My Games

Thursday, February 24, 2022

MRD2 Introduction and Campaign Setup Proof of Concept

MRD2 is underway, as I've alluded to in previous blog posts. Similar to how much changed between the earliest MRD1 blog posts and the final book, treat this as Proof of Concept, but below is a working draft of the Introduction to the world of MRD2, how it relates to MRD1, and the basic Campaign Setup (an idea I've much appreciated from Anne Hunter). Also, I will definitely clean up the writing significantly- this is not publishing-grade ;).

Previous Posts:
Mecha Gear with Tarsos Theorem Crafting: The basis of the Golem mechanics in MRD2, and also hyperlinks to basically all the previous posts, including the one below.
Jewish American Identity and Jewish Philosophy in Maximum Recursion Depth 2: A discussion on the Jewish subtext of MRD2. Also contains additional relevant links at the end.

Solomon's Shamir, the basis for The Wyrm Shamir Symbionts

INTRODUCTION
In the very near future, a paradigm shift of new technological advancements has come about nigh-miraculously by a handful of Corporations. These advancements include austere space colonies and giant robots known as Golem, piloted by special agents of the Corporations— the Nazarites.

Nazarite Contracts and consumption of The Wyrm Shamir Symbionts bind Nazarites to their Corporation. In addition to piloting Golem, Nazarites gain supernatural powers, not the least of which is Gilgul, the ability to transmigrate to and from the material world.

The Cosmic Ocean Tehom, an ethereal (meta)physical space, presses against the brane of the material world. Alien beings known as The Cyblessed have secretly recruited the Corporations of Earth, using them as proxies to enact Tikkun Olam, The Mending of the World. Or so it would seem, though one may question the veracity of empowering Corporations to solve the world’s problems.

The work of the Nazarites includes protecting Earth and the space colonies from the mysterious invaders known as the Amelikites, exploring Tehom and carrying out tasks assigned by the Corporations or their masters The Cyblessed, fighting Kaiju and Dybbuk, putting out fires (literally and figuratively), and whatever else yields profit for the Corporations.

Each Nazarite has their own reasons for taking their Nazarite Vows. Wealth and power, privilege; a steady paycheck, security; a noble cause. Regardless, this is not a game about resistance, but about recognizing one's privilege and complicity in a broken system and coming to terms with it, or the enormity of defying it if one deems they must.

But remember, your true goal is still Tikkun Olam; to mend the world. Enjoy the benefits of your Corporate position, you deserve it, but don’t get too caught up in the comfort and convenience, or else your Nazarite Vows will attach you to the material world, burying you deeper and deeper until you reach Maximum Recursion Depth.
 
Venus Figurines, the basis for the Asherah Golems

And as for how MRD1 and MRD2 relate (From the very WIP FAQ...)

How do the settings of MRD1 and MRD2 relate?
MRD1 and MRD2 are intended to take place in the same setting and can be combined mostly as-is, but can also each be played separately. To recapitulate MRD1:
The Monkey King overthrew Buddha 1000 years ago, and The Karmic Cycle has been in decay ever since. Rogue Poltergeists escape their sentencing before their reincarnations, barely reined in by Devils of The Numberless Courts of Hell and Poltergeist Investigators, those with Karmic Recurser powers, acting subversively in the face of the failings of the Celestial Bureaucracy.
This is important for understanding the existence of Karma and Karmic Attachments in MRD2, but is otherwise not necessary for playing the game.

Tehom represents something outside the Karmic Cycle, and so while Nazarites still have Karma and Karmic Attachments, the effect of The Wyrm Shamir Symbionts are that rather than engaging in the cycle of reincarnation, they instead engage in Gilgul, the cycle of Tikkun Olam, to correct the dysfunctions created by The Monkey King. Somewhere in Tehom lies The Unfinished Corner of Creation in which the new world will be built.

So in that regard, MRD2 can be used as an extension of the themes of MRD1, reconciling rather than opposing Judaism and Buddhism as each is conceived in MRD.

Can MRD1 and MRD2 be combined in play?
Absolutely! There are a small number of mechanical differences between Poltergeist Forms and Nazarite Contracts, but they can mostly be converted between each other, and one could easily give Recursers from MRD1 a Golem from MRD2, or a Nazarite and their Golem can be brought to one of the Numberless Courts of Hell from MRD1.
One of the inspirations for the Amalekites are the Mycenaeans and Mechanical Beasts from Mazinger


As for the Factions and Campaign Setup:

FACTIONS

Cyblessed: Cyborg aliens from Tehom with technology far exceeding humanity, who, after discovering The Wyrm Shamir Symbionts and developing the practice of Gilgul, have empowered the world’s greatest technology Corporations in recent years to bind Nazarites and enact Tikkun Olam (or so they claim). A beam of light emits in place of a head, containing information like a holographic book. The longer and more sophisticated the words in the book, the more ornate the “cover”, but the text is mostly nonsense. The lowest of their kind are merely single letters who must act in sequence to form words and meaning, yet through such form is greater profundity. Their holy book is the Phosphenomicon and their rose gold god the Phosphenom-Panopticon.

Asherah: A superorganism formed from decompositional microbes from an atmospheric sulfur ocean merging with the consciousness of an ancient human who was lost in Tehom. Every member of this hybrid species looks like a slight variation of her, with ochre skin and copper markings. Their Golem look like extrapolations of Venus Figurines. They serve as powerful mediators among the factions in Tehom, and while they do not seek domination, few would dare to cross them.

Amalekites and The Cherubim: Society of ancient humans forced into exile, lost in Tehom, who have since developed a technologically advanced, thriving civilization. Their culture and technology is reminiscent of retrofuturistic fascistic evil empires from old scifi anime with elements of occult biblical magitechnological weirdness. They have a beneficial arrangement with The Cherubim, mysterious cyborg Kaiju, some of which are piloted like Golem, or serve as the basis for mass-produced Golem. The Cherubim reveal little, but claim to exist in service of Tikkun Olam. After stealing the secrets of Gilgul from The Cyblessed, the Amalekites seek to reclaim their lost home— Earth, seeing this as crucial to enacting Tikkun Olam.

CAMPAIGN SETUP

I'm very loosely using the Cold War as the Campaign Setup, not because I see MRD2 as actually being an exploration of the Cold War in any meaningful sense, but because it's just a good framing device and can be used to explore issues that are still relevant today. Also, these conceptual mappings are very loose; again, should not be taken too literally.

  • The major Tech Corporations are the ruling power of a Banana Republic (human civilization on Earth), too small-minded and greedy to understand or care that they’re merely the lapdogs of a much greater force, and willing to let their people be exploited for personal gain. Yet despite this, the Faustian deal also brings new technologies and a genuine opportunity to exist as part of the greater cosmopolitic.
  • The Cyblessed are Americans or Western Corporations empowering whichever dictator (CEO) is most pliant, but there is also much diversity and inequality among them, and not all seek to exploit.
  • The Amalekites are the Soviet Union— powerful, aggressive, and holding a grudge. Doomed to fail, having allowed themselves to succumb to populist demagogues and other bad actors, but there is still nobility to be found in their ideals.
  • The Asherah are a non-governmental and nominally neutral power like The Church; not directly involved in the politics and feign weakness when it suits them, but everyone knows they're not to be trifled with.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

MRD Campaign PENULTIMATE Play Reports

After >1yr, we've decided to wrap up our MRD campaign. I was developing the MRD core book simultaneously, so this campaign informed a lot of the tone, setting, and content that went into the final book. While we very early on deviated from the core structure of Poltergeist Investigation -> Court Crawl, I'm happy that we got to do some of that, while also demonstrating how this system and setting can support much more than just that. There's a lot of stuff I've written on my blog that isn't in the core book, but it's become a rich and interesting setting, and I'm very grateful for it.

