My Games

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Grilled Squid and Peanut Butter

Originally posted in the OSR Pit.

The anime Food Wars is about a highly competitive, iron chef-esque Japanese culinary high school. It’s funny, engaging, clever, mouth-watering, dramatic, sexy, basically all of the things I like.

The main character, Yukihira Soma, is in some ways a very stereotypical shonen anime character, but there is one characteristic about him that I feel is unique, and speaks to the intelligence of this show.

He likes to experiment; combining ingredients that make absolutely no sense together, that are even viscerally disgusting. And, he doesn’t really care whether or not it works. There is value in the exploration and experimentation, even if the end result cannot possibly succeed, because he understands the fundamental components of cooking and can meaningfully apply these speculations.

And so, he makes grilled squid and peanut butter.

This is how I think about genre conventions.

I can respect a well-realized but otherwise basic setting, and I can even see the logic in conforming to these conventions. Game of Thrones, for instance, is about political machinations and grand drama, at a level of depth which would be difficult to do in a very Weird setting; in this case, it makes sense to keep it mostly low fantasy, and mostly traditional fantasy where it’s supernatural at all.

Likewise, I can understand the logic of less is more; of using a mostly mundane setting to accentuate one very Weird idea, and explore that well. As much as I love the Lovecraft Mythos, creators often struggle to make it work to the same effect when integrated into an already overloaded, high-power fantasy setting. Or similarly, taking something that is well understood, and subverting it in some very clever way, like the comic book Rat Queens which juxtaposes modern sensibilities with traditional fantasy to positive effect.

But for me, I like Weird, Gonzo, Pulp. I want a million ideas jam-packed together, that don’t really make sense and don’t pretend that they do. That is fundamentally different in some critical way, intentionally or not, as the sum of its parts or at the level of its parts, than anything that has come before. There is an art to all of those cases I describe above, but there is also an art to doing something truly Weird, genre-defying, and unapologetically unrestrained, and those are the works that most inspire me and that I strive to create.

Sometimes those ideas work and sometimes they don’t, and it’s important to understand why. I’m willing to acknowledge when an idea doesn’t work, or when I think it failed to work because of something I did or didn’t do that is ancillary to the core idea itself.

These ideas require more buy-in from the audience. I can’t leverage your preconceived notions of orcs and elves, or colonial marines, or whatever else the case may be. That means I have to do more to earn that buy-in, to pique the interest of the reader, to express the core concepts coherently, or have such compelling ideas that even without context they are engaging. It also means the ideas themselves have to be better. All of this, when the audience for something of that sort may not even be that large. Some people just want orcs and elves, and there’s not anything I’m going to be able to do about that.

So, sometimes, I create something that I know can’t possibly work, something like Grilled Squid and Peanut Butter, just to see what happens. 9 times out of 10 I am more interested in an ambitious idea that fails, than a safe idea that succeeds.

But also, there is a difference between throwing random shit together or making over-ambitious hypotheses out of ignorance, and doing so because you understand the things you’re doing and want to understand them better.

That’s where the brilliance of Yukihira Soma comes into play. He understands flavor profiles and cooking methods, he understands Grilled Squid and also Peanut Butter, and where they work and where they don’t and why, but he chooses to experiment anyway, just to see if there’s anything he missed, some emergent, inconceivable phenomena, that would make it delicious. Or that still fails, but that he might take with him to another recipe.

So I will end with a food idea. The next time you make pancakes or waffles, mix some soy sauce into your maple syrup; 2 parts maple syrup to 1 part soy sauce, or to your own taste. You can even very briefly boil or simmer them together to get some more caramel-y notes. Some people completely balk at this concoction, but the mix of sweet and salty, and especially these two with rich, complex notes, is wonderful. Not just the saltiness, but also the umami of the soy sauce, combines so well with the sweetness of the maple syrup. It’s even better than salted caramel, or like the sauce of mitarashi dango.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Modern / Progressive takes on Genre Fiction

Originally posted on the OSR Pit.

I recently watched both Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn on HBO Max, and both shows are excellent and brilliant and really spoke to me both in unique ways.

One thing that really struck me, and this is something I’ve been feeling for some time, but hadn’t seen it done as explicitly as in these two shows, is how these shows recontextualize the tropes of science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, Weird, etc., which were historically portrayed as horrific and rooted in xenophobia, in a way that is consistent with the original concepts, but is now empowering and inclusive. It all feels much more relatable, even as a straight white cis-gender male, and just as if not more so creatively and intellectually engaging.

