My Games

Friday, January 28, 2022

Mecha Gear with Tarsos Theorem Crafting

My Into the Odd Mecha Hack proof of concept Get into the Machine, Shinji! will be the basis for the integration between Pilots and Mecha in Maximum Recursion Depth 2, replacing the generalized Into the Odd mechanics with MRD mechanics and some other changes given playtesting and additional thought.

However, I knew that I wanted one more unique mechanical or procedural element to Mecha in MRD2, something that would provide the satisfaction of "kitting out" a Mecha's Gear, but wouldn't pigeonhole the game into a tactical Mecha combat system.

MRD2 will contain many of the Buddhist / Chinese syncretism themes from MRD1 but will also contain themes from Jewish Philosophy, and so I'm tentatively thinking of referring to the Mecha in MRD2 as Golems. One key concept of Golems in Jewish Mythology is that they're often "programmed" with a script, and empowered by words and the nature of words, such as having the Hebrew word Emet (Truth) inscribed onto them, but can be destroyed by changing it to Met (Death). I was also inspired by the Golem game Emet by Evan Saft in Doikayt: The Jewish TTRPG Anthology.

This led me to thinking back on Tarsos Theorem's Crafting with Concepts, which you should go read before continuing with the rest of this blog post. I loved that idea, and it's been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time that I wanted to do something with it, but I was never quite sure what, but now I realize it would be perfect for a Mecha Gear system.

It works especially well with MRD2 because the crafting components are words, and so the mechanics for the Gear can just as easily be an abstraction for physical components as literal Golem word magic, but you could easily just do the abstraction part and it could work as a rules-light, flexible, but still interesting Mecha Gear system for a generalized Mecha setting.

Mecha Core

Mecha have a Core, or chassis, or whatever you want to call it, defined by a two word construction. There aren't too many mechanical implications, but these words say something about the Mecha. So for instance:

(SOUL + CLONE) = Evangelion
(FLAME + REBIRTH) = Phoenix Mecha

I prefer this more symbolic approach, but you could also be more literal:

(BIOLOGICAL + ARMOR) = Evangelion
(METAL + ENERGY) = Gundam
(FIRE + BIRD) = Phoenix Mecha

If the core were to be broken, this reflects both some kind of literal damage or transformation, but also something more symbolic as to the nature or purpose of the Mecha.

Mecha Gear

Gear work similarly. There isn't too much in the way of strict mechanics, it's more FKR-ish in this regard. Mecha start with three pieces of Gear, each composed of two words. Loot for Mecha will consist of more words, which can either be modded onto pre-existing Gear, or two or more words can be combined to create new Gear. There isn't a strict limit on number of Gear a Mecha can have, or specific Gear slots, just whatever is sensible as ruled by the GM.

(FLASH + ZOOM) = Head Gear: Photo-Sensor Array
(FLASH + ZOOM) = Weapon Gear: Long-Range Stun Gun
(FLASH + ZOOM) = Leg Gear: Supersonic After-Image Jet Boots

And after getting into a metaphorical race with an extra-dimensional kaiju, reminiscent of that trippy scene at the end of 2001 Space Odyssey or some Jack Kirby psychedelia, the PC acquires the word DIMENSION:

((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Head Gear: Extradimensional Photo-Sensor Array
((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Weapon Gear: Tachyonic Stun Gun
((FLASH + ZOOM) + DIMENSION) = Leg Gear: Blink Boots (like Nightcrawler from X-Men)

You should keep track of the word combinations with parentheses like this, because...

Gear Targeting

I want to have my cake and eat it to, where we can have some unique conflict mechanics for Mecha around all of their Gear, but that's still rules-light, flexible, and interesting. I had conceived of a Gear Targeting system before I even thought to use this crafting system, but it was too crunchy and too limiting.

Here, the Targeting could be an actual fight, or it could be hacking, or it could be some more symbolic gesture (non-violent conflict is something I've tried to explore with MRD and that extends to the Mecha).

It might involve just making a Save to either Target enemy Gear or defend against Gear Targeting, but the consequence will be the (temporary) dissolution of the words. So in the case of the three-piece Gear above, DIMENSION would be dropped and the Gear would return to its original form.

While normally one-word Gear are not a thing, if a two-word Gear is Targeted successfully, one of the words could be dissolved for the duration of the encounter, such as:

((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Head Gear: Telescopic Viewport
((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Weapon Gear: Scoped "BB-Gun"
((FLASH + ZOOM) - FLASH) = Leg Gear: Jet Boots

Word Bank?

My inclination would be to create a word bank similar to how Saker Tarsos suggests, and maybe to include a generator as well. The word bank can inform the setting, and the generator would be useful for quickly generating enemy Mecha or loot.

That said, it might be better at least for starting Mecha, for Players to use the word bank more as a frame of reference, but come up with their own words or choose their own words from the bank, in order to determine the Core and the starting Gear.

I may prototype some word banks and see if I can't make a decent Weird & Wonderful Table of Mecha generated randomly from this system.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

DIY & Dragons: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

Anne Hunter's DIY & Dragons was one of my entry points into the blogosphere, and she has consistently been a compelling voice and community driver.

Max: So one thing I really appreciate about you, is that you more so than practically anyone else in the blogosphere, have put an emphasis on promoting the community- whether that's your recent work with Bones of Contention, promoting Nick Whelan's Blogs on Tape endeavor, or your Best of the Blogosphere feature. What inspired you to be such a community driver?

Anne: That's really kind of you to say, thank you! Um, so I think there are a couple answers to that. One is that I'm kind of fascinated by trends and patterns, and I want to point them out when I see them. So I think in rpg blogging, you sometimes get these kind of zeitgeist-y moments, where a lot of people are talking about the same thing. And sometimes it's because one influential person wrote a post and lot of others are responding. Sometimes it's something that originates in "the discourse" on social media, whether that's Google Plus or Twitter or now Discord, and lots of people want to respond to it on their blogs. Sometimes it's a more organic version of the first one, where someone will post, a few people will see it and respond, and then new people will see those responses and write their own, like a chain. And then occasionally you'll get something planned, where a few people coordinate to do something together, and the rest of us don't see any of the planning, we just see the results. So I like noticing when those micro-trends happen, and several of my posts about the community are posts about things like that. I have so many more posts like that that I've started and then not followed up on in enough time and the moment is lost.

And the other big reason is that I'm very aware that the rpg is very social, and the way that people notice things, usually, is that someone else they know is talking them up. I mean maybe some people are combing DriveThru and now Itch every few days looking to see what's new. And some publishers can afford to do a bit of advertising for their products. Plus things like ZineQuest act as sort of free advertising, because if you go looking for one thing, you automatically get exposed to a bunch of others. (Although I should note that I first learned about ZineQuest from Pandatheist over on Bone Box Chant!) So when I see something that I think is cool or interesting, but isn't really being talked about, I feel like I want to promote it. I want to maybe help those people get a few more eyeballs than they have so far, and hope that more people who'll be interested will find it that way.

Max: Those are really great motivations. The latter point, about wanting to spread the word about all the cool stuff out there, is a big motivator for me as well with regard to these interviews. And the former point appeals to me as well- seeing the ebb and flow of a living culture.

