Saturday, December 28, 2019

Risk Legacy: War Three

Yes, this is a play report of a Legacy game. That means there's spoilers.

Ben- Khan Corporation, starting in Indonesia
Nathan- Imperial Balkania in Argentina
Logan- Enclave of the Bear, starting in Central Africa
Matt- Die Mechaniker, starting in Japan

Year One

Khan Corporation took over all of Australia and then stopped in South East Asia. Imperial Balkania took all of South America (as well as Central America) and then walked into North Africa, taking the city and the increased forifications within it. Enclave of the Bear's response to their new neighbors was swift and brutal. They flattened Balkania, despite their improved fortifications. They then swept the rest of South America, leaving Balkania respite in only Central America. Die Mechaniker took over half of Asia.

Year Two

Khan Corporation expanded into Africa and took Enclave's HQ, and then blazed right into South America, taking the HQ in Argentina. They then took Peru, but could not eliminate the Enclave in Venezuela. Khan Corporation then withdrew what he had left of his troops to Indonesia. Imperial Balkania and The Enclave of the Bear made a deal to leave each other alone. Balkania expanded into North America as far as Alberta. The Enclave took back Peru, but could not take Argentina back from Khan Corporation. Die Mechaniker took China and South East Asia from Khan, but had a surprise upset in Indonesia, losing almost all of their forces in the process.

Year Three

Khan Corporation's revenge was brutal. Coming from India they overwhelmed Die's forces in China, and then cut a bloody swath across Asia to Japan, where they took the last HQ on the board.

Wrap Up

Four cities were founded: the major city SingaBorland (yes, that's Ben's last name, yes it's funny, yes, let's move on), Alamo in Central America (which has an Ammo Shortage scar on it), the minor city of Bunker in Venezuela, and then Borderland in Afghanistan.

The world is now a mess. Hooray. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christ is Born!

Christ is Born, and all things have changed.

Christ is one with Nature.

He is one with you.

He is one with me.

Christ is Born!

Christ is Born, and He is now in the rapists.

Christ is Born, and He is now in the child molesters.

Christ is Born, and He is now in the politicians.

Christ is Born, and He is in the genocide.

Christ is Born, and He is in the poisoned air.

Christ is Born, and He is in the tsunami.

Christ is Born, and He is in the earthquake.

All is now altered. All is now changed. The cycle need not repeat. We will be judged if it does.

You share a nature with the rapists.

You share a nature with the child molesters.

You share a nature with the politicians.

You share a nature with the butchers.

The poisoned air was made so by those of our nature, unable to resist the poison we speak.

The tsunami is reacting to our nature, in self defense of the creatures that live within the seas.

The earthquake is responding to our nature's insistence on instability.

It need not be this way.

Christ is Born, and He is in your heart.

Find Him and many more than a thousand around you will be saved.

Christ is Born, today!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Risk Legacy: War Two

Yes, this is a play report. Yes, that means there's spoilers.
Nathan: Die Mechaniker, HQ was Fortified (+1 both defensive rolls), began in Eastern Australia
Logan: Enclave of the Bear, began in Argentina
Matt: Imperial Balkania, began in Alberta
Ben: Khan Corporation, began in Iceland

Year One
Die Mechaniker exploded out from Australia, as far as the Middle East. Enclave of the Bear took all of South America. Imperial Balkania took all of North America but Greenland, afraid of overextending, since Greenland still has a Ammo Shortage. Khan Corporation took all of Europe.

Year Two
Die Mechaniker took all of Africa, clearly not intent on doing anything more than being a spanner in the cogs. Enclave of the Bear reinforced Venezuela and Brazil, and nothing else. Imperial Balkania took Greenland and reinforced the Ammo-Shortaged Central. Khan Corporation, however, took Egypt and the Middle East from Die Mechaniker.

Year Three
Die Mechaniker tried to take back Egypt.. .and lost horribly. Enclave expanded into North Africa, taking it from Die. Balkania took Ural, which had the minor city Philippines, as well as Venezuela from Enclave.. Khan attempted to take North Africa from Enclave, only to find that Die had built bunkers for Enclave; the two had set up an alliance after their brief spat in North Africa. The bunker turned the invasion into a rout; Khan had to back off. Khan instead took India from Die. 

Year Four
Die  took back India and the Middle East, and then broke Khan's European continent by taking Southern Europe, as well as taking Afghanistan. Enclave took back Venezuela from Balkania, even with a Bunker being built.  Balkania returned the favor and took Venezuela back. Khan, however, had the most dramatic shift of the round. They struck back against Die, taking back Southern Europe, the Middle East, took East Africa, Madagascar, Central Africa from them as well, and then kicking Enclave out of North Africa. 

Year Five
Striking from Afghanistan, Die Mechaniker took Russia and Scandinavia, and then called in their favor with Enclave, who Ammo-Shortaged Iceland, Khan's HQ. While they didn't take the HQ Die wore it down within an inch of its life... and then backed all the way up to Southeast Asia. Enclave tried to take Venezuela back, and lost. As Balkania began its turn Khan trained Southeast Asia's peoples in the way of the Mercenary, permanently making them a fighting force to be reckoned with; they could see the writing on the wall and knew it was time to prepare for the future. Balkania took Peru, Brazil, and then Argentina, claiming Enclave's HQ. And then, with a massive force stored up in Greenland, Balkania stormed the massively weakened Iceland. With that HQ claimed Imperial Balkania claimed victory.

South America found strength in this series of wars, becoming a more militaristic populace (South America bonus now +3). Kremlania, a minor city, was founded in Russia. Baby Guns, a minor city, was founded in North Africa. Everyone retreated to lick their wounds. A minor city was founded in Venezuela.


Friday, December 20, 2019

The Rise of Skywalker: Review

Over the last few days I resolved to try something that I've not seen anyone else do: approach the Sequel Trilogy on its own terms. I would try to forget the first six films, if only so that I could see what this trilogy had that the other two did not. And what I found was a discussion on the importance of tradition and family to the human condition. One cannot forget what came before, no matter how flawed the previous generation was. Trying to destroy the past inevitably destroys you, whereas trying to conserve its lessons, but to do so with a strong critical lens. And that tradition, provided it's properly followed, will rejuvenate who you are.

This movie takes all of those ideas and dials them all the way up to 11, while adding its own ideas to the mix. Palpatine's return is foremost in the narrative, with a directness that I found to be surprising and refreshing. Palpatine is not presented so much as his individual return but that of the Sith tradition. There's a ritual element in Palpatine's dealings that are hard to ignore, right down to the ritual dagger used to find him. And Rey is presented as someone trying to inherit the tradition of the Jedi, of being worthy of it, which is presented as something more than just being able to lift rocks, but being aware of the people who gave that tradition.

