My Games

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Superpowers 2.0

My old Superpowers (or Mutations) Weird & Wonderful Table is still one of my most popular posts (as can be seen on the sidebar), and there were a lot of cool ideas there, but it suffers from the problems of many of my older writings (and frankly many of my current ones still 🙃) of being overwritten, overly dry or "clinical", and not enough regard paid to gameability. I'd like to think I've improved on that front, so here's a new set of 50 superpowers (this is actually my third superpowers table if you include Cantrippers).

You may note some redundancy compared to previous lists (not including the superhero funnel posts since this is just an extension of that), but these are much more tightly written, and I tried to only use powers that would be gameable and threw in some that are less high-concept but still tickle my fancy for whatever reason.

These were originally posted on The OSR Pit and also The Cauldron, and most of them previously appeared in my last Superhero Funnel post. As much as I still really like the idea of a Superhero Funnel, I ultimately decided I wasn’t happy with the direction that my Superhero Funnel was going and realized I was going to have to scrap a lot of the work I had done, and so it sort of sapped my motivation for the time being, but I do hope to come back to it or something like it eventually. But for now, here's the list of 50 superpowers I created for it.

  1. Bloodhound: Has the proportional strength, speed, and senses of a bloodhound.
  2. Gray Goo: Nanomachines convert non-living matter into other things (must understand the creation’s properties), and create virtual reality spaces.
  3. Vector: Unstoppable while moving in a straight line, vulnerable while pivoting.
  4. Pinball: Superspeed and proportional superstrength, but must account for inertia and other laws of velocity and acceleration.
  5. Snake: Floating orbs spontaneously appear around them. As they eat the orbs, they grow longer. Their sharp scales are dangerous even to themself.
  6. 2D: Two-dimensional. Can flatten against surfaces, slip through crevices, and fold like origami.
  7. Scanner Darkly: Superspy skills and gadgets, appearance and voice scrambling mask, separated brain hemispheres for multitasking, and deep-cover identity dissociation.
  8. Mushroom: Grow giant-sized or shrink to the size of a mouse from eating mushrooms.
  9. Flash Fry: Project hot grease and resistance to grease fires.
  10. Cinnamon: Emanate novas of burning-hot capsaicin.
  11. Mint: Emanate novas of ice-cold menthol.
  12. Alkahest: Project a universal solvent.
  13. Kintsugi: Injuries make them stronger with scars of gold.
  14. Librarian: Paper Elementalist.
  15. Technomancer: Override software and control devices as an extension of themself.
  16. Herbalist: Gain superpowers relating to the properties of held plants.
  17. Landfill: Telekinetic control of trash and waste.
  18. Schrodinger: While unseen, can be anywhere and nowhere in the vicinity.
  19. Laservision: Laser-grid visual overlay for perfect accuracy and precision.
  20. Aye-Aye Aye: Long bony finger, like an aye-aye, with advanced supersenses.
  21. Memetos: Living idea that can infect the collective unconscious over time, or more rapidly the consciousnesses of individuals in the vicinity.
  22. Constructor: Rapidly construct cartoonish but functional devices and structures from minimal resources that break down shortly after use.
  23. Cleric: Summon rays of cleansing, healing, but also searing light.
  24. Parkour: Superhuman agility, dexterity, flexibility, reflexes, etc., that accelerate so long as they remain in motion, returning to athletic human levels if halted.
  25. Icarus: Waxy melting wings, dripping with the heat of Greek Fire. Wings melt and regrow over the course of a turn.
  26. POP: Compel any non-living object to spontaneously combust. The force of the explosion and predictability of the detonation time is proportional to the size of an object.
  27. Flurry: Throw rapid and near-infinite consecutive strikes.
  28. Wavecrash: “Teleportation” via the internet and strike from the other side with the force of a vehicle speeding down the information superhighway.
  29. Babylon: Scramble or silence sounds, including language, and emit sonic force beams.
  30. Triplets: Coordinate in perfect harmony; far greater than the sum of their parts.
  31. Warhead: Fortified with an organic metal shell. Can explode without harming themself, but lose their metal shell for the remainder of the conflict.
  32. Kafka: Proportional strengths and abilities of various arthropods, although their greatest power (and weakness) is their utterly horrifying appearance.
  33. Combo Ace: Store three pre-programmed athletic or combat feats like video game controller macros, infinite use unless replaced (between conflicts).
  34. Chopper: Human attack helicopter cyborg.
  35. Wormhole: Create a temporary human-sized portal between two locations in the vicinity.
  36. Snapshot: By taking a photo and holding it up to their face in the exact spot it was taken, they may retrieve small objects from the same place and in the same state as in the photo, even if the object is no longer in that place or state.
  37. Rainmaker: Project a torrent of (fake) money strong enough to knock over an average human. By shooting into the air, those caught under raining money are overcome with excitement and susceptible to greedy impulses.
  38. Rust: Make metal rapidly rust.
  39. Roller: Superspeed from biological wheels under their feet.
  40. Superposition: They can take up to three brief actions in a row, all occurring simultaneously and able to affect each other, before collapsing into the last action.
  41. OP: Can’t affect or be affected by things they can’t see; lack of “object permanence”.
  42. Firehose: Rapidly absorb any raw material (e.g. water, dirt) by pressing one hand into it and simultaneously project it as a powerful and steady stream from the other hand.
  43. Nono the Non-Euclidean Clown: Wibble-wobble in spacetime-bending strides stretching and collapsing like a human slinky.
  44. Redlight: Bathe the vicinity in red light and cancel out any one kind of action (e.g. moving, fighting, talking) for the round, once per conflict.
  45. Plasma Platypus: Electrolocation, biofluorescence, venom “plasma” shock, and other superhuman abilities proportional to a platypus.
  46. Tetraminos: Summon brick-like tetrominoes that can be rotated as they fall in a 10x20 block grid. Once started, they continue to summon for the duration of the conflict. At 20 rows they are incapacitated for the rest of the conflict, but a filled row disappears and lowers the others.
  47. Tough Enough: Always and only as tough as the toughest other person in the vicinity.
  48. Broadway: General superhuman abilities and a magic weapon only active while monologuing in song and dance. Infectiously spreads to others (without the benefits).
  49. Nitro: Nitrogen-related powers including freezing liquid nitrogen, explosive TNT, superspeed of nitric oxide (NOS), and biological effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which they can use to self-empower or release as gas to affect others.
  50. Captain Canine: Uplifted experimental super-dog; a “one dog army”.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sheep & Sorcery: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

Prior to the development of my game Maximum Recursion Depth, I had been doing interviews with other bloggers, which I had mostly put on hold in order to focus on development. Now that I'm freed up on that front, I wanted to get back to some interviews before I get caught up in other projects. First on that list is another one of my oldest blogosphere friends, Mike of Sheep & Sorcery.

Max: What are some of the core themes of your blog? Are they the same they've always been, or have your goals changed over the years?

