athelind: (hoard potato)
Dungeons & Dragons is infamous for having a lot of minutiae that "nobody's ever going to use".

This is a long-standing tradition in the game: as a single example, Greyhawk, the first supplement to the original D&D rules, contained elaborate modifiers for comparing specific weapons to specific kinds of armor that almost every player dismissed as an unnecessary complication.

Blackmoor, the second supplement to the original D&D rules, had a whole section about "Underwater Adventures" that almost always gets lumped into this category. There are pages of underwater combat rules, the effects of casting spells underwater, pelagic and benthic monsters galore, and no small supply of aquatically-themed magic items.

Most players looked at all of this and immediately decided that they would never, ever, EVER venture underwater. The most obvious obstacle of Not Drowning was the matter of least concern, easily handled by spells, potions, or magic rings; the Monsters of the Deep were formidable, but no more so than those found in other, drier regimes.

No, it was the matter of sheer inconvenience.

The normal strategies and tactics of a typical band of adventurers would be severely curtailed in the Undersea World; the mainstay offensive spells, Fireball and Lightning Bolt, were ineffective or uncontrollable; heavy armor limited one's swimming mobility; swords, axes, and other weapons that relied upon swinging were severely penalized, in favor of stabbing and thrusting weapons like spears and (of course) tridents). Bows and slings were useless; the only viable ranged options were heavily-modified crossbows. A party from the surface had a choice between fighting in hobbles, or abandoning their precious arsenal of magical toys.

And for what? The same gold and jewels that every monster hoarded, with the added bonus of overspecialized magic items that were of very little use on dry land -- or in the underground corridors whence most characters in those ancient days spent the bulk of their careers.

All in all, it was deemed far too much trouble for too little reward. Not "risk", mind: D&D players have never minded taking crazy risks with their ultimately disposable, but they have always HATED being impaired, disadvantaged, or "nerfed". A Dungeon Master who dragged his players into an underwater adventure risked horrible retribution: I have heard stories that I hope are only an urban legend about a disgruntled gaming group that added anchovies to the DM's pizza, in order to "maintain the theme".

(Excuse me, I need a moment. Brrr.)

Alas, D&D is also infamous for failures of imagination.

There is a lot of underwater-themed material in Blackmoor -- more material than a DM might need to take a party of surface dwellers on one or two dips in a pond.¹ There's enough there to build an entire campaign around, a long-running game centered around aquatic adventures. If players hate getting dragged underwater once in a while, though, who'd want to pull their party under the waves on a regular basis?

Here's the thing: Blackmoor is also full of intelligent aquatic creatures, many of whom would be entirely viable player characters.

Why not have a whole party of aquatic characters?

Merfolk, Tritons, Locathah, the inevitable Sea Elves.

If memory serves, the section even includes underwater options for the various PC classes -- again, sections that "nobody would ever use" if they were only thinking in terms of surface dwellers descending to an especially damp dungeon.

Of course, since tabletop gaming never throws anything away (except THAC0), the vast bulk of this material was inherited by AD&D, D&D3/4/5, and Pathfinder. Despite this, in the forty years since TSR published that book, we've seen official, published D&D campaign worlds set in a Hollow World, on a dying world, in the Romulan Neutral Zone of Gods and Demons, and far more, but to my knowledge, neither the Lads in Lake Geneva nor their Coastal Successors have ever published a campaign setting based on the adventure potential of three-quarters of the surface of a typical Earth-like fantasy world.

Other than GURPS Atlantis, I don't know of any other game companies doing so, either for their own systems or during the turn of the century's explosion of third-party d20 products. The SFRPG Blue Planet might qualify if you're not too picky about that line between "high fantasy" and "hard science fiction".

I have never even heard of anyone running their own aquatic campaign. I've proposed such a thing myself a few times over the decades (including a superhero variation using Champions), but each time, it's been shot down in favor of more traditional game milieus. Did you really expect me to go a whole post without a single TV Tropes link?

I honestly don't understand this. Mermaids are perennial and iconic elements of fantasy and folklore -- more so than faux-Tolkien elves. The ocean is a beautiful and varied environment even before you start dropping fantasy magic and fish-people into it. The generation that turned this oddball hobby into an industry grew up on Captain Nemo, Aquaman cartoons, and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

I mean, I get why some of my other pet ideas have no traction in the gaming world; even I can see that playing a squad of inch-tall CMDF agents might have a limited appeal.

This one, though, seems like a natural.

athelind: (RPG: grognard)

This post links to

Yesterday, I found myself reading, and it reminded me of one of my quirks as a Game Master: as I've mentioned before, when I GM tabletop, it doesn't matter what genre the game is supposed to be ... there's about a 60% chance that it'll turn into a horror game.

It's not that I'm particularly fond of horror as an RPG genre. I just have a knack for it. When I'm GMing, at some point, I'll look at the players, smile wickedly behind my GM screen, and think, "oh, I just had an idea that might really wig them out."

You see, if you want to run a really effective horror game ... don't tell your players.

