My Games

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Weird & Wonderful Wavelengths (Variety Show s1e1)

EDIT: I think I should state more clearly (I explain this in my comment Kyana): This is supposed to be like a TTRPG in itself, where the medium is the blog and the RPG is a Variety Show themed around blogosphere stuff. I, the blog writer / GM am the Host, and the readers / commenters / players are the Audience. So you can "heckle", or make a mech character who may get brought up on stage next episode, or you can take this idea and run with it yourself on your own blog and make your own pirate broadcast of Weird & Wonderful Wavelengths. It's sort of a... I dunno, maybe it's pretentious to say performance art, but it's like the blogosphere TTRPG equivalent of performance art.

Hello, ladies & gentlemen & all other folks, welcome to Weird & Wonderful Wavelengths, the one, and only tabletop RPG Variety Show. The original footage has sadly been lost to the dark depths of the multiverse (that's a storyline for another time), so here we'll be transcribing an approximate reconstruction of the show using our trademarked, patented, and copywritten quantum golem learning algorithm (TM, C, etc.)*
*This is an experimental technology, there is a 1% chance this episode induces nirvana, Weird & Wonderful Worlds cannot be held liable for damages.
This is an all-new venture, something a bit experimental. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but what would be the point of the Weird & Wonderful brand if we didn't try to do new things now and then amiright? We'll see where it goes, I'm open to suggestions and hecklers in the audience. Maybe next episode we'll even bring some people on stage! Anyway, please keep in mind this is just a pilot, but I hope you all enjoy the show!

We're going to be starting off with a musical number by my old friends, Junior Senior:

EDIT: it appears that the video embeddings don't work in mobile mode. Cool! I'll just include links I guess...

What a wonderful performance. I hope you're all getting excited now for what's to come. Let's move those feet towards our first act.

We're going to build a character for Batteries Not Included!

Yesterday you were in a warehouse, processing angry customer complaints. This morning you were on a plane. Five minutes ago, you were falling from the sky. One minute ago, you found a wheel, a taser and a claw amongst the wreckage. Right now, a metal monstrosity with tank treads and a chainsaw is yelling at you: "YOUR LIMBS. GIVE THEM TO ME."

What a dramatic start! I'm really looking forward to seeing how this plays out. This is Mechs and Battle Royale and Tabletop RPGs, and something I've been interested in for some time now.

Core (+P / [H] / +5 modules / cannot be tapped)
Tactical Simulator (TP: "undo" an action you just took, it was a simulation)
Turbine (while in fast flowing water or gas, +PP)
Minigun (A: D / fast)

We start with a default Core, capable of holding up to 5 modules, with +1 Power and a Heat Capacity of 1. Because Minigun is a starting module that requires ammo (A), we start off with two units of ammo. Given the Turbine, which gives us an additional +2 Power in water (if I understand correctly myself) our Mech will likely prefer to operate near water, but since our only module so far that uses Power is the Tactical Simulator (which costs 1 Power and must be Tapped to use), maybe we should focus on gunning down enemies and stealing their modules first!

And that's it, folks! Meet our new Mech: Hydro-Max Platypus! Tune in for the next episode and we'll see how our new Mech fares!

Are there any other Mech pilots in the audience? If there are any pilots, raise your hand! One lucky audience member will be brought up to the stage next episode to face off against the RapidFire Dynamo: Hydro-Max Platypus!

For our next act, we're going to raise the intellectual level of this show, for a discussion on applied machine learning. I know this is a little different than what we usually discuss here, but I think you'll find this interesting. Anyway, I happen to think the first speaker is quite charismatic ;).

Let's return to tabletop RPGs, shall we? Your "humble" host here has been working for quite some time on a little game with a little title: Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing.

The majority of the content of this game is finalized at this point, but I've got far more ideas than what fits into this first issue. I've made some dedicated blog posts for additional content, but sometimes I have some ideas that haven't fully formed yet, so we'll be discussing one of these ideas today. If this makes it into the game at all, it may take a wildly different form, so this is a real peek behind the curtains. Everyone always talks about breaking the fourth wall, but we'll start easy and break the third wall, heading behind the stage itself (tune in next episode for when we break the fifth wall!).