I had read Grant Morrison’s run of Doom Patrol years ago and I was generally aware of how much Grant Morrison has inspired me over the years, but the show felt like it was reading my mind in terms of exactly what I’m trying to do with Maximum Recursion Depth. Likewise, I haven’t fully processed it all yet, but the Harley Quinn show has me excited about and interested in superheroes in a way I have not felt for several years now. I think Marvel and DC would do well to incorporate these ideas into the comics if they hope to remain relevant.

I realize that there have been many other works along these lines, like The Ballad of Black Tom or Lovecraft Country for HP Lovecraft (the latter I still have not read nor seen the show), Imaro or possibly also Elric for Conan (neither of which I have read, unfortunately), and of course many more. But I do think there’s something about these two shows, in particular, their specific sensibilities, that to me seems really telling about what the future of genre fiction and probably also RPGs entails.

This feels very in-line with a lot of the indie TTRPG / SWORDDREAM-space, the sort of post-OSR-exclusivity BS that always drove me crazy, where we can talk about and acknowledge these more complex social issues, and also Weird high concept fantasy, and we can do both in a way that is organic and functions on multiple levels of subtext.

So when I say modern / progressive genre fiction, I don’t just mean in the social equality sense per se, but in a very literal sense, I think these kinds of works are telling about the future of genre fiction.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is. I’d assumed, at the beginning of the Trump era, let alone whatever happens from covid, that this was all going to have a profound effect on culture and zeitgeist, but I wasn’t sure exactly what shape that would take, but now I think I’m beginning to see it, and it has me very excited. So I guess this is just me putting those thoughts out there, and asking if other people feel the same way, or have other thoughts about the future of genre fiction.

The key components I see, and this is absolutely a non-exhaustive, stream of consciousness list, but roughly:

  • Characters who are deeply flawed, but conscious of this fact and, importantly, are striving to improve.
  • While interpersonal conflict exists, real communication is important.
  • Weirdness happens and to a certain extent, you just have to be willing to go along for the ride.
  • Weird can be dangerous, but it is not to be feared.
  • Normal can be just as weird as Weird.
  • Weird can be just as normal as Normal.
  • Not just intellectual white men can be quirky, brilliant, angsty assholes.
  • It is not unreasonable to look at the universe, at the macrocosmic / cosmic scale or the microcosmic / societal scale, and feel existential dread or nihilism, but it is generally better to try to relish in the absurdity of it all.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Retrospective: Pixels & Platforms

I enjoyed writing the Mythic Beings Retrospective, a re-examination of my very first post, so I decided to do another retrospective. I recently published my second game, Maximum Recursion Depth, for the Eclectic Bastionjam, so I thought I might do a retrospective on my first game, Pixels & Platforms for the SWORDDREAM DREAMJAM (I also wrote an article about P&P for the high level games blog).


P&P is intended to simulate the experience of old-school 2D platformer videogames in a tabletop RPG, using a resolution mechanic building off of Lasers & Feelings. It is loosely framed within my setting The Quantumverse, although the way I present it in P&P is more so like an off-brand NES crossover (although I do have bigger ideas for that setting which I haven't written about).

There are three attributes; JUMP, SPECIAL, and FIGHT, and each attribute has a Light and Heavy input. For each attribute, you choose a NICE! number between 2-5. For Light actions, you want to roll over the NICE! number (lower is better), and the reverse for Heavy. The particulars of what these attributes are used for, and the differences between Light and Heavy Inputs for each attribute, are described in further detail in the Select Screen and Control sections of the game, but this is the core of the game mechanics.

The CPU (the term for the GM in this system), designs a Platform Crawl, a series of Screens (or Stages, or Worlds, depending on the scope of the game), consisting of traversable platforms and various enemies and obstacles. Unlike a real 2D Platformer videogame, there is obviously no real-time input for platforming, and very early on I decided that the challenge should not come from success or failure on JUMP rolls per se; that would basically just be chance and not very much fun. Instead, the platform crawls should be designed such that there are many ways to go about getting from one end of a stage to another, and it's a matter of the party figuring out how to leverage their attributes and special abilities to collectively get across. In some ways, it's almost more like a boardgame than a TTRPG per se, for better or worse. I have some additional thoughts on this which I discuss in the conclusion.

