Frontier: Conquest Weapons

The common weapon within the Conquest Society is the ‘dumb’ slugthrower. A Chemical Propellent Projectile Weapon (extremely recognisable as a ‘gun’) uses a chemical explosion to create gases which propel a projectile at subsonic or supersonic speeds towards a target.

Here are three examples of the weapons known to be employed among the Conquest Society. Some of them are strategic, others personal. This is by no means an exhaustive list but indicate the types of weapons which have been developed.

Thor’s Hammer – Relativistic Kill Vehicle (RKV)
Useless against small, unpredictable objects like HU Explorers and Battlers, the RKV is deadly versus Specialist-manned cargo transports and stationary or predictable vessels such as orbital space habitats or even small satellites. A projectile or vessel is accelerated to a fraction of light speed an is sent towards the target. The difficulty of aiming at small, fast moving craft with such a high speed projectile is mitigated using detonation. Detonation RKVs have utility against fleets of craft (for rapid delivery and subsequent fragmentation) and have been theorised for use against Swarm clusters, even by HU. Delivery RKVs commonly use their mass to provide impact which can deliver massive energy to their targets. A small (7 kg) RKV travelling at 90% of light-speed will deliver around 195 Megatons – approximately twice the theoretical yield of the most powerful 20th Century nuclear weapon ever detonated. These weapons require immense amounts of energy to fire – but they are effectively immune to point defence weapons due to their extreme velocity.

SOJUM rifles –
Official name from the R&D Labs is the Compound Delivery Rifle but the delivery for this weapon is a gyrojet-assisted armour-piercing sabot which injects a chemical compound into or onto the target. On a personnel scale, this is a Sodium- or Phosphorus-based aggregate which causes horrific burn injuries in addition to the impact from the round. The range of this weapon is considerable and the ballistics extremely favourable considering this is not a ‘brilliant’ weapon. The lack of recoil has made it extremely useful in zero-G and microgravity environments. The construction of the SOJUM is similar enough to the HU Brilliant weapons that it is assumed the technology was stolen.

Sunburn – High Energy Radio Frequency Weapon
The Sunburn weapon, a radio emitter that can be carried by a single combatant, is capable of effects to the human central nervous system resulting in physical pain, difficulty breathing, vertigo, nausea, disorientation, or other systemic discomfort. Direct pulses can also damage the epidermis and dermis of the skin, generating burns from over a kilometer away. This is commonly used to disperse crowds in urban areas.

Frontier: Terror Weapons

While Human Unity uses weapons which would enthral the 21st Century warlord, from shipboard weapons to intelligent bullets, the greatest and most terrible weapon is the Master Expert, artificial intelligences designed for war. But this weapon does not inspire fear in the average person. It is just a brain, a ruthless brain designed to win wars whatever the cost, but still only a brain.

The Earth provided us with a catalogue of terrors from which to build an army of Terror Weapons. Like the Digger Wasp which paralyses it’s insect prey and implants eggs into the still-living creature. Or the Phorid fly which attacks red ants, injecting them with larvae which migrate to the ant’s head and consume, using the head as a pupal case. What we do know is that the Conquest society have built upon their memories of Earth – built from the genebanks they brought with them.

We don’t need to imagine that other races on other planets across the wormhole network have their own horrors to build upon. The Trader archives contain several examples of bio-engineered guerilla weapons which decimated entire worlds, complete with dire warnings to stay away. These weapons are recorded as causing extinction events on the home planets where they originated.

Frontier: The Dichotomy of Fulfillment

In an earlier post, I discussed two examples of Citizenship, reproduced here for your convenience:

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.

The dichotomy in Human Unity is plain to see. Kesho (a very popular name) spends her days in the company of powerful artificial intelligences selecting a few high performers from the planet’s most capable applicants for missions off-world and reading reports about possible alien activity light years from Earth. Meanwhile Chera spends her days manually harvesting organically grown crops in the fields. Neither is considered low or high work – but they both represent distinct life choices for these individuals.

While it is likely that Chera and her husband use some technological enhancements (a Harvester Specialist – an sapient machine designed for collecting growth produce) for her work in the fields, she has dedicated her life to the raising of crops, the nurturing of her family and the bonds of community life. In the eyes of Human Unity, Chera will receive as much respect for her life choices as Kesho (and in some circles, more – as Human Unity still holds the individuals who laboured their way out of extinction in high regard). It is the main priority of Human Unity to provide a feeling of self-value to individuals as part of a larger collective.

Chera and Kesho receive the same rewards in life. They have no need to work (as the society is post-scarcity and concepts such as trade and barter are somewhat alien to them) but they choose to contribute to their society in their individual ways and are rewarded with the respect of peers and a comfortable life. If Kesho or Chera decided to change their work, to pursue a different career, they would retrain and change and society would continue to function.

Outside of their work, Chera and Kesho enjoy their lives and this is a central tenet in Human Unity philosophy. In terms of overall philosophy, there would be strong parallels with utilitarianism and ethical or altrustic hedonism.

Human Unity individuals can think as they wish and feel as they wish and have the benefit of freedom of expression without retaliation. They can pursue individual tastes with the exclusion of harm to others, but including pursuits which would, by early 21st Century observers, be concluded to be immoral. And they have the freedom to unite and demonstrate. The core belief is that individuals within Human Unity have the freedom to be individuals.

All I needed to know about Games…

…I learned from writing my own.

Lewis Pulsipher at GameCareerGuide writes that All I Really Needed to Know About Games I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons

He has some core points which apply to any game but especially one which involves multiple users (a Massively Multiplayer Online Game) for example.

As a designer:
You don’t need high-level technology to make an “immersive” game.
For human/psychological games (as opposed to computer-mediated challenge games), players enjoy the journey, not the destination.
Some people like to be told stories; others like to make their own.
The objective is to make the players think their characters are going to die, not to kill them.
We all like to improve.
User-generated content enriches a game immensely. (In this case, adventures, monsters, classes, etc.)

Lewis continues:
As a player:
It’s more fun with more than one person.
Cooperation is required for survival.
Think before you leap.
Get organized!
Don’t run headlong where you’ve never been.
Keep track of the stuff you’ve got; otherwise you may forget something that could save your butt.
Always have a viable “Plan B”.
Always have a way out.
Don’t depend on luck!

If your game can take into account all of the above points then you’re well on your way to developing a game that I’d like to play. Nintendo shows us that we don’t need the most cutting edge graphics to make a game that truly involves the players – in fact – the cartoony lack of realism in the games on the Wii platform serve to make it more memorable rather than less when compared to the Hi-Def Not-Quite-Realism that you find on the PS3 and XBOX.

For myself, the ‘fun’ in the game has always been in the story and there is some pseudo-theory around this, the concepts of ‘gamist‘, ‘simulationist‘ and ‘narrativist‘. I identify with the latter category, being more interested in the story, in the interactions and in the ‘soft’ outcomes. In contrast, a simulationist will strive to have the most realistic ‘reality modelling’ experience possible. They might enjoy Call of Duty more than Left4Dead or Halo because the content is ‘realistic’. Zombies and aliens, despite being fun, are not real. Lastly, the gamist is in it for the game. For the challenge, for the achievements and perhaps even competitively for the win. There’s nothing wrong with being in a category and it doesn’t make what you enjoy into BadWrongFun and it’s perfectly possible to jump between categories depending on the game itself. For example, while playing “Infamous”, I was in it for the story and I found “Prototype” to be an unenjoyable button-masher aimed at Gamists but when playing any first person shooter against other humans, I tend to be a determined gamist, it’s all about the challenge and all about the winning. Similarly I want a racing game to have realistic drift physics even if the content is all about superfast floating flying machines armed with missiles and if I die, I just come back to life. It’s a joint gamist/simulationist experience for me.

