Saturday, 16 November 2019

I found a key on a road.

I found a key on a road, it's crooked and golden. It lies in my palm - what does it open? (1d20)

01. warlock's black heart, bound in ice;
02. a small silver door, fit for knight-mice;
03. a ray of bright light in halls still and dark;
04. singer's sweet voice (who was cursed with bark);
05. old copper chest, in seaweeds hidden deep;
06. rusty wind-up toy, makes tyrant to weep;
07. manacles chaining a ghost to gaol;
08. a splendid treasure trove, to bounty of all;
09. any one door, for the deeds done discreet;
10. stigmata in your palm, for sacred blood to bleed;
11. poisoner's tongue, to confess their crimes;
12. cogs of glass machine to start all of its chimes;
13. obscured tomb in a graveyard to visit Hades;
14. a puzzle in ruins, for moon-mind to obsess;
15. azure door under stairs to lands of a dream;
16. graffitied portal to vanish at whim;
17. demon's barbed cage, setting them free;
18. a crack in a bark to step into a tree;
19. a calmness of heaven to turn storm to breeze;
20. the door to my house, as I just lost my keys.

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Blogposts have this underlying expectation of long text. I have some posts in drafts that are ten pages long and which paralyze me as I must polish them to suitably reading state; some are in making since May, and probably will never be finished.
 
Instead here is the post I wrote as I was waiting for somebody to arrive with a spare key. It was very liberating to write, and also fun.
So for December I'll try to post twice a week but strictly something small and more or less frivolous.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

City Dark proto-system

(a lot of words about vague/possible game mechanics)
Interesting thing happens when something – a game, a book, a comic, occasionally a song or a movie – leaves a sharp impression: for some time it acts as a layer upon perception, a tinted lenses through which all other things are interpreted. A while ago I played 'Tokyo Dark' (a point-and-click/visual novel video game about which I wrote here in too many words), and, despite all its underwhelming aspects, it left an impression.

So when a couple of days after playing that game back in May I also read "Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave" by T AKW (which is RPG about Scandinavian mages doing supernatural investigations in pre-Christian Scandinavia, very well-done for this purpose), it immediately overlapped with Tokyo Dark and its own Crisis Ritual, and I thought I can do something to those parts of SPIN system from 'Tokyo Dark' that I liked to make them more playable.

I don't know yet how to implement these mechanics well numerically, but the idea goes like that:
– There are three base stats (Professionalism, Phantasm and Shape) which you roll or assign normally; in the course of the game each of these stats might go up or down the way abilities go up or down in regular DnD (due to damage from hazards, spells or monsters, or through the actions/inactions of the character).
– Peak and near-peak values of each stat require some maintenance, usually done through downtime (attending conferences and qualification exams, working on your spirit, going to gym); it is impossible to maintain all three at peak values and still have a normal life. Negligence to maintain them diminishes peak and near-peak values, although not below 'it is still good' threshold.
– Each of basic three stats also has a connected Stress stat (Neurosis, Sin and Burnout respectively); each stress stat has sort of permanent accumulation level which is very difficult to erase but beyond than can also jump up and down more rapidly and healed (until it becomes permanent) more easily. This is a player choice if to start with no Stress or some Stress: if Stress stat overwhelms the Base stat, some kind of Bad Thing breakdown happens, but before that high levels of Stress do convey some benefits as well.

The guy with the glasses reported his scruffy partner to Internal Affairs | Sebastian and Joseph from 'Evil Within'

Three base stats are:
Professionalism: the measure of composure, detachment, patience, willingness to abide by governing laws, follow procedures or acceptable code of behaviour and not to upset the social order. Think of Professionalism in modern sense, as of quality we ascribe to layers, doctors, by-the-book police detectives, bureaucrats, customer support people or assassins with strict personal code. Low Professionalism favours immediate, impulsive, risky, direct, gratifying and less society-reliant approach such as doing break and entry instead of finding a proper key to abandoned building by going through research and acquisition. It kind of doubles as Order/Chaos alignment scale, at least on surface social level.
(note here that Professionalism in large degree is socially perceived stat; people could be utterly corrupt or law-breaking but as long as they manage to keep it well-hidden and maintain a acceptable profile, they still have their reputation intact)

Neurosis accumulates if the character acts erratically, tries the same actions repetitively or experiences social/mental/emotional stress conditions. High Neurosis eventually leads to breakdown, but before that it also helps to keep the character obsessively alert (adding to initiative), and difficult to sway socially or supernaturally.

It is friendly and helpful, I promise | Art by Jeremy Famir

Phantasm: the supernatural integrity, hidden reserves of psyche, protector spirit, the embodiment of personality, measure of supernatural power. To people with appropriate sight Phantasms look like grotesque and whimsical familiar spirits (as if patronus, persona and personal psychic pokemon) but on mundane level it is unseen. Powerful Phantasm not only protects against otherwordly influence, but also capable of bending reality to your favour, granting a strange kind of luck. Weak Phantasm makes the character less noticeable to the Dark or magic, allowing them to 'dissolve' in the human noise, or even disguise their Phantasm as somebody's else entirely, getting the assess to the personally attuned tools of other mages and places usually unwelcoming to outsiders.
 
Sin (or, how many modern occultists prefer to white-wash it, Stain) accumulates with exposure to supernatural, using magic and with cruelty done to other beings (such as murder, torture, rape, active malice or driving somebody to utter ruin). High Sin eventually makes the character consumed by otherworldly influences and turned into a monster under the drive of their now-distorted Phantasm (figuratively if not literally), but before this happens, the accumulation of Sin gives better awareness to supernatural, insight into its flows and smoother, more powerful use of magic.

Guess which one has better chances of jumping over fences | From movie 'Hot Fuzz'

Shape: the healthiness of the body, stamina, athleticism, regeneration and fitness. Higher Shape makes a character better at various physical activities, recuperate faster and have somewhat more attractive effect (in the reality of this setting, at least, however ugly the mug and abrasive of manners the person might be it is difficult for many people to fully ignore rocking 6-pack abs and movements of dancer). Low Shape means that the character's body is already under some kind of permanent duress or sickness, and various supernatural maladies (who act better from idealized human template) have a harder time to get a grasp on this deviating organism.

Burnout is a measure of active neglect or self-abuse such as fatigue, lack of nutrition, drinking or working in a crunch. Accumulated Burnout leads to hospitalization or death, but high Burnout also pushes the body to function on a resolve/adrenaline alone, and be less susceptible to fear and pain.