Over the span of three decades and change, I've done this in classic first edition AD&D, in a space opera game, and in two superhero games. Not a lot, I suppose ... until one notes that my stints behind the screen are rare and years apart.

The campaign that dove the most deeply into the horror rabbit hole was SUPPOSED to be a superhero game. I've alluded to this one before: the players were playing game versions of their real-life selves, and got super-powers when a UFO exploded near them.

I really intended -- I wanted -- to run a Fantastic Four-style campaign, using weird and amazing powers to explore bizarre phenomena and deal with off-beat threats.

However ...

The players were not primarily comic book fans.

What's more, this was the 1990s ... at the height of popularity of the X-Files.

Exacerbating matters, one of the players was, in real life, a Marine MP who had worked with FEMA at some point. I said, "UFO Crash", and he replied, "I'm not allowed to say whether or not FEMA has a plan to deal with this situation, but if they did* ..."

This was the metaphorical equivalent of reaching over, jerking the wheel, and sending the car into a spin. The whole party immediately slipped into Aaiiee Conspiracy Paranoia the Government Will Vivisect Us Mode, and I realized I had just lost control of the campaign.

So I did what my race car driver father taught me to do in a literal spin:

I turned in the direction of the spin and stepped on the gas.**

So, they all had Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men ... and they all wanted to lie low, go back to their lives, pretend it never happened, and try to keep the Gummint from ever finding out who was there at the crash site.

I could have doubled down on superhero tropes, and set up a big, public situation where Only They Could Save The Day ... but I had a sneaking suspicion, somehow, that this wouldn't goad them into action. I realized that, despite everyone signing on to play a superhero game, they didn't want to be superheroes.

They wanted a Paranoid Conspiracy with the Government Out To Get Them.

So I gave it to them.

I took the exact same power set that one of the PCs had: Teleportation, and a global scale ESP that manifested as erratic visions, a "teleport destination sense", and the ability to pinpoint technobabble "anomalies" that included other people sharing their power source ... and I gave that template to an implacable sociopath that the Shadowy Government Conspiracy had kept under lock, key, and power damper until they needed him to find the PCs.

([ profile] kolchis gave me the invaluable suggestion of looking to Dean R. Koontz's gallery of empowered sociopaths for inspiration.)

He slipped his leash almost immediately, and started stalking them.

I gave them a few initial hints ... and then, when they'd all gathered at a restaurant to talk about the weird shit that had been happening to them individually, the Marine MP didn't show up ...

... and as they were sitting there, right outside the window where they're sitting, a body slammed into a car from a significant height, shattering the windows, denting the hood, and making the alarms go off.

The body looked just like the missing party member.

The PARTY'S clairvoyant was able to tell that, even though there wasn't a mark on the corpse ... the heart was missing.

I then shifted to where the missing party member actually was ... in an alley, with the water from a recent rain dripping off a fire escape ... drip ... drip ... drip ...

And he wasn't alone.

I shifted back to the alley, where the party realized that the body before them wasn't really their associate -- the build was wrong, the height was wrong -- but someone else whose face had been ... sculpted, somehow.

Back in the alley ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

There was a figure who was always JUST out of our missing party member's line of sight. Any time he'd turn, there'd be a voice behind him, or off to one side, or above him, patiently explaining that, after his "translation", nobody else was really visible to his new senses. He came to understand that he was the only real thing in a world of shadows; he could see souls, you see, and nobody else had one ...

(... drip ... drip ... drip ...)

... until he sensed the PCs ... being born.

After two decades, I don't remember all the details of the encounter, or why, but it was something along the lines of, "go back to your friends ... and let them know ... I am a jealous god. And I am coming for them."

And then, as the session ended, I queued up Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

*They did. It is no longer classified. Fnord.
**This works. It's saved my life twice, once in a '71 Chevy van, once in a '97 Ford Aspire.
athelind: (ouroboros)
I turned 50 yesterday. It feels pretty good: a fresh start.

I must finally be a "grown-up", because my answer to the question, "what do you want to on your birthday?" was "get this furshlugginer report done and to the client by the end of the month."

... no, seriously. I actually had a dream the night before last about being hijacked by friends and family and getting dragged off to a "fun" gathering, while all the while thinking, "But I wanted to get stuff DONE this morning! I told my manager that I'd have that on his desk! I'm losing HOURS of work!" When I actually woke up and got to work, there was a palpable sense of relief. I was wholly engaged in the problem-solving, both the data analysis and the minutiae of layout and production. I was busy non-stop, and enjoying myself thoroughly. With as many birthdays as I've spent without gainful employ, being occupied might be the Best Present Ever.

Getting my paycheck AND a quarterly bonus on my birthday is right up there, too.

Another Truly Excellent Present: after a year of record-low rainfall, the "storm gates are finally open", as our local TV weather announcers like to say. We're getting wave after wave of storms that are doing their level best to make up for the last year in the span of a couple of weeks. We're close enough to the edge that we'll probably still be in official drought conditions for the rest of the year, but next year looks like an El Niño year, so things might get REALLY wet.