One of my players will be starting a new campaign with this group using his own modified version of MRD, so we're not done! And additionally, I'm hoping to start an in-person game soon for MRD2 as I continue to develop that.

Here is the previous PR, including links to all previous PRs before that. There's a lot here and even as I'm writing this penultimate PR, I'm realizing how many things were not accounted for or under-accounted for. I am doubtful anyone could read these PRs and coherently understand the campaign, but if at least they find the ideas interesting and evocative, then I will consider these PRs moderately successful.

Also, rereading the previous PR, in retrospect I can see how I was already starting to think about ideas of Jewish Identity and Philosophy which are making their way into MRD2.

There is I think one or two more sessions currently that are not included in this PR, and there will likely only be one or at most two more sessions for the campaign, but I decided to just post this now because it's already running long...

Session 17: The Court of the Rose-Tinted Looking Glass

The beginning of a new arc bringing The Team to a Court which has partially manifested in the material world, and has effectively become a new borough of New York City. Loosely inspired by Folding Beijing, the borough has a Day Cycle and Night Cycle, one for the Poltergeists to serve their industrialized sentences, and the other for the new class of human gentrifiers who have moved to the neighborhood. 
Day Cycle
Hipsters and Yuppies in a gentrified neighborhood. Displaced rogue Poltergeists begging, haunting, being aggressively hounded by Devils. Conflict may ensue. Although nestled tightly in the East River under Roosevelt State Park, because it is only partially in the material world, its area is larger than its perimeter.
Night Cycle
An endless labyrinth of factories belching toxic fumes, ironically producing the cough syrup Serenight. The Poltergeists must do grueling labor as part of their sentencing. Since the incursion, environmentalists have lambasted The Court, as have the gentrifiers who find the leftover fumes irritating and dangerous for their health.
The Team are incentivized to explore the new borough as the malware Karmic Attachments they acquired from the Karmabot in the previous session led them here. They also learned that QlippothNet, the dark web they manage as part of Anti-Sphinx, has been critically compromised, and the only known safe backup of the compromised portion of code is with a contract worker in the neighborhood.

Having recently come into the spotlight inadvertently as superheroes given the events of the previous sessions, they do an impromptu interview with the superhero Moon Marine (who is secretly part of the internet hate group The Deseret Avengers) and Momma Tastemaker the foodie tiktok phenomenon, which goes awry when their Poltergeist companion The Bear is triggered.

Towards the end of the session the investigate the apartment of Stacy Reagan from Dori's malware Karmic Attachment, who is also the contract worker with the clean QlippothNet code, only to be ambushed...

Session 18: Mobius Hustler Trapped in Squaretime

This session is one of my favorites, but it got VERY dark and intense, in a way that probably won't come through in this play report. Much of the art I share for this session comes from c_o_n_a_r_t on reddit.

The ambusher is Jerome Candle, the Recurser Mobius Hustler. Jerome has been led to believe by The Team's enemies that The Team are responsible for the death of his kitten and they've hired him, as a professional assassin, to take them out and also acquire or destroy the clean QlippothNet code.

What starts out as a seemingly generic Conflict ends up being much more, as first it becomes apparent that he can create micro-timeloops, but also they use found objects around the apartment to cut through Lineartime and enter a higher dimension of time, Squaretime.
Lineartime is like a wave in an ocean that smells of blood, the lymphatic fluid of a cockroach, and sweet wine on a starry moonlit night. Peeking beneath the water refracts starlight through time into six perceivable temporal bands of space averaged over one second each. The bands are distorted in the murky water, obscured by strange and repulsive things, and the perceived causality between bands changes from different perspectives.
The PCs are asked to identify six key moments from the preceding conflict, and these correspond to the refracted temporal bands as time shards.
The stars in Squaretime are like shards of linear spacetime projected onto a two-dimensional plane. In one of the shards, Alco senses an incarnation of Ghost in the Mirror (The Homicidal Maniac*). It has Keene Eyes and a broken zipper for a mouth, trilling uncannily. 
*Shows up later 
The full moon is twisted, two crescents connected at the center like an apple core. A beam of light shines on Jack, decoded inside him like nails on a chalkboard and the intermittent pounding of an MRI, ghostly things leaking out of him.

The wave of Lineartime rises and crashes underneath Dori, pushing and pulling like a tsunami trampoline.

Jerome Candle takes on a new form

In addition to facing against The Mobius Hustler, they encounter other strangeness within Squaretime (chopping a lot of the game-y stuff out):
Time Worms: Skimming the liminal space between temporal dimensions are the Time Worms, like Rorschach inkblots; fractal-shaped creatures of living light- or rather, radiation- existing in non-integer time. Oscillating at frequencies only conceivable in > 1.0-dimensional time, they hijack the immune system and circadian rhythm, inducing dysphoria, dissociation, waking nightmares, and a complete detachment from space and time.
King Kevorkian: A god like a biblical angel by way of the radiation symbol will chase after those infested to exterminate the Time Worms. It has limited ability to convey that it is trying to help or to convey the above information, and what it does hurts. King Kevorkian is the third god that The Monkey King could not defeat.
Psyr Psymon Pstilton: Humanoid Platypus abomination that sounds like Lemongrab. In extreme pain/frustration, not entirely coherent. Psyr Psymon Pstilton is also Moon Marine's Familiar.
A booming psychic voice hijacks Psyr Psymon Pstilton (a slightly modified version of the Danger Message):
This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honor… no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.
What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is in a particular location… it increases towards a center… the center of danger is here… of a particular size and shape, and below us.
The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
Also, Eleanor and her Pet.

In order to defeat Mobius Hustler, they have to cut through temporal dimensions again, creating an interlocking chain wherein the Mobius Hustler's mobius loop is inextricably linked with the Squaretime dimension (as can be seen here, where the first step was cutting the Mobius Hustler's timeloop in Lineartime to enter Squaretime). They do this by making modifications to any of the six time shards they chose at the beginning of entering Squaretime.

After they do this, they see a psychic vision of the true form of the Homicidal Maniac, massacring everyone at the Umami Milk Club in The Court of the Rose-Tinted Looking Glass.

They learn the truth, that the kitten died due to some kind of health-related issue that the vets could not identify, and that he blames himself and suspects it is somehow his own fault, and was merely allowing himself to believe The Team was responsible because he was not ready to handle his grief. He is left, trapped in a timeloop in Squaretime, with The Team vowing to rescue him some day. But first, they need to stop The Homicidal Maniac.


Session 19: Massacre at Umami Milk Club

There's a lot of setup in this session since at the time we had not yet decided we wanted to start wrapping up, so I'll cut to the relevant part where they're at Umami Milk Club and dealing with the Homicidal Maniac.