I don't yet know how to elegantly implement this system mechanically. Ideally: 
– it won't require to roll under and higher roll is always better;
– high base stats give better effects overall but low stats also give benefits for certain specific situations;
– peak and near peak values offer non-linear advantage over more average ones;
– stress stats have a sort of permanent and temporary parallel scores: permanent one accumulates slower and is very difficult to lower back down, while temporary might jump up and down more often and rapidly, and, with due care, healed before it becomes permanent. Hence Stress stats cannot require any complex calculations tied to them and should be used as close to their base value as possible.
– the high Stress stats should be able to offer some benefits as well (better initiative, more powerful magic, certain resistances)
– preferably as close to DnD/1d20 mechanics as possible;

Non-linear advantage and permanent/temporary Stress stats makes me think something close to Storyteller system but it isn't as straightforward approach as I would like it to be.

HP and wounds:

Humans don't really have hit points and thus die easily – if hit with a bullet and it is more than a glazing touch/isn't protected by bulletproof vest, it is very appropriate to go to the hospital with all haste so not to be dead. Mechanically, it will employ Horrible Wounds tables from Emmy Allen's Esoteric Enterprises with numbers slightly tweaked to allow for chances of lighter wounds. Armor is damage soaking/deflecting. Mastery over melee weapons works as an armour in melee fights. There are some basic powers that might prevent lethal injuries (one is called 'Bullet-eater' and it makes your Phantasm 'eat' a possible wound by the cost of one permanent point of the stat) but they are costly, and the most effective protection, beside military grade battle dresses, is supernatural in origin. Magic injuries to humans are also infectious on supernatural level.

Supernatural entities do have extra wounds/HP (and often invulnerable to some forms of normal-world damage), and in direct confrontation without knowing their weaknesses are exceptionally lethal. Getting into random fights is, generally, discouraged. Hostage situations are lethal. Getting into uneven fights is lethal.

Investigations:
Unlike in original SPIN system, not featured as a stat. I think it would be better for players to actually do investigations and come to conclusions themselves than for it to be some kind of numerical trigger.

Supernatural:
It always has consequences/price/effect, some are mitigatable with effort but there are no absolutely safe-and-free ways to interact with it. Low-power Phantasms could be as useful as stronger Phantasms for certain approaches. Successful serial killers and sadists become instinctively attuned to Dark. Occultists might become attuned with less moral degradation, although this is walking a thin line; they heavily rely on personalized, attuned tools to interact with Dark on less dangerous level and the access to such tools is exceptionally valuable.
Old magic died somewhere early 1917. All current magic, in one way or another, comes from Dark. Some occult philosophies/factions pretend this didn't happen.

Other stuff:
I wonder if I can go without relying on skills much, but vaguely, I imagine PC's parts coming from background, training, profession and hobby, which defines their areas of expertise and relaxation. I am inclined more to frame them as 'Things you can do for sure' than just 'Number that grows higher', or, at least one in conjunction with the other.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Some interesting things about Transformers.

(maybe not very interesting actually, but quite fascinating to me)

Never was a fan of toys or cartoons or other comics, but IDW 'More than Meets the Eye' and 'Lost Light' arcs were interesting readings, despite the universe and many story elements making little sense. One of the things that strikes me as very interesting, is Transformers themselves and their, for the lack of the better word, mecho-biology.

In DnD constructs are mostly understandable. Broadly they are either clockwork reminiscent of clockwork toys and mechanisms, golems close to elementals (solidly built in the single material, be it tar, or flesh, or stone, thanks to their origin in Golem of Prague as a pile of clay), or magical esoteric-circuits robots, close to what is possible near-now, with magic used to fill the gaps in not-yet-existing technology. Crystals often serve as their power sources but don't carry any other functions even in sapient constructs.

Transformers are mostly close to the third, but I think their initial out-of-universe nature of the toys serves like a coherence glue or a boundary in terms of what 'magic' is for them in-universe. What exactly are the possibilities and limitations will depend on writers for each universe, but within a single canon it can be made more or less consistent.

– Transformation cog, which is in this continuity, is the 'organ' responsible for transforming. The shape and capabilities of alt-modes themselves are more embedded in the actual body, but transformation cog is what makes the transformations possible. Every Cybertronian is forged or constructed with one: it takes intent, disease or accident to disable this ability, and often the rapid destruction of the cog is fatal. Imagine the whole sapient population of the planet be able to shift into something else, and this can be tangibly taken away and returned back. 

– The spark, which can be compared to combination of soul, heart and main engine; it is vague if the spark also  at least partially encodes personality but I am inclined to say yes. The origin of spark in incomprehensible super-computer inside of Cybertron makes it alike to soul, but, unlike intangible and vague soul, the spark is condensed, materially present and very obvious source of energy with a lot of known properties. In comics it usually takes a dedicated medic or a scientist (often unhinged one, such as Scorponok) to do truly unusual things with the spark, but all Transformers have some basic intuitive understanding and use of the spark as of energy source or/and are able to detect 'spark signature' from a distance. Imagine the whole sapient population have a instinctive basic understanding of soulcraft.

– Energon, the fuel, catch-all 'food' but also a 'blood' within transformers: they consume it as nourishment or for pleasure, and transport it as goods, but it also flows within them and splatters on drastic wounds, as the blood would. It is mined from the rocks, so it can be said that rocks on the planet bear raw coagulated blood-equivalent. Aesthetically, it is mostly portrayed as extremely bright magenta which makes me think that pink colour of Arcee and the deep purple of Decepticons in our terms would be bright scarlet of arterial blood and carmine of venous blood respectfully.

– Metal of the bodies is one thing that doesn't seem to be lacking in usual circumstances (an average Transformer is about 30 feet tall and 16 tons heavy of mostly metal), but in a pinch the population can be melted down and recycled to mass produce more of something else, be it mindless Legislators of Tyrell, or new soldier Cybertronians in a Functionist universe, or just more guns. It is barbaric, but not terribly difficult thing to do technically. Imagine the whole population that potentially could be dissolved and reformed into something else, sapient or not.

– Body modifications: it isn't too difficult in-universe to change their bodies, providing materials, tools and specialist's attention: Traincutter got guns into his legs, Perceptor upgraded himself as a sniper, and some Transformers rebuilt their whole form several times. Transformers are somewhat limited, in-universe, in how much of mass each can bear naturally but there are ways to bypass it with mass-displacement.

A lot of such modifications are also immediately obvious, so if Transformer has change in appearance it is most often means they also got the change in their capabilities. It makes me wonder why, in-universe, free of limitation of the toys, Transformers don't do it more often and seem to rely more on other Transformers who can help them (the portable telecom station you use to detect enemies is your buddy Radar, you shoot sniper rifle who is also Vox) than to add more gadgets to/into themselves. In some ways, their technology doesn't seem to think about minimization and optimization because there is probably a 'bot somewhere who already have this kind of talent. In human terms it can be imagined as if at least half of spells, feats and skills be immediately obvious on the character, leaving much less space for subtlety or disguise.

Additionally, careful removal of many secondary parts is not immediately life-threatening even if harmful on longer run; some medics or scientists can disassemble others almost entirely and reassemble them back without much problems. You can have a calm, not time-stressed conversation with somebody who is, basically, has your stomach in their hands, and it causes concern only if they won't give it back.