Games are more fun when you’re not alone and I find the co-operative balance of games like Left4Dead to be immensely compelling because it’s the first game I’ve ever played which must be played cooperatively. Yes, there’s a certain mechanics to making sure you have the right equipment and you know the way in a game like that but similarly the ‘chaos’ introduced by other humans in the game is just the very reason I play – especially as they, through communication, can add unobvious twists to the game itself (like playing Call of Duty using only knives or Left4Dead using only pistols). My love of the story means my motivation to have the right equipment and ensure effective communication with the team is entirely because there’s nothing more frustrating than having to play the same ‘level’ again and again due to the mechanics of a game being poorly thought out. I’ve experienced this mostly with console games which require you to have twitch fingers as well as intimate knowledge of which button has a circle and which has a triangle. The fact this ‘out of game’ knowledge is required, completely jolts me out of immersion in the plot and reminds me I’m mashing buttons on a game controller.

An aside to this is the necessity of controlling player character death. There’s nothing more frustrating than your character dying because her avatar edged a pixel over some mathematical value which dictates whether the character stands or falls. At least, again in Left4Dead, some designers have thought about this. It’s not perfect but it beats the extremes of either falling when your pixels are 51% past the border or being able to stand in mid air because one of your pixels is still touching the edge of the cliff. Always err on the side of playability – as it says above, your job is to inspire the fear of character death in the players, not set out to actually kill them. Don’t punish the player for the poor edge detection algorithm in your game engine or for touching something that doesn’t look dangerous in your description or image.

Don’t miss the point about user-generated content. Some companies see Open Source as being a method of saving on developer time or a political statement designed to attract a certain demographic. I have long been of the opinion that you should let people make up their own stories. Being too restrictive here means there’s no Harry Potter RPG and there are only videogames for the franchise which permit a very limited range of activity. The potential content is controlled, closed, censored and choked. Chairman Mao Zedong of China said:

“Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.”

before doing his own controlling, closing, censoring and choking.

Whether or not you think he was using this to entice dissidents out of hiding is not what I’m here to debate but what I will say is that this school of thought is pretty much responsible for Twitter and Youtube. What can be more fun than seeing your creation being used in new and innovative ways. Back a hundred years ago in 1996 when I produced my first book, I loved seeing that someone has written extra content or modified my rules – because it meant they read them. I was often asked to explain my design decisions and why several rules were labelled as ‘optional’ and entertained by someone else’s take, someone else’s story using the background and content I had originated.

I’d love to hear some opinions on what is your favourite game and why. Do you identify most with Gamist, Narrativist or Simulationist (also labelled Narratology and Ludology in Aphra Kerr’s book: The Business and Culture of Digital Games.)

QABAL – the origin of Magic

In the beginning
Each culture has its own mythology, a tale of their creation. Some believe mankind came about through the spilled seed of a mighty god, whilst others believe that their maker fashioned them from the clay of the earth. Perhaps the universe was fashioned from the corpse of a great monster or from a vast pool of chemicals which coalesced into planets, mountains and man.

The dawn of Magic
In early times, man could not explain the coming of rain and winds, while lightening flashed from the sky, why some were struck down by disease and others were not. These mysteries caused man to fear as they could not control or predict it. However, some men of greater insight could recognise the coming of these events and, once they could could be recognised, they could be predicted. However, these men were still bound by their fear of the unknown. They interpreted these signs as portents from unknown, supernatural agents and when they saw no signs, they would appeal to these agents, placating them with prayers, sacrifices and complex ritual. This practise of magic in its most primitive form as a component of hysterical supersition formed the basis of early religion. Gods were fashioned from the sun and the rain, and through religion man began to construct his first great civilisations.

Customs and rituals developed over time from priest-magicians, descendants of those men of wisdom, who were charged with placating and diving the future from the gods. Their tradition was recorded through the generations from father to son and mother to daughter. The few that were written down survived many centuries and gave those who could decpiher their dead language an inestimable headstart in the mastery of magic.

Ancient cults
A cult was essentially a group of individuals who united under a common purpose with similar methods and a core belief system. Man found he could not blindly believe in a shapeless and faceless deity and therefore added features to their gods so that they might better identify them. In those primitive times it was enough to follow a totem animal, a god likened to a particular beast for familiarity and in the hope that the cult members would gain part of their god’s strength or cunning.

The great intuitive leaps occured when man finally began to apply human features to his invisible gods. The traditions and rituals, as well as the facets of these totem animals, were preserved and lived on in these anthropomorphic deities.

During the dyasties of Egypt, the priest-magicians were at their height. They had drunk deeply of science and mathematics, slaked their thirst with magic and ritual, and created a religious oligarchy that would ensure that their chosen Pharoah, often merely a child, would prosper and permit them to guide and advise him. In return for permitting them to shape the nation, the Pharoah was promised immortality. Only a fraction made it quite that far and their remains are scattered around the world on show to the masses.

The later civilisations maintained their pantheons of gods and imagined thir interactions in legends and tales of great deeds. Most still carried a vestige of their primitive past with Gods of Thunder and Rain, Goddesses of Hunting and, of couse, the mighty all-father who sired an entire race of Gods. Gods at this time were petty creatures, much like their subjects, mostly concerned with appearances, lust, greed and dominance.

The more advanced cults adopted the gods of earlier religions into their mythology, renaming them for their own uses and to ensure acceptance with their own people. The Eqyptian Thoth is possibly the most famous of these. By the Romans, he was known as Mercury but more importantly he was known to the Greeks as Hermes.

Hermes, according to legend, was the author of the Emerald Tablet. This tablet, if it ever existed, was inscribed with thriteen tenets central to the nature and working of magic. The collected works, Corpus Hermeticum, formed the basis of occult learning though it was later thought that many of the works dated to much later than originally suppposed. Despite the proof, many groups, both magical and religious, were inluenced by this work and its effect on their subsequent development cannot be ignored. It has provided a hypthetical link between the gods of ancient times and Classical Occultism.

Hermes was also known as Hermes Trismegistus, ‘The Thrice Great’, his power attaining his threefold blessing from God, according to Gnostic Jewish and Christian legend. That the works resurfaced in the Middle Ages and sparked off an interest in magical Antiquity and a subsequent reaction from the Church indicates their importance, if not their veracity.

The Greeks and Romans documented their religion (and, by inference, their magic) in their art, literature, oral history and widespread travels through the world. Their combined influence formed much of the basis of magical thought in Europe and their traditions are still upheld. There were other influences from the Germanic, Celtic and Norse peoples.

Magic also belonged to the common man in ways that religion could not. While religion and the gods were mainly the province of priests and the higher workings of magic were revealed only by magicians, a common tradition of magic was based on the occult virtues of natural or common things. This magic crossed the boundaries of society and gave simple chrms andblessings to the common people. It was not uncommon to hear part of the Liturgical Word intermingled with pidgin Greek and Latin as a medicinal or spiritual cure administered by ignorant lower clergy.