I find the Four Symbols (even though there are five, kind of...) and the corresponding mythical beings from Chinese mythology fascinating. Black Tortoise (with a snake tail!) of the North; Azure Dragon of the East; Vermillion Bird (Phoenix- sort of) of the South; White Tiger of the West; Yellow Dragon of the Center. There's something very elemental about them, and not just because they correspond to the elements of Taoist Alchemy. The interplay of mythic creatures with all of these levels of symbolism, the aforementioned elements, but also color, and spatial orientation, and more. I've played with the idea of symbolic mythic beings with my Ordinal Beasts of Phantasmos (featuring art by Scrap Princess!), with ordinality being the inverse of the cardinality of the Guardians. I've also played with elements (with a fancy generator!), and missing elements (this one is especially popular), and elemental planes (this one is "smart"), and elements as key concepts of a setting (this one is old and probably confusing!), so in some ways, this is almost like going back to basics for me.

So with all of that out of the way, here I introduce my (dear lord I hope not offensive) sixth element / sixth Guardian Beast to Chinese mythology (if Marvel can add a Tenth Realm to the Nine Realms of Norse mythology, maybe I'm in the clear here...). Please remember, this is very much a WIP idea, so keep this in mind and heckle accordingly. Also I reference a bunch of stuff without citations believe me or don't.

Indigo Cyclops of the Outside, Elemental Lord of Meat
Elephantine body with a monstrous humanoid face, one giant karmic "third" eye, elephant tusks, a long prehensile tongue, one hundred humanoid arms thrashing outwards from its stomach.

Color: Why Indigo? I'm not sure yet if it relates at all to The Indigo Saint's Cathedral, I just think Indigo is an interesting and underutilized color. It's a canonical part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and yet other than one weird Lantern Corps in DC Comics, nobody does anything with it. There's probably some interesting stuff I could say here about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the linguistic anthropology of color, but...

Directionality: Why External? Well, the other Guardian beasts cover North, South, East, West, and "Center" (China- which is I think why it sometimes gets dropped in other interpretations), so there's not much left. I had considered Time, but that seemed too "me". So I went with External. If Center means China, then External means Foreign relative to China. So then I started thinking about things like the Silk Road, and the Buddhist-Hellenistic connections, and that led to...

Beast: Why Cyclops? Why Elephants? I went with Cyclops to reinforce the idea that this is something External; it's a creature from Greek mythology brought into Chinese mythology. One could imagine how this actually could have happened, even though it didn't, I'm making this up. 

One theory on the origin of the Cyclopes (apparently the plural of Cyclops) is that they were actually elephant skulls, with the trunk cavity mistakenly believed to be an eye socket. But also, apparently, there are multiple conflicting kinds of Cyclopes in Greek mythology, and this is where it gets interesting! Most people think of the kind from The Odyssey, which were basically dumb giants, but before that, there was a group of Cyclopes which were the children of Gaia and Uranus, who were like the grandparent-gods of Greek mythology. Why were The Cyclopes and The Hecatoncheires ("The Hundred-Handed Ones") separated from the other children, the Titans, who went on to birth the Gods? I dunno, but isn't that interesting!?

So I have only at this point done a small amount of reading into this, but I did not find any substantive description of these original Cyclopes except for the implication of one eye due to the etymology of their name, so I figured, let's use that as leverage to do our own thing with it, and make them more monstrous and interesting. I decided to make them more overtly elephantine, but with the long tongue replacing the trunk since the trunk is the eye socket, and kind of lean into them being these eldritch proto-gods, and then let's fold in the arms from The Hecatoncheires as well because it seems reasonable in this pseudo-history that that could have happened and you could imagine some interesting psychedelic imagery off of this.

Element: Why Meat? I say, why not Meat? It seems odd to me if we're thinking about the fundamental "stuff" of the universe, from a pre-scientific era, that no culture I'm aware of considers Meat as an element. The Western Alchemical elements are Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, and then kind of also Aether, which is basically the cosmos but also maybe gravity; the Taoist Alchemical elements are Fire, Water, Metal, Earth, Wood, and then kind of also Qi, which is basically life force but kind of also air. And then apparently the Japanese version of the elements adds Void and I think drops one of those other ones but I no longer remember offhand, but probably drops Wood. 