You also have some awesome worldbuilding ideas of your own. I'm thinking about posts such as the one where you recontextualize traditional fantasy via an evocative relationship between Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun, or integrating Science Fiction and Science Fantasy species into otherwise traditional fantasy. There was another post from a long while back, I hope I'm remembering correctly, where you discuss the idea of Setups, and I think you used Star Trek Deep Space Nine as an example of a really good Setup to use as the basis of a campaign.

Is there a specific approach you have to these kinds of worldbuilding posts? How do you think about worldbuilding within the context of games? Or is this a fair characterization of what you do in the first place?

Anne: I think things like these interviews are great for creating a sense of community within an otherwise kind of diffuse online scene. I also try to be pretty careful about who I'm boosting (although I don't claim to think my own judgment is perfect.) There have been times when a few people with big, and frankly toxic personalities have really dominated the OSR space, just by virtue of seemingly everybody talking about them. So when possible, trying to build up stronger connections to people who seem interesting, but who aren't just dominating the space is a really nice goal in its own right. Make the scene better by giving attention to people who are both making cool things, but also who aren't being jerks, or worse, to the people around them. Make the scene better by cutting your own ties to people who are acting in a way that degrades everyone else's quality of life.

Max: I think that level of conscientiousness about not just promoting people, but also who you're promoting, is also really valuable. I'm glad that the scene has, on the whole, seemingly gotten better at it, but I think it's a shame the things that had to happen for the community on the whole to live up to that level of accountability.

Anne: I appreciate your interest in my worldbuilding posts, because probably I don't write enough of them. I'm sure a lot of us have this problem, where we've got a lot of ideas, and it can be a challenge to put enough of them in one place to have a coherent post. I find it easy to do with links to other people's things. I'll have some embarrassingly huge number of drafts going that start out just as lists of links that are similar or connected in some way, and ideally I'll go back and actually write the post around those. I try to do the same thing with my worldbuilding, but I'm less successful at it.

Max: I know exactly what you mean, like you can have a brilliant idea, but like 20% of it is the idea, and then 80% is putting it altogether coherently and in a way that's actually interesting to someone who can't see the mental image in your brain

As much as I appreciate all your community work, I wanted to discuss your worldbuilding as well for this exact reason, I hope I can convince you to polish up some of those drafts!

Anne: In practical terms, I would say that my two biggest role models for world building are Jack Shear from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque and Trey Causey from From the Sorcerer's Skull. Because they do so much of it. Jack has only a handful of campaign settings that he's developed (so far!) but he's put a lot into them. You know, he's got his not-Ravenloft in Krevborna, and his not-Eberron in Umberwell, but he's written locations, factions, NPCs, and he posts them pretty consistently. Trey takes a much broader approach. He's probably proposed dozens of campaign settings over the years. And what he'll do is write a series of posts playing with the idea, and then move on to something else. Except sometimes he'll also come back to older ideas from time to time and drop more in there.

Max: Here I am saying I want to hear more about you, and you still can't help but promote others ;)! No offense to them of course, they are also deserving of recognition.

Anne: I really can't help it! I think it's because I want to give context, but in a social scene like this, that context is always going to be other people.

Max: I was messing around a bit, but that's a very good point.

Anne: My point is that they are two people who do a lot of worldbuilding, who have kept at it, and who I kind of look to for inspiration. Jack's way of doing things is more project oriented I think. Trey's model looks more like the way I do things, and it's like, seeing someone do things that way feels like it gives me permission to do the same, you know?

I would say that probably a lot of what we all are doing when we're worldbuilding is really like reskinning. We're trying to find a new surface to lay on top of our preferred style of playing the game, either to keep it interesting, or just to make it more personal. And maybe by starting with a new appearance, you find that it takes you in a new direction that you might not have expected before. But most of us aren't trying to invent something really new. A few people are. But most of us are not out there inventing new perspectives on imagining fictional space or the passage of time or totally new non-dice based mechanics for deciding how things go. Most of us are putting a new coat of paint and dropping in our favorite pop cultural references into a game of exploration and fighting and "tell me what you do next" and rolling some kind of dice to decide.

I'm definitely drawn to science fiction and science fantasy more than pure fantasy, and I think that shows up in the kinds of worldbuilding posts that I write.

The post I wrote about set-ups is kind of interesting, because in a way it's not really worldbuilding in terms of content, it actually is me thinking about the underlying... mechanics is probably the wrong word here, but like, structure that lets you play the game. I don't even know how I learned it, but even as a kid I somehow knew that awful "you all meet at a bar, suddenly an old man in the corner starts telling a story" setup. Which is like, maybe the worst way I can think of to try to start a game, because it gives you nothing to work with. You'd be better off just being told "this is the adventure, go do it".

Max: *groan*

Anne: The one variation on that I'd like to try sometime would be like "you're in a bar and the band is singing about an adventure site, the site is within walking distance of the bar, you're all drunk, go adventure!" I would use the White Stripes song "Broken Bricks," which is about poking around an abandoned construction site after hours.

Max: See again! That's a clever way of taking this tired trope, and finding a way to make it interesting.

Anne: But really, how many set-ups are there in D&D land that we ever really think of? MAR Barker is kind of famous for having the players start off as recently arrived visitors from another country who know nothing of the local ways, to try to match up what the characters are doing and what the players are doing. And then there's the kind of "quest-giver" trope where you all are sort of undefined "heroes" who get approached to go solve someone else's problem for them. I mean, we can think of others, the Electric Bastionland thing where you're deeply in debt to some powerful faction that wants to squeeze the money out of you comes to mind immediately just for being novel.

But all of those tropes are silent about what kinds of factions might exist in the world and how they might relate to each other. I think when I wrote that thing about Deep Space Nine, Jack had just written about using Dune as a model for how to set up some starting factions in your game. And I had probably been watching Star Trek on Netflix recently. And so that inspired me to think about another example of a general way of arranging some starting factions into a situation where virtually any choices the players make will have consequences that favor one group over another and lead to larger domain-level changes in the environment.

Max: I actually am ashamed to admit, I had intended to use that post as the basis for a table of my own Setups, but I struggled to think of other good examples to use or how to effectively abstract them ๐Ÿ˜ฆ. But principally I loved that idea.

Anne: I'm not sure I could come up with another one off the top of my head if you asked me to right now. It's probably a bit of an under-explored space. Maybe someone who studies literature would be aware of more?

Well, okay, saying that has made me lie about not being able to think of another one, because Romeo and Juliet comes to mind immediately as an example of a set-up where two factions are engaged in more or less open warfare that's starting to really heat up, and now here's this opportunity to try to either mend the conflict or make it much, much worse.

Max: Ooh that's a good one!

Anne: Still better than "you, a crew of 15th level demigods, are guarding a caravan like a crowd of 1 hit point stooges".

Max: Well that's a low bar lol, but Romeo & Juliet is a genuinely good idea.

Anne: Or, "the wizard, who is like unto a deity in his ability to bend reality as he sees fit, has asked you to go perform a menial task that is still difficult enough you wonder why he didn't do it himself".

What else would you like to talk about?

Max: I'm glad you asked, there actually was one more topic I wanted to make sure we saved time for. Talk to me about Bon Mots!

Anne: Okay, real talk, I probably post those because I don't have a Twitter account, and so witticisms that probably would (or should!) go there end up on my blog instead.

Max: I just noticed I'm the only person who commented on the first Bon Mots post lol.

The world would be a better place if more people did Bon Mots, you are doing it right, they are doing it wrong.

