The Triumphant Dead

It’s a cliche but it is true: the only thing we can do with death is let it make us better people. And remembering is part of that. And it is part of how we grieve. I can no longer tell Jason Sinclair how much he meant to me. All I can do is tell you. So we all get better.

A long long time ago, I wrote a short story about angels. One of the very first short stories I wrote. In it, one of the angels says he is currently employed as a muse. He clarifies this position: it’s not about being some beautiful object or ideal which inspires an author: his job is to find new, struggling artists and tell them their work is good.

This year has been the first year I’ve been okay with calling myself a writer, and a game designer. I’ve been therefore thinking a lot about how I got to that point, and how hard it was. About the enormous things that worked against me. And about the forces that worked for me.

I sometimes feel as if I never had friends until I found the internet. There were exceptions, but never people who supported me the same way. Maybe it’s easier on the internet to say you love someone. Maybe it was because I finally found some nerds, people who were like me. Not in an adolescent way, as adolescence was long gone. But artists and feelers. People who saw me as great. People like Keith and Jim and Isaac and Winna. People who put my quotes in their signatures and said my brain was amazing. People who wanted to hear me talk. Not stare at me like I was stupid, maybe even retarded. Not sigh at me for doing something they couldn’t understand.

Maybe the first of these was Jason.

I don’t remember the thread or the reason but I pitched my first silly idea for a card game, which was called Temple Tantrum. Everyone is playing a Jesus (one of many Jesii) and trying to do the most damage to the moneylenders in said Temple. Throwing over tables, hitting them with a braided cord. Scoring points for spooking a donkey. And then there was Jason who liked it. Like it so much he wanted to make it. SERIOUSLY want to make it.

Sent me emails. We brainstormed early design. I didn’t have the skill back then, nor the self-conception. Only just got the latter. And I’d written the pitch as a joke. But Jason believed, and never let it go. Every time I was down, he’d bring it up again. Maybe half-seriously some times. But sometimes very seriously. To him, it had to happen. It was the best idea, and it had to be made.

Belief can be dangerous. So many people want you to be who they see you as, do things the way you want them to do, and if you fail to do so, will decide it’s because you don’t believe in yourself. They use belief like a weapon. They believe in methods, not outcomes. But the shoe that fits them will never fit you. If you want to believe in something, believe in its outcome, not its path. In its total, earth-shattering world-conquering success. Don’t believe in people, either. People don’t really exist. Believe in ideas. In projects. In dreams. People are too complicated to believe in, and just need to be loved. Ideas need belief. Have esteem for people, confidence in ideas.

But do believe. It matters some much. At a very young age, I saw this moment on the Muppets and spent a long time waiting for it to happen, praying for it to work. But too many people believed in me in general, like “yeah, you can do whatever you want”. Which had the edge of demand in it too – you better do something great. And you can’t believe without support either, that too has a demand to it. You know that one thing you said that one time? Why isn’t it conquering the world yet? That’s “belling the cat”. Believing in an idea means giving to the idea.

I’ve come back to this a lot over the last year, but everything is about power. Never trust anyone who tries to take power away from you. Surround yourself with people who give you power. And give out power. Sometimes that’s just “this is idea is great, I want to see it”, over and over again. Sometimes that’s just “I love this”. Other times, it’s “what do you need from me?” or “Hey, this is how I want to help us make this.” Sometimes we’re worried about that taking away from ourselves, and that can be a danger. But collaboration makes us all grow and do more.

Jason was a man who understood about this rule. He gave power to those around him and to their works. Charged them up. Made them stronger, made their works stand firmer, reach higher. And I miss him terribly.

 

 

 

Panel Ideas for GX

Very quick notes of panel ideas for GX. I’m moving house and then house sitting so low on time, so here’s my ideas, let me know if you want to panel up with me.

 

It Is Forbidden – It Is Forbidden is a unique story-making game of building cultures and taboos and watching them tear each other apart. You the audience will collaborate to build two unique fantasy cultures – and learn something about your own. (This could also be done in the game area)

Extra Mans – Masculinity, Toxic and Otherwise, And The Hypercompetitive Ideals of Game Culture

How To Succeed In the Tabletop RPG Industry Without Really Trying – making them, selling them, freelancing.

Narrative In Tabletop – The New Hotness. The Gone Homes of tabletop are emerging. Let’s talk about how we got there and where it’s going.

Diversity: Strategies, Action Plans and End Points. We know it matters, but what do we do as individuals?

The New Nerd – How has nerdiness changed since Tolkein wrote Lord of the Rings, and why does that matter?