Mike: Fascinating question. I think I can answer best by saying just how things started. I started reading the Hill Cantons blog as I was looking into the OSR. It really inspired me to start my own blog. I wanted to show people my wacky games ideas and talk about my setting and the way I run games. My blog is unapologetically my self-expression outlet. I dump whatever is in my brain straight into the blog. That usually means I am talking about different settings and worlds that have come into my brain. These settings usually explore ideas of "what happens when the world goes wrong?" I love things like Bioshock or Bloodbourne where humans arrogantly toy with things they do not understand, trying to dominate it with their intellects, and ending up being destroyed by it. I also often think of my PCs as survivors of worlds that have gone off the rails. Children of the Howl comes to mind, as a setting/system thing I wrote about children trying to survive and escape the aftermath of a city hit by a magical disaster.

Max: That was actually something I wanted to ask about.

Max: At one point it seemed like you were interested in turning Children of the Howl into a larger-scale project. Is that something you're still thinking about or working on?

Mike: I've thought about returning to Children of the Howl. It seemed to resonate with people. I've wrestled with how to format such a project because a city has a lot of complexity and I am not sure how to make it navigable for players. Or maybe how to not make it so much work for me and other GMs

Max: What are some of the specific concerns?

Mike: My first idea was to lay out the city into a grid and have each square be a building and the paths could be the lines between. As I contemplated just how many squares it would take and then figuring out a way to line out the roads in the lines between the grid squares, it added up to a lot of work and a possibly quite messy visual situation. I think the best thing to do would be to figure out some kind of an abstracted mega-dungeon situation, but I'm not sure. In a broader sense, I have never actually published anything, and I think I would need a lot of motivation to get an idea like Children into a sellable state.

Max: Ah I see, ya that does seem like a lot of work and scope creep is always a concern but especially if it's your first big project!

Max: You've written plenty of settings which I've enjoyed, I think most of all I enjoyed Inhuman, if I'm remembering correctly that's the one that had that sort of 80s/90s indie comix scifi/cyberpunk sort of vibe, right? But alongside this really gonzo setting, you have things like Children of the Howl, or your really stunning literary analysis of Silent Titans. And currently you've got the Weirdways cross-country road trip Americana game going. Among this variety of sensibilities, what kinds of things would you say you're most interested in right now in terms of tabletop or worldbuilding?

Mike: Right, that was Inhuman. I really liked Inhuman too. It was fun to write. A big interest that I am currently mulling over is making something inspired by the Soulsbourne games. I have been particularly inspired by Elden Ring. I want to be able to make an open world that feels full and free with plenty of things to do without too much work on the GM's side of things. I like the Soulsbourne formula of (insert thing here) was a resource that everyone thought was awesome and relied on, only it turns out that it was super bad. Souslbourne also dips into that fascinating world-building idea to me that human beings shape the world in dramatic ways through the stories that underlie our societies. The effect of human perception/will on reality and its ability to turn the world into hell is fascinating to me. 

Max: Admittedly I have not played much of and am not into the Soulsbourne games, but I appreciate how they bring OSR sensibilities, to a surprising degree of verisimilitude, to videogames; whether that's in terms of challenge and deadliness, or the degree of environmental storytelling/worldbuilding. However, and I'm asking as someone who again is not especially familiar with them, but given how similar they are to OSR sensibilities, what about them exactly can be applied to TTRPGs or worldbuilding that isn't already there? That is separate obviously from the thematic points you just mentioned, and maybe that's your primary concern or maybe not, I'm just wondering if I'm missing something.

Mike: The thematic elements are really what interests me about Soulsbourne games. I have rarely actually played them but I love the lore videos and the art from them. I think one major element is that the Soulsebourne games are not traditional fantasy most of the time. They include knights and dragons but they are curiously human-centric and what sentient non-hostile creatures there are usually weird things like decrepit crow men. There is just a lovely originality and a depth to their worlds that just draws me in time and time again.

Max: I wish I could get behind the games themselves because I agree that from what I've seen they're quite stunning and interesting.

Max: You mention here the human-centric elements, and previously the idea of human beings shaping the world and of hubris (I don't think you used that word specifically, but that idea). Would you mind elaborating on some of these ideas in a more broad sense. What is it about these themes that especially interests you?

Mike: This is likely not a particularly nice place to bring this, but I think of Nazi Germany. This was a world reshaped by people believing a hideous lie, birthing unimaginable pain and torment. For the Nazis, I am sure it did not seem so at the time, that they were making hell on earth, but they were. From their alternate reality, the one they had constructed in their minds, this all seemed to be necessary. They may have known it was wrong, I almost have to believe some part of them was able to recognize that what they were doing was wrong, but they submitted their individual free will to the collective consciousness and so they became insane along with everyone else. We can shape the world in hideous ways and birth monsters and this is often the result of a kind of arrogance by a few and the willing capitulation by many. It seems to me that to create a better world, there must, by contrast, be humility, beauty, and love.

Max: I wonder why, given the modern American landscape, you'd be thinking about Nazis 🤔…

Mike: What happens when you drop players into a hellish situation, a world gone wrong, is that they tend to adopt the heroic attitude. They will set the world right if it kills them. I am amazed by the level of goodness that emerges when people are confronted by evil in a role-playing game. No matter what the world faces now, it is the ordinary goodness of decent people that will set the world right. We will not perfect the world. I think that is part of the problem. People think the world is perfectible, that they even know what perfection is, but there is no humility in that and rarely any real love because love requires mutual submission.

Max: That has not necessarily been my experience; I seem to find as many murderhobos or people looking for heroic wish fulfillment as opposed to actual heroic intentions, but I do commend your attitude in wanting to find the love and humility in people.

Max: I think we're working our way around the edges of something else I wanted to talk about and I imagine you anticipated, but I wanted to wait until we had a chance to talk about some other things first since it's a large topic that may very well require the rest of our time. You are a very religious person, and I am very much not, but you and I have talked about this stuff enough before that I am comfortable discussing it with you and I hope you are as well.

Max: If I remember correctly, in the time since I've known you, you've become a preacher, right? Can you talk about how some of your religious beliefs have affected your approach to TTRPGs, or your writing? I imagine there will be a lot to unpack there, but however you'd like to take it and we can go from there.

Mike: It may not surprise anyone reading this that I am a preacher, considering I've already gotten up on a soapbox once or twice 😅. I am a preacher, yes. That happened like three years ago. I think the big effect my religious beliefs has had on my writing and TTRPG stuff is how I understand grace. My last statement kind of describes this. I think, even in the deepest darkest places, you will find moments of unexpected grace, a little light in the darkness if you will. Beauty in ugliness. Goodness in evil. My perspective in my personal faith as a Christian has led me to see these themes as essential.

Max: I will say, particularly after talking with you about it in the past, I've become much more interested in the Christian concept of Grace. While I'm not religious, Buddhism and Taoism have obviously influenced me a fair bit, and I was raised Jewish and more recently I've become somewhat interested in certain religious ideas from Judaism as well such as Tikkun Olam.

Max: You've described the idea of exploring the role of humanity in the world, and of the grace and humility you feel towards your players. Are there other ways you think Christianity has affected how you play or run games? Or how you design settings or campaigns?

