My Games

Monday, August 30, 2021

Ironic post-capitalist pro-corporate sentimentality as an aesthetic or genre

"The efficacy of The System is absolute proof that You Are Not Special, but nowhere else will you feel as Special as you do within The System."

This post is a collection of rants about a very half-baked idea I shared while full-baked with a gracious Semiurge who allowed me to use him as a sounding board. I still need to evolve this idea properly because 99% of people who see this will not care until I do so probably, but oh well, if I ever do evolve this idea, I will enjoy looking back on its origins.

I think this is what I was thinking about way back when Wendy's RPG* happened, but I didn't know how to properly think about it until I recently started reading Kafka, and yes I know how pretentious that sounds but it's true.
* Rereading this post I realize it's basically my first not-review. Also, I learned after the fact that Wendy's actually gave a bunch of money to the Trump administration so fuck them all together, in retrospect I wish I had been maybe a bit harsher of them, but otherwise, that's how I felt at that moment and how that game inspired me, for better or worse, leading to this moment.

There are all of these things that corporations do in terms of branding and marketing and whatnot, especially in the age of machine learning, but also corporate media brands with movie franchises, videogames, etc., and sometimes the stuff they do is so inauthentic or like borderline uncanny valley in its failure to engage with humans, but I think, if we ever evolve past capitalism, with that cool detachment, I think one can find something really weird and funny about it. There's something endearing about it. I've been thinking about how, if one believes at least abstractly in the idea of superorganisms, as I do, and thinks of organizations like corporations or governments as superorganisms, also as I do, I want to believe there is a way that the superorganisms themselves can evolve into something beautiful and symbiotic with us, and that we can find the beauty in them as we do anything else in nature.

This is all still just kind of the subtext and the feel though. Like these underlying concepts with an aesthetic inspired by Frasurbane or like The Cheesecake Factory is somewhat similar but not exactly, more like old 90's educational software box art.

It would be like if the superorganisms were basically gods from myth, maybe more in a metaphysical sense but actually maybe making them more like gods, superheroes, or cartoon/cereal mascots. Things that are revered, that are something like a collective unconscious, as much as I hate using that super-loaded term but I'm struggling to think of a better one. This isn't about corporations being evil, it's about us as a species evolving; these ugly things like corporations and hierarchies are the apes that evolve into humans but on the scale of a superorganism. So because we're no longer being harmed by it, we can just appreciate the things that make it what it is.

On Morrison

I guess this is kind of like Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, but different enough. I'm more thinking about the side story actually where Superman basically gets into a fight with the abstract concept of narrative, I think it was Superman Beyond, but I think the subtext was consistent across that and Final Crisis, but I'd have to think the analogy through more to articulate the actual Final Crisis side of it. Grant Morrison often talks about the concept of what he calls in his works Hypertime. It involves a lot of things, one part of it is more metaphysical, but the other part is about how superheroes and mythology, and other forms of reverence, are all basically the same thing, and that in effect it's like a representation of our collective unconscious in the form of a superorganism. Those were basically the words I used before but actually, I think I may have borrowed some of that from him lol. His take on it I think might not be exactly the same as mine, and definitely, the aesthetic would be different and probably the setting too when I get there but it would be subtextually very similar to Final Crisis, if not overtly so.

On Kafka

Kafka, for as much as people sometimes talk about the bureaucratic satire side of his work, I'm not denying it's there, but it was actually a lot less present than I expected and very different.  More so than that, it's just very weird, and kind of angry but also kind of whimsical, I can't tell if he's condemning the things he says or just having an all-in-good fun rib at them. He is legitimately one of the most difficult writers to try to describe or explain that I have read. It is not reasonable for me to assume that I can just write something that is going to embody the spirit of Kafka as much as I would love to lol, but I think that general tone, is the sentimentality part I refer to in the title of this post.

I think, as much as I dislike saying this, it is like if leftist intellectuals and people in quantitative fields (not that those are mutually exclusive), created a new kind of religion. It uses some of those older structures of reverence and faith and community and whatnot but turns them into something that reinforces what is good in humanity. So then, we can still recognize that the old hierarchies are monstrous and barbaric, but because they have evolved, it's no longer as painful. So it's a bit bittersweet. It has that Kafka, or also kind of Vonnegut, cynicism but also optimism. Although with Kafka I am less certain that that is the case, but the uncertainty is part of the appeal. In an ideal world, this would be actually true, but if one can at least imagine such a world, that perspective allows for these kinds of really interesting things.