And that's the big addition to the mythos that Rise of Skywalker gives: actual tradition is the awareness of the people who came before you. The ending of The Rise of Skywalker, with all of its pop and flash, reminded me of stories of the Desert Fathers, like Saint Anthony needing an answer to a text from the Old Testament and so Moses came to talk to him about what he had written and why. Tradition is the collective dead, pushing forward to influence us. This is not a passive thing. The dead know. They care. They want us to learn from them. And how we react to this consistent push from beyond the grave is a large part of how we become defined as people.

The last (and most important) thing I want to comment upon is upon the nature of death as it's discussed in Rise of Skywalker. My father once told me that the best thing parents could do for their children was to die when it was time. We pass things down to the next generation by the simple act of dying. This was so that way the child could finally begin to live a life that was no longer defined by the living presence of their parent.  It's an amazing gift to give, to no longer have to be like your predecessor, but yet still have the lessons they gave you so that way you have their wisdom. They are put out of your conscious mind so that way you can just make decisions, just for you.

The Rise of Skywalker closes out a trilogy of movies that is about what came before and how it intersects with the now. It takes the very real issue of how one is to identify oneself and puts it into an incredible showcase of spaceships, lightsabers, and explosions.  And for all of its craziness Rise of Skywalker uses these crazy, child-like, things to say something that everyone needs to hear, all the time. We are not just us. We are those who came before, and we get to choose how that gets shown to those around us.

The Undertow: Session Four

Discussions of rape, abuse and profound despair incoming. Avoid if you want/need to.

Mikansia: The female elf, played by Bryna. Mikansia is currently trying to capture her evil father, Krakeru, who had raped her mother Makirta, who had sailed into the Void a long time ago. She had been sent to the surface by her friend Jabez, who had pushed her into a pirate ship to get her to the surface. Last session she was captured by the human fort of Elfwatch, after asking for assistance in destroying dark elves. It's almost like humans who are fighting elves don't want to tell them apart. One of the guards, Pierre, is going to break her out.

 Captain Akseli: Mikansia's captain from The White Tower. Last session Mikansia ducked a flying ship with The White Tower's flag flying from it. Yngvar is on the ship as well.

The Creature from Dream: a huge, green-scaled creature with mulitcolored feathers coming out of its head. It wears a strange iron mask. It's made offers to help Mikansia before, but always at a cost. Mikansia has never agreed. She doesn't know what the thing is, and was quite unsettled by the incident.

Lore: Due to a misunderstanding of elven courtship and marriage practices from Morgoth's Ring I had thought that elves conceived principally by deciding to. It was what I assumed, practically from the beginning, meaning that Mikansia was born from someone's active and conscious choice. Bryna, being the far bigger LOTR nerd than I, said that was certainly one way to look at it. We both agreed that would make Mikansia's journey a lot more satisfying. Why on earth had Makirta, Mikansia's mother, choose to conceive a child in the midst of rape??

Over the course of the next few days Pierre revealed his plan to Mikansia. A few months ago the fort had begun a series of excavations under The Iron Forest, due to how incredibly dangerous it was to travel through it. The dark elves didn't know anything about them, and Pierre knew enough of the guards to where they could slip past with little trouble. the commander of Elfwatch was in no mood to see Mikansia, and so the chances of her getting a hearing at all were slim to none. So Mikansia agreed.

A few evenings later Pierre came into the cell, with all Mikansia's things, a cloak, and some gloves. As he handed her stuff back his nose wrinkled in disgust; Mikansia needed a bath. No one on the fort smelled as she did and she would get them caught within seconds. After Mikansia dressed snuck outside.

It was dusk. Guards patrolled the walls, off-duty soldiers filled the brothel's bathhouse, and everyone else was either huddled around a fire or in their barracks. They snuck into the soldier's bathhouse. Pierre checked to make sure no one else was in there, and then he stood guard outside while Mikansia cleaned up.. The bathhouses were built on a natural hotspring, so the water wasn't uncomfortable, not by any means! When she got out she and Pierre snuck over to the guardhouse, where the tunnels were, and climbed down.

The earth bore down upon Mikansia the second she was underground. Forcing herself to concentrate, she made herself figure out the layout of the tunnels as they traveled along them. It helped her calm down .

There was not one solitary guard. The whole way.

By the time they had gotten to a tunnel that forked Pierre was beside himself with worry. He pointed to the left passageway and told Mikansia that was the way out, but he couldn't go with her. He had to know why the normally heavily-guarded  tunnels were empty. Mikansia said she'd go with him.

On their way back Mikansia could hear, just barely, a low moaning. And along with it, a scraping. It was the sound of knife on flesh. Pierre couldn't hear it, so Mikansia stopped him and motioned down a passage to their left, indicating there was something that way. They crept towards the steadily increasing sounds. All of a sudden Pierre audibly gasped. He knew who it was that was being tortured!

The knife stopped scraping.

The painful gasps and small cries didn't.

Mikansia could hear foot steps.



But they were coming.

It was another elf. Pierre yelled a blood-curdling war cry and charged. The elf kept coming, unconcerned for the charging man, but began to wave at Mikansia. Mikansia ran up to intercept Pierre, to get him away from the elf.

But once she got closer she stopped; she was so aroused she could barely think straight, just looking at Krakeru, who had her eyes. He stopped, looked at her a moment, and began laughing. Pierre stopped, looked at Krakeru and Mikansia, and it clicked into place in his head.  Mikansia charged Krakeru, but he caught her wrist in a troll-like grip. His grip hurt and thrilled her.

Krakeru stared at Mikansia. he remarked that she looked just like her mother, Makirta. He'd had no idea that Makirta had chosen to conceive, but he was thrilled that she did! Krakeru was grinning like an idiot. His touch was making Mikansia more and more aroused, which made her grimace in her confusion; he understood the grimace and his smile became so large it could have swallowed both their heads. Pierre made a movement toward Krakeru, who spun around, still holding onto a struggling Mikansia, and splattered Pierre's throat acrost the wall directly behind him with one stroke of his sword. Pierre stopped twitching a few minutes later.

They struggled a minute, but Krakeru was far too strong for Mikansia, and so she stopped. Krakeru continued to look at her, drinking in every inch of her with his eyes. She asked him to stop... whatever... it was he was doing to make her react the way she was. Krakeru looked at her, confused. Do what? When Krakeru finally understood what was bothering Mikansia he laughed so hard he almost fell over; he still had a vice grip on her arm. Krakeru asked what on earth Mikansia thought he was doing, dark elf magic or something?? She nodded and he continued laughing even harder, saying that he was like her when he was her age, before he learned the wisdom of the Nameless and their Music.

Mikansia was furious, how dare he compare the two of them! But Krakeru persisted, congratulating her on hiding the truth from herself so effectively. I mean, why accept a deal from a creature from Dream if she could dupe someone into giving her the excuse of literally being shoved? And why break yourself out of a prison if you can get a human guard to do it for you??

