caught up with Carey who is descending from the Storm Apple tree with a ripe Storm Apple. Though they are perhaps 4-5 SRs apart, the GM permits Zakary to assault Carey and steal the Storm Apple. Why? Because it will make for further flavour and discussion in the game. Who loses out? An NPC who wasn’t doing well in the race anyway.

In a more narrative game, it can mean just the end of discussing a scene. Not everyone needs to be entirely happy with the outcome, but there has to be a sense of mutual consent so that the game can continue.

Returning – negates the contribution to Context but also provides options which can be considered. This is reserved for when there is disagreement within the group as to the interpretation and outcome of a scene. This is most common when there has been a GM fiat about a character and the player disagrees with it. It behooves the player in this circumstance to not only make his grievance known but also to provide a suitable alternative. This may, dependiing on the detail, be returned to the player again or returned to the group as a whole for a better resolution, e.g.

It would have been entirely appropriate for other players to dispute the conflict between Zakary and Carey because there was an immediate gain for Zakary. Though he had no chance of winning the race, Storm Apples are a potent magical item. What convinced them ultimately was that it would have little effect on their characters and in no small part would give Carey, an annoying NPC, a harder time of it. They had agreement and the option was not returned.

It’s much harder to retcon against a dice roll because the randomising element is a central tenet of roleplaying. We use them to make the decisions for us and if we stop ‘trusting’ their decisions, we may as well switch to a fully narrative process (no bad thing in of itself).

Ransom

The idea of ransoming game material is definitely new and innovative. It’s being done rather successfully by Greg Stolze for his Reign supplements and there’s a Delta Green book ‘Targets of Opportunity’ which is being funded this way as well.

Shane Ivey wrote:

“If we collect enough “pledges” through Fundable.com to cover the various and high costs of manufacturing “Targets of Opportunity,” we’ll do it now. For each pledge, we’ll ship you a copy of the book by priority mail. (Or by airmail for fans outside the U.S., but the pledge needs to be higher to make up for the high cost of shipping.)

If this doesn’t work, we’ll hold off on it until we save up enough cash the old-fashioned way to release it. That would be … later.”

The 1000 copies of Targets of Opportunity will generate probably $35 000 of revenue. Take away fees for (6) writers and (1) artist and the cost of printing and it’s a small profit for the company.

Would I pledge? Yeah, except it’s DG material which puts it safely in the hands of kinnygraham. I’d only be tempted to read it if I got it.

Some naysayers describe it as a begging bowl. I disagree. Palladium did a begging bowl previously where they asked their fans to just send them money, old socks or whatever because you love them so much. For that you got very little. This is simply pre-pledging for a book, making a tiny profit and making sure that if 1000 copies are printed, then there are enough people out there to buy them.

I think it’s a good plan, though obviously with the names they have involved and the following they have with Delta Green (now the de-facto modern Cthulhu setting), it’s about a million times easier. Greg Stolze does his Reign supplements for $1000 a pop which he tends to meet quite quickly.

This idea really meets up with the ‘1000 fans‘ which I wrote a couple of months ago. 1000 fans buying $100 worth of books from you every year is a living, no? And what is $100? A main hardback book and 5 or so small booklets? As I said elsewhere – this isn’t about scamming $100 out of every fan you have but of working hard, getting good quality books out there and reaping some rewards. Obviously the RPG market is a tiny fraction of the music market but for some, it just might work (especially when you consider I’ve spent probably £200 (nearly $400) on RPG books* in the last six months.

*Maxx supplement, Saipan supplement, Sufficiently Advanced, Deathwatch 2000 Supplement, Reign, Thousand Suns, Psi World, Grimm, Dark Heresy, GURPS WW2, another GURPS WW2 booklet, Will To Power, Godlike GM screen and about $100 of PDFs just for starters…

23L Superhumans

Having some spare time yesterday evening I resurrected some of my notes for ‘superpowers’ in T23L. It wasn’t part of the plan to have 23L superhumans – though I was accused by Jeremy of writing my own ‘supers’ game when we published The 23rd Letter. We did have quasi-superhumans in the form of the Furies and the Terata but nothing was ever done with them.

Some of the thought process for the superhuman system was taken from the Amber system. I quite liked the way their stats were arranged:

  • Human – covering the full range of Human ability
  • Chaos – stronger than any human
  • Amber – stronger than both Chaos and Human
  • Ranked – allowing you to be a stronger Amber-ite, perhaps even the strongest.