However, I will first include the roll table for when PCs drink the eponymous Umami Milk (regular milk spiked with Dharmafinil aka "Cheddar"):
  1. A cartoon version of Psymon follows you from the corner of your vision, and so your eyes constantly dart side to side. Only you can see or interact with him. Psymon is helpful but will encourage you to join the Dada-DA social network (basically the Deseret Avengers equivalent of 4Chan / QAnon) and plant intrusive thoughts of alt-right extremist ideology into your head. KAO: Fighting these thoughts only entrenches them further- they aren’t rational, he’s just overstimulating your prefrontal cortex’s inhibition network. Instead, find a way to come to terms with them (without succumbing to them!).
  2. Mr. Smiley appears before you, and you must constantly crane your neck in different directions to see around him. Mr. Smiley allows you to use your Reincarnation Ritual once without consequence; in fact, it insists… KAO: Orchestrate a scenario necessitating the use of your reincarnation ritual.
  3. You hallucinate something relating to one of your Karmic Attachments. It will present complications for you but move you closer towards resolving the Karmic Attachment (or evolving its nature).
  4. One eye sees only color, the other sees only black/white contrast. Seeing only out of the color eye allows one to see that which cannot otherwise be perceived, but makes it harder to find any specific thing. Seeing only out of contrast eye allows one to find specific things more easily, but fail to find that which is not already expected. One or both of these possibilities will lead to a KAO.
  5. Mr. Smiley
Also, The Team were beginning to befriend Stacy Reagan, partially under false pretenses, and there's a sort of rom-com or friend-com relationship burgeoning between Stacy and Alco, which also ends up getting somewhat truncated due to wrapping up the campaign in only a handful more sessions.

When the Homicidal Maniac arrives, it murders several NPCs; The Bear, Psyr Psymon Pstilton, and Olivia Loeb, for which I wrote some... they mostly don't follow any particular poetic structure, but I'm still calling them poems.
PSYR PSYMON PSTILTON WHEN THE END PRECEDES THE BEGINNING
Adrenaline-glazed Homicidal Maniac gnaws on the skull of an absurd creature, beady dead eyes stare in non-Euclidean directions and Null, brain fluid and matter hit the ground in grotesque and comical thud. A dead mouth quivers empty words of hate and ignorance, limp body curls in on itself in paradoxical rigor mortis hoping one last time for warmth and shelter where none will be found.

RUSTING GLITTER FRACTAL IN TERMINAL IMAGINATION
From cracked chrysalis spills a ball of limbs and eyes and wings the color of a migraine phosphene flashing with each spasm of scraping rusted metal and synesthetic stink of iron. The Imago stumbles forward pathetically in fits. A giant hand bathed in fluorescent light pierces perception, slowly and deliberately crushes and smears the Imago with a kinesthetic expression somewhere between apathy and glee. Jazz hand exit stage left.

THE BEAR IS SUFFERING
Foaming mouth fractal dimension diseased lungs yell
Unclear consequences too big to failing organs many orphaned
Careless recreation roiling mutation rotten Eden unwell
Kill me please give me release malnourished dreams dwarfened !

After defeating The Homicidal Maniac, they come to learn that it was actually the Rogue Poltergeist of Jerome Candle's kitten. They have a somber moment, where Moon Marine shows great empathy towards them (having suffered a loss of her own), complicating their preconceived notions about her as part of the Deseret Avengers.


Session 20: The Council of the Lamp

The beginning of the end. An intentional pastiche of The Fellowship of the Rings, wherein all of the Factions up to this point meet up to discuss an imminent threat to the Karmic Cycle.

Emil McGinley, the Recurser also known as Glass Maiden Pixie, who also set Dori up to take the fall for their crimes in Denver, has acquired a Magic Lamp and is formulating a Wish to break the world.

The members of the various Factions are grouped up into different teams, with the PCs and three NPCs from across the Factions forming the Assault Team to stop Emil from completing the Wish, chosen for this job given their personal relationship and previous encounter with Emil. The Players were given a list of NPCs to choose from across different Faction brackets, and chose Doctor Loves-Me-Not, Moon Marine, and Soft Mother.

In order to find The Court of the Unasked Question, the intel team informs them they must conceive a means of reincarnating an abstract concept, and then act on it. The abstract concepts include The Economy, Technology, Culture, or Psychosocial Identity. Instead, they decide they want to intercept the Wish entirely and still break the Karmic Cycle, but without breaking the world entirely.

DANGER DOX
Dori had previously made a deal with Oxtail Ouroboros, a Digital Spirit, who said as payment for services rendered it would one day dox Dori. Oxtail Ouroboros leaks Dori’s failure to protect Olivia to the Celestial Bureaucracy, shedding a light on it that cannot be denied. A powerful devil, Charging Bull, is now coming after her ceaselessly, and the Team cannot stay in one place for long. However, a mysterious Corporate Spirit known as Fearless Girl gives her Cold Iron Zixie Cell in order to defend herself.
Cold Iron Zixie Cell: Replace any electronic’s battery with the Cold Iron Zixie Cell to supercharge its physical or metaphysical abilities (WIS-based). Or, if placed under the tongue, provides wisdom, centeredness, and energy to oneself.
Charging Bull: Preceded by a shocking ball lightning followed by a pulse of energy with the force to knock over a midsize car. Grotesque cyborg minotaur. Doors cannot be used in its presence and streets and alleys become labyrinthine.
INCOGITATION
Ghost in the Mirror uses a time shard Alco kept from Squaretime to trap Alco’s Karma; it can only be accessed when she enters the mirror, only through the distorted world of her perceptions through time. Can access Squaretime and use Subjective Objective to make alterations to a limited extent in the past or future. Alco can also temporarily trade places with The Ghost in the Mirror, but to do so is to acknowledge the worst in oneself.
VIMALA METATRON
While not fully healed from The Monkey King’s neglect and trauma, Jack can channel the Metro Thing’s urban elementalism through the Sword of Manjushri, or more destructively, summon the Metro Thing.


Session 21: Traverse the Multiverse pt.1

With a metaphysical goal in mind, they follow leads across the city, leading them to Time Worm portals across a multiverse of dimensions. In each dimension there is an Elemental Beast, whose favor they may curry in the form of receiving a Credit, which they can use towards their abstract Karmic task.

For each of the dimensions I include the basic sandbox notes, although in most cases the PCs only saw a small slice of it as we blew through most of them pretty quickly.

The first dimension:
Seneca City
Nature and architecture intermingle across dewdrop arcologies, high-pressure aerial rivers, and cosmic energy harvesting obelisks. The people have a contentedness about them that the curious find overbearing, and although civil and ecologically sustainable, there is an epidemic of suicide and other mental health issues.

Steppes of Plenty / Praxis Magpie
Farmer-scientist leader of Seneca City, most often found in the multi-level, multicolored rice paddy Steppes of Plenty.

Rain Forest
The city is surrounded by a wall that is invisible from a distance, but up close, is a massive curtain of rain. A crowd has gathered as a teenage boy threatens to cross the barrier. It would appear that one does not simply cross the Rain Forest. Aside from any dangers within, the wisdom of the elders is that in crossing the Rain Forest, one loses the ability to identify with their people, they become in spirit, a part of something else.

Indigo Cyclops
Elephantine body with a monstrous humanoid face, one giant karmic "third" eye, elephant tusks, a long prehensile tongue, one hundred humanoid arms thrashing outwards from its stomach.
Elemental Beast of Outside, Foreign things and Meat.
Harvesting resources from the levelled remains of the former New York City. Pays no mind to Seneca City, except the occasional longing glance.
Credit: Merge two superorganisms permanently.

The second dimension:
Post-Humanity Ruins
Unstable crumbling buildings giving way to new trees and foliage. Exotic fantastical animals reclaiming the space.