(Eventually, Californians will understand that an "average rainfall year" almost never happens: our "average" is the mean between five years of drought and two years of flooding. Once we start planning accordingly ... well, then climate change will screw up the pattern, but nevertheless.)

The juxtaposition of Birthday and Rain has brought an amusing wave of pleasant nostalgia, triggered during the long commute home yesterday. The big El Niño of '78-'79, which brought an end to the long drought that shaped my childhood years, corresponds neatly to the release dates of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which shaped my teenage years. Hearing pouring rain playing its staccato on a metal roof always brings me back to the lazy days I spent curled up in the back of our motor home, pouring over the latest volume of AD&D (or, more often, some unofficial supplement from some third-party vendor).

The cheap bindings, terrible typesetting, and cheesy art based on cheap dime store toys didn't matter. For all my critiques of "dungeon fantasy", I remember the open-eyed excitement and possibility of High Fantasy, of a hobby built around creating entire worlds. I've got that rare wave of wanting to play a D&D-style RPG again, though it might be better served by getting back to work on my own High Fantasy Magnum Opus.

It's possible my "grown-up" status may still be in some degree of dispute ...

athelind: (Sci Fi)
All right. The last two entries have had far too high a quotient of Your Obedient Serpent Griping About Stuff He Doesn't Like, and I am trying to avoid that.

Let's start kicking around constructive ideas, shall we?

"Q-Space" is an old idea I had for RPG-friendly FTL. I originally came up with it ages ago, when I was playing CHAMPIONS, and applied the Hero System conceit of different "Combat" and "Non-Combat" speeds to FTL Flight, the only movement power that didn't have it. When I realized the sociopolitical ramifications of Slow-Then-Fast FTL, I kept the idea on file, and actually used it in a GURPS SPACE game -- that game ran about twenty years back, so this idea's been kicking around for a long time.

The basic idea is that there are different regimes where The Rules Are Different:
  • C-Space is the regime where the speed of light is "c": i.e., "normal spacetime".

  • K-Space is "Slow FTL": about a light-year per month, for extended travel.

    • Everything is conveniently scaled for swooping sci-fi FTL battles, and looks like Jack Kirby drew it.

    • Masses (ships and planets) appear proportionally larger

    • Distances appear smaller

  • Q-Space is "Fast FTL": multiple light-years per DAYS, maybe.

K-Space is discovered first, and is Good Enough To Scout and Colonize. Ships are sent out with colonists in cold sleep and crews awake and active, since K-Space is full of Space Wedgies. With months or years of travel time between inhabited worlds, colonial cultures develop in relative isolation, and a "spacer culture" develops unto itself.

After a few centuries, reliable access to Q-Space is developed -- and suddenly, these isolated cultures are all in each other's backyards.

They do not all get along.

To complicate matters, access to Q-Space finally increases Humanity's sphere of influence enough that we finally brush up against Galactic Culture -- and as far as we can tell, the Galactics don't care about our internal affairs; they consider the species the significant level of organization.

I love this idea, honestly. It's a simple, straightforward way to get a lot of radically diverse human cultures interacting closely.

athelind: (Sci Fi)
The Threepenny Space Opera: An Introduction


This is the first in a series of posts under the head of The Threepenny Space Opera, in which Your Obedient Serpent bandies about ideas and concepts for science fiction RPG settings. These are primarily Notes To Myself, and the different concepts may or may not be compatible with each other in a single milieu.

I have been in a Star Wars Saga Edition game for the last four years, and, while I enjoy it a great deal, I confess that I enjoy it in spite of the setting, not because of it. It is hardly an original insight to assert that the Lucasian setting isn't "really" science fiction, but rather, fantasy with a thin veneer of technology; it has some truth to it, but that doesn't curtail my ability to enjoy a rip-roaring laser-adorned Hero's Journey.

If forced to pick a side when the line is drawn between Romanticism and Enlightenment, however, Your Obedient Serpent falls squarely in the latter camp.1 There are elements of Classic Space Opera that are Very Important To Your Obedient Serpent, and they can only be shoehorned into the Galaxy Far Far Away with great effort -- and are entirely absent from, say, Dark Heresy and many of the other starfaring settings offered to the RPG community.

I am rambling, which is nothing new. Let me therefore invoke that tool of PowerPoint abusers worldwide, and proffer a Bullet List:

  • I want a vision of a hopeful, optimistic future. Cautionary tales are an important part of the science fiction estate, but they aren't, contrary to Post-Modern thought, more "mature" or "sophisticated" or "valid". When all the visions of the future are dystopian, when the only message from tomorrow is "Beware", then where will we find the hope and inspiration to drive us forward?

  • I want to Explore Strange New Worlds. Even Star Trek: the Next Generation fell short on this one, keeping NCC-1701-D largely within the borders of the Federation, boldly staying where everyone had gone before; the movies, of course, abandon the notion of "exploration" entirely.

