Monday, 31 October 2011

Probabilities and Decision Points

One thing I've learned from Apocalypse World is that dice don't have to be complicated. It's a 2d6 system. More accurately, it's a 2d6 system with interesting results that point the players back to the fiction. When I first encountered small press games about five or six years ago, there seemed to be a trend of creating kooky rules for conflict resolution, combining dice with cards and the phase of the moon. The more esoteric, the better. Apocalypse World reminds us that the dice (and the rules in general, for that matter) should be as unobtrusive as possible.

It's little wonder, then, that I've felt the need to again streamline my rules for decision points in Siege. I've had a little fun working out the probabilities for the dice pools so that the player experience is simplified without affecting the probabilities significantly. In other words, you probably won't notice the difference between what the previous methods provided and this revised version.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Early Start to NaGaDeMon

I'm getting an early start to NaGaDeMon. Writing has already started.

Well, technically, the writing started about two years ago. I'm just promising myself to finish Siege and it's a good warmup to the rest of the month of writing. Today's task is an editorial passthrough and a simplification of the relationship rules.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sessions 1 to 3

The first three sessions of Unlit Match were based in the home village of Foxglen. Hooray! The location stuck. Those sessions were a great opportunity for us to hone our knowledge of the system and also to start understanding the characters. We'd planned to watch them for a while, and watch them we did.

For Bram, the failed acolyte, there was some banter amongst the impoverished and against the established religious order. Bram, quite bitter in his heart, would do whatever he could to find dirt on them and expose them. In amongst all this, however, came a vision from Cambruach. Bram was visited by Cambruach directly and told that the only hope for the people of the land to survive the oncoming war was to return to faithfulness. Cambruach charged Bram with the message and sent him on the mission to bring the people back to their gods. Bram then decided to take the message to the prince's city: Liguelen. That was the epicentre of the war effort, after all.

At the same time, Sophie struggled to keep her business afloat. It was a small leather working enterprise, much overshadowed by the extensive ealings managed by her husband Darwin. Nevertheless, when the prince's officers came to the village to demand involvement in the war effort from Foxglen (your men or your merchandise!), Sophie saw an opportunity to revive her flagging profits: convert her business to making leather goods for the war effort. She did this and worked with Darwin to go to Liguelen to sell samples of the product to the military there. Alongside all that, arrangements are being made for Darwin to take a second wife. Sophie (taking the parallel role of Aestra in the marriage) has not borne him any children and his family hopes that by taking a second wife, he will honour the gods and through his Ferroan, he will have children.


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Star Wars Prequels

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few people in the world who enjoyed the Star Wars prequels, with some annoyances. The key annoyance was the script. Some of the dialogue is terrible. However, I like the setting and the characters and some of the major plot features. This might just be confirmation bias at work, but that doesn't actually detract from my enjoyment.

However, this isn't a defense of my taste in movies. It's supposed to be a blog post about another way the prequels could have been done. Something that helps here is that Lucas is happy to leave big steps in the story arc to the scrolling text at the start of movies. When I read those texts, I see entire movies in them all by themselves.

The way the prequels work now are a bit like this:
  • Episode I: Find the child of the prophecy and start laying pipe beats for later.
  • Episode II: Anakin is tempted to the dark side through love and other emotional attachment
  • Episode III: Anakin turns to the dark side, destroys the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader

It hits several steps that are required to get the audience to the starting place of Episode IV. In doing so, it labours a few points and condenses others. The labouring is laboured (midichlorins, pod racing, shouting "Yippeee!"). If I could reboot it, I'd suggest these:
  • Episode I: Find the child of the prophecy in the temple, follow his training through until he is out in the field. Let him age within the film.
  • Episode II: Anakin is tempted to the dark side through love and other emotional attachment, turns against the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader at the end of the film.
  • Episode III: Anakin hunts down the Jedi, and the Jedi desperately try to put the Skywalker newborns into hiding.

To put it another way, condense the current prequels into two movies, and embellish the chase into hiding while establishing Vader as the Dark Lord of the Sith. We'd see more of Vader as a villain and see the Jedi retreat, perhaps leaving the audience with the same feeling we have at the end of Episode V.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Religion in Unlit Match

Religion was never meant to be a significant feature of the campaign when I was creating, but was always meant to be part of the landscape. When I laid eyes on the character sheet for Bram, this all had to change. He's a failed acolyte. We've added lots of details to religion as we've gone along, and this is the full picture of what we've seen in the story.

Religion of Foxglen
Aestra, goddess of the heavens
Her realm is above the clouds and reaches up beyond the stars. She brings the sun, the night, and the stars. To worship her is to remember all that is lofty and beautiful. People pay homage to her through the arts; sculpture, poetry, dance and song.

Cambruach, god of the air
Dwelling amongst men and animals, Cambruach rules from earth to clouds. His work is to create the space for all creatures to live in, even the birds and the fish. He is worshipped as the one who brings the order of nature in all its beauty and violence. His rites include feasting, learning and contests.

Ferroan, goddess of the earth
Beneath the surface, and down to the depths of depths, is Ferroan. She is the source of all fertility, bringing crops from soil and seed, children from adults. She is worshipped in growth, nakedness and burial. Rituals to Ferroan centre around the cycle of birth, life, death and renewal; in childbirth, lovemaking and mourning.