Even from its humble beginnings, Christianity began to see magic as a competitor. The people would never completely accept the new religion in place of their ancient pagan traditions. To combat this problem, they employed syncretism. They canonised some of the pagan gods, establishing them as saints in the Chirstian hierarchy and attributing their miracles to the power of God. Pagan temples were to be reconsecrated and festivals given a new Christian meaning. Stories of the old gods would still be told, but by the new clergy and where Wotan had once ruled, now a Nazarene took his place in legend.

For the commmon man, Natural magic or Occult virtues presented a viable alternaive to Chritsian prayer. In times of adversity, magic could be relied on to provide a solution where prayers seemed powerless. The Church began to preach against such activities, citing the examples laid down in biblical texts as a warning to those who would consort with demons. They even preached against the use of simple charms and the creration of brews which, though they may not deal directly with demons, were another form of idolatry. Magical practices were used and described by midwives, monks, physicians, priests, folk healers and diviners. Even common men and women who had no formal training or special talnet could harness some of this potential. Before science and medicine became enshrined in universities, it was hard to see how a physician would differ from a lay healer.

The higher echleons of the surviving cults spotted the inevitable outcome. They were greatly outnumbered and even though some of their number were members of the Church, it would not save them from the war to come.

QABAL – a history of the world

History of the world
Legend has it that in ancient times, gods walked the earth beside Man and waged great wars amongst themselves that shaped the face of the lands and seas. To end all wars, the earth was divided amongst them and great domains became ruled by mighty gods. To some was given the seas, others possessed the air, and to the best of them, control of the land. Great magic was their tool and Man was fearful of it as he was afraid of everything he did not understand.

Man did not know his place in this world and so the world stayed for thousands of years. The secrets of fire, science and eventually magic would be handed down to Man by the gods, but he was ignorant and afraid, and so would not use these gifts for many lifetimes. Eventually gods and giants disappeared from the sight of Man and lived only in tales that he would his children as the sat huddled around a fire. Some men spent a lifetime learning about magic while others described the basic principles of science and philosophy. They used both to explain the state of the world but continued to revere their ancient gods and use their names to explain anything that their limitedgrasp of science could not explain.

After an age of ignorance, Man crept out of the darkness and embraced the world of magic and science. He built grand cities and great works which he dedicated to his ancient gods. The greates of these cities was the legendary Atlantis. The greatest philosophers, scientists and sorcerers exercised the knowledge passed down by the gods and built the most advanced civilisation in the world.

The Fall of Atlantis
After millenia of fortune and prosperity, Atlantis fell. Some say their science and magic brought about a calamity they could not prevent. Others claim they were corrupt and a good and just god destroyed them for their iniquity. It is more likely that they suffered from a natural disaster and had years to leave their island paradise, which would explain how the legend lives on and the effect the Atlantean culture had on mankind.

When Atlantis fell, it was looted of its treasure and its knwoledge, and both were scattered to the four corners of the earth. Many of their magicians and scientists found their way to Egypt where they helped found a dynasty of kings. Perhaps the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes and the Roman Mercury are all based on these Atlantean survivors, who handed their advanced knowledge to a primitive society and helped them gain ascendancy over their neighbours.

Atlantis survives only in myth if it ever existed. Plato describes Atlantis in some detail, though modern thinkers still believe that Atlantis was no mor than a legend. It may well be a cipher for the origin of all knowledge, in other words the location of Eden. It has been suggested that the Bible relates to myth when it needs to. Perhaps the fall of Atlantis was during the Flood which covered the earth. The same Flood which destroyed a race of giants which walked the earth in those days alongside man.

Despite the lack of proof regarding Atlantis, there have been many people who have claimed that they are the holders of a secret lore which came from the sunken island. Even whn geographical evidence denies the possibility of a vast island-city in the Atlantic, some people still cling to the legend. The proof of Atlantis is as much a question of faith as it is a question of knowledge. If you believe it is there, then there is no need to look for it. If you know where it is, then there is no need to question its existence.

A Carpenter’s Son
During the reign of Herod the Great in a small desert backwater called Judea, a child was born who was to become the inspiration for the largest religious cult in the world a mere two thousand years later. This youth was remarkable in that he possessed knowledge and understanding of Scripture far beyond hismeagre years. During his travels as a mendicant preacher, he gained some notoriety for his skill with magic. People flocked to hear him talk and see his great works. Amongst the crowds were the sorcerers of the day. Their command of magic was considerable but even their greatest could not rival the works of this yougn upstart and thus they plotted against him.

In those days there were many cults who thrived on the ignorance and isolation of their followers and their intention was to usher in a golden age with themselves at the helm. They alone would be enlightened and they alone would control the earth. This upstart disagreed, preferring to spread the word of a universal enlightenment attainable by all. To add injury to insult, his cult was growing at a phenomenal rate and even foreigners, worhsippers of strange alien gods, came to hear him speak. At the height of his popularity, they sent their advocate to bargain with him for regency over the earth, but he refused.

As a result, their agents were sent out across the land, spreading word of how this man would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and free them all. He knew that he could not combat them at this game. He was but one man and they were numerous. Thus through blackmail and magic, they were able to ahve him arrested and executed at the hands of the Romans. The people were demoralised but rallied behind his surviving followers. The Romans were now involved, but they could not grasp the complexity of the situation. As a result they did their best to quash what they saw as a civil uprising.

When it became clear that the situation was not as simple as they thought, they quickly realised that further action might provoke open hostilities with all sides of the community (as it would around half a century later). Thus they decided to concentrate their attention on the remaining ringleaders, a motley collection of agricultural workers, fishermen and former tax collectors. Their champion was to be Simon Magus, a foreign sorcerer of some skill. However, the resulting magical duel ended in Simon’s death and the cult went underground to avoid Roman retaliation.

During the next few centuries, the cult grew and its followers became well-versed in scripture and magic. The life of its founder and the travels of his understudies were to be documented in a great book which would be distributed across the world. their crowning victory was to come in the fourth century when they were able to capitalise on the misfortunes of the then-declining Roman empire to emerge from the shadows and present a solution to the Roman problems. Whilst the power and knowledge of the cult had grown, so too had its reputation (although at a high price, given the persecutions during Nero and Diocletian’s reigns). It only took a glimpse of this power to convince a Romano-British general, and the Church was established.

The other cults would languish willingly in relative obscurity. With the ascendancy of their former rivals, it was safer to remain obscure than risk extermination. The Middle Ages witnessed between these minor cults and Chrstianity, a war that neither won but which convinced both to strengthen their positions. A treaty saved a few from fighting among themselves but the end of that treaty is coming and all the wealth in the world is for the taking.

And for those cults who have forgotten their faith and their magic? It is expected that they will die out. Those who have magic often forget the power of one sorcerer pales alongside the power of a thousand human beings equipped with sword and flame. Then again, those with long memories and a broad perspective often point to the example of one charismatic individual who, despite humble origins, founded a tradition which has spanned two millennia.

QABAL intro – Genre

This game can be played in one of many genres. A genre is a certain style where recurring themes show up and both GM and player are expected to perform within this style. In a low magic, high suspense game then the players would be expected to react accordingly and the GM would be expected to introduce only minor magics, to keep mystery and drama high. Just as players will know how a grizzled private detective will act in film noir, the players can then play their characters according to the genre. In this way it is possible to evoke roleplaying from the group as they know what is expected of them.

Some might prefer the Scavenger campaign where the characters spend their time tracking down the legacies of lost civilisations and the belongings of dead Masters. The struggle for magic should be a recurring theme as this game was designed with the Scavenger genre in mind.

Perhaps the Haunted campaign might suit your group if they are intrigued by the concept of the afterlife and undeath. Magicians can be plagued by the spirits of lost friends.