 

Also, does GX have LARPs? I’ve been asked to run Sunset Claws again, but need a venue and the right crowd.

Designated Survivor: Another Silent RPG

A scene is a thing where artists bounce off each other. The amazing Ben decided “hey, an RPG where nobody can speak” and I was like “That’s crazy, who would want that?” but then he did it and it was good and I was like “WOAH BOY I’M GONNA LEAVE THIS TO THE EXPERTS” but then I was like “Hang on, I’m gonna get on this new hotness before the trend gets old.” Because if you haven’t designed a silent RPG who even are you in this industry? Geez.

So I present:

Designated Survivor

You will need: a regular pack of cards and a piece of paper and a pen for each player.

You are in a plane, plumeting to your death. There is no oxygen and wind is rushing past so nobody can talk. There is one and only one parachute. One person gets to live. Interestingly, it was a plane carrying the governor, his associates, his press team, and some people who recently were part of a meet and greet.

Everyone draws a card and looks at it without showing anyone. They then check the table below to see who they are.

Make sure everyone understands their card and the rules. Then, nobody may speak until after voting.

Round one: Everyone goes around the table and mimes their identity, indicating why they should stay alive too. You get ten seconds, tops.

Round two: Once everyone has done that, go around the circle again. This time, each player picks someone else and writes down two words on a piece of paper (you’re falling from the sky remember) saying what they think the person was miming and why such a person should – or should NOT – survive. Only two words. Use arrows if you like to make it clear who you’ve chosen and what you’re saying about them. Show it to everyone to make your argument. You may also, of course, mime as well. If you don’t know what to write, write “?” You can contradict someone else on their guess, or agree with their guess but disagree with their verdict and so forth.

Voting: Everyone close their eyes, on the count of three, point to who they think should live. Open your eyes. Most votes wins. If it’s a tie, everybody dies.

Reveal your cards and identities, and score, and hopefully have a laugh.

Scoring:

If you drew a heart, you are self-sacrificial and score a point if you don’t live AND someone lives.

If you drew a diamond, you are selfish and score two points if you live.

If you drew clubs, you are psychopath and score two points if everyone dies (so you need a tie)

If you drew spades, you believe in justice and score two points if a heart lives OR if there is no heart, score one point if at least a diamond or club dies and someone lives.

Score one point if someone guessed who you were correctly UNLESS YOU HAVE THE JOKER (see below) in which case score two points if nobody knew who you were but did not figure out you were the joker.

To figure out who you are, look at the number of your card. Apart from the name of your role, the other information is just guidelines to help you roleplay and make decisions about who to save.

Ace

You are the youth.

You are worth saving because you have your whole life ahead of you.

You might prefer to save someone rich and famous.

You might not prefer to save someone in authority.

Two

You are the teacher.

You are worth saving because you guide young minds to greatness.

You might prefer to save someone who is young.

You might not prefer to save someone who has never sacrificed.

Three

You are the cop.
You are worth saving because you risk your life to keep others safe.

You might prefer to save someone who is a good citizen.

You might not prefer to save someone who rejects society.

Four

You are the doctor.

You are worth saving because you work to save lives.

You might prefer to save someone who lives a healthy life.

You might not prefer to save someone who lives an unhealthy life.

Five

You are the scientist.

You are worth saving because your knowledge can save the world, or build ways to save lives.

You might prefer to save someone who understands your work.

You might not prefer to save someone who has smaller concerns.

Six

You are the artist.

You are worth saving because your work can uplift the soul.

You might prefer to save someone who feels deeply.

You might prefer not to save someone who ignores their feelings.

Seven

You are the celebrity.

You are worth saving because you inspire millions.

You might prefer to save someone who is also prominent.

You might not prefer to save someone who is anonymous.

Eight

You are the oppressed activist.

You are worth saving because you are rare, and you represent others who were not saved.

You might prefer to save those who are helpers.

You might prefer not to save those who are oppressors.

Nine

You are the governor.

You are worth saving because you hold the fate of millions in your hands.

You might prefer to save those who will ensure your legacy.

You might prefer not to save those who will speak badly of you.

Ten

You are the journalist.

You are worth saving because you can tell the stories of everyone who died.

You might prefer to save someone you consider heroic.

You might prefer not to save someone who is too much in the spotlight.

Jack

You are the millionaire.

You are worth saving because your money can save so many lives.

You might prefer to save someone who will protect your investments

You might prefer not to save someone who has no concept of wealth

Queen

You are the lover.

