Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Shaking off that Hoarfrost

Every so often, writing the blog becomes a daunting task that consumes too much of my time (or I convince myself does, which is worse). I have been writing (two plays, a book, a second book) and running games (two D&D games and a nascent Shadowrun) and generally fucking about. 5th Edition came without fanfare for us—no one even bothered to check it out. I glanced over the rules, but they still seem to not be the Second Edition rules, so I have no real interest in them.

I've been reading a lot as well, and not your regular run-of-the-mill stuff. I just finished The Anabasis and the Dictionary of the Khazars. I've been listening to the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, which is a wonderful podcast by Peter Adamson and amounts to several free courses in philosophy back to back. I'd skip most of the interview episodes, since the interviewees rarely seem to have anything to add, but overall I highly recommend it.

The drive to produce the 10th Age as a product available to other people is slowly petering out. Maybe because I received my final rejections from Medieval Studies programs and now know that I'll probably never possess a PhD, maybe because the looming certainty of law school means I have to focus on writing things that I think have a chance of giving me some kind of return before I don't have time to write anything at all.

That being said, the 10th Age game I started in Miles as a pilot for the setting is actually running really well. The Ironbreakers (as they've come to be known) kick ass each monday night. Some of them have even managed to achieve the vaunted LEVEL TWO.

Anyway, this post is mostly to assure you that no, I'm not dead and that yes, there are more posts coming. I'm going to take some time and write a fair number all at once, so I may appear to go into hibernation for another week or so. After that, we shall return in full force and glory. Though probably Fiction Friday is dead for a while, as I concentrate on other fictions.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tribal Research

PCs in Othanas may attempt to "research" social and technological advances. This really boils down to choosing something to "think" about for an extended period. One of the merits of keeping elders around is that they too can be asked to "think" about one thing. To successfully develop a "thought," each week a PC (and the elders) are permitted to make an IQ check. If they succeed, they get one point towards the thought.

When a thought accrues enough successes, it is considered complete and the tribe now has access to it.

Some Sample Thoughts

Tattoos: 4 points
Animal Domestication: 50 points

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From the Ice Age

The World of Othanas

Othanas is the Mematavtan word for the world; it has its roots in the word oth'ti, an agentive form of othem which means "to struggle." Oth'ti therefore means "the one(s) who struggle," that is, men. Othanas is the place of struggle, or perhaps the place where men live. This world was once the domain of a populous race of lizard-like creatures that we now know only as the Tyrnostias (Those Who Crawl). They had dominion of a great and powerful science of sorcery which could convert, through rarified paths and strange ways, the heat-energy of the world directly into usable force. This sorcery was pure and unadulterated, almost without limits in its power. There were several Tyrnostine empires in competition with one another. Alas, we know almost nothing about them. What we do know is that the misuse of sorcery sapped the heat-energy of the planet to such a degree that it entered a small Ice Age, prematurely and without warning. Everything the Tyrnostias did to try to drive the Ice Age off only accelerated it as they drained the mantle and the atmosphere of heat. Massive upheavals rocked the world, and sheets of ice froze it. Only a few of the sorcerous cities managed to survive the devastation.

After countless generations, the ice receded, revealing a world much changed outside the walls of those cities. In the time of the crawling ice, many of the Tyrnostine creations (magically engineered lizard servants, house pets, ploughbeasts, and even great leviathans for plying the seas) died off save for the sheltered warmth of the magically-protected cities. When the ice drew back, the Tyrnostias began to reconquer their old lands and there discovered a new beast they could chain and bring home to do labors: man.

But they are a dying breed. A new ice age has come, a true and lasting one that will finally grind their petty bickering city-states into the earth. They have had their day in the sun, and it is passed. Their slave-stations on the atolls stand empty and the human slaves have mostly run free.

The Tyrnostine servants, the leviathans and house-pets, the moulded beasts of burden, even the lizard-vermin, also ran free. They have taken up niches in the Othanic ecology that would otherwise be filled by certain mammals; but their masters are dying off in the distant corners of the world. It is the tribes of men that concern us now, particularly those along the rapidly cooling equator in the region known as Calréos, "the land."

