Random Access #150

For A&E #433
© 2011 Joshua Kronengold, who resides at 48-38

48th ST, 3F, Woodside, NY 11377. eaddr: mneme@labcats.org
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Worldcon was a lot of fun. Lisa and I got to meet Marco Subias and his witty wife, Linda, somewhat to our surprise, as every prior attempt to do so failed ignomiously (in this case, they managed to, apparently by chance, run into us in the con suite at the start of the dead dog. Clearly, we should do an attempt at something like this next time (or more likely, should exchange numbers prior to the con. Progress!)

I mentioned last month that I spend a lot of stuff doing things that weren't working on the APA. Only one of those was reading a lot of One Piece. Another was, now that I had "dead tree" copy, finally reading Nobilis 3.

3 Bad things about Nobilis 3:

The book is quirkily organized (the now usual book of flavor before book of rules, but I was more interested in the rules, due to that being the set of changes that most affect gameplay; plus Lisa noticed lots of references to things that hadn't been explained in the rules yet in her read-through).

Some of the art is wildly inappropriate. The earlier editions mostly used public domain art, which gave them an old-world charm; this one comissioned a lot of art from a variety of artists (one of whom delayed the print edition of the book by tracing art, forcing them to throw out his or her art and hastily find replacements); this one has some great pieces, but also some very odd choices. Like Chibi Lord Entropy.

The game continues to use a stupid name for its GM (Hollyhock God again, of course). I've long since tired of every single game using a different name and abbreviation for its facilitator and controller of the opposition—except in cases where the role of such a person is fundamentally different than in other games, can't we just settle on a single abbreviation, if not name?

And 5 good things:

There's now a system for mortal actions! Fundamentally, mortals have energy points they can spend to do stuff; if they do too much they'll run out and stop being able to do more stuff (whereas nobles can just stop making mortal actions and do miracles instead, including aspect miracles that act like mortal actions, only better). It even interacts with the miracle system—aspect miracles lower than 3 are just doing mortal actions at some bonus (and are even affected by your mortal skill, so if you're a great cook, this will affect your cooking—until you use a miracle to trancend the very concept of cooking, anyway.

The progression of boons to boons + afflictions is fascinating—as is the accompanying change in auctoritas (miracle resistance) and the removal of direct miracle immunity. In general, the result should be positive—but people who based their concept of Nobilis on nobles being functionally unable to affect one another might be in for a rude awakening (I'd always thought of Nobilis acting more like the powers in Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness, so have always assumed it was hard to damage a noble, not night-impossible). Boons are, basically, what they were in Nobilis 2, except that the GM has some leeway in whether to give back miracle points, the (new) mortal equivalent, or a full miracle point refresh whenever they're exercised—like Aspects in Fate, they're a statement of something about your character that is important enough to grant your a reward whenever it gets you intro trouble. Afflictions are just like boons, except that: 1. if you start with one, you aren't really human, 2. Whenever you're damaged, you get a new one as long as the damage lasts, and 3. In addition to acting like boons, they also exert a fact about the world, providing Strike (negative auctoritas, helping pierce resistance) to miracles that help them and auctoritas against miracles that attempt to contradict them.

The "life project" system. There are some flaws here (mostly paging through the very long list of 16 Keys and 19 types of Contacts to decide which ones to take), but this is a neat way of describing some general things about your character and tying them into specific things about your character. The fact that it is expressed in terms of the game's long term project system (which lets you keep track of long term story and what the characters are doing about it) is just icing on the cake.

Treasure. The name is odd, but not entirely inappropriate—as Treasure has replaced Spirit in terms of governing how many anchors you can have and what they can do. Moreover, the concept has expanded a lot; Treasure also grants extra points of bonds/afflictions (as you need bonds to link to an anchor) and expanded what an anchor is and what you can do with it (anchors can be objects or places or groups, as well as people; they're basically your regalia however you define it and your ability to act through such things, and rather than being less powerful than using Aspect or Domain, the power is...just different; you can even perform Imperial miracles through an appropriate anchor—something you can't do with Domain, Persona, or Aspect). If you're playing a noble who is all about your stuff, you want a good Treasure stat.

Persona. One of the telling complaints about Nobilis was that as the power of cats, you could turn a cat into a man, but you could never turn someone into a cat. No longer. While Domain lets you control stuff inside your domain, Persona lets you change the relationship of someone or something with your domain—and turning them into a cat, or letting yourself gain a "cat like tread" is jsut a start. Persona replaced Realm—but doesn't subsume it; instead, the cost of secondary domain has been dropped down to one point per level, and you can get "things in my chancel" as a secondary (or primary, for a Tempest) domain if you want to.