You are worth saving because one of the other passengers loves you and you them.

You might prefer to save the person you love.

You might prefer not to save anyone else.

King

You are the mobster.

You are worth saving because if they do not give you the parachute your allies will hurt their relatives.

You might prefer to save nobody but you.

You might not prefer to save everybody but you.

(Yes, you can be a heart-suited mobster – you’re mending your ways in the face of death)

Joker

You have gone insane with fear. Mime something random in order to confuse people but not so random they know you’re the joker. Score as if your suit is diamonds.

On Diverse Sexualities in Daughters of Exile

In Daughters of Exile, the players take on the role of synthetic women, created to be perfect male companions. If they ever fall in love with a man and pledge him their troth, they must do as he says in all matters, or further walk down the path of rebellion which leads to their eventual but assured destruction. But at the same time, they are desperate to love and to be loved. It’s a conundrum.

It has been suggested that bisexuality and lesbianism is the solution: fall in love with a lady, and she cannot have control over you. Hence a quick note on how sexual attraction works for Daughters:

Daughters are NOT intrinsically heterosexual, certainly not strictly so. They are programmed to want to love and marry a man, but that’s a broad church of desire. Nothing says they are programmed to sexually or romantically desire men, and nothing says they are programmed against any of these feelings towards women. Indeed, since a lot of Daughters are born and trained in close proximity in their Dollhouses, and often spend a lot of time together in rich communities when men talk and walk amongst themselves, Daughter romances are common. Much more so among Daughters who have fled into Exile, because it is of course against one’s programming to betray one’s husband and romance another.

Whether still bound to a man or cast into Exile, loving one’s same gender goes against the demand of being the perfect wife, so requires a Programming Check. Anything more than a chaste holding of hands demands a roll; even if you never loved or wed or even met another man, it is against the rules. Yes, the programmers never bothered to ensure that Daughters might not love women, all they did was make it forbidden. Being a Daughter is so often agony.

EDIT: In extremely rare cases, a human woman might have enough money to afford a Daughter, be gay, AND prefer a Daughter to a human companion. Remember though that human women are virtually extinct outside of earth (and increasingly rare there also), and independently wealthy women virtually unheard of. But in such a case of princesses or empresses with a preference for the female, they might order a special model Daughter designed to be attracted to a female spouse. Again though, this would be only their programming, they might inherently be straight, as such is the way of cosmic irony. Likewise, it’s entirely possible that, since they are organic, a Daughter’s brain might be male-gendered despite appearing to the world as female and being programmed to act female. Again, the constraint of being a Daughter is typically agony.

But there is a loophole, of course. Everything is permitted if a man says so. If a man demands an action, that action NEVER causes a Programming Check because it is done to please a man. So it is that Daughters wishing to show love towards each other can trick a man into letting them do so by arranging a threesome, swapping, swinging or similar. Indeed, this is often how Daughters who have escaped recruit new escapees: they appear in a man’s life, flirt with him and subtly suggest he and his wife might like a third companion. His dutiful Daughter cannot say no, of course, and a few private seconds (and the joy of an actual loving touch for once) provide the perfect avenues for suggesting escape.

Of course, a lot of men have heard rumours of Daughers being turned to sapphic obsession and betraying their husbands as a result, so while husbands remain keen on the fantasy, they are wary of it too: everyone knows that if your Daughter is looking a bit too long at other Daughters, you need to give her a good seeing-to to remind her what only men can offer. And not let her dally with other women again for a while.

That’s the irony of owning a Daughter – because they are so expensive and valued, every husband is paranoid about losing his. Even though she is programmed to love him and obey him against all sense and reason, everyone knows some run off some times, or get stolen, or break down. They cost too much to even think about losing, so husbands constantly supervise and control their Daughters, keeping them on a tight leash to make sure they don’t disappear from their duty.

Sometimes the tight leash is metaphorical.

 

Masks Playthrough and Quick Review

Masks is a superhero teens RPG that is Powered by the Apocalypse as they say. We had like an hour and a half so we had only time to really do chargen and one scene. As usual, chargen is my favourite thing. You get to see creativity in full-flight, and supers is a genre where chargen really lets you set up a whole sense of a character’s life and destiny (which is why I feel like it’s the best genre for computer gaming, no bloody backstory to go through but I digress…), and we had three amazing creative minds doing amazing work, inspired by random rolls as always at our table.

