Monday, July 26, 2010

Acid, smacid - Try reading this scroll, man!

*Kandinsky, Yellow, Red, Blue

The idea that a moped is safer than a motorcycle is insulting, because the only difference is that one goes faster: Therefore, you are saying the rider is too irresponsible to drive a safe speed on the motorcycle, whereas the moped just limits his or her ability to get out of the way.

There. An argument. Now, Joesky's Rule.


You probably know that synesthasia is the state of experiencing one sense or perception as another. Tasting colors, seeing sounds, etc. What you may not know is the condition has many interesting variations. Several of them could be very entertaining after-effects of miscast spells, potions, fungal spores etc.

Here's three I thought would be fun as temporary effects:

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Dear Readers,

So, I'll be running a D&D campaign over the internet soon, which I haven't done before. I'm sure someone reading this has - any advice? Preferred software?

My main concern is how to handle combat since minis are out.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

This one's for Joesky

I've been made aware that Joesky's Rule is now in effect. Unfortunately, this means my last post was in direct violation, and I'm pretty sure that means I'll get socked in the gut with a fistful of nickles if I don't correct it.

Sorry, Joesky. Without further adieu:

RANDOM RUMORS TABLE: Random crap people are whispering around that town or village.

1: A witch hunter is in a nearby hamlet, and her methods are simple: All the citizens must take their turn sleeping on a oil-soaked pyre. If nothing happens, the citizen is not a witch. Thus far the pyre has burst into flames every night at the same hour.

2: Goblins are actually born from eggs, which are laid in the bellies of kidnapped children. This is believed because a local boy who was lost in the woods for a week returned shitting one obsidian orb each day.

3: One of the PCs is thought to be a famous pirate, dangerous but loaded with gold and worth a considerable bounty dead or alive. On a 1 or 2 a merchant will lower prices 25% out of fear. On a 3 or 4 they will raise them 25%. All taverns contain 1d4 drunks who think they can take the PC. (The actual pirate is of the opposite gender, a halfling who is short even for halfings, broke and hundreds of miles away).

4: There's a party of NPCs in town that have been claiming to be the PCs. Everyone likes them better, even if the truth is revealed.

5: "For a good time, pay a call on Leanna." (Leanna turns out to be a giant spider with an attractive woman dangling in front of its maw angler fish-like.)

6: Slips of parchment are being handed out, saying that if presented at the local weaponsmith your purchase is 50% off. They weren't made by the weaponsmith, who would be driven out of business if they were honored. Angry customers may riot.

7: The PCs are vampires. 50% of people encountered at night believe it. 25% of people encountered in daylight do. 5% of vampires do.

8: A local barkeep, Fish-Faced Floyd, is a mummy. (He is.)

9: A local shopkeep, Slow-Eyed Sue, is a lich. (she isn't.) [she is a night hag]

10: If you look at your reflection in the water left in wagon tracks after a rain, your blood and the rainwater will switch places, killing you instantly. This is a children's "urban legend" that (you guessed it!) came true for one young man.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Now Pronouns You Gender-Neutral Anonymous Entity

Sometimes, small things are important.

According to Zak Smith, who helped edit it, Lamentations of the Flame Princess uses exclusively male pronouns when referring to an indefinite person. Since by far the most important point of Smith's post was "Hey, awesome independent game now available for preorder!" I didn't want to start a big conversation in the comments about this. There were some, enough for James Raggi to clarify his position (he saw downsides to all options and went with what was most comfortable to him) and I'm fine with that.

But I do want to talk about pronouns here.

It's some time in the late '80s. You just pulled the 2e D&D Player's Handbook off the shelf at... wherever the hell you bought RPGs in the late '80s. What spells can a player choose as a level 5 wizard? According to the book, he can pick from the following list. Is a fighter proficient with a greatsword? Yes, he is.

Now, several of the pictures are of women. Presumably, anyone playing the game could be female. Did the writers just assume no woman would play D&D? No. In the front of the book you'd actually find a disclaimer. I can't find the exact text, but the gist was: Centuries of use have "neutered" the male pronoun, so it's okay to use it exclusively.