But Meat is something most cultures eat (I should say actually that I'm a vegetarian and have been for most of my life), and it's the fundamental, physical nature of animals, and humans have been wearing or using animal hides and skins presumably since prehistory. Maybe it gets avoided because humans don't want to think of themselves as just a sack of meat. That's why we have souls and spirits and qi, but not Meat.

But Meat isn't just a physical vessel, it's also vital, it pulses with blood or lymph, in many cases (including our own) it metabolizes and oxidizes. It is the means by which we build things. Apparently, part of the myth of Cyclopes, the proto-god ones, is that they were "hand-to-mouth", they were "workers". This is part of what inspired the Meat element, and also part of why I folded the hands of the Hecatoncheires into the Indigo Cyclops's stomach.

So I don't have any specific plans for what to do with this or the other Guardian beasts in MRD yet. For now, it's just a thing that exists in the mythology of the setting as a "real world" pseudo-mythology, not unlike the deviations from canonical mythologies represented in modern superhero comics. Maybe the Guardian beasts show up, or incarnations of them, or maybe a corporation co-opts the Indigo Cyclops for a mascot, or a military names their new fancy mech or power armor after it, or there's a superhero themed off of it, or any number of other possibilities... 

So that got a little long-winded, I hope you're all still with me. 

How about some <creepy> art? I found u/c_o_n_a_r_t on Reddit a while back and was really impressed with their work. There's something very modern about it, in terms of its horrific sensibilities. It feels very 21st century. It's weird, gross, absurd, seemingly full of subtext, and he does some mini-comics and other forms of narrative as well. I'd actually love to get him for one or two pieces on a future issue of MRD, he expressed interest in doing so at one point but we didn't make any hard commitments. Here's Myself:

Moving On.

It's been a while since I've posted a micro-setting. This one has technically been featured before, but it got buried in a dump so I thought I'd feature it again.

(Heckler in the Audience) Why dredge it out of one dump just to toss it into another? *badum dum tss*

Heheh that's real funny, I didn't realize we had a joker in the crowd tonight. Well, all the same, let's take a look at the exotic Gasoline Swamp!

Gasoline Swamp
The Primordial Soup from whence hyperlife evolved. A species reminiscent of fungus covers the Earth, a constant hazy explosion of spores and heavy diesel energy. Animal life in this swamp, if it could be called that, take the adult form of tiny "pixies", full of manic energy. They have no mouths and other than the absorption of some transient energy, they have only the energy they absorbed in their tadpole state. The dominant lifeforms are hyperplants, tesselating undulating monsters that branch, root, fruit, and leaf in real-time. They are not photosynthetic and instead are mainly carnivores (fungi and animal eaters) or predators (herbivores), or some are omnivorous. Their biology is inextricably linked with plastics and microplastics, like if humans wore their microbiome on the outside. Their blood is diesel and most consumption is vampiric; diesel being the most nutritious substance for all hyperlife.

Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed this first episode. We had some fun, we had some laughs, we had some deep thoughts, but we haven't cried yet, or at least hopefully not, but this is a pilot so anything's possible I suppose. I figure, let's give our new psycho-spacetime machine a whirl, and head to another time and place and feeling within the emotional matrix, for our final act of the night, the lovely Julie London. Julie and I had a long talk about this, I practically had to beg her to bridge psycho-spacetime so that you all could enjoy this performance tonight (note that it's always Tonight on the Weird & Wonderful Wavelength). I know it seems weird to end on such a melancholy note, but such is life. So with all that said, may I present to you, Julie London: Cry Me a River.