Others may prefer the Tainted campaign – usually set in a remote geographical location where magic has twisted the region according to the whims and jealousies of the people. Remote villages in the north of England can hide as much horror as the crumbling hamlets of Dunwich and Arkham.

A fourth campaign is called Revelations which focuses on the impending doom of the new Millenium and the ending of the Covenant. As the treaty breaks down, powerful magicians may seize the opportunity to rise in power. Conflict is inevitable.

There are more genres available for a QABAL game and all they require is a little work on the part of the GM. There are start-up scenarios in the back of the book and further information to flavour the genres already mentioned.

QABAL – The essential nature of spirits

“Firm, constant faith works wonders even in the course of a flawed operation, whereas mistrust and hesitation in the soul of the worker, who holds himself aloof from all excess, leads to dissipated effort and ruin”

Spirits are constructed of matter. The matter that forms their bodies is not immutable and often depends on where they are. Often a spirit will clothe itself in more visible matter or more tangible material in order to better interact with the world.

Spirits are usually invisible but if moving in a smoky atmosphere they can be seen by the whorls and eddies they create when they move. As they can be touched, though it be light as a feather, it indicates that they have form and substance. This might also mean that they can use their teeth, claws, limbs and body to attack.

Spirits can pierce materials. Perhaps on the most base level they interleave their bodily atoms with the obstacle. Most will prefer to go around walls and through doors. Some may be able to take the aspect of liquids or gases and pass through tiny cracks in walls and doors.

“You call us monsters…but when you dream it is flying and changing and living without death” – Rachel (Cabal, by Clive Barker)

These beings, essentially of spirit, have deigned to clothe themselves in flesh. Their differences to terran forms can often be seen and it is easy to see how much of our mythology is populated with these creatures.

Sometimes the beasts do not survive the transformation unscathed. Some are broken and twisted by the experience. These creatures become our demons (Peloric Fragments…Terata) – twisted in mind and body.

The laws of summoning are clear – A creature must follow the terms of its binding which defines its shape, behaviour and loyalty.

-The Circles-
May just be simply of chalk upon the maiden ground but can be elaborate with attendant pentagrams and symbols. It may be drawn in paint, blood, coal or set permanently into the floor with stones, wooden tiles or inlaid silver.

“According to the Cabala, the dybbuk is a spirit that takes possession of a living person. A famous legend tells of how a young Cabalist was in love with a certain girl. He died and subsequently took possession of her body” – The dibbuk, by Charles Anski

-Performing a Summons-
A Circle must be drawn in which the caster remains until the binding is complete. This can take time so he should be well-prepared for his ordeal. A pentacle should also be drawn and ringed with significant symbols (such as the names of the Archangels).

It is into the pentacle that the beast will form. It will be made visible through the burning of incense using the heady scented smoke to form a representation of its body. As long as the pentacle is unbroken it will remain there. It can be given a single instruction in return for release or forced into a Vessel which should be present in a circle attached to the pentacle. Once inside the Vessel, which is naturally marked with the appropriate sigils, the caster may leave his circle.

If the Pentacle is broken (or worse yet, not present) before the completion of the ritual the caster must not leave the circle. At this point the beast is free to roam about the room and immediate area but may not be seen and cannot enter the casters circle.

Such beasts are difficult to detect and capture and they possess considerable tangible and magical power with which they may assault unprotected targets. Even those protected by a magicians circle may find themselves the victims of missiles, mundane in nature, which have been hurled by the beast whose claws and magic cannot penetrate the circle.

Truly the safest place is within that circle though remaining there may result in injury and possible loss of life. Should anyone leave the circle they immediately open themselves to the creatures claws and magic and attempts at posession.

Once binding has begun, the smoke appears to pour into the Vessel until the beast is wholly consumed. Its appearance returns to normal though some report a vessel becomes heavier after binding.

Almost anything is suitable for binding though what is suitable for the required task may differ. Objects (rings, doors, statues, gems), Animals (cats, toads, newts, ravens, dogs), humans (alive or dead), and Materia (blood etc for a homunculus, clay for a golem) are all suitable.

QABAL – Wandering Mystic

It came to me while I was out shopping. The voice said “You are the chosen one”. I had always known I was special. It went on “You must dedicate your life to contemplation and gather others who wish to share in sublime glory”. I knew then that this was no mere flight of fancy so I went home, quit my job, sold my house and told my wife I was leaving Sheffield for greater things. She didn’t understand at first but now I think she accepts it. She and my children now live in Newcastle with her sister.
– Father Lemuel, The Brotherhood of the Glad.

The Wandering Mystic is a strange beast. At first he makes you think of an esoteric holyman making his was across continents dispensing wisdom in return for a crust of bread. He walks barefoot and shaves his head, his clothing is coarse and plain and signifies his humility. Some may see him as a beggar or a lunatic but most regard him with awe as he flouts modern conventions.

The reality is much less romantic. He still shaves his head and walks around barefoot but he is much more likely to own several cars and his bare feet seldom touch the cold ground and are cared for by expensive manicurists. His followers work hard in their respective careers and give their worldly belongings gladly. He might be targetted by one of those documentary investigators for his new television series but every member of his collective interviewed will talk at length about how his teachings have enriched their lives

Darren Mitchell was an unemployed factory worker before his Shining Moment. His wife Sharon wasn’t quite as enthusiastic when he announced he was going to become a preacher. She was more interested in when he was going to go down the Jobmarket and get a job. This preacher malarkey was just another grand scheme. “The way I’m playing it” he would rhyme off as he was about to elaborate on the next great scheme. They were going to get rich two years ago with his chip-van sideline and last year he managed to get his hands on a load of computer games which he was going to sell down the market and make a killing. Neither made him any money so now they had a greasy smelly health risk filled with obselete computer programs occupying the front lawn. And to top it it all he wants to be a preacher.

Sharon did what any responsible mother would. She packed up her bags and moved herself and the children to her mothers house. Darren didn’t really mind. He sold the house and disappeared.

Six months later The Brotherhood of the Glad appeared on television. The documentary that featured them interviewed a few members who spoke volumes about how fulfilled they were and arranged a meeting with their spiritual leader, Father Lemuel. You can imagine the look on Sharon Mitchell’s face when she recognised her husband under the bushy beard and voluminous robes.

The Brotherhood of the Glad has been accused of brainwashing and kidnapping but nothing like that actually goes on. The acolytes wake at five in the morning and begin their chores. After that (usually at about noon, some say when Lemuel wakes up) gather into the Hall for a sermon. The sermon is mostly the usual new-age feel-good nonsense but normally sensible people attend and afterwards speak volumes of well-being and confidence they have received as a result.

Darren takes his new life quite seriously. He honestly believes that he is enriching lives when he speaks. The fact that others more successful than him agree with him provides him with more proof. He sees his relaxed lifestyle, collection of soft furnishings and numerous sexual partners as his legitimate payment for his services. He doesn’t believe in magic but has a strong belief in fate, luck and destiny, People who he perceives as lucky instantly earn his friendship as part of his personal philosophy is to surround himself with positive influences. This means lucky people, wondrous examples of art and craft and beautiful women.

In Qabal:
Though not a magician, this character wields considerable power. He may have a touch of magic that has been realised through this vocation. He would not be a suitable as a player character unless the other players were also important members of the same cult. He coould be a powerful ally and a powerful enemy as his disciples include city lawyers and brokers and family members of other influential people.