Mike: For one thing, it might be important to say that I have run games with elf cocaine, with many titted frog demons, and plenty of swear words. As an aside, for some reason, I really like magic hallucinogenic drugs in my games though I have never used them myself. All of this is to say, I do not censor any ugliness nor strangeness from my games and I allow my players complete freedom. In other words, I do not endeavor to impose my values on other people at the table. I think more along the lines of Tolkien. He was a Christian but anyone can enjoy Lord of the Rings without being put off. Anyway, I do think my games tend to definitely think of evil as real. I tend to think of evil as a kind of sickness just as Christ says. In my games evil is definitely a presence and it often crystalizes into particular characters, usually otherworldly ones. Pretty much everyone is redeemable in most of my games and even the otherwordly demonic things get their chance as well sometimes, but I think my Christianity has made me think that evil is often more concretely real than modern people tend to believe. The whole: "Everyone is redeemable" thing is probably also a Christian influence too.

Max: I appreciate you clarifying. Honestly, if it were not for the fact that I know you, I may have had preconceived notions upon reading this myself, and I imagine I'm not the only one. No small part of why I enjoy talking to you about theology is that you are clearly someone who has thought deeply about these topics- it is not about superficialities or politeness or whitewashing.

Max: Whether in the context of games or more generally, can you elaborate further on these ideas of evil and redemption and grace? I'm asking this somewhat leadingly because I don't actually think these two things are mutually exclusive, but it does seem like, to believe in evil as something more concrete or morally absolute, is somewhat at odds with the idea of redemption or grace.

Mike: I would say the opposite. I recently read a book called Competency Based Counseling that one good way of getting on top of a problem is to disassociate it with yourself. Like there was a story about an artistic girl who had some anger troubles. She had a pretty good idea what that anger looked like and, for her, it was like anger was a big red monster with lots of teeth that would take her over. When I talk about evil, I am literally talking about the demonic and I believe the demonic has an effect on our daily lives. Just like Kronk with an angel on his left shoulder and a demon on his right. Our minds are not sealed vessels but passions and spirits flit in and out of them all the time. When I think of evil as something that holds people captive, that takes them over, I think of them less as people who have done wrong and deserve punishment and more as people who are in need of mercy and healing. That might sound kind of wild but you might think of demons and angels more as ontological constructs if that is more comfortable. The Christian worldview views the world as kind of run by patterns that can be good for people or bad for them. Alcoholism is a big pattern that "possesses" a lot of people. So alcoholics are in need of freedom rather than condemnation.

Max: No that actually does make sense to me. It's a method, or heuristic, for how to take a complicated problem, or one that could be very emotionally or existentially challenging, and making it easier to grapple with or even just accept in the first place. I'm less convinced that it's an objective truth of the universe, and also have a lot of skepticism around the implications of such methods when extrapolated across a society or over time, but I can acknowledge the underlying logic of it and the value it can provide, and it's a really interesting perspective.

Mike: One person I like to listen to said that, at some point you have to jump up. Whenever we see unity in multiplicity, we are seeing something that is more than the sum of its parts. So if you are just listing the different aspects of a thing, you basically have to eventually just "jump up" to the identity that truly represents it. Like the three blind mice. One grabs a tail, another the trunk, and another the leg. All of them cannot really understand the elephant unless they can see the big picture. There is infinite complexity in the world and yet we perceive infinitely complex things as unified things rather than a bunch of little things. Those identities are what an ancient perspective would say are in heaven. Sort of Platonic but not quite.

Max: Well, I definitely agree with the idea that there are complex effects in multiplicity but I usually call that a Statistical Interaction, and the Platonic / Heavenly ideal of systems I call Systems Theory, but I'd like to think on some level I understand what you mean. And I'm also very fond of using the three blind mice as an analogy for thinking about systems in a vacuum vs. recognizing how they interact with other systems.

Max: We're starting to run past time, but at least one more question I'd like to ask is, how do you, or would you, implement some of these ideas in a game? I'm not often interested in new game mechanics per se anymore, but I actually would be really interested to hear how you might think of applying Grace as a gameplay mechanic, or if you think that would be feasible or appropriate in the first place.

Mike: That's a good question. In the Lord of the Rings, Arwen kind of prays that whatever grace she has might be passed to Frodo as she is carrying him to Rivendell. You could think of Grace as a pool of points that a cleric or paladin or even an elf has to power certain spells or miracles. You could kind of use them as a morality system that characters gain grace whenever they rescue someone from a bad situation and then they could use these points to get out of tough situations themselves. Really, the concept is best used as a thematic one. I think it is an awesome idea for dungeon designers to have something in their dungeon that is just awesomely beautiful and benevolent. It can shock players out of their usual state of caution. There doesn't have to be a lot of reason for it but it adds so much texture to what otherwise might be just a drably dark environment.

Max: I do really like that idea of having something so profound, positive, or beautiful, to challenge the Players to actually sit with that, and how it defies their expectations. I've done some stuff maybe a bit like that in the past, and it's surprising how powerful that can be.

Max: This is in itself a really nice note to end on, but before that, are there any last things you'd like to say? Can be related or totally unrelated to anything we've discussed yet. Things you're thinking about or working on that you'd like to share?

Mike: Well people can keep an eye out for further blog posts from me. I think I will be writing more about my Dawn Lit Heights setting in the future. I love it when people comment on my blogs and I think a lot of people do too, so I think we should do that more! A little kindness, humanity, and... dare I say... grace will make TTRPG spaces much better places to be. Thank you so much for asking me to do this! It's been fun!

Max: Of course! That's a big part of why I started doing these interviews. There are so many blogs and so many games, and I know that I can't keep up with everything nor is it fair to expect everyone else to keep up with everything, but it really sucks when you put something out there only to get little to no response, to feel like nobody cares or is engaging with it. Unfortunately I had to put these interviews largely on pause while I was working on MRD, but I'm glad to finally be back to it, and I hope to do more in the future. I'm glad you had fun with it, and I hope we have more conversations like this again in the future.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Maximum Recursion Depth, or the Beginning is the End is the Beginning (MRD2 abandoned concept)

With Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing, the first "issue" of the Maximum Recursion Depth "zine" published (drivethrurpg,, I've been thinking a bit about what to do next. This was one idea I had considered, but since it's no longer my top choice for an MRD2, if I even want to commit to an MRD2, I figured I'd share the idea for now. Maybe I'll circle back to it, but for now my head is going in another direction. Note that this draft was written at a time when I thought this would actually be MRD2.

Shared by Roque Romero in the Weird Places & Liminal Spaces discord server, felt appropriate here.

Maximum Recursion Depth, or the Beginning is the End is the Beginning
A standalone but cross-compatible game, that takes place in the same setting and explores similar themes, but where players are superheroes or other superpowered beings who aren't specifically Recursers and Poltergeist Investigators.

I am not subtle about my love for superheroes and the ways that superhero comics have inspired me creatively, and there are already a lot of superhero comics influences on MRD. I'm still glad that the original game is what it is, I think it's a more unique and personal vision. However, The Beginning is the End is the Beginning will probably be a more marketable/mass-appeal product, even if it's still tied into this atypical setting. I had considered just making this an expansion, but realistically, it is probably going to be a tough sell to produce more MRD content that requires additional purchases, I would be better off either keeping the expansions much smaller, or allowing them to be played standalone so that someone could purchase just one book if that's all they want, and in this case, I thought the latter was warranted, although I may do just expansion issues in the future, we'll see.