– Various bodyparts, which are simultaneously organs, tools and parts of appearance. Taking somebody's feet could be seen as taking somebody's boots, taking somebody's roller blades and taking somebody's actual feet to replace one's own. It is mostly tied to the body modifications above, but also to notice that Transformer's look clothed to us while they actually aren't, and they don't have a separation of body into basic and clothed forms, and have their more or less permanent looks as a part of their full identity.

Given what their bodies are, there are many more things possible to do with them than with biological bodies, and even Transformers who aren't specializing in medicine, mechanics or science can probably re-engineer a dead body or a bunch of organs into something else intuitively; medic or scientist with better understanding can do this on a go or more drastically, such as making a corpse without any weapons itself into a gun. Intact corpses can be used in their alt-modes as a strange form of mechanical necromancy by pretty much anybody on a go.

– The lack of separation between the body and appearance also creates this very unusual scarcity of personal belongings comparatively to humans and their need of many soft things. Occasionally there is a ceremonial cloak or a hat, but often tools or weapons are either the part of Transformer themselves, or directly attached to them. One of the most valuable personal-access things in-universe are good labs; on smaller scale personal unattached belongings often limited to datapads and various collectables. The dwellings of Transformers look very austere, and this detachment also makes Transformers look very mobile and non-possessive. It makes me wonder if they even have emotional understanding of 'home' as of place in the way we do. Transformers arts also seem to gravitate toward ones that don't need extra tools or materials: there are songs, poetry, performance, but little of painted pictures, sculptures or mosaics; Transformers seem to carry their art with them wherever they go.

– Transformers themselves vary drastically in the size, from somebody as small as Rewind to somebody as big as Ultra Magnus (and there are Omega Supreme and the Titans who are the size of the cities although not very personable). Appearance/looks alone seems to rarely matter to them: mouthplate or actual expressions, actual eyes or a visor, and whatever colours, are all treated more or less the same. In these particular comics there are themes of discrimination on other principles than appearance, and sometimes appearance is tied to one's capabilities (which could be disparaged) but I am finding it remarkable that the appearance itself is very rarely a problem.

– Age, which easily stretches for millions of years and only having an health-related or psychological effect when the plot (usually sickness) or characterization (usually gruffness) demands it. Otherwise Transformers don't seem to process the span of time, being functionally almost immortal, and stop changing psychologically once they establish their personality (which might be as soon as a two weeks from creation). They are not lethargic, they don't have 'the long view' and they live day-to-day as fast as a human would, but being aware of the full scope of time is an exception to them. To add, that their often-metal world, seems to be similarly unaffected by the time: ships and structures exist for millions of years without decay or rust.
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With all of this, I think the nearest fantasy equivalent of Transformers would be not constructs but Fair Folk, with their Seelie (nominally benevolent Autobots) and Unseelie (Decepticons) Courts, shapeshifting, eldritch blood, basic immortality, much better understanding of their own 'magic' and having some basic intuitive skills and senses beyond human ones, variable appearances, condensed tangible spark different from how humans understand soul, and bizarre but still recognizable and not fully alien forms.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

I miss it.

(posting it via blogger time machine back to April)

G+ was ended a month ago and I still miss it, the way the person might miss a comfortable and interesting place that was here but now isn't. I didn't expect from myself to miss it so much, even after all those sunsetting warnings, after the time to create an emotional distance. Don't know if it is because I only used G+ for about 2.5 years, or because my participation was limited, but I didn't associate G+ with emotional disturbance or was overwhelmed by updates. It was a place to see what people do, and by rapid, strange boost of cross-contaminated imagination, come with new ideas.

Blogs, by the format of them, almost impose the expectation of the long-ish, meaningful, self-contained post. In my perception at least, the blogs are devoid of in-a-moment, more free-flowing and whimsical personality G+ had, and it seems to be wrong for me, somehow, to post a mere paragraph of text, just as it looked wrong to post long paragraphs on G+. With G+ still existing both long and brief approaches could be used in tandem, for different things, but now the half of them is not here.

None of the other networks is interesting or comfortable enough. In last month I was not exposed to any new blogs beside the ones I was already reading; there was a benefit in resharing, in ability to point at something and wonder about it aloud without necessity to do a review or analysis.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Rooms, first step.

The world is the same as the one outside of the window. It is dangerous, unsettling, boring and joyous, in all familiar ways.

Leave the wilderness to the wild. What isn't touched by humanity exists at natural equilibrium and has no use.

Look instead at created places: what was built, inhabited, used and abandoned, then torn down and rebuilt into a new form. Zoom in and look: here are the cities, the streets, the buildings, the rooms. Zoom out, observe: the rooms change functions and interior, the buildings are torn down and reshaped, the streets change names, curves and connections, and the cities are roiling landscape of impermanence through time. Created places are a touch of chaos.

Look further, at places off the trotted paths, just out of everyday focus, just on the edge of awareness or of need: a condemned building, a hospital room, a police station, a service area in subway network, for-rent apartment that doesn’t attract a lot of tenants, a house with sordid history waiting to be resold, hotels, maintenance floors, boring conference halls that are inhabited only for occasion. Look at the places people don’t want to be in or cannot stay in.

Look carefully: in the condemned building for the least stable piece of floor, in ugly for-rent apartment for the most hopeless spot, in the conference hall for the most dull and suffocating room, and in sordid house for the place where bloodstains where sanded off and covered in pastel paint.

Some of such rooms experience a supernatural mitosis. When it happens, two rooms come to exist in the same time, overlapped, almost the same: the second is just slightly even more out of focus, just slightly out of touch, just slightly further away from the prime world. Wrong step, off glance, a play of shadows, a particular state of mind – people step from one room into another and back without even realizing, between thoughts, between seconds.

The second room, the doppelganger, is almost the same, after all, it isn't easy to tell the difference at the quick glance. There is a feeling of false deja vu or of occasional surprise. Something nagging on the back of the mind, some hair-raising animal instinct of "how it should be but isn't" – but the eyes refuse to focus, and the mind to process anything except the mundane. Some items are in different places, some are missing entirely, some that were destroyed, discarded or hidden, are occasionally present, and the air is somewhat stiffer to breath. There are tiny black spots in the eyesight, the self-censoring mind. There is always a self-given explanation why the knife is on the other table.

Other than discomfort, the doppelganger presents no danger aside of what initial room might have on its own. Usually a simple subconscious desire to get back to normalcy is enough to step out, back to normalcy.

It is necessary to utterly suppress this instinct. It is necessary to linger to make process.

Because there always going to be another door in the doppelganger, the one that doesn’t exist in the world. Look for it behind the wallpaper and pastel paint, behind bookshelves, behind floorboards. Just as everything else, it is slightly off focus, out of touch, out of way of the obvious.