Mikansia's jaw dropped. Krakeru laughed again. She was definitely his daughter! No doubt about it. Mikansia asked how he knew so much about what had happened. She wanted to know how he did what he did.  Krakeru told her that there was a stench upon those who had gone to dream. But the rest?

Nothing more would be shared until Mikansia told Krakeru her name. Mikansia flushed. Krakeru sat down, pulling her down with him, and then let go of her wrist. It ached. She gave him the name Miekonnen, but Krakeru saw right through that; stroking her eyes and nose, he told her that Makirta's eyes and nose wrinkled when she lied, even if it was only a second's twitch. Just like hers. Mikansia asked why he wanted to know her name. Krakeru told her she was his only child and that meant something to him. Mikansia asked why he couldn't just find out the way he had found out everything else. Krakeru told her he could, that the Music that he always heard, which let him see through the lies the Khen-Zai had programmed into their race, would let him know, but he didn't want to know that way; he wanted to hear her say her own name. Then he would teach her everything he knew about the Music. Repulsed, but curious, Mikansia stood back up. Krakeru stood up with her, but made no other movement toward her. Mikansia said her name, aloud, to him.

Her face was slammed into the bloody wall. She struggled, but still could not throw him off. Grabbing her by the arms, Krakeru pulled her back and whispered into her ear the first lesson: the Music was not something you heard audibly, not at first; you needed to hear it in your heart, first and foremost.

When he was done he could see how ashamed she was. And he smiled paternally, like a father seeing his daughter taking her first steps.

Mikansia wasn't present. Not anymore. He had pulled her pants back up, patted her rump reassuringly. She found her eyes couldn't focus, try as she might. Nor could she move. He grabbed her by the scruff of her shirt and began to pull her back. Toward Elfwatch. Up the ladder he pulled her, into the chaos.

Elfwatch was locked in battle. Humans were running away, fighting dark elves, and dying. The ship from the White Tower flew in low, dropping Elfhell atop the invading dark elves, lighting up the night in an eerie blue glow. Krakeru laughed aloud when he saw the ship. Sitting Mikansia down against a wall, he told "Mikki" that he was going to show her some real dark elf magic.

Nothing with a throat could have ever made the noise that came roaring out of Krakeru's soul.

Mikansia found she was back. Not all the way, but enough. She could try to get even, to embrace that awful... whatever it was... that Krakeru was channeling.  She could reach out, channel it into her soul, give her strength.

The flag of The White Tower, atop the crashing elven ship, which was rendered unflyable by Krakeru's scream, went through her vision. Mikansia rallied. Using every last vestige of that strength, she rejected that call. She would not be her father.

The ship of The White Tower crashed into the soldier's bathhouse.

The dark elves began their retreat, as the humans had rallied, using their superior numbers to their advantage. Krakeru ran off with the rest of the dark elves, back into the tunnels telling "Mikki" that he'd see her soon. Mikansia couldn't move. She couldn't focus.

Someone picked her up, someone elven was holding her. And then she heard Captain Akselli, comforting her, trying to get her to to sing the Lament of Mourning. And she tried (oh she tried!) to sing along; the song caught in her throat. It would not come. She shook, curled up in his arms as he sat down in a more secluded area. He asked her what Krakeru was to her, and she finally told him. Akselli was startled. He then realized what Krakeru had just done. And he swore that he would help her find justice. He had known Makirta, a long time ago, but had not realized that she was that Mikansia. But, regardless, Krakeru would die. Akselli laughed; Yngvar was going to be pissed. He liked hunting Nameless. And they weren't going home anytime soon.  Not to mention their wrecked ship. Yngvar loved that ship.

The cries of the wounded from the soldier's bathhouse could be heard. Akselli, along with Yngvar, went out to help. Mikansia, after some prodding, said she would catch up in a minute.

Mikansia sat alone, by herself, for a moment.

It didn't help.

She went out to rescue whoever she could.


We're going to take a breather here. And talk.

So, when I asked Bryna for what she thought would be interesting, she responded that she wanted the character to be the daughter of a rape victim. Given my own history, this engendered a very long conversation about what this would entail. And I do mean a long one. Hell, it's still happening now. We talked about what she wanted, what I wanted, and then we made a decision to tell the best story we could out of the desire we both had to explore something a good deal darker than normal.

If there was a goal to this campaign it was to explore the arc of abuse and its effects upon the secondary parties. How do people who are connected to these horrific incidents cope with the ripples such events undoubtedly create?  Having met more than a few female rape victims, several of which bore children from those unions, that's always been an issue on my heart. The issues of what is evil and good go into sharp contrast when one starts talking about rape, and I've spent a very long time considering this sort of stuff. This interested Bryna as well, and so we resolved to make a narrative where the themes of abuse, friendship, and genuine grieving were explored. 

The actual scene when played out came as a bit of a surprise to both of us. While we had talked about the possibility of rape we had never really flesh it out more fully than that. This is one of those moments where play can take you by surprise.  but it felt like a genuine thing to happen, given the what we both knew about the characters, and so we let it evolve. There was a lot of "Are you OK? Are you sure this is OK with you?", from both sides. We knew the incident happened, and we needed to get a few facts set down, and that was as far as we wanted to take it.

And you better damn believe we cut to black as fast as we could. 

I will not pretend it is not vile. It is. Rape is vile. But rape is a symptom for something far worse, something far more universal, which is the weaponizing of pain. And that's something Bryna and I are interested in exploring. Mikansia passed the test, as well as any of us can. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

May the Power Protect You: Jason Lee Scott (MMPR Dragonshield Red)

Every single time I've played MMPR Dragonshield I find myself wondering "Why am I playing without the re-roll?" And then that Dragon Dagger comes out. Or I tank a shot that would kill every other character in the game. Or I realize that my deck is pretty hale and healthy, and everyone else's decks are in shambles. Don't play DS Jason if you want something flashy, cause you'll be in for a bad time. DS Jason is not flashy, he's not sexy, and he's certainly not going to have any tricks that you can say to others "LOOK AT ME!" But DS Jason doesn't care about that. He's here to tank shots, support his friends, and walk out like a bad-ass. And he accomplishes all these things with aplomb.

Your hand starts with the Dragon Dagger and Shield. Given how much energy we start with at in the early game that means that DS Jason can begin the game with a true explosion. Don't hold back this card! Just throw it out there and kill two minions and revel in the slaughter! Heck, take a hit on purpose so you can use the Dragon Shield and then follow up with the Dragon Dagger. This is one of the few times you'll be flashy, so take advantage of it! It will create an opening for your players that they'll appreciate.

Now, part of the reason why I suggest going all out in the first fight is because one of your next actions needs to be Recovery, so that you can put those two cards right into your deck. And this is where DS Jason begins to actually shine. You now have more cards in your deck than anyone else, and not only that but you have tougher cards than anyone else in the whole game. This means that there is no one else in the game that should be taking shots, by default. If someone else doesn't have a fancy trick you really should be taking those hits. And even then, sometimes you should take the hit anyway.