There were a lot of ideas for this game that I think worked, and some that didn't. It's biggest flaws, I think, are that it lacks polish and that it needed more supplementary content. In particular, it very clearly needed to have a platform crawl module included. Despite being a small game, I think it was actually fairly ambitious in what it tried to do, but as a result, I needed to do more within the text to demonstrate to readers how it should work. I also think I needed to have a deeper understanding of it myself. In retrospect, I wish I had designed the resolution mechanics and the platform crawl concept independently and tested them at least to some extent independently, to better understand how to polish the mechanics and articulate them. In general, I needed more playtesting.

That being said, I still think it is an interesting game, with ideas worth consideration and worth exploring further, and I hope this retrospective maybe convinces people to give it a look, or think about these ideas, and maybe I will be able to one day come back to this game and turn it into what it really should be.

Things that worked

The layout could use some work, it's definitely pretty dense, but otherwise, I think looks pretty good. HarveydentMD's cover art is great, and the itch page looks good, and I'm happy with the font I used for the game text itself. It's like a poor man's Super Blood Harvest. In retrospect, if he were even open to doing it, I wish I had commissioned HarveydentMD to do the layout as well and make the whole game look like the cover art and itch page, then it would compare more closely with SBH.

I have mixed feelings about some of the terminology, but overall, I really wanted the game mechanics, down to even the terminology, to be evocative of old-school videogames, and I think I succeeded in that regard. Whether that ultimately makes for a better TTRPG experience is a separate question which I'll discuss later.

The setting. Despite the fact that I include very little explicitly about The Quantumverse within P&P itself, and most of what is included is like an off-brand Nintendo crossover, I still like the way the character classes, enemies, items, etc., generally present. I had some more ambitious ideas for the setting which I never ended up writing about, unfortunately, but I assure you there was more to this setting, in a classic Weird & Wonderful way, if you've been following this blog long enough to have any sense of what that means. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I'll ever come back to this setting unless out of nowhere there is suddenly an outcry for more on this game or setting, which is a shame, but my main focus right now is MRD.

The classes. With the caveat that they needed more playtesting and balancing, and I don't necessarily think it makes sense for only two classes to have a variety of options given the Spellbook. In retrospect, there should have been some caveat, like maybe the spell they can cast at any one time is selected randomly, so at least there's a tradeoff to their versatility, or something like that. In any case, I tried to give the different classes special abilities which actually made them interesting and change how a player could interact with the world, and I think within the context of the platform crawl design, it makes sense. It's more prescriptive than I generally prefer in TTRPGs, but within the context of what P&P is supposed to be, I think it makes sense.

The core resolution mechanic. The idea of treating an attribute as two-dimensional; as an axis, where the number on that axis doesn't necessarily mean good or bad, but good at one category of thing and proportionally worse at an opposing category of thing, is really clever and in my opinion underutilized in TTRPGs. I don't understand why this mechanic exists only in L&F or L&F hacks. P&P is to the best of my knowledge the first and only game to actively try to build on this mechanic, as opposed to being just a straightforward hack, and also to leverage it in a totally different way, that way being as a "simulationist"-style mechanic.

Along those lines, putting aside the toxic and, I'll say frankly, stupid debates people used to have on "GNS", since as far as I'm concerned it's a decent heuristic regardless of whether it is a fundamental truth of the universe, it is the only game I can think of that is "simulationist", while also being rules light. "Simulationist" games are generally very crunchy, whereas I tried to use the simplicity of the two-dimensional attributes along with the terminology and platform crawl design pattern to simulate the experience of an old-school 2D platformer videogame in the absence of "high-fidelity" crunch. Regardless of whether or to what extent it succeeded, I still think this is conceptually really cool and with some polish could potentially work quite well.

Things that did not work

Due to time constraints, I only had one playtest, and that one playtest went poorly, which was part of why I did not follow up with as much additional content for the game as I had originally intended. I do genuinely think the poor playtest was in part due to extenuating circumstances and a couple real rooky mistakes in how I ran it, but it was still discouraging. I made a lot of changes after that playtest which I do think were for the best, but those changes were not playtested, so I am not as confident as I would like to be that those changes succeeded. There are also some things when I look back at the game, even without further playtesting, that I know are rough around the edges and need more work.