Find it. Find a key for it. Open it.

There will be another room or a suit of rooms behind the Doppelganger Door, and there will be another door somewhere there. It is a sequence, a path.

Each of subsequent rooms is more and more off than the one before it. At first these rooms seem to go into the past, as if stepping backward through the recording – bulky radios, gramophones, gas lamps, heavy curtains, the shells of doppelgangers that no longer exist – but they quickly become distorted, then twisted, then alien. Bright green metals and azure-hued plants. The pale sunlight through black windows that cannot be open. The cold glass that flows like water.

It is a gradual change, it is a gradient, a sequence, a path, a bridge, a connecting tissue of rooms-cells between the prime world and the Otherside. One world weakens, another grows stronger, room after room after room. Interiors get bigger, sprawl into floors, multiply, start to echo, turn back into themselves, grow into labyrinth connected by illogical paths. Laws of the prime world and the influence of the Otherwise mix. There is no sense of hunger and it is impossible to fall asleep, but there is still starvation and sleep deprivation. Wounds that would be lethal leave only pain but the pain crystallizes on the skin like jewellery and then kills. There is no aging, but in sprawling labyrinths of amber light and white stone there are monsters who speak old human words and wear old human faces.

It is a long path and it is easy to get lost: rooms often open sideways, into other rooms, not getting any further away or any closer. It is important to find a right door. It is important to come prepared. Before the Oracle Threshold it is still important to mark the way back.

Not everybody is capable to come back.

The drift is:
– the metaphysical distance from the prime world;
– the measure of alienation and change;
– the intangible force that makes going forward easier but returns to the prime world more difficult;
– the degree of Otherside influence;
– the potency of and for supernatural and magic.

Roll or chose your drift (1d6):

(0) – bystander shouldn't be there but here anyway by chance, by accident, by joke, as a herded pawn or by a blind friendship. Fish out of water, most of them are here for the first and the last time.

(1) – misfit is unwanted in the prime world. Odd or desperate, they have nowhere else to go. It is quiet in the rooms nearby and almost homely.

(2) – skimmer is here for profit, or thrills, or both. Many useful things lie unclaimed in the rooms, and there are no restrictions on any kind of hunt.

(3) – occultist tasted mysteries, and mundane world can no longer satisfy this hunger.

(4) – the driven has a goal that cannot be fulfilled by usual means. Be it a vengeance against untouchably powerful, a burning ambition, an impossible cure – every other way to achieve it in mundane world had failed, so the only path remaining is supernatural.

(5) – the haunted is a meat puppet, a battlefield of a struggling human mind against a howling specter of the past. Few of the haunted achieve some measure of co-existence with their riders, and these don’t come close to the rooms. The rest are pushed, dragged, shoved and mentally whipped into going deeper to pursue goals that aren't their own.

(6) – the entombed in their own mind and body, they long for the final apotheosis.

Why to go there? 

– To take refuge from the world.
– It is somewhat alike to urban exploration.
– The doppelganger room and adjacent rooms have a lot of items that can be sold for profit – from duplicates of mundane valuables, to vintage things that aren't too twisted.
– There is a market for oddities and occult materials from the farther rooms as well.
– It is possible to move through nearby rooms from one doppelganger room to another doppelganger room far away. Such 'shortcuts' are dangerous but usually are faster than regular travel and under radar of border services.
– What can be called spells can be brought back to the prime world and used there.
– Influence of the Otherside makes many impossible things possible within the rooms and those changes stick.
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I was always wondering why when I see Veil, Membrane and other such things that separates This World from Things Beyond is almost always on/off barrier like a wall (monsters come through it, it has to be enforced, can be breached, etc) and it is never explored on its own, as a bridge between realms. At best there is some vague in-between realm, such as Gauntlet or Fade or Weave of Phase Spiders, that mixes both sides, but there is almost no sense of gradual movement toward one or another side.

Rooms suppose to use (modified) Depth mechanic from Emmy Allen's The Gardens of Ynn and The Stygian Library. I think that Depth (and its spiritual predecessor, Chaos Index) is one of the most elegant and adaptable mechanics made in recent years. I hope I can somewhat expand on it.
Peter Webb gave me idea about mitosis of world; this idea dragged many interesting things with it.

Aesthetically Rooms are somewhat inspired by puzzle game The Room (1, 2 and 3) and some hidden object games. If to speak about 'shadow settings', HOGs on one hand are utterly trite, saccharine and predictable, and on another, have some strikingly good small ideas or visual elements, like a tower that holds the world from collapsing and builds its floors from the psyche of people sacrificed to it.
Also Rooms are from memories of traveling forty floors of technical levels, seeing all those bricked off doors, and weird graffiti, and somebody's footprints on a ceiling. On one hand it is clearly a prank, but on another, it is a narrow grey stairwell with metal railing, naked lamps, the wind that can audibly be heard through the thickness of the building and nobody else around. 

I like strange labyrinthine places, among other things. Godbox (of Gheste) is a good way but Rooms has more grounded approach. I hope I can finish it one day. If I do the next post will be less intro and more about drifts (classes).

Monday, 11 February 2019

In certain world, three practices of magic


(repost from G+; it is a long post about no-stat-no-mechanics traditions of the magic )

In a certain world, of three established practices of magic the Grand Tradition, the Glorious Art is the oldest. For almost a thousand years since barbaric conquerors of the Jeweled Lands settled as kings and forgot their own savage ways, this magic was the dominant method of enchantment, and, for the longest time, the only way. Called 'the sorcery of kings', for most of its time it served rulers and wealthy patrons, as Grand Tradition was expensive to learn and even more expensive to practice, taking years of life and rare ingredients to learn, master and create works. It wasn't uncommon for such sorcerers to be home-grown in a noble house or under a life-long patronage of a particular sovereign.

This magic was slow, almost methodical, and created in layers – from the simple and intangible framework of first stage enchantment into a solid, mindbogglingly complicated interlock of elements, the weave so complex that every single part of it couldn't be comprehended alone. The complex nature of Glorious Art is self-sustaining, and due how it blends and flows within itself in closed loops and structures, it is almost eternal and almost impenetrable to any subtle changes.

The works of Grand Tradition take months to years to make but last for many centuries unless directly and purposefully broken by a brute overwhelming force. Even if the magic of the enchantment never fully settles, the movement of its compound elements is so slow that is is not perceivable by human eyes, although long-lived varra watch such movement within particular works of magic, and discuss the aesthetics of these motions. The process of creating the enchantments of Glorious Art (in addition to being slow, complex and expensive) is also the most dangerous of all three – even if the finished enchantment has no negative effects and presents no danger other than it is made to do, the raw ingredients of it and magic in process should be kept under strict care so they won't spontaneously and violently react to each other while still untamed.