So they felt the need to warn you: "Hey, we're going to assume you're male unless otherwise stated, because male is the new andro, except when it's still male." The premise that male pronouns have been "neutered" is demonstrably false the moment you find yourself needing a disclaimer to say so. [EDIT: I've removed a line here that could be misconstrued as comparing sexism and racism. That wasn't the intention: I think such comparisons are inevitably toxic because all forms of discrimination are equally foul, yet fundamentally different. Since I don't think the line was necessary to the argument, it was easier to cut it.]   

It obviously occurred to the writers that some people were going to be bothered by the it and those people were probably female. It's entirely likely, from the art direction and other clues, that the authors wanted these women to play. Otherwise, they wouldn't have run a disclaimer defending their position. What I don't understand is: Why was that so much easier than just saying "his or her"? Or alternating?

Why does it matter?

I write copy for a LGBTQ porn site, and part of my task is to look at the model's bio and use accurate gender identifiers in my writing. Sometimes that info isn't there, and I have to play it safe and use NO pronouns. If you try to guess, you will almost always be wrong. The difference between a transgendered man and a woman who is genderfucking but still identifies as female isn't something you can tell by site. Some models prefer neither pronoun - they want to be known as it, their or they ("it's not just genderfucked, it's grammar-fucked!"), or a modern "invented" neutral pronoun like ze and zir.

It may also sound like nitpicking political correctness* but to these people, it matters. They've struggled with their identity all their lives. Their government - supposedly the most democratic on Earth - denies them basic rights on a daily basis. A majority of their fellow citizens - in this "freest nation in the world" - mostly think they are perverted, insane or hellspawn that it is okay to murder. They've fought really, really fucking hard to claim their identity and when I have the ability to ensure they are referred to as who they are or in the very least not alienated because I found it easier to just assume a status quot? I'm damn hell going to give them that respect.

Likewise, when a woman reads "he" when a book refers to someone they may very well be, the message is clear even if unintentional. This book is not for you. It is for the norm, which is male - that is why we assume a being is male first unless specified otherwise. Thus it has been in medicine (at the cost of untold women's lives) and really every human endeavor for a very long time. You are not the norm. You are other. Put this book down.

Not the message you want to send when trying to diversify and expand your hobby.

It would actually be more accurate to assume an anonymous party to be female. Statistically it is more likely. Also, in the womb we all start out on the same trek - towards a female body. At a certain point those destined to be male develop a divergent anatomy, with some vestiges of the female left over (look down, boys. Notice anything pointy and pointless on your chest?). Plus we have centuries of use of the male pronoun to make up for.

Things have gotten better. That disclaimer was in 2e. Today, D&D 3e and 4e proudly use mixed pronouns, alternating between "he" and "she." They also catch flak for this in some quarters. Personally I think this is one of the better advancements of the game, besides getting rid of the seven million saving throws. The ire of a few trolls, and maybe a bit of extra effort when constructing a sentence, are small prices to pay to make people feel like you want them playing your game.

* "Political correctness" as a term was actually first used in the modern sense by the New Left to describe leaders who "talked the talk but didn't walk the walk," so to speak. Think "Racist Senator Pretends to Like Jazz." It was also used by feminists to describe the anti-pornography movement's attempts to appropriate their ideas for their own agenda to define and narrow female sexuality. It wasn't until the 90's that clueless right-wingers used the term, which more often than not was used as a pejorative against themselves, to label any attempt to actually care about the effect of your actions upon other human beings.

In other words, if you think calling me "politically correct" will invalidate my argument, fuck your grandpa.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Early Dark vs. Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Comparing Two Games That Aren't Even Out Yet

I was pointed to this Kickstarter project today: Early Dark, an RPG. Meanwhile, James Raggi IV is finally taking orders for his Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing.

If I were going to buy one of these two games, based on what I know about them as it has been presented to me, I honestly do not know which I would pick. The both have fundamental goals I like very much. Yet both goals, while not in opposite directions of one another, require a significant detour if you want to see both.