Anne: I think my first Bon Mots post ever was actually right after Google Plus went down, and I wanted to preserve a few things people had said that I really liked. And then I had a couple that were just silly juxtapositions I couldn't get out of my head, like the characters of Porchy and Pouchy on The Crown and Orphan Black. But I think the one's you're talking about the most recent two, right? Where I wrote little short stories about comic book characters.

Max: Ooh I didn't realize Bon Mots goes further back, I thought they were all the comic book character short stories. Can you briefly explain the concept of Bon Mots for readers who don't know what we're talking about?

Anne: I can try! 

So, without looking at a dictionary, I would define a bon mot as something kind of witty and intelligent that someone says in conversation. Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is basically just an entire series of people talking in these witty one liners. I would say what I'm writing is more silly than smart, so I'm flattering myself a bit when I call them that.

Max: Not at all! At least the two comic book ones are pure genius!

Anne: Ah, thank you. Right, so the most recent ones are kind of ridiculous scenarios involving comic book characters. I don't think they even rise to the level of being called short stories. They're probably more like vignettes.

How I've written those has been that I've been chatting with some people on Discord, and someone will say something that inspires me to want to tell a little story. I actually can't remember how the one with Darkseid and Cinderblock came about, except that the idea of a mistaken identity misadventure came to me, and that seemed like the correct way for it to play out.

The one about Punisher avenging Ice Man was because of talking to some of the people I write Bones of Contention with about finding yourself, as a player, in a situation where you're sworn to get revenge on whoever mysteriously killed this poor goblin you found, and then meeting the ogre or whatever who did it, and the ogre immediately offers you a quest to go kill more goblins, and then doing that player character thing we all do, where you try to rationalize behavior that would be totally sociopathic in anything resembling real life, where you really just want to turn every situation to your advantage without caring about which fictional people get fictionally hurt.

Humphrey Bogart's character in "The Maltese Falcon" is a great example of player character behavior actually, because he just lies to everyone and tells them whatever they want to hear, all the while trying to pursue his own agenda that doesn't really line up with any of theirs.

So the Punisher story was my attempt to reframe the scenario into a slightly more realistic setting to illustrate my position, which was that even if the ogre was too strong for you to fight, your previous oath of vengeance should probably preclude you from actively going out and killing more goblins like the one you first felt sorry for. (The counter arguments to that are several, not least, who cares if you don't keep your fictional word to get fake revenge on the not actual murder of a non-existent being!)

I don't get the inspiration to write things like that super often, but it's fun, and you'll probably see more of them in the future.

Max: I hope so! 

Ok, well I don't think we can top Bon Mots, but even if not, are there any final things you'd like to say or discuss before we wrap up?

I know I started off talking about your community contributions, but I'm glad we got to talk about your own inspirations and idea as well, and I hope we see more of them in the future.

Especially Bon Mots.

Anne: I think one of my goals for the year is to try to go back and either finish up some things that I've started, or at least add a bit more to them. If you were to go through the title list of my posts, you might notice that there are several part ones that never actually get a published follow up. I really need to finish my posts about Barbarian Prince. And I have a couple more ideas for science fantasy factions. And I'm excited about my adventure writing project, although somehow I've temporarily stalled on writing my post-mortem of my first attempt to create the thing.

The last couple years have been pretty rough for almost everyone I think, because of the ongoing pandemic that somehow keeps producing new bigger waves that dwarf the old ones, instead of new smaller waves that show us things are moving in the right direction, and they've been tough for me too.

In 2020, I found it very hard to read anything longer than a paragraph or two because of how overwhelmed by it all I felt. And then in 2021 I got myself able to read again, but it became very difficult for me to write anything.

I can't say that I think I've totally gotten over that hangup, but I do think I'm finding it easier to get things down in text again, and I want to, I'm looking forward to, increasing my blogging output over last year's rather dismal total.

Max: Ya... As you know, I'm actually still recovering from covid myself (fortunately a very mild case)*. I'm sorry that this ongoing moment has affected your ability to focus on reading and writing, but for whatever it's worth, I do really hope you're able to follow through on this goal.
* That was the case as of when the interview occurred, but I believe I am now operating at 100% again :)!

That's a rather somber note to end on, we should have ended with Bon Mots!

In all seriousness though, all the best, and thank you for this interview!

Anne: I appreciate your support, and I have to say, I'm glad that your case was mild and you're on the mend.

This is a slightly more somber conclusion that if we'd just stopped after talking about comic book hijinks, but I do feel somewhat hopeful, for right now at least, that we can do our best to make this year better than the last two. 2020 set a low bar. I have a glimmer of hope that 2022 won't limbo under it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Jewish American Identity and Jewish Philosophy in Maximum Recursion Depth 2

NOTE: I had been thinking about these things long before what happened recently at the Texas Synagogue, and had drafted this post beforehand as well. However, I thought I should at least acknowledge the events. As of this post, it is not entirely clear why this all happened, so I don't want to make any strong claims. If nothing else, it demonstrates how being Jewish American is not entirely the same as being white even when white-passing, and it also maybe demonstrates the effects of perpetuating hate, and why Jews especially should be mindful in how they engage with the world.

As with MRD1, there were a lot of big and abstract ideas swishing around in my head for a long time, without proper direction or framing, that eventually coalesced into something that felt meaningful, and in a covid-induced fugue state I now believe I've figured out what MRD2 will be.

This post is not the "formal announcement" of MRD2, I'm putting the cart before the horse, but in brief, it's going to be the Mecha game (shocking), and it'll be related to MRD1 both textually and subtextually, but also something that can exist separately.

This post is also not a bibliography of Jewish philosophy like I did with Buddhism in a Chinese historical context preceding MRD1; it touches on some specific Jewish concepts, but it's of a more personal nature.

Ezra Rose, an interesting Jewish queer tabletop RPG writer and artist I recently discovered

Personal Anecdote on Judaism and Jewish American Identity

My family on both sides are Ashkenazi Jews, in all cases having arrived in America in the very early 20th century; my great grandparents' or great great grandparents' generation. I don't know about the particulars of their religious background during that time, but at least when I was growing up, most of my family identified as Reformed Jews, a kind of Judaism that is less strict about a lot of the rules and traditions- for instance, we did not keep Kosher, we did not keep Passover although we did celebrate it, we did in general celebrate the major Jewish holidays but rarely did Shabbat, I was compelled to go to Hebrew school, and so on.

First, I want to remind that this is a personal anecdote, not a statement about all Reformed Jews, not to be used as ammo by bad faith anti-Semitic actors, and not even necessarily a statement about my specific Jewish community as a monolith, so much as my perception and experience within it, and how it has influenced me.

Being white-passing has its advantages, and despite all sorts of idiosyncrasies that continue to propagate in my family, there has been a through-line of people who were capable of thriving in society. I grew up upper middle class and everything that that entails. Most of my life I have lived in places with a sufficiently large, but also sufficiently integrated, Jewish community, which has allowed me to feel and identify mostly as a white American. Which is to say, I have fortunately not experienced much anti-Semitism first-hand; not none, but not a lot. Sadly, this privilege is such that many of the faults of white capitalist American society apply to the Jewish community I was raised in.

It felt perfunctory, disingenuous, inauthentic, and hollow. There was nothing about it that felt like it could not have been part of the toxic version of the American Capitalism Cult. The expression of the traditions were so clearly warped by 20th Century Americana, things my great grandparents' or grandparents' generations largely invented or adapted, for reasons that may have made sense in that time and place, but certainly had been emptied of any value and replicated uncritically by my parents' generation.

