Archive for January, 2009

The Tragic Tale of Caroline

2009 Jan 30

From the campaign we started planning last night:

There’s a song that’s spreading throughout the eastern settlements closest to the Darkheather (the lands controlled by weasels). Gwendolyn, the leader of the Mouse Guard, is worried, both because the events it describes might be true and because it’s causing mice to lose confidence in Lockhaven or even openly mock guardmice. Your patrol has been assigned to discover the true origins of the song.

The Tragic Tale of Caroline
(to a tune somewhere between “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “How Can I Keep from Singing?”)

Far down the road
in Woodruff’s Grove
Beneath a rosy pine
Was born a childe
Both brave and mild
They call’d her Caroline

She grew up strong
With will of iron
And when it fell her time
She gave her heart
Full to the Guard
For such was Caroline

Silent they stole
to Woodruff’s Grove
With intents serpentine
Those wicked stoats
Cut all their throats
Except for Caroline

“You vicious knaves
Shall meet your graves!
By all means take your time,
For soon the Guard
Will hit you hard!”
Or so said Caroline

They took her then
Back to their den
And gave their dark decree
“There’s no patrol
That’s quite so bold
As to return for thee”

The days they pass’d
First slow, then fast
The snow fell all around
But none there came
And so the flame
Of Caroline burn’d out

Now there’s no road
to Woodruff’s Grove
And weasels roam the pines
For still the Guard
With hearts so hard
Comes not for Caroline

Macau Events Calendar

2009 Jan 30

From a calendar of important events in Macau, 2008. Now I just need to find the actual dates for thes events in 1997-1999. The variety here illustrates just a bit of why I love Macau. There are probably a bunch of Portuguese holidays that were also celebrated before the handover.

• Chinese New Year
• Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, the God Jesus
• Feast of the God Tou Tei
• Easter
• Ching Ming (Pure Brightness, the ghost festival)
• Feast of Pak Tai
• A-Ma Festival
• Feast of Buddha (Feast of the Bathing of Lord Buddha)
• Feast of the Drunken Dragon
• Tam Kong Festival
• Procession of Our Lady of Fátima
• Dragon Boat Festival (Tun Ng Festival)
• Feast of Na Cha
• Feast of Kuan Tai
• Feast of Maidens
• Feast of Hungry Ghosts
• Mid-Autumn Festival
• National Day of the People’s Republic of China
• Festival of Ancestors (Chung Yeung Festival)
• All Souls Day
• Macau Grand Prix
• Feast of Immaculate Conception
• Christmas

Triad Violence

2009 Jan 29

Yesterday, I found some enlightening statistics on triad murders in HK.

  • 75% of them are single men killing other single men with bladed weapons (traditionally cleavers and machetes),
  • only 5% are shootings,
  • 10% are bludgeonings,
  • 10% involve women somehow and the ones involving women are usually revenge arsons that target multiple people,
  • most of them take place in relatively public spaces like “entertainment venues” (relying, I guess, on the threat of retaliation to prevent people from testifying in court or helping the police identify attackers).

Notes to Myself

2009 Jan 29

There are three kinds of characters: PCs, NPCs, and SCs (scenery characters). NPCs can become PCs if PCs die; SCs can become NPCs by being given ‘connection’ traits.

‘Connection’ and ‘position’ traits can be strong, weak, or destroyed. When gambling, traits are strained when you test them to draw a card and your total score drops; not, as previously described, when you do not improve your ranking relative to another character.

Add 25s (Traitors) to the very bottom of the triad hierarchy.

When gambling, you can only test a ‘position’ trait if your character has a higher ranking position (and, consequently, a higher number in triad numerology) than the character who currently has the highest total score; it doesn’t matter which gang the character is in, just the character’s relative position within it. You can test a ‘position’ trait as many times as you want, but you risk straining it each time.

Macanese or mixed-ethnicity PCs must start as 49ers (ordinary members), since triads originated as anti-Manchu secret societies and place a lot of emphasis on ‘Han brotherhood’ and ethnic blood ties. Macanese NPCs can hold any rank in a gang except for Mountain Lord and Deputy Mountain Lord. There is no cap on the rank Macanese PCs can attain during play.