You can do either the Tyrannosaurus or the Dragonzord. Whichever one you pick is based solely upon what you think you'll need. The Tyrannosaurs zord is more generally useful, but the Dragonzord can take a single roll and make it so efficient that you may not need the Tyrannosaurus. If you don't have anything that really boosts attack power I'd go with the the Tyrannosaurus. But if the other zords are able to boost attacks I'd go with the Dragonzord.

This is not a flashy job. It is not a nice job. You are not going to be on the front lines, by and large, except for enormous bursts of power as you realize that you have the Dragon Dagger and the Power Sword, and then you get giddy. And yeah, you're doing things like Lead the Charge and Team Tactics and whatnot, but you really are there for one reason: to tank the hits so that way your team doesn't have to. And, assuming you do some smart uses of Recovery, you will find that you are still faring better than everyone else. And that's when you carry your group as they hurt. And they will. Trust me, they will. At that point you will walk out and practically solo whole fights, burning through your deck at a rate that will surprise even you. The entire paradigm will flip as your group supports you; you certainly have the depth of deck to do it!

But the moment will end; your compatriots will recover, and you will be back to your support and punching bag roll. But that's OK, because you're about the group. Unlike regular Jason, DS Jason can pull through in spots that no sane ranger could, ever. It's not flashy, because there's no insane tricks, you're just a badass. But it's never about you, it's about the group. Trust me, they'll forget about what you did. Who could blame them? They've got all these cool tricks and things they did that are really flashy and everyone will think about those! No one will remember you. But you, the player of DS Jason, didn't play this character to be remembered. You did it so that the group will triumph. And they will, because you were there.

And you'd have it no other way. I mean, c'mon, you're a Jason player

A special thanks to Jonathan Ying, who convinced me to try DS Jason again (and who I still apologize to for underestimating this character), and Joseph Cpg West, who proved I'm not alone in loving this character once I came around. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

On the Road to Skywalker: The Last Jedi


Like I said before, if you're a vitriolic hater of The Last Jedi, I moderate the comments on my blog with extreme prejudice. The Last Jedi is one of my favorite movies. Rian Johnson is one of my favorite directors, and he was before this movie.

I really do not get the TFA comparisons to ANH. I mean, sure, there's some similar plot threads, but the tone of the movie is somber, dark, and (sometimes!) wistfully nostalgic. And, again, I don't think the comparisons to ANH aren't totally inappropriate, just that people want ANH again and are willing to explain away whatever it takes to get it.

And that is never more evident than with The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi, as a movie, is classic Rian Johnson, down to the multiple visual puns that haters try to ignore in order to maintain their illusion that it's an idiotically put together movie. Trying to address this movie on its own terms is almost impossible, because of the sheer number of callbacks, references, and completions of lingering plot points. There is a whole lot going on in this movie that is impossible to fully appreciate without the other seven episodes.

I said almost impossible.

Never tell me the odds! GERONIMO!!!!

The Force Awakens promised us this elusive dude, Luke Skywalker. It showed us what his family felt and thought of him. And there was such a warmth there. They remember him fondly, and don't seem to hold a grudge against the Jedi Master for leaving them. I mean, sure, they want him back, but they clearly love him so much that their anger is overpowered by the longing to see him again. They don't think of him as a deserter. They don't think of him as a loser, they just remember Luke. If your'e not going to show a character the next best thing is to show everyone how much his family misses him. And TFA completely nails that longing.

Are we really that surprised that Rian Johnson, the maker of subversive masterpieces like Brick, did this in response?

You shouldn't be saying "Yes, I was surprised"
Rian Johnson's favorite two themes (pain and grieving) are put to excellent use here. We find out that everyone else had rose-colored glasses about Luke. He did leave them. He does not want to come back. He's honestly bitter that he was near them, ever, at all. Luke's failure is so total, in his own eyes, that he wants nothing to do with all the things that remind him of what he once was. He had become "a legend" and just wants to die so that way someone else can pick up the torch. He's an excellently written mess of a person, trying to kill what's good and noble inside of him, but still showing little bits of hope from time to time. He's not gone.

And yes, he was indeed going to burn those books at the beginning of the movie. Just let that sink in for a minute.


This is the situation that Rey walks into: not a hero, but a broken human being who has made the completely and utterly wrong decision. It's a slap in the face to everyone who loves this guy, and Rey's response of disgust and disdain is completely warranted. The rest of the movie is about Luke becoming that hero again, step by step, inch by agonizing inch.  And I'm sorry, but:

You can't have this moment without the green milk. It's not how people work.
This suicidal urge to destroy what made us so great is continued chiefly in Kylo Ren, as he grapples with killing Han in the TFA. The whole movie is him trying to figure out how he wants to align himself with the world and its history: will he burn the past down, or will he integrate its lessons? He goes for destruction.  Rey chooses to preserve what came before, and that's a choice that both infuriates and intrigues Ben. I love the interplay between these two at this point.

Continuing with the theme of preserving tradition, we've got Finn, Poe, and Rose, who are set up as a deliberate counterpoint. They disobey orders, upset the established order of Canto Bight... and almost lose everything in the process. Conservative vloggers like Jonathan Pageau and The Distributist (both of whom I have a great deal of respect for) don't quite seem to land their interpretation of this arc. To paraphrase Wolfe, people die so that way you can't repeat their mistakes, while then receiving what they did correctly. Finn, Poe, and Rose are what it looks like when you're doing it wrong, at least by and large. To preserve, to conserve, is the proper primary human response to what came before. Not striking out at the things that threaten it.

I have gone on. And on. And on. About The Last Jedi before. It's almost nauseating to me at this point, mostly because I feel like I'm just hammering a railway stake with a ball-ping hammer when it comes to how friggin' good this movie is. We meet Luke. We learn who he is, who he really is, way deep down. And he gives the galaxy the will to fight back. And Rey runs with it.

I find that to be a profoundly hopeful thing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

On the Road to Skywalker: The Force Awakens

Let's be perfectly clear about this. I did not want to write this blog post. Writing my original series of posts was a brain breaking experience. Finding out that others did not put even half that level of thought into... well.... most things... did not help. At all. But my brain won't shut up, so here we are. I'm writing about Star Wars again. God help me. No, seriously, may God help me. I was originally going to write about how I saw the whole series, a year and a half later, one movie at a time, but honestly not much has changed about my views of the rest of the series. It's the sequel trilogy that I've grown to appreciate more. So I'm going to just write about that. I'm going to write about the Sequel Trilogy as if the previous six films didn't exist, or at least try to, to see what these things are on their own. I know that's a bit... difficult... to do... but I think that a really important way to look at these films before their own finale is what they are, just by themselves. I tried to approach this the same way someone did with A New Hope, back in the 70's.

A warning: if you're a vitriolic hater of The Last Jedi please know that I moderate the comments on this blog. Just, y'know, something to think about. Something to consider.