The wound system: One of the quirky things about Nobilis 3 was that the system was backwards. Rather than being "nibbled to death by ducks", the characters were completely immune to lesser damage until they had taken the most deadly wounds possible, and after that could only take serious wounds, and after that could only take moderate wounds, and after that could be knocked off by a feather. Odd, but makes a certain amount of sense; the lesser wounds don't matter until you're heavily wounded, so why keep track of them? The new system has the same essential logic, but removes a bit of the oddness; when you take a bigger wound, you can take any type of wound, but when you run out of one level of wounds, you subsume all lower levels in that level, so you completely heal serious, moderate, and minor wounds when you run out of deadly wounds. This does mean that you still get the wounds—which is good, as you then get Afflictions associated with them (which can, depending on narration, either get in your way or even help you, depending on whether they're "my head is on fire" or "I'm missing an arm").

comments on A&E 429, part 2

Patrick Riley: Sid Sackson's Gamut of Games does include a monopoly-like game with a mechanic not dissimilar to Acquire—players play pairs of cards and "land' on the square matching the resulting coordinate (and then can buy it if unowned or pay rent if owned; rent prices are based on the size of the contiguous blocks of hotels owned by the same player that the landed on square is part of). It's intriguing, and like monopoly mostly in the base concept and end goal (run everyone else out of resources),

D&D 3.X: The problem is, prestige classes really serve multiple purposes in the mechanics. They do, of course, serve to cover background details in the setting. But they also are the only means of fixing multiclassing (particularly with spellcasting classes and classes relying on level-scaling class features). A problem, of course, can happen when players are allowed to stack multiple such classes, but without an "arcane trickster", you can't build a reasonable midlevel wizard/thief, nor a wizard/druid without arcane theurge (or whatever it is).

RPG wish lists: If the idea were about each -player-, not each character, having a purportion of getting his or her way based on how much the player wished for a specific outcome, that seems eminently fair. The players are gamers haggling in a director's conference, not characters subject to the whim of fate and circumstance. Although most games that implement this naturally also give the characters free currency based on their salient abilities. OTOH, while clearly how much you want something isn't the sole determinor of whether you'll get it, it's not a negligible part of same. I'm a writer of some abilility, no mean creativity, and at this point in my life, a proven ability to finish projects I'm willing to invest enough effort in. And I wouldn't at all mind having written a novel. But it's very unliikely that I'll do so, as I'm not willing to make the other sacrifices in my life that would require. Basically, while people are by no means equal, there are choices offered to us that chosing how to distribute a limited set of resources (time, energy, risk) and thus model how much we want them is a reasonable simulation of.

"Doesn't Age" One of the nice balancing factors in FATE is that universally helpful Aspects aren't so much unbalancing as they are weak sauce, as you'll far more often have more aspects you could tag than fate points to tag them with—and it's trivial to manufacture extra aspects if you need to; much cheaper than manufacturing extra fate points (if nothing else, you can take a consequence and find a way to tag the damage results to your favor). It's much more important to have aspects that are easily compellable (admittedly, doesn't age is compellable, but usually only un a way that's inconvenienly under the GMs control. Also, "Doesn't Age" is a terrible aspect; "Unaging Ex-Evil Ex-King of India" is much better.

Lisa Padol: I think Peter Pan is practically, if not actually, a different order of being than the other Lost Boys. Hr comes and goes from Neverland at will, whereas others tend to leave or enter in his company.

Not only were there Rennaiscance corsets, there were dances that relied on the corset to be performed!

Stephen's game: To be fair, we did also get plenty of incidents of people who weren't ready saying "Delay" and then coming in when they were ready (but before the turn order had come around again).

Beth, Diane, and the teachers—was the action stopped while she called teachers, or what? With 20-20 hindsight, I'd have let things continue to move while she called, giving Tryg and Jason a chance to deal with the situation while Diane called for backup. Could have been amusing (or maybe frustrating to Beth).

Hmm. Actually, another approach for a simplified Everway would be a ranking system, eg "rank the four stats, magic, and special powers (you can have things hitie)". then work from there. This actually ends up with sharper gradation than Everway usually has, but is also probably easier to do, and you don't have to be as harsh about level 1 and 2 stats as Everway is (as it's an 18 point system).

Immersion: different people really do have different opinions on what immersion is. That said, while I think people are very capable of modal immersion—remaining immersed in their character while still making complex tactical decisons or even flipping briefly into Director stance to decide it's the right time to spend a Action Point or Luck Point,

The winter break setup. I think what happened is that I drifted off the first time I read it...and the second, so once I got through it I had to wonder whether it served a purpose.

I do think there's a difference between "a thing everyone dislikes" and "a thing nobody wants." For instance, if nobody wants to deal with rape, it's totally fine for it to be off the table. OTOH, one of the fun parts of rp is when you end up with an outcome that nobody was championing, but which is cool anyway—that's part of what's cool about unexpected Prime Time Adventures results, or critical successes and fumbles. There's another factor, too. If you want to support gamism (and I'd argue that most good play has some gamist elements, as gamism Goes With Everything), it's not enough to have elements that everyone wants on the table—you need to also have elements that each player (or at least each player in a gamist mode) does not want. Gamism is all about the struggle—which means you eed bsomething gou're struggling against, so your accomplishments have meaning. Of course, you don't want those "bad results' to happen, generally; you want it to almost always be likely that the characters will stave off disaslter. But the possibility should be there if you want the struggle to matter.