The core mechanics will be basically the same (again, cross-compatible), but the Karma system will work a little differently, and there will be some kind of superpowers list or superpowers generator process. In practice, it will probably be too rooted in the setting for someone to use as a generic Into the Odd-adjacent superheroes system, but ideally, somebody should theoretically be able to hack it for more generic purposes.

The Karma system will be inspired by that of FASERIP, but flipped on its head a bit to better reflect my interpretation of Karma in Buddhism, as opposed to FASERIP's more colloquial definition. PCs will make Heroic Attachments, Karmic Attachments that are more specific to Superhero issues, and can also adjust their Karma by altering the result of their Karma die on Saves, or by doing Superhero Stunts, or things of that nature. Superheroes are not capable of recursing (unless they are also Recursers...) and are generally at lower risk of becoming Ashura. Instead, the higher their Karma, the more powerful the threats they face, and if their Karma exceeds 6, a Major Threat Event occurs, like a major supervillain or arch-nemesis, or some kind of disaster. The Advancement system will be tied to encountering and confronting these threats, but there will be conditions tied to the Heroic Attachments, and if those conditions aren't met before the Major Threat Event is triggered, it will be significantly more difficult, and they may be more likely to become Ashura.

I think this ties in well with the overall themes of MRD, but also creates a good superhero arc baked into the game. It's somewhat inspired by Anyone Can Wear the Mask, which I had the fortune to play with Jeff Stormer himself. There will probably be some random tables players can use for generating these threats, and ideally, it should be structured so that I won't even need to include a Module in the book because the character creation process and the game itself naturally gear the story, although I may do so anyway. It's a little more prescriptive and genre-focused than I usually prefer, but as with ACWtM which is itself a hack of a game that is not about superheroes, I don't think this is so limiting that you can't do other things; at its core, it's still MRD, you could largely ignore the Advancement system and still have fun.

As is often the case with me, the subtitle of the game is multilayered with symbolism relating to MRD, but also an in-joke/reference to a superhero-related thing that probably only like three other people besides me will catch but if you're familiar with superhero stuff, maybe think about it ;).

I'll try to find a balance with the powers, between things that are a little more typical and grounded, with things more so rooted in the setting. Some possible origins / PC species I'm considering are the Deva (or regular humans with Dharmatic modifications), Agents of WORD, Nature Spirits, Mu Hosts, Rogue Poltergeists, Refugee Gods, and Dysfunctional Devils.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time Not-Review

Reminder: Maximum Recursion Depth is now available on drivethrurpg and check it out so you can say you were into it before it was cool

Not sure when this will get posted but I watched the movie on 10/19/21 and drafted this blog post on 10/20/21. Also, note that there may be spoilers.

Probably unsurprising to read, but Neon Genesis Evangelion was formative to me creatively and personally growing up. It's one of those series where, as a child, you can rewatch it year-over-year, and get a completely different experience out of it, because it is by design exploration of the experience of childhood. I have been writing a lot about Mecha lately, and this movie is making me remember why this genre is so profound to me, what kinds of themes it can explore, and it may even be changing the direction in which I'm thinking of exploring this genre further. It is a deconstruction of the Mecha genre in the best sense, regardless of whether some people think that's an overrated term (I will run this bit into the ground I swear it!). It identifies the core themes of the genre, as well as the core superficial trappings, and it tells a story that uses those parts and is true to those themes, but all the parts are arranged in a totally different kind of way than anything before it.

This is not a not-review of the series, nor even of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies in their entirety, just of the final movie. But if it helps, I will give very brief thoughts on the previous movies. I watched these movies more or less as they came out, and they took around a decade to complete, so it's been an interesting experience in its own right and many details are now lost to me, and also I was a different person upon watching each of these and did not do a rewatch and likely will not do so ever, although it's not impossible.

First Movie: A mostly faithful retelling of the first handful of episodes of the show, but with a much bigger budget, and some general streamlining of the plot that worked in its favor.

Second Movie: Had some pacing issues, made some plot changes that I had mixed feelings about, but I respected that they tried to do something a little different with it. There were a few red flags, but on the whole, I enjoyed it enough.

Third Movie: I hated this movie with a passion. I won't elaborate too much, because the fourth movie actually retroactively makes me seriously question if I fundamentally misunderstood this one, or maybe I could not have known what Hideaki Anno was trying to do until the fourth. I thought it had betrayed the underlying themes of the series in a critical way (as opposed to the second movie which made relatively "harmless" changes), but I no longer think this is the case.

This brings us to the fourth movie.

I wish I could give these really beautiful, sweeping reviews of the things I experience like Patrick Stuart does. I'd like to think I've demonstrated on this blog that I know how to write, and yet something about trying to coalesce my memories into words in some specific, coherent way... it just doesn't have the same effect. That's why I do "not-reviews". But it's a shame because this movie deserves that kind of review and analysis, the kind that is like a piece of art unto itself, that makes you want to have that experience- that may very well be better than the experience per se.

In lieu of that, I'll just say the following things. First, because it's easy to start here, the movie is gorgeous. I don't just mean in a big-budget sense, although certainly that, but it is just very visually interesting. It wasn't quite as experimental as I might have liked, as a younger Hideaki Anno might have done, but it also doesn't fall prey to lack of constraint either, as is often the case when creators are given unlimited resources and nobody telling them No. It does some things I've never seen before; it felt like a big-budget Saruri-Man.

There are battleships and Mecha being puppeteered on strings, with gun-hands on a discus, being launched like missiles, on massive whirling planes of red and glowing colors; massive airships with cyborg parts on top of something like a whale carcass, weird dangling double-"headed" Mecha arm monsters...

But also, it explores THEMES. This fourth movie made clear to me, that these movies were really more of a spiritual sequel to the original series than a remake. Yes, it retells the story in broad strokes, but it's exploring something else, and that exploration is a satisfying evolution of the original series. The last time I watched the original series in its entirety was over ten years ago, probably shortly before the first movie. Even at the time, I remember feeling like I was aging out of the subtext. That's not to say I didn't still enjoy it or respect it, but it no longer felt like there was more for me to gain from it, which honestly was a little disheartening. For the first time in ten years, across all four movies of Rebuild, Evangelion challenged me again, felt true to my current experiences and development. I actually struggled a bit last night, evaluating where I am in life and what I'm doing and if it's getting me what I want... and admittedly that's pretty normal for me, but in this case, I guess it was in a more fresh or profound way, that unfortunately I can't better articulate, or maybe I just don't want to because it's a very personal experience.

The pilots themselves stopped aging for plot reasons, something which as of the third movie I thought betrayed the psycho-developmental subtext of the original series. But I realize now, that's the point. Shinji was in stasis- he's still the 13-year-old boy; the bridge, or point of reference between the two narratives, but also a reflection on our youth.

The "real" Rei (or one of them...) died at the end of the third and this new Rei is even more so a child- but actually, she's really more a lens for somebody discovering themselves and finding internal peace. She lives a simple life, finds appreciation in others, makes meaningful connections. All she wanted was normalcy, and she finds it and is happy.