I said this in the overview, but this game absolutely needed a platform crawl module included. At the core of P&P is a very goal-oriented, puzzle-like design pattern that I think could really appeal both to OSR gamers and the kinds of people who like the tactical combat of D&D 3.+, but without a demonstration, I think it was hard to explain this concept to anyone. Also, frankly, I am not a very visuospatially capable person in the first place, so in retrospect, I wish I had collaborated with someone with those kinds of sensibilities, or even attempted some kind of random auto-generation approach. While this game is not crunchy, it does require a playmat or some other visual or tactile representation, and my reticence to acknowledge that hurt my playtest and the lack of that kind of support really hurt the game as a whole. I do not own Mario Maker, but my players had rightfully suggested that something like Mario Maker could have been a useful tool for roughly designing platform crawls. I still think that, or just taking asset rips of the stages from old-school 2D platformer videogames, could work really well for P&P, at least as proofs of concept.

My hope was that the terminology would be flavorful, and also intuitive. However, at least in the playtest, everyone had a very difficult time keeping track of the terminology, myself included, mainly from being flustered because I definitely understood it all beforehand, but if I failed to keep track of it while running the game, that means it failed. After the fact, I completely reworked the terminology. Rather than having separate terms for each end of the axis for the three attributes, and using the terms Left and Right "Inputs" for the axes of the attributes which obviously got conflated with left and right movement across the Stages, I replaced Left and Right with Light and Heavy, and just referred to them as e.g. Light Jump and Heavy Jump rather than unique terms for each. I also think maybe some kind of visual aid even within the game text itself, like a graphic showing what a rollover vs. a roll-under success would look like next to the description of Light and Heavy Inputs, could have been very helpful. Given how the first playtest went, I am somewhat skeptical whether these new terms work and would ideally like to playtest them as well, although I do hope they're at least an improvement.


Talking about this game really makes me want to playtest it again, and design a proper platform crawl module to go along with it. This concept I genuinely think has so much potential, but it's very experimental and just needed more time and playtesting. I almost would want to make it a sub-game, like run a campaign in The Quantumverse using something more like an Into the Odd / Super Blood Harvest hack, and then make platform crawls an occasional thing like one might do with hex crawls, dungeon crawls, point crawls, etc. That would also put a lot of burden off of this system to accommodate more heavy lifting in RP or non-platform crawl activities, which is decidedly not the case.

If this at all seems appealing to you, please let me know. My main focus right now is on developing and expanding Maximum Recursion Depth, so it would be hard to justify putting more work into this unless there was any interest whatsoever in it, but clearly I'm trying to talk myself into it...

Monday, September 7, 2020

Four-Dimensional Hexcrawling Through Abyss and Space

Space and Underwater settings and campaigns are hardly novel, but anecdotally, it seems like nobody is really satisfied with the mechanics. Many games with mechanics for this kind of movement are super crunchy attempts at simulation which don't appeal to me, personally, or they're handwave-y and basically just treat movement through those spaces as regular land travel. The latter is generally fine for me, but it would be cool to have some kind of middle ground; an attempt to model this kind of movement in a way that doesn't just exist for the sake of simulation, and isn't super crunchy, and also adds something to the game experience.

Here I outline an idea for how to design a hexcrawl in four dimensions; not just two axes (left/right, forward/backward), but also up/down and moment, or baseline movement (e.g. a school of fish, a massive space fleet, etc.). These ideas have not been tested yet, and there are edge cases I can think of, but hopefully, people will find this idea intriguing.

In addition to managing a hexcrawl, these same mechanics should theoretically be applicable to grid-based combat, or even just as fictional positioning helpers for theater of mind play, but I am primarily describing these mechanics in terms of a hexcrawl.

Finally, I'll also say that this was also somewhat inspired by three-dimensional movement in Veins of the Earth. While I model three-dimensional space in a very different way here, that may have been the first game I had read that really made me think about how to model space in a game that seemed fun and not overly cumbersome or simulation for the sake of simulation.

A brief statement on the Moment dimension

I'm open to suggestions, but I'm thinking of calling the fourth-dimension "Moment". Taken from the wikipedia article on Moment:
In physics, a moment is an expression involving the product of a distance and physical quantity, and in this way it accounts for how the physical quantity is located or arranged.
I think it would be perfectly reasonable to stop at three-dimensions; that's already novel and potentially complicated enough. However, I was inspired quite a while ago by nature documentaries, specifically seeing aquatic ecosystems, and how these three-dimensional ecosystems work. A school of fish can be attacked from all sides; birds diving from the sky, other fish and aquatic mammals swooping in from below and all sides, so as a necessary survival mechanism to defend from so many vulnerable positions, they are more or less constantly in motion. This was a major inspiration for my Vortekka campaign setting (setting, play report), and also The Jellyfleet and The Choir from Phantasmos (included in my post on Weird & Wonderful Places; even then I was thinking of these moving groups as an alternative to geopolitics per se). 

