Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Pink Slime Room

“You are in a room. There is slim dripping off the walls. There is a torch on the wall. The walls are crombling. There is a big blob of slim. It has one eye it strs at you. You fell as if you are being plop neer someting. You clasp into someting slimy evering is slimy. You fell as if some wone or someting is wating you. You die! You die! You die!”

THE END

Note: I gave my daughter an assignment to produce something that has a combination of art, writing and game design in it. She said she couldn’t do it because she can’t spell. I said… do it anyway and who cares about the spelling errors right now.

Random Thoughts: Outside the Rules Structure, an Eclectic Fiction Diet, Watershed Moments, Lenin, Artiness, and Chronicles of Riddick

Just speculating about what’s going on here, but… the thing about role playing games is… random stuff on your character sheet that everyone has forgotten about can very quickly become amusingly important. But the essence of play is the game master describing a situation and the players imagining it and then figuring out what their characters would do. And this often has nothing to do with the rules or the character sheets! The structure of the rules help point the entire group toward this particular engaging and fun thing… and yet, at the same time, the fun that is encountered often occurs outside the structure of the rules themselves.

This is a great pic, though. You can see the tracking of minutia, the way rpg’s make people explain stuff, and the way that imagination is the ultimate arbiter all at once. I haven’t seen anything from the award winning snarky pants gaming theorist types that makes me think they really get that this is what it’s all about.

Even the mediocrities on the Appendix N list can provide valuable insights. Jack of Shadows is a better distillation of the zeitgeist of the baby boomers’ children than even I’m Okay, You’re Okay. Changeling Earth is a direct consequence of a generation that had lost faith in science and was all to willing to create new gods for itself. Come to think of it… there is a disproportionate number of stinkers from the seventies in that list.

Why is it that Gygax had a diet of fiction that spanned more than half a century, but the designers that followed him and the younger generation of gamers that played his stuff did not for the most part? What kinds of things do we fail to see simply because we’ve never bothered to survey the past…? And what the heck happened during the seventies to turn everything upside down? Something happened. The fact of it doesn’t require a conspiracy theory to explain it, but it does make me wonder about what all’s gone on since.

Remember: people that haven’t read from the Appendix N list tend to assume that Gary Gygax was a weirdo for using the term “Fighting-Men” instead of something like “Warrior.” They will even go so far as to say that the reasons for his word choice there are unknowable. It’s a small thing, sure… but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. These people are not only ignorant, but they don’t even know they are ignorant. They are simply not equipped to make an intelligent critique of classic D&D, much less assess Gygax’s contribution to gaming.

That “Wisconsin Shoe Salesmen” precipitated a watershed moment in gaming history. His influence is not confined to tabletop games, but spills over into computer gaming and fantasy in general. While many tropes of classic D&D have by now become ubiquitous, the literature that inspired them has since dropped into obscurity. This is interesting and bears further investigation. Among other things, this provides a method for revisiting the axioms which we take for granted in both games and genre fiction. If you’re tired of your adventure scenarios being derivative of blockbuster movies, this can open up a smorgasbord of inspiration. And if you don’t already know who A. Merritt was… if you haven’t read Jack Vance or Robert E. Howard… you are in for quite a treat.

Netflix just blows my mind. First it was the episode of Midwives where the baby got saved because of the National Health Service had just passed. Then there was the BBC series about female WWII code breakers tracking down a necrophiliac rapist/serial killer against their husbands’ wishes. And now its a roaring twenties detective show where the simple Australian cab driver has to point out that Lenin legalized abortion in 1920. It’s almost like the entertainment is structured so that it reinforces somebody’s political narrative…. Agh. Fortunately, I have some books here where the authors don’t pull this kind of crap.

Somebody was complaining to me about not being about to get intoThe Dying Earth. “Well the prose must be at a higher level than what you’re used to,” I said a bit too gruffly, ignoring their protestations. I handed them The Face in the Frost and suggested that it might be more their speed.

The view on warrior women in history presented here has about as much credibility as Solar Freakin’ Roadways™.

The problem with “arty” is that is too often indicative of a particularly sanctimonious variation of contempt. Most people prefer an honest entertainer that stumbles into the sublime over a cookie cutter hipster that purports to foist it on them.