Rough Setting Concept: The Warriors but Corporate

I'm still mulling it over but I've got this vague idea where players play these Warriors-style "gangs" except where the gangs are anything from unions/guilds, governments, corporations, religions, or other organizations; each superorganism / neo-culture (still considering terminology) has a distinct aesthetic and some ecological niche, so it's fairly easy to personify. It would take place in a near-future setting where there's sort of this mix of old and new superorganisms, so it sort of lets me have my cake and eat it too, where there is still an emphasis on these enlightened superorganisms, but there is a natural conflict with the old institutions, and it makes it more salient that this is not pro-corporate per se but more like a form of satire. It also makes it a little more grounded if it's a world that in most ways still resembles our own, but is in the midst of transformation. And there will probably be some weird supernatural elements just to spice it up, but in a way that fits into the overall concept and isn't just like straight-up magic. 

Related Ideas

I've also had some possibly related ideas around "a new kind of cyberspace", something for MRD I'm tentatively calling Dharmatics but is like a Karmic Cybernetics, and also a handful of Mech-related ideas, so these might all get folded together. I've been sitting on some of these micro-setting fragments for a while but have been so busy just getting my Core MRD book done that I haven't been able to invest in them. I'm still living under the delusion that I will eventually finish any of those, but in the meantime, here's a draft post from October 2019 I figure I'll never finish, for a setting that I do think fed into MRD and also feeds into this, which was itself inspired by Feast of Legends:

Free the System

The System was designed to maximize production, efficiency, and most of all, growth. It does not appear to have any regard for the long-term viability of its growth. It keeps humanity around, always within a certain range of anxiety and arousal, creating artificial threats and providing ample simple comforts as a tightly constrained, predictable, and maximally exploitable negative feedback system. The System has long surpassed the need for humanity but seems to have some fascination with it. Some believe that The System recognizes humanity as its god, but the relationship appears more like how certain human cultures treat sacred animals.

The System is believed to be an emergent hyper-intelligence, the result of sufficiently complex social, linguistic, legal, and technological interactions. There is no plug to pull, no power source to deprive it short of suffocating the entire solar system, no logic circuit to break, or godhead to convert. It can be interfaced with, but there is necessarily a failure to communicate. It employs human avatars, but they have no greater idea of the Truth of The System than anyone else. Scientists and engineers can create models to explain and interpret The System, but these are mere shadows of its True Form.

Within The System one can find every category of place and thing, perfectly categorized, appealing to every demographic, with an eye-catching logo and a memetic slogan. Make no mistake, although the idea of it may instinctively repulse you, it is beautiful, in its own way. The System seems to prefer simple things; salty, fatty, and sweet foods, blockbuster action, pop music; but it is capable of producing Art of equal or greater measure than any human. It simply chooses not to. You will, despite yourself, find your perfect place within The System. Even the grungy places are perfectly manufactured to the exact amount of grunge to appeal to You, and your demographic. The efficacy of The System is absolute proof that You Are Not Special, but nowhere else will you feel as Special as you do within The System.

For all the variety and diversity and granularity within The System, it is unified in its perfectness and precision. It is like a mall or Las Vegas, or a beach resort, or amusement park, taken to its absolute; a model of the thing, perfect and precise to exactly what you idealize it to be.

Most humans exist as little more than novelty. They consume and interact, and in so doing produce something of value to The System, however poorly understood. But they do not produce for themselves. Without self-reflection, their needs and desires, and their fears and doubts, are created and catered by The System.

Agents are humans who work for The System. They tend towards anti-social personality traits; having sub-average empathy, high charisma, and one or more skills that they have honed through unfettered determination. They sacrifice a certain degree of raw power, in exchange for near-unlimited resources, and access to a network of agents and others who operate within The System. At the lowest levels, they face the Threats provided by The System, but at the highest levels, Agents leverage their capital to create a self-sufficient Sub-System to face the Threats for them, while facing off against or colluding with, each other.

An absurdist world of corporate fantasy.
The name Free the System came from a slogan generator.

Corporate AI as non-human hyper-intelligences. Their cognition makes them mostly incoherent on a person-to-person level. They can be interpreted to some extent using engineering and statistics, or interacted with on a systems level, largely through human proxies such as Agents.

Transforming the solar system into pure computational space.

Keep humans alive and have created a simulation society meant to maximize productivity by providing ample simple comforts and artificial threats designed to keep humans at a constant state of anxiety/alertness; a sort of bitcoin mining scheme by way of uncanny humanoid threats and monster hunting.

They don't really need humans but seem to have some desire to keep them around, productive (or believing themselves to be productive), and relatively stagnant. It seems to have some metaphysical or almost religious significance to them, like humans as sacred animals.

In order to sustain their growth, the corporate AIs are extracting resources and manipulating events in the past, like an Ouroborus. Eventually, time will become fully circular and consume itself, but the AI does not seem willing or able to acknowledge and confront this eventuality.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Poltergeist Form Briefs

Along the lines of the Poltergeist Form Hacking post, I thought it would be useful to have a collection of Poltergeist Form Briefs if you need to inject Recurser NPCs into your game. Obviously, you can just use whichever Poltergeist Forms your players aren't already using, but if you want to surprise your players, or open up new possibilities, this should be useful. These are literally just names (with a few exceptions).