Aside of its longevity, the benefit of Grand Tradition is how natural it appears. Artificial people, the long-established pride of this practice, look and behave almost entirely like real people, up to having real-like memories and believing themselves real people; the buildings or sites built of such enchantments are as stable and real as any built by hands of man, despite their often fantastical appearance and no less fantastical laws that govern the interiors.

The second magic, the Messenger, is nothing like the Grand Tradition.

It is flimsy, fragile, fast to work and entirely unnatural to behold. The conflicting legends of its origin tell of either cunning noblewomen of Jaharra, who were forbidden to practice Grand Art but found a way to do something else, or impoverished students of Teronna University, practicing with leftover, trashed ingredients of Glorious Tradition to save money. The initial stigma of being frivolous fancy or only for the poor, and thus neither proper, nor serious, nor worthy of respect, still very faintly lingers with the Messenger, despite how much it is widespread today, how much use it finds everywhere and how much it became appreciated through last two centuries since it was discovered.

True to its name, the main advantages of the Messenger are the quickness (most works take bare minutes to make, and even the most complex ones take a few days at most), the simplicity (middle complexity enchantments can be learnt in about a year, and, unlike in grandiose Grand Tradition, free-form nature of this magic makes even basic enchantments useful), the safety (unless the mage is extremely foolish or careless, and begs to be poisoned by their own negligence), and the compactness (as of all three practices the Messenger is still the only one that can be effectively practiced in any place without preparation as long as the mage has a bare minimum of small and portable tools).

Enchantments of the Messenger cannot ever compare to the natural stability or complexity of the Glorious Art and are highly, strikingly unnatural to behold. They are also much smaller and more personal in scale – there are no fantastical buildings, such as Floating Castle of Yr, made with the Messenger, and many argue such enchantment would entirely impossible to do while many try to prove otherwise. The Messenger works are as fragile on any prolonged run as they are striking, so these spells are mostly used for the spur-of-the-moment needs such as the daring flight of Reva Edarri from Sogna to Garnaga that first brought this magic to the public eye. The preservation of Messenger enchantments takes almost as much, if not more, of effort as Glorious Art has to take about its untamed ingredients. There are people who find such conservation desirable for posterity; in the recent years the collection of such otherwise-gone-in-moment enchantments became a sign of prestige and wealth almost as much as patronage of Grand Tradition once was.

The third practice called Shapeshifter – it is most recent innovation, barely half-century old, but it is the one that finally pushed Glorious Art into almost full obscurity. Both the Messenger and the Glorious Art coincidentally caused this discovery: the mages of the Messenger wished to improve the longevity of their works, and the mages of waning Grand Tradition felt threatened on their golden perch by the rising popularity of the Messenger and sought to work faster and with more variety of effects.

The Shapeshifter can imitate effects from both older practices almost perfectly but with underlying character of its own process and very few drawbacks; its versatility is unmatched, as it can even blend the two approaches together and create some new effects entirely on its own. It can be as fast, and light, and simple, and striking as the Messenger; it can be layered, methodical complexity of Glorious Art, while being entirely stable, all while demanding much less preparations and time to learn or to make, and being much safer, cheaper and easier to upkeep. The Messenger still has an advantage of safety and portability; the Grand Tradition still has almost negligible edge on its natural-blending qualities which Shapeshifter can almost but not quite yet fully imitate, as seen with its artificial people. Shapeshifter demands slightly more time than the Messenger for the complex enchantments but for the quick works it is often so inhumanly fast that the mastery of its basics requires the mage either to be able to work with quick precision (lest the raw magic settles in a crooked form) or to use golden dust to slow the process.

The main distinction of the Shapeshifter is its ingredients and tools. While the Messenger and the Grand Tradition share the same ingredients, albeit in a different forms, Shapeshiftering occult panoply has only appearance of the familiar things, and the first lesson the novice mage of Shapeshifter learns is how to transform, through the influence of otherworldly flux, the necessary instruments into an alien, more malleable forms. Unlike older two practices, where raw ingredients can be used through decades if cared for properly, Shapeshifter magic makes the changed materials became an inert rot if unused after a short time. What some people (mostly of hidebound, traditionalist views) also cite as a drawback is a growing tendency of last decade for Shapeshifter mages to create enchantments of decidedly incomprehensible and outworldy looks, which seemingly serve no aesthetic or practical purpose; the critics emphasize the obvious degradation of human mind Shapeshifter certainly cause. But even if such works became somewhat more widespread in recent years Shapeshifter mages seem to make them in their own spare time as a leisure, while competently producing more realistic enchantments. As such, those works are of little concern to the public eye, as Shapeshifter gained popularity that fully eclipsed Grand Tradition and is close first with the Messenger.


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It is basically, a long-winded answer to the question "what if the magic behaved like an actual art process?" Namely, Grand Tradition is oils, The Messenger is watercolours and Shapeshifter is acrylics. Despite my little practical experience with paints, I found fascinating how different are processes of using each kind of paint are.

(not covered here are: airbrush paint, pencils, pastels, inks (I guess you can tentatively put them into Messenger/Shapeshifter - there are water-based, alcohol-based and acrylic-based inks, to name a few), sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, all kinds of engravings, printmaking, markers, all multiple kinds of pens, wax paints, enamels, collage and digital art, which will be utterly alien to this world ('Wait, you mean you can multiply and modify the enchantments as you wish, really quickly and create endless variations, fix all mistakes at any time, use or imitate any style and create endless of your own, use tools that also can do entirely different alien things, and the enchantment exists in fully separate layers that might or might not influence each other while staying fully independent, fully fragmented and also appearing as a finished work? And the work doesn't even exist in a real form until you tell it to? What madness is that?')

I am finding a parallel between art and magic to be an interesting one: in method both are very similar as both create almost infinite variety of  effects, and there are several ways the art can be divided into 'traditions' - by medium, by scale, by art style, by the subject, just like magic tends to be divided into various schools, traditions and disciplines. Cubism is as strikingly different from other art styles as necromancy is different from all other magic traditions; a work in oils can be seen as memorization, watercolours or pencils as spontaneous. Unlike the magic, which always has immediate practical purpose (Spider Climb walls, Raise particular Dead) and, in RPGs, extremely rarely serves any impractical subjective purpose, the art by itself usually doesn't have much practical use – a picture could be used to cover a crack on the wall, for example, but any picture could be doing that, regardless of the actual art subject. The closest, I think, the art comes to the utter overwhelming practicality of magic, is illustration – i.e. non-subjective, complimentary, explanatory graphical reflection/portrayal of certain things and concepts that meant to be viewed with the same conclusions about the subjects shown. As such, practicality of an illustration almost serves as polar opposite to an actual art, where each viewer supposed to put an artwork though lenses of their own imagination, experience and perception and to come with their own interpretation of the subject.