Holmes and the day he was out of coffee: I think what differentiates Fate from Prime Time Adventure and the 1897 larp is that if you build Holmes in Fate, he's never not an awfully good detective, even if you're out of fate points. He's still got a great detective skill, and whatever stunts you bought for him (unless they're fate point powered, anyway). It's just that you don't have the authorial credit to point out how extra special good he is at this stuff to give him a fantastic day until you get some more fate points, nor do you have the credit to make up new facts to his benefit. Additionally, it's not hard to have him make some classically "great detective" line as a compel to give him fate points in the scence—or compel one of his other traits, and then you're back in business. Whereas in PTA, you can't use your abilities at all once you're out of them without a whole enrichment scene to refresh them, and in many larps with limited use abilities, you can't use them at all once they're used up (1897 had a reasonable number of "give another player an extra use of an ability" abilities, but it was still an issue).

I'll happily agree with you that the ladder of adjetives are a problem, not a fix for anything in FUDGE, its derivitives like Fate and Solar System, and for that matter, other systems with their own ladder like old Marvel and Castle Falk. It's a plague. I do see where the ladders came from. Maybe three places. First, the idea that numbers are hard. Except that adjectives used like numbers are just as hard, but now you have to juggle the adjetives. Then there's the idea that tossing numbers around makes things less immersive. Not untrue, but doing the translation? Still breaks immersion, and simple clean breaks can often be better than the cognitive break of doing the translation, even if it's not as -public-a break. Then there's the idea that you can use the adjetives to pass information about stats and targets in character. Again, true, but artificial as all get out, and doesn't really make sense in the world. If you want to do that, you're better off coming up with a target/real world translation table and expressing things in character in real world metrics. OTOH, in a home game you lose nothing by losing the adjetives—it doesn't change the actual system one whit.

I should really read Smallville.

Stephen's Supers game: Little Herc is, in fact, quite interesting, partcularly as Dan has stated outright that he thinks the character might be crazy and not actually the mythological Hercules.

Firemaker did also have Black Solstice minions, after a time. But that was a secret.

Cthulhupunk SSP: While it works reasonably well for the three students involved with Mr. Buchs to have non-overlapping plotlines, it would actually be better plot for the two students not involved in an ongoing vendetta to accidentally get plot coupons that Ryojiro, if he had them, could turn in to help complete his vengeance (even if he never got said coupons, it would provide a pleasant frisson—"the characters who can use the info never get it"). However, with Aaron's habit of micromanaging his PCs plots, that becmes substantially more difficult.

The Chinese Fiasco writeup is great! Duelng Twin Brothers! Oh, and Literal Dueling Twin Brothers. I'm guessing the player, rather than the character of the Real Emperor called his brother a Magnificent Bastard, as that's a TVtropism, but you were there.

Fate Cthulhu: You could have had your PC only pretend to kill the other PCs. But that does require setup, like using ketchup to pretend to take out your own eye.

Players playing Revenge in the Venitian Tragedy game: You know what would be a lovely variant on this? Shoulder Angels—the players to your left and right play your shoulder devil and angel respectively, with no power to influence events (though if they want to narrate Megatokyo-esque angel/devil battles, I don't see why not) but responsibility to urge on appropriately flavored action—but still basically stuff in the character's best interest! I don't think anyone has done that mechanic, that I know of. If you wanted a mechanical push, the characters could have a limited method of rewarding actions they favored, giving the player a reason to hearken to their advice (and woe be the player whose shoulder angels agreed on a course of action.

Jerry Stratton: Very much enjoyed the Road writeup; look forward to finding out what the 'deep lord' was.

Wait, is the player GMing V&V Bad GM #1 or bad GM #2? Contextually, he sounds like a third player, but it's doesn't seem as if he's mentioned elsewhere. You know, I think it works better if you use names—even if you change names to protect the cupable.

Paul Cardwell: Most people even in the US have never had a bagel, where "bagel" is defined as dough boiiled in a specific manner, then baked. Even many almost acceptable pseudo bagels are steamed rather than boiled, resulting in them having an unbagel like bottom.

Nathan Wagner: Your essay on skills and skill learning. That said, I think your concept of it taking 1 year for novitiate, 3 for proficiency, 6 for compitence, and 10 for expertise seems convenient, but wrong. Despite its flaws, looking at Chess for an example, you can pretty easily get to novice level in a few hours to a day (it's all rote learning, plus, one hopes, some games). Compitence might take a few weeks minimum, but not that much more, given dedicated study. Proficiency, however, will take a lot more time—probably years.

I like your idea of making high intelligence govern how many different skills you can master without penalty. Regarding Intelligence as the über stat, you'd think you could avoid the problem by making every stat similarly über, but without scaling bonuses for high stats, characters all look the same. You can make stats of secondary importance, ducking the problem, or you can divide up endevour sufficiently that while übur characters can be built around any stat, only a few stats are crucial for any given endevour. This does probably mean doing something to fix defenses—otherwise, you get stuff like in 7th Sea, where the five stats are (under funky names) Str, Willpower, Dex, Quickness, and Agility. In theory, if you speciaze a bit you only need three of those stats—everyone needs Quickness (initiative and # of actions in combat), while you need str and agility to hit and do good damage in melee, dex for ranged combat, and resolve for magic and intimidation. Except that each stat is its own defense, so you need str and agility to dodge and soak melee attacks (and str to soak in any case), agility to dodge ranged attacks, and willpower to avoid being intimidated. Nothing you did n character creation was as mechaically important as getting your stats maxed.

I've also wondered about skill atropy. This is a big deal in the real world, and even in in fiction, but games usually completely ignore it.