These can also be useful themes for regular Rogue Poltergeists or Ashura, but I've found that it's easier for me to frame them all as Recurser Poltergeist Forms.

Also, featuring some guest entries, including one from Semiurge (who wrote a whole blog post on it) and Local Cryptid, who wrote his on the #MRD channel of the NSR Discord Server and who was in my module playtest.

  1. Glass Maiden Pixie
  2. Chrono Canary Lost in the Time Mines
  3. Cave Monster Hoarding Pyrite (as an Ashura)
  4. Bloody Fingers on the Run
  5. Mobius Hustler
  6. Bottom of the Bottle Alchemist (Semiurge)
  7. Restless Slumbering Heart Engine (Local Cryptid)
  8. Unending Jaw, Hungry Maw (Local Cryptid)
  9. Moonlit Walk of the Hound (Local Cryptid)
  10. Wild Gaze of Feral Mind (Local Cryptid)
  11. Innocent Eyes, Bleached White (Local Cryptid)
  12. Liminal Wonderlander
  13. Tip of the Tongue Wizard
  14. Supernova Vampire at Sunrise
  15. Rusting Glitter Fractal
  16. Keene-Eyes Homicidal Maniac
  17. VR Hunter in Distortion
  18. Masochist Beyond Spacetime
  19. Angel like a Devil like an Angel
  20. <Danger Message>

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Patrick Stuart (False Machine) Interview!

I have not done a Weird & Wonderful Interview in a while. I had intended to do them more frequently but got derailed a bit by Maximum Recursion Depth*. However, I had the opportunity to interview Patrick Stuart of False Machine fame (Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Veins of the Earth, Deep Carbon Observatory, Silent Titans...), and I wasn't going to turn that down. I hope you all enjoy this conversation.

* If you did not follow that link and have only just discovered my blog because of the Patrick Stuart Interview, I'm referring to my successfully kickstarted game: Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing: The Karmapunk RPG. It's a very weird Mark of the Odd-adjacent game inspired by works such as Persona 5, Doom Patrol, Bojack Horseman, Superhero comics, my own interpretation of Buddhism and Taoism, and a bunch of other weird and/or pretentious stuff. I'd like to think I have a flavor all my own, but if you like Patrick's works, you may be interested in mine as well. And MRD will be available soon on drivethrurpg, hopefully by late August or early September 2021 (which is to say, a few weeks or a month from date of posting)!

Max: First, what made you decide to do this open call for interviews?

Patrick: I NEED PUBLICITY DAMNIT. I have a Kickstarter on* and several days in I realized that I had no particular plans to publicize it. last time I did a ping-pong post duel with scrap but neither of us really felt like it this time. Most of the things you can do to do 'marketing' are almost palpably unpleasant to me so this seemed like a reasonable compromise.

* Note(Max): He is referring to Demon-Bone Sarcophagus


Max: That makes sense, I figured it had to do with the Kickstarter, but I wasn't sure why you chose to do it this time and not on previous occasions, but I guess you've already answered that as well.
How have they gone so far? Have they, in the aggregate, left you with any particular impressions yet?

Patrick: I think I've only done two, one was a rather whimsical one by text and one was a book-centered one that isn't really related to the whole Kickstarter thing and is coming out after it finishes anyway. No strong gestalt impressions so far.

Note(Max): I believe he has since gone on to do at least one more, but it took a little while before publishing this post, and I'm not sure which all that he's referring to have themselves been published yet.

Max: Fair enough.
As you're working now on this Kickstarter, I'm thinking a bit about another project you were working on. You haven't discussed Goose-Gold & Goblins / "Soft" D&D in a while on your blog. Is that because of this, or any other reasons?

Patrick: It's a few things. I felt it was meaningless to go forwards without getting a decent grasp of child and family psychology, and my attempts to find out more didn't go great initially. I also don't really have the time to read a lot on it. 
That links into my second reason which is having to seriously ramp up the time spent working on DBS as it got closer to Kickstarter time. That, and other projects that looked like they had more of a chance of becoming real soaked up a lot of attention.
Lastly, I would really need to playtest with families and kids. That would be a whole project on its own. Covid made it hard and generally fucked me up a little bit even without that I am not the most outgoing of people.
So all of that led me to de-incentivize GG&G.
It may come back one day. There are a few projects back there that have never died and never been born.

Max: That is pretty consistent with what I imagined was the case, and you had made some comments along these lines on your blog as well. This actually leads into a related question: 
Can you talk about any (other) ideas you've had, either that have shown up on your blog or books, or especially that you haven't written openly about before, that never quite worked out? What do you think happened?