Rules of the Land

Using the GURPs rules for most of the game, there is nevertheless currently a meta-system in place for determining the various attributes of the tribes as a whole. There are two PC tribes currently in the game. The stats of the tribes are as follows:

Cohesion. This represents the maximum number of people who will stay in your tribe for an extended period of time. Cohesion begins at 30 and is added to by powerful leaders and by culture rating. If a tribe acquires more members than its cohesion, a certain percentage of those extra members will drain away each month as they go off to start their own tribes or join lesser ones.

Population. The core stat of a tribe; this determines how many women, children, and men are in the tribe. Tribes generally are composed of 2/3rds healthy adults and 1/3rd children and those few old folk who have yet to die off.

Culture. This stat represents the accumulated amount of culture in a tribe—things such as symbolic language (cave paintings and scrawls of that nature), religious traditions, and the like add to culture. 1/2 of all culture is added to the tribe's cohesion. The difference in tribal culture levels is subtracted (or added) to reaction rolls when two tribes meet to see how they get along.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Character Journal: Lucanus

Another journal of 7th Night, this one from Lucanus.

Seventh Night bohort. I had been thinking about it all week, ever since Sieur Alan told me about it and said I could borrow his horse. During our visit to the Tower, our interview with Torremonte, the ride to Ostalric--it was in the back of my mind, constantly in my thoughts. Even during our fight with the manticore, when Sieur Alan charged into the cave and speared it right in the head, I thought of how it might be to strike someone just so in the bohort. 

As an aside, everyone thought charging in like Alan did was foolish, and that it would not work. But he is a true knight and showed us all our folly. Moments like that only reinforce my resolve to become one of the Knights of Miles.

Ah, but the bohort. I spoke to the others often of it as we returned to Miles, telling of what I thought it might be like and how I hoped to do well. The only thing that distracted me from my thoughts was the sight of the Pillar stretching from the center of the city into the heavens at dusk, a streak of sunlight pointing up into the darkening sky. Miles truly is the greatest city in Arunia. 

We took care of our business as the Ironbreakers as night fell, and I left the Manticore's head with the Sieur in the Commandery. I took his horse, Jovinian, for a night ride before I returned to the townhouse. In spite of my nerves and excitement, I was able to get a good night's rest and eat a decent breakfast. 

As I checked over my gear and saddled Jovinian, I thought of the things that might go wrong. Even after fighting the manticore, after watching two others cut down by its tail spines, I never really considered death as a possibility. My biggest worry was riding Jovinian into battle for the first time. We didn't really know each other, but he has served Alan well. If I performed poorly in the bohort, and perhaps disappointed the Sieur, it would be my fault, not the horse. 

Stuck in my thoughts as I was, I was not immune to the revelry spreading throughout the city. Seventh Night in Miles is perhaps the greatest celebration in the world. Singers, dancers, jongleurs, and musicians of every instrument were on every corner. So, too, were the Rayans, but never for very long. The entire city had turned out and joined in the festivities. River Hill sounded like a riot. River Hill probably WAS a riot.

But my path did not take me through River Hill. Instead, I went just out of the city, to the fields where the bohort will take place. They had hung red and white linin around the grove there, and even as I arrived they were still sanctifying the ground with holy water. But the knights! Never before had I seen so much heraldry in one place. Followers of Haeron and Halor, Knights of Orders I had not seen before, and many in their own heraldry. I felt out of place for a moment, wearing my plain mail, and resolved to get a surcoat with my heraldry upon it at some future time before my next event. 

The crowd was monstrous. I knew that so many people could live within Miles, but seeing them all in one place was a little disconcerting. Not only that but it seemed all of Saxa came as well. These people, the sheer number of them, they are why grain ships ply the Annorius.

From afar, I espied Caesar, but I did not have time to greet him before we started. Had I known he was coming, I would have broken my fast with him. But it was time to draw our stones. I drew red.

After I put on a red tabard, I introduced myself to the others on my team. Sieur Clemant of Mermarch, Sieur Lancellon Norandor, Sieur Telmar of Bataille, and Sieura Lyrana the Rose. Sieura Lyrana was a Rose Knight, and the only one of us in plate. She said something about a warm place to bury my sword if I went with her, and it seemed like a good idea to have a friend amongst my teammates. 