QABAL – The Orthodox Sorcerer

I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve touched the Hand of God, I’ve
watched Angels feasting on the entrails of Devils, witnessed the seven
headed dragon and yes it burned me. Yes it burned me. And tonight, when
the stars are right, you too shall be burned. More tea, Vicar?

– Henry Olcott, Grand Magister

The Orthodox Sorcerer is perhaps the most familiar to the scholar.
Commonly recognised by a long robe, also seen with a flambuoyant headdress
and a penchant for much ritual and pomp. While some will dress casually
with shirt and trenchcoat, most take their costume seriously and keep
special robes for the purpose of performing magic.

It is also common for the Sorcerer to maintain a room in his house
specially consecrated for ritual magic. This sanctum will contain the
necessary paraphernalia for the magic – chalice, sword, cord and candle
will be evident. Sorcerers commonly have assistants, plucked from a wider
group of adherents because of one or two special qualities. These
qualities could be an aptitude for magic, a special trust between sorcerer
and assistant, a merely sexual relationship or something else.

Orthodox Sorcerers predominantly come from religious backgrounds either
from the clergy itself or from a particularly devout upbringing. This may
influence their later predilection for dressing up and performing grand

A classical education is also a prerequisite in order to help them cope
with the esoteric literature and occult blinds so prevalent in the
subject. A background in psychology, egyptology or archaeology would be
obviously an advantage.

Olcott has been a member of the Aegyptian Order of the Everlasting Way for
the last twenty-five years. His official title is Grand Magister which
belies his actual status. He may not be a member of the inner circle but
his importance to the organisation is much greater than his apparently
lowly station. The AOEW pay him a monthly salary as a retainer for
consultancy work in addition to his other work as a touring authority on

In 1965 Olcott was an avid student of the occult and attended many of the
lectures around the country and on the continent in relation to this
subject. As he had few friends and his only real relationship had ended
several years before he fit right into a new more liberal culture proposed
by the pagan revivalists.

After a few years living in such a group, having taken his fill of
indulgence and nonsensical ritual, Olcott left the group and bought a
house in Ealing. He invited some of the more learned of his brethren to
live with him and create a college of learning in his cramped townhouse.

After a decade of honest research punctuated by behaviour reminiscent of
his youth, Olcott kicked the remainder of his colleagues out of his house
and initiated a vendetta that eventually caught the eye of the newspapers.
Olcott managed to distance himself from the fracas and from then on
cultivated the image of the beleaguered academic. From here, after his
fill of indulgence, things began to get interesting for him.
In truth he fell in with another cult. Olcott had always been
spectacularly bad at magical effects. He never seemed to achieve the right
state of mind that the others slipped into easily. Then again, the others
success was always measured in the most subtle of ways while Olcott placed
much higher demands upon himself. Magical expermentation within the new
group was much more structured. There were rules about what could be
called in and what could be cast out. There were regulations on binding
and prophecy. Because every night did not start out with attempts at magic
(usually followed by either a drugged orgy or a drunken depression), the
rituals began to have more meaning and correspondingly, an effect.

It was a frosty Thursday night when Olcott saw his first spirit.

Even he would admit that his faith in the process had been faltering
before he joined the AOEW. Their honest and open ways and utter dedication
to the study of magic inspired him and reaffirmed his flaccid faith. He
had settled into his seat (he was never comfortable in the lotus position
which may have contributed to his earlier failures) while his assistant
completed to preparations. Aftter two hours of feverish chanting nothing
seemed to have happened. Olcott lifted himself from his chair and only the
surprised gasp from his assistant alerted him. Inside the circle, where
the smoke from the incense brazier had drifted, was a churning smoky
zephyr. His assistant spoke in what seemed like a whisper. Perhaps a quiet
prayer. The spirit remained within the circle for the next few days as the
AOEW filed in and made their observations. At that time they had no way to
communicate with it and Olcott dedicated his time to researching how to
dismiss the presence.

The AOEW has reorganised. Rather than being an occult group trying to
contact “those-in-the-know” they have become an esoteric group who give
the impression they are in the know. They hold rituals no more than once a
week to a select group of initiates. Olcott has deliberately distanced
himself. Previously he was clinging to the ceremonial robes of those
within the AOEW but now he finds himself the advisor and realises he will
never again have to kowtow to a middle-class accountant in a
stars-and-moons bathrobe.

In Qabal:
This sort of character would be a magician with a fairly important
lineage. He will gather acolytes or a circle whom he treats as equals in
order to perform his magic. His predilection for pomp and requirement for
ceremony will mean that his magic will be quite specific to him and his
lineage. It also means that a considerable amount of preparation is
required for any magic to take place.

QABAL – a brief history of Magic

The beginning of time
In those days giants walked the earth and fought with the gods. Secrets were passed
from the gods to man through Thoth, Prometheus and Hermes Trismegistus – Secrets
of fire, science and magic.

350 BC
Plato describes Atlantis. It symbolises the origin of all knowledge. Believed to
be a myth, certain mystics claim it is a cipher for the location of the biblical
Eden. It has become apparent that there is a link between the ancient gods, Atlantis,
Eden and the biblical Flood that rid the earth of evil.

62 BC
Magi congregate at the court of Antiochus. They have foreseen a great conflict and
a divine peacemaker. The meeting is called to a sudden end after heated arguments
on how to deal with this matter. They depart undecided as to whether they should
welcome this new king or oppose him.

30 AD
Jesus of Nazareth, member of the Essene cult, is arrested and executed. Though he
was crucified by Roman hands it was the desire of his enemies, the Hebrew sorcerers,
that he die as a criminal. His chief disciple, Peter, defeats the sorcerer Simon
Magus in a magical duel and moves the cult of Christ into secrecy to avoid further

685 AD
Khalid ibn Yazid, an arab prince, refuses his crown and leaves his court in order
to pursue his studies. He is taught by Morienus, a sorcerer and alchemist, but his
subsequent actions, purging his lands of other sects, have tainted his tradition
so that they are no longer known as holders of a secret wisdom but regarded as butchers.

930 AD
Sabbatai Donnolo unearths the hidden Sefir Yetsira or Book of Creation, a major work
of theology and also of magic and miracles. It is prolific during the Middle Ages
but later passes almost into the realm of myth. Whether or not the work is authentic,
passages from it survive and describe the magic used to create the earth.

1224 AD
A covenant is drawn up between two cults to ensure mutual protection til the end
of the millennium. In their desire to consolidate their agreement they alienate many
of the other cults extant at this time. Fortunately for them, most of these other
cults are destroyed by the fires of the Inquisition but some survive and remember
the betrayal.

1314 AD
Established in 1118 AD, the Knights Templar are destroyed on account of possessing
too much political and economic power. The charges brought upon them, however, were
idolatry and sedition.

1520 AD
In his key work De Occulta, Agrippa lays down his Unity of Traditions, a desire to
unite all religion. His intention was that his magical brethren should unite under
one purpose. His attempt fails but his works were widely distributed and have become
one of the main inspirations on magical thought.

1785 AD
Claude Louis, Count of Saint-Germain reappears to his pupil Etteila. Though his claim
that he is 325 years old is disputed, he surfaces several times in the next eighty
years. The last time he is seen is in 1875.

1850 AD
Eliphas Levi alleges Vintras and his Institute of Pity are an "absurd, anarchic
sect". This may have been true but it also has the effect of endearing Vintras
to Levi’s enemies. The depravity of the time also drew attention back to occult philosophy.
This was received with mixed blessings among the Masters.