That's not to say there wasn't a sense of Jewish Identity or Jewish American Identity that came implicitly from the living culture, that made it unique, and that had intrinsic value. For better and worse, directly and indirectly, being Jewish and raised in a Jewish community impacted my worldview profoundly, but it was largely disconnected from the religion per se, or even the community and culture as a whole.

What does this have to do with MRD2?

First, I've harbored some guilt around using Buddhist themes and elements of Chinese fiction and mythology, and that interplay of Indian Buddhist influence on Chinese culture, in my game without that being my identity or lived experience, and the extent to which that's appropriation. I've made a point of acknowledging this here many times, and I tried to distance MRD1 from being too literalist in its interpretation of those cultures.

MRD2 isn't me trying to deny or denounce or distance myself from that. That would be disingenuous in itself. But, MRD2 will speak to this.

Also, in retrospect, it could be argued that that interplay of foreign ideas and how they integrated in China may have resonated with me in part as being at least somewhat analogous to Jewish American Identity in a Christian country, but that might be overstating things.

The qualms I have with Judaism and Jewish American Identity, the extent to which it's influenced my thinking but also the extent to which I feel distanced from it, will be leveraged as part of a juxtaposition of what MRD2 will represent as complemented to MRD1.

The Buddhist principles of MRD1 will still be in MRD2, likely both textually and subtextually, but there will also be an emphasis on certain elements of Jewish philosophy, likely even more idiosyncratic than my interpretation of Buddhist philosophy, in large part because the interpretations of Jewish philosophy per se as I understand them have not interested me or resonated with me nearly as much as e.g. Buddhism and Taoism, until I started reinterpreting them for myself very recently.

Which elements of Jewish Identity will be in MRD2? But first a medium-length-winded summary of some of the themes of MRD...

Again I'm very much putting the cart before the horse discussing all this stuff before actually giving the spiel on MRD2, but I'll try to make this work.

In MRD1 the PCs are Recursers, people with Karmic abilities operating in defiance of a dysfunctional bureaucracy as Poltergeist Investigators. They are attempting to subvert the system, while also acknowledging their personal failings and recognizing that they need to balance bettering themselves with bettering the world, or else they will fail at both. 

I don't mean to trivialize MRD1 when I say this, but to some extent, especially as a privileged white-passing person, there is an element of escapist fantasy to this. Even if Players are supposed to challenge their character's notions, they are still acting subversively in a way that is probably not quite as true to the lived experience of most of the people who would play the game, who have day jobs and are paying their taxes. The fact that MRD1 had Careers and it is stated that being Poltergeist Investigators is supposed to be their side hustle speaks to that somewhat, but I think in practice that gets de-emphasized in the game.

MRD2 is like the inverse; PCs are embedded within an exploitative capitalist system, having to grapple with their complicity in it- like we all do in the real world. It is assumed that PCs are specialists in their field (tentatively called Nazarites) being well compensated by a corporation, who also provide or fund upkeep for their Mecha and other tools. That's not to say that PCs can't eventually defy the corporation, but to do so should feel weighty, like if you were to actually try to get off the grid and escape capitalist society in the real world.

Acknowledging one's complicity is literally the least one can do aside from nothing, and is a necessary step to any kind of effective change.

So in this regard, it's an indictment of the Jewish community I was raised in as I perceive it, the ones who rest on the laurels of being white-passing, who voted for a fascist white supremacist to get tax cuts or because they actually believe in his white supremacy, because they failed to learn from their own history, because they cherry-picked whatever self-serving parts of an old book that they didn't read and don't understand, reducing their entire heritage to little more than a shibboleth.

What makes it so shameful, is that it is a moral test fitting of the Torah to be a privileged Jewish American confronting complicity in a broken system, which they so blatantly fail. Anyone who benefits from privilege must confront their complicity in an exploitative system. But as a white-passing and privileged Jewish American especially, you should know the consequences of weaponized hate, greed, and apathy, you should know the ephemerality of privilege, and so to deny your complicity for personal gain or out of cowardice, to not hold yourself or others accountable, is especially inexcusable.

I can't stress enough that this in itself is not an indictment of Judaism as a religion, nor of all Jews, only those who fail to pass the test.

So underlying that, it's an invitation to anyone who benefits from privilege, who is complicit in an exploitative system, to have permission to acknowledge that for what it is, without self-pity or hopelessness, but rather, with condemnation for those unwilling to do even that, and to think about whatever they can possibly do that would be less than nothing, in order to make the world and themselves better.

At it's core, it's about Tikkun Olam, or at least my interpretation of it. About recognizing that all things are systems and trying to understand and change them. Not in some passive and self-serving sense, but co-opting them through meaningful action. But, also acknowledging that the ability to do this is in itself a privilege, and that to do so uncritically is to do so passively and self-servingly, and so one must remain vigilant in themselves, just as in MRD1.

So I have made a genuine effort to better understand Jewish Philosophy, using Tikkun Olam as the entry point, and to find an interpretation of it which reflects my worldview and is compatible with the themes of MRD, both as a way of better understanding this part of my identity, but also so that, to the extent that Jewish Philosophy is represented in the setting, it is layered not just with the meaning of the philosophy per se, but also with my feelings on Jewish identity, and how that juxtaposes MRD1 and MRD2 as two ways of confronting broken systems.

Jewish Philosophy as reinterpreted by... Me

I am not giving formal definitions or an exhaustive history. If you're reading this you have the means to google or wiki for yourself. As I said at the beginning, this is not a bibliography. That said, I'll try to throw in some hyperlinks.

Tikkun Olam

A model world is made by modeling good behavior. Society is a system. Do not succumb to idols. Promote social justice. Do Mitsvot.

As a systems thinker, I really appreciate Tikkun Olam. It reminds me of Aristotelean Virtue Ethics. I'm sure there is a ton of minutia upon which one could argue about that, but anyway, I like the idea that through our actions as part of a greater whole, we can make a better world.

This idea of systems, of people as part of a whole, as identity coming from actions propagated within a system rather than as an innate thing, is a core part of MRD2. I'm starting with the discussion of Tikkun Olam, as opposed to some of the wilder metaphysical stuff, because this is the entry point towards the headier ideas of Jewish Metaphysics and Epistemology in MRD2.

The idols to be rejected in MRD2 can be the giant robot Mecha; they can also be corporations or corrupt or incompetent institutions, or the mental constructs we use to define ourselves in the absence of self criticism or a willingness to learn and grow or change, or the shibboleths which define a culture by the exclusion of others rather than by any value in itself, like jingoism and flag worship.

The system can be the metaphysics of God and its relationship to humans (and all things), or the mathematical and systems principles underlying our understanding of all things from geophysical phenomena, highway traffic, the economy, the cosmos, or human behavior.

The Forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and a rejection of Duality in favor of Everything and Nothing

I read an idea that fundamentally changed the way I think about what Jewish ethics could be, and the relationship between Jewish ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. I don't know how much textual or theoretical support there is for this notion, but I much prefer it, so it's the interpretation I'm going for, and why not?

"Good and Evil" within this context is not literal, just a turn of phrase, it just means two halves of a whole, or "Everything". It's about God, or the oneness of God. To eat the forbidden fruit is to gain awareness of the Self at the cost of obfuscating awareness of the whole. We are nodes of a network, a superorganism that Jews and many others call God, and our concept of self is just an illusion, or delusion. It is Karma- attachment to the material world; it can be contextualized in terms of Sunyata, it's Theravada interpretation as no-self, or it's Mahayana interpretation as the emptiness of the universe and Buddha Nature.