So, when I sit down and re-watch the The Force Awakens with that in mind, the film begins with a really intriguing line.

Wait, who the hell is Luke Skywalker??

Bear with me here, I find this exercise interesting.

By the sound of this opening crawl, Luke Skywalker is the most badass person, ever. Ever ever. His absence is so seismic it allows an entire evil government to rise up, from the ashes of what Luke had (presumably) destroyed once before. Where's Luke? Why did he go? An entire story just pops, unbidden, into my mind. I begin to have questions, about what Luke did to this Empire and what would have caused someone so legendary as to be compared to a galactic entity to just vanish. But the movie promises that we'll get to that. Because everyone is looking for Luke.

Even without my knowledge of left-right for Star Wars, Kylo Ren's opening is weird. The way they shoot him is like that of a good guy, the protagonist. Abrams takes every opportunity to put Kylo in as favorable a shot as he can, even putting the clearly more heroic Poe in the "bad guy" frame so as to keep Kylo as the more "sympathetic" personality. It's a very, very, very weird thing to see. This opening scene screams "There's more to this story than you're being told!" And yeah, eventually we are told more, and it's clear that Ben has been duped by.. something. We're not sure what, but he's clearly bought a bill of goods and can't help but regret it, somewhere deep down.

Finn's intro is powerful. Within a few seconds you know everything that you need to about him, which is that he doesn't know very much about himself. The whole incident with his dying compatriot is a huge surprise to Finn. I love every second of him having his crisis of conscience, and how he is immediately zeroed in upon by Kylo Ren. The cinematography in this shot is just impeccable. It's not my favorite shot in this movie, but it's dang close. But we'll get to that.

OK, so three masks just can't be a coincidence. And, like the other intros we've had so far, Rey's is extremely powerful. She's a tough (how on earth you expect a young girl like that to not be tough and self-sufficient goes beyond simple misogyny into stupidity), independent, kind-hearted, and quite clearly expecting to leave any minute now.  Really, any minute now.

Well, not with Finn.

But any minute now!

The introduction of the previous generation of heroes is done extremely well. I buy that Han, Chewie, and Leia were the heroes who fought beside Luke. And they all worship this dude! All of them! There's such reverence for Luke, and you can begin to get a feel for who he was to these people. It's quite possibly the best way to show how much of a hole Luke left when he vanished, by focusing on the people who were his family. The shadow of Luke Skywalker (who I'm pretending I don't know anything about!) just looms over this movie, casting a melancholic shadow. The simple fact of the matter is that Ben was having trouble and somehow all of these people, who are otherwise great people, let him down.

It is notable that Ben only removes his mask for one person, without prompting, in this entire thing: Rey. He's this dark reflection of everything these other people in the movie say the legend of the previous generation is. And he has no absolutely no issue with telling Rey that the people she's coming to adore are really any good either. He also allows her to shake him and push back. The back and forth of this is revealing on both ends. The connection between them, despite their differences, is palpable in this scene. How many people have looked that deep into Ben's soul?

Rey's conflict is then resolved, while Ben's is deepened. Finn actually comes back for Rey, and there's this look of relief on her face when she sees him again that's amazing. She finally gets it, on some level, that she is worth coming back for. Finn, who had left earlier in the film, came back because he cares. And Rey makes the conscious decision that this is enough for her. Her question is answered. She doesn't need to do anything to have someone accept her, nor should she. Ben, on the other hand, is still buying into the idea that he has to prove his worth by killing his "baggage". And so he tries to cut himself loose.

My first child was almost nine months old when I saw this scene. He'd just learned to crawl, right before the movie was starting. I was wrecked.
Ultimately I think The Force Awakens is a powerful story about searching for your identity in the face of conflict. Ending it on the cliffhanger of facing Luke Skywalker was a brilliant move, because that's exactly what the movie was about! Heck, I'm glad he doesn't talk. There's nothing to say. He's been found. He's clearly unhappy about it, and that's a completely different conflict.

The Last Jedi is tomorrow!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Arkham Horror LCG Review

As of the writing of this blog post, the town of Arkham is in serious trouble. Monsters stalk the streets. Cultists, who have infiltrated every aspect of regular life, are working toward an unknown agenda. And, right at the stroke of midnight, as the cultists are about to unveil their plan, the only man who had any idea of what was going on, Roland Banks, has collapsed into a gibbering mess on the ground. Turns out that the town government was in on... whatever is going on. And it's too much for Roland Banks, FBI agent, to take. Time is running out. Someone else has to step up. But who?

I'd been eyeing Arkham Horror the LCG for years. I mean, how could I not? I love narrative. I can't get enough of it. So, when I found I really enjoyed FFG's newest LCG, Marvel Champions, and when Arkham Horror's core set dropped to about half of what it normally was, I kinda figured why not? I really enjoy the gameplay loop of Marvel Champions, where you discard cards  from your hand to get your stuff out. I'm a sucker for loss and damage, and that game delivers that sorta thing in every move you make.

I got a hell of a lot more than I bargained for.

First off, the core gameplay is enormous, yet claustrophobic. You accomplish tasks in this game by doing a skill check, by and large. There are tokens in what's called The Chaos Bag (which for the moment is more like The Chaos Cup, no bag included in box), that can either give a bonus, penalty, or something else completely random. Cards in your hand can give bonuses to these checks, to help offset what's usually a bad draw from the Bag/Cup; you can certainly "commit" more of these cards, as you wish. There's four different difficulty settings to this bag: Easy Standard, Hard, and Expert. I tried my first game on Easy... and was disappointed. I didn't have to engage with the system all that much. So the next game I upped it to Standard and had a much better time. There's a tight system of choices in this game and, while it seems forgiving (at least at first), you'll find yourself in a world of hurt if you don't take the time to stop, think, and play the right cards.

The second thing that you have going on is the Agenda and Act Decks. Agenda decks are the bad stuff, Act decks the good. You are trying to get through the Act Deck before you get to the Agenda Deck, and may God help you if you fail. Interestingly enough, there is always the option to quit, so that way the big and awful thing doesn't happen. Doing things that further the Act Deck usually give you experience, which you can use to modify your character's deck. The Agenda always has a resource called Doom being generated, which reminds me of Threat in Marvel Champions, except this stuff can be attached to characters and it still counts to advancing the Agenda Deck. Yikes. And, at least from what I can right now, there's not much of a way to stop that advancing Doom, which is accumulating each turn.

And the third "important thing" (there are many) is the the fact that you are traveling between locations in the scenario, each represented by its own card. Now, this requires you to have some actual space to accommodate the locations, but so long as you're willing to bunch up locations that you're not using you can actually fit the game into a very small space, if need be. It's not ideal, but it can be done. Each location has a number of Clue Tokens (which are used to advance your Act Deck, by and large) and a Shroud Value, which is how difficult it is to get those Clue Tokens. Once you harvest that area Clues generally don't come back, so you're supposed to move on.