That said, I don't think trying to model how skill atrophy works in the real world is the way to go, and I don't think that restricting or penalizing rpg characters for straying outside their "talents" is the way to go. In the real world, we have things we're better and worse at, but sometimes you don't know until you try. And we have the uuniverse to keep track of how often we use a skill and when it begins to atrophy, where it's a serious trag in a game. Plus, I don't ever want to keep track of character bookkeeping over the course of a game year, and I doubt there are many others who disagree with me. So I'd prefer to model characters trying to learn things they're just not suited towards py players deciding that's what's happening and roleplaying it, and usually assume that when a player wants to have his or her character learn something, the character has sufficient talent to learn that thing. Similarly, while I'm happy to model skill atrophy, I think it should be a player decision and ultimately, a player resource, with the player able to use "atrophied" skills as emergency resources and the ability to atrophy a skill as a means of partially rebuilding his or her character.

Actually, only most attacks are successes in the way you state. There are always the fumbles that are a result of misjudging distance or time, insufficient speed or strength, and so on, rather than a result of your opponent's action.

More modern games than C&S provide a narrative framework, rather than rules for how things work in the game world, judging that their players are competent at judging their own background, at least as much as the amateur writers they functionally are. After all, you don't need to be an expert on blacksmithing, horses, or economics to write fiction set in medieval setting either.

I don't see that an immortal would necessarily need to deal with fading memories any more than we do. We forget things—it's one of the things we do, only remembering the more important events and letting much of the rest fade. For an immortal, the mechanism would be similar, but the span would be larger—some events would remain, but most would not. So i don't see that this would be more of an issue for an immortal than an ordinary person, just the overall amount forgotten would be larger. And that assumes immortality doesn't come with an overall enhanced memory, of course.

Non-Tolkienesque fantasy worlds: One can also have the players be active participants in creating the fantasy world—making them as at home in it as the GM is (at least, in the part they're residing in). Or base the world on a different Earth mythology than the Norse roots Tolkien mostly used, and leverage the players' knowledge of that instead—even if you use celtic stuff, you can lose everything but some variant on the elves, and you lose even them if you go with Japanese, native American, Indian, Chinese, Russian, Ancient Egyptian, and so on.

I assure you, I can do a lot more damage to a mobile computer or machine if it isn't defending itself. There are plenty of more and less vulnerable bits inside a computer—and if I can get it open, I end up with a case full of "vulnerable". For pretty much any device you go for the power conduits (gears on mechanicals, tubes or wires on fluid or electics, probably glyphs on magical machines), then primary storage once the thing's stopped moving.

Rolling against a static number vs another die: If you pick the right number(10.5 for d20 or 3d6), the success chance is identical or nearly identical, it's just the variance that goes down. The question then is whether the lower variance is acceptible or even desirable.

Learning: Not all skill gain is equal, though. If you spend a lot of time playing rpg games, you'll get more skill in those video games, in crpgs in general, and trivial knowledge of the events in those video games, but hardly the amount of learning that you get from a dedicated course of study. And many systems will let you get a very high Minesweeper skill very cheaply, but not so much skill in multiple languages or combat.

Monopoly: The certainly is a reason to sell property if the price is right—but you need enough skill to know what the right price is. And serious players will apparently buy and sell options on property. The game does have propery tax and that tax is set around the right place—as a random pull, not something that happpens every turn (what you propose would make rental property net negative, whereas it must be signicantly positive for the game to be functional; there's already a huge risk in overbuilding your property in Monopoly, not leaving yourself enough ready cash to pay expenses). I think for the game to be more gamery, it would need to be somewhat less random, and probably less zero sum. Actually, for a better game on the theme, you'd want to have it be all about commodities,not property, where a monopoly means something. Something like Wealth of Nations, maybe. Although if you want to give people a greater incentive to sell in monopoly, what about allowing (you don't have to; the players can do it) partnerships? I'm much more likely to sell the third green you need if what I get out of it is a third of rents and immunity to rent on the set myself, in perpetuity, plus first option to buy the rest at cost if you need the cash (under the same deal). I'll even likely be willing to kick in some cash to develop the property (a third, presumably, if it's a 2/1 partnership).

Peter Hildreth: We're sorry to lose you on the east coast, but I hope you enjoy life in Kansas! Good luck on the job front, and stay away from twisters!

Steven D Warble: *grin* at the rpg plotting inspired by video games (I was going to say WoW, but you know, I could just as easily say Animal Crossing). Odd jobs for strangers isn't even that unrealistic.

I wouldn't equate helps/hinders the PCs as "adds/subtracts to the game". NPCs that "help" the PCs by telling them what to do or solve problems for them can subtract from the game, whereas NPCs that step into the "Villains players love to hate" usually add to it. I'd look at player agency and how much time the players are doing what they signed up for. Of course, the topic was sympathetic npcs, but certainly npcs that are unsuccessful will generally be unsympathetic. More, even villains can be sympathetic if one finds out enough of their motivation in the right way.