1875 AD
The Great Purge Several Masters are slain along with hundreds of their followers.
Their groups were small and their followers weak so there were no retributions. This
highlights the encroaching end of the millennium and the end of the covenant and
thus an attempt to regulate the members of the covenant is made.

1900 AD
Crowley expelled from the Golden Dawn for ‘extreme practices’. He, and some of his
more loyal acolytes, form the Order of the Silver Star.

The Covenant is ending. An ancient alliance is ending. The future and untold riches
await those with knowledge and power enough to take it


QR codes for games

Following my last QR test, I got an email from Roger Smolski who runs the 2D Code web site. He had previously posted about the iPhone being an unsuitable device for QR codes due to the poor quality of the camera and this has resulted in several perfectly good QR decoding apps getting a poor rating on the AppStore due to the fuzzy quality of the camera. I’ve had good experiences mostly with QR codes on the iPhone as long as the URI is short but once the information gets much longer, the iPhone is unable to recognise a snapshot of it.

So, what’s the solution?

A clear still of a QR code will work – even a complex one so I reckon the alternative might be to find another way of getting them into the phone. Loading a URL or receiving them in email both work fine.

Why is this important?

Anyone who has read my earlier posts on Alternate Reality Games would realise that I think QR codes are an excellent way of distributing clues to a game where you want to hide it a little but not make it too hard for people to find. The poor quality of the camera in the iPhone just really means the QR code display has to be big enough or they have to get the information from another source.

Anyone who has seen Serenity would realise the relevance and importance of this (2d Code link).

Humanydyne – the system

Also posted here

Cubicle 7, those cheeky London chappies (see the entry for 23rd August 2007 ) are meant to be releasing a translation of Humanydyne, a somewhat-post-apocalyptic superhero game originally from 7éme cercle (you know them, they originally did Qin).

Yes, it’s superheroes, very flexible, and it is post-apocalyptic – the moon broke up and rained hell on more than one place (London is ****ed for instance). And the city of San Sepluchro is surrounded by radiated areas (those damned superhumans).

It’s been a while and I’ve had the French version of the game and supplements for a while. It’s slow reading because I’m busy and my french is ‘poor’.

The system is called XdX and is declarative (listing only what is remarkable) and pretty freeform. To resolve an action, you roll a number of dice – seemingly any number you want between 1 and 10. To succeed in an action, you need to end up with at least one “positive” though the more you get, the better the quality of success. The system seems to say that d6 dice are standard but any can be used.

Positives – your skill levels, any pairs you roll on the dice you take
Negatives – any non-pairs, resistance from enemies skill levels.

Difficulties are also assigned by adding additional negatives. So, the more dice you roll, the greater the possible result but the increased risk of failure. The more dice you declare to roll, the faster you act in combat – your initiative score is the minimum number of dice you will roll. And rolling a 1 or 6 on a d6 counts double – not sure if that’s for both positives and negatives.

So, my query is whether or not you’d fancy the odds here? I mean, the searching for pairs smacks of ORE which is fine, but the number of negatives that might result, could easily turn success to failure.

Star of the Commonwealth

Great Britain was, at the time, in the throes of a terrible war, a world war, which assailed them from without as well as within. While bombs rained upon London and young men lost their lives overseas in the pursuit of freedom, a frontier was breached. On a private estate in the English countryside, a connection was made, perhaps even re-opened, by a small party.

The incursion took place on the 9th February 1946. A battalion of rag-tag troops, hastily constructed from a score of regiments established a beachhead and within three hours (by our reckoning) had successfully conquered the land beyond.

During the next four weeks, rationing was abolished and the United Kingdom ushered in a new wealth and independence which changed the face of the world. The curious artifact of the new conquered land which permitted this was the difference in time flow. Years could pass in the conquered land and only hours would pass on Earth. The Government wasted no time in relocating farmers and their families and inviting captains of industry to build great factories. The country focussed their efforts on manufacture and export and quickly rebuilt the failing British Empire.

And of the conquered land?

HRH Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Narnia, sported a fetching maned cloak that following Winter

Get Carter

I started this evening sitting down to watch The Bourne Identity on ITV2 but as it happens they run ad breaks every 18 minutes and I’m reminded why I hate linear television. The content is either shit or broken up by advertising breaks.

I attempted to remedy my ennui by putting on “The Descent” though I figured it might be better for another night and I opted to go for a film I’ve not seen in years, ‘Get Carter‘ starring Michael Caine. I only just found out they remade it in 2000 with Sylvester Stallone. Sounds like a sick joke.

Carter is a hard nut though it’s kinda tender when he first faces his brothers corpse. Everything is so run down, raining, allpaper peeling, paint layered upon paint upon paint. His niece is working at Woolworths, a bastion of sixties Britain (which just went into administration). Everyone looks pasty, malnourished and it’s amazing when you see some of the actors we take for granted in their youth. Britt Ekland, on the other hand, looks radiant.

I’m watching it now for inspiration for CONTROL. Makes me want an electric shaver and a kipper tie 🙂

What’s an ARG?

The Technology column in the Guardian writes:

An ARG is an interactive narrative in which players work together to solve puzzles and co-ordinate activities in the real world and online, using websites, GPS tracking devices, telephone lines, newspaper adverts and more. All of which sounds like it must require even more effort and resolve than a bank holiday gym session, but ARGs employ media – text messages, blogs, social networking sites, video-sharing – that many people already use on a daily basis.

I also explained it today as…

“It’s similar to a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and a LARP (Live Action Role Play). These are games that have existed for years separately and only now as we find ourselves with man-portable internet-connected GPS-aware devices can we attempt to add mix them. Essentially it’s a puzzle game that you have to walk around to solve. I want to add actual multi-player and humanocentric role-play to the concoction. It is larp-esque. But it also allows a form of gaming when just out and about. Some games may end up being played solo and some will require interaction. And some of the puzzles can be incredibly elaborate.
i.e. a ‘password’ that consists of a GPS location and a photograph that must be matched in position. GPS gets you within maybe 50 metres, then you find the position to map the photo. The photo might be a silhouette of a landscape or the light through yonder window. Once the correct combination has been discovered, the application can then deliver the package – be that text, an image, a movie or an audio sequence.
i.e. a set of ten cards containing a QR code sits in a till at a local bar. From a combination of previous clues, you have been directed to ask the bartender for a card with a number on it. You take a picture of the QR Code and it reveals a clue which is relevant to your story. The wrong card will likely lead you down the wrong path or, in a good ARG, bring you down a side path of the game you are currently in.
So in effect you tie it to a location, a perspective and if natural light is needed, a time…”

I see a lot more possible.

There are video games that you can actually live inside.

The following quote is from “Cybergeneration”, an RPG dating from §993 by R. Talsorian Games.

With direct visual feed, projected ICONs at will, and a way of interacting with these projections, all the pieces were now in place to create what we now call VIRTUALITY; a state where Net images and Realspace are combined in one. This is the furthest edge of Net technology; a way in which reality and the computer generated fantasy fuse into one.

There are now entire places, people and things that most of you have never seen in Realspace at all. You probably have friends whose real faces are unknown to you because you met them in Virtuality (and you like them that way). You shop in Virtuality-based malls where products are projected into reality and you never actually touch them. There are video games that you can actually live inside.