I don't mean that acrylic works are degrading: the view I took for this certain world is from old Soviet Union-based critique of Pollock's art and of similar art forms such as Cubism which at some point were viewed as objectively bad things, and Shapeshifter is an very new tradition in a world not used to new thoughts. I thought, though, it would be also interesting to imply that in this particular setting Shapeshifter is of alien origin, especially given that acrylics are polymer emulsion paints and are entirely different in their structure from oils or watercolours.

Shapeshifter making Grand Tradition obscure is not as much about acrylics vs oils (although this too, heavy body acrylics can look remarkably like oils sometimes, while not as flammable and easier to dry) as about several articles I've read where people working in traditional portraits or landscapes techniques (i.e. what oils were doing for the long time) are heavily discouraged by both art teachers and galleries from doing so. What was once a pinnacle of portrait, a life-like replica of the actual person's face, is not often needed now as a picture when we have photography.

From what I've read somewhere, oil paint never really fully dries, even after the centuries, hence Grand Tradition magic is always a bit moving. Don't know if it is true, as I never worked with oils long enough to make a painting. But turpentine-rag-caused fires can be very real, hence the danger of Glorious Art process. 

You can poison yourself with watercolours but it takes either 1) deliberate effort of eating a teaspoon of paint or persistent negligence of sucking on your brushes or 2) significant exposure to cadmium-, cobalt-, lead-based or old Victorian watercolours (where they put arsenic into everything for that brilliant green colour). The industry started to phase out cadmium from watercolours for safer paints, and lead-based watercolour are forbidden, to my knowledge, in Europe and Americas, as, obviously, arsenic. 

I imagine DnD mages being mostly the Messenger mages: quick, flashy and not very subtle effects, still a marvel, always capable to work in a moment, but not the ones that last for long. Throwing a fireball is like working wet-on-wet when paint just blooms. Not fully predictable nature of watercolours also justifies semi-randomness of many DnD spells - you get the effect you want, but not precisely the effect you want. Shapeshifter can, of course, imitate the free-flow effect (and also create big permanent works, i.e. magical items, unlike the Messenger which is incapable to do so), but to my knowledge, it is not possible to carry compact dry acrylics with you, while you can carry dry half-pans of watercolours basically in your pocket, which is why the Messenger is still most portable magic. On-a-go painting is possible for acrylics and oils but requires more bulky sets, more space, more tools and more preparations.

Golden dust for slowing down Shapeshifter is a pun on Golden brand of acrylics that has many slow-dry mediums. Other brands have such mediums too, but I only have Goldens.

Water-based oils do exist, so you can say that Grand Tradition is trying to keep up and modernize itself, but still, Glorious Art in this certain world desperately needs is own Bob Ross, the Smiling Wizard.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

About Tenebrae

It is unfair to speak about work-in-progress but Tenebrae by Unusual Existance is such interesting work that I wish to speak about it anyway. The initial G+ post brought to my attention thanks to Arturs Leitans's post about masks.

Tenebrae was already compared to several things – Black Sun, and Dying Earth, and BLAME! (and I expect 'Veins of the Earth' and 'Into the Odd' to be mentioned at some point) – but where Black Sun is aggressive, inescapable despair, and Dying Earth is baroque cynical adventureland, and Blame is endless, mostly desolated, city, the Dungeon in Tenebrae stands on its own being none of these things. It is more hopeful than Black Sun, it is already in dead world, (so not really _Dying_ Earth), and, unlike in Blame!, instead of the city it is the literal underworld sewn with dead memories of the world's better and louder times made flesh. Whatever remained of the Last Empire clings to life in pocket stronghold(s) between the surface (that is grabbed by Void in an attempt to devour it) and the Dungeon of the afterlife (which patiently waits for the surface to let go, be devoured and pass on, probably resetting the world), and where living cannot travel without aging to a dust in about a minute. All those gnolls, and goblins, and beholders that PCs meet in the Dungeon are, from what I understand, already dead, and appear because the underworld relives the memories of its past when Masks and/or living people trigger those memories when they venture through.

Masks are the most unique mechanic in Tenebrae, because in order to travel through the Dungeon ritualists-adventurers wear the mystical Masks of various mythical archetypes, Hero-of-Thousand-Faces style: the Dungeon and its dwellers see them existing as their Mask's archetype. Right now there are only four Masks (Zealot, Untamed, Arcanist and Knave) but at least one more non-PC mask is mentioned, and rules for swapping Masks are also here; I immediately wanted to add a sort of Jester or Sage masks, maybe combining them both into Madman. PC's identity in the Dungeon is not important: it isn't the PC that has HD, better AC and extra vitality able to withstand the underworld, it is the Mask. It isn't PC that levels up, it is the Mask. It isn't PC that gets all those powers, it is the Mask, and Masks can be swapped, and found, and, presumably, lost or ripped off, which, at the very least, is interesting because it makes PCs so vulnerable.

The second most unusual thing is how Tenebrae handles gold. With sun, and moon, and stars devoured by the Void and officially out, gold coins in this setting are mystical nodes of power, light and essence, encapsulated by Last Empire. While coins themselves are presumably very long-lasting as essence sources, they are exhaustible, and what remained of living world is powered exclusively by them: PCs travel into the Dungeon to get gold, but for survival, not a luxury, and not even their own personal survival but of their whole settlement and probably all of the living people. In the current document the aspect of PCs' obligations to their home Stronghold isn't touched upon but I can imagine that at least some of the initial gold has to be given away for PCs to have a place to return to from their travels. It is possible that PC ritualists are the last hope of their home, but in the absence of other information, the survival of the home Stronghold can be played as harsh or soft as DM wants it.

To have a safe spaces PCs, in downtime, will have to create their own or extend their home Stronghold. Unlike in most of the games, where castle-buildling feels kind of tacked on so high-level characters had something to do to feel important, in Tenebrae you cannot even level up (your Mask) without building an appropriate shrine, which I think is very interesting, twice-indirect way to deal with XP-for-gold idea. The document gives a few examples of the what can be built but it can be expanded upon, and I hope it will be.

There is a simple system in the document that is comparable to systems such as 'Into the Odd', 'Black Hack' or 'Knave'; if you favour another system, it can be easily translated. By my estimation the original system for Tenebrae is quite deadly, despite PCs having renewable Insight pool which they can spend to slightly sway their chances for the better. Stats are given equal importance, which I like for this setting, because however the character rolls they will probably be lacking in something, be it Wisdom (that affects AC), or Charisma (for saves), or Dexterity (for to-hit); PCs here are definitely not super-heroes-good-at-everything even with the Masks. At least initially, PCs are aggressively limited on how much of useful stuff they can carry (this is when Tenebrae reminds me of 'Veins of the Earth') but, as there is no armour beside what the Mask gives you, it is more manageable than it looks like. Gold is measured in the same Slots as everything else, so encumbrance indirectly is also the currency system. I am finding the description on Bow to be strangely detailed and when I read it for the first time, I misread it so 'Bow' looked like it describes any projectile weapon; I guess it can be very easily reskinned to be like gun or like a gun that Stronghold People call 'a bow'.