Windchange was the Doomed archetype. He came from a long line of ancient magicians who, under emotional stress, turned into some prehistoric beast as a reflexive survival mechanism, but sometimes – eventually – if you did it enough, you got stuck there forever (like Uncle Albert, the megatherium in the basement). Like how if you’re making faces and the wind changes – it sticks. Windchange’s family therefore were recluses, hiding from society and life so they were never “agitated”. Windchange was being a bit ‘rowdy’ so had been sent to private school, where he met Amadis.

Amadis – a Nova – was born in a freak thunderstorm where the whole hospital lost power from so many lightning strikes. Amadis has lightning strike scars all over her body, having been hit fifteen times in her short life. Nobody knows why. One strike killed her whole family and now as a ward of the state she’s sent to a private school with her inheritance. Amadis can manipulate biokinetic fields in living organisms, making humans her puppets. Amadis is racked with guilt and indecision, and defers a lot to Sapphire.

If Trump could be president, then the government knew that the most powerful force around was television, and that meant the ultimate soldier of the government would be fictional characters. So began the Pilgrim Project, because the first attempt to force a fictional character onto a living being through dark sorcery created a Dark John Wayne who escaped…but that’s another story. Sapphire – named after the Amos and Andy character who birthed the trope – was to embody the Angry Black Woman, sort of via Cleopatra Jones, in an attempt to – after several strong silent white guys – make the team more diverse. Sapphire is a Bull, the big-hearted, big punching archetype, who is in a rivalry with Amadis, trying to egg her on to do more destruction. Sapphire resents being turned into a race saviour, so tends to act up a lot – such as running away from the Pilgrim Project. She was saved by Amadis and Windchange and now lives in the school grounds as cover.

Windchange has a big crush on Sapphire and looks to Amadis for direction, but the girls kind of don’t really notice him – until Sapphire goads Amadis into getting mad, and then she uses her biokinesis to bully Windchange into transforming. It’s all a bit dysfunctional…But when Lady Amber shows up downtown – a time travelling villain dedicated to preserving important history in her secret temporal-powered amber beams to keep them in her menagerie, it’s that dysfunction that comes to the fore and helps the three overpower her and grab her weird 19th century steam-powered chronal staff. Sapphire breaks it in half, robbing Lady Amber of control but causing her to be possessed by an angry and dangerous Casper Holstein, and there we run out of time…

I like lots of things in Masks. It’s a strong use of PbtA, it learnt some of the big important lessons, like that relationships and how they work are the core of the game, and that translates perfectly to teenage angst. For example, every fight scene has mechanics set by the relationships within the team, and who is feeling distrustful of the team or its leader. That’s strong damn theming. I also love that the chief attributes are Labels put on you by others – by adults –  and one thing you get to do with XP is change those. Another thing you can do with XP is slowly learn Moves only available to adults. The structure of the system seems more rigid than the original AW, in a good way. Some things remain from AW that drive me crazy, like the insistence on describing what your character does BEFORE thinking about mechanics (I always like to let mechanics drive action, that’s what they’re FOR). I gets rid of the annoying OH GOD SO BAD ASS IT BLEEDS writing tone of AW which makes me want to vomit after each sentence, and it doesn’t have the smugness I KNOW BETTER THAN YOU HOW TO RUN GAMES that is even worse. It also writes the teens as in pain without being cliche or pretending it’s all a joke. Being a teen sucks balls and this game understands that and if you’re squishy like me you will bleed looking over the archetypes. If you had bad teen years like I did…you may not want to play Masks. It can hit home.

But it also lets you punch superheroes. Which is a good mix. It is simple and effective, using clear, elegant powerful mechanics to do lots of heavy lifting to produce strong, dramatic characters and cool action scenes, and that’s what I want from an RPG.

In which a trend is noticed

“Kill each other or we’ll kill you all” said the evil disembodied voice.

There was a pause.

“Oh god another fucking trolley problem nerd” sighed the every man, sitting on the floor..

“LIKE OH MY GOD” said the girl pretending to be brave who might in the third act turn out to be a psycho, “Could we have a lunatic puppet-string-puller who for once moves beyond simplistic utilitarianism?”

“Or someone not reducing philosophy to Hobbesian simplicities?” screamed the old woman who was more hardcore than she appeared. 

“Maybe you could just have a youtube show and yell at liberals?” suggested the quiet disabled man who would almost certainly be used as a metaphor for society’s dark Nietzchean tendency to worship the superman. “Or watch Saw and masturbate? I mean it’s much cheaper.”

“WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR SAW FAN FIC” they yelled in unison, then sighed as they realised this was the inevitable early act unification against the oppressor which would soon be replaced with self interest, if experience was anything to go by.