I first played Cyberpunk in 1988 and the game setting, 2013, seemed like the far flung future. I wasn’t convinced that we’d be spending half our time with a computer plugged directly into our brains but I could believe that synthetic limbs and organs might be commonplace – again, I couldn’t see them as ‘fashion’. But it was a good romp :- I quickly learned that playing anything other than the NetRunner or a Solo was pretty stupid and my dreams of epitomising the Rockerboy archetype were stillborn as the GM really just wanted us to break into places, shoot people and steal their stuff. To my knowledge, none of us has gone into larceny or narcotics trafficking as a result of our game play from these tender formative years.

I think that Cybergeneration more than anything helped shape my ideas about what could be possible using portable internet-connected location-aware devices. The idea that the Internet may know your physical location is exciting to me (and doesn’t scare me one whit). The concept that I can interact with products and services based on my location via the Internet is also exciting to me. The realisation that this could all be part of a game gives me a sparkly feeling in my brain stem. It’s that exciting.

There is a theme of transhumanism about ARGs.

Meat humans have five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. If, by adding techology, we can add to these senses or enhance the senses we have, we are undeniably transhuman. Whether you consider the ability to see or hear ‘invisible’ messages left by others in certain locations to be a transhuman quality is a matter of opinion. The ability to add another layer of human interaction upon the day to day level of interaction is certainly transhuman in thought.

Transhumanism has a definition as:

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.

We’re there.

So how do we apply this to the creation of an Alternate Reality Game? I think we begin by treating the internet sense as one of the five. And like the other senses, it must be used in conjunction with each of the others in order to build a true picture. We may interact with someone in a bar based on our feeds from sight, smell and hearing. Adding our internet sense may change this relationship completely. This is over and above reading their Facebook profile – it may give us insights into what role they play in which game and give us the opportunity to interact on that level.

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!

6 – Terminology

(Though I’m still unsure of the final name to call this game, for the time being I’m going to be referring to it both by the nom de plume ‘6’ and the nom de guerre ‘CONTROL’. I hope that suffices to confuse)

AGENT – highly trained civil servants. Because of their skills and experience, they are paid better than their civil service counterparts to the tune of almost £8000 a year.
ASSET – individuals who through their skills, background, contacts or position have
BLACK BAG – covert or clandestine surreptitious entries into structures to obtain information
CELL – a method for organizing a group in such a way that it can more effectively resist penetration by an opposing organization.
CONTROL – closeted senior officers within the Special Executive.
C – chief of the Special Executive. C’s name is often publicly known as is his position as he is selected for the work by politicians. C’s position is always re-evaluated when a new government comes into power. He will almost always be a diplomat or senior ranking civil servant and probably will be holding a knighthood and looking for a Baronet.
D – directors. The Directors of the Special Executive may be recent appointees (selected by the current government), long term appointees (past DCs) or selected from the most senior Agents (who may be too well known to be of operational use).
DC – deputy chief. The two deputy chiefs are appointed by the current government. They usually intend to stay in their current position for a term not more than four years and then move on, hopefully to cushy ambassadorial roles. Their commitment to the job is questionable and they seldom come from an intelligence background.
DAY OUT – The first mission for Agents who have been released from the Field School.
DEAD DROP – a location used to secretly pass items between two people, without requiring them to meet.
ENEMY – the current enemy of the day whether military, political, economic, ideological. In the standard game, the player AGENTS are assumed to be from the Western Bloc and therefore the ideological enemy is the Eastern Bloc, composed of the governments behind the Iron Curtain. The enemy in a specific scene may be a fellow agent from another intelligence agency, an agent of a friendly government, an agent of a hostile government or even the civil law and security forces of any country in the world. In the modern world, the definition of enemy will change several times during the career of an agent and may change even during a single mission.
ESCAPE KIT – usually a passport, some money and other documents that an agent keeps, often circulating in the mail from a dummy address just in case things go badly and he feels the name to escape.
FALSE FLAG – covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities.
FIRM – The internal name for the Special Executive.
FIELD SCHOOL – the training facility for Agents. They will be taught weaponry, demolitions, languages, tradecraft
GLASS HOUSE – A private section of the civil prison at Shepton Mallet, Somerset used for the containment of domestic traitorous Assets and dishonoured Agents. They are kept separate from the civilian criminals and it is common knowledge that some of the inmates of the Glass House are actively serving loyal Agents, keeping tabs on their imprisoned ex-colleagues.
GOVERNMENT – The current government, whichever party is in power. Governments treat CONTROL as their best friend, AGENTS as useful but expendable tools and ASSETS very poorly.
JIC – the Joint Intelligence Committee consists of the Chairman of the JIC, C, K, the head of the Defense Intelligence Staff, representatives from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister?s Cabinet. The function of the JIC is to provide a definitive top-level assessment for the Cabinet Office.
K – the enigmatic Director General of the domestic security service.
MICE – Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego – the basic procedure for creating assets.
Money – the Asset is working solely for financial reasons. He may be being paid directly in cash by the Agent or may have a series of bank accounts and dead drops. He may be involved in financial schemes which would be assisted by the Agent?s government.
Ideology – the Asset is working for ideological reasons. He may not agree with his employer or government. He may hold the Agent?s country or government in high esteem.
Coercion – the Asset is being coerced to work for the Agent through blackmail, threats to himself or his family, fear of exposure or other means.
Ego – the Asset is working to further his own ego and may harbour delusions of grandeur. In truth he may want nothing more than to be caught by his own side so he can reveal his genius to them.
MIX – the British secret services have, since WW1 been known by their department numbers. The MI prefix stands for “Military Intelligence” even though the majority of the secret services have been wholly civilian.
5 – the origins of the Security Service, also known as MI6, are within the domestic security section of the Secret Service Bureau, established by the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1909.
6 – The origins of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, are to be found in the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau, established by the Committee of Imperial Defence in October 1909.
NATO – Founded April 4th, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is founded by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States in order to resist Communist expansion.
STEGANOGRAPHY – the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one apart from the intended recipient knows of the existence of the message.
TRADECRAFT – a collective word for the techniques used in modern espionage. It can refer to generic topics or specific techniques.

Viking Ghost Hunt – a ‘hyperlocal’ Dublin-based game

While down at the National Digital Research Centre last week, I saw a brief presentation from two Dutch guys, Soren and Mads, who were making an iPhone game which overlaid a game on top of reality using GPS and cell tower triangulation.
From NDRC:

Viking Ghost Hunt will capitalise on location based gaming. The interactive game will require the user to travel around Dublin city to advance the game, incorporating physical exercise into traditional gaming, and experiencing new combinations of storyline and game play activities.

I’ll be asking them for a demo I will.

A hyperlocal game is essentially using the GPS built into the iPhone to do some GeoCaching – except that the reward is ‘virtual’. Otherwise the principles are the same. The software links into the web site rather than having you dig for a prize and then delivers a preprogrammed message. A little like “Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi” if you think about it.

The concept of this is very simple. The execution shouldn’t also be too hard.

Fonts, fonts, my kingdom….

I’m having trouble identifying a font I used for the original printing of ZOMBI and this is the replacement I have come up with.

The original was quite clean and had a name like ‘corroded’ or ‘corrupted’.

The potential new one is CM Corruged by Charly Masci (link is down).

I think it’s actually an improvement.


I’ve been reading a lot and prepping my ‘superhero’ game and though I love the concept of GODLIKE and Wild Talents, it’s really turned into an exercise of accountancy.

I don’t like point buy systems which encourage you to minmax.