Then, the horn blew. The crowd screamed, hungry for our blood, and the priests pounded their gongs like the world was ending. I was excited, nervous, a little scared, and a little aroused. A deep breath to calm my stomach and then we charged in. 

I cleaved to the flank of the Sieura. She unhorsed a knight of the tagmata and I captured him. Then she was struck down from behind. Splinters of lance flew through the air as I wheeled around to challenge her assailer, a large tagmata knight wearing enough mail for three squires. Even as I turned he drew an axe and spurred towards me. 

The sounds of battle and the din of the bloodthirsty crowd faded to a dull roar as we met in battle, and he seemed to slow down as he swung his axe at me. It thumped into my chest, but my mail absorbed the worst of it. But his second blow almost took the wind out of me. In spite of his girth, he was able to avoid my lance, and I tossed it down and drew my sword even as I deflected another blow, catching it upon my shield. 

Then I struck a mighty blow against his arm, forcing him to drop his axe. He started flexing his hand in the manner that people do when they have lost feeling in their arm, and then yielded to me. Two knights captured, not bad for my first bohort, I thought, and we're not even done yet.

While we caught our breath, a knight on the gold team approached us and told us that someone had been badly hurt and had asked for me. I feared for Caesar, but I was suspicious of a ruse and thought this knight might just be trying to break up what was clearly a winning combination. Fortunately for me, Sieura Lyrana wanted to go as well. He led us towards the healers, and once we were a fair distance from the melee, he tried to push Lyrana forward, telling her to look to herself. She tried to twist around in his grasp even as a blade scraped against the mail across my back. 

I turned to see a small, grinning man I had not met before. Even as he smiled at me, he sank another blade into my liver. I collapsed, he escaped, and Lyrana broke the breastbone of this knight that had collaborated with the assassin. 

Later, Lyrana visited me in the healer's grove. It was nice.

Oh, and while the rest of our team was captured, we won a fair amount of coin, nearly doubling the amount I had already. I suppose that was nice too.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Exhaustive Fantasy Grounds Review

I've been using Fantasy Grounds actively for about 3 weeks now. I've been waiting to write this review until all the data is in. I think I can safely make an objective and unbiased judgement at this point. To be clear, I got a review copy for the purposes of writing this review—but that plays no role in the words you're about to read.

Part One: Mac and PC

I'm a mac user. I've always been a mac user. I will always be, for the foreseeable future, a mac user. This means that anything that doesn't work with some ease on the mac is something I'm not going to use. Especially not a roleplaying tool—I've deleted my bootcamp partition, I'm not going to rebuild it. Installing a wine wrapper counts as "some ease" for me at this point due to my quest for usable windows software that I can run on my mac. So props to FG for not only having a product you can put in a wine wrapper, but for hosting a thread on their forum that tells you how to do it if you're not familiar with things like winebottler.

Part Two: The Rules

Fantasy Grounds comes with some rules installed. These are, predictably, 3.5E D&D, 4E D&D, the Fantasy Grounds "core RPG" rules (not rules at all, merely a framework), Pathfinder, and Numenara. These were DEFINITELY not rulesets that my group was going to use. We play AD&D 2e exclusively when it comes to D&D games, and that's what we play most. For me to get any use out of this thing I was going to have to go on a quest.

It wasn't very long or hard to find pointers to other rulesets. The FG community has been developing them on their own time. And what's that? An AD&D ruleset ready for use right there. Not to mention Mongtrav, WHFRP, Ars Magica, and a bunch of other stuff? Alright, seems like I was worried for no real reason. Of course, once we all installed the AD&D rules and looked at them we realized that A) they weren't complete and B) they didn't integrate well with the updated version of Fantasy Grounds. You couldn't resize image windows or the chatbox. There were no X buttons to close character sheets, necessitating a right-click close operation. Yuck. Before we could use this thing, we had to update it.