  • I want to Save the Day with SCIENCE!! I want a setting and a system where the Vulcan manning the sensors contributes as much to the adventure as the Dashing Space Pilot.

  • And on that note, I want a game that doesn't shy away from starships and space combat, while making sure that ALL the player characters can take active roles when the Space Pirates drop out of Netherspace, or the Negative Space Wedgie looms on the main screen. I want a game that's not afraid of starmaps, and where travel between the worlds is an opportunity, not an obstacle (or a quick screen-wipe).

There will be more forthcoming.

1 In the topsy-turvy backwards world of Literary Jargon, I am an unrealistic dreamer because I reject Romanticism.

athelind: (Eye of the Dragon)
Goodness. I've let this lie far too long, and I apologize -- particularly since my last post of any substance was "I'M HAVING CHEST PAINS."

I should remedy that, and shall.

First and foremost, HEALTH:

Said chest pains proved not only to be not life threatening, they weren't even a significant health issue. They were, yes, Pre-Ventricular Contractions, and, yes, I do have a family history of PVCs -- but there are no structural issues with my heart. The doctor said that I could go climb Mount Kilimanjaro were I so inclined.

The "flips" have entirely faded, at this point, and considering that they started immediately after I got back from last year's Maker Fair ... I rather suspect the high-voltage jolts I got for funsies from the Van De Graff generator a few booths down from us might have triggered a little persistent twitchery in the old timer.

(Come to think of it, that anxiety/panic attack I had at dinner that one night during Maker Fair might have been the first manifestation -- that feeling of "panic" and "trouble breathing" might have been connected to "GAH MY HEART SHOULD NOT DO THAT" ...)


I am quite enjoying my current employment. My experience with interpreting and displaying complex, abstruse data clearly (read: "Your Obedient Serpent Knows Stupid Excel Tricks") has made me the go-to guy for our company's more esoteric reports, and while I tend to get buried in these Special Projects, I really can sink my teeth into them.

It's still a 50-mile commute, but I'm no longer carpooling with [ profile] kohai_tiger; a few times driving solo gave me a taste for getting in and getting home earlier ... and earlier ... and earlier. When I flew out to Midwest Furfest last November, I started running on "Chicago Time" ... and really never shifted back to Pacific Time. Most days, I roll out around 0400, get to work around 0500, leave around 1400, and get home around 1515, plus or minus fifteen to twenty minutes either way.

Oddly, since I've shifted my shower-taking habits to evening instead of morning, I get up at about the same time as I did when I was carpooling and getting to work between 0730 and 0800 -- but since I seldom if ever have to contend with anything resembling traffic, I get home three to four hours earlier. Drying off becomes relaxing downtime instead of rushed getting-ready time.

I've also found that I enjoy driving in the early hours of the morning, and not just because of the light traffic. I'm very much a morning person, and those crisp, clear pre-dawn hours just seem more alive to me. I confess that I've also been prone to a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder for the past few years -- but I never had an issue while on The Chicago Schedule. It tried to sneak back on the few days that I shifted back to a "normal" schedule during the winter months. I think a key factor is Getting Home After Dark: if you get up before sunrise, you've Seized the Day. If you get home after sunSET ... the day has seized you.


I've been mostly keeping up with the speculative cinema; I can't believe I've let both Captain America: the First Avenger and Marvel's The Avengers slip by without comment, much less any other movies. On television, Game of Thrones is an amazing achievement, and on broadcast television, I found myself wholly engaged and impressed by Arrow.

I am down to a single game on the RPG front: the monthly Star Wars game hosted by [ profile] rikoshi and [ profile] tealfox. The Wednesday night game sessions alternating between Ironclaw and The Dresden Files were becoming increasingly untenable for me, and once I switched to Chicago Time, I simply couldn't continue. Honestly, I'm suffering a bit of Gamer Fatigue on that front; once the Star Wars game wraps up, I will probably gafiate from gaming for a year or three.

My chronic automotive issues were finally traced to a glitchy OBD-II (On Board Diagnostic) computer. That took nearly two months to get replaced and functioning properly; if she proves stable, I may start keeping a packed Go-Bag, so I can head out for spontaneous road trips on random weekends. I spend far too much time traveling the same hundred miles of road (I take different routes in the morning and afternoon), and spending the weekend sitting around home not going ANYWHERE only goes so far. I'm a traveller by ancestry, instinct, and long, long experience, and by golly, I need to TRAVEL.

Oh, and I've picked up a few more volumes of Raymond Chandler ...
athelind: (Eye - VK)
Songs and song titles make great adventure seeds. In the past, I've had GMs who constructed entire campaigns around albums by Jethro Tull or King Crimson.

It's especially appropriate for comic book games -- Stan Lee loved to play on pop music for his story titles. The right combination of words and the songs they describe can suggest entire, baroque scenarios. It's kind of like the way Silver Age DC (and Golden Age Pulp SF) editors would commission a cover, hand it to a writer, and say, "I need a story to go with this."