Asuka is on the face of it just as angry and frustrated as before- if not more so, borderline psychotic, like a hermit. But it eventually becomes apparent that she did in fact grow up, in her own way, and that while she'll always be this anti-social and awkward person, she's discovered herself a bit. She has unresolved issues, some of which she may never figure out, but it feels like she has made growth and is continuing to grow. This movie did right by Asuka in a way that I deeply appreciated, as Asuka was always the character I most resonated with (for whatever that says about me...).

Then there's Mari. Prior to the fourth movie, I never understood why she was introduced. Why would you create a new character, in an already overstuffed narrative? And prior to this movie (or admittedly, even in this movie), there's not too much to her. She's got a bold personality, but she never felt quite like a real person. It becomes apparent in this movie, though, that really she's more of a cipher (if I'm using that term correctly...), and maybe one could argue that that's problematic, but I think it worked here.

In the end, Rei comes to terms with herself- her issues were always more personal than interpersonal. Asuka recognizes that she grew up and grew into a different kind of person than Shinji, and she moves on, but the break is amicable. Mari is the love you find later in life. You have Rei and Asuka, these proxies for Shinji's sexual and romantic development (who also as I just explained, very much have their own narratives as well); these are the childhood crushes you think will last forever and have permanent importance. Mari seemingly comes out of left field, but in the end, they develop their little quirks together (cute little hand over eyes games and such), and although we don't see the full development of their romance, I am convinced of its truth.

Every character gets a proper send-off, all of which feels deliberate and considered. The conversation that Shinji and Gendo have at the very end, especially, is such an evolution from the original series. Shinji grows into his own, not by becoming some badass tough guy who yells and screams and has his shonen moment, but because he is reflective and contemplative. He shows bravery and empathy. He doesn't want to just defeat Gendo, he wants to understand him, and come to terms with him.

Looking back, and I know others have said this not just me, one complaint I might have with the original series, is that it narrowly straddles the line between grimdark and bittersweet. This movie feels decidedly more positivist, with still an appropriate amount of bittersweetness. It feels more adult- it doesn't just identify problems, it tries to solve them.

Every moment of this admittedly rather long movie feels deliberate. It is clear that Hideaki Anno thought a lot about what kind of story he wanted to tell, how he wanted to reflect on his own life or life in general. I know that no matter how well told, no story is an accurate reflection of life, but if the original series is a reasonable metaphor for my own lived experience up to this point, and Rebuild is where I see myself currently, it is encouraging and inspiring to believe that maybe I can find that degree of growth and acceptance that the characters in Evangelion, that likely Hideaki Anno himself, have experienced.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Maximum Recursion Depth Release!!!!!

Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing, is officially released on drivethrurpg and!

Between the original conception and Ashcan Edition, through the Kickstarter which took longer than I had intended, I have been working on this game for well over a year. This was my passion project during the insanity that has been Covid, and the culmination of years longer of inspiration and personal experiences.

When I left academia, I told myself that if I could successfully transition into a career in software engineering, that I had to use the opportunities made available to me to publish a book, and now I have. It is by no means perfect, I can already see flaws in it, and I hope in the future that I will grow in my writing and game design abilities even more and the flaws become even more salient. But even so, or even if I never publish another book, I will always have this.

I can say reasonably confidently that MRD is unlike anything else I've seen or read, even if it certainly has inspirations. It won't be for everyone, whether due to my own failings as a creator or simply because it is not something that conforms to genre conventions, but I hope that enough people appreciate it for what it is to justify continuing with this endeavor.

Given the support on Kickstarter, my ongoing year-long campaign, and feedback I've received on the NSR discord server and from other creators who I respect, MRD has already been a success as far as I'm concerned. I don't expect to break drivethrurpg in sales numbers, I'm just grateful to have made a thing that I think is of reasonably high quality, for it to be real and effectively eternal barring the plausible collapse of civilization as we know it but hopefully at least through my life if not a little while longer than that.

I will probably take a pause before launching into anything else immediately, especially since I'm about to start a new job, but if you are happy with this first issue of MRD, know that I have several plans for potential future issues!

PS: I had originally said in a few places that there was going to be a big announcement coinciding with the release, but after discussing with some people, I've decided to hold up on that for a while, but it will come back eventually!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Super Robot Wars-style Mecha

Super Robot Wars is a videogame series of tactical RPGs where a bunch of Mecha anime cross-over, and it's delightful. Many of the recent games have been translated into English for the Singapore and/or Hong Kong regions and PS4 is not region-locked (they're also available on Switch and I believe are also not region-locked), so I finally get to play Ray Amuro / Nu Gundam, Shinji Ikari / Evangelion Unit-01, and Space Battleship Yamato, all together, in one of my favorite game genres. Childhood dreams do come true.

I'm not familiar with all of the series represented in the games I'm playing (so far I've beaten Super Robot Wars V, am working through Super Robot Wars T, and I've already got Super Robot Wars X and OG ready to go!), but even for the series I am not familiar with, by virtue of being a cross-over of All-Stars, even some of the off-hand Mechas I've never heard end up becoming my favorites, and I've since gone on to start watching several of the series I was introduced to through these games.

There's something interesting and understated about it- good design is rare, and it seems like good Mecha design is especially rare, let alone to make a new property where every Mecha feels distinctive, classic, and stands out. But by being a cross-over, where like half the characters are all main characters from their own series, and many of those series are standouts and classics, it makes for an entire game of standout characters and Mecha.

I'm still searching for my ideal Mecha TTRPG (perhaps it will be Get into the Machine, Shinji!), but in the meantime, here's a Weird & Wonderful Table of Mechas. The schtick here is, there is a meta wherein all of these Mecha are assumed to be the star of their own series in some fictional reality, but now crossing over in a series where in-universe they co-exist and in most cases always have co-existed.

One tricky thing with Mecha is that it's hard to describe them, and much of the appeal is visual, which I think is part of why Mecha written fiction is not as prominent as Mecha visual fiction e.g. comics, anime, or videogames, and also part of why it's less common in TTRPG where there are fewer pieces of public domain art for Mecha (in addition to the difficulty of designing rules for Mecha games that allow for in and out of Mecha gameplay, as described in the previous link for GItMS!). I hope I have done a reasonable job here, please let me know what you think!

In addition to these, you can find more entries by other creators (or share your own!) in my Let's Build: Mecha posts on The Cauldron (must be a member of the NSR Discord server to join) and The OSR Pit.

Weird & Wonderful Mecha

Arsenic: Black. Tripod legs on a humanoid core with clawed hands. Its head is a long metallic tentacle with a Tesla Coil at the end of it.

Razzle-Dazzle: Surprisingly mobile "walking weapons platform" with a core that looks more like a tank than a humanoid Mecha. Black and white clashing stripes or other holographically overlayed camouflage make it difficult to track in cluttered environments.

Chimera: Quadrupedal but ape-like, somewhere between a lemur and a wolf, with a long snout. Its high-frequency maw glows with ultraviolet. White with purple trim. Long thin tail tipped with a snake-like "head" consisting of rear sensors and laser beam weapon.

Dogu: Alien craft like if Jack Kirby made a psychedelic Celestial inspired by the eponymous Jomon-era figurines.