God as a superorganism; Jewish Metaphysics divorced from theology per se; Faith not as blind acceptance of an idol but as the willingness to think systemically

I am generally a materialist and empiricist, I do not have faith in a theological God construct, I do not believe that a metaphysical God can have significance in a material world and still be God; most people would probably call me agnostic but I prefer to identify as atheist, if I must identify. These are among the reasons why I've found Judaism to be uncompelling in the past, because Jewish philosophy is so inextricably linked with faith in the oneness of God- a kind of Jewish Rationalism that is even less so compelling to me than Cartesian Rationalism because it's less parsimonious- "I think therefore I am" does not necessarily require God, although if I remember correctly Descartes tried to make that argument too but I stand by my claim for now. Anyway, this is also why I've found Buddhism more compelling, even if I wouldn't necessarily identify as Buddhist. While it acknowledges a non-material level of reality, it is a metaphysics not dependent on a God, and so its values can be more so appreciated as a framework even in the absence of the underlying metaphysics.

I have been interested in the concept of superorganisms for a long time, I believe it to be true but not in some ridiculous sci-fi sense even if I enjoy writing it that way, and I had logically considered the idea of God-as-superorganism. However, I had somehow never thought to actually recontextualize Jewish Philosophy in that way, but by substituting God with superorganism, it's allowed me to more so appreciate Jewish Philosophy as a whole.

From that perspective, the faith in the oneness of God is not faith in a theological construct (the ultimate idol / giant robot / corporation as far as I'm concerned...), it's faith in people and in the universe. It's acknowledging oneself as part of a whole and as a thing that can change and propagate in different ways. It's the ability to say "I believe X to be true, but I want to believe in Y instead, so I will strive to make Y", or to consider non-binary ideas like "From one perspective X is true and not Y, but from another perspective Y is true and not X, and both perspectives can be true". I believe there are similar ideas in Buddhism and formal logic and math, not going to try to articulate them but it may help connect the dots if you're not quite following.

Just like imaginary numbers are not "real" but can be used to explain waves and other complex math things, a metaphysical being might necessarily be incompatible with a material world, but also, to the extent that the material world is continuous with it, to the extent that it's all one big Panentheistic superorganism, it actually can meaningfully affect the material world.

In MRD1, the Numberless Courts of Hell were metaphors for dysfunctional bureaucracies, but also exploring psychological flaws and failings. In MRD2, the Quaos (temp name that I may or may not keep and is kind of an inside joke between myself and myself) is a metaphor for the self-created perils of the modern world like fascism and environmental destruction, and capitalism and colonialism, but it's also a metaphor for a Panentheistic universe, for a kind of metaphysics that can meaningfully intersect with the material world if one recognizes it all as part of a whole, that allows one to hold complex and seemingly contradictory thoughts and attempt to reconcile them, like being complicit in the failings of society and benefitting from privilege, but still wanting to make the world a better place.

A bit more context

I see the ideas expressed in my earlier blog post: Ironic post-capitalist pro-corporate sentimentality as an aesthetic or genre as being complementary to and informative of my thoughts on Jewish American Identity, complicity in an exploitative capitalist system, superorganisms, and of the direction of MRD2. While MRD2 will take a slightly different approach or perspective to it, they are conceptually coexistent.

Previous Mecha-related blog posts relating to the future of MRD2
Get into the Machine, Shinji!: Mecha Into the Odd hack proof of concept
"Gacha" Mecha Generator: System-Agnostic generator for making Mecha
Kaiju: Table of Weird & Wonderful giant monsters
Super Robot Wars-style Mecha: Table of Weird & Wonderful Mecha
Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time Not-Review: Discussion about the final movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion series
Saruri-Man: Midsummer Nights Adventures Not-Review: Discussion about a very obscure and Weird Mecha anime

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Klintron: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

Reminder check out the MRD Game Jam- one entrant will have art and layout commissioned for their Poltergeist Form!

Klint and I have only met recently, but I've appreciated our conversations over our shared interests such as Buddhism, the Tech Industry, and Weird Worldbuilding.

Kid Minotaur: The RPG blog. (Also his drivethrurpg publishing name).
Sewer Mutant: The indie comics blog.
Klintron: The page.

Max: When we first met, we were discussing my game Maximum Recursion Depth, and specifically the Buddhist elements of the setting. It became apparent that you are much more so involved with Buddhism than I am, so I'd be interested to learn more about your relationship with it, when and why you became interested in it, and how you feel about it.

Klint: My current relationship with it is that I'm active with the local Shingon Buddhist temple here in Portland, Oregon. By active, I mean my wife and I attend the weekly Dharma talks (on Zoom for the time being) and meditate or chant mantras every day. We also attend the livestreamed Goma ritual as often as possible, which the Seattle temple hosts each month. And of course I do my best to follow the Precepts and the Eightfold Path.

It's hard to say exactly how I first got interested in Buddhism in general. It's something I've been interested in, off and on, for quite a while. I started a practice of meditating almost every day back in 2012. Though I was interested in Buddhism I wasn't ready to sign on the dotted line so to speak.

A major turning point for me was visiting Cambodia and Thailand in the fall of 2019, two majority Buddhist countries. It's hard to explain but I was left with a particular feeling upon leaving.

I didn't really act on that feeling though until early 2021 when I did a bunch of "temple hopping" on Zoom. I attended online sessions with several different local sanghas. I really felt the strongest connection with the teacher at the Shingon temple and my wife felt the same. So it was actually less a feeling of affinity with that particular sect and more of choosing him as a teacher. I think he brings the right balance of modernity and tradition to his Dharma talks.

I was raised Episcapalian, but not particularly strictly. I stopped going to church when I was a teenager. I went through several years where I was really interested in occultism and mystism, from around 2000 until something like 2007 (ironically, around the time I stopped being interested in it was when I was heavily involved in organizing a local esotericism conference). So I guess it's fitting I ended up with an "esoteric" form of Buddhism.

Max: It makes sense to me that you would lose interest in occultism around the time you tried organizing an event around it haha.

Klint: Yeah I have a habit of losing interest in things once I become too heavily involved with them. The other thing was that while organizing that it was increasingly clear that a lot of people who claimed to be powerful magickians weren't able to scrounge up the money to get a bus ticket to Portland, so that gave me a more dim view of their practices.

Max: Did you start to burn out on Grant Morrison and Alan Moore* around that time, or are those unrelated events?
* Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are both highly influential comic book writers who both identify with occultism.

Klint: Those were unrelated events. My initial interest in occultism was very motivated by Alan Moore and the industrial musician Genesis P. Orridge. I found Invisibles* just about the same time I was first starting to practice chaos magic, so one ended up reinforcing the other.
* Invisibles is a work by Grant Morrison and arguably the inspiration for The Matrix

My burning out on them later had more to do with reading too much of those particular authors to the exclusion of most other comics creators. And I suppose increased annoyance at the public personas.

Max: That makes perfect sense to me.

Klint: With Buddhism, I think a big part of it is that for some reason I was ready to be a part of an organized religion with a long tradition of practice. I can't say exactly why, but I suppose it was partially me getting older and partially the troubling state of the world.

