My Games

Monday, May 30, 2022

Getter Robo Armageddon Not-Review

I'm moving in a couple of days, not very far, but still stressful, so in my procrastination on packing and prepping, here's another not-review of an obscure-ish Mecha anime.

Getter Robo Armageddon came out in the very late 90's, but like with Iczer-One, it has this beautiful hand-drawn art style that you just don't see anymore, which I've always really loved. This would have been the very tail-end of that style of animation.

My understanding is that the original Getter Robo, along with Mazinger Z*, were the two original and still most archetypal "Super Robot" Mecha anime, but Getter Robo Armageddon is more like a sequel or spiritual sequel to the original series, set after a Getter-related apocalyptic event. I haven't seen or read the original manga/anime so can't say for sure but that's the impression I get. I will also say, clearly I didn't feel like I needed to know more about the classics to enjoy this.

There have been a couple of anime adaptations of Getter Robo since this one, but honestly the other ones didn't look or sound as good as this one and this is the one that the Super Robot Wars videogames keep coming back to, so it's probably the best modern-ish adaptation.

* I have also watched some Mazinger anime adaptations, should maybe do a not-review of those some time as well but I don't have as much to say about them, but I did reference Mazinger in my MRD2 Campaign Setup. I guess I don't have much to say here either, but oh well...

Like with Iczer-One, this anime looks and sounds really good, and while it's 13 episodes, I don't think it overstays its welcome, and it has really excellent Mecha and Kaiju designs. Also like with Iczer-One, despite how well it's produced and how much setting is implied, I will say it doesn't feel like there's a lot of there there, which I think I also said about Iczer-One.

Unlike Iczer-One, it does at least at first seem like it's going to be about more, it feels like there's intended subtext, but by the end it kind of devolves into typical shonen-adjacent Mecha action anime stuff, which is a bit of a shