Friday, April 3, 2015

no new post today

feeling rather under the weather so there won't be a new blog post today

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Back Issues #25 - Mirror Mirror

Mirrors have a lot of power in fiction. Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass presents a world on the other side. Snow White features an enchanted mirror that has gone well beyond the confines of the fantasy genre in its use. Horror tales often use mirrors as a window to the supernatural, either by inclusion, showing what cannot otherwise be seen within the mirror, or exclusion, removing the supernatural from the reflected image, e.g. Dracula and vampires. The technique is seen in films as well, not limited to horror, where a character's reflection takes on the voice of their inner self. The image in the mirror; is it live or just a reflection of life?

Issue #25: Mirror Mirror
In our RPGs mirrors are most often the figurative or literal windows to the supernatural. Occasionally the psychological use of a mirror to reflect a character onto themselves can be seen, but in a game that is often played at a table with other people that kind of introspection is often difficult or impossible to achieve without monopolizing the session. Likewise mirrors don't tend to factor into games of hard science, with those grounded in a very real-world setting, or a science fiction one. They are after-all just silvered glass or highly polished metal, with no properties beyond their ability to reflect light. At least when used literally.

Gateway to another realm.
The same, but different. The mirror worlds of fiction follow these guidelines. In games where magic figures high mirrors can become the gateways to alternate worlds. The enchanted mirror becomes a literal portal to the world in the reflection, which often is seen as it would be, slightly or radically different from what the reflection ought to be in a normal mirror. Other times the mirror displays no hint of the world on the other side and it is only the power of the user than can allow travel between here and there.

In Alice's case Wonderland was at least partially informed by her own psyche. In the game Nightbane, mirrors provide a very real window to a new world. Much in the way of Alice stepping through the looking glass, a Nightbane can move through a mirror to a dark reflection of Earth. The Nightlands are a place inhabited by doppelgangers and ruled by the Night Lords who may have once been Earthly sorcerer kings. The world itself is a twisted reflection of our own, distorted through a lens of darkness and evil. The doppelganger of a policeman is probably a warlord or killer, while that of a sociopath is great hero; that is assuming that they are even aware of themselves. Unlike our free will these doppelgangers are often subjugated and "half-asleep" barely aware of the world around them. The physical world too is different, cities tend to be reflected buy with vastly different architecture and landscapes. The oceans are replaced by endless deserts; in fact much of these lands are dead and barren.

In science fiction gaming (as well as some fantasy) the mirror is figurative, pertaining more to the relationship between the alternate world and the "real" world. The portal may be a wormhole of sorts, as in the TV show Sliders, or may be an entirely unique device like the column Ter'angreal in the Wheel of Time. These stories tend to feature worlds that are closer to the one which the characters left, functioning as a sort of "what if" portal on the world.

Perhaps the best known example is the Star Trek Mirror Universe. That of the evil goatee. The evil Trek verse is initially a direct reflection on the Federation with the Terran Empire. Where the Federation was peaceful and explored for the sake of exploration and knowledge the Empire was violent and explored to conquer and subjugate others. Plus everybody was apparently way more ... slutty. The same, but different.

Later, during the Deep Space Nine mirror episodes, we see that Kirk's speech to mirror Spock has resulted in the Terran Empire crumbling and being overrun by the Alliance of Klingons and Cardassians (who pretty much hate each other in the main universe). With humans and vulcans enslaved these stories feature the character's fighting a revolutionary war for freedom that echoes the slow burning war with the Dominion, a war to maintain freedom.

Mirror worlds can be anything from the typical trope of "evil is good and good is evil," to any of various alternate/divergent histories (as I discussed last week). The real key is "the same, but different" providing you, the storyteller, with the ability to show familiar characters, places, or events in a new light. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Story Seed - Respite

Image Source:
The old god was not dead. It sat slumbering through the ages. With no regard for time or the turning of the world, the great form accumulated the weight of ages; soil, moss, rocks, streams, and more, covered and wound through its form.