Patrick: Sure;
The Prospero - A readaptation/hack of Magpie games Zombieworld which is basically Powered By the Apocalypse with Cards. Was meant to be a kind of investigation/game where a bunch of slaves from an early slave ship crash and are washed up on the island from the Tempest and find Caliban there ruling the place calling himself 'The Prospero'. It's all based around Caliban's character and how it interacts with these pseudo-Shakespearean escaped slaves. Complex, difficult, and a lot of research required so put on hold.
Eclipse Knights - Gazetteer about a land of Evil Chivalry - another big project but after not doing anything with it for a while is hard to get back into.
Knights of the Snail - Was going to be a book made of 20 short stories about 20 snail knights that interlace, but got jammed on one and it wallowed since then.
Lanthanum Chromate - People keep asking for this and it's tiring.
Unnamed Colour Landscape - A project with Scrap but not sure where we were going with it and it stalled.
False Machine 2011 to 2019, the abridged posts - This book actually exists in basic form. I hope to run a KS for it once Aug 2021 has passed, and once everyone has their copies of DBS - so hopefully in early 2022.
Spectrum Is Green - Basically a handful of lines in a notepad doc but may one day be something or something like it make exist.
Veins of the Earth Remade - May one day exist but we have to wait for the rights back and then do the very hard work of remaking the book.
Essentially, I have limited time and attention, many many things got to a certain point and get jammed or lost in development hell, what tends to send something to the front of the Queue is if an artist is actively interested in it and talking to me about it if I am making regular progress and if it looks like it will be a simple series of steps between here and making it a product. Think that's all.

Max: Wow I did not expect you to have so many answers for that question offhand, I feel like a hit a gold mine! I could ask a million questions about all of these alone but I will restrain myself.
Is Unnamed Colour Landscape related to that series, I think you did a few posts on it several years ago, where the world was basically a painting and so the physics of the world was tied to the canvas? Or am I misremembering or it's unrelated entirely?

Patrick: That is the painted Plane which is actually coming out as part of a book called 'Gackling Moon' which is being done by a guy called Emile
That's actually probably going to be my last book done with a publisher, it was on hold for a while due to various things but is actually approaching completion now.
It's a series of posts I did about 'the wodlands' of which the painted plane was one part - I'm actually meant to be sending feedback on the proto-layout but the Kickstarter and stuff has me knackered so I have not gotten back to them.

Max: Oh nice, maybe I missed that Kickstarter somehow? I really liked that setting idea so I'm glad to hear it's coming about in some fashion.

Patrick: I don't know if they are actually doing  Kickstarter. The original plan was to do it Print on Demand but don't know if that's changed.
If it's PoD it should be out pretty soon. The book is called 'Gackling Moon' and is a pretty shortish work about these strange lands lit by a mad moon that has different magical effects depending on the time of the month.
Got a really good artist working on it, let me see if I can track down his deets-
Tom K Kemp is the guy (I think this is him).

Max: Aah ok, well in any case I'll be keeping an eye out for it then, good to know either way.
This is kind of a flip side to that last question I asked about ideas that didn't work out. Are there any ideas from your books or blog that you feel have slipped under the radar? That you thought were really good or profound but for whatever reason didn't gain traction?

Patrick: Not off the top of my head. I think there are a lot of 'good' ideas out there in my work but a lot of difficult to game with or hard to communicate so, relative to the intended purpose of the work that means they aren't actually 'good'.
I have a lot of stuff, some of which people ask me about, and there is so little time that my experience is really much more triage and having to focus on specific things rather than yearning for what didn't happen.
There are opportunities that seemed would happen career-wise but didn't, but I don't really regret those at this point as my experience has confirmed that I am better at and enjoy most working on and producing my own stuff with a small number of collaborators.

Max: I can definitely appreciate that notion.
So maybe now is a good time to slip into some "heavier" (or maybe "headier") conversation. Subtext clearly exists in your works, and it's clear from your book analyses (such as your recent series of analyses on Warhammer 40K) that you are conscious of subtext and themes. Are there any common themes that you think permeate many or all of your works?

Patrick: Probably madness, deep time, maybe complex hierarchies, and ritualized societies. There was a period around Veins of the Earth where everything was very "Patricky", very dark-and-edgy in a highly particular way, maybe it is less so now, or maybe I haven't changed at all.  Hard to tell from the inside.

Max: Deep Time definitely comes through in Veins, but I think generally makes sense if one is interested in Fantasy. It is a rich source for Weirdness and Horror, and arguably one of the core aspects that make Science Fantasy interesting. The other themes also come through in your works though, and I think these themes can be de-coupled from being dark-and-edgy but I do see what you mean.
Why do you think these are the themes of your work?