In this case, the fourth-dimension is like the relationship between different objects over time as a function of their baseline movement. This will be elaborated upon further when I get into the mechanics of this system, but it will hopefully be not as complicated as that may make it sound. The point of a good model is to be parsimonious- to condense more information into fewer arguments, and I think Moment is potentially a good way to do that here.

Extrapolating this idea to intelligent species, you'd have a fundamentally different kind of "geo"-politics, really more of a "moment"-politics, defined less so by static geographical locations (or statically-keyed hexes on your hex map), and instead by nomadic groups and their Moment-level relationship to other nomadic groups or geographical features. I suppose this is also true with nomadic land-dwelling species, in which case I could see this being useful for a land-dwelling campaign with nomadic cultures, or for a pre-civilization or post-apocalyptic setting, independent of the mechanics for a three-dimensional hexcrawl, and in fact, the mechanics described below, despite the labels, can be used independently.

For reasons which should also be more clear when I describe the mechanics, this Moment mechanic could also be a fun way to do chases and races.

Three-dimensional Hexcrawl

Let's start with how to model the third dimension in a hexcrawl; up/down. First, you need to decide on how many "levels" of up and down there are, in the same way that you need to decide on the dimensions of your hexcrawl in two-dimensions. I don't love the idea of treating three-dimensional space as planar, but I don't see a better way around it that isn't mechanically or logistically much more complicated (i.e. requiring some kind of physical diorama or digital tool). The volume of each hexagonal prism can be arbitrary in the same way that the area of a hexagon in a hexcrawl can be arbitrary, as long as it's internally consistent (I guess that's just common sense...). That being said, I'll still be referring to these prisms as hexes, since we're treating the third-dimension as planar, and therefore in effect, it will still be represented as hexes across multiple planes.

So for the sake of simplicity, let's say we've decided there are three levels. In that case, key each hex on your hex map three times, or alternatively take your hex map, and triplicate it. When you key your dungeon, you'll have the normal two-dimensions and level. If one unit of movement is moving from one hex to an adjacent hex, movement between levels can also be treated as one unit. So objects can move either to any adjacent hex as normal, or move one level up or down. Diagonal movements, like going up or down a level and also moving planarly adjacent, should probably be two units of movement, which is about as close as I can think of to model this in actual three-dimensions off-hand without making it massively more complicated.

If you are keying the hexcrawl arbitrarily, there's really nothing more to it than that. However, if there is supposed to be some internal consistency, such as geography, environment, celestial bodies, etc., then you'll want to keep in mind not just these relationships from hex to hex on each plane, but also between planes.

So when prepping a three-dimensional hexcrawl, as already stated, you can decide whether you want to design a separate hex map for each level and lay them all out, or have a single map with multiple keys depending on level (*I also describe another approach further below). I think the latter is probably more practical, but you could potentially have your cake and eat it too by having a separate hex map for each level on a semi-translucent sheet and physically layering them or splitting them as needed (or digitally using layers in some design tool).

If you are using a single map with multiple keys, then next to any object/group token, you should have a die alongside them, with the number on the die representing their level. I would worry that this might get overly complicated in hex or grid combat, although still doable, but for a hexcrawl, my hope is that this will not be too complicated, especially if the only token is the party.

I hesitate to suggest this because I think it would probably just overcomplicate things, but you could also imagine pivoting the hexcrawl, so that for instance moving forward/backward or left/right on a given hex map is actually up/down, and the planes represent whichever axis is being superseded. This could work particularly well if e.g. your hexcrawl is intended to relatively linearly model rising from the depths of the abyss back up to the surface, or being pulled by a gravitational force. 

This kind of pivot could also be a useful way to visually/physically model the hexcrawl in multiple dimensions without needing a separate hex map for each level; where you have three hex maps representing the intersections of all axes (e.g. left/right, forward/backward; up/down, forward/backward; left/right, up/down). So even if you had ten levels, you should only need three hex maps, if I have thought this through correctly. Talk about parsimony! Even so, personally, I think this would be more complicated than just one hex map with multiple keys, but for another group, it might be preferable, or after testing it might be that this is a better approach.

Four-dimensional Hexcrawl

Despite the label, one could choose to use this Moment dimension independent of up/down, but for the sake of continuity, I will describe this as the fourth-dimension.