Riddick is an epic movie hero cut from the same cloth as John Carter, Dumarest, and Conan. The bad guys are wonderfully and irredeemably evil. You even see a cross-section of real world religions depicted sympathetically and (uselessly) in opposition to them– very rare. The “strong female character” is completely devoid of any romantic elements; despite many scenes of gratuitous baddassery on her part, she still needs to be rescued in the clutch. Her role is nevertheless identical to that of Danny Glover’s in the Lethal Weapon series: the “best bud.” Meanwhile on the other side we get a hard core Jezebel or Lady MacBeth type character. She is clearly the brains behind her husband’s ascent to influence and power. Finally… that world in the middle section: loved it. Not your standard “Class M” world from Star Trek. Not your George Lucas “pick a single Earth climate and roll.” Just a nice, believable and fun environment. Altogether, a very nice package of a film. This is about as “old school” of a blockbuster as you’re liable to see.

Photo used with permission.

Lycanthropy Outbreak Spawns Wave of Terror, Flatulence

I present to you… the werebutt:

Guest Post: King Alexander’s Burial Chamber

Three players showed up for Session 6—Matt (Wilfer the Elf), Hailey (Abraxo the Halfling), Sebastian (Igollad the Cleric).

Following their last Tier 4 rampage, the party rests in the safe quarters of Tier 3.

They are informed by Auriga Sirkinos that, during their absence, Guia developed a terrible fever and was close to death. He said that he approached the Brothers of Gor’m for a draught of their healing honey, but they insisted on an exchange for nothing less than Honey Boo-Boo. Auriga was distraught to trade away the wondrous beast, but that there was no other way to save Guia’s life. Post-honey Guia is on the mend, but still recovering.

[The players did not question this explanation. From the get-go I played up Auriga as covetous and overly-fawning. His rivalry with the Maidens and Brothers was often apparent. But the players never seemed to suspect that he was anything other than trustworthy, despite my (evidently too subtle) efforts to plant suspicion.

I had in mind a whole sub-plot, wherein the PCs would eventually learn that Auriga had stolen the terrier for himself, and they would have to decide whether and how to respond to that. But it never manifested.

I love this kind of thing when it works. One of my favorite activities as a GM is to play against player assumptions (the more naïve the better) and let them stumble into trouble or trap or nuisance as a result. I just waited too long to create an opportunity for them to get in on my joke.]

I had secretly been rolling saving throws for any character injured by a magically warped monster, and any character that had performed magic in a warped environment (most of the Ziggurat). [see this post for a gist of the background notions].

Injury and use of magic in Zardoz’s domain exposes characters to the chaos and madness of a warped environment. Results of failing a save could manifest in several ways. It could cause madness, draw one into a sort of mental union with Zardoz, increase susceptibility to magical influence, etc. Failing such a save also imparted dark sight and light sensitivity to a character. At one point or another, Guruff and Wilfer both failed a save. Had they ever returned Topside during daylight, they would have felt partially blinded and be at -2 (like Goblins). But they didn’t return Topside, so it was another overly clever tidbit of mine that never developed into anything.

Igollad, having reached 2nd level, now had access to clerical magic. He was a priest of Alodie, the Boar (perseverance, fortitude, luck), one of a pantheon of six gods called the Hessaplos. I sort of felt like having access to deity-channeled magic should be a big deal, so I gave Sebastian the note that follows to commemorate the life-changing transition. It was also an opportunity to convey some hints about Zardoz.

As you rest in the pyramid, you sink into sleep and dream. You walk through stone passages, slickened with the effluvium of unsavory horrors. Indistinct screaming bounces off the walls. You turn a corner into a bare, cold room. Thick blood spatter coats the walls. Sand pours in from holes in the ceiling. You look to escape, but there is no exit. Sand quickly buries your legs… then torso. Darkness overtakes you.

Bright yellow light bursts forth, causing you to squint. A stiff, fresh breeze caresses your face. The stone walls tumble down around you, allowing the sand to spill harmlessly away. You hear loud chuffing behind you and feel warm, moist breath on your neck. A huge boar looms a full head over you. Her back and tusks are coated in dust, its breath steams from the effort of battering down the walls that trapped you.

From amidst the stone debris, inky blackness pours out. The cloud envelopes the boar, raking her hide, drawing streams of blood. They do battle, the boar fruitlessly lunging at the shapeless mask with its tusks. She tires, weary from her efforts, and all seems lost.

The inky mass takes shape. Razor sharp tentacles lash out and single red eye comes into focus. It moves in for the kill. In a final defiant lunge, the boar’s tusks find purchase and she lifts the foul creature on high, hurling it into a cauldron of fire. It lets out a deafening howl, reverberating painfully to the heavens, and it vanishes back into the Void.