Buddhism provides some tools for coping with one's own dissatisfaction and anxieties and so forth. I think of it as a religion, in the sense that you have to have faith that the practice actually works, that it is possible to reduce your own suffering and dissatisfaction. But it's not a faith in the existence of external beings and so forth. There are supernatural elements in the Buddha’s teaching and though I don’t want to say they’re unimportant, they don’t have to be true for the practice to be valuable. You can test the things you are supposed to have faith in through the practice. So in that sense, despite being quite old, it's a religion with  a very modern sensibility.

Max: So we haven't gone into all this yet, but you're a tech journalist, practicing Buddhist, indie tabletop RPG creator and blogger, and indie comics blogger and podcaster, and also a former occultist. That's a rather eclectic set of interests. Do you see these varying interests as being related, or at least, do you see some common underpinning in why you're drawn to these things?

Klint: I'm not sure there's a single underlying current but I suppose there are connections between the nodes there. I don't necessarily see those as all that eclectic. Tech, RPGs, and comic books are kind of a common suite of geek interests.

Max: Actually, anecdotally, I've noticed a lot of tech skepticism or outright anti-tech sentiment among some indie RPG creators. In fact, I think people like you and I may be in the minority in this regard. Perhaps you disagree with this notion in the first place, but I'm wondering if you have any thoughts or insights on the matter?

Klint: I don't know. I wouldn't necessarily think of myself as "pro-tech" or anything like that. And part of what drew me to get back into RPGs as an adult, after a large time away, was wanting a creative, in-person social activity that was also analog.
I spend a lot of time on the computer and my phone so it's always nice to do things that don't involve screens. Though playing RPGs tends to lead to creating RPGs, which leads to screen time, so it sort of backfired.

Max: Pro/Anti-Tech may be an overly reductive way of framing things, but I'm thinking about, for instance, some of the conversations around Kickstarter announcing they will be using blockchain technology. I realize talking about blockchain and NFTs are a whole can of worms and we don't need to get into the nitty gritty on it, but especially within the context of your game Mission Driven and Destiny City (and as a tech journalist!), I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on these things.

Klint: Yeah, the backlash against Kickstarter over that was sort of a surprise to me. It did seem a little knee-jerk, since we don't know what Kickstarter is going to do or how they'll use the technology—if they even use it. 

That said, I'm pretty skeptical of blockchain stuff. It's something I've been looking at for a long time. I wrote my first story on Bitcoin in 2010. At first blockchains seemed really cool and promising. But I haven't really seen a lot of really compelling use cases for blockchains that can't be addressed more simply in other ways.

And there's a lot more centralization in blockchain technologies than people acknowledge. These projects have centralized development teams that make the decisions that go into the design of these things and as we saw with the DAO heist way back in 2016, it's possible to "undo" transactions on a blockchain if the developers decide to. Users can revolt and fork a blockchain, which we've seen some of, but that just creates a new centralized project.

One of the big problems that blockchain-based technologies try to solve is the problem of having only one person or organization controlling something. But that's a problem that's already solved through things like foundations with multiple member organizations. It's a non-technical fix that arguably works much better than a technical fix.

I think a lot of what it comes down to is people wanting technical fixes to non-technical problems, and the fact that the original Bitcoin blockchain was a really clever piece of technology and people really want to find uses for it. But it's fundamentally a solution in search of a problem. Maybe someday someone will figure it out, and there could be use cases I'm not familiar with, but it largely seems like the equivalent of trying to use Rube Goldberg devices to do things just because they're cool, even if it's an incredibly inefficient way of doing things.

Max: As a software engineer, I am familiar with the "solution in search of a problem" phenomenon!

I'm perhaps somewhat more optimistic about its potential, but I don't necessarily disagree with anything you said. The decentralization angle is often over-stated, and whatever form it takes, if it does stick, I'm inclined to think will be something non-linear.

I had mentioned previously Mission Driven, the "Cyberpunk Adventure Game Set in the Modern World", and the companion book "A Pocket Guide to Destiny City".

Where so many scifi cyberpunk settings feel derivative and devoid of anything fantastical, you've created a game set in the real world, with explicitly nothing science fictional or fantastical per se, and yet it so elegantly portrays the Weirdness and fantasticalness of the world today, for better and worse.

What are your intentions for Mission Driven? What are you trying to do with it?

Klint: It dates back to 2010. Around that time I read a couple different articles about how we were now basically living in a cyberpunk dystopia. One was an Onion article, the other was written by a friend. There's the argument that we've been living in a cyberpunk dystopia for a long time. There's a saying that science fiction isn't about the future, it's about the present. Cyberpunk was largely a response to what was happening during the Reagan/Thatcher-era. The Soviet Union was in decline and it seemed evident that capitalism won. Corporations seemed more powerful than ever. There was a growing awareness of environmental degradation. Labor's power was on the decline. Etc.

But at the same time, I was sort of captivated by the idea of telling cyberpunk stories set in the modern world. Around this same time I read William Gibson's Zero History, which was set in the the then-present day. But it still read like a cyberpunk novel, which makes sense since Gibson helped create the genre.

So I thought I would create a game that would be to Gibson's present-day trilogy (known as the "Blue Ant" trilogy) what Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun were to Gibson's first trilogy (the Sprawl trilogy).

Originally I thought I would do that by creating a setting for a generic RPG system. I started with Mini-Six in mind, then Fate. I worked on it in fits and starts over a few years. Then I discovered Apocalypse World in 2016. I never quite felt comfortable with Fate, so I decided to shift gears and do a Powered by the Apocalypse game instead. But that involved a really different approach, one where setting was less important and classes and mechanics were more important. So the setting and the game diverged a lot.

I've reached a point now where "cyberpunk in the real world" feels a lot less clever and fun than it did in 2010. Maybe it's me just getting disenchanted with it, but it also just feels like, especially in the pandemic era, the world is just too bleak so I'm not sure how much further I will develop Mission Driven. There's a bit of a catch 22 right now where I'm not all that enthused to continue working on it because it hasn't generated much interest, but I suspect part of why it hasn't generated much interest is because I'm not that enthused about it.

So I don't know what the future holds. I'm pretty proud of parts of it. I released it under a Creative Commons license in hopes that people will find parts to scavenge for other games.
Like your mecha game for example.*
* I have been considering adding elements of Mission Driven / Destiny City into Get into the Machine, Shinji! or whatever that project becomes. If nothing else, I have found it a source of inspiration.

Max: That idea that science fiction is about the present rather than future, and specifically that we're already in the cyberpunk dystopia, is something I generally agree with and I think is part of what makes Mission Driven so interesting.

I am actually not a huge Gibson fan, but now you've got me potentially interested in the Blue Ant trilogy.

I hear you on that point about it feeling less clever and fun than it did in 2010, but at the same time, I almost feel like in a way, that's what makes something like Mission Driven even more powerful. 

There is something to be said for, even in acknowledging this kind of awful reality we've wound up with, that there is still Wonder in it. And I do think that's nontrivial- like I don't mean to make light of all the suffering that occurs as a result of the way things are, but at the same time, I honestly sometimes worry about a reaction that is just as bad or worse than what we have now, and one that could be avoided, with the right perspective- which isn't to say I think I have that perspective, but if we aren't all trying to think about these things, how can we expect to create something better?