Feral packs of psionic creatures like Psyr Psymon Stilton (Noonoids) appear to be the apex predators. Within their swarms, Poltergeist dreams manifest in ephemeral yet corporeal form. One of the PCs’ dreams or memories is manifested.

From within a large building is reflected an indiscernible but compelling shimmer. If the Team investigates, the building will begin to collapse while they’re still inside.
Karma Specs: Glasses that allow the wearer to see a quantification of anyone’s Karma. Usage Die : Nd8

Orange Mycelium
Mossy, foggy fungal colony the size of a dragon, a flying ecosystem of symbiotically-linked coral, plant, fungal, and arthropod life like a drifting sunset.
Elemental Beast of Internality, Mind, and Fermentation.
Credit: Create a true self in one person. They are incapable of reaching Buddhahood and exist outside the Karmic Cycle. They can be killed, but their immaterial form is still their persistent consciousness.

The third dimension:
Meta York
Fantastical but by no means perfect future New York City built on top of the remains of the contemporary city. A retrofuturist place inspired by the classic New York World’s Fair. The Warrior-Philosophers of the Unisphere and the Isoborgs reluctantly tolerate each other but it is clear that they cannot co-exist forever.

Unisphere: Centered on top of what was once Flushing Meadows Park in Queens is a Plato’s Republic-esque Warrior-Philosopher scholastic community.

Isoborgs: Throughout the city are people who at first appear to be blocky, retrofuturist robots, but are actually unconscious humans in isolation suits, existing halfway between consciousness and dreaming.

Shining Vantablack Sub-Mariner
Paradoxical creature like a dolphin, cephalopod, and spider.
Elemental Beast of Non-Being, Empty Space, Unknown, Paradox, and Sleep.
Can only be accessed via dreams, drugs, delirium, digital devices, and near-death experiences.
Worshipped as a god.
Credit: Nullify the existence of any one thing. The material world will fill the void, proportionally altering all things which have substantially interacted with the nullified thing.

Session 22-23: Traverse the Multiverse pt.2

The fourth dimension, and the one they spend the most time in:
Dystopian Cyberpunk Future New York
Near future corporate-controlled dystopia. The most dominant corporation is The Court of Gyro Hell fast food chain, having defeated The Doppler Potential in a joint Congressional/Boardroom coup. The remaining strength of The Doppler Potential keeps the United States Government alive in a mostly token role. The Deseret Avengers have become the de facto ruling Mafia on the decrepit Earth, while the wealthy have moved to the Moon Colony.

Silken Alleyway: After years or decades of underfunding, disrepair, and uncoordinated city developments, the city has transformed into a jigsaw distortion of winding alleys where the working people make do. Gangsters who self-proclaim to be the Deseret Avengers are the law of the Silken Alleyway, although the top gang leaders are funded and empowered by corporate overlords- the true Deseret Avengers.

The Li & Wong Firm of Legal Fuckery
“Fuck around and find out”
Bright neon lit sign along the Silken Alleyway.
Charlotte Li (Rock Dove) and Arnold Wong (Wild Turkey), in superhero costumes.
Looks shady as fuck but they are actually trying to protect the city. Reluctantly working with the Doppler Potential revolutionaries against the DA and Court of Gyro Hell, but not above working with the DA enforcers when necessary.

Lunar Lift: A massive super-skyscraper that towers over the rest of the city and serves as a space elevator to the moon. A well guarded fortress for the elite. Agents of The Doppler Potential have infiltrated the super-skyscraper, preparing a revolution.

Naked Fox-Hare
Black Sheep Shepherd and Fox-Hare as a post-singularity Elemental Beast of Time, Statistics, Prediction, and the Cosmos.
Was responsible for the early development of the Lunar Lift and moon colonization, but is now a carefree figurehead who just wishes to roam and play across the moon, even as his territory rapidly shrinks due to terraforming development.
Credit: Can make one thing preincarnate upon death.
In one of the earliest sessions, The Team had an encounter with Fox-Hare and his gang. While presenting aggressively, Fox-Hare was actually a computer nerd and prospective scholarship candidate, empowered by his Digital Spirit Black Sheep Shepherd, before the violent encounter which left his arm permanently broken. He was later scouted and hired by Johannes of Anti-Sphinx and became one of the lead QlippothNet software engineers, and also received a Dharmatic prosthetic arm.

The key theme of this recurring character, is that every step of the way, rather than being consumed by vengeance, he chooses to make good out of his circumstances. The culmination of his detachment from anger and vengeance, is that he eventually becomes something like a god.

There was also a whole thing here with a high-tech Lunar Lab that they bypassed entirely before reaching Naked Fox-Hare.

They are informed by Fox-Hare that they can't proceed to Kristalvers Amsterdam (aka The Court of the Unasked Question) until they resolve Charging Bull.

A Union of Seneca City Philosopher-Agriculturalists create an impenetrable Prosperity Circuit which Charging Bull can’t puncture, giving The Team the opportunity to defeat it. They identify collectively as Cyclops of the interlocking Hands. This was the result of earlier actions across the dimensions.

There had been a potential opportunity for The Team to preincarnate The Bear, but even in failing to do so, they still learn that Fearless Girl is the reincarnation of The Bear.

They engage in a very abstract kind of non-violent Conflict with Charging Bull, culminating with them absorbing it into their Positron Pack along with a Hungry Ghost Poltergeist, creating a feedback loop of infinite capitalist energy from Charging Bull and infinite consumption of Hungry Ghost, creating a viable homeostatic pocket universe- creating something beautiful and non-linear out of two dysfunctional concepts.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Fiona Maeve Geist: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

Fiona needs no introduction; if you're reading this blog you definitely know who she is already. What you may not know is that she is the editor of Maximum Recursion Depth and has been playing in my MRD campaign for over a year now, but in this conversation, like many of ours previously, we go aaalll over the place :).

Check out Disk Horse or read my not-review


Max: Starting with an off-kilter question, you have a very distinct aesthetic, there's probably a word for it, of a sort of grungy scifi punk sort of thing, I think you know what I'm referring to. What about that aesthetic speaks to you? How did you discover it?

Fiona: So I think I'm interested in a lot of things that aren't really game design and I'm always interested in how it bleeds into things I write. I'm interested in, ultimately, how technology shapes society and how people make due "eating soup with a knife" that is, using a tool to accomplish a task that isn't quite the task it was shaped for but it is the closest equivalent.
I also am interested, broadly, in like the culture of marginal people and how they exist within larger systems, I think like in the US there's a tendency to call that "punk" since kinda the image of like... punk as 80s anti-establishment fashion/music/personal expression.
And like... I like punk music? I grew up playing punk music and a few of my favorite albums are probably, broadly, some sort of punk music.
I think a lot of the aesthetic I try for in Mothership stuff, mostly, I guess it's sort of in everything is the concept of making something out of failed materials or inadequate materials or scavenged materials and inventing a reason for the system.
Like I liked Kafka and Stanislaw Lem a lot but I also think Rita Indiana's Tentacle is one of the best pieces of cosmic horror I've read.
Like... I think games often don't find culture very interesting because they do something sitcom-y and I don't think it's wrong or bad or even bad design but I guess what I'm most interested in is like... kinda what cultures do under strain and change and especially do to people who are displaced by emerging or changing technology.
So I guess a world of decaying machines and such appeals to me because I really do kinda fund Shinya Tsukamoto and William Gibson kinda foundational for how I see a lot of sci-fi aesthetics more than Blade Runner? (Even if I like PKD an awful lot).