The questions to ask when you try this:

  • What kind of scenario does the title suggest?
  • Does it describe an event? An adversary? An ally or a victim? Just a general mood or theme?
  • How much of the song itself can I lift to help flesh out the adventure?

So, LiveJournal HiveMind, Your Obedient Serpent has the request lines open: give me song titles that you think would make good adventures, particularly superhero adventures.

Don't feel like you have to be obvious, but don't feel like you have to be obscure, either. "Eve of Destruction" is obvious; "Winds of Change", a bit less; "I Don't Like Mondays" sounds like a Garfield punchline unless you know the song and the story behind it.

Give me titles; if you feel like it, give me the scenarios that come to mind when YOU hear them -- or just toss them down as a challenge.

My players all read this, so I'm screening replies!

*"But that trick never works!"
athelind: (Yog-Sothery)
[ profile] paka made an interesting post about elements of the horror genre turning up in an otherwise ISO Standard Fantasy Setting.

This is a subject with which Your Obedient Serpent has some experience.

More often than not, if a group sits down to play a horror game, it doesn't quite click.

It's when horror elements crop up in other genres that you get that frisson of unease, the shivers up your spine, the hairs raising on your arm.

Stephen King knows why, and spells it out in his classic essay, "On Writing": the essence of horror is contrast. If you're expecting vampires or tentacles monstrosities, they won't hold quite the same terror as if you stumble upon them after a wrong turn in the dark.

Any game of mine that runs more than three sessions will eventually become a horror game, whether I want it to or not. The tropes are just too easy to tap. If I actually set out to run Call of Cthulhu or a game of that ilk, though, it would probably veer off into Monty Python Meets Scream territory.

athelind: (RPG: Setting the Stage)
Another song popped into my head as I was perusing responses to the last post.

It's "defiant and heroic", but in a very different sense than the rest of my examples.

... and definitely not "Wrong Publisher".

Superman never made any money ... )

And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

athelind: (grognard)
I'm kicking around a playlist for the DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds game I'm going to be running Real Soon Now, and I'm looking for for songs with heroic, defiant themes.

This is what I've got so far:
  • Pat Benatar - Invincible
  • Muse - Victorious
  • Bonnie Tyler - Holding Out for a Hero
  • Queen - We Are The Champions
  • Remy Zero - Save Me (Smallville Theme)
  • Five for Fighting - Superman
  • Rush - New World Man

  • Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
  • Blue Oyster Cult - Veteran of the Psychic Wars

Rejected suggestions:
  • Ozzy Ozbourne - Iron Man (Sorry, wrong publisher!)
  • The Beatles - The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  • They Might Be Giants - Particle Man
  • Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

This is just ONE playlist, mind. Another (which will get more use) will be purely instrumental, and there may be adventure-specific lists.

athelind: (grognard)
Gaming Geekery:

Years ago, on a whim, I picked up a big bag of plastic "gold pirate coins" from a Halloween store during their big November 1st sale. I've found they make terrific game counters; they're big and shiny and, compared to those defective marbles flat glass beads that most people use, much lighter to tote around and much harder to lose.

A year or two ago, I wandered through a party store around Mardi Gras time, and noted that they had even bigger bags of Mardi Gras coins, in gold, metallic green, and metallic purple.

So, after noting earlier in the week that Mardi Gras was in early March this year, I stopped by a local party store last week and got a bag.

I'm ab out to start a game of DC Adventures (a.k.a. Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition). DCA/M&M makes extensive use of "Hero Points", which allow PCs to do Cool Things Above and Beyond Their Character Sheet. They also have a "Luck Control" power which bestows Expendable Resources that aren't quite as flexible as a full Hero Point.

M&M originated the "Toughness Save" wound mechanic. Every time you fail a Toughness roll in DCA, you take a Wound, which gives you a -1 on further Toughness checks (and makes you more likely to take additional Conditions that lead up to Unconsciousness).

I've been using counters for Hero Points since M&M 1st Edition. M&M1 gave PCs a lot of Hero Points, and not only was it a lot easier to keep track of them when we used counters ... there was something viscerally satisfying about the sound they made when you dropped the glass-bead counter in the Big Jar. There's a psychological edge to using something tangible that you don't get just from marking a tally on a piece of paper.

While I was hypnotized by the shinies looking over three different colors of coins, I immediately designated Gold as Hero Points, and Green for Luck was a no-brainer. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the purple ones, at first, until I remembered that keeping track of Wounds was a bit of bookkeeping that would also benefit from counters. Just tossing a player a purple coin (or stacking one up on an NPC sheet) will make it a lot easier to track. "What's my penalty?" "How many coins do you have in your stack?"

And Purple is a vaguely bruise-like color, after all.

Computer Geekery:

After three-plus years of using Ubuntu Linux and Open Office on my home systems, I have just spent my first three weeks at a job where I am obligated to use industry-standard Microsoft products: Windows, Office, all the Usual Suspects.