I’m frustrated by this because I can’t therefore find a system I want to use. And that means I’m going to have to stop procrastinating and write my own. I’d already done some of this before, then lost all of my notes, and now have to almost start from scratch.

I think using the basis of the 23rd Letter is probably a great idea. What say you?

The WhiteChapel Project

The Project in Whitechapel was formed in September 1941 as a subsection of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was directed to encourage espionage behind enemy lines and build the core of a resistance cell in the event of a land invasion. As a result, they were entirely dependent upon the security of radio transmissions and a lot of resource was allocated to eliminating the circumstances which would lead to a break in communications. Better radio sets, more secure operating procedures and the development of proper ciphers all aided their mission.

The ISRB (Inter Service Research Bureau) operated as a cover for the SOE and was responsible for developing modern clandestine technology as well as recruiting agents for the SOE. The Frythe Estate near Welwyn Garden City was the initial test ground for the use of psychics in espionage under the guise of a wireless research unit code-named “Special Signals”. Later, it became Station IX, a weapons development centre and the Special Signals group was moved to a small building on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The SOE was dissolved in 1946 and most of their operational functions absorbed by MI6. The Special Signals group, however, survived. Their staff roster was filled out with German scientists, recruited from the post-war skirmish between the Allies for their knowledge.

Dr Saul Benedict had been head of Special Signals since it’s inception and guided the group through the post-war political turmoil by forming a significant attachment to the then-prime minister, Clement Attlee. While Attlee could not be convinced of the need for the SOE, the Special Signals group were able to secure their own future and Attlee consulted with precogs and telepaths regularly. He became known as an extremely effective politician and possible the most effective Prime Minister to date. Their consultations helped him decide the correct course of action and also how to build a cabinet of people he could trust. In return he pledged support for Benedict’s special interests and permitted the Project in Whitechapel far-reaching authority.

The establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 paved the way for regular screening of the population for psychic potential and the Whitechapel Project enjoyed a regular stream of enthusiastic recruits, young, cheerful and ready to do their bit for king and country. A centre for psychic research was opened in Huntingdon, funded by the NHS rather than the Special Signals group. When Churchill succeeded Attlee he was astounded his own words were so prophetic when he had accused Labour of introducing “some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance”. One of his first actions was to restrict NHS funding to Huntingdon and from that moment on Benedict and his advisors realised their remit had a wider reach than the ephemeral governments

Two Worlds: A State of Frenzy

“We’re doomed I tell you. That planet is hurtling through space towards the Earth and we haven’t the power to stop it.”

Doctor Henry Warwick of the Royal Observatory could hardly have known that as he spoke, a rocketship sped through the ether towards the rogue planet on a mission to save the planet.

Doctor Alexei Zharkhov, a Russian emigré, had stolen the experimental rocket ship from NACA with his compatriots Flash and Dale and embarked on a mission to deliver a terrible weapon to the heart of the planet and save the Earth.

That was seventy years ago.

Two Worlds

What if Prospero didn’t just loop through time and space but also dimensions?

What if it revealed to the modern world the battleground of an unknown war, the genocides of a victorious hero, the possible fates of our world if he, and his two companions had failed in their attempt to stave off the destruction of the Earth.

We’ll start this story unexpectedly more than seventy years too late.

More to come soon.

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.


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!

I have a pretty strong stomach…

but this revolts me:

A BOY of seven was kept chained in a cellar by his cannibal family — as they ATE parts of him.
He had been partially skinned after monstrous mum Klara, 31, caged him for months while relatives who were also in a sick cult feasted on his raw flesh, an appalled judge heard yesterday.

What. The. Fuck.

What is this I’m feeling? Hatred? Revulsion? Disbelief? It’s certainly a righteous desire to punish. It’s cemented the fact that the only monsters in this world are people.

This was all because of some cult?

Frontier ‘look and feel’

More of a precis to get the feel across.

There are a few themes that I am exploring here. And I’m not being preachy about it.

  1. Western Europe is devastated and the USA is somewhat ruined but in recovery – this is due to a particularly nasty ABC war a couple of hundred years ago. As a result, most player characters will be coming from Africa or South America. This is a deliberate move to have the protagonists be predominantly non-white. This one detail actually has alienated one correspondant so far.
  2. The period after the war was harsh and Earth lost more than 3/4 of her population – due to considerable amounts of conventional warfare and skirmishing. A mix of more modern sensibilities as well as a need to utilise every hand to rebuild society has led to a much more equal society in terms of gender.
  3. Humanity is rebuilding but also extending and there is definitely a mood of exploration and innovation. At the same time, Humanity is cautious having encountered two hostiles in deep space already – one of which was a lost colony from a corporate Seedship and the other was a swarm intelligence that ‘harvests’ solar systems.
  4. Hardly anyone has SEEN an alien. Even on video. We have very little knowledge of their cultures, language, physiognomy. We do have a ‘universal translator’ algorithm which permits communications but this is a slow process which speeds up as the system learns more of the language.
  5. there is no FTL comms network. In this case, message relays are the quickest way to transmit. A relay accepts a message from an Explorer, sends a ‘message capsule’ through the wormhole and when it exits, it transmits the message to the next relay waiting at the gate of a wormhole. Relays only exist at major traffic routes but a couple are carried on Explorer vessels.
  6. We do have a ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ of sorts. A massive repository of knowledge we traded for. Experts and humans alike stufy it around the clock and send instructions to Explorer vessels to check and re-check.

Frontier summaries

The basic setting assumes that players are highly skilled, highly motivated members of the Explorer division of Human Unity, a ‘federation’-alike government. Their job is to make contact, explore gaseous anomalies and try not to get killed in the process.


Human Unity – the Human ’empire’ based upon very liberal concepts and including humanity and sentient/sapient synthetic intelligences called Experts. Natural humans are definitely transhuman but not generally posthuman – this may start to occur within the scope of the game. While Human Unity may have the core tenets of life, fraternity, equality, freedom – it is made up of billions of individuals.

FTL – based upon a discovered wormhole network which permits FTL travel though travel TO the wormhole within a solar system can take a long time. The key to wormhole travel was ‘bought’ by Human Unity from their first contact, an alien race known to Human Unity as ‘The Traders’. There were a lot of items and concepts traded and the science used to catapult humanity beyond the solar system.

Aliens – they’re as alien as I can imagine them. i describe a few. In the end, we can see the immense diversity on this one planet so there will likely be a considerable amount of convergent evolution though there are no ‘humans with forehead ridges’ or ‘dark elf analogues’. There are alien races and one is even reputedly ‘humanoid’ (and the Traders dealt with us using ‘androids’) but for the most part they are as alien as this biologist can make them (while still making them ‘possible’)

Science – this is a tricky one. I’m not a physicist but I’m basing it on ‘firm’ physics. Sure – we have FTL (which immediately makes it not HARD science) but other areas are progressions as I see them. Some areas are vague i.e. I’m not going to talk about memory capacity, processor speeds because I’ve read sci-fi where these were defined and they were awfully dated within a decade (2300AD and High Colonies spring to mind). There’s some science I’m deliberately leaving out because I don’t think it’s possible within the time and ethics constraints of the setting but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Combat – ship/ship combat is very deprecated though there are obviously ship-borne weapons. The ability of a stellar society to hit planets with asteroids and the harm that a missile at even low relativistic speeds would do to a craft cannot be underestimated. In other words by the time you detect it, it’s likely too late. Combat like this is handled by computers – thinking beings that can think down to the billionth of a second easily. It’s not going to be a naval battle in space.

Cross posted from