The disciples tended to their god's heart. They placed offerings of food and wine, of herb and drug, of flesh and spirit, upon the altar of the god's broad chest. They lit candles and ensured through their rites and sacrifice that the sullen glowing of the great slumbering heart remained. For centuries the pulsing red of the heart waxed and waned, glowing like some great iron thing being heated and cooled in the forge of their faith.

For centuries their god remained insensate, unmoved by their devotion as it was unmoved by weather and geology. With time the order soon waned, taking in fewer new members each year, the order soon came to a final few; a dying cult forgotten and forgone by the people. Still their faith was strong. Still they made their offerings, their sacrifices, their rites.  And still the great heart glowed, pulsing from deep within day after day, year upon year, for centuries.

At last there was only one. An aged master with no disciples. No pupils to teach, or congregation to teach to; a man alone tending to a relic of the past. The aged master knew death was approaching, and made preparations for what would be the final offering, the last sacrifice, and the very last of the rites to be performed for the sleeping god. Quietly the master died, passing beyond life on the altar of the god's chest, bathed in the ruddy glow of the heart's pulsing light.

Some time later, perhaps a minute, perhaps a year, or a decade, one of the great being's eyes began to glow ever so softly. Slowly the light increased as the eye inched open, peering at the decaying remains of the religion that had lived and died tending its heart. The great sleeping god sighed, a sound like a relieved gale. In a quiet whisper that seemed impossible for one so great to utter, it spoke.

"Oh good, they're gone."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #26 - Media That Need an RPG

I've discussed my favorite settings, and my favorite systems previously.  So the next logical step for a "list issue" was the top things I want to see. I'm not forcing myself to hit five this time, nor holding myself back from going past five. These are media (TV shows, video game franchises, movies, books, etc.) that don't exist in RPG form, or at least not officially.

Firstly, some notes:
  • I'm not going to cover media like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Wheel of Time, etc. that have had RPGs in the past but are no longer in print. Those materials are still out there via second hand sellers, ebay, etc. as well as bootleg PDF files.
    • I don't condone bootlegging RPG PDFs that are new and in print, but once those licenses are ended and those products cease to be salable by the developer bootlegging isn't taking revenue out of anybody's mouth.  West End Games isn't going to lose money if you find and download the old D6 Star Wars books today. 
  • I'm likewise avoiding those old franchises because I don't want to deal with properties that have seen multiple iterations (e.g. Star Wars D6, d20, and Fantasy Flight's current system)
  • There's a ton of fan-made hacks out there for any number of popular properties, good and bad, but what I am discussing here is an officially licensed product, not a hack.
  • ...
  • I guess that's all ...
OK with that out of the way let's get started ...

The Fallout Series

Who doesn't love a good post-apocalyptic setting? When it comes down to it the Fallout series is probably the best realized setting of its type out there.  Sure, the Mad Max setting is likely better known, but its not very heavily realized at all. Fallout has a half dozen games under its belt (if you include the spin off games), and a great deal of mythology and geography has been explored.  Rumor has it that Bethesda is working on Fallout 4 as well, which will probably take us to yet another part of post-war America. What better time for a table top RPG to come out? Players could play Brotherhood of Steel warriors, radiation tainted ghouls, naive vault dwellers, maybe even super mutants. Throw in the warring factions, numerous gangs and tribes, as well as malfunctioning robots and the occasional madman, and this setting is just ripe for an RPG.

The Elder Scrolls Series

This is another no-brainer. Tamriel is a huge world, and with five games in the main cycle and a bunch of spin offs there's a vast swath of geography and time that has been explored. Hundreds of in game books already exist to pull setting information out of in an "in context" way as well. With nearly a dozen races to play, and well developed systems for alchemy and magic, as well as more traditional skills and a slew of potential player special powers there's no shortage of material. Add in the fact that the games often take place hundreds of years apart and the game could potentially offer multiple setting supplements (or even adventure paths) detailing the major events of the series.

The Mass Effect Series

I personally haven't played this series. I tried the first game, and just couldn't get into it. That said people love it, and the setting was interesting. It seems odd that this one doesn't have an RPG already, it's basically a license to print money for the company who publishes it, and for BioWare purely on the residuals/license fees. Strangely enough though from what I have heard from Green Ronin (who publishes and RPG based on BioWare's Dragon Age) BioWare is not interested in licensing Mass Effect. It's not a matter of them asking too much for an RPG publisher to afford, it seems that they don't want to have an official game enter the RPG market at all.