Immortal rpg characters: the usual solution is to have the default starting level for such characters being the usual "young adult" for such a race—say, 125 for an elven adventurer, not 5000. The burden, then, is placed upon players who wish to play an older character than the default to justify it—tell me why your 500 year old vampire is still 1st level! I did once create a pulp character who was thousands of years old for Doc Cross's pulp game and later converted him for Matt Stevens' pulp game (which eventually became Two Fisted Tales). But in both cases, the game's power level was very high (in Doc's game, players could easily create Doc Savage; in Matt's game the power level was lower, but still very very high) and the character had an explicit amnesia beyond 50 years or so (plus any diaries he'd managed to find or retain) that made lack of knowledge and "merely" supreme skill in his specialties plausible.

PCs vs the town: I do think that "the PCs slaughter the town guard" tends to be a bug. This implies a breakdown of authority, with the PCs the masters of all they survey without any of the responsibility this entails. That said, I do think it"s worth looking at what the different things that could be broken here and what some solutions might be. First, there's the the fact of the PCs being at a level where they completely outpower everything in town, but haven't moved onto a better town. D&D characters grow at a prodigous rate, and unless they started out in Ankh Morpork, this will happen eventually. But long before this happens, they should be running out of worthy foes to fight, worthy treasure to acquire, and be filled with the yearning to find somewhere worthy of their greatness—where sure, there are more rival heroes and villains and they can't just walk over the town guard (as the town guard are level 10 minions, lead by level 10 NPCs, not level 1) but they can also find something to do. Second, there's the PCs outpowering everything they meet but not being in charge. Here, the clear solution is to put them in charge. Offer them the crown of the land (it can hardly be kept away from them) and see what they do. Third, there's the PCs provoking a pointless series of fights—one they are either doomed to eventually fail at or unlikely to not succeed at. Here is where I favor reframing the scene as a skill challenge—as neither the players nor the GM are likely to enjoy a fight with 300 guardmen on a battlemat as much as either might hope, and reframing the challenge as something worth playing out just makes much more sense, even if that means, say, starting with "as the last of the guardmen fall to your steel, you are presented with the sight of the king's recent widow weeping at your feet."

Forcing the party to go to the party: Unless you're running a hardcore sim game, it's totally kosher to improvise to match the players' improvistations—keeping in mind that their actions have to measurably impact the narrative. Having two paths the players have to choose, but swapping which thing is behind what path is nasty illusionism. But providing extra reasons to attend the ball which you've designed as a set piece with a bunch of things going on after the players invalidate your first reason to go—or even figuring out why the evil organization doesn't collapse after the players slaughter the big bad on first meeting isn't. The players still had decisions to make. Those decisions still had conseaquences. But it's still important to preserve the pacing of the game—the story is a collaberation between all the players, but the GM has a lot of responsibility for pacing—and there's nothing wrong with recycling.

Michael Cule: I like the altearth Renn magic idea. Maybe the Empire's magic were founded upon plentiful access to access to piped in mana—a resource that became unavailable when Rome went boom. What about draconics or even dragons for the Republic's "superior species?" I'd probably have the barbarians have used tribal spirit magic—maybe developments from that are still popular, whereas the old Roman magics remain in disrepute and their secrets as yet undiscovered?

Hmm. How does your willingness to bring a PC back by retroactively giving her Reincarnation jibe by your horror at a GM refusing to let your PC die? Mucking with the mechanics vs mucking with the background?

Do you dispute the idea that a good story is a good story regardless of media? Obviously, in rpgs, the play's the thing, but you can still end up with a good story or an incoherent mess at the end, and some people will have more fun if you end up with the better story. The big insight to modern (21st century) narrative story gaming (of which narrative roleplaying is one type) is that the way you get those good stories isn't necessarily to have the players keep all the rules of story in their heads—nor to have a GM dictate good storytelling from on high. Instead, the best way to encode rules of storytelling into the game is to bake them into the rules of play, so the players don't even have to be mindful of them for them to push things in the direction of better stories. For instance, in With Great Power, the characters start off with a tremendous disadvantage to any obstacles, but every time they lose, things get better for them—pushing things towards an arc structure where bad things happen, the story hits nadir, then the trend reverses and the heroes eventually triumph (not saying I like the game much aside from that, but it's a neat insight). Similarly, if you want to have the division of scenes into procedural and dramatic, and that of upbeats and downbeats, into a rpg, you want the game design, not the play, to be informed by it. Actually, I can think of one game that already is informed by either that idea or a similar one—fiasco, where the question of black dice and white dice is really whether the scene ends on an upbeat or a downbeat.

Trying to deduce the nature of the universe from the results you get when poking it is more fruitful: This is actually why Zendo is a neat game—it's a game where you're trying to determine the set division rule the GM (called the "Master") is using, but it doesn't matter if you get the same rule he or she is using, as long as your rule always rules the same way. And the rest of the rules of the game stay the same, of course.

Re my Mick ideas: You're welcome! How about an Astronaut (or a diver)?

Comments on A&E #430

Lee Gold: FWIW, Florence, the "humanoid wolf' in Freefall doesn't have a wolf brain—it's hard sf, and she's a member of an artificially created species. As it turns out, while it's organtic, her brain is closest in design to that of the local robots—capable of having imposed "robotic laws", but also quite capable of free will and of high human intelligence (or better).

Study in Emerald: I should read the Adventure of the Empty House, then. I dod do a long list of correspindences for Emerald on my journal.

I'd say hat the Vorkosigans were vassals (and heirs) of the Vorbarras, not minions, but it depends whether you draw a line.