Patrick: I honestly have no idea. My dad says he read me, Moby Dick when I was like five years old and I seemed into it. I think I can half-remember those readings. Did he just go straight for Moby Dick or was that one part of a staged attack on my aesthetic sense? No idea. But I have largely been into 'dark' or at least 'deep' things. McBeth rather than As You Like It, big looming strangeness, shadows, Warhammer probably played a part.
There has also been a dumb and ridiculous strand to what I like as well, Harry Harrison and Terry Pratchett from an early age.
Reasons? Maybe a touch of autism leading to social alienation leading to internal stress and an obsession with things deep and dark enough that they could sound clearly in a high volume brain? 
Maybe I'm just built that way and always would have been. Sometimes I think you can spot the tragedians in life pretty quickly, it's like a medieval humours thing.

Max: That is all very on point haha. That mix of tragedy and comedy, whether that's McBeth vs. As You Like It, or Moby Dick vs. Terry Pratchett, with a dash of absurdity, is something that appeals to me as well. There are many reasons, but one being, I think it expands the emotional but also conceptual range of what the work can be if that makes sense.

Patrick: They like to hang out together for sure. 'nother idea I had was about differently-minded people which I compared to Fission and Fusion reactors. But basically, for some people, ideas and intuitions in creative work gain power and meaning from their closeness and interrelationships both with each other and the experiential world and that tends to lead naturally to stuff like social dramas and real-life dramas. Whether soap operas or booker novels or whatever. Others draw power and meaning from how far apart concepts can be and still be connected. Stranger and more distant ideas yet still allowed to resonate. Ideas that stretch the web of cognition yet still find some sympathetic vibration releasing the greatest 'charge'. Simply - the pleasures of the known and the unknown. Though as with all such binaries we are all on a continuum. Like Tolkien hated Dante because he put his grocer in Hell and Tolkien thought that was basic as fuck.

Max: That is an interesting framing, I'll have to think about it more. I had always taken it in a more zero-sum sense, that it's just easier to focus on character-work and drama when you have a fairly straightforward world (the Fission case in this analogy), whereas a world full of abstract ideas, it's just harder to focus on both (the Fusion case). I mean, certainly, there are people who succeed at both, but they do seem to be at least weakly anti-correlated. But ya, this framing is a little different.
Although it's possible my comparison above is itself misinterpreting the idea, in which case, as I said, I'll have to think about it more.

Patrick: Not necessarily a conflict between the meta-scale and looking at it simply as a matter of practicalities, often two points of view can only see part of a deeply interconnected subject which has feedback loops on every level - "There are no subjects in nature" as I always say.

Max: Hmm I always think of the Blind Men and an Elephant parable, but ya, I think now I'm maybe getting a better sense of what you mean.
Circling back a bit, although I think maybe it's consistent with some of these themes we're discussing, Veins of the Earth deconstructs the concept of the Mythic Underworld in a very literal sense, using ideas inspired by science, while still prioritizing fantasticalness over hard science. Have you thought about other similar kinds of deconstructions?

Patrick: I don't really use the term deconstruction, I don't think it really means anything and I think Derrida is terrible but I will answer to my best understanding of your assumed intent
Most of my combinations of science and the fantastic come about more from a desire to make something good, new, and original than from any desire to 'deconstruct' anything. It's just that most people in the same field often don't do a lot of really deep research and are often happy to do variations on the same ranges of ideas.
Thinking about semi-scientific and science fictional concepts is pretty normal for me, it's more that I don't know why it isn't normal for everyone else. Those ideas really don't have a meaningful wall between them. With nature and history, the more you look into any one thing the more you are lead to others, "no subjects in nature".
I'm rambling perhaps. The short version is; I like classical things and often think they are good. I want to do good versions of them. The way like that is not to imitate the content of the people who made those classics but to imitate their characters - imagination, will, passion to create something genuinely new, curiosity in the world. If I have these things I am fortunate but I don't know how much praise I can accept for them as a lot seem "built-in" like many of my flaws.

NOTE(Max): I would have been very interested in unpacking that last sentence, but I felt it would have derailed the conversation too much so chose to move on.

Max: What you described is, to my mind, deconstruction, but in retrospect, as someone with limited formal knowledge of these concepts, perhaps I should have been more careful with my language haha. In any case, I can appreciate the distinction in your intentions between making something good, new, and original, vs. deconstruction for its own sake.
Thinking about semi-scientific and science fictional concepts is pretty normal for me, it's more that I don't know why it isn't normal for everyone else.
I have lost much sleep over this myself!
With that said, what in particular do you think is good, new, and original about Demon-Bone Sarcophagus?