Klint: I agree, I just think there might be better avenues for imagining solutions and so forth than Mission Driven ๐Ÿ™‚. Destiny City on the other hand I think might have a future as a setting or implied for scenarios for different games, ones with more fantastic elements to them like urban fantasy or superheroes. 

Max: I am by no means opposed to adding fantastical or superheroic elements to Mission Driven / Destiny City, but I think that's still consistent with the general idea, of trying to recognize and analyze the world for what it is. I actually was not aware that that was how you felt about Mission Driven, but for what it's worth, while I understand and respect what you're saying, I hope I can change your mind. 

Klint: I hope I change my mind about Mission Driven too. I worked hard on it. We'll see. I've thought about doing versions set in the more recent past: cyberpunk adventures in the 70s or 80s, where phone phreaking, pirate broadcasts, radio jamming, etc. would be priorities. 

Max: That could be interesting as well, and could provide room for not just examining where we are, but how we got here

Klint: Yeah, I'd like to find other ways to do some of what I was trying to do with Mission Driven, but in ways that people, including me, will find more fun.

Max: You have three other adventures, Logomancy, Trypophobia, and Be the Media. Trypophobia is clever and very clearly commentary in its own right, and Be the Media, in particular, is a really cool, non-violent conflict-based scenario. They feel like they could be part of Mission Driven, or achieve similar goals. 

Am I correct in my thinking abut these scenarios? Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share about them?

Klint: Be the Media is sort of a micro-game version of Mission Driven. It's like a one page game based around the Watchdogs crewbook. It was sort of an experiment in trying to break pieces of Mission Driven off into bite sized chunks. It doesn't feel like a successful experiment.

Trypophobia and Logomancy were scenarios I came up with for a Delta Green campaign I ran in 2018. I thought they were pretty interesting so I wrote them up as system-neutral scenarios. I also tested Trypophobia out in Cthulhu Dark.

Max: Well again, for what it's worth, I actually felt very inspired by Be The Media, I thought it was a cool idea for how to design a non-violent conflict-based scenario. 

Trypophobia, I don't want to spoil it, but I think it has a really cool conceit where, from the players' perspective, it may look like one situation, but then there's a nice twist. And I appreciate the subtext of it as well.

Klint: Trypophobia and Logomancy are similar to Mission Driven and Be the Media in that they were both meant to explore timely topics through RPGs.  But they do have fantastical elements. Logomancy more so than Trypophobia.

The high concept in Logomancy is that there's a role playing game that is driving people "mad" (to use the problematic Lovecraftian term), much like the fictional play the King in Yellow does. It includes a game within a game that the PCs can play.

Max: On an unrelated note, we haven't yet talked about Sewer Mutant, your indie comics blog and podcast. How did that all start?

Klint: A few years ago I started revisiting a lot of 90s comics stuff that I grew up with but also grew out of. Stuff like Rob Liefeld and the other early Image creators' work.
A lot of that stuff is bad in a lot of different ways, but I was realizing how important that stuff was to me growing up. Weirdly, I think Liefeld's erratic linework influenced my handwriting, as an odd example.

So my nostalgic interest in that stuff lead me to this YouTube channel called Cartoonist Kayfabe, where they do a lot of flip-throughs and discussions of different comics, a lot of it the same 90s stuff the hosts and I both grew up on. They did an episode on what they called "Outlaw Comics," which are these super dark, black and white, heavily inked (some might say over-inked) comics like Faust, The Crow, and Razor. I liked a lot of that stuff when I was 13 or 14, especially The Crow which had a profound effect on me. I never read Faust back then because I couldn't find it. 

All that Outlaw stuff was sort of mysterious to me and I found myself thinking a lot about the context in which it was produced: the era of tabloid television like Hard Copy, near-peak crime rates in the US, etc. 

And how that paralleled with the present click-bait hyperpartisan media and increased anxiety over crime even though at the time crime was at historic lows (though that's changed since the pandemic). 

So I started digging out a lot of my old comics and buying up stuff I wanted as a kid but never had access to. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming, so it was hard to get indie comics.

I posted pics to Instagram with various thoughts and research notes and people seemed to dig it.

And I also started posting stuff related to the Amateur Creators Union, which was a group that existed for a couple of years in the mid-90s to publish work by, well, amateur comics creators.

They published a newsletter, lots of ashcans, and one anthology. A few members, like Ale Garza, went on to bigger things.

It was utterly forgotten, there was no record on the internet of the Amateur Creators Union ever existing.

So I started posting about that as well.

I got laid off from Wired magazine early in the pandemic, so I had some time on my hands and decided to write some articles about all this stuff I'd been posting to Instagram. I tracked down people and did some interviews, and started pitching the story to various comics and pop culture publications. No one was interested, which is understandable. This stuff is niche and those sites are pretty dependent on covering stuff that has mass appeal. I didn't want to write about the Fantastic Four or whatever though, and I knew there were people who wanted to read the articles I had in mind.

So I started Sewer Mutant to publish them. I really didn't want to start a new publication since there are a million comics and pop culture sites out there already, but it was the only way I could get these articles out there in the form I wanted.

Which actually seems fitting because they're largely stories about people self-publishing stuff.

Max: It's funny you say all of this, as I think I have a very similar relationship with the post-9/11 era of superhero comics; stuff like The Ultimates, The Boys, The Authority, and Punisher Max (even though all but the latter of these I did not read until later, actually...). 

Also, I don't mean to derail things too much but I do think it's important to clarify, my understanding is that that's actually not entirely true about the violent crime relapse during the pandemic. It has increased relative to where it's been since basically the mid to late 90's, but it's nowhere near what it was previously. The violent crime wave of the 20th century and it's relationship with comics is something I'm also very much interested in though! Also, while I'm no longer as inclined to agree with the theory, the book Freakonomics has an interesting take on it, although there's a more recent theory that I'm not more inclined to believe (although it's likely an interaction of several things and not just one).

I'm sorry to hear about Wired. I used to work for Condรฉ Nast as well actually.

The struggle with niche interests is so real, and so frustrating. A big part of why I give these interviews is to try to give a platform, however small, for other people out there who I think are doing interesting and unique things, that don't necessarily have that kind of mainstream resonance. 

Klint: Yes that's right about the crime rates, though it varies by city. I just mean that we're not really at historically low rates anymore. My point is that it’s about the perception, the anxiety that people feel regardless of the actual threat. Arguably, people were disproportionately worried about crime even in the 80s and 90s which is part of why we ended up with over-incarceration problems, but obviously, it’s all a bit complicated.

Max: That's a whole other conversation, but in any case, I think I'm developing a deeper understanding of your comics sensibilities, and it's really interesting!

Klint: I don't even know what my comics sensibilities are anymore because I've spent a lot of the past two  years revisiting all that old stuff, much of which is frankly not very good. My favorite stuff though does overlap with Outlaw Comics though: Grendal, Alack Sinner, Stray Bullets. I'm really into crime fiction and horror, basically. But my tastes vary a lot. Upgrade Soul and Blue is the Warmest color are also all-time favorites of mine.

Max: I actually have not read Grendal but I know of it, nor have I even heard of those others. To be honest, a lot of comics written before like the 80's, like even a lot of the really renowned stuff, I can appreciate it for what it is, but much of it I would not necessarily call "good" haha, but it still was the source of inspiration for all of these other amazing things, and I do find inspiration in some of those comics as well. I think it's ok for something to be not good or to fail, if it fails in interesting ways.