I have to say ... I regret nothing! After running smoothly for more than two weeks, Office decided to be Inexplicably Glitchy this past week. Word just randomly slows to a stop periodically, interrupting my work flow to herald me with the icon that [ profile] normanrafferty has so eloquently described as "a toilet-flushing circle".1 Excel, for its part, has decided that I don't really need cell heights to adjust automatically unless I close Excel entirely and re-open the worksheet in a fresh instance.

None of these quirks would be quite so irksome if the applications hadn't run just fine right up until Wednesday or Thursday.

I will say that there are a couple of Excel features that OpenOffice Calc doesn't implement quite as elegantly, most particularly in the little "cell border" button up in the toolbar. In Calc, that just calls up the "Format Border" dialogue. Excel lets you pick from an array of commonly-used border choices (such as "surround all these cells with a thick black line"), which makes it much simpler and faster to insure that your tables all have a uniform appearance. Still, Excel gives me just as many "why won't you do this simple obvious thing that Calc does?" moments as vice versa.

Oh, and Microsoft Visio is a gem of a layout/floorplan program that seems to have no direct Linux equivalent. In fact, it doesn't seem to have any significant Windows competitors. Nothing else seems to combine that "here's a bunch of commonly-used icons to drag and drop onto your layout" interface with the crisp, elegant lines that Viso produces.

Of course, the only credit Microsoft gets is for having the savvy to buy out the company and rebrand the software.

1 Obviously, the toilet is stopped up, since the circle doesn't change in size at all ...
athelind: (grognard)
Does this ever happen to anyone else?

Every now and then, I get an idea for a character that just won't leave me alone. It would be one thing if it were a character that wanted me to write it—but when this kind of thing hits me, it's almost always a game character.

Sometimes, it's a game that nobody I know even plays. I have any number of files and character sheets and general notes for games like GURPS, Castle Falkenstein, and Mutants & Masterminds.

This time, it's for a game I don't even own, in a genre I haven't touched in years.

That's right. A Dungeon Fantasy character has my creative cortex by the short axons. He'd work acceptably in Dungeons & Dragons proper, but only in Third Edition. He'd work better by far in Pathfinder, Paizo's fork of D&D 3.X.

His story: )
athelind: (Parallel Worlds)
The Legacies premise is pretty straightforward:

  • They Began When They Began. The characters of the DC Universe each started their active adventuring career on or about the same time as their first appearance on the comics stands in our world.1
  • Life Happens. They aged normally2 from that point, and had full lives. Many of them married and had children, sometimes with ordinary people, sometimes with other superhumans or costumed adventurers.
  • Dead Is Dead. If a character died in the comics, they stayed dead, even though the comics eventually brought them back.3 No miraculous resurrections.4,5

  • The Gang's All Here. "Characters of the DC Universe" includes pretty much every character currently under the DC umbrella, including the original stable of National Allied Publications (Superman, Batman) and All-American Comics (Green Lantern, the Flash), Quality (Blackhawks, Freedom Fighters, Plastic Man), Fawcett (Shazam!), Charlton (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question), Milestone (Icon, Static), MLJ/Red Circle (the Shield, the Web), and Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
  • All This and Arkham, Too. In the Legacyverse, the traditional DC "fictionopoli" do not co-exist with the cities of our world; they replace them. Gotham City is Boston, Metropolis is New York City, Gateway City is San Francisco, and instead of Los Angeles, there's a big crater where Coast City used to be. Fictional locales from sources other than DC comics are likely to make an appearance; the suburbs of Gotham include Arkham, Kingsport, and Innsmouth.
  • "Guardians of the Universe" is a misnomer. Oan jurisdiction extends across the "region of dominant gravitational attraction of the Milky Way Galaxy", including the halo of globular clusters surrounding it. As far as is known on Earth, the Magellanic Clouds are "disputed territories". Just who would dispute such matters with the Oans and the Green Lantern Corps is a matter of endless speculation in xenopolitical circles.6 For the record, there are a lot more than 3600 sectors in the Oan Jurisdiction, though I haven't decided just how many there really are.

  • Big Events Usually Happened. Events in the Legacyverse track the main DC timeline(s) fairly closely, right up until the Crisis of 2008 ("Final Crisis"). The various alien invasions, the Luthor presidency, the Gotham Earthquake, the destruction of Coast City -- they've all left their mark. Not all of them did, though, and they didn't all happen in the same way. There Will Be A List Later.
  • Yes, Virginia, There Is A Multiverse. It's ... wider, weirder and more diverse than the one we see post-52, though. Since the mid-1960s, the Justice League have had annual contact with a team from a parallel Earth that call themselves the Avengers ... .
  • Some Elseworlds are Thisworlds. Oddly, while John Byrne's Generations shares almost exactly the same premise, I wound up using very few of his plot twists. I'm using a few bits from Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier (especially Diana's costume!), and a whole lot of James Robinson's The Golden Age.
  • It All Started With K-Metal. This is important enough to give it its own bullet point: "The K-Metal from Krypton" is an unpublished Shuster and Siegel tale from 1940; Joe and Jerry originally planned to have Superman discover his origin and reveal his identity to Lois early on. Please read this; for one, it's a short, fun tale; for another, it's exactly the point where the published stories of the DCU diverge from the Legacyverse timeline.7