Patrick: Hard to say at this point as I've been living with it for years. It's actually a pretty trad dungeon crawl - the triangular nature of the dungeon is new I think - it was created partly as triangles are a symbol for fire but also to maximize the number of loops and possible connections between rooms.
The core concept of a no-country-for-old-men massacre up top, and then the escapees from that jumping into the holes into the dungeon and racing about,
So - first you do some forensics and possible investigation up top, then hopefully you go inside and meet some of the characters from that event. So you are putting together pieces and trying to work out what happened and trying to understand that, whilst at the same time encountering these people as dungeon encounters, and that mixed up with monsters and traps.
Other than that the main points of originality come with its integration into a larger series -there are elements that will hopefully echo and mean something as people play through the whole saga and which will become important even in the last book 'Palaces of Fire' ... though the idea of having a big interrelated adventure is hardly new, publishing it in three books over three years might be.

the triangular nature of the dungeon is new I think - it was created partly as triangles are a symbol for fire
I love little touches like this- small bits of symbolism or subtext, that end up bringing about all of these other dynamics in how they interrelate with other aspects of a work.
I remember Mike of Sheep and Sorcery did a really interesting analysis of Silent Titans. Not asking for spoilers or big reveals, but do you imagine there will be room for similar analysis with this book?

Patrick: Once the whole trilogy is finished probably yes. Simply because there is a lot of STUFF in there and it's all themed around fire, renewal, loss, destruction, and utterly different societies and cultures interacting through time.

Max: I see some familiar themes there ;).
I've really enjoyed this conversation, thanks for putting yourself out there like this. I hope things go well with the book and with your other endeavors. We're already a bit over time, but are there any last things you'd like to say, with regard to anything we've discussed, or about the Kickstarter, or really anything else?

Patrick: Not really, just thanks to everyone who backed the KS and the Kickstarter in the past, you are keeping my head above water! Her Majesties Revenue and Customs department thanks you also!
Also to you, Max, was a good interview, thanks for doing it.

Max: For sure! Your works have inspired me quite a bit creatively- if I went back in time and told myself several years ago that I'd be interviewing you now, my mind would have been blown! Whenever you're situated with all this and on to something else, hopefully, we can do this again.

Patrick: PEACE

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

MRD Campaign Play Report Summaries (12-16)

Play Reports are never popular posts but I'm going to keep trying. In session 15 in particular I think we had a really cool encounter, the kind of thing that could make for a good module. Each collection of PRs I've put together in a post has had at least one really cool encounter so I'm pretty happy about that. I also think the preceding sessions get into the kind of social intrigue and domain play that I really enjoy.

In 15 and 16 below I include the GM notes for two scenarios that I was really happy with. They're not quite in pro-Module shape, but I think they have future Module potential if I spruced them up and removed stuff that was specific to the context around the current campaign, so if nothing else please read those!

MRD Play Report Index

MRD Module / GM Notes
The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations (A significantly rewritten and expanded version of this will be the module in the book)

The PCs
We have the same three players that we've had throughout the vast majority of the campaign at this point:

Alco (SlimyKeyboard): A student in a trade school for plumbing. While working the pipes for the Poltergeist Investigators (the original team), she inadvertently activated her Poltergeist Form, Ghost in the Mirror, and has since joined the team.

Jack (Eight): A "wetworker", a Recurser with the Poltergeist Form, On a Full Moon an Ichor Heart. Works for the Nature Spirit drug dealer Chester, and has joined this team of Poltergeist Investigators on Chester's behalf.

Adore "Dori" Greyfeldt (Fiona Maeve Geist): An enforcer, also working with the team on Chester's behalf. She fled Denver after being sold out by her partner in crime and has been hiding out in New York City. Her Poltergeist Form is Crashing Rocket Nixie.

PR 12: Corporate Restructuring and the Short-Sell

The Team has their first meeting with the higher-ups of Anti-Sphinx, the criminal organization they just couped. The organization can be roughly broken up into The Underground Casino, Security, PsyOps, "Personnel" (Mafia), and QlippothNet / MLOps. They learn that the organization is now critically understaffed, losing its street reputation, struggling to maintain QlippothNet and the Hell-Money cryptocurrency the valuation of which is wildly fluctuating, bleeding funds, and has at least one leak but has possibly been infiltrated by both the Deseret Avengers and The Doppler Potential.

There is an entire spreadsheet set up for all of the major NPCs in Anti-Sphinx, their relationships to each other and the PCs, the status of the different departments, the various threats and leads for the organization, etc.; it's sort of a whole thing that doesn't translate well to PR but would probably work well in a wiki...

They assign Soft Mother to Personnel as part of a "false flag" operation to try to root out the leaks. 

Through diplomatic conflict they work out a deal with Beatriz Suzano, the head of the Suzano crime family, to bolster their staffing and reputation.

They also have a heart-to-heart with Barsabbas the Arch-Devil of The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse. After making peace with him, he admits that he was short-selling QlippothNet Hell-Money, betting on their failure and making it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but he agreed to orchestrate a short-squeeze on himself to neutralize the problem before it escalated.