Max: When you say "games don't often find culture very interesting" and that they "do things sitcom-y", can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by that? I think I understand, but to make sure.

Fiona: So, I think like right games firstly to be certain I don't seem like I'm making an elitist claim: have their own culture and most games are systems/settings slash whatever that aren't interested in like... what I'd call like... the daily life of NPCs?
Like "protagonist syndrome" maybe where PCs are kinda implied to be the people that change things and the world around them reacts to their major decisions but like... the world bends around them including like bigger social changes (and to be clear this is a vast simplification) but like one way of putting it is that like... games usually are about a core cast that moves through a world where they are protagonists and that like is a very specific type of story and like... I get it?
But like... I think science-fantasy/picaresques/cyberpunk slash honestly a lot of genres have a unique life in how people just sort of go through things? I've been reading Gene Wolfe's New Sun books and I think what's impressive about them (which I feel sort of stupid being like "a canonically well regarded science fantasy book that has won several awards is shocker fucking good) is how alien so much of the culture is but characters still have these very sensible motivations which make this fantastical story work before you get into how many framing devices there are to the goddamn thing.
Like I think a lot of the appeal of older RPGs to some extent was the appeal of something like Ran (a movie I watched today and I feel very cultured for watching) where there's these sort of big power politics decisions and battles and etc. but it's all very much about cultural decisions (including how it is adapting a work to a different context and gender swapping characters).
Like... I think a lot of contemporary things sort of "have solved elves" like elves are (this amalgamation of contemporary ideas about elves) and like that reflects a lot of ideas but there's no real feeling elves are anything other than humans with pointy ears who like nature.
And I think what's interesting about independent games is the ability to make something that has both this very specific and contextual like bit of feeling while simultaneously having environmental storytelling beyond a skeleton holding a note explaining backstory but also have a sense it is something you could pick up and make your own because it isn't so well defined that you are breaking some unspoken rule by playing an NPC to your strengths rather than the modules plan.

Max: What you say about elves, that, to me, has always seemed like more of a failure of imagination. I mean, I understand the people who lean into that conscientiously and use that in effective ways as you're describing. But especially as someone who I know is interested in these bigger themes of transhumanism and of evolving the idea of what culture and identity can mean, that idea of elves seems just so limiting.
You've contributed so much to indie TTRPGs already, but along these lines, are there any... conceits (for lack of a better term), whether that's game mechanics or settings or something more meta, that you've been thinking about, with regard to TTRPGs?

Fiona: I think on the first part and some of this is probably where like... my divergent thinking from people is somethings extremely cringe and I sound very fucking weird and hippie-ish: I think a lot about the Thomas Nagel essay "What Is It Like To Be A Bat" (I think I have the title right) where he makes this like pretty profound claim that humans cannot see the world like a bat sees the world or even adequately map it they can only measure it empirically (kinda) and make educated guesses about what it would be like and I think about how that leads into fine distinctions often like "why are pod people or zombies allegedly scary?" (they represent the concept of mass conformity) so like I think one of the interesting things potentially about elves is that they represent a very different way of seeing the world that includes not having a human centric view of it, humans just are a thing that exists which like... I think is why I think like fantasy currently suffers from stuffing so much fantastical stuff into a setting you just sort of make fantasy a substitute technology to make the world more familiar (like how RPG shops work in the JRPG era vs in the power climb module era of like contemporary RPGs and like this is a disoriented TANGENT anyway).

Max: I have also been thinking about the concept of Qualia lately, coincidentally enough, so it's a good tangent!

Fiona: I don't know what I've ultimately contributed to games, I think mostly what I care about a lot is the concept of trying to make honest and like authentic work by being sincere about what you want to make and then ruthlessly evaluating the potential for it to achieve the aim.
And doing the work to bridge the space between one's taste and skill, I hope in like 10 years to feel like I did pretty good work that I have continuously improved upon and that along the way I got better as an editor, that I picked up other skills and that I made work that people found useful and/or meaningful but also that whether or not people enjoyed or read my work is something beyond my control.
I hope ultimately the point to most of my work is that people have the freedom to invent anything they want and I hope that I help them imagine something fantastical and meaningful to them that they feel something sublime in sharing with others and honestly I also simultaneously fear someone sincerely sharing that with me because like I don't know what to say about that because like I'm basically a stranger whose writing was interesting to them.

Max: There are few people who would use words like "honest and authentic" and "ruthless" in the same context, but I very much agree and I think that is one of many reasons why we get along haha.

Fiona: I mean "honest" and "authentic" are both like... weird terms to me because they're like kinda a mood board for a brand. But like... they're honestly things I think people should aspire to and I think it's ultimately also healthy if somewhat like... difficult at first to like... do the sort of self evaluation that is necessary for being a good craftsperson and I see myself as a maker in some sense. That is being ruthless about your own work. Like there's a Richard Pryor quote I like about no child telling their mother they want to grow up to be a critic. And like... I think some of the like creator dislike of critics is like kinda facile on "yes a critic often doesn't make the same thing as you and is judging by a criteria beyond commercial success" (which is the difference between critical coverage and PR) but like... right to read your own work as a critic but also press yourself to overcome that is how you get better at something and also to subject your own work to criticism. But like... I think legitimate fields require a critical field and it's a thing that excites me about NERVES and Anti-Sisyphus.

Max: Ya, I absolutely agree. Maybe let's talk about that a bit more, if you're able to do so. I've read the first issue of NERVES, the... I actually don't quite know how to describe it, the critical analysis journal of indie TTRPGs? In any case, what are the future plans for NERVES or Anti-Sisyphus? And I don't necessarily mean in like a logistical sense, but conceptually, what do you hope to do with that? Where do you see it going? What kind of influence would you hope for it to have?

Fiona: I don't run either! But like I do actually want to write something for NERVES and I've written a pseudo-response-journal thing to Jared on Twitter before he quit Twitter called Anti-Sissy-Fuss which I think like there's one of those that I deleted the thread for and etc.

Max: Oh that's right, my mistake! I knew you were involved with NERVES but I forgot to what extent exactly. I think that speaks to how deeply embedded you are in the community and how many projects you're involved with that I forgot.

Fiona: lol I feel so weird about how much work I've done like... the weird thing of looking back over like a few years and being like "wow I've like worked on a disturbingly large number of large and mid sized projects." 
Like also smaller stuff and like... the weird thing of as an individual writer I'm not actually particularly notable but like... I'm hoping to actually start releasing work and focusing on like honing and crafting some things.

Max: haha I can appreciate that, hustling so you can stop hustling...

Fiona: I mean, I'm a woman of simple tastes who mostly wants to work on like small scale projects and do weird perfectionist stuff around like bits of design.

Max: Any chance I can get you to reveal some details on some of these new projects as an individual writer you're working on?

Fiona: I owe projects! which is probably like a thing, since while I did put out like the digital version of my COVID-derailed Zinequest Zine I still owe a physical and like that's just been delayed by like a series of weird things with like "doing incredibly small scale things is not actually efficient but it's about a process and it's why I threw a lot of caveat emptor stuff up but also was way more optimistic about my timeline when there wasn't a world altering pandemic and my rapid transition into working online after working a medical-adjacent job for years while being someone with an anxiety disorder". But I don't like parasocial marketing so I've tried not to document that lol I am actually terrible at giving interviews. But like... I have a lot of things written but mostly I am interested in working on them when I have more time and putting in work to like create sustainable small scale publishing that avoids like a lot of the problems of hype based marketing but rather sustainable growth by having a long term commitment to the things you make interests me. And I think a lot of people are doing that work

Max: Don't think of this as an interview then, this is just another one of our many long and weird conversations!
But ya, like it almost seems trite to talk about when we often get into some headier things, but the idea of writing and publishing in a sustainable way, and finding that balance between creating because you want to create, and falling into a hype cycle because you want people to care about the things you're excited about, or need them to be excited about in order to financially justify the effort, as the case may be, but it's unfortunate that that has to be the case.