Alex and I went on the monumental task of parsing the .xml rule files and figuring out how things worked. Over the course of a 20-30 man-hour week we managed to hack together a frankenstein ruleset out of the old AD&D 2e rules and the new coreRPG rules provided with the updated version of FG. It was not easy. It's still not done. It's usable though, if you click that link you'll find yourself at my dropbox address for it.

This was a massive barrier to entry, but luckily it only had to be done once.

Part Three: The Features

I'm gonna break this down real easy to start. Things I like: linking stuff together, importing images, battlemaps, party roster sheet, calendar, /ooc voice so I don't register all that greentext the players are constantly spouting, auto-calculated AC hit when making attack rolls. Things I don't like: shuffling through pages to find NPCs to spoof or stat, shuffling through pages for ANY REASON, rewriting vast swathes of rules, having broken the tables in our ruleset due to the way the AD&D sheet interacts with the chat box, my players complaining about the difficulty of learning and adapting.

Linking. You can link stuff together. Seems simple. Hyperlinked notes are a wonder. Unfortunately, they are much harder to navigate in practice. I'll stick to keeping my notes on paper.

Images. Best part about this system is the fast way to share images. I have maps of the great city of Miles, its environs, etc. all shared. I play online exclusively these days. This is the only way to ensure everyone's getting the information.

Battlemaps. I'm against lots of drawings and character portraits that are generic and all that. However, battlemaps can be handy in certain situations. Served us well in the manticore fight.

Party Sheet. Awesome way for tracking communal items and treasure. Hands down good feature.

Calendar. Boom, no more linking to a google spreadsheet I custom tarted up. Great feature. Had to program the calendar myself, struggled with zipping the folder that contained it over and over (har har, just zip the FILES, idiot) but GREAT feature. Needs to have the ability to keep track of multiple years, though.

Voice Modes. Great. Love it. Certain players hate it. Hate holding the extra button, typing /o, /a, whatever. Bad times for me, but at least it cuts out all the OOC chatter that clogs up the channel in IRC.

AC-hit. Thought it would be amazing. In practice it saves not that much time.

Shuffling through stuff. Screen real-estate issue and tactile nightmare. I prefer my actual notes.

Spoofing NPCs. I thought I'd hate this, but I've become proficient at it in three sessions. I'm cool with it now.

Writing the Rules. MAJOR bummer. We did it so you don't have to.

Player Complaints. A few. They will be given voice at the end.

Part Four: To buy or not to buy?

Do you have a large amount of disposable cash burning a hole in your pocket? Buy the Ultimate Edition so your friends don't have to pay anything. Otherwise, weigh your options. If you play PRIMARILY or COMPLETELY online, this is a way to bring that "table feel" back to the game. It allows for easy file management and image sharing, which is paramount in my experience.

HOWEVER, the price is very steep. Do all your friends have money to spare? Can you just play on IRC instead? Don't worry about it. This is a gaming luxury item. It's great to have, even with the headaches (unless your rules don't exist on it, in which case you have to be a masochist and a programmer to get them working, and aren't those two the same thing?) it adds a lot to the game.

Bottom Line: You got the dough and it has your rules, buy it. You don't, stick to IRC. If you want to ask me about specific features, email me at kestar@gmail.com and I'd be happy to go over them further and help you decide.

Player rebuttals and additions coming soon.

More Ice Age

Just, you know, some world maps of what is now being called Othanas.* Once again, lines by Steve colors by myself.

Without Text

With Text


*literally, the tearing or sundering land in the Mother Tongue (Mematavti), but with the punning double meaning of the place where men dwell (either from othom, to cut; root lexeme tom or from otho, man).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Prehistoric Hijinks

In addition to some reviews coming up, the great times we're having running the Ironbreakers, writing a new novel, and co-writing a comic book with Steve...

Well, we've gotten ourselves into one of the most ambitious projects I've ever undertaken in the name of roleplaying. That is, to use GURPS to run every stage of evolution in a world. Details to follow, but here is a map of the Eemian Period of Calréos, after the Tyrnostias have begun the Small Eemian Ice Age and withdrawn to their eastern fastnesses.

The map is a collaboration between myself and Steve (I colored, he provided beautiful linework).