Wilfer, having failed his secret saving throw, becomes susceptible to the Breath of Zardoz, and receives the following note during his recuperative meditation:

Though you haven’t seen sun or sky in some time, you know it is high noon of the autumnal equinox. Wherever you are now, it is certainly that most holy day in your home of Tindomende.

You have a vision. You fly high over a fertile land. A belt of bright green growth blooms along the course of a river teeming with life. You sense traces of the Powers of Erd (the old gods revered by your people) imprinted from their acts of creation. They have forgotten this place… though the land itself remembers them.

A rift opens in the sky, with the yawning blackness of the Void beyond. An undulating inky darkness manifests. It is pure evil. As it descends to earth, it poisons the land. The river runs dry, fields brown, sand consumes all.

The evil thing, now buried deep in the sand, has hungered ferociously for centuries. It has consumed thousands of spirits, drawing strength from each. But it could not be slaked by a hundred thousand more.

Its moan, dripping with hate and fury, is a cry home to the Void. You feel its yearning, both to feed and to know peace. Its echoing cry of anguish seeks a Creator to call it home.

This was my attempt to deliver a, albeit vague, history lesson about what befell Cynidicea. To his credit, Matt took it seriously. He knew the entity was Zardoz, and he had empathy for its pain. Remember, this was the player who questioned the rightness of killing the Stirges.

During the rest period, a loud moan is heard all throughout the Ziggurat. I don’t offer any explanation. The players rightly chalk it up to Zardozian weirdness and the “Harvest” that the Cynidiceans keep fearfully talking about.

When they are recovered enough to keep exploring a reconstituted Party of seven moves out:
Wilfer, Abraxo and Igollad (PCs). Mengelev and Dongalev, the not yet full-HP lvl 3 fighters. Souvlakus of the Magi. And Cheyenne (lvl 1 Maiden fighter) replacing the deceased Sativa.

The first stop is the northeastern-most Room 25 (Nobleman’s Burial Room). They hear voices reminiscent of the mentally retarded (not PC, but damn it’s fun) chitchatting. Their knock is answered first by silence, then a trepidatious “Who is it?”

The PCs offer assurances that they harbor no ill will and do not work for the Priests, so the two giant Slave Caste (white ape stats) Cynidiceans open the door and a fun conversation ensues. Without Guruff’s charisma bonus, they are unable to persuade these HD4 creatures to join forces. But they do get permission to scour the room, and they snatch some nice plate mail and a +1 sword (lawful) which Wilfer uses.

As they creep back, a wandering monster roll draws a spitting cobra. Abraxo drives it away with her sling. Weathering the save vs. fear of the Ghostly Haunts, they wind around and find a secret door to 26 (Tomb Annex). They navigate and survive multiple traps and penetrate all the way to Room 33 (False Tomb). Much careful examination exposes the ruse. Poking and prodding the walls reveals the thin slabs covering the path to the real tombs.

Preparing carefully, they start south to Room 34 (King Alexander’s Burial Chamber). As soon as they cross the threshold, the translucent figure of the King rises from the sarcophagus. This ghostly haunt is not harmless. Its wail causes D4 damage to all in the room or hall outside. They slice at it to no avail (only harmed by magic). Wilfer, the only one with a magic weapon does not connect, and (with lvl1 hit points) has to flee immediately.

They have no idea what to do or how to prevail. Some continue hacking and taking damage. Some flee. Abraxo snatches the crown and Mengelev snatches Alexander’s sword “Pyrsoglos” (neutral, +3 vs. undead, +1 otherwise), and they are the last to flee.

In pretty rough shape by now, they retreat to the safety of Tier 3, jubilant about their discoveries and successes (this is a very nice crown).

Secretly, Auriga is now deeply troubled by the Party. These Topsiders have retrieved two of the most valuable artifacts of his civilization’s history. They may have the power to tip the political balance and be a rallying point for overthrowing the Priests… or the other factions. More troubling, the other factions might turn the Party to their own purposes.

5510 XP is divided among three PCs and four NPCs. Igollad reaches level 3 (becoming the beefiest PC for a short while).

Thanks to my long time Car Wars opponent Earlburt for putting this campaign together and writing it up like this. This is really instructive on so many levels!

Random Thoughts: The Border Zone, Edification, Conscripts, Mocking Conan, and Hunger Games II

Note to self: avoid implying anything to the effect of “I BE SMERT” or “You oughta read/do x-y-z.” It’s begging for flames… from people that will do that exact thing back at you. Trends are tricky to document to begin with as the peanut gallery is eager to produce counterexamples. This leaves you saying “this trend appears to have trended thusly” with maybe a footnote of some caveats. The target audience will elaborate or volunteer useful leads. The border zone is actually where some pretty useful stuff transpires given that the really good essays answer all the obvious objections… and your critics are just handing those talking points to you. The really negative stuff often turns out to be uninformed dismissals from people outside of your target audience. You can’t always use that constructively, so all you can do is bask in the fact that people really different from you are paying attention to you. This is still useful, really: no one humiliates themselves like people that live in an echo chamber of their own making.