In an abyssal, aquatic, or maybe even an outer space hexcrawl, as discussed at the beginning, objects are generally not remaining in place, and so you need to represent their "moment". As with the spatial dimensions, we can measure moment in arbitrary but internally consistent units, like 5 ft for general movement on a grid. As with three-dimensional level, we can use a die next to a token on a hex map to represent its moment (presumably in a different color or size than the one used for three-dimensional level), or as a feature on a key in addition to whatever text is associated with that key. In other words, this is the baseline movement for the token, or key, before any groups have made any active movements.

So if the party have a moment of 1, and the hex in front of the party is of a school of fish people also with a moment of 1, there is no difference between their baseline movements, so if the party move one hex forward on their next turn, they'll reach the hex with the school of fish. On the other hand, if the school of fish has a moment of 2, then the GM would move the key for that school of fish people at the beginning of the turn before the party has made their active movement. 

Admittedly, it could get complicated having to move all of these keys around on your hex map, especially if you're doing it behind the scenes (the players are unaware of what is in any given hex far enough afield), but intuitively I think this moment dimension, or relative distance or baseline movement, is both easier than manually accounting for the active movements of all keys containing nomadic groups, and also just a fun way to mechanically reinforce that this hexcrawl is not static. And also, I think it's ok if certain keys "slip off" the hex map. There's plenty of fish in the sea ;), maybe this is how you treat wandering monsters / random encounters.

You could potentially imagine the keys as being placed on hex chips, like settlers of catan, and that would make it easier to move and keep track of the keys with moments greater or lesser than the party, although that has some shortcomings as well (such as the players being able to see you moving keys tells them that such keys exist...). I think this key shuffling would be the hardest part, unless it were automated digitally, but not necessarily impossible.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Bastionjam Showcase: Cosmic Orrery - Odd Beings

Some of us from the Eclectic Bastionjam decided to do a "showcase", where we'd take a look at each others' works and present them on our blogs or elsewhere. As part of this showcase, I will be reviewing one of Cosmic Orrery's entries: Odd Beings

I really enjoyed this book. I am a sucker for good bestiaries, and this fits that bill. It is short and sweet, each entry feels evocative, and fitting to the setting, but not so specific that they couldn't be used in other settings, and each adds something interesting. These aren't just statblocks and reskinned goblins. Each entry has a unique hook; they are self-contained adventure seeds, unique ways for your players to interact with the game. I'll comment on a few of my favorites below:

Parasitic Shop
This is the second entry. It's basically a mimic, if instead of mimicking a single piece of equipment or a chest, it mimicked the entire shop! One could very easily turn this into an entire quest, baked into some kind of mystery or investigation, with the shop itself leading to a hidden, oozey dungeon (which Cosmic Orrery strongly implies in the text).

Ghost Parliament
Clearly, I am a fan of afterlife courts. The ghost parliament could be a fun way to have your cake and eat it too, in regards to character death. A character dying doesn't have to be the end of that character, but the beginning of a quest to rescue them from death. But making it a court, rather than just an evil dungeon, gives the party so many more ways to approach the conflict. Or, they can just get into a courtroom brawl.

Paperman/Matchstick Boy
These are two separate entries, and on their own they're each interesting in their own right, but they fit together in a way that is not stated explicitly, but to me seems as though it must have been intentional (they were placed back-to-back). You could imagine a story of a paperman, like a robot or AI, emerging from a wealthy manor, learning and growing alongside a sickly child with a cold and standoff-ish family, their only friends prior to the paperman being the characters in the novels they've read in their extensive library. Oppositely, a troubled child from the other side of the tracks meets a matchstick boy, who preys on their fear, anger, and hurt, leading them on a path towards evil. Somehow, someway, the two meet and bring some sort of fulfillment to each other's lives. In the meantime, hijinks ensue, the city drowning in compromising letters once thought lost, and of course, fires run rampant.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Discussion on Korean TTRPGs with Gearoong

I had a conversation with Gearoong, another one of the Bastionjam submitters. Gearoong is a Korean TTRPG creator, and his entry was an English translation of the Striders SRD. I was interested to learn more about the Korean TTRPG community and the role of Korean culture, history, mythology, etc., and they were kind enough to discuss the topic with me.

Note that this discussion was taken from the bastionland discord. For the sake of simplicity, I cut it down to only the messages of my own and Gearoong's, although there were a few responses Gearoong made to other people which I include as well. I received Gearoong's consent to share this on my blog, but did not reach out to everyone else involved in the conversation, which is why I chose to cut it down in this way. There is some light editing for stylistic purposes but the intended meanings have not been altered.

I googled for Korean Tiger, based on our discussion below, and found this evocative piece of art.

