Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Gaming Notes May 19, 2013… with guest Kyrinn S. Eis

This is Gaming Notes, the weekly news-magazine about all kinds of games and the home of Space Gaming News, Designer Spotlight, and Blog Watch. This week’s special guest is Kyrinn S. Eis, the designer of Porphyry.

Space Gaming News:

Star Fleet Universe (ADB) The latest update on upcoming releases — “Origins is looming. It’s only 29 days away as I write this, and none of the new products are ready. Captain’s Log #47 is the highest priority, and that (at least) will get done…. It remains to be seen if the rules problems in ACTASF and the production problems with the 2500s have fatally wounded those product lines. We’re basically going to have to reboot them to make them the success they should have been…. Over the next two years, SFB will get X2, F&E will get Minor Empires, FC will get X-ships and go beyond the Borders of Madness, Star Fleet Marines will get a third (armored cavalry) and fourth (monsters) module, new RPG books (Orion Pirates, Feline Empires, Gorns) and new game engines will be done, the long-awaited expansion deck for SFBF will happen, Starmada needs another couple of books, and more Starline 2400-series miniatures will be done. Those won’t be the only products released for existing lines.”

BattleTech (Board Game Geek Geeklist) Games Where You Become Emotionally Invested with the Game’s Universe — “I had such an attachment for my pilots, that I started writing fan fiction about them.”

Star Frontiers (Delta’s D&D Hotspot) SciFi Saturday – Ship Index Cards — “I also shrank the Basic Game Combat Table onto an index card. Print out a page of these, and then you can basically run the entire game from your stack of index cards.”

Designer Spotlight:

Jeffro: Okay, I’ve looked over the sample that’s over on Lulu. First off… it looks gorgeous. It sounds like the setting is much more serious than Gamma World, much farther gone than Car Wars, and unsettlingly creepy what with all the weird magical fallout that you’ve engineered into it. It’s almost like… you’ve managed to preserve the insane post-apocalyptic ethos of eighties gaming while adapting to more current sensibilities. Did you specifically set out to accomplish something like that or did this game’s comcept simply emerge from the ether unbidden?

Kyrinn S. Eis: The game’s first session was actually a D&D pick-up/one-off game with G+ folks. It was decided before that there would be no standard fantasy RPG races, and other tropes were to be toned down. I decided to run this as a post-apocalyptic setting, and drew inspiration from fleeting and half-remembered concepts from “The Night Land” novels by William Hope Hodgson. H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dreamlands,” too, was an instant influence — I’m a very visual thinker — as well as Rodney Matthews’ depictions of various book covers, etc.

Duke Barclay’s PC was a cleric of Finnian, and he was sent out from his cloister by his master, and the other PCs were henchmen sent with him on his mission to reach civilised lands top the south. Their cloister was one of the remaining towers of the Barrier of Elysth, once used to try and contain The Burn when it had touched down upon Porphyry. These intrepid travellers made their way through the blasted heath and mossy rocks until the vast pine forests were encountered across a broad and strong river or tributary. A PC was lost in the crossing and the player soon left the game. The two remaining PCs made their way to forsaken Ownys, rich in un-looted goods, but crawling with Burn cultists, mutants, and cannibals. A bungled burglary attempt resulted in the cleric’s unconsciousness and the end of the first session. I remember telling them that I liked the game and planned not to write anything down for it. I failed. Within a week I had a large amount of kernel of the setting sketched out and ran the first Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition session with at least five players.

Jeffro: So… you framed up just enough of a setting to get a game off the ground… and then your brain inexorably continued to interpolate the reality of it in the aftermath. Nice. It sounds like an extended journey through wilderness was fundamental to your games’ sessions. This is something that seems to have fallen out of favor over their years as games have shifted towards focusing on large, set-piece MMORPG-style combats and/or six scene fully-plotted narrative arcs. How did your players react to having such a wide open set of choices…? Did this style of play impact Porphry’s overall design…?

Kyrinn S. Eis: That journey was fairly brief, subsumed in the course of a few hours of play, but a large portion of the campaign, most of it, I dare say, was wilderness or surface urban exploration. Actually, I think there were only two or three underground portions: a mythic underworld akin to that of the Aztecs, a foray under the streets of Ownys, and at the end of the campaign, north of Ownys once the Burn Cult was wiped out. That last one was true delving, and felt the most disconnected from what had come before it. Of the hours in the Playtest campaign, the vast majority had the characters experiencing the rigours of overland travel, the foul weather, constant vicious attacks, etc. Even the urban sessions (many of them) of Ownys the characters were slogging through the ashfall of winter (in place of snow), and much in the way of murder and mayhem.

The campaign was entirely PC-driven, based on their interest in following up on rumours, repaying debts, utilising contacts, taking advantage of contacts or their reputation. Mercantile adventurism played a part in two or three portions (beginning, middle, and end), and was actually the way the game started. Hiz Eruk from a Black Ship hired two PCs to produce weapons and shields for a young prince’s birthday party. When the party arrived, they found that the party was actually a ritual to determine the right of succession. Backing the existing prince with a poisoned and enchanted sword guaranteed his place upon the throne.