Combat: While in isolation, blows that aren't fumbled "hit', in actuality, blows -aren't in isolation nor is a melee combat a series of blows with opposing defensive manuvers. Instead, if opposed, each attack must be looked it in terms of whether it successfully bypasses the opponent's defense as well as whether it leaves the opponent in a good position for the next action. And many actions aren't attacks (or are finished as "not attacks" even if they began that way) but positioning. So in practice, the best model of combat is competitive attack/defense with advantage from each action in some way carrying over to the next action.

I found monopoly boring myself. Discussing how to make it interesting is much more fun that playing it. I'd like to see Revenge, though.

I'm not sure what I meant by 'touristing", out of context. I think it only had meaning in the context I coined it. [note: look up my own zine in 428] [Ok, done.] Ah—the context here was dual classing. In that context, what I meant was that a high level player who dual classed in order to adventure with a bunch of low level characters felt a lot like going on holiday—the character would get to experience the low level fight with appropriate power level, and all the risks that entailed...for everyone else. The character herself, of course, wouldn't be in any serious danger, as she'd be able to use her high level armor to avoid taking damage, high level saves to make it unlikely that anything would discommode her, and high level hit points to absorb any hits she did take. For everyone else, the game would be deadly serious, but the dualing classing character is just a tourist.

I don't think Castle in the Air is a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle—they didn't seem to occur in the same world. House of Many Ways is set in the same world, though, with links directly back to Howl's Moving Castle, and I found it enjoyable (and more would be spoilery).

Rita's voice: But does Sean have authority on who is in Cheetah? Or only on who was legitimately aboard the ship? If a Weaver Mage cannot sneak aboard a ship if they're trying, I'll agree that nobody can, though. A being could be obvious about being there but not obvious about being alive—a sentient wind, or a mobile that has only just or has been hiding conciousness. Also, someone whose senses were projected inside Cheetah might talk as if they were there without intended malice.

I thought the story in your comment to Nathan Wagner indicated your emotions quite well.

Very much enjoyed the writeup of the pawnbroker game. You probably wouldn't have been reproached for giving out of advice if you'd had a mouthpiece character do it for you.

Brian Rogers: I see the problems with a superhero game in Atlantic City (fwiw , I have family in A.C., so used to visit it with my family when growing up. This was all after gambling was legalized, though—I hadn't realized that there was a sizable illegal gambling (etc) establishment there during the "clean resort' years. One could use a flawed hero like some variants of Booster Gold—with the hero himself (or herself) a piece of work who improves over time. But Trail of Cthulhu is a better fit.

Keven and Kell: The background is actually quite rich, with a full world creation story, a society founded on an odd mix of ecological principles, and humanoid animals that act like their animal type as well as "like humans." I don't know that I'd want to roleplay in it, but that's me. OTOH, I have a mild fondness for the Kevin and Kell RPG if only because its author—Michael Hopcroft, is a former A&Eer.

Dumbledore and the Great Slytherin Persecution Comples: Actually, if one wanted run the high drama events of the end of the book without making Dumbledore seem like a big bully who only cares about the feelings of the students that aren't Slytherin (rather like James Potter, sport hero, torturing Snape and probably other Slyterins as he could get away with), compress the timeline on the book. Make the climax of the plot take place during the house cup, causing the Griffndors to lose points for the Triad's lateness, pulling them to the bottom of the standings—only to have their hasty entrance—and the demaded explaination—earn them points that catapult them to the top of the house standings—without someone clearly lying about the situations to make the Slytherins a laughingstock and amp up the "drama" at their expense.

Mechanics for the Great Detective—you could use Doyle's cheat of letting the better detective have access to clues not revealed (even by him) to the audience (or the other players) until the reveal. This could give a stronger detective a good chance of solving a mystery before the other players figure it out and steal his or her dramatic thunder.

Powers: It's actually not clear whether the heroic immortal in Powers is bodily immortal or whether he is reincarnated periodically and only has fuzzy memories, if any, of his prior incarnations.

Spike Y Jones: The Bargain Bin: Hey, that +1 charisma cloak is a really good deal! Although the sparkling is a bummer. And one wonders if the ever-sharp dagger is masterwork and enchantable—if so, it's a great base for enchanting a weapon..

You not wanting to rate things in terms of game stats. Whereas I tend to think that rating perceptions in terms of mappings onto game stats is both the most immersive way to do so (as it means players can immediately map them to ther characters's abilities without further wrangling) and the most accurate. If strength goes from 1 to 5, I'm going to know—or guess—whether an animal can be lifted by Strength 1 (a cat or small dog), 2 (a large dog, a person) 3 (a horse or large bear), 4 (an elephant or rhinoserous ) or 5 (a roc, dinosaur, large whale or dragon). Sure, in systems with more granularity you might give a range, rather than a specific number, but the game system still tends to be the best place to rate character perceptiions.

Roleplaying games without dice: Also, the premise is flawed—as it seems to presume that games without dice are a priori not mechanically rich and don't have mechanical gameplay. However, even excluding games with cards, plenty of diceless rpgs use resource allocation and guessing mechanics to give them true gameplay—Nobilis does this with mirale points and, as of 3rd edition, a new system for keeping track of mortal intentions. Marvel Diceless uses a complex resource allocation system with character energy getting allocated to power character skills, and them returning next turn, probably not as much as you spent. Even Amber has rules about when the various abilities trump one another that players can manipulate by altering the situation until it favors them.