Fiona: I mean I think this is the actual heartbreaker part of the industry, like it's less people bet the farm on their 3.5 homebrew setting that is mostly the core rules with a few house rules but is a 60 dollar hard cover, mostly to justify having a lot of lore.
but more that like there isn't just the appreciation that like... doing something is perhaps worth it for reasons beyond money but also the reality is yes people should be paid and I think the most harmful thing to that is not amateurism but amateurism causing people to undervalue their own talent and charge too little for their work justifying an overall devaluing of "the work".

Max: For sure, especially with things like itch, where there's just been this mass explosion of creators, and it can easily turn into a race to the bottom.
Do you have any advice you would give to people trying to figure out how to effectively value their work, or get their ideas out there without falling into the "hype cycle"?
As much as you talk down about yourself, and I don't mean to downplay those feelings, but I stand by what I've said that you are an influential figure who has accomplished a lot, and so what you have to say here I do think has real weight to it.

Fiona: My really uncool and legitimately me being the best and most sincere I can be in this answer is: 
first ask yourself: am I taking care of myself, is my life like basically in some way managed?
If yes: do I see an immediate way to improve the overall way that RPGs are made or do I just want to play rpgs?
If you care about how they are made: how much do you care about either trying to make some sort of organization that exists to enforce extremely unglamorous labor claims involving the really mundane parts of this industry? Or teach people minor professional and business skills?
If you want to play RPGs: do you want to do some sort of performing art or like write reviews of things you run or etc.
Let me point out some very uncool parts of this: I'm really not talking about anything ideological here but I am really certain how people feel about me will color how they interpret this.
The first question is because like I think it's really easy to get excited about a project, it's especially really easy to get excited about it when you can get a bunch of people on board to promote what you are doing because like you sincerely want to or because you want to give it a try or because you have something mostly completed but just a little bit of polish or etc. etc. etc. it's really hard to finish the project, deliver the project and then continue selling the project. And I think a lot of the model for being a game designer has been a kind of obfuscated "build the brand" mantra of like increasingly selling a back catalogue but also using crowdfunding to raise a lot of awareness: which like I don't think is like a unique sin to any goddamn person or even really a sin it's just I don't think a very sustainable business practice and like the real work actually starts with the unsold copies of a book after you have successfully printed it. Since you have to sell it somewhere and there are a list of places who will buy it wholesale but they probably will not buy a lot of copies and they aren't naturally incentivized to market it, like realistically the business of a store is not to sell your individual product it is to sell products.
There are obvious exceptions to this, but right my point in this thought experiment/bit of advice is: the conclusion of this is start your own store or sell a digital copy on itch/DTRPG with either a print on demand button or like a store link to sell individual copies, that's actually kinda a large decision. But realistically: if you are using a professional business platform you are basically starting a business. Like... a majority of businesses fail and it's probably ok and healthy to fail and making a small risk on printing a few zines is fine.
You shouldn't be discouraged by my opinion if you feel a burning desire to create something because you should feel a burning desire to create something. Or "I think people should feel a burning desire to create something" but like... end of my Ted Talk: "take calculated risks, be extremely realistic about what you can actually deliver, don't over-promise things, actually accept growth is an extremely slow and tedious process with bursts of excitement".

Max: Not only would I not say this answer is uncool, I might go so far as to say it's the opposite of uncool (I believe the ancients called that... cool?). I appreciate how, in a very systematic way, from the get-go, you prioritize self-care in this response, then community, but as a function of having one's own shit together.
And as for that latter part about continuing to sell the project even after delivery, the existential frustration and despair of that is something I am intimately familiar with and really cannot be overstated, yet I don't think I've ever heard anyone, myself included, express it in this way.
While I agree with the final point with regard to having your own store and taking the reins because nobody else will do it for you, I think there's an existential component you tap into, of being prepared for all that this entails, that truly can't be overstated, in addition to the logistical aspects.

Fiona: Well yeah I mean this is ultimately why I think people should get UBI. Just... I think people could do amateur things as amateurs for actual fun they wouldn't need to sell the end result they could just... do something they like because they have the security to pursue some pleasure. If they felt skilled at it or passionate about it they could make a go of selling it because it is something they feel a passionate need to share their vision with others. That's idealistic tho and I'm a cynically practical person. I think there are people really having those conversations and doing the work and I'm proud to call them friends and work on projects with them. I try not to give shout outs because of like... weird feelings of conflict of interest in a small field but I think anyone who has sincerely talked to me in the past two years knows who they are.

Max: This was a really awesome analysis of the industry as it currently exists, and I genuinely think really valuable advice for new creators or bloggers or small-scale creators trying to think about how to take the next step or understand what that will look like. 
So as far as I'm concerned you always have a platform with me, but for the time being, are there any last things you'd like to say?

Fiona: It would make me immeasurably pleased if people watched extremely weird and excellent science-fantasy/dying world/cosmic horror film "On the Silver Globe" which I think is a fundamentally beautiful piece of art which inspires me as a creator.

Max: I watched it at your suggestion and no joke it inspired me in deep and profound ways.

Monday, February 7, 2022

MRD Court of Hell Generator 2.0

One regret I have with MRD is that I did not include much in the way of generators or roll tables e.g. for generating a Court of Hell or things like that. I have some on the blog, some of which are hyperlinked in the book somewhat obscurely, but I didn't necessarily feel like the blog post generators were up to the standards for the book, and regrettably didn't prioritize making them better and it sort of slipped through the cracks.

This post includes a significantly expanded and enhanced version of the Court Crawl generator, and if there's sufficient interest I may do a revamped Poltergeist Investigation generator or other kinds of generators. Would people be interested in seeing this or something similar turned into a pdf or given stylistic web layout and turned into a companion product for MRD?

Also reminder, the MRD Poltergeist Form Jam will be ongoing until the end of the month. Just enter a single Poltergeist Form, with no art or fancy layout, and there's a chance to have professional art and layout commissioned for your Poltergeist Form which you can sell or make available freely at your discretion!


As a bonus,
Tibbius (drivethrurpg, itch; Reavers of Mag dtrpg / itch) did an excellent writeup for the Arch-Devil The Wire:
As you move among the thick-bodied pale green stalks and yeast-scented shadows of a fungal forest where the pink-fluted caps loom twenty feet over your heads, a figure slightly taller than the tallest of you steps out from behind the next stalk ahead. Somehow you know it's a "he."

"Good morning," he cheerfully buzzes. A myriad tiny translucent wings, and as many small bright blue sparks, form the sound of his speech. His body comprises dozens of slender wire pieces, curving and straightening as he walks toward you with impeccable grace. On the lower part of the front of what would be a head on a human person, three orange-and-black butterflies, pierced through their bodies by a single bright strand of silver, gently flutter their big bright wings. It's like he's trying to smile at you ... He ducks his head toward you and holds out a literally wiry hand as if to offer a hearty shake. On each slender finger of his hand, impaled caterpillars struggle feebly as little blue-white sparks crackle faintly among them.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

SageDaMage: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

SageDaMage is an indie tabletop creator who I first properly got to know from the Funnel Jam which Sage hosted. I had intended to create a Superhero Funnel for the jam inspired by My Hero Academia, which later became my Superpowers 2.0 post. Unfortunately, I ended up overengineering the game a bit and it just didn't quite come together the way I would have hoped in time for the deadline, and I've always felt a little guilty about that.