One of the little strange things about Tenebrae is, as by the wording, the living rutialists don't have to eat or sleep to survive in the Dungeon. Rations are ritualistic meal needed for camping and restoration but aside of that, from worldbuildling point of view, people don't starve or fatigue in the Dungeon. I am finding this little detail quite unique. Is it because there is no time, in traditional understanding, in the Dungeon? Is this because of the Masks who made a living being more of the archetype than a purely flesh and bone entity? It is because PCs kind of die a bit when go to the literal underworld to fight various memories of various ages?

Camping is a main unit of time within the Dungeon. Without need to eat or sleep for survival, and no sun, and the Dungeon being the underworld where memories of different ages mix and meld, it is a good way to keep track of time. From what I understand, there is no way to get more rations in the underworld of Dungeon (undead things don't sustain the living, and eating twice-dead-memory-denizens is, probably, not an option) so when getting their gear PCs already know for how many 'days' they can travel, and the loss of even one ration can be disastrous. A lot of the aspect powers also work 'until next camp'. It is a good system for this setting and ritual-survival mood.

Aspects of Masks is another idea that I really like. It is ten 'spells' for each Aspect that emphases the Mask archetype, be it 'Rage' for Untamed, or 'Sneak Attack' for Knave, or 'Fly' for Arcanist. In the beginning PC chooses one Aspect and rolls for the second randomly (which, sentimentally, reminds me of Synergon RPG and its semi-random starting Skills), and can evoke either one of these Aspect once until next camp. With each new 'level' the Mask gets, it awakes one more random Aspect and gets one more time to evoke any known Aspects, in any combination and order. Comparatively to regular spells Aspects are somewhat stronger and I especially like how Magic Missile Arcane Arrow is handled. As of now, some Aspects look significantly more powerful than the others (Sneak Attack doubles damage on a certain high hit, lasts until next camp and it is unclear from the original wording if it supposed to work only once like that or with any good attack for all the duration).

There is one named NPC and several other creatures, but Denizens section hopefully will be expanded. As of now, Barberians look a bit out of place but I think it is because there is not much else to compare them with. I really want to see Locales too as I wonder how the Dungeon will be organized, given that it is either endless or extremely, extremely huge. Will it be 'procedurally generated', symbolically built, built like an actual dungeon, something else or everything at once? Giving the scale and the nature of the Dungeon I think there will be at least some fluidity in the structure, but, on the other hand, Underworld of Exalted had a map, and cities, and quite stable environments, so I am curious to see how it is for Tenebrae.

The writing is very terse and gripping at the start but grows somewhat loquacious later; this being a work in progress I am ok with it because if the latter pages at any point in a future get to be as good as the first ones, it will be enough. One little thing that struck me as odd is how in 'Adventuring Rules' section words 'narrative resolution' are used. To me 'narrative resolution' by default perception meant some kind of story-driven-game, where the result of the scene is what fits the bigger agreed-upon story or theme (and not the logic of the setting, the situation or the environment), but these words here are used to describe, basically, 'make PC say how and where they search, give results based on this and don't solve the search with dice rolls', which I found to be unusual way to speak about it. Probably necessary wording if people playing the game come from something like Pathfinder where you roll for pretty much everything.

All and all I really want to see Tenebrae finished. There are a lot of potential and very strong setting/mechanic aesthetics here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Origins for the system behind the character sheet.

All travels start from somewhere. The origin is the point from which everything else unfolds.

It is the safe place. It is the wholesome place. It is nothing exceptional place, the place that doesn't yet know what ivory maze around godbox is. When hurt, tired, exhausted or brought down retreat to your origin. This is the person what wished to start the travel and however far your traveled since, they always stay with you.

Here are some most common origin for the setting behind the character sheet.

Human of Datay: you cannot separate yourself from hunger, not on the long run.
Recover when you have a plentiful meal. Get a major recovery when you feed yourself with a life of at least semi-sentient creature.

Human of Reo: your human heritage is your pride and accomplishment. By forgetting it, however briefly, you stop suppressing the natural instincts of your being.
Recover each time when you are knocked unconscious, drunk into stupor or otherwise lose awareness of self. Get a major recovery each time you are able to go to sleep. Sleep is a human thing to do but yours is always black and dreamless.

Human of Sagon: the world is moving, running, spinning out of control. Actively acting within it unsettles, jumbles and breaks you.
Recover each time you can sit down in inner contemplation. Get a major recovery each time when you can rest and arrange your thoughts in a stable, quiet, safe environment.

Human of Iriosa: a shell of a dream, you are worn down, scratched and tattered by the world. It wasn't so bad before and in dreams it still isn't. 
Recover each time you are able to go out of bounds of usual perception through illusions, horrors, drugs, artistic inspiration or another such non-routine events, unless you saw or experience them already. Get a major recovery when you are able to get in touch with dreams, your own or of others.

Human of Talar: your origin lies in a society, within the complex, interesting and kaleidoscopic web of connections. You don't imagine human life in any other way.
Recover each time you participate in a prominent social gathering (public speech, riot, carousing, festivals, high-society party, passionate gossip). Get a major recovery each time when you start and/or fund one of such activities.

The origin could be something more personal, such as:

Normalcy: you were doing well in the world you understood doing tasks you were comfortable to do. Sometimes you miss that world. Recover each time when you are able to visit the settlement and immerse yourself, even as an observer, in the plain and simple life of regular people.

Investment: there is no purpose in the world if you are unable to change it to your liking on a big scale. Get a recover for each [amount of currency] you are investing into some kind of enterprise that benefits you or somebody else you hold dear.

Failure: whatever you did before, you failed badly enough at it, and this tossed you out of the previously known borders. Failure is your personal enemy. Recover every time when you successfully do an important task under pressure with risk of failure.

Alienation: there is the present and there is a future and there is no past. Voluntarily or not but you had to leave it behind and didn't ever look back. The present has fewer and fewer connections. Recover each time you finish the important task or survive on your own, without any help.

Crisis: Was it a revelation? A loss? A betrayal? Is the person remembering those events is still the same a person who had experienced them or is somebody else, just using the same skin and mind? Recover each time you are able survive the noticeably danger to your being or each time you lose a level.

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Origin here servers both in a race or important background event (such as failed career) that also sets how the character naturally recovers HPs and currencies of self (you still can recover through other means). Each human origin mimics one or another recovery mechanic that I saw in the various OSR and other games: restoration by eating food, by sleeping, by resting, by carousing. Each 'personal' origin mimics some of the more exotic recovery mechanics mixing it with mechanics for getting XP a bit: return to settlements to rest and resupply, investment of gp [initially used for building castles, I think, but it can be stretched up to providing first aid to other people], success under pressure, solitude and so on; in particular the Crisis origin is Diablo-esque recovery where HP restores after pretty much any fight.