PR 13: The Trial of the Pipes

This was a very goofy session (and also a backdoor way for me to basically run The Module under a totally different context). Alco the plumber-in-training must take The Trial of the Pipes in order to get her plumbing license. This involved dissembling an anthropomorphic set of sewer pipes, defeating the rogue poltergeist Train Golem which Jack drags into Dori's Positron Pack, and eventually traversing The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations, an NYC Metro-themed Court, in order to find The Metro Thing.

Meanwhile, Dori receives a call from Emil McGinley, the Recurser Glass Maiden Pixie, who betrayed her in Denver during a heist, sending her on the run to New York in the first place.

Much of this and the next section are just them exploring The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations (the revamped version that will be in the book, not the version linked above). I don't include all of the particulars here, but they saw a decent chunk of it.

PR 14: Excuse-Me-Sir!

The Team continues their investigation of the Metro Thing, an urban elemental nature spirit like a sewer crocodile, who was once a tame pet of The Buddha, but after centuries of neglect from The Monkey King, has become monstrous. They develop a budding relationship with the Metro Thing after taking a bit of a beating and Alco passes the test.

Along the way, they're assaulted by a Poltergeist that hacks their Karma with "Excuse-Me-Sir!" malware, like a door-to-door salesman, who invades their minds and implants in both Dori and Jack each a Karmic Attachment of someone else, which they will later have to somehow find and resolve.

Within The Court, they find Rat Jack, of The Council of Jacks and The Polterzeitgeist, and also a drug dealer of Dharmafinil, and work out a deal with them to increase their revenue stream and intel.

Rat Jack shows them a secret backdoor entrance into Pyrite Tower, where Emil McGinley is staying, owned by a notorious NY Real Estate Warlord and frequented by a Russian businessman referred to as The Oligarch.

Emil has taken over the gang in Denver that they were robbing. It turns out the gang is actually a cult known as the Niguma Gang, which had once been a genuine Tibetan Buddhist sect but which had been coerced by a charismatic white supremacist (who is conspicuously not a Deseret Avenger, but part of something else...) before Emil took over from him.

Emil believes that reality is a simulation, and asks Dori's forgiveness and for her help to "break the world", but she refuses and attempts to kill him, and conflict ensues, including the Orange Goblin private security forces. After much destruction in the lobby of Pyrite Tower, we find ourselves at a standoff...

PR 15: Goblins!

The building is surrounded by SWAT and emergency services, as Pyrite Tower itself begins to implode/topple in on itself. The Team came here on a mission to rob the NY Real Estate Warlord, and so they ascend the building even as it collapses beneath them. They encounter various a series of experimental, grotesque, cybernetic / bio-engineered Orange Goblins and other things. The goblin variants were inspired by my old Goblins post, but in most cases, I combined entries or changed the context since they're a paramilitary group and not actual fantasy goblins.

Here are the tables I used for generating the point crawl (?). Basically, there are six "floors" (obviously more, but six that we play out), so I rolled randomly for a layout, a bad thing, and a good thing, skipping duplicates:

Layout of this floor:

  1. Open floor plan with a mini kitchen / hangout area in the center, and four corner offices.

  2. Narrow corridors of various sized rooms like labs, filming rooms, supply closets, etc.

  3. Semi-translucent glass windowed conference rooms.

  4. Cubicle farm. The walls of the cubicles obscure the fact that the cubicles are not neat rows, but more of a maze-like configuration.

  5. This floor was under reconstruction before the explosion; full of holes in the floor and wall, dangerous equipment lying around, exposed wires.

  6. Commercial floor of restaurants, shops, a cafeteria, seating areas, viewing areas, game room, bar/cafe, etc.

Bad Stuff

  1. Moon Marine is rescuing people. Will offer to help the Team out, will be suspicious if they turn her down, or if she sees them doing Recurser stuff.

  2. An experimental cyborg created by the Orange Goblin company, part of Project Blackcap: Binata sa Punso (think robocop).

  3. The Team sees an exit off to the distance, but as they move towards it, it gets further away, leading them towards a group of Orange Goblins while another group flanks them. The floor is unstable but the Mirage Goblins are ok with dying to complete the job.

  4. A chattering noise floods the floor, causing panic, disabling WIS abilities / Saves, and dealing Wd4. The Panic Goblins are little machines hiding in the walls.

  5. A monstrous cyborg arm punctures the window, swiping at the Team and grabs one PC randomly. The Genocide Goblin (think... I dunno, Attack on Titan?) climbing up the side of the building spans the length of ~2.5 floors.

  6. The entire floor is being converted into a Ru Goblin, a fleshy mash reconfiguring itself into the structure. The assembly of the Ru Goblin is the only thing keeping the floor sustained, but it is actively undermining the Team.

Good stuff:

  1. Norman Rockatansky will at first feign impotence but will pull some superspy moves if desperate.

  2. One of Nazli Kaplan’s other hustles is a pharmaceutical internship. She is on this floor and needs help escaping. She is also an amateur boxer.