Did you like tonight's performance? If this pilot gets picked up, the producers say they'd like to have more guests, more games, and more audience participation! They'll even accept heckles, so heckle away in the comments below. And if your station is interested in licensing this show for syndication, all you need to do is hyperlink this episode onto your own frequency; there's no streaming exclusivity here and all episodes are anti-canon including this one!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Indigo Saint's Cathedral: The Nightmares of Nocturnal Creatures (Ch. 2)

I started writing this quite a while ago, I think late October or early November. The first chapter is here. I haven't had much time for anything besides Maximum Recursion Depth and I've never been consistent about doing "real" writing anyway, but I wanted to swing back to this. I don't know if it'll ever properly finish, but I think it still has places to go.

I worry that this is getting too meandering and I'm not sure how to take it where it's supposed to go, or even where it's supposed to go, but also if you combine these two chapters, at its current pace it's still pretty short even for a short story, so maybe it's ok to let it breathe some more. I hope the general themes I'm going for are coming through and there is a reasonable amount of foreboding for what will come, that it is neither too melodramatic nor too aimless, as I worry it may be. There's a certain thematic juxtaposition I'm going for, that I'd rather not say explicitly even though I don't think I'm being very subtle, and I think that juxtaposition is what makes the story interesting, but also, makes it hard for me to figure out how to fulfill on it without having to give up that thread, so it's sort of a difficult balance, but hopefully, it will come together the way I'm envisioning it.


I love that period in the early morning, that brief window around 5am or so, depending on the time of year, where it's no longer dark, but the sun isn't quite up yet either. There's a gray stillness. It's too late for the late night and too early for the morning hustle. Things are quiet. Nobody fucks with you in that Gray Zone, it's the only real peace you'll ever experience, and most of us sleep right through it. It's more than that though. It's like... it's not part of reality. Society doesn't expect anything from you, it's out of phase with your circadian rhythm, it's a sort of liminal space, like a lucid dream. Once the sun's up, you have to deal with the world. Predators abound, and all that; assholes down the street or on the road, unreasonable deadlines or a shitty boss, family drama, your own fully lucid thoughts. Nowhere to hide, besides maybe the bathroom stall, but then you're still stuck with yourself.

That's one way of thinking about it she says. I can already tell I've lost her. I knew I should have canceled, but I knew if I did it would probably never happen, so here we are, basically the same as if it isn't happening and now I'm that much closer to tomorrow morning. I'm in a mood, it happens.

The night has barely started and I'm already heading back home. Then a motion detector picks me up and then there's a bright light, and I see a raccoon rummaging through the trash, and the raccoon sees me. We stare each other down, that little bandit thinking he's in for it, but what am I going to do? I'm no threat to him, but anyway, he runs off, of course. To a nocturnal creature, the blinding spotlight must be what nightmares are made of.

I've been feeling a little better since I started working at the Indigo Saint's Cathedral. It's some kind of internship or fellowship; it pays to stick around after the seminar after all I guess. It's just about enough to pay the bills at least, and I'm in over my head, but with this on my resume, I should be able to do anything. But that's then and this is now and in the meantime, I'm staring at a screen wondering what to do next.

Not much happened after that. I had a dream... it was interesting, I think. I don't remember. My eyes adjust quickly to The Gray Zone. I'm glad I started getting up early again. Make coffee, take a walk. The sun begins to rise; I just woke up but I'm already tired. Each morning, like trying to race against the rising sun, knowing I can't possibly win, and then just giving in. Psychologists call it "learned helplessness". I swear, as the sun rises, I can feel sparks in my brain as serotonin binds to receptors, opening gates in the neurons, post-synaptic potentials building up to action potentials, setting off a cascading response of sodium and calcium and other things, beads of light turning into threads of consciousness; the tendrils of sunlight squirming through my molecules, an unwanted shove onto the stage for my brain, forcing me into lucidity, forcing all of us into this illuminated state; so many colors and features, and yet we all know we're seeing the same thing. I resent this unwanted feeling of consciousness. Already, I'm thinking about what dreams I will have tonight.

I do look forward to going to the Cathedral, actually. But now that I work there, it's not the same. I can already tell, I'm loading it with so much nervous energy. Already associating this place with the fear and anxiety of the job, of being a part of the world and at its whims. I notice now, how bright the Cathedral is, and how open. I thought I'd have a cubicle at least, but it's an open floor plan. The other engineers seem nice enough, but I can already tell they're sizing me up, or maybe that's just one way, my own insecurities. "Projection", that's what it's called. But I'm here; they could have chosen anyone, but they chose me, they wouldn't have done that if they didn't think I can do it, so I guess I can do it. I can do it. I can. I loop through that for a while and realize I've wasted the better part of the last half hour, well, this whole morning's basically over at this rate.