Early Dark

I'm in love with the concept of Early Dark - a fantasy RPG based on world cultures beyond just the European Middle Ages. THAT is the kind of game I can see getting more people, and different kinds of people, interested in the hobby. Some would argue that D&D has done this more and more over the years, but... well, bullshit. "Oriental Adventures" is not going to appeal to a whole lot of Asian kids. Hell, I can barely get past the title. How about we change D&D to "Honkeys on Horseback" while we're at it? "Crackers and Krakens?" "Weapons and WASPS?"

No? Maybe no "Oriental Adventures" then. Sounds more like a massage parlor, says my wife. And we all know there are no "happy endings" in old-school roleplaying.

Anyway, yeah, Early Dark sounds cool - I'd love to role something like an Apache warrior or a Zulu priest. The only thing that makes me nervous is the glimpses we get of the character sheet. That looks like some hardcore crunchiness (although it was pointed out to me that may be more reference material than actual stats. And the makers do condemn d20 for being too rules heavy during the video). Still, I see some stuff on there that makes me think very much of old World of Darkness: Arcane, Mundane, Loom, Thrive? These are terms that you can only know the application of if you play the game, unlike "strength" or "magic points." WoD was TERRIBLE for this, and maybe they still are - I don't know. You practically had to be an Eastern Religions major to play "Kindred of the East."

Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

Okay... give me a second to catch my breath... I wonder if Raggi IV would be offended if I call it "Lam-Flam" from now on. Let's find out.

Lam-Flam sets out to do something very different from Early Dark. Duh - James Raggi IV is a champion of the Old-School Roleplaying Renaissance (OSR) and has very strong opinions about it. He's also not at all concerned about the fact D&D is, due to its origins, very ethnocentric. Which isn't to say he condones real-world racism, but that he doesn't see a problem with race as portrayed in the game unless you actively correlate in-game races like orcs with real-world minorities. At least, that's what I've taken away from past posts on his blog - see "D&D and Racism."

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of differences between his game, D&D and the retro-clones is that Lam-Flam actually simplifies the concept of class and race - actually, in some instances class and race are the same thing. Rather than seek to expand your options for customizing and building your character, Raggi IV has condensed everything to "pick from a list of what you want to be."

Which, actually, has an appeal all its own. Especially if you're looking to get into RPGs for the first time, or introduce some friends to the game whom you suspect would balk at the more complicated... well, from what I've heard about Lam-Flam, if it's too hard to pick up your last hope is "TWERPS."

But of course, there's another important aspect to Lam-Flam: That bit after the colon. Raggi IV apparently sought to create a game that captures the spirit of the Weird - less "Lord of the Rings" and more "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in Medieval Europe with Swords." This, I'm very, very interested by, especially knowing that Raggi IV is a gifted writer with a strong imagination in the subject.

The Point?

Why compare two games that aren't even technically out yet? Because I find it fascinating that in 2010, two new fantasy roleplaying games are growing out of the soil tilled by Gygax and Co back in the 70s. Two very different games that are also unlike any generation of the original crop. It's still good soil, and fresh ideas are still gestating within it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Brainworm, Large

Idea totally stolen from Steph Cherrywell's delicious comic Intragalactic. No, really, it tastes good - lick your monitor and see.

The Brainworm, Large (Also know as the 'Brainworm - Large,' the 'Brainworm (large)' or the 'Brainworm fingerquotes Large fingerquotes') is a... um, worm that eats brains, absorbing the information contained therein. It then uses the corpse to find more prey... unless the victim was sentient.

The parasite survives by gripping onto the skull of its victim via four strong mandibles, gnawing into the brain cavity and devouring the contents. The worm then "plugs into" the sensory organs, takes control of the muscle system and receives sustenance through the victims' usual methods. It can live this way indefinitely, preserving the corpse it's riding in an (almost) perfect state. However, the worm can't progress in its growth cycle this way, and usually uses the host to reach a fresh meal of brains.