Rebis: Neon yellow bio-"Mecha", a genetic hodgepodge of non-human animal, fungus, and bacteria in a humanoid form. Keratin plates that look like sleek near-future body armor. Shimmers with a bio-engineered tardigrade film for environmental protection. A fungal/bacterial microbiome can excrete through the skin weaponry such as sphaerobolus (aka artillery fungus). Retractable silken wings that work as solar sails for space travel. The pilot operates The Rebis via an umbilical cable that connects to their spine like in the Cronenberg movie Existenz.

Matrioshka: A supermassive starship, wherein the command deck is an ejectable battle cruiser, piloted by a Mecha whose cockpit is designed to fit a Power Armored pilot, all of which is entraining on the brain waves of the unborn child of the pregnant pilot.

Psycho Baku: Minimalist trunk-nosed Mecha using sensory-scrambling technology, psychophysical illusions, and even psychoactive gases, to create large-scale illusions, mirages, and hallucinations.

Panic Slug: Wrist-mounted shotgun sprays “slugs”, autonomous AI missile drones that seek to infiltrate enemy Mecha and hack them or physically disable them from the inside. As the slugs infest Mecha, they exhibit behaviors like myoclonic jerks.

Murder Crow: Head like a plague doctor mask. A “field medic” Mecha with two autonomous crow-like drones for surveilling disabled/damaged Mecha or for defense, while primarily equipped for Mecha field repairs or ad-hoc constructs.

Mazu: The rainbow dragon Mecha of Pirate Queen Prismasha, Empress of Space. The cockpit of the Mecha is Platina, a dolphin/sea serpent-esque space fighter craft. Mazu and Platina are demigod/AI from an ancient spacefaring civilization. They each dueled Prismasha in “hand-to-hand” combat for her love and hand in marriage, and in their respective failures, vowed to serve as her guardians.

Mecha-Buster Squad: Wear light power armor and utilize mobility tools such as rocket packs, magnetic grappling wires, and solar sails, weaponry such as RPGs, high-impact "one-shot" sniper rifles, and vibro-lances, and various kinds of immobilizing or debilitating traps, to take down significantly larger and more powerful Mecha.

Gacha: The corporation that makes this series of Mecha sells them exclusively in capsules where the specific model inside is not revealed until after purchase. While an expensive and potentially risky way to build a fleet, one lucky Gacha capsule can justify the purchase of dozens of other overpriced and lower-quality Gacha Mecha. Some are desired solely for their rarity, as a status symbol, or for their value in the speculation market, as opposed to actual combat utility.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

MRD: Reincarnation Ritual Recursion Attachments Generator

With the VERY SOON RELEASE of Maximum Recursion Depth, one thing I knew I wasn't satisfied with in the Ashcan release was the Reincarnation Rituals. I want them to be more than just "get out of jail free cards", they should actually add something to the game.

What I decided was that every time a PC relies on their Reincarnation Ritual (other than for leveling), they have to take a Reincarnation Attachment. These are Karmic Attachments, either randomly generated or they can be custom-made circumstantially by the GM, which do not cause the PC to accrue Karma and do not divest Karma when resolved, but which should add an interesting character-related "plot" element / game-hook, and which must be resolved in order to level.

So this way, if a PC uses their Reincarnation Ritual to escape death, they're going to carry some extra baggage with them, but hopefully, that baggage should at least be gameable and interesting.

This generator is by no means definitive, as is I don't think it has quite enough variability, and some of the wording is awkward. Also, it's better to make Reincarnation Rituals that tie specifically into the PC's backstory or the events of the campaign. This is more just for inspiration / as a point of reference.

Friday, October 1, 2021

MRD Campaign Retrospective up to Present

Although I've written plenty of Play Reports for my Maximum Recursion Depth campaign and they've actually been accruing more views than I expected, I've generally not been satisfied with my PRs. I like the approach I've landed on of doing these very brief summaries, and only expanding in cases where I'm basically sharing my GM Notes as like a Module template, but all the same, they feel more like very sloppy book report summaries than something engaging.

So to be clear, my MRD campaign is still ongoing and to the best of my knowledge, nobody has any intentions of ending at any specific time! But I thought it might be fun to do a retrospective, almost like my "not-review" series of posts. If I'm not prepared to rewrite the events of my campaign as engaging prose, I can instead do so as (hopefully) engaging analysis. This is less so a blow-by-blow of events than even my already summarized PRs, and more me just describing how things evolved over time, what I had intended vs. how things played out, what I think has worked or hasn't, etc.

Last side note, we are very very very close to being done with the MRD Book, and once it releases, I have some exciting news to hopefully coincide with it! But anyway...

Before I get into it, here's another index of the MRD PR posts:

Even though the posts themselves are organized differently, the first two sessions correspond to the same "module", so I'll describe them this way.

Doctor Loves-Me-Not's Halloween Party was basically a murder mystery inspired loosely by the party scene at the beginning of the Russian Doll series on Netflix and Rocky Horror Picture Show, along with other stuff.

I was really happy with the overall scenario design and I think it had some of the modular Social Intrigue stuff which informed the Module in the book, but I definitely did not yet have this Design Pattern fully realized when I wrote this "module" and it shows. I included some sidebars in the Doctor Loves-Me-Not's Halloween Party GM Notes linked at the top, and I stand by those comments and would encourage you to give them a look if you're interested.

The second session ended in the equivalent of a TPK, but The Team was able to use their Reincarnation Rituals, so it worked out basically as intended. As is often the case with a new game, several of the players came and went between the first couple of sessions, but it was as of Session 3 that The Team as it has existed for nearly a year now has been pretty stable.

Unfortunately, because session 3 was effectively a new group, there were leads that developed in these first two sessions that are only just now getting re-integrated. In fact, there were I think 1-3 sessions (would have to double-check) even before these play reports with an entirely different group, which also set up leads that didn't come back until later (that group was in person and fell apart for covid and related logistical reasons).

Tl;Dr While flawed in some ways, these first two sessions / first "module" is a very good demonstration of what MRD is about, and I could easily imagine myself cleaning it up and turning it into something more like the Module in the book and being really happy with it!

Not-Review Sessions 3-6 / "They Did a Mario Kart"

Technically a fair bit happened in these sessions, but it wouldn't quite be accurate to call them a cohesive "module" in the way I referred to the Halloween Party in the last two sessions. However, it does encompass one "story arc" so I'll wrap them together.

While I posted the PRs as 3-5, in retrospect session 6 was when this "arc" wrapped up, but I guess that wasn't obvious until after the fact.

Session 3 was a fresh start with a new Poltergeist Investigation and in effect a new Team. In retrospect the way I designed it was terrible, but I think to the Players' credit we had a good time.

I basically gave them two or so options for Investigations, but they were both nearly identical- being only just different enough to require that my GM Notes accounted for each of them differently. From a software engineering perspective, we call this an Anti-Pattern, and it is something I have since tried to be better about not doing, and I'd like to believe mostly successfully.

It was a fun little adventure, and it set up some future NPCs and future plotlines. The players really liked Shining Ostrich which made me happy.