How's your first week going he asks. Great I say too enthusiastically. I mean it though. I haven't really gotten much done, and I don't know what I'm doing, but it's exciting being here, thinking about what I'm eventually going to be able to do, even if I'm not sure how I'm ever going to do it. But I guess it'll just work itself out eventually. It's still sunny by the time I leave, sunset nowhere in sight. I worked all fucking day, and still, it mocks me, taunting me to keep going but I'm all spent.

A month goes by, and I know they're expecting results soon, but it feels like I've barely started. The Indigo Saint is going to want to talk to me soon. I used to get excited by the prospect, but now, I don't even know what I'll have to say to him. I leave a little early, again. I wasn't getting much done anyway, and I'm stressed out, so what's the point.

It only took until midwinter, but it finally gets dark before I leave the office, even when I leave a little early. I was going to watch that new horror movie tonight, and I guess now I can watch it sooner than later. You know that uncanny feeling, that little tingling sensation, that unsettlingness of good weird horror? That gives you something to think about, even when you're reasonably confident it means nothing, or even when you know exactly what it's supposed to mean but somehow it feels like there's more? It feels kind of good, right? Masochism for the amygdala; gives you fake things to be afraid of so you don't have to deal with the horrors facing you in broad daylight. Horror is always steeped in darkness. Why are the boogeymen so afraid of the light?

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Disk Horse Not-Review

I read Disk Horse a while back, by my Maximum Recursion Depth collaborator Fiona Maeve Geist (who is less famously known for her work on Mothership: Dead Planet). I meant to give it a proper not-review earlier and then got caught up in stuff, but here are some thoughts on the game.

Disk Horse is great. This not-review is perhaps the most NOT-review of any of my not-reviews yet, which is probably fitting for a game so meta. This probably won't make much sense unless you've read the thing, or even if you have, but hopefully, this will pique your interest if you haven't read it.

It is super-duper in-your-face meta at the onset, but it's very cleverly written and genuinely funny. Also, I could totally see myself unironically using this as a setting/module generator even though it's clearly making fun of most of the things it's saying. I actually think if it were presented slightly differently, it could be framed in a way that is only somewhat meta instead of super-duper meta and could maybe gain more traction that way.

It seems like there are at least two levels of meta, but I actually think the more difficult level of the meta is very front-loaded, which I actually think works in its favor. The most difficult level of meta is more intellectually interesting in my opinion, but I don't actually think would be that fun if I'm being honest, whereas the other level of meta, while not as intellectually engaging in my opinion per se, is something that actually seems fun and playable, and the game seems to have been designed more so around that level.

There's this level of the meta that seems to be about juxtaposing the bullshit of the satanic panic with the actual toxicity of people who get way too argumentative about game design theory, that's the intellectually more interesting but less gameable one (again, in my opinion), but then there's the other level that's more about making fun of how games actually tend to play out with real people, and the tropes and pseudo-intellectual or pseudo-original ideas that spring up, or how the players' personalities bleed into the game on every level, and the interaction of the game mechanics and the gamers playing them.

And there's a play report at the end; I don't know if it was actually a real game or if it was fictionalized, but I genuinely wish more RPGs had play reports like that written into them. Even though I'm not that into play reports in blogs (and neither are most people, if the view numbers on my play reports are at all generalizable to others' experiences...), I think within the context of a gamebook, demonstrating how to run the game or the feel it might evoke, when done well they are useful and entertaining. I suspect here it was designed more on the entertaining end than on the useful end, but nonetheless, a worthy inclusion into the book itself.

On the whole, if you're reading this blog, you're probably tapped into the OSR / blogosphere culture enough to appreciate what's in here, and open to poking fun at and criticizing the hobby and the culture while simultaneously reveling in it, and if that's the case, then you should give this a look.