I don't think having separate forks and things, not for yourself, but for kosher friends is at all common. It's not unreasonable if you have kosher friends who visit frequently (we do have a wok that we've never used on that principle), but frankl f you want to be able to serve the possibility of kosher friends, just use plastic disposable cuttlery, or get glass plates, glass cutlery, and a glass pot.

Marco Subias: It was excellent finally meeting you and Linda at last, after so many cons during which we failed to make contact. We'll have to repeat the exercise—and good luck on the new adventure!

To Say Nothing of the Dog is also set in the Doomsday Book universe, and a quite fun (much lighter than DB, but then most things are). I haven't read Blackout/All Clear.

Lisa Padol: Reijn arc: I'm happy to take credit for there being a villain—that kind of thing just makes things more satisfying. Although I hadn't expected that the plot would be resolved by the end of freshman year.

Dessert worlds: They're not that boring—you can have Seas of Syrup, ice cream and syllabub on the poles, Jello mountans and pudding swamps...oh desert worlds—you spelled it right. Yeah, boring. Everway does have the concept of Realms within Spheres, though it's underused in play, so you could have a desert Realm rather than the whole sphere being desert. Actually, if the desert is "impassable", it might not be generally known that the sphere the desert realm was on was also the sphere another (or more than one) commonly travelled to realms were.

To be clear here, a skill challenge is never a single roll. The whole point is to have a mechanic for resolving complex situations that aren't combat.

"There are a couple of indie RPGs that..." I'm as poly-positive as the next fan (or more), but 3 is still not a couple.

Heathrow "Bagels": They vwere rolls. With holes in them. Unlike the usual non-bagels made and designed by people who have at least a vague idea of what a bagel is supposed to look and taste like, but without the right equipment, so they end up with something that only look like a bagel until you turn it over, these were clearly designed by someone who had only seen a real bagel in a movie. Rolls. With holes in them!

I actually don't see a problem with an immortal that's unkillable in Dogs in the Vineyard, but "death" should still mean removed from play. The player can happily describe their character as dying and coming back in lesser circumstances, but a "death" result should result in the charactter permanently leaving play, even if the narrative is tweaked so that this eans, say, a change in life priorities or being trapped in another dimension, rather than actual death. The consequences to the player should remain, even if the consequences to the character are completely different.

Very much enjoyed the Smallville writeup—I have to read this game! It sounds like the system is all about stakes setting—which does justify the combats being as much about your emotions and relationships as your powers—if your powers are taken into account when narrating the windup and setting stakes, it's not that important that they be taken into account in resolution, as the fight (or argument) is already at a level that could go either way.

Steven D Warble: Enjoyed reading the micro-writeups are Blackspire, Kingmaker, and Secret Library. I take it, one of the questions not facing the heroes in Secret Library was whether the princess was worth more than her jewlery? :)

I've addressd it before, but regarding "outcomes nobody wants," it's worth noting that there are at least two distinct kinds of negative outcomes. There are dramatic downturns—things that might make the characters happy, but are quite satisfying to the players. We want to make these pretty common, if more frequent at the beginning of an arc than later, because dramatic downturns make a story more textured and interesting, and make us care about the story. Then there are disatrous endings—the world is devestated or destroyed, a beloved NPC is killed, a pc or all the pcs are killed, etc. Now, these, we want to be very infrequent, but in most styles of play, we still want them present, as they're what we play to prevent (but sometimes fail). Downturns aren't the result of player failure—they're too common for thatt, but disasters generally should be.

Re Brian Rogers' Frequency mechanic: Frankly, I think as he framed it, it would work fine—it's pretty easy to see when a character is promising to use, say, Lightning as her fourth most frequent power whether she is sticking to that contract and always going for her other powers first (including discarding them because they're clearly not the right approach) or if she's violating it and really treating the lightning as her most frequent power.

Michael Cule: The Alt Europe setting sounds like it could be a lot of fun. A decaying Albian Holy empire is a great starting twist.

Your playing GURPSs mean I'm wrong: Statistical error, I assure you. More seriously, GURPS is probably the popular game that has the highest percentage of players who are interested in it, will buy many or occasional suplements—but don't generally play it. Obviously, people do play it, but it's just not a system people get excited about. Fundamentally, while the system is a great simulationist system, able to adjust as needed between realism and genre emulation, it's not sexy, and really doesn't do much else well—it does what it says on the can, so a campaign powered by GURPS has to stand on the quality of the GMing and the background of the game—the support the game gives you is all about letting you build what you want (and the laundry list approach), whereas newer games are much more varied in approach (if generally more narrativist).

No Cambridge con this year, alas. It certainly was fun, should keep an eye out for an airfare deal to make it financially worth doing again.

Re Slave Girl exploration as your next Chrismas break adventure: Glad to be of service; hope it works out!