Session 4 was the "Mario Kart" part, where they went to The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse. I was much happier with how I designed the scenario, although the "Mario Kart" part of it, while fun, probably could have been better fleshed out. It's not about going crunch-crazy, but I played it pretty fast and loose even by my standards and while it worked for me, as the writer, if I were to ever try to publish it, I would need to heavily rework it for those who cannot read my mind.

You can see the GM Notes for Off to the (Karmamare) Racetracks linked at the top, which actually includes the GM Notes for session 3 as well. If you do read it, you'll see the anti-pattern I was referring to, but for the actual Karmamare part, you can see how there was still some structure to it, but probably needed a little more structure.

Session 5 Was a bit of a sidetrack, admittedly of my own making. It definitely did set stuff up for the future such as by introducing or further developing certain NPCs, but in itself was more of a "filler episode" lol, not too much more to say about that.

Session 6 was the culmination of events from the prior sessions. To my mind, it was the most successful of the first six sessions in terms of the number of fun things I gave the players to interact with in the scenario and the degree to which they were developed. The actual scenario around sessions 1-2 may be more so to my tastes, but from a game perspective, I think this is where things started to gel.

There was also a really poignant moment at the end of session 6, within an otherwise rather absurdist scene, and at the very least I appreciated it, but I hope my players did as well.

I apparently never posted the GM Notes for the scenario in session 6, which is a shame because I think it was pretty good. Not sure why I didn't do it, maybe I need to do so retroactively, or maybe there was a reason why I did not...

Not-Review Sessions 7-11 / The Hostile Takeover of Anti-Sphinx

These sessions were a turning point for the campaign, and also where a lot of my thoughts about the setting and my approach to design started to coalesce. This was probably also facilitated by the fact that I was designing the book around this time.

Again, even though I posted them as 6-11, in retrospect, 6 should have been in the previous post and this post should have started with 7.

Prior to these sessions, the game had been set up in a more episodic approach to Poltergeist Investigation -> Court Crawl, and this batch starts that way but ends things in a way that completely changes the paradigm which I found very exciting, although I was admittedly uncomfortable with it at first (see the Session 10-11 not-review below).

Session 7-8 Got real weird and experimental, in a way that I loved but my players were a bit more mixed on at the time, although I believe have since come to appreciate. This was part of what I refer to in my post on Tabletop RPGs as Performance Art and must have been around the time those ideas were growing fully formed in my mind.

I did not at the time have as strong of an idea of where I was going as I should have, and I also in retrospect did not do a good enough job giving the players a good idea of what they could or should do. I can't help but look back on it fondly, but it was certainly flawed.

Partway through session 8 The Team developed a more concrete plan and executed it, and it gave the players an opportunity to flex a bit which worked out well. It was basically a heist, and I don't give this session enough mindshare but in retrospect, it was actually a really fun and well-executed heist that was mostly player-driven, couldn't ask for more from it. The session ends with them coming back to where they were in session 7, culminating in a cliffhanger of a big Conflict that was about to come.

Session 9 is the aforementioned Conflict. The Conflict was swift and brutal as any Into the Odd-adjacent game should be, with Fiona using her Reincarnation Ritual in order to help the other PCs escape what were otherwise seemingly insurmountable odds. The rest of the session was also pretty rapid-fire with some big reveals. I did some stuff that is either clever or deceitful depending on your perspective that paid off nearer to the end of this "arc", which I was happy with but which I know one of the players struggled with at first, and which amounted to something ultimately not within my original plans but ended up being significantly better anyway, as I discuss below.

Session 10-11 also were pretty rapid-fire, with The Team running a coup against The Underground Casino which had been plaguing them in the background for some time, only to learn that the Underground Casino was not quite what they thought it was.

I won't lie, I struggled a lot with these sessions. On the one hand, I had repeatedly signaled to the players that they needed to do more investigation, that there were important details they had not uncovered and that they were getting themselves in over their head, and they had been burned on things like that in the past, but they chose to commit to their course of action regardless.

I think, especially from an "OSR perspective", it would have been well within my "right" to be punitive about it and basically punish them in exactly the way one would expect if they knew those things that they had been encouraged to investigate. However, I really didn't feel good about doing that, and I wanted to find a better solution.

Ultimately, I gave them what they wanted, a successful coup of this organization, but I framed it within the context of a Parable, or just as well a Fable- it was ok that they did something implausible, because the Parable becomes something of greater metaphysical weight, greater than the material act of what they'd done. You could almost think of it like "The Law of Surprises", the metaphysical phenomenon that may or may not have real power within the setting of The Witcher and which ends up driving the narrative (as opposed to the short stories it started in).

On The Cauldron, we were discussing Jewish Fables, and I was raised Jewish, and I actually was in a very roundabout way inspired by Jewish fables with this session myself. I remembered this article that I had read around ten years ago, and recently rediscovered and reread and am glad to say it holds up to my memory. The writer discusses the scene in Coming to America, the Eddie Murphy movie of all things, where Eddie Murphy plays an old Jewish guy. You can read my explanation, or watch the clip on youtube.

Or embedded here (but embedded videos on blogger have not always been reliable for me...):

The old Jewish guy tells a story about going to a restaurant and ordering a soup, and the waiter brings the soup, and he asks the waiter to taste the soup, and the waiter refuses. He asks repeatedly, the waiter uncomfortably repeatedly denies, but when the old man does not relent, finally he does. Looking down at the soup and at the table, he then says "there's no spoon", to which the old Jewish guy says, "achaa!". I really like that anecdote.

So that was also part of what inspired this turn of events. Even though this game is nominally about Buddhism and the interplay between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese Mythology (really as just a metaphor or lens for modern issues), I try where possible to use my own lived experience as a person of Jewish descent or as an American or whatever to inform the game and setting, because my experience is not that of a Buddhist or Taoist in China circa the 16th Century when Journey to the West was written.

Anyway, so as a result, the game stops being about a ragtag group of Poltergeist Investigators, and instead is about a ragtag group of Poltergeist Investigators who overthrew a multi-national crime syndicate/information network/anti-fascist group that is now in a critically compromised state, in part due to their own actions, but also these factors were partially responsible for their success in the first place; capitalizing on Anti-Sphinx's moment of weakness without even realizing it.

Not-Review Sessions 12-16

Despite failing to come up with a name for this "arc", this was the first PR post that actually does reflect the arc as I see it- progress is being made lol. In all seriousness though, I do think this "arc" is where I really hit my stride, I would say I even "leveled up" as a designer. This is as much due to me designing the book at the same time and having to really think critically about how I do things, but all the same, this was awesome. Also by this point, the players have developed a good grasp of their characters and the setting and me as a GM, so they've been empowered to do more, and they've made some really clever and interesting decisions that have informed these sessions greatly.

Session 12 Is where The Team learns exactly how bad the situation with Anti-Sphinx is, but also meets the various agents within the organization and comes up with plans for how to fix things. I was worried at first again about possibly being too punitive, but it helped me to think of it within the context of the Parable, to treat this not as a punishment, not the end of the previous arc, but instead as the beginning of a new one, and that helped greatly.

I literally created a whole set of spreadsheets that are basically pivot tables, in order to map out the Social Intrigue / Domain-play scenario of it all; probably should have just made an actual SQL / relational database for it, but it's been working fine.