I made a conscious effort to fill the world with very Pulp-inspired locales, and enough of a latticework of interrelation for it to hang together as a whole, while being very conscious to make it wide open enough that you folks could make it your setting without concern of it violating canon or holy writ. There is a lot of flavor without there being anything like a chronology or other absolutes apart from Tsanzel Metal, Arcane Inks, the Serefolk/Hiz Eruk, and the Beastfolk. The cursed and magic items are all flavor-filled, but could easily be replaced or added to without throwing the setting.

Jeffro: Ah, the Beastfolk…! I almost hate to mention it, but they bring to mind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I can’t tell you how cool those independent black-and-white comics were when they first came out– though I was more of an Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters fan at the time. The Palladium T.M.N.T. and Other Strangeness Role Playing Game was pretty innovative back then, with martial arts, a point-buy system for animal abilities, and psionic powers. All of that went away with the advent of the movie franchise and the Saturday morning cartoon. Given that almost freakish chain of developments, how did you go about making animal type characters cool again in your game? (Maybe this particular sub-genre has lain fallow long enough that it can make a comeback again…?)

Kyrinn S. Eis: I grew up with Aesop’s Fables, cartoons, wildlife shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and pets. Animals are always going to be cool. I often prefer the company of animals over people. That said, I don’t really pay attention to trends, and haven’t ever gone in for the TMNT cartoons, nor read many after High School (an artist friend was heavily into them). I owned a lot of the supplements and know the system, but I’d say that Ken St. Andre’s Monsters! Monsters! is of much greater and earlier an influence than TMNT. In it are Chinese Foxes, Tsathogua, Chinese Demons (bat creatures), Snollygosters, Snarks, and other non-human, animaline creatures as playable races. Porphyry never strays far from Tunnels & Trolls  ‘Canon’, as it were, and where it does, by not including standard monsters and Kindred, it preserves the ‘Other’ aspect from the aforementioned product’s ethos. I will say, however, that the all-animal mutant Gamma World Cryptic Alliances: Zoopremiscists, and The Ranks of the Fit have more to do with my treatment of the Beastfolk than anything that came afterwards.

Blog Watch:

Cthulhu (Los Angeles Review of Books) To Understand the World Is To Be Destroyed By It: On H.P. Lovecraft — “Both during his lifetime and immediately afterward, other authors made use of Lovecraft’s ideas and creations in their own stories and novels. Lovecraft’s generosity with his own creations ultimately gave them a longevity that other, better writers’ ideas and characters did not have.” (Hat tip to Akratic Wizardry.)

GURPS (RPG Snob) Thoughts on GURPS and Skill Levels — It may be that a lot of the recent… er… grappling with tempo and pacing issues in GURPS combat are in fact due to the recent trend of increasing point levels for starting characters. If you are a fan of the grittier 150 point game, this is one reason to stick with it…!

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (Dungeon Fantastic) PC Tips for my GURPS DF Game (inspired by the OSR Primer) — Well, you can sit around scratching your head and wondering why your players don’t get it. Or you can post something like this to the front of your GM Screen. Allons-y!

Game Design (Lewis Pulsipher) Giving Victory Points for Fighting Battles — “Now if you see a game design as just a collection of mechanics devised to allow certain things to occur, you might see awarding VPs for fighting as just one more mechanic.  If a game is abstract, this point of view is easier for me to understand.  But a non-abstract game is modeling some reality in some sense, and that’s when this VP-for-fighting mechanic becomes an obvious kludge.”

Adventure Design (Semper Initiativus Unam) Integrity, the Living Dungeon and Module Design — “What Gary had on his paper, that’s what was written in stone about his world. The rest was a living thing that came about in play through memory and winging it.”

Policy (Jeff’s Game Blog) How many commandments have you broken? — I think Tolkien fretted over the fact that orcs were irredeemably evil in his last days. Still, it’s weird to see something like that turned into corporate policy.

Apropos of Nothing:

How David Weber orders a pizza — I read a dozen books in the Honor Harrington series, often starting the next one immediately upon finishing a novel. But I gotta say… this nails it.

Rules Of The Most Complicated Board Game Ever — Risky Settlers, Knights and Allies of the Lords of Dominion of Earth, Pandemic Edition!

How To Plan Your Life, When You Can’t Plan Your Life — “You follow this Act, Learn, Build Repeat model until you have a job, your own business, or have achieved your goal. It’s not career planning. It’s acting your way into a future you want. How do we know this approach will work? Because it already has.”

Note: You can find “Jeffro” on Google+ here. Add me to your circles to receive notices about each new blog post! If you cannot stomach the recent improvements to the Google+ interface, you can alternately get email updates with the “Follow” button in the right column.


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