And this other thing with all the stuff that people could be reading or looking at instead. There may be scads of edifying consciousness raising stuff that would be more relevant or important or whatever it is that people smarter than me think should be covered. The fact is, the only authority I have is derived from my stupid and relatively broad tabletop gaming experience. The only thing even marginally compelling about my otherwise scrappy voice is that I genuinely love games and gaming and I’m really excited about the topic. From a “research” angle, the whole of the Appendix N project boils down to being sort of a quirky extended sidebar to Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World. From a practical standpoint, it’s basically just a big bunch of game blogging for lapsed gamers that don’t read game blogs. This is the overlap between what I can conceivably do and what a relatively large (for me anyway) group of people would actually read… as determined by an irritatingly long sequence of trial and error.

So I’m at this party chatting up a girl that’s half my age. Somehow we end up connecting on our red neck heritage. (Typical rural move: hear someone’s unfamiliar accent, suddenly get suspicious, look askance and ask… “whar you frummmm?” Yuck yuck yuck.) Later on, it comes out that she’s from New York. Eh, that’s okay, I tell her, you guys at least had the sense to riot when they tried to conscript you for the war. That’s when the music stopped– the needle scraping across the record like in the movies. She looks at me with this blank look and asks, “which war?” And I laughed at her, sputtering out “THE war, sugar.” Still a blank look. I laugh even more as I take in the blank looks of the other 20-somethings in the room that are staring at us now. “That’s the difference between north and south right there,” I explained to them, totally incredulous. Now she’s hurt and still doesn’t get it: “but there are so many wars,” she protests. “Yeah, darlin’, but there’s only one where the south got burned to the ground.”

Game of Thrones is in fact inferior to Appendix N. It is a product of the same cultural dementia that requires Aragorn’s arc to be rewritten such that it is identical to Pippin’s. Its cast of protagonist type characters range from cripple to bastard to dwarf to super powered medieval-girl-who-refuses-to-become-a-woman. It’s no different than Harry Potter where the conflict between good and evil is recast into a war between snobby bigots and lovable half-breed outcasts. This is all Harrison Bergeron type stuff, really. We are gradually losing the capacity to even recognize that something is draining away in our adventure fiction. Villains and heroes alike are what they are because they weren’t accepted by the popular people… like that explains anything or even makes them slightly sympathetic. From Burroughs to Zelazny, this sort of mode was basically unthinkable even though you have writers coming at the scene from all over the political spectrum. But it’s gone on so long now that the very existence of a romance spun to appeal to adolescent boys circa 1914 is something that will shock the average reader of today. And yet we can barely even have a discussion about this sort of thing because it’s all been declared off limits for polite discussion unless you want to “mock everything about it” like tor.com’s Tim Callahan did with Robert E. Howard.

To me the question comes down to how you respond when you are exposed to a book that was written before you were born. Are you content to simply dwell in a place where you pat yourself on the back for being so much more enlightened than the author? Or do you ever wonder for a second if maybe he knew something you don’t…? Do you compare your cultural strengths to his cultural weaknesses, or are you on the lookout for lost bits of lore that can expand your capacity to think and to create? Do you skim until you find something to be offended at or allow yourself to encounter someone that sees things differently than you do? Do you see the work as an opportunity to excoriate people for being close minded…? Or do you see the reading of it as an opportunity to become a little less close minded yourself?

Hunger Games II is a hot mess. The characters do nothing to make me care about them. Nothing happening rings true. So many things from the first one recapitulated here but with less punch. And yet again, the only thing consistent about the “rules” is that they can be changed on a whim from the new school dungeon masters that already knows what the plot has to be. I’m supposed to believe that this reality show star is some sort of icon for a popular uprising. Why? None of the standard plot points from Princess of Mars, Dune, or even Avatar are ever established or developed. She does nothing to earn this kind of respect. She just is… just like we accept the all around awesomeness of Julia Roberts’s character in Notting Hill as part of the overall premise. At the end of the day, Catniss is not an example of a “Man With Boobs” type trope– in spite of the violence and post-apocalyptic trappings. No, she’s more of a “Boob with Boobs.”

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