Session 13-14 was a bit of a diversion and got very goofy. It also involved me leveraging materials produced for The Module from the book but running it in a totally different context, which was fun to do. It also set up Emil McGinnley / Glass Maiden Pixie, which did move the "plot" forward for this "arc", and actually the "Excuse-Me-Sir!" Karmic malware also sets up the subsequent "arc" which is still ongoing and which I have not posted about yet.

Session 15-16 was a ton of fun. I didn't make a separate GM Notes post but I included the pertinent details in this PR. In terms of an "Action Conflict" this was hands down my favorite yet. It felt very video-gamey but in the best way. I would love to expand on this and turn it into something publishable. It wouldn't be worthwhile to reiterate it here but I would strongly encourage you to go back and read it if you have not already done so and are otherwise finding the rest of this interesting.

Final Comments

So wrapping it all up, I'm extremely happy with how this setting has developed, and this campaign, and this group. I've gotten to know my players well and feel lucky to have such a great group. It's encouraging to feel like the campaign is only getting better and that both my actual skills as a designer and my conscious understanding of design have both notably been improving, and it's also fascinating the ways that growth has been driven at least in part by having written the book. It goes to show the non-linear gains one can make by trying to do things in a more comprehensive, systematic way. Even though we're only a couple sessions into the current arc, the most recent session as of this posting was one of my favorites yet, a very emotional scene, my players probably know what I'm talking about if they're reading this. I genuinely believe that there are things that have occurred in this campaign that I will carry with me for a significant amount of time if not the rest of my life.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Saruri-Man: Midsummer Nights Adventures Not-Review

I was walking down one of those obscure alleys of the internet and saw something that grabbed my attention- a few episodes of some really obscure Mecha anime- I think it was a more recent show but it kind of went out of its way to look older. I can't even find much about it on the internet; maybe the name I found was a fan translation or maybe it's some obscure Japanese web show. But anyway, like many obscure things of its kind, I found it super fascinating and I wanted to give it a little not-review.

So it appears to be basically the world as we know it, with some anachronisms leaning into an 80's cyberpunk / Japanese City Soul aesthetic with other quirks here and there as well, so it feels kind of timeless. However, a core distinction is that a literal monkey ruling class somehow controls this world. Like, they aren't super-monkeys or alien-monkeys or genius-monkeys, just regular ol' monkeys. They're treated kind of like politicians or business executives or gang leaders, which is to say, there's a kind of religious reverence towards them, but the surrounding pomp and circumstance are toned down. It's not clear how or why this is the case, but that's part of the charm.

Oh ya and also, like monkeys banging on a typewriter until they create Shakespeare, these monkeys have inadvertently opened a portal to the Faerie Realm, and so all sorts of monsters and kaiju leak through, like the Pakku (I assume a translation of Puck from Midsummer Night's Dream). One of the Pakku is a kaiju-sized cross-section of a goat's eye in extremely graphic detail, like out of a medical textbook, and it's gruesome and amazing. Another one is a ball of diseased goat flesh and parasites and fur.

Kaiju are usually portrayed as either Bestial monsters, like Godzilla, or Uncanny monsters, like the Angels in Evangelion. Some of the monsters and kaiju fell more into the Bestial type, but the Pakku are more so in the Uncanny type. One thing that I found interesting about them though, is that they seemed curious, and somewhat playful, like toddlers or Dionysian drunks. They were causing damage, but they weren't necessarily trying to cause damage, and it made them pitiable, and it made the conflicts bittersweet.

I couldn't find any screenshots from the show, so enjoy this sheep's eye!

The art design in general is shockingly good. Even the monkeys themselves- it might have been tempting to make them kind of cutesy and lovable, but I think the show makes the right call in making them really uncanny. Again, they aren't monstrous, but they are scary and uncomfortable- both obscured in shadow, kind of like in Princess Mononoke, but where not obscured, uncomfortably detailed and graphic in their depiction.

The Mecha are also really wild. One of them looks like an emaciated humanoid body or skeleton with a tank for a head and is apparently the sexual bonding of a decapitated alien being of an unclear but non-carbon-based nature and an American military-industrial complex super-AI experimental tank that gained self-awareness and went on a journey through space.

Another is still Mecha-sized but looks kind of like Iron Man and is able to spontaneously summon weapons and mods out of energy, but then it turns out actually the whole thing is just a UFO-like craft and a series of drones with holographic projections and various weaponry to make it look like it's a cohesive thing but it's not.

There was one other one that I only got to see a little bit of in the episodes I saw, but it was like a typical humanoid Mecha, except four-dimensional, so when it moves, its three-dimensional representation tesselates, sometimes really elegantly like a Hindu god, other times grotesquely like a Lovecraftian extra-dimensional creature. As it moves, because it exists in four dimensions, sometimes parts of it appear inside-out, and the geometry of it bends in paradoxical ways like a Bethesda videogame.

The action choreography was interesting. While there are classics like Ninja Scroll that have excellent 2D, hand-drawn action, I get the impression that action in 2D animation is just really difficult and laborious to do compared to CG animation. I have generally not been a fan of many of the very low-quality Netflix CG anime, but the ones that had a sufficient budget really demonstrate the value of CG, in how fluid and un-"cut" it can be, compared to much 2D animated action which often necessarily relies on cuts, almost like a motion comic. While I'm reasonably confident that this show was 2D animated (again I actually have no idea when this was made...), I think it's using rotoscoping or something, there's something a little funky about it, but it has that fluidity that you otherwise rarely see in 2D animation. I'm surprised there haven't been other anime that used rotoscoping for their action, or maybe there have been and I am just not aware.

I don't know how exactly to describe what I saw i.e. a hyper-real dissected eye monster torrenting puss and macroscopic parasites onto a four-dimensional Mecha suplexing it through a pseudo-Mecha hologram landing onto and subsequently pierced and punctured by the tank cannon of an alien-AI-cyborg-demigod Mecha... But ya, it was very cool. I believe this show does have cool themes and subtext and whatnot, but if you just want bizarre and over-the-top action, it clearly has that as well, at least in the episodes that I saw.

Anyway, the pilots of the Mecha are all 20-30 something "salarymen"; male and female, but it's a Japanese term, and also the title of the show is a play on words which is a pretty typical anime thing (Saru is monkey in Japanese and the Japanese way to write Salaryman is Sarari-Man). They're all overworked, underpaid, some still have optimism for their future but most are pretty burnt out. There seems to be a bimodal distribution where half of them are just completely incompetent, and the other half are highly skilled and multifaceted and way overqualified for what they're doing, and the whole thing feels like commentary but that's definitely coming from an American perspective.

It's hard to talk about the characters too much further without going into spoilers, but I'll say they kind of reminded me of the anime Aggretsuko, or I guess similarly The Office, but whereas those shows I think fell too in love with their characters to their own detriment, there's more of an edge here, where they're not afraid to commit to these characters being more real and flawed. Granted I only saw a few episodes so who knows where it goes, but I got the impression that they know when to be goofy and quirky, and when to be serious, and I can respect that.

Anyway, ya I would really like to see the rest of this show, so if anyone knows anything about it, please let me know!!!!