When you take these three primary elements and mesh them together you get a system of exploration, stress, and hard choices, with an actual release valve should things get stupidly difficult. With campaign play all these things coalesce into an engine that delivers pure narrative. Certain things carry over and inform the narrative. 

I'm currently sitting here, looking at the characters that I have to choose from so Arkham can be saved. I have to start all over. None of the goodies I'd gotten from using Roland transfer over. Instead of a triumphant attack on the cult, someone else is going to have to pick up the pieces and pull some amazing moves. Am I up to the task? Can Arkham be saved? Regardless of those answers, the ride is so much fun that I almost don't care.

Risk Legacy: War One

This is a series of play reports for Risk Legacy. There are SPOILERS. You have been warned
So we all decided we want to play Risk Legacy. This was something I had been wanting to do for a long time, so I was really excited finally play! A Legacy board game! The holy grail, as far as i was concerned. We sat down, picked factions and abilities, and this is what we got. Names not changed cause we're all guilty as hell.

Nathan- Imperial Balkania: when recruiting troops round up, not down, began in Argentina.

Logan- Saharan Republic: when maneuvering the territories need not be connected. Began in Ural.

Ben- Khan Industries: at the start of each turn place one troop in each HQ you own. Began in Indonesia (and goes first).

Matt-  Enclave of the Bear: on the first battle against an opponent they have a -1 penalty to their lower defensive dice roll. Began in Northwest Territories.

The following resource cards were upped to two resources apiece:

Madagascar, Yakutsk, Ural, Mongolia, Brazil, South Africa, North Africa, Russia, Peru, Siberia, Alaska, Egypt

Years One and Two Saw each of the factions expanding as fast as they could. We got the rules wrong in these first two rounds and thought we could only expand one territory per round.

In Year Three we realized our error. But by that point Khan Industries had become a monstrosity. They expanded acrost Europe and all the way into Africa. Enclave of the Bear charged the Imperial Balkania in Venezuela, who had taken all of South America. Despite being outnumbered two to one Enclave conquered Venezuela and Brazil. Imperial's counter-surge was powerful, pushing up into Central America. Saharan Republic did not take advantage of Khan Industries' overextension and expanded into Europe.

Year Four's carnage was total. Khan, ignored and thus a true force to be reckoned with, charged through Africa and took Imperial's HQ, stopping short of completely wiping them out, leaving them a foothold in Central America. The Enclave did that for them, wiping Imperial off the map and taking their resources. They didn't go down without a fight, however. Imperial salted the earth and destroyed all the natural resources of Central America, creating an Ammo Shortage and making the place much harder to defend. Imperial Balkania reformed in Greenland and kept their heads low. The Saharan Republic finally attacked its neighbor, Khan Industries. They pushed north from Ural, and rooted Khan out of Australia. They then retreated back to their HQ in Ural.

But the damage was done. Khan had more than enough forces to completely wipe The Enclave out of its HQ in Year Five, grabbing its resources. All they had to do was survive long enough to capitalize them. A formal alliance with Sahara ensured their victory. They then tried to wipe out Imperial Balkania in Greenland, even going so far as to salt the earth in Greenland, creating an Ammo Shortage. But Balkania could not be budged. They completely wiped out the attacking force, at the cost of losing almost all their troops. The Enclave reformed in Eastern Canada, hoping to survive a little bit longer. Imperial Balkania only reinforced their troops, not daring to leave Greenland. Sahara finally eliminated Balkania, who were too worn out with their war with Khan to fight back. Sahara then eliminated The Enclave.

Khan used its resources to make its hold on the planet total, for the moment. The people of Australia, even though occupied by a foreign force, named themselves the Baby Guns, after the two things Khan mass produced. Sahara founded a city named Phillipines in Yakutsk. Balkania and Enclave went to ground, planning their revenge.

The war would continue, even if it took decades to get there.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Undertow: Session Three

Mikansia: The female elven Sword Singer, played by Bryna. Mikansia was pushed off of their floating island by her friend, Jabez, so that way she could go and find her father, the evil Krakeru, without breaking her oath to The White Tower. She's currently on an elven ship that is commandeered by smuggler humans. Oh joy.

Firstsword Yngvar: Mikansia's first-line officer, present at her disciplinary hearing. Silent guy.

Lore: The Iron Forest, which is where Elfharrow is, is an actual forest of trees that are made of living metal. The ecosystem has adjusted. It's not a nice place.

The smugglers flew their stolen ship almost as well as any elf. Belting out line after bawdy line, they flew the ship with an enthusiasm that was as endearing as their singing was disturbing. Even the bawdiest of elves would not have thought of some of the things that these... humans... were proudly singing at the top of their lungs about elven anatomy, as well as how their melancholic nature prevented them from truly loving the... finer... things in life. Essentially, the smugglers left Mikansia alone. They flew the vessel and sang. And she sat in the back and wondered what the hell was going on.

They finally got to the snow-covered surface and Mikansia hopped out. The captain bowed to her and thanked her for being such an easy cargo, given the payment. One of the smugglers held up Jabez's sword. The captain thanked him for catching it as they flew through the air. Taken aback, Mikansia asked why they had Jabez's sword, which he had intended to turn in to become an officer. The captain told her that the sword would sell for a small fortune for them, being that it was elven work. Mikansia found herself asking if she could swap her sword for Jabez's. They were both elven work, so how would that affect the selling price? The captain reflected a moment, and said the buyer certainly wouldn't know the difference. He grabbed Jabez's sword and came back to her. They exchanged swords as the exact same time, at his insistence. With a tip of his cap jumped back aboard his ship. They were off, starting that ridiculously bawdy song all over again.

Mikansia smiled, shook her head, and began to take stock of her surroundings. It was a clear, dry, cold night. The moon shimmered on the iron trees and leaves, with a soft glow emanating off of the forest. The forest cut behind her to the south and went to the northwest. The east and north was an open snow plain, receding into the dark. Somewhere in the forest Mikansia could hear a metallic cough, followed by a belch. It repeated itself a couple of times. Soon after Mikansia heard another cough and belch, in response. They went back and forth for a long time. Looking to the north Mikansia saw campfires, probably ten miles out. That was probably Elfwatch, the human fort  that Mikansia had heard of in her briefings on Elfharrow. They would probably be a good resource, she thought.

Mikansia crept north slowly, carefully, painstakingly, until the morning light crept over over the horizon. She was in sight of the fort. An elven ship came flying lower over the forest, the emblem of the White Tower emblazoned on its side. Mikansia crept along under it, towards Elfwatch. The ship flew off, over the forest.

When she got to the gate of Elfwatch a warning shot was fired from the wall. Mikansia was ordered to halt. She obeyed, and tried to explain her situation the best she could, but it was useless. She was an elf. They were not going to listen to her. A group of soldiers came out and knocked her out. Mikansia did not resist.