However, when a brainworm mistakenly latches on to a fully sentient lifeform, something odd occurs. While the victim still dies, the memories and emotions absorbed by the brainworm form a dominant personality. The worm both recalls being a brainworm, and being the victim. In this state, the parasite effectively becomes a new incarnation of the dead host and will simply try and live the life it technically ended. Often with a massive guilt-complex.

For crunchiness (rules, for you non-DnD blog readers), most mental stats of a brainworm-bitten PC or NPC remain the same. The primary difference is that the actual life form is the large grub-like worm-thing stick out of their head, and only damage to it can kill the character. The corpse can suffer damage, and at 0 - CON hitpoints the worm will be forced to detach from its ruined host. Otherwise the corpse can go indefinitely. No critical hits or sneak attack bonuses. The only drawback is that the body cannot heal naturally, and potions of healing (as with any other potion or poison) only affect the worm. Healing spells work normally.

If someone aims for the worm, use the worm's AC to determine if they hit it. If attacking the worm specifically, sneak-attack damage, critical hits DO apply.

If someone attacks the character without aiming for the worm (most figure it's a hat), natural 20s are assumed to hit the worm, but still without bonus damage. Things that hit everything in an area, like fireballs, hit the worm.

So, here's what happens when your PC's brain gets eaten. Drop your Charisma 1d4 for the giant bug and the fact you look like death. Raise your Intelligence and Wisdom each a point for the addition of the brainworm's past meals (which would have all been non-sentient things, remember?). Raise your Constitution 1d4 for being dead meat. Lower your Dexterity a point for mild joint stiffness and counterbalancing the big thing sticking out of your head.

And without further adieu, the Brainworm:

Attached Brainworm, Large
Abberation, Tiny (although quite Large for a worm)
HP: 6
AC: The host's, minus armor, plus 5 (+2 size, +3 natural armor)
Saves: Fort + 1, the other two are the same as the host's
Abilities: Str 18, Dex Host's -1, Con 13, Int Host's +1, Wis Host's +1, Cha Host's -1

Unattached Brainworm, Large
HP: 6
Initiative: +0
Speed: 10 ft
AC: 15 (+2 size, +3 natural armor)
Saves: Fort +1, Reflex +0, Will +1
Abilities: Str 18, Dex 11, Con 13, Int 2, Wis 11, Cha 3
Attacks: Leap and Grab with Mandibles +5
Special: After a successful grab, the worm can automatically bite for 1d10 damage each round until dislodged. On a natural 20 it's grabbed the opponent's head, it may spend a turn to maneuver to the back instead of biting. On the next round, it instantly opens the skull and devours the brain, killing the victim. On the subsequent round it may take over the corpse.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Twas a Dire whatzit... opossum."

Let me go on record as saying I think "Dire" things are stupid. I suspect the idea comes from the Dire Wolf, a prehistoric canine and the largest on record. Fine. Giant wolf. Here's the thing there: Worgs are cooler, and once you've introduced Worgs, Dire Wolves are just confusing.

Dire Bears... okay, a giant bear. Why can't we call them giant bears again? Does that not sound metal enough? You know "bear" and "wolf" are actually the results of "taboo deformation" - that is, in several languages they were called one thing, but people so feared them they stopped using their "real name" for fear just saying it would attract their attention. Thus they called them things like "the brown one," until eventually that taboo reference replaced the actual name.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A True Classic

 Sorry for the recent lack of posts - work's been busy as Hell.* The good news is Kitty and I played our second game this weekend, and it went smashingly. Really just a dust-up with some goblins, but it was fun and challenging enough for a lone level 1 cleric and a thief NPC.

Meanwhile, over on I Hit It With My Axe, Satine Phoenix's character is the first to fall, which lead to the inevitable "NO! BLACKLEAF! I'M GOING TO DIE!" jokes. Man, that thing never stops being funny.

Here's a breakdown of it written as a decent imitation of a MST3K episode. It's one of the many tracts of cartoonist and crazed lunatic Jack Chick, and always good for some laughs until you realize how large a portion of the world has read and believed him.

*Where, according to over 200 tiny little comics, I will be attending.