‘Connection’ traits can only be tested once per gamble? I think so.

PCs can be fine, injured, or dead. PCs are harmed when they lose a gamble in which the ‘unreasonable demand’ is their death. These are known as ‘deadly gambles’ but don’t necessarily have to be deadly for both sides. Consequently, healthy PCs must lose two ‘deadly gambles’ (without healing in between) to be killed. However, if one character in a gamble declares that they are intending to kill another, the targeted character should be given the opportunity to change their own ‘unreasonable demand’ (since it may be their last), including making the gamble deadly for their opponent(s). Attempting to kill multiple characters in a single gamble is certainly possible, but it is unlikely to succeed when all the targeted characters are given the opportunity to change their demands and team up against the would-be multiple homicide.

NPCs and SCs can be killed by PC saying so; NPCs can also kill SCs this way. If an NPC tries to kill another NPC, they must win a gamble against the NPC. SCs can be saved from instant death by quickly giving them a trait or two (turning them into NPCs), but must immediate enter into a gamble that may end in their death. Can NPCs be upgraded to PCs to avoid a similar fate? I’m not sure.

When framing a scene, first determine which general district is it taking place in.
• Fátima – Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Macau proper
• António – St. Anthony Parish, Macau proper
• Lázaro – St. Lazarus Parish, Macau proper
• Catedral – Cathedral Parish, Macau proper
• Lourenço – St. Lawrence Parish, Macau proper
• Taipa – Our Lady of Carmel Parish, the island of Taipa
• Coloane – St. Francis Xavier Parish, the island of Coloane
• Chuhai – Zhuhai, the Chinese city immediately opposite Macau
• Heunggong – the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, just a quick hydrofoil ride away
• Shamchun – Shenzhen, the Chinese city immediate opposite Hong Kong
• Far Away – deep in the mainland, Malaysia, Japan, Portugal, the UK, the US

The first scene is set on the hydrofoil between HK and Macau (in liminal space!). The characters are guarding and delivering 14K assets that are being transferred to Macau before Hong Kong is returned to China. The players should determine what these assets are (wealth, people, guns, etc.) When in doubt, make it a suitcase full of priceless ceremonial artifacts used in triad rituals from the time of the Qing Dynasty.

A Quick Diversion

2009 Jan 27

Something I’m putting together in the wee hours after work and walking the dog. Jason Morningstar’s agreed to do a bit of editing which is exciting. Woohoo! Everybody loves true crime drama.


It’s Always Funny…

2009 Jan 27

…when a project you thought was dead grabs hold of your brain and won’t let go until you’ve scribbled its details madly across random scraps of paper.

It’s also pretty damn fun. Plus, I learned how to play baccarat out of it.

More news soon.

Why Most Supplements Suck

2009 Jan 26

Cross-posted from SG, where Adam asked whether folks would be interested in D&D4 material based on Transit City, a setting he’s working on.

So this setting sounds really awesome, Adam, and I’d love to play it with you, but recently I’ve been thinking, like, “Why would anyone play in a D&D setting that wasn’t something they made up together with their friends?” I’ve been thinking about this because I’m working on a Shang Dynasty-inspired thing for D&D4, based on some of the ideas we put forward in Hard Boiled Cultures and have been trying to decide if there’s a One Bad Egg product in there somewhere. And my conclusion is like, maybe? Not because I really think other people want to play in my Shang Dynasty fantasy setting (though they might), but because I think the way I’m implementing the setting in 4E might serve as an inspiration for other folks who want to hack 4E into a more “new school indie gaming” style experience. So, yeah, while I’d totally love to see what you’re doing with Transit City, I’d be interested to steal ideas for implementing them in a setting that I created with my friends here, not because I actually want to play in Transit City.

In my mind, the way most D&D products work is ass-backwards. What you want, in my mind, is to inspire people to create their own super cool stuff and provide them tools that allow them to do that in a way that is satisfying and effective at the table. Setting stuff can do this, sure, but, as we’ve discussed here [on SG] recently, setting is most inspiring when it’s a largely unfilled map that sets out the boundaries of a playground in which players can let their own creations loose. Sure, it may feel a bit less exciting as a game designer to not have hundreds of folks roaming around an imaginary place that you created, sending you emails because they’re demanding that you write a product about secret society XYZ, but, honestly, I think there really is something in teaching folks to fish instead of just selling them fish.