She woke up a few hours later. She was unarmed and in a cell, with no one in the cell with her. But she wasn't alone. Outside of her cell sat a man, staring at her. He didn't say anything. He just gazed at her. And Mikansia tried to ignore it.

Someone eventually came into the jail area, snorted in derision at "Lerance", and told him to get out, shoving him out the door. He sat down, apologized, and introduced himself as Pierre, the man who had disobeyed orders and not shot her dead when told to. He wanted to hear her story, now that she as no longer in danger of being shot. But he'd better be straight with her, otherwise he'd let Lerance back in, open the door to her cell, lock the jail door, and try not to mind the screams of yet another dark elf. Giving the name "Miekonnen", Mikansia told Pierre about her quest to Krakeru, the elf who had destroyed her family. She wasn't a dark elf, she didn't want to harm anyone at the fort, she just wanted Krakeru.

Getting up, Pierre put his chair under the knob of the door. Looking back at Mikansia's concerned expression he chuckled, apologized for how that looked, and took the chair away. He came up close to the shell and pulled up his shirt.

The ugliest scar Mikansia had ever seen stared out at her.

It had healed over, but it had a bubbly texture to it, even now... Pierre told her that Krakeru had done that, right on the field of battle, as if he'd just stopped for a little break. The things Krakeru had done to get that scar to look how it did would haunt Pierre for the rest of his days.

The shouts that a flying ship was coming into the fort leaked through the door. Pierre went back outside. Mikansia smiled as the soldiers talked about what legendary warriors those of The White Tower were. After a few minutes Pierre came back in. He explained that a certain Yngvar was looking a "Mikansia", but since the guards didn't know of a Mikansia they'd sent him packing. Pierre said he realized how personal this was for now, and that it was just as personal to him. Pierre was going to break "Miekonnen" out of prison, and they would go off to kill Krakeru, because Pierre knew where he was. And he was excited to get them there.

How to GM: Pacing

One of the hardest parts of running a game is trying to make sure the story is paced correctly. Unlike a novel, board games, or video games, TTRPGs can be incredibly collaborative, and are thus harder to pace. This is because of the number one problem (and advantage) in most RPGs: the GM.  RPGs are entirely relational constructs, which means that everyone at the table has to be in sync and capable of bending to each other. The GM, being (usually) the designated director of the narrative, has the unenviable position of making sure that everyone acts in concert, all the time. Fortunately there's a few good ways to make sure this happens: stick to your themes and genre, know what the players expect, respond but don't react, and feed as much as you can back into the mechanics of your game. All of my advice comes from the assumption that you are trying to do a collaborative narrative.

The first point is vital: stick to your thematic and genre guns.  Role-playing games are an interpersonal exercise and you, as the GM, are the designated point of unity for your group. It is for their own good that you stick to what you set up for yourself. It is the player's duty to bend, but not break, in the direction of your themes and the genre. And it is very important that they only bend. The GM is not there to take away choices; a GM'd game is meant to have him be the lightning ground of the group. But the GM needs to incorporate player input. He cannot run the players over. Take what the players do and weave it back in. Draw straight with what you think are crooked lines, but do not erase them.

Player expectation is only second to sticking to your guns because the GM has to know what he wants before he's able to communicate it. But, once the GM knows what he wants, he has to communicate it.  You cannot run a narrative game without player feedback and communication.

No, I'm not going to bend on that.

Interpersonal rules of communication and trust will always be hard and fast rules, in any game, and if you're blindsiding players (as opposed to surprising, which in this case means playing inside the bounds you and the players set up) you have made a critical error, one of which I heartily recommend stopping the session to talk about. And yes, if you blindside your players, you should be fully prepared to change what you did. It's not fair to them to go outside what they agreed to, not without warning.

With those two guidelines (stick to your guns and know what the players expect) we come to the third point: feed it all back into the mechanics of your game. Mechanics are the medium through which all decisions go. Even denying "but this doesn't need mechanics" means that you've made a mechanical choice, in the form of denying existing mechanics. Now, that's not necessarily a bad decision, to jettison the pre-established mechanics of the game. Sometimes things happen and you find yourself in a weird spot where your game just cannot cover what you want need it to. Mechanics are tools, not straight jackets, after all. But if you find yourself constantly making new tools to add to the box then why not just play a different game? If you're constantly getting into world-ending arguments, where people want to be able to nail the nitty-gritty of negotiations into something mechanical , then why are you playing a game that doesn't have that in the toolbox? Anyway, whatever thing does wind up happening, plug it back into the mechanics of your game as fast as possible, where the players can address it on even ground. Always try to tie your plans into the mechanically rich and enticing bits for your players. Let those mechanical interactions guide your plot, that's what they're there for. Think of the mechanics kind of like a calculator: you plug your equation in, but you can't expect the calculator to do the work of figuring out the equation in the first place. You don't bring half an equation to a calculator, but once you plug that sucker in sit back and accept the results.

All of this requires being able to think on your feet, to respond instead of react to the players. Part of responding to players means to not let emotions get in the way. This is because players can really surprise you. If you need to take a second to say "Holy crap, I did NOT expect that" then do it! It's fine! You get to sit back and laugh in disbelief! Hell, congratulate the person who threw you for a loop. Whatever not-toxic thing that lets you get the reaction out of the way so that way you can respond is what should be done. A GM usually has his hands into so many pieces of the game that a flippant response is almost always a bad move, as he sits at the center of the narrative. You get to have that moment to go "Wow, I have no idea what the hell to do". The additional vulnerability also gives you more leeway for when you do make a mistake, because you have communicated to the players that you are not above them. Granted, you've got a few more responsibilities, but you are not God. That means that, whenever you do respond, they will get to see someone doing the same thing as them: a dude playing a game and having a blast.

It sounds a bit abstract, but if there's anything I would tell a new GM about pacing it would be to stick to their core themes and genre, corralling the other players into the fold as best you can (and should), stay within player expectations (don't kill puppies in a silly game about pound puppies), respond but don't react, and always put things back into the mechanics, so that way players can interact with it and thus morph that situation into something new. If you keep these principles in mind your ability to keep the game moving at a good clip, not too fast but not too slow, will improve pretty significantly.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Reflections on The Veins of the Earth

Somewhere, deep deep down in my heart, there is an opening. A tear. A lesion. Something deliciously foul is down there, and it beckons to me, by its existence I am pulled. Peering into the abyss, I don't see anything. But I can feel it, whatever it is. It calls. I crawl down, not sure what to expect. And no, I'm not sure I ever could have explained it. But what I've found down there has always terrified, intrigued, and enamored me, in equal rotating twisting parts, flapping in the slight breeze like skin on a clothesline of intestine. I never once thought these places could be described.

And then I held Mr. Stuart's book in my hands. I stared into the blackness, once more.