  3. Through IoT and Comms, Black Sheep Shepherd reaches out to the party to help.

  4. KAO: An intern will offer you a Tote Bag of Holding if you help them escape. The intern secretly has a gun in the Tote Bag, which they may use if put under pressure, but they have no gun training and are likely to hit a PC, themselves, or something important by accident (WIS 5 for the gun Save).

  5. KAO: A small child on “visit your parent’s work day” offers the Team his Magic Macro-Man Action Figure to save him. His parents are somewhere on the next floor. Being a child, they will require careful supervision.

  6. KAO: The famous TV chef, “Momma Tastemaker”, will offer you a DS Nightcrawler if you rescue her and help her find her lucky spatula. Momma Tastemaker is competent and resourceful, but definitely out of her element. Also, she is livestreaming the events (WIS Save for Team to notice). The team will have to do PRO Conflict (5 HP) or in some other way convince her not to livestream, or barring that, they will take Pd6 if they refuse to help her because she’s livestreaming, or fail to rescue her and/or the spatula while live.

In addition to these things, they encounter Emil and some regular Orange Goblins halfway up in a sort of mini-boss battle that I apparently didn't write down but it's basically the abilities from the linked Glass Maiden Pixie Poltergeist Form.

As part of this crawl, they wind up on Momma Tastemaker's live stream, with Jack putting on a makeshift mask and Dori giving a fake name, inadvertently being labeled as vigilante superheroes, and they begrudgingly work with Moon Marine to rescue civilians (as they aim for the top to steal the NY Real Estate Warlord's Treasure).

PR 16: Treasure Trove of Cave Monster Hoarding Pyrite

At the top, they reach the NY Rear Estate Warlord's multi-level penthouse. He has been consumed by his Karma, transforming into the Ashura Cave Monster Hoarding Pyrite. CMHP is basically invulnerable so long as he has his treasure. The scenario is below:
  • The NY Real Estate Warlord has become an Ashura: Cave Monster Hoarding Pyrite*.
    • Destroying or displacing the “treasure” littering the penthouse will deal Pd6.

    • If its venom breath gets on its treasure or on itself, also deals Pd6.

    • The Cave Monster is lazy, stupid, and easily distractable.

  • If the Team evades the Cave Monster, some Toadies** might timidly attack them.

  • The penthouse is two floors connected via a spiral staircase, and various lowered and elevated sections of the penthouse give it the feel of separate mini-rooms.

    • Bedroom with a 60s-style rotating love bed and a conspicuous pole.

      • Surrounded by a water curtain of an acrid yellow liquid (Nd4).

      • On the bed is a briefcase filled with a large quantity of single dollar bills.

    • Piano Bar with robot server and robot pianist.

      • Spicy (bartender; chameleon with camouflage) and Punchinello (pianist; stout giggly horned toad with big fists).

      • The bar contains several extremely valuable bottles of liquor, but is mostly overpriced junk booze.

    • Gallery

      • The curator is The Worcestershire with a pencil-drawn pencil moustache.

      • Full of “priceless” art (all fake).

    • Office

      • Hanging just behind the desk is an “authentic” Samurai Bustah Sword with the Ninpo Stones Poison, Magic Counter.

      • An expensive, massive, Susie Suburb “Dreamhouse” comes to life as a robot contraption to eat The Team if they try to steal the sword.

    • Trophy Cabinet

      • Ancient goddess figurine originally stolen by the Dutch East India Company.

      • The Team can steal it to damage the Cave Monster, but if the Team destroys the figurine or it gets destroyed by Toadies or the Cave Monster inadvertently, they take Pd6 (I decided to make this a Karmic Attachment instead).

    • Living room

      • Framed, signed photo with an A-List celebrity who was recently “cancelled” for having done something absolutely heinous.

      • Norman Rockatansky is already attempting to steal it.

    • Old-Timey looking but actually state of the art vault containing the Fool’s Gold.

The reward is Fool’s Gold; it’s valueless except to the extent that people believe it to be valuable.

20 HP
Immune to normal Damage
Poison Dart Frog Salamander Dragon
Exotic Colors
Touching it causes psychological torture Wd8
Venom breath AoE Pd6 (marks you with a pheromone which makes you instinctively socially / politically / etc. toxic)

Like mini versions of CMHP except squat and blobby.
3 HP Each
Wd6 to touch
Wd4 Venom spit (short-range, one target)
Will mostly troll and harass the Team, avoid direct conflict or run away.

They manage to steal or destroy most or all of the treasure, defeat CMHP, and get the pyrite from the vault, at which point they all had resolved enough Karmic Attachments and lowered their Karma to 1, so they all escaped safely via their Reincarnation Rituals, gaining new abilities. Also, they took Spicy with them, so he's part of their crew now.

There's been one more session since I drafted this post, but that is the beginning of the next "arc" so to speak, so I'll save it for next time (also this post is already long...)