However, since then Sage and I have played in several games together. He playtested the Superhero Funnel and also an extremely rough draft version of MRD2. I have also played in several games of his, including an Into the Odd one-shot based on World of Horror, the Into the Odd adventure The Iron Coral, and a condensed version of Silent Titans using MRD as the system (see my PC for that game here).

We also touch on some fairly heavy topics, a little bit at the beginning and especially at the end. I really appreciate what Sage had to say, so I hope others find this interview as moving and inspirational as I did.

This interview occurred before the official announcement or launch, but Sage is currently crowdfunding Discordantopia on itch!


Max: Your games trend towards being rules-light and mechanically distinct, even to the extent that they build off of other systems. Can you discuss your history with TTRPGs and your approach to game design?

Sage: My history with TTRPGs is fairly standard for people in my niche, I'd say. In 2014, my dad ran the 5e starter set. Aside from the fact that I nearly died IC for charging into battle as a wizard, I was absolutely enamored by being able to tell stories collaboratively. Specifically, that my dad could exert such control over the story and what we saw and interacted with. In 2014 I was a little too young, but I got back into it a few years later with Play-By-Post. I've been doing PBP for at least 5 years now. That's the basic history, although I can certainly go deeper into how I came to where I am today, at least in terms of game philosophy.
I started practicing my modern approach to game design well before I really knew how to run what I was writing, funnily enough. For example, my first two systems, Indexx and Anime Messerspiel, I couldn't run it if you wanted me to, at the time. I just knew that there was an audience for that sorta thing, was inspired by the systems I saw, and pressed publish! 
My gateway into learning more about how to actually run the games I wrote as well as designing more of them came through the FKR Collective, although the NSR discord was an important role too, although more for feedback than anything else. In about a year, I went from running structured games fairly tightly to, now, being able to run anything the way I like, including running no system at all!
Anyway, my approach to game design is more out of necessity than it is out of (initially, moreso) wanting to design small games. I have ADD it makes me constantly all over the place, bouncing from idea to idea. Most of what you see on my itch was completed in a short period of time, where I just kinda had a burst of motivation and finished it. I ALWAYS have grand ideas for RPGs. However, it's hard to get the attention to finish them. As well, although more recently, I've been preferring the lack of a grand RPG.

Max: Refining those grand ideas into something manageable is difficult with or without ADD, although I can imagine that only makes it harder. I did not realize you had ADD, but with that in addition to you being so young, if you don't mind me saying, it's impressive to me how engaged you are with TTRPGs and how much you've already created. So as far as the grand ideas go, take your time!

Sage: Thank you! I'm also autistic (might as well throw the big diagnosis out there), a symptom of which is hyper-fixation. Combined, though, with ADD, it's more of a scattered hyper-fixaton. And, I am taking my time! I have the luxury of it, and I certainly use it. I've been working on some big stuff, that I've surprisingly stuck to.

Max: Oh ya? Anything you would feel comfortable talking about?

Sage: The longest one so far is Spectrum, my therapeutic RPG, which I'm working on with an actual therapist. It was initially more for her than me, but as I've come to appreciate both wholesome RPGs as well as RPGs that deal with sensitive topics, it's kinda become my baby.

Max: Oh wow, that's super interesting and also a really admirable thing to put out in the world. I used to do research in psychology and neuroscience, not therapy or clinical work, but it's still something I deeply appreciate. Can you elaborate on the kinds of psychological concepts that will be explored in the game?

Sage: I want to make basically "playkits" for different types of therapy, which will guide the therapist (who probably hasn't touched an RPG before) to tailor the game to those themes. The therapist I'm making it for generally explores social anxiety and that sorta thing with her kids, but also does more generalized therapy, so the RPG medium ticks the first box, but then the RPG itself needs to be tailored to different players/groups. In the FKR fashion, it will be procedure heavy with minimal rules. 90-100% of them will be GM-facing. Undecided if there should be a way for the players to gain agency through a mechanic or not.

Max: Procedure-heavy is a good term for what I was referring to before. I'm less well read on the FKR scene so it didn't immediately come to mind but I think I've heard that phrase used before in the context of FKR.
You had mentioned starting with 5e and then moving in the direction of FKR, but what is it about the procedure-heavy, rules-light approach that appeals to you especially?

Sage: Part of what I don't like about 5e is that most of the players have expectations that need to be met on how the game is run. In order to solve that, I moved away from 5e. Then, I had players thinking quite mechanically, wanting to push mechanisms to progress in the story (I was running Dungeon World and other PbtA stuff for a bit). I had a problem with that, so I moved to the OSR. I felt that the OSR was a bit too into itself for my tastes, so moved to the NSR and Into the Odd. From there, I kept exploring the boundaries of my limits on what was too little or too much. Turns out, it was all attitude. I like the FKR because it's style can, theoretically, be applied to any game. To really enjoy myself, I just needed to sigh and let go the importance of rules.

Max: I appreciate the eclecticism for sure. Again, being less well-versed in FKR (if it had been a thing a couple of years earlier I probably would know more about it but I sort of missed the window...) I may lack some of the language or I may ask some rudimentary questions, but in any case, are there any specific kinds of procedures, or approaches to designing procedures, that have influenced you?

Sage: Out of everything, the one thing that stuck with me throughout my entire GMing career was a page from Worlds in Peril, a superhero game I played in, about narrative scale.
Basically, it talks about thinking about the scale at which you are having a conflict. Are you fighting mooks, or the main villain? If mooks, conditions (a mechanic in the game) applied should be lower in danger. If a villain, conditions applied would be a lot higher in danger.
Despite being mechanically bound, the advice was quite great for thinking about a combat narratively and how results could be reached.
A lot of it was "use common sense," which, up to that point, I'd never really heard before in an RPG. Shouldn't you rely on the mechanics to determine that stuff? I remember thinking to myself. Turns out, no. "Use common sense" is my biggest "procedure" when I GM, now.
When I talk about procedure, honestly, most of it is so ingrained in my mind from practice, that it's hard to put to words. Muscle memory, if you will. Also part of why Spectrum has taken a long time. I'm not used to putting the procedure I commonly employ to words.

Max: Designing on a larger scale like that is definitely a different beast from just playing or running games, you start to realize all the holes in your understanding, or how the writing and organization of a game like that requires a whole separate skillset on top of everything else.
It's funny you say that about Worlds in Peril, while I haven't played it, I actually had a similar experience with Mutants & Masterminds- it was also one of the first games to make me realize how "common sense" and narrative construction can go into TTRPGs and it's not all just the typical D&D stuff.
So in addition to the kinds of systems and procedures, what about narrative, genre and worldbuilding? You've discussed Worlds in Peril and you have a superhero game of your own. You've run a World of Horror-inspired Into the Odd one-shot which I was a player in, and several of the games on your itch page are inspired by anime, Japanese videogames, or Japanese culture. From a worldbuilding or narrative perspective, would you consider these to be among your primary influences? What else might you consider to be primary influences?