I got the idea from elves, who rest in meditation (and so use the same breaks that humans do) but often in various settings and systems do not sleep. Usually dreaming isn't important enough in DnD games but I thought it was interesting how one race overrides it anyway. In Flailsnails, due to the nature of Flailsnails, the exact mechanics for natural HP restore might differ depending on the rules DM uses: snacking in one world restores HP while in another doesn't. Recovery and major recovery are taking from short and long rest of 5E which I am finding to be clear definitions (and because I had to rename everything here I am renaming even good definitions) but also, in a way, from Unknown Armies, with minor and major charges which there-mages receive by doing some their-magical stuff. I am wondering about an idea where you can 'save' an extra long rest if you have enough time in downtime, and then use it later.

Even with such separation I suspect the human origins will work pretty well with each other, except maybe social one (although you can spend time gossiping and socializing within the party), as a lot of such origins would overlap in a downtime: when somebody is sleeping, another one is snacking or meditating.

The second set of origins is more like backgrounds, the first is more like a race. I wanted the race/failed career to be something more than a bunch of bonuses and small abilities, which is why I connected it to HP recovery mechanics. I am not yet entirely happy with it and have a gut feeling it all should have more substance to it. 'Race' origins will probably also provide some small abilities, while other five, that are more likely connected to career and motivation, will have more or better starting gear.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

About the wilderness

I think that wilderness is only useful to specific adventures and can be replaced in many other kinds of games.

Speaking of wilderness I mostly speak about untouched by civilization vegetation wilderness (forests, jungles, hills, grasslands, swamps) and not extreme biomes such as deserts and rock mountains.

My first postulate is that the smallest 'unit of setting', for the lack of the better word, is almost always a made structure – a dungeon, a city, a ruin, a building, a landmark. Even if in a forest there is an altar of root-god, made from roots and carcasses of animals without a human hand ever touching it or there is a hollow tree where fey lives, both are still _structures_, something that is made to have a certain (human or not) function, something where interesting things happen.

Barring all of these kinds of places, the wilderness itself is amorphous and featureless, or, rather, having most of its features blended. On the map it is mostly a place that is defined by its borders and by points of interest (which are almost always a structure such as a settlement, ruins or some kind of landmark) within those borders.

Pointcrawl is a type of play that especially navigates the wilderness between points of interest, which are usually structures.

Why the wilderness exists, when we speak about the setting of the game?
• It exists that the setting is believable, because IRL wilderness carries a very important function to supply life to the planet, and changing this drastically will immediately make the setting looks more artificial or SF (as in Blame! or Numenera)
• It exists as 'blank history paper' for more history to happen when borders of civilization has to be expanded (royalist rebels run into forest, merge with beasts, fight back, eventually overthrow the regime and create a empire of Beastbloods with the seat in the forest which is also now their citadel).
Setting history-wise it can be as simple as 'the Kingdom of Yrith built its mighty fleet from golden trees of Old Forest'
• It is the place where enigmas and horrors can be hidden, to pull out (sometimes as deus ex machina) some unpredictable things, such as beastblood union above, without much complexity. If setting needs a mystic coming with never-seen-before-revelations, strange beasts or buried secrets, the wilderness is one of the common place to 'store' them until they appear to be known by the rest of the works.
• To simulate complex RL wilderness mostly through random encounters.
• To simulate the long dangerous travel and use of resources (food, time, wounds, nerves). 
• As a 'quiet time' filler area between more intense parts of the game such as dungeondelving.

In computer games and RL it is also to give you strange vistas to immerse into setting more and know its deep beauty, but in tabletops it mostly loses this function because few people are willing to listen to long descriptive paragraphs, therefore such descriptions should be done well (both evocative and succinct) to work.

There is another layer to it: the players' upbringing and 'skill'.

By my personal observation the vast, vast majority of DnD players are of urban upbringing. Some from smaller settlements, some from huge cities, but few are immersed into actual wilderness to the point of being as intimately familiar with it as the rest is with the cities. When I see a forest I can tell very little about 'how it works' aside of what I read in books and from very rare travels through it; I mostly see such forest from urban perspective anyway, in terms of difficult terrains and paths. I don't know what most of the forest means, how different layers of it interconnect. When I am in urban area, I can say what is below my feet, where unseen streets go and what each sound is; I see a ruined building, I can have a pretty good guess what it was and what befell it just by looking at it. Even in an unfamiliar and confusing city I am not near as helpless as in the forest. Players learn urban environment by osmosis and at the end, I believe, they know a sort of language, to understand this environment and its features with much greater details than the wilderness where features has no much distinction. Their characters might know the wilderness but then it is mostly a roll of the die, not an actual interaction.
 
As a result of such familiarity players instinctively have more 'tools' to interact with urban-like environments. From my (limited) experiments, the same random encounter monster in a wilderness almost never provoked people to use environment to the degree they used when in urban decay areas. Trees were to climb up and hide behind; the urban decay was to crush unstable walls onto a monster, to electrocute it with leftover cables, to lure it to chemical vats, to block yourself in small rooms. Most interesting was that the number of questions 'Is there [X] around [for me to use]?' noticeably grew when players dealt with urban decay environment in contrast to the forest.
This is noticeable in old-school dungeons where players look for traps not by the roll of the die but by player skill and asking questions.

I wonder – if aesthetics are not important and if a setting tone permits, won't it be more interesting to replace the wilderness with urban decay and over-structures-overgrowth to give players an environment with which they can interact more?

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Defences vs. senses for the system behind the character sheet

In this system Defenses show how safe the character is from the hurt of the world. For now, it is best correlated to Armour Class.

The higher defenses are, the less the character is vulnerable to the world, the more they are detached and disconnected from anything that world is able to throw into them. The flip side of the coin, is that the more the character is disconnected from the world, the less they are capable to perceive and interact with it. Beyond the highest defense (cocoon) there is no need whatsoever to roll saving throws as the character is a static object with no vulnerable mind or body.


Here the type of the defense is not strictly speaking the same as physical armour, it rather shows the layer of general impedance between the character and the world.  'Disc' can be a full-body shield or an armour made of ceramic discs, plate can be of metal or chitin, 'shell' can be of concrete. 'Flesh' and 'skin' mean character's own flesh and skin, i.e. skeletons are all have precognition, telepathy and aura insight.

The chart is cumulative: plate defense makes the wearer to give up precognition, telepathy, aura insight, touch, smell, hearing and dreams.

 I don't know yet how to explain that some entities are capable to partially keep some of the senses and how some other entities lose more than usual. The working idea that certain paths adjust this chart up or down by one or more steps.

As an optional rule the Defenses can be raised in any moment but never or almost never can go back down.