Ultimately, I’m more interested in doing awesome stuff the way that you do awesome stuff, without doing the exact same awesome stuff that you’re doing, if that makes sense. Just my 2 cents.

Looking for InDesign CS3 Help

2009 Jan 25

So… I have encountered a bizarre but crucial need for someone who is currently still using InDesign CS3, to help with converting a file from CS4 format to CS2 format. Apparently you need the version in the middle to make that work. Adobe (and/or Macromedia), what were you thinking? Have any of you graphic design folks resisted the need to upgrade? I can probably offer some exciting compensation, like a free copy of Mortal Coil Revised or something else fun.

Murderland Reviews: Pies 13-18

2009 Jan 23

Woohoo! More pie. Halfway done.

13. Sage LaTorra – Consider the Ravens

Premise: Players take the roles of ravens who are inflicting a very specific amount of physical pain and emotional misery on a chosen victim. If they inflict just the right amount, they win and presumably eat the victim. If they inflict too much, there’s “so much pain and misery that the target is over-seasoned,” and they lose.

Thoughts: Sage claims strong inspiration from My Life with Master. It definitely comes from the “timer” school of end games (MLWM, Polaris, 1001 Nights, etc.), using a central dice pool that players remove dice from as they destroy their target’s life. The two different possible endings (win/lose) are unfortunately not that exciting or well described. Additionally, there are several places where it seems like this game really wants to write things down and just skirts the requirement. Using dice to represent traits is fine, but they’re never really used as dice, just as numbers (aside from the random character creation, which is by far the most interesting and appropriate of the two options given). I’m also unsure if you really need the Need dice, since they’re only used to generate the target number the ravens are trying to hit. Better to set the number independently and then only have two dice for each player on the table. More than one die/pool for each hand is too many to keep track of on a bare table (remember Agon). Also, 18 traits seems like a lot of info about the target to generate before play begins. If there needs to be a ton of dice in the initial pool, throw handfuls on the table and generate the target’s life as you destroy it. All in all, the game is definitely playable as is, but probably needs some adjustment if it’s going to be really effective at the table.

Conclusion: Browned.

14. Filip Łuszczyk – A Conspiracy of Ravens

Premise: Well, Filip deleted the only copy of this game after he wrote it, so I’m not sure.

Thoughts: If anybody saved a copy of this one, send it to me so I can review it.

Conclusion: N/A

15. Jason Morningstar – Bodymore Murdaland

Premise: The players play a homicide detective and a bunch of suspects. The detective interrogates the suspects and, during interrogations, real quarters are exchanged between the detective and the current interviewee, establishing and denying facts. The end game determines who keeps all the money (less than $10, but an incentive nonetheless).

Thoughts: The premise rocks on toast but the execution is somewhat jumbled. The section that explains how to determine who the murderer actually is… it’s a jumble of confused grammar. That seems critical to the game and, if Jason’s intentionally being confusing (which could be), that’s kinda cool. Otherwise, I want to know how many people flip coins and who knows the murderer identity to start (the two things that are explained contradictorily). The play rules seem pretty solid, but one thing is really bugging me: there’s no way for the subjects to really interact meaningfully with each other in the lounge, when they aren’t being interrogated. Because all facts are basically established by the detective in interrogations, it’s not clear what they would talk about. Also, there’s no way for the suspects to pass quarters between each other. All money goes through the detective. Now, the game is short enough (30 min) that I would tolerate this in play, but I think it makes things less exciting. Honestly, I wish Jason would set it up a bit more like Glengarry Glen Ross, where the suspects could go out and do things on the street together (earning or exchanging quarters) between getting nabbed by the cops and interrogated (or, in Glengarry, called into the office to be questioned about the theft). That would require a longer game, though, maybe a couple hours. Playing for real money is pretty damn hot, though. Jason, fix this so I can play it!

Conclusion: Browned, but maybe baked enough if you throw it in the toaster for a bit.