Max: I've really enjoyed this conversation and there are several things we've discussed which I'd like to follow up with you on later, but we should probably wrap up since I know you need to get going! Thank you for your time though. Do you have any last things you'd like to say before we wrap up?

Klint: I can't think of anything else. Thanks for the invite, it's always interesting to be on the other side of the interview table.

Friday, January 7, 2022

My "MRD" PCs

Should have included this in my last post after Sofinho kindly shared our interview, but reminder: MRD game jam is ongoing, and one entrant will have art and layout commissioned for their work. I've extended the deadline a bit further for the reason below:

I tested positive for covid. If you have not already been vaccinated and don't have a good excuse, fuck off. If you haven't gotten boosted yet, don't be lazy like I was, and go do it ASAP! Feeling mostly ok, pretty mild symptoms, mostly just feeling really tired. I was starting to schedule a bunch more interviews, apologies to those of you who were expecting to hear from me recently...

Anyway, on to our post of the week:

I'm usually a GM but I've been trying to be a player more in some drop-in games, and as part of that, I've had the opportunity to actually play MRD characters now, twice.

The first is from Mike's of (Sheep and Sorcery) Weirdways game, where I adapted the Crashing Rocket Nixie Poltergeist Form and took items from the MRD book, but applied to his game. We haven't quite finished that adventure yet but I'm really enjoying the character and the adventure as a whole.


Name: Mad(dison) Marceau


What are two locations you desperately want to go or things you need to do on the road?

Stand atop One World Trade Center.
Dive into the ocean from a lighthouse along the Oregon Coast.

What's different about you? Why don't you fit in?

Has numerous niche interests which they obsess over in bursts, and even within those niches, their sensibilities defy the norm still.

Are you a fantasy creature? If so, what kind?

A Nixie (sea fairy) who inexplicably also has wings.

Why do you have no money?

Has a tendency of finding great success... and then blowing it all up (sometimes literally).

Who is someone you know who you might meet on the road?

William Vita, the Eccentric Psientist.

Who, if anyone, owns the van? Who drives?


Why are your characters traveling together?


One of you has an aunt in the midwest who has told you that her house is haunted and she needs help. Which one of you is it? Why is she calling you?


One of you is dead set on going to Burning Man. Which one of you is it?

Seems like it could be Mad Marceau...

Aspect 1 (General Concept): Crashing Rocket Nixie

Aspect 2 (Something weird but cool): Their third eye expresses absolute terror

Aspect 3 (kind of like...): Harley Quin

Important Items

Nixie Sticks: Nobody's quite sure what's in them- what a rush! Just tear it open, pour on your tongue and come alive. Allegedly grants magic powers.

Rocket Kit: Your kit can make rockets, fireworks, and other sparkling and exploding things.

Weaponized Meme: Weaponized, Military-grade meme.

Gateway Chalk: Draw a door and it appears, leading to some previously visited location the user chooses. It must be redrawn after each use.

Bottle of Indigo Pills: Experience euphoria and third-eye awareness.

Soul Mate: One high calorie protein bar made by specially-trained Buddhist Monks. (this later got traded for an awesome magic unicorn horn using the top spinner below)

Top Spinner: Spin the top to train an ad-tech machine learning algorithm. Spins whatever you’re selling.

Discredit Card: Can wipe out any one debt—of any size including non-monetary debts.

The second was from a one shot with SageDaMage, where we actually were using MRD as the core system, but the adventure was a condensed version of Silent Titans beginning in a modern but mythical Wales. It was really cool to finally play Silent Titans, and I was glad how easily the two go together. Obviously I'm biased, but I think more people should try out using MRD with other weird modules like this ;).

Clerval Fritz
Former mergers and acquisitions specialist with a background in organizational psychology who became a senator. The acquisitions were scrapped for parts towards his esoteric ends, prematurely ending the dreams of many would-be entrepreneurs.
The last acquisition ended in an experiment gone wrong, a laser-light explosion, disturbing noises, and many, many dead. The fallout was contained and the story buried, but shortly afterwards Clerval, alongside his new Oracle Iolo, entered the world of politics.
Leveraging his corporate connections to secure non-competitive deals to acquire private resources, he intends to use technology, psychology, and metaphysics to birth a superorganism from the body of the government.
In a past life, he stored a PHYLACTERY in Wales, which he now intends to recover to use towards birthing the superorganism.  
Iolo (10 HP, the NS Pet Special Item): Pale blue furred ape-hominid with a missing eye, a notable scar at the back of its head suggestive of a projectile wound, and a skin graft over its mouth. It is bound in a restraining jacket and chains. It gnaws its mouth graft into bloody pulp to speak in profound gibberish (Wd6), after which the graft reseals in a process sounding like the mashing of raw skin and mid-coital fluids.
Pyramid Shining Brightly
NAT: 13
WIS: 14
PRO: 14
Karma: 3 
12. Government, Politics, Public Administration 
2. You are invisible when nobody is watching. 
Starting Karmic Attachments
1. You have a goal, and nothing will get between you and accomplishing it. Whatever it is, whatever must be done is always justified. At least one person suffered for being in your way and seek vengeance.
(In particular, the company sacrificed in the failed attempt at creating a superorganism, which also led to the creation of the SPECIAL SHINING LASER GUN and Iolo)
6. Your relationships are superficial and transactional. You have no real friends or loved ones, just people you want things from and want things from you in turn.
(The various aspirational entrepreneurs he's worked with, or Iolo) 
Reincarnation Ritual
1. Hold tightly to an item representing your value and rest.
Poltergeist Features
0. POWER MOVE: You developed an intuition for manipulation through overt displays of power: a powerful handshake, biting apathetic humor or sarcasm. Pd8 but if attempted against somebody with higher PRO take Wd4.
4. PHYLACTERY: In a past life, an item of value to you was buried in a place of personal significance. So long as it remains undisturbed, PRO Damage against you is Impaired and cannot cause you to accrue Karma.
6. SPECIAL SHINING LASER GUN: An experimental gold and white limestone gun with a pyramidal shape at the muzzle’s end. It’s a fascinating story how you got it. Fires a Karmic force beam (Nd10) with a 1-in-6 chance of accruing 1 Karma. 
Special Items:
84. NS PET: Nature Spirit pet with animal intelligence, and usually one
Damage Die for one Ability at d6, 10 HP, and one utility special ability.
It has some behavioral quirk making it prone to trouble and frequently
imposes inopportune Karmic Attachments.
Usage Die: NA

The Profound Gibberish of Iolo
1. Drip drip walking down the blue lane one wonders why the sky hurts so and when the moon will just fall already GOD DAMNIT!
2. How am I supposed to LIVE LAUGH LOVE under these conditions!?
3. You fuck! How dare you bring such invisible joy to the souls of children not yet born into the indigo universe!
4. Clouds crying sunshine bring delirium to the prairie dogs who would otherwise kill themselves out of religious fervor. All hail the cloud emperor in his wondrous nudity!
5. In a moment of clarity, the man wonders what it all means. And then he poops.
6. I'm already spinning in corkscrew motions and rubbing my concave tummy and now you ask for the caviar of dragons?! Give me a week, ya rascal ;).
7. Turn on the telly I'm getting bored of this program and I can't find the mute button.
8. Are you bored? Afraid? In love? Insert other emotion here? Are you sick of these pesky emotions? Try life. Life! For those sick of being slaves to their own impulses. Life! It's like death, but not! Call 1-800-LIFE.