“And Saw was pretty bad anyway!” said the funny one, and they all agreed. A few made jokes about insanely complicated traps and people who jerk off to Rube Goldberg.

“It’s not just bad philosophy,” said the smart immigrant who had not yet spoken. “It’s bad science. A brief psychological questionnaire could predict within 90% how we will all behave in this scenario. And we’ve got studies showing these thing in action.”

“Nor does it stand up as art,” sighed the brave girl who was clearly artistic because she had dyed hair. “We’re all cliches stuck in a cliche revealing a cliche”

“Well actually,” came the spooky disembodied voice, “I’m making a point about enslavement to corporations”

“No you’re not!” shouted back the old woman. “First of all, you don’t get to decide what your point is, the author has no singular authority. Second of all, by reinforcing that humans are monstrous and selfish, you’re just convincing them more and more that they deserve to be enslaved. You are doing the work of any force you might be hoping to criticise. And that’s being generous, and assuming your theme is visible through your endlessly recycled jetsam of stolen tropes.”

“Look,” said the voice. “I spent all summer setting this up and I could have been about doing the sex with hot ladies. So you’re going to shut up and play my game”

“I have a question” said the smart immigrant.

“WHAT?”

“Is this about ethics in games journalism?”

“Nice work” said the funny one.

There was some swearing on the intercom and the sound of something being knocked over. Probably he should have taped this earlier, the hostages thought to themselves. By the time the intercom came back on they had agreed amongst themselves to radically resist the oppressor by refusing to act, while of course recognising that it would lead to greater misfortune in a utilitarianist sense, yet reconciling that with an act of love and political resistance that might in fact have greater resonance and healing to the lives of countless others.

The disabled man did some shadow puppets and they ate the icecreams in the snack machine and generally, it was a pretty good film for once.

The sinister voice on the intercom wrote in his blog that the experiment was a complete success, because he actually meant to inspire people to work together, but nobody believed him or cared. A lot of the hostages had dogs and cats waiting for them, and they got to go home and hug them and that was awesome. Especially for the dogs.

 

 

A Short Game of IT IS FORBIDDEN

So I wrote a game about culture clashes that is a little bit DOG EAT DOG (now in a shiny new edition) and a little bit DIALECT (holy crap it got $100,000 wtf how do I get that kind of cash?) and a little bit Microscope (actually a link to Ben Robbins’ latest game which has just a few hours to go on Kickstarter) and some people think it’s cool.

At PAXAus I got to play it for the first time since its release (which raised a bunch of cash which helped me out immensely). We didn’t have time to roleplay very much or let everyone have a scene in each era, but it’s a very expandable and compressible game. In 25 minutes, we told the story of these two cultures, presented here to preserve them and tantalise you about this exciting game that is only available under special circumstances.

The original culture call themselves the Boomiputra. Their land has very bountiful soil, but is troubled by floods. They are confused by the newcomers because their blouses are too flouncy. Their culture has no priests, for they find religion strange; their ways are kept by a rule of law and the stories of culture, not some mumbo jumbo about sky gods.

The new arrivals call themselves the New Romantics. They find this land full of beauty and are horrified to see the Boomimputra tearing it up to plant seeds. The land lacks cafes, however, which is quite disappointing. They find the Boomiputra odd because of their unreasonable superstitions about werewolves (ie that they are no big deal). The New Romantics have no low born in their society as they are very big on equality and let none go hungry or be denied beautiful landscapes or delicious coffee.

The Laws of the Boomiputra are:

It is forbidden to remove the soil from one’s skin or one’s possessions, for it is life.

It is forbidden to tamper with the soil, for it is life.

It is forbidden to besmirch another person’s reputation unless a crime is proven.

The Laws of the New Romantics are:

It is forbidden to make non-picturesque landscape.

It is forbidden to cut down trees, for they are pretty.

It is forbidden to do science that may cause autism in children.

The New Romantics laws prevent the Boomiputra from farming and caring for the land, and the laws of the Boomiputra make having a clean cafe and a nice view impossible. Eventually, the Boomimputra try to create a new kind of plant that can survive in soil without trees, but soon the New Romantic press accuses them of causing autism in children. This is libel against the good name of a Boomiputra citizen – so the newspaper is closed by an act of force. Protests break out. War is prevented, but a Boomiputra farmer suspected of having these dangerous seeds is killed by a New Romantic activist.

Is that a crime, or a necessary act to save children’s lives? And under whose law will the criminal be prosecuted? Those questions had to wait as time was up.