For 23L/Supers, I envisaged a triple scale over and above the abilities of Humanity.

The 23rd Letter has a range of 1-7 for human endeavour. Given the media it is trying to emulate, I expanded this to 1-9 so that there could be some decent Batman/Captain America/peak of human ability in there. The rationale obviously was that someone with Strength of 1 would be weedy and weak whereas someone with Strength 9 would be sprouting muscles on their muscles!

I added a second level, Superhuman 1 (also called Basic) which covered the range from 11-19, inferring that even the weakest superhuman was still stronger than the strongest human. All individuals with Strength at Superhuman 1 would be of similar strength ability – the second digit giving you an idea of the amount they had ‘worked’ it. Someone with Strength 11 would probably be able to press a ton and could be thin and unmuscled. In comparison someone with Strength 19 would be heavily muscled or, at least, tremendously toned and should, in theory have better control over their strength.

I then added a third level, Superhuman 2 (also called Advanced) covering the range 21-29 and a fourth, Superhuman 3 (also called Master) for very high level supers.

This also extended to the Powers they would have. And even within powers there were powers that may not be available to all superhumans (essentially the first generation superhumans had access to some powers and could get very competent with them, later ‘model’ superhumans had access to better powers but didn’t have as much opportunity to become skilled with them). The Powers were in broad categories like ‘Flight’ or ‘Coordination’ or ‘Strength’. Each power would have a description of ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’ or ‘Master’ and were meant to be built as packages, e.g.

  • Basic Flight – the character can fly up to 70 mph.
  • Advanced Flight – the character can fly at up to Mach 1. He also gains modifications to his body to better enable this, skin toughness and resistance to wind chill and friction. The player can buy Basic Coordination at half cost.
  • Master Flight – the character can fly at virtually unlimited speeds. He is resistance to the effects of this travel, gaining Basic Resistance for free. The player can buy Basic or Advanced Coordination at half cost.

Like in The 23rd Letter, the ‘powers’ were tied into the game world so that someone with Basic Strength (boosting them from Strength of 1-9 to Strength of 11-19 as well as other benefits) would be called Achilles-class. Someone with Advanced Strength would be Talos-class. A Master-Strength superhuman might be Heracles-class. A Heracles-class superhuman might have other benefits too, like being virtually impervious to harm.

This was the basis of the system of ‘More Than Human’ which was on the LateGaming site for years (since about 2001 when Jared put together the first edition of this web site) but now comes uncomfortably close to the as-yet-unreleased ‘Beyond Human’ touted by Eden (which will undoubtedly come to market around the time we release whatever this game turns out to be – if history (Zombi vs All Flesh Must be Eaten) is anything to go by.

I’ll post more on this later.

Mutants and Masterminds.

Every now and then, someone asks on the RPG.net forums…

What’s the best supers game?

and every time the Mutants and Masterminds people come out of the woodwork to tell us that M&M is not a d20 game. It doesn’t have levels, hit points or attacks of opportunity. Now…this last one is a D&D specific thing but Levels and Hit points are a staple of D&D games.

Mutants and Masterminds has ‘Power Level’ which affects the following:

  • Attack Bonus
  • Defense Bonus
  • Save Difficulty
  • Toughness Save
  • Fortitude, Reflex and Will Saves
  • Skill Rank
  • Ability Scores

It also tells you how many points you can spend on powers.

Also, on page 25…

As the heroes earn additional power points through adventuring, the GM
may wish to increase the campaign’s power level, allowing players to spend
some of their earned power points to improve traits already at the cam-
paign’s limit. Not raising the power level forces player characters to diversify,
improving their less powerful or effective traits, and acquiring new ones,
but it can make the players feel constrained and the heroes to start looking
the same if it isn’t raised occasionally. Increasing power level by one for
every 15 earned power points is a good rule of thumb, depending on how
quickly the GM wants the player characters to improve in overall power.

Hm, so it has levels, but they’re not used in the traditional way. You start out at a certain level and ideally fight foes of a similar level. It’s a bit like starting out making D&D characters at a certain level so you can play a particular scenario and then never really bothering about the XP thing. I dislike XP systems a lot.

As for Hit Points. It seems it’s true. There’s no Hit Points. There are ‘saves’ against damage ad things called ‘Damage Conditions’ but without buying the book, I’m unlikely to find out what they really mean.

I’m still not struck on the Feats but it has improved since M&M1e. For my money, however, I’m going to stick to trying to use Wild Talents.

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: http://www.econ.lsa.umich.edu/econ/
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.