16. Marshall Burns – Crow’s Hoard

Premise: This is a version of Spades/Hearts that ravens play, betting their favorite shiny objects

Thoughts: Simple and elegant, taking a classic card game structure and adding a resource gathering mechanic. I would probably want to play a few hands of it to get a sense of how the different suits interacted and what kinds of strategies made sense, but I can’t imagine any real problems that would emerge. Marshall definitely took advantage of my relative open restrictions on the type of game that could be designed. I’m not overwhelmed by how awesome the game is, but it’s definitely solid and playable.

Conclusion: Baked.

17. Josh Roby – Quoth the Raven

Premise: Players take on the roles of the Raven Lord (a trickster god), the Crow Maiden (semi-divine), the Boy (a mortal), and any number of Chorus members. Together they tell a story, with the order in which they add lines to the story constantly being shifted by their actions. The story ends soon after it narrates the death of one of the non-Chorus storytellers.

Thoughts: A neat addition to the “ritual negotiation” school of design (Polaris, Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, Mist-Robed Gate, etc.). Each addition to the game must be said in a single breath, which is a brilliant way of limiting freeform contributions. The three main storytellers are very cool, though I wish the role of the Chorus was defined more and the Crow Woman’s quest was explicitly defined. As it is, it seems like the Boy and Crow Woman are likely to team up to resist the antagonism of the Raven Lord. The Crow Woman also confusingly seems to break her own rules in the example, where she narrates the speech of one of the characters. I also wish there was a bit more guidance as far as the content of the storytelling goes, not just the structure, since I think that’s one of the main weaknesses of structured storytelling games like Once Upon a Time and Baron Munchausen. Even if the structure is really interesting, sometimes the stories themselves fall flat, either because of “too many cook” or because they’re not really heading in a clear direction, just meandering along. Very playable and interesting, but could do with some playtesting and strengthening.

Conclusion: Baked.

18. Christopher Weeks – Crow’s-Feet

Premise: Players play people talking after their 20th high school reunion, after the niceties are over: when people stop being polite and start being real. Some of the characters are “main characters,” which are jointly controlled by two people, and the rest are just passed around as needed. There are scenes about characters’ various issues, after each of which, crows feet are drawn on the image representing the main character, pointing up or down depending on how they’re dealing with the issue. Play ends whenever the players think it’s done.

Thoughts: The guidelines for this game give it a very haphazard feel, but I think that works in this particular case, since Christopher is basically giving you light suggestions about how to structure an experience that is largely about player-directed exploration (in the normal sense, not Ron’s). Some things do feel tacked on, though, like each character being represented by two people. Interesting, mechanically, but there aren’t really any suggestions on how to do that or ways in which that obviously adds to the game. Also, the drawing crows feet, while the connection to the theme of the contest, might not be the most evocative mechanic. I do like the idea of doing something with the “this is my high school yearbook picture; this is me now” thing, though. Not exactly sure what to suggest. I really dig the simplicity and usefulness of the issue-generation table, though. That was a neat concept. All in all, I really wish there were more short-form roleplaying games (or poems or whatever you want to call them) that took this kind of loose structure, especially when exploring personal or emotional issues. I played one with Emily Care, James Brown, and Mark Majcher at GenCon 2006 and it was definitely a strong experience, even though we just improvised most of the structure. I like that Christopher gives you a premise and a little bit of structure, but trusts the group to be able to make the rest work.

Conclusion: Browned, but also earns the first special award, a Bronze Emu Statuette for making me think hard about different ways to present a roleplaying text.

I Feel Sufficiently Chastized

2009 Jan 23

I was poking around Adam Dray’s little indie MU experimentation parlor, The Foundry, yesterday. And, while they were very welcoming, both Adam and Dave were like: “Review our Murderland games, bi-atch!” So I’m going to temporarily give up my plans to start programming Transantiago as an 8-person MU game and try to finish Murderland reviews before I start getting death threats.

Also, thinking about text-based virtual worlds made me recall my youth playtesting Castle Marrach for Skotos. And I was like, “Didn’t I receive an email from one of the other playtesters a few months back? I wonder if I ever got around to responding to it.” So I went and checked and I got that note in September of 2007. Whoops. Double chastisement! I emailed the guy back and am going to have at least the first half of the Murderland reviews finished today. This has already dragged on too long, even if I was expecting, like, 8 games instead of 36.