Max: I would be interested to learn more about the Korean TTRPG scene if you have any insights. It seems like there is a lot of really interesting creative works coming out of Korea right now in general, so any insights would be appreciated. I recently started reading the manwha Tower of God after getting really into the anime adaptation, and I've been hearing interesting things about God of High School which is also an anime adaptation of a manwha. I've listened to some podcasts about Korean TTRPG creators and I think I follow one or two on itch, but as someone who does not speak Korean, my exposure is limited. I don't know how much influence manwha has on the Korean TTRPG community but I could imagine that or any number of other factors having an influence creatively.

Gearoong: I think manwha and anime, and also Japan TTRPG scene influenced Korean TTRPG community VERY MUCH. In early 80 to 90 they had golden age of the manhwa & anime... and DnD B&X! Lots of works dubbed and B&X published in Korean, also had a conference. Pretty many rule designers influenced on that period. (But I'm not the one). But in late 90s and 00s there's Blank Period because of economic problem... And on 10s, Japanese play reports of Call of Cthulhu have translated and introduced to Manhwa & Anime communities. Also with Japanese TTRPG Rules like Double Cross, InSANe! Lots of people played TTRPG again.

Max: I have not heard of inSANe

Gearoong: So, there's Two Root-B/X and Call of Cthulhu(CoC). InSANe is TTRPG about the horror genres. It's play feels like Japanese horror movies. Also DnD 5th are published here recently, but it have serious typo and translation problem...

Max: Are there any prominent hacks or adventure books of D&D/CoC/other games or prominent original Korean RPGs? If not, do you see that happening eventually in the future?

Gearoong: Maybe CoC! There are lots of scenarios and hacks for CoC. and also, CoC have the largest community on Korean twitter! And their design and layouts are very hilarious, because they are based on manhwa communities which drawing their own arts.

Gearoong: Like this: a hardcover book for CoC scenario. It is my friends'.

Max: Oh that's awesome! I'm curious about the playstyle of Korean gamers, if there is more of a focus on "narrative" gaming, "challenge" gaming, or all sorts of types? Also, what ideas, in terms of mechanics, layout/art, setting, etc., you think may be unique to Korean TTRPGs, if any?

Gearoong: "Narrative" gaming will take the place. the emotions between characters, or problems between NPC... is mainstream of Korean CoC scenarios-and published rules, too. But it doesn't mean there is no room for "challenging" ones.

Max: That seems like what I've heard about the Japanese TTRPG community as well, so I guess that makes sense if the Korean TTRPG community was partially influenced by the Japanese community.

Gearoong: Yes, but we have Blades in the dark, Apocalypse world, Beyond the Walls, and GURPS-and I think these make difference from Japan. Korean TTRPG Publishers are sensitive to western TTRPG trends, and it influences pretty many rule designers. Maybe the position that Korean TTRPG has are same to the position that manhwa have-Middle of Western comics and Japanese manga. We have AWE / FitD / FATE / OSR based rules, but their play feels like Japanese TTRPG because of their themes.

Max: Ya, most people don't realize this but historically, many American cartoons were animated by Korean studios, and I believe this is still somewhat true today. And Korean animators do many of the interstitial (don't know if that's the right term) animations for Japanese anime as well. So Korea is like a connective tissue in that regard, which I find interesting.

Gearoong: Yes, I think it is interesting, too!

Max: Are there any aspects of Korean culture, history, politics, mythology, etc. that you think does, or potentially could, influence the Korean TTRPG scene? I realize that's a heady question, but I could even think about, like I've heard of the monster from Korean mythology, Pulgasari, that infamously was used as the basis for a North Korean Godzilla ripoff if I remember correctly. I learned about it because there's a Pokemon based on it... It's possible I'm mistaken and Pulgasari is an entirely North Korean creation and not relevant to South Korea, but my understanding is that it's originally from Korean mythology well before the split. I apologize if I am mistaken.

Gearoong: Oh, it came from the same country- and pulgasari legend is older than our civil war.

Max: Ok cool, thanks for the clarification.

Gearoong: There's lots of aspects: someone use Japanese Imperialism's pain, someone mix Pansori(판소리) and Korean-Asian Occults, someone use Local rites like Yongwangje(용왕제)

Max: I am going to have to research all of these things! I recently read the novel Pachinko, about a Korean family that moves to Japan during World War 2, and their experiences as Korean-Japanese up to the "present" (I think the book ends in the early 00's) where they suffer a lot of discrimination and oppression. Is that what you are referring to by Japanese Imperialism's pain?