Re hp vs intention systems: Different simulations lose different parts of the original, but they always lose something. (reminds me a bit of live steel/pulled blows weapon arts vs rattan with full strength blows) A detailed hp system (or even hp + battlemap) gives an illusion of presenting the state of the action such that you can "get in to it", but the likely results are much more limited than what happens in a more abstracted system where the limits are what the players can imagine or what sounds reasonable. And it's entirely possible for players to immerse themselves in abstractons that are meaningful to them, at least with a little practice. It is true that many such systems will hand off character narration to other players—which unlike abstract resolution does break certain kinds of immersion) despite the advantages of that kind of mechanic—but you can have intent based resolution without passing around PC naration.

Sean Cleary: AD&D had an option for a human character to start another class. It was called "dual classing". As I've mentioned in these pages, I never played 2nd edition.

Robert Dushay: Belated condolences on your mother.

Splitting the party in kids games: Makes a huge amount of sense, as kids are even more prone to some of the problems it solves than adults are!

PTA's fanmail isn't -bad-, per se (you can also spend fanmail out of scene and win narration rights—functionally, you can bet on a scene), but it's not going to work for everyone, particularly as more active players will tend to get more fanmail. A betting mechanic might be worth trying.

Brian Misiaszek: *sigh* Apparently, to a certain set, any attempt at victorian clothing means you're dressed as a leprechuan! I like 'Clock Savage'.

Patrick Riley: The abilit to trade 3 dice in for 1 in Hellcats and Hockey Sticks: Seems like a good deal, given that going from one die to two only adds a bit less than 1 to your average roll (35/36, with a lot of variance) and it goes down from there.

Seeing fewer gripes because there are fewer players and the changes are less significant: What about Gurps, though? The v3 to v4 changes were substantial, enough to require major book conversion, but I've not heard anything at all (unless, of course Nobody Plays Gurps :).

Peter Hildreth: The adventure of Smalley Smoot (and Miss Jackson—who I presume was Holly's character) was very entertaining, and most appreciated. Not to meantion, timely, as we have the first session of a Kerberos club game tonight. Why did Miss Jackson intially protect the natives? Was it to defend her travelling companion?

Nathan Wagner: Character creation is disconnected from the resolution rules of a game. But they meet in the character sheet. You could play a single session of D&D without levels or classes (or magic items) without much change—but you'd need saves/defenses, spells, skills and DCs, other character abilities, attacks (including any Basic Attacks), etc.

I'm quite certain that there have been mystery novels where the perp flooded the system with additional info. Hell, Matt once ran a Two Fisted Tales adventure with that premise.

It turns out that you can do more with a game system than simulate a reality (who knew, right?) frankly, there are enough "simulate reality' systems, so I'm bored with them. I want my system to be doing something more—something like Fate's insight that you have to have bad things happen to you to feel like you deserve good things, or Dogs in the Vineyard's insight that the loser in the argument throws the first punch. "Generic" systems are pointless—give me a system where every mechanic exhibits three novel ideas instead. Myles's system has nothing to do with setting except that a generic systems are dead—it has everything to do with the truth that a system has to be more concious about what it's for than it did back when the state of the art was Gurps and Hero.

One can make a good argument that we've passed several singularities in our lifetimes. Try telling someone in 1972 that in thirty years, they'll be able, for the price of passage from NYC to Boston, purchase a pocket calculator that can watch any movie ever made, communicate via video or text with anyone in the world, look up nearly any peice of information ever produced, &c. The Internet as we know it (combined with portable wireless computing) wasn't even science fiction.

Comments on A&E #431, part 1

Lee Gold: One can also run a computer program from it's location on substrate (a hard drive or whatnot) but with an emulated cpu and display medium—like if one uses VMWare to run Linux or MacOs inside of Windows or some other confguration. So I'd expect that AI hyberships could do the same (run extra AIs that didn't have he ability to control one another, but with one that had hypervisor privlidges and could prevent the others from running for a while or contril their access to the outside world. This wouldn't let an AI run a protoplasmic being, of course, and might be unethical (and would require having somewhere to put the extra copy of an AI—it sounds like storage may be dearer than CPU in this universe).

Good point re Lensmen—though I think that Kimbal Kinnison does grow in wsdom and power over the course of the series. Of course, he's also the result of a breeding experiment.

Paul Cardwell: Lisa and I as both gamers and subscribers to A&E being fun: It certainly is.

John Redden: Doubt I'd enjoy the CoC game, as described. The Traveller game sounds fab, though, if designed for too many players (maybe? That's my first guess as to why the skill expansion).

I liked the dialogue on the Rhino Beetle character.

Spike Y Jones: Good textual points re fast penta. It's dangerous and embarassing.

The best cooks on a camping trip might very well want to train some of the other people in cooking. In CoC mechanics, that means letting them cook and cleaning up the mess.

Athena tripping people: Actually, in a world where the gods interfered and people didn't think this was unfair, I could see clerical spells being allowable in all situations as direct miracles of the gods.

It can sometimes be hard to tell which issues the Responsible Teen will try to call the authorities in on. Nobody called the authorities in on the Meglomanaical Ancient Shaman bent on World Domination (starting by killing a PC student), but then, the characters involved were very careful not to let Diane (our token Responsible Student) know about the plot. Beyond that, she didn't call the authorities when she found that a friend was being repeatedly raped by her brother (because the friend begged her not to) and did try to call the authorities when the students found a tresspasser. It can be a novel strategy to call in the authorities, whether they're police, teachers, or the army, but it has to be used sparingly.