A shudder came over me. I could feel the figure on the cover, I could hear his scream in my mind. I knew why he was screaming. He wasn't screaming because he was falling. Falling is nice. Falling is fun. I was jumping off of high dives when I was four, if not younger. I was jumping off of porches at two, over and over and over and over and over. I'm surprised my poor mother still has a beating heart, now that I think on it. But, even now, it's still fun! I still jump from stairways when I think no one is watching, just to feel the sensation.

It's the landing that's awful.

My bones, older than they were then, hurt, even if it's just a little bit, when I land now.

And I'm not falling anymore. I find that I miss it.

It's tragic.

He knows he's going to hit the ground and hurt. 

I opened the book and my pulse stopped, for just a millisecond. Patrick Stuart had crawled through the hole too. He's seen it. He knows. For years, decades, I assumed, in my flaming arrogance, that I was the only one who had found it and managed to keep anything resembling sanity. But that was done by trying to pretend that it didn't exist, by throwing up defenses that never worked but I wanted them to work so why shouldn't they? Why shouldn't it work? If I don't look at it it isn't real. The rest of the world can get away with it, so why not me?

I think he stared straight in, and wrote down what he saw. I'm not sure how. I'm in awe of it.

Perhaps the strangest thing was seeing the Aelf-Adal, his take on dark elves. I'd seen them. I'd met them. Somehow. Don't ask me how that works, but they're real in a way that you and I are not. I know that sounds crazy, but they're something way deep down in our consciousness. For all these years that I've run games I've hinted at their existence, to myself and others. But that was all I could stand. It was all I could do. I knew the deRO, the gnonmen, all the others in this tome. I looked at them and realized that all he'd done was name what he'd found, down where the soul leaks rivers of ash and gaseous bile. They weren't my names for these entities or concepts or archetypes or what-have-you. But they were the same things, whatever they are.

I think he put down a flag in the darkness and sat there until he could write it all down.

I cannot recommend this book enough to others. There's a lot that's useful here, even if it makes the skin crawl, which can be quite good for one's soul. It's good to be reminded of the madhouse we're in at times. I don't innately see this as a horror work and would not recommend it as such. Horror is too banal for what this book does, by and large. No, this is properly a part of fantasy, which is the older genre, from which horror takes its roots. It's a danse macabre, and that's good for people, in the proper doses.

I think a healthy dose of danse macabre is more than what most people think it is.

At some point I'll write an actual review on the book. Y'know, go through its mechanical bits and why they're awesome, talk about his veins generating toolkit and why it's amazing, and talk more about these monsters that cause nostalgia in parts of me that I never thought could feel such an emotion. It's a shame I don't really connect with the OSR movement all that much, cause I'd go for Lamentations of the Flame Princess hardcore, but those are not my mechanical and philosphical leanings. Fortunately most folks don't say no to money. This book will definitely get mine.

I'm not sure one should run from what's down in the lesion.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Alternate Worlds and Burning Wheel, Rough Draft: Part One, The Underground

By Aged Pixel

At one point I tried to run a Burning Wheel campaign where the players were kidnapped to Faerie. While the game's narrative was... alright (getting ready to be deployed made me a bit distracted).. I was not very satisfied with Burning Wheel on a mechanical level for dealing with going to a different world. Faerie didn't feel very different from the world the players came from. And it wasn't that I was trying to get the system to do different stuff than usual: set Beliefs, challenge, and resolve. A huge part of the setting for my Burning Wheel games that I've not yet really explored is how integral the underground is to it. We walk on a solid wave, with an endless ocean of stone beneath. But I've avoided those jaunts below the surface, because I want those places to feel legitimately alien. I hadn't thought of it then, but I think that means the mechanics have to shift a bit.

Now, the next part I'm going to make giant and bolded, in case it gets missed.

None of this is tested. This is a rough rough rough rough draft.

 Got it?


A lot of my ideas are adapted from the brilliant and haunting "The Veins of the Earth" by Patrick Stuart. In fact, if you haven't read it just drop what you're doing and give the man the money he deserves for such a fantastic book. And then read it. It's superlative. I'm sure he'd love a dirty storygamer stealing his ideas, but I highly doubt he'd come for my mechanics, given that they're dirty storygame mechanics


Going Underground


Whenever you go underground you must rewrite two of your Beliefs: one to address what you see when the darkness comes in, and the other one about the person you're near who's holding the torch. If you're the person holding the light source this Belief should be about what you think of holding the torch. The previous Beliefs have artha awarded for attempting or completing them, and play commences.


The concept is stolen directly from Stuart's book: light is time is money. Essentially Lumes are a specific personal tracker of how much light generating potential you have. Don't have light in the pitch black of the underworld? I don't have hard numbers in place yet, but I'm thinking at least +3 Ob, to almost any action that involves moving around in the dark.

Lumes are an abstract measurement of how much supplies you have for light. It's usually oil, but could be other things. After you do any action roll the Die of Fate: If you roll lower than your Lume rating the Lume rating decreases by 1. If you roll a 1 the light source goes out and needs to be re-lit. At Lume 0 your light source goes out and you may not relight it without finding a Lume to sacrifice.

To increase your Lume rating you must pass a Resources test. Obstacle is equal to the difference between your desired Lume rating and the Lume rating you have now (Lume 6 - Lume 4 is an Ob 2 Resource test). Lume takes a number of inventory slots equal to its rating.


I know I know, I said inventory in a Burning Wheel game!! Please come back! It matters here! Like, a lot. Go spelunking for five minutes and you'll see that's it's a matter of life and death. Before you go underground add up all your Stat exponents and divide it by 2, rounded down (Power B3, Forte B4, Agility B6, Speed B3, Will B3 and Perception B5 gives you 10 Inventory). Items take a number of Inventory Slots equal to the number of hands required to hold them. I need to come up with harder numbers than this, but that puts everyone at not quite enough stuff, which is the point.


When you're spelunking you're going to have to crawl through some tight spaces. This requires a Speed test. Players with an Inventory rating higher than the Obstacle the GM assigns may not attempt the test. Players with an Inventory rating equal to the Obstacle roll the Die of Fate when crawling through: if a 1 is rolled then the player must sacrifice a random piece of equipment from their Inventory to complete the test.


Characters who are with someone with a light source (or holding a light source) get +1 Reflexes. Characters without that light source get -1 Reflexes.

Putting It All Together

It is imperative that the reading understand the following: none of this matters if it doesn't challenge a Belief. Burning Wheel is not a simulator, nor should it be. All this does is give some additional wrinkles to scenes you already know how to run. That being said, don't be shy about handing out these types of tests while you're underground. You want players taking too much down and then pushing it through tight cracks, ahead of them. You want them having to figure out what to do when the last Lumes source broke by accident. These can be really challenge and dramatic moments, and the GM should lean on them, given that the campaign's underground. Used well, these rules should give a very different feel for those who are journeying around, in the veins of the world.