Cambruach is married to both Aestra and Ferroan, and sets the example of polygamy practised in the region. Men like to joke that he keeps his two brides far apart, and are thereby superstitious about high mountains which reach above the clouds. Waters are implicitly sexual in this religion, as in most religions. Rain, snow and storms are the symbols of his love for Aestra, and rivers, lakes and oceans the symbols of his love for Ferroan. The waters bring life and support life. Between the three of them, the whole of nature has an order. Believers aren't fatalists, however, and hold a strong sense of struggle against life's obstacles in order to gain self-realisation. Overall, this is a nature religion, looking to nature to teach and guide.

Temples of this religion tend to be complexes of buildings with open air areas in between. Some activities take place indoors and some take place barefoot outdoors. Temples have areas for contemplation, for liturgy, for theological research, for training and also for accommodating the clergy.

Religion of Liguelen
Liguelen, the nearby major city, is overseen by a single god: Ithnell. He is a god of storms and thunder and favours people who are industrious. Unlike other gods, Ithnell is also reclusive, preferring the mountains around Liguelen rather than the town itself. Worship of Ithnell revolves around hard work and labours. Priests are often large men, and also often blacksmiths. The forge is a sacred fire for Ithnell. Three is a religiously significant number. A triple lightning strike signifies Ithnell's presence, either now or very soon. Ithnell also has a cursing mark that he places upon the most apostate mortals. It's rarely used, but invokes a sense of fear, hatred, derision and anathema amongst his loyal followers.

The Dark Lord
This is a strange and foreign god, from the lands to the south. He's known only as the Dark Lord to the people around Foxglen and Liguelen. There are rumours that he has some followers in this area, but they'd be considered heretics and exist only in secret cult structures. Any worshippers encountered so far in the story are quite secretive and use a number of secret signals to identify themselves to each other.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

My Burning Wheel Campaign Is Fascinating

My Burning Wheel campaign is fascinating to me, and also to my players. It might be interesting to you, so I'm going to blog about it. We're eleven sessions in at the moment, so I'm not going to attempt a detailed account of everything we've done. In this post I'll write about the general setup that we developed before making characters.

Our story takes place in Foxglen, a village of about a thousand people - mostly human. There is a nearby larger city of Liguelen (pop. ~50,000) which is the seat of power for the prince.

Starting characters were only two lifepaths, and the second lifepath had to be from the Village list. I proposed this to the players, not to make it difficult, but to give us all an opportunity to shape our characters quickly in play. None of us had played a campaign of Burning Wheel and I dreaded the thought of anyone being stuck with a character they didn't like, unable to make changes to skills and traits for a long time. The shorter lifepath characters allowed us to play as newbies.

We allowed various types of magic, with a limitation. The kind of magic that a person could have depended entirely on their Born lifepath. I hope that Peter will chime in here with the full list, but we used this to make class distinctions obvious and geared along geography. I didn't think about it at the time, but that also connected it to religion.

Long time readers of this blog will have seen my posts on religion in gaming. One idea that we took from actual human history (gasp!) is the connection of geography to religion. A locale will have its own gods. One town will have a god or gods, as will another. If those towns are in conflict, the conflict will resolve in the real world only because it first resolved that way in the heavenlies. This explains why a smaller army can defeat a larger army - the god of the smaller army defeated the god of the larger army. I'll write about the religion of Foxglen and the religion of Liguelen in a later post.

We also wanted a larger stage for our story; some kind of broad conflict in which the characters were immersed. We decided that there was a threat from the south: a horde or invading army. There would be plenty of other activities going on around this, but it would also take place beyond the characters. They would be affected by it and could, if they played it in that direction, affect it in return. As it happens, we still wanted the focus to be on the characters and less on the threat of invasion. This is probably why I called the campaign Unlit Match.

Finally, let me introduce our two characters. Bram is played by David Pidgeon. He began the campaign as a failed acolyte, living in a shack in Foxglen, embittered at the temple and with organised religion. Sophie Marquand is played by Peter Blake. She began as a village wife, raised in Liguelen but married off to Darwin Marquand, a prosperous merchant in Foxglen.

There's more to write about, of course. Look out for a post on the religions in the campaign, a spotlight on Bram, a spotlight on Sophie, a broad story arc encompassing the first ten sessions, and then some other updates as they come to mind. Peter and David will make comments, I'm sure, to embellish and correct. I hope you find it as fascinating as we do.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Prequels

I've been thinking about prequels this week. It started as some thoughts about the Star Wars prequels, and I might blog about them another time. Where it ended, though was this thought:
Space Rat is the prequel to My Life With Master
The femme babes are all vying to be in Jack's orbit (so to speak, ahem!) and to do so they need to undergo a series of challenges. The reward is the attention of Jack Cosmos - a rat who turns out to really be a rat. Once the femme babes realise this, it's too late! They're caught continually running demeaning little errands for Jack. It's no wonder they end up with an amount of weariness and self loathing. All that effort for a rat? Eventually, one of them will recover enough self esteem to rise up and kill Jack.

The shift from Space Rat to My Life With Master is a bit like the tilt in Fiasco. "You find out the truth about Jack: he's a shallow rat. Now play!"

If I ever play this campaign, I think I'll spread it across six episodes. Three for Space Rat and three for My Life With Master - just like Star Wars.