Gearoong: Yup, that's good reference.

Max: I am somewhat familiar with Chinese mythology and Japanese mythology, but less so Korean mythology except where it intersects with those two, unfortunately. In the same way that there is a fascinating interplay between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and other beliefs in China, and Buddhism and Shintoism (and other beliefs) in Japan, I imagine Korea also has some unique religious and mythological intersections as well.

Gearoong: Yes we have, but we lost pretty lot during colonization by Japanese.

Max: That's really unfortunate, but I suppose makes some sense.

Gearoong: Somewhat only Korean Confucianism and Taoism are remained with Korean Shamanism(무속신앙). Ah, and the story about Tiger (but now they are extinct on Korea).

Max: Oh wow, I had no idea there used to be tigers in Korea. That's amazing, but also really sad that they no longer exist.

(Another member of the discord group asks about Korean Actual Plays and Play Reports)

Gearoong: And yes, we have "actual plays"! But it does not have translation unfortunately:

(Someone else mentions that the video does in fact have English subtitles)

Gearoong: It is the one about the myth of tigers!

Max: For sure I will watch this then, thank you! This is exactly the kind of thing I was curious about, where, yes it's Call of Cthulhu, a Western TTRPG, which was popularized in Korea by way of Japan, but it's about a Korean folktale. This is amazing and I'm really looking forward to watching it.

Gearoong: We have lots of folktales about the tiger... Maybe it will be the reason why Koreans lacks legends of scary ghosts.

Max: Ah, so you think tigers fill a similar niche as ghosts and other boogeymen in Korean mythology? This is already getting my imagination going. I could imagine a Korean fantasy TTRPG with a humanoid tiger species, or maybe tigers as magical monsters or nature spirits.

(There was a side conversation that picked up about rakshasa in D&D vs. in actual Hindu mythology, worthy of its own discussion down the line)

Gearoong: Oh we say Rakshasa as Nachal (Yes, like China and Japan, we also have influnce of Buddhism). Now I must go to sleep because it is 6am here.

Max: lol ya I was wondering about that. Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this!

Gearoong: And Thanks to you to hear my story, It was fun!

(After the conversation in the discord, on a subsequent day, I asked Gearoong one more question)

Max: Can you tell me a bit more about your game? I understand that it's an SRD for a Korean game that does not include setting content, but I'd be interested to hear more about your thoughts on the game, and also the setting that it originally comes from, even if that setting is not available currently in English.

Gearoong: It was designed from simple idea: Make GM changeable. The idea was started on McDowall's post: Collaborative Bastionland. And that time I've played The Legacy of Earenean(이어리니안의 유산, Korean rule which have original world setting of my rule: Frontearth Strider). With Earenean's setting and their idea of Arguing rule and Collaborative Bastionland, I can complete Frontearth Strider and made SRD from that game. The original setting of Earenean was about sword and sorcery, but my Frontearth uses 700 years after it and it is about pistols and magic technologies. and these have pretty anime-styled atmosphere.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bastionland NPC Generator (and Maximum Recursion Depth Generators)

I was inspired by Chris Mcdowall's Mash-Up Character Method and decided to create an NPC generator for my new game (hacked from the Electric Bastionland ruleset), Maximum Recursion Depth.

However, because MRD takes place in (almost) the real world, I decided to first create a version that creates NPCs for basically any setting, at least any real-world setting, but could probably be tweaked fairly easily for many fantasy or sci-fi settings.

EDIT: The first two were broken for a sec, hopefully all good now...

EDIT2: Forgot to credit spwack for facilitating the javascript stuff

In Maximum Recursion Depth, the party are recursers, people with special Karmic powers derived from their Poltergeist Forms. Many recursers work part-time as Poltergeist Investigators; people who search for lost poltergeists, or poltergeists who were sent to the wrong court (of the Numberless Courts of Hell) or assigned an unfair reincarnation. They are often hired by clients, hence a Poltergeist Investigator Client Generator. In effect, this is also an adventure prompt generator for MRD. Combine the above NPC generator with the below generators to produce an investigation and produce a Court of Hell, and you basically have an MRD adventure!

I intend to keep tweaking these, but the versions posted here have been added as additional files on the MRD page linked above, and I will continue to add to and improve these.

 At Kyana's suggestion, the next version of this will include a version where all the parts are combined into a single generator for ease of use specifically in MRD, but I figured a lot of people would probably want the NPC Generator on its own for other uses.