Sage: I would, I really love epic moments in anime, and doing that collaboratively at a table just amplifies that love.
Speaking of my dad again, after running some 5e, he decided to try out Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This was while I was still futzing around with 5e not understanding why the square doesn't fit in the circle. Over like 3 years now, he's created an amazing acid fantasy campaign with his friends, and it's always endlessly inspiring to me.
Specifically, outside of the genre itself, the idea that the story becomes more and more grand over time. After 3 years, the players have done a lot to shake the city they've been playing in for the majority of the time. They might even go on to save the world from galaxy-hopping snake people that help strange mythical demons hatch at the core of the world to then consume them!
I've had a peek of this a bit later than his game, through a 3-year Play-By-Post game in the Pokemon universe. It used to use Pokemon Tabletop United, and now uses my own Pokemon Zero.

Max: It's really cool that this is a passion you get to share with your dad. So he's the one who got you into TTRPGs, but is it because of his interest that you became passionate, or the other way around?

Sage: Yeah, he did get me into it, at least 5e. But then, before doing the Lamentations game, I was really passionate about RPGs, and inspired him to start the Lamentations game, thus going on to inspire me once more.
At some point down the line when I'm more confident in layout or can pay a layout artist, I want to make a system-neutral zine with my dad making the city he's been running into a thing other people can use.
Made a little layout plan, but haven't gotten too much further. Awhile ago, our goal was this ZineQuest to have something up, but that's far from happening now LOL!

Max: That's too bad that it may take a while longer, but that would also be a nice thing to be able to do!

Sage: Definitely!

Max: So we've talked about game design and procedures, worldbuilding, and even zines. What about adventure or campaign design? I know this is a thing you and I have discussed privately before, but I'm wondering if you've since thought more about it at all or changed how you think about it.

Sage: Adventures are tough for me, but I'm trying! I want to make a Liminal Horror mystery (again inspired by World of Horror), and finally finish my Mausritter adventure. Exciting news, recently; I'm going to have a little teaser of the adventure in ManaRampMatt's Bernpyle: YEAR ONE! It'll be in the hands of a lot of people, including myself, which is quite exciting! Something I want to do with future adventures (and the mystery I'm making) is make them more like DW Dungeon Starters than a rigid story. Asking questions to players, making the GM come up with explanations on the fly, that kinda thing. That's not really easier, but it does excite me more, which I guess makes it easier in the end.

Max: Motivation is a major factor! By Liminal Horror are you referring to a particular system (it sounds vaguely familiar), or do you mean that as a genre? And I have literally no idea what you mean by ManaRampMatt's Bernpyle: YEAR ONE, if you wouldn't mind explaining for me...

Sage: Liminal Horror is what I used in that World of Horror-inspired ItO one-shot πŸ˜‰ 
Bernpyle is a series of fan zines for Mausritter by Matt, who is making a compendium of them from his first year doing so, that recently funded on kickstarter.

Max: Ooh that's why it sounded familiar! Ah ok, ya I know of Mausritter but am not especially familiar, good to know.
I see on various discord servers, you seem to run more games than practically anyone else I know. Often it seems like the people who are into game design, myself included, spend more time talking about games, blogging, reading, etc., than actually playing them! How do you balance engagement between these different aspects of TTRPGs?

Sage: Well, for one, I've gotten very good at running PBP near-prepless. I only do as much prep as I want/have time to do. So, really, I only need as much time as it takes to write a post. And my PBP games aren't super fast, either, which helps me having many of them.
I generally do PBP earlier and/or later in the day, when I have less energy, and devote my actual writing and theorizing to the middle when I have the most energy and my brain's working. For voice games, well, I haven't been doing a ton of them recently, mostly one-shot stuff since the campaigns I try to do with randos constantly fizzle out and they take more work for me.

Max: It can be really hard to get a campaign off the ground with a new group of randos, I find that I have to cycle through a few people before something actually sticks.
I used to do some completely free-form PBP stuff when I was much younger, but have never done PBP within the TTRPG scene like what you do. How would you describe the differences between running or playing in PBP games vs. real-time games?

Sage: The main pro of PBP is that you can actually think of responses instead of having to do something rushed. However, due to everyone thinking of responses, the pace is definitely a lot slower or more just "throughout the day." The main drawback is similar. Just having conversations surrounding the game is hard. Generally, in PBP, you just think to yourself and do your action. Unlike voice or IRL games, there's very little discussion happening about what to do. Someone just does it. This can lead to some slogs where no one knows what to do but doesn't talk about it. Most of the time it's fine, it's just quite different in that way.

Max: There's something to be said for that for sure, real-time games can be really demanding and exhausting, but I can also imagine the drawbacks of PBP that you're referring to.
We've covered a lot of ground, but is there anything else you'd like to talk about, or like to say?

Sage: I'd like to say a couple things to the readers real quick, while I have some eyes on the interview. Feel free to also discuss it yourself, Max.
Instead of doing boring self-promotion (which I'm sure Max has done for me anyway), I want to instill two things to readers of this interview. I'll start with the one that's outside of the indie TTRPG sphere. My mom has Dercum's Disease. I implore you to research it, I won't go into it too much, but I will say that it is a chronic, incurable disease which causes immense pain and is an autoimmune disorder. An important detail is that it is invisible. While my mom is permanently disabled and near-handicapped, no one would really know looking at her. The literal only way to tell is to feel her skin and find the fatty tumors in her lymphatic system. I mention this because, even as someone that lives around someone with an invisible disease, it is very hard to give them the sympathy they deserve because there's no visual cue to do so. It is a problem that is near and dear to my heart, and this opportunity to platform a bit is one I want to take helping. Even if 1 person has been reached by this, that's one more person than I wouldn't have reached had I not wrote this. To get on something happier, there's one other thing I wish to mention: how amazing the TTRPG community is. We are a part of an emerging medium that could revolutionize entertainment. I truly feel that. I just want you, the reader, to know that you're lucky to be a part of this community at this time. After the slump of 4e, within the massive spike of popularity from 5e. It allows us to leave a unique impact on the hobby as a whole. You just need to take the steps to do so. And many people are! In fact, it is awe-inspiring to me how reachable these "indie titans" are. While definitely not titans outside the sphere, never forget that your TTRPG hero is a Discord/Twitter DM away. It's very humanizing, to me, that people I basically idolize for their design are a click away. Anyway, that's enough of me giving my Valuable Life Lessons(TM).

Max: Wow, you really caught me off guard with this I have to say. I appreciate you saying all of this. Like what you were saying even with ADD and autism as well, there are a lot of ways people can be struggling or suffering right in front of us, without it being obvious. I'm sorry that that's a thing you've had to deal with in multiple regards. It's all the more impressive to me now, how much you've already accomplished for someone so young, and for having such a positive attitude, and having this kind of perspective about the importance of a healthy community. I hope others appreciate what you have to say here as well, this was really wonderful. In practically every one of these interviews I do, at some point I say, "this is why I do these interviews", but I don't know if anything can top this, you've well deservedly taken the crown!

Sage: Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity. Being nice pays off so much in so many ways, it's a wonder to me sometimes why you'd be any other way! I mean, there are a lot of reasons, and I've been there myself, but moreso just... choosing to be mean. People don't choose to have an anger issue or something, but they can choose to do something about it.

Max: I definitely agree with that. Without putting more pressure on you, I really look forward to one day seeing Spectrum. At the end of this interview, I can see how you've really got a good perspective on what TTRPGs can do and how they can be used to help people. Thanks for your doing this interview!

Sage: Not a problem. Lots of fun.