Myths, Fables, Fairy Tales and Urban Legends, oh my!
  • Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Fables, Warehouse 13, The Librarians, Percy Jackson, etc.
These are not all the same, but they aren't that different either; they all deal with taking our myths, legends, and stories and making them real in the modern times. The ideas are similar enough that I figured I'd lump them together. Fairy tales and mythology have a special place in our culture. These stories have history and power due to their age and their archetypal natures. Whether looking at these stories as though they were truth (Grimm, Warehouse 13, The Librarians, Percy Jackson) or by thrusting their "fictional" characters into the real world (and watching how they deal with it, a la Fables and Once Upon a Time) these properties allow us to view familiar tales with fresh eyes; a familiar mythology, spun on its head and made new.

They also allow us to look at our modern culture through a traditional lens; imagine how the Once Upon a Time characters would have dealt with getting their memories back and still being stuck in our world if they hadn't also had their "cursed" memories.

Mortal Engines series (books by Philip Reeve)

This series was suggested to me by +Tim Knight in response to an open call for suggestions. I'm not familiar with the series but I'll quote his elevator pitch from the original discussion thread:
Distant future, post-post Apocalypse, communities exist on mobile cities that 'eat' smaller cities (and mine them for their scarce components). Through the books a war brews between the mobile (traction) cities and the static communities. There are also airships. And killer robots with human brains. It's kinda steampunky without being steampunk.
I must say that this does sound rather fun. Steampunk is huge right now and IMO post-apocalypse style takes never go out of style. The world certain sounds well developed with plenty of options for exploration, combat, and intrigue.

Harry Potter

I'm not sure if this one is past the sweet spot but if there had been an RPG set in in this universe about 3/4 of the way through the books and/or after the first couple of movies it could have been the ultimate gateway drug. Certainly the juxtaposition of mundane and magic is itself an interesting aspect of the world that was only touched upon minimally (at least in the films), and the magical world is clearly well developed and rich with possibility.


This is far from an exhaustive list, and I'm sure cases could be made for a great many more.  Please feel free to suggest more in the comments and maybe I'll write a follow up sometime down the road.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Story Seed - Out for Blood

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I stepped out of the cab and tossed a cred chip to the driver. "Keep it," I told him, the thing was almost empty anyway, no point in carrying around an empty. As the vehicle moved off I stood and hunched my shoulders, tucking my hands into my pockets and trying to look small and unassuming; it was always best to avoid undue attention here. I took a deep breath, catching the smells of people, trash, pungent spices, and a hard to define mixture of cooking meats and seafoods. My gut gurgled, but I ignored it. I wasn't here to eat.

I started walking, my feet splashing through a thin slime of polluted runoff. I was glad again for the thick rubberized boots. I looked up in time to see a policeman, armor clad, with red-lit optics, at the corner. I took a sudden right, and jaywalked through the human traffic, narrowly dodging a rickshaw. Grimly I wondered just how many other officers were down here this evening.

I didn't have my badge, or my service weapon, and the short barreled, large caliber weapon in my pocket was more than a little illegal. I'd taken it off a small time Spin pusher I'd rolled; considering how much I hated Spin, he'd gotten off easy with a beatdown and having his cash and weapon taken, and his stash dumped into the gutter. The thin synthflesh gloves I had on would cover my prints, and they were almost impossible to detect to boot. Those were a lot illegal, but if they kept my actions anonymous so much the better; it's only a problem if you get caught, right?

I pushed onward through the crowd, just another piece of human flotsam in a sea of the downtrodden.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Last Week Today - Week of March 22-29 2015

day off - no new post

Nuts & Bolts - Microscope - History as a game

Story Seed - Inevitability - Time travel is a terrible thing.

Throwback Thursday - Revisionist History - How little changes impact a setting in big ways


Story Seed - Duel - an all haiku experiment