  1. There are exceptions to all of these rules, of course. Green Arrow, for instance, doesn't put on a costume until the late '50s, while his comics counterpart first popped up in the '40s. His Bronze Age Road Trip with Hal Jordan and his relationship with Black Canary are just too important, and he needs to be the right age for that.
  2. "Normally" as modified by alien or metahuman physiology, of course.
  3. There will be exceptions here, too. Not every death scene "counts".
  4. Things like Lazarus Pits aren't "miraculous" if they're an established part of a character's background. Ra's al Ghul isn't known for sharing, though.
  5. Yes, this means that a lot of familiar young faces will be in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. More than one regularly-appearing character in the comics will be, well, just plain dead.
  6. For some reason, I never had to worry about stuff like this in Gotham.
  7. You might notice that "K-Metal" has properties not normally seen in the Green Kryptonite that later appeared; those properties may be a plot point.

athelind: (grognard)

I confess that I was a little disappointed when the new edition of Gamma World decided to use a collectible card model to implement random mutations. Gimmicky mechanics like that tend to keep a niche game limited to a niche market.

I was also a little dismayed when the game description included adjectives like "wacky" and "rollicking". On the day of its release, one of my store's regular customers, looked at the blurb on the box, and summed up exactly what I'd been thinking: "Aw, jeez. We always played it straight."

On the other claw ... one problem with the White Wolf version of the game was that they took it too seriously, downplaying the frankly comic-book super-power mutations of "classic" ΓW, trying to treat it as semi-hard SF.

And ... certainly, Back In The Day, we "played it straight" -- but only as "straight" as we played D&D. In those ancient days of yore, there was always a level of whimsy at the tabletop. A D&D adventure could include a Burma Shave sign or an encounter at Monty Python's Bridge of Doom, and it didn't derail the game or detract from the atmosphere. A game like Gamma World wasn't played so much "straight" as "deadpan", and surely, Gabe and Tycho's tale of a Funeral for a Deceased Laser fits perfectly with that style.

The new game uses D&D4 "as a foundation". I hope it's a solid foundation that leaves it essentially D&D-compatible; a huge chunk of the critters in any given Monster Manual fit a post-apocalyptic science-fantasy setting far better than they fit the Tolkien Bar Sinister motifs that the "traditional" D&D settings try to ape.

And, yes ... I'd love to be able to effortlessly treat one game as a supplement for the other, and run a setting with the mix of "sorcery and super-science" of Thundaar the Barbarian.

I have half-a-dozen entries with the "Gamma World" tag, but somehow, I've never managed to link any of them to Bigfella Machine's Mutant Bastards gallery. WotC really should have hired the Bigfella to create the look and feel for the new book.
athelind: (Dragon Conspiracy)
Conspiracy rants are often amusing.

Conspiracy rants that cite Mage: the Ascension as factual material are Comedy Gold.

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
There are Seven Words that everyone dreads when talking to a gamer. They're not Mr. Carlin's famous Seven Words, but in casual conversation, they can often prompt a response that's every bit as extreme. After a few years, those of us who are capable of acquiring at least rudimentary social skills learn to avoid these words, for the most part, but every so often, they just have to slip out.

The words in question: Let Me Tell You About My Character ... )

This brings us to the Songs of the Day: Medley for a Reluctant Android.

1-0-0-1-0-0-1 ... )

I am the modяen man ... )

No, the similarities between "Kilroy" and "Kildare" haven't escaped me.
YouTube has the original, official videos for both of these songs,
but they're both just ... so ... painfully ... Eighties.

athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
What happens if the Doctor picks up a party of first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons player characters? It's guaranteed that at least one will have a Bag of Holding, and there might be a Portable Hole in the party, as well.

By the Narrative Causality Conventions of AD&D1*, bringing either of those into the TARDIS will result in some kind of Negative Space Wedgie that automatically kills the whole party.

By the Narrative Causality Conventions of Doctor Who, however, the resultant Very Bad Thing will result in Several Minutes of Tension and Possibly A Cliffhanger, but it will be resolved by the Doctor invoking technobabble, running around the TARDIS console, and possibly pulling out the Sonic Screwdriver.

Combining the Narrative Conventions, I estimate a 30% chance, +5% per Regeneration Level of the Doctor, that the Doctor will not only neutralize the Anomaly, but that the solution will also incapacitate or eliminate or eliminate whatever aggressor the party was confronting when the TARDIS appeared.

This assumes that this is the Doctor's first encounter with the party, of course. If he's established an emotional stake over at least the course of an episode, that probability will drop to 25% + 2%/Regeneration Level.

In any case, a bad roll will, of course, result in the restoration of the full AD&D1 narrative conventions.

*In particular, unlike most forms of narrative (including later RPGs), AD&D1 eschews the principles that the narrative must continue to a dramatically satisfactory conclusion; in other words, Total Party Kill is not only an acceptable outcome, but, in extreme examples, a desirable one.

Desirable to some participants, that is.

athelind: (claw)
For the Ironclaw players in my audience:


What the ever-terrifying Lady Jakoba really means:

"It is time for the new rules."

athelind: (grognard)
[ profile] paka posted some thoughts on LotR Elves vs. D&D Elves, in which he noted that Unca Gary wasn't that much of a Tolkien fan, since the Professor's work "wasn't pulpy enough for his tastes".

I responded:
I have long felt that the reason Dungeon Fantasy mutated into its own peculiar, inbred subgenre that, frankly, doesn't really WORK that well was because players tried to graft the tropes of Heroic Quest Fantasy onto a system whose initial assumptions were rooted in the very different tropes of picaresque Sword & Sorcery.

I may be the only person who thinks so anymore, but to me, D&D's haphazard combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery isn't so much a matter of "you got peanut butter in my chocolate" as "you're wearing plaid and paisley together."

athelind: (Default)
[ profile] paka posted some thoughts on LotR Elves vs. D&D Elves, in which he noted that Unca Gary wasn't that much of a Tolkien fan, since the Professor's work "wasn't pulpy enough for his tastes".

I responded:
I have long felt that the reason Dungeon Fantasy mutated into its own peculiar, inbred subgenre that, frankly, doesn't really WORK that well was because players tried to graft the tropes of Heroic Quest Fantasy onto a system whose initial assumptions were rooted in the very different tropes of picaresque Sword & Sorcery.

I may be the only person who thinks so anymore, but to me, D&D's haphazard combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery isn't so much a matter of "you got peanut butter in my chocolate" as "you're wearing plaid and paisley together."

athelind: (AAAAAA)
Your Obedient Serpent has no idea what he's gonna do to relax in the near future, because all the things he's frittered away his spare-and-not-so-spare time on over the years actively piss him off right now.

This is, in part, because he's frittered away so much of his life on them, and in part because, well, Busman's Holiday. One of his sources of stress is his low-paying retail job, selling all those time-consuming distractions.

athelind: (Default)
Your Obedient Serpent has no idea what he's gonna do to relax in the near future, because all the things he's frittered away his spare-and-not-so-spare time on over the years actively piss him off right now.

This is, in part, because he's frittered away so much of his life on them, and in part because, well, Busman's Holiday. One of his sources of stress is his low-paying retail job, selling all those time-consuming distractions.

athelind: (grognard)
The Star Wars Saga game run by [ profile] rikoshi and [ profile] tealfox has really hit its stride. Tonight -- well, last night, now -- was the third session, and everything just clicked. All our sub-plots are coming together, Rikki and Teal have a developed a terrific synergy, and splitting an eight-person party into two four-person groups for combat lets us accomplish twice as much in half the time.

This is not, however, why I am immortalizing this session in my LiveJournal.

No, I'm making a record of this night's game because, in thirty-one years of gaming, and I have never rolled like I did tonight.

Six natural 20s.

The run started with the first two times my character -- a medical droid whose obligate pacifism is literally hardwired -- ever made an attack roll in combat.

Then they just started popping up.

It was insane.

And worth remembering.

athelind: (Default)
The Star Wars Saga game run by [ profile] rikoshi and [ profile] tealfox has really hit its stride. Tonight -- well, last night, now -- was the third session, and everything just clicked. All our sub-plots are coming together, Rikki and Teal have a developed a terrific synergy, and splitting an eight-person party into two four-person groups for combat lets us accomplish twice as much in half the time.

This is not, however, why I am immortalizing this session in my LiveJournal.

No, I'm making a record of this night's game because, in thirty-one years of gaming, and I have never rolled like I did tonight.

Six natural 20s.

The run started with the first two times my character -- a medical droid whose obligate pacifism is literally hardwired -- ever made an attack roll in combat.

Then they just started popping up.

It was insane.

And worth remembering.

athelind: (grognard)
Old leezard is old.

I talk about RPGs with a lot of people, most notably, [ profile] normanrafferty.

The Rat has been gaming almost as long as I have, but that "almost" is significant -- never more so than when he'll contradict me about "how things were in the early days".1 I notice similar disconnects when reading LiveJournals, blogs... even the Designer Notes inside published RPGs.

What Rafferty and most other gamers don't realize is those few short years between 1978, when Your Obedient Serpent started gaming, and 1983-84, when The Rat started gaming, are a lot like the first three minutes after the Big Bang.2

Science Fiction Fans refer to "First Fandom" as those who were actively involved in fannish activity before 1 January 1938. The role-playing equivalent, IMNSHO, would be those already playing D&D when Dallas Egbert went missing on 16 August 1979 (yep, exactly 30 years ago this Sunday).3

Git offa my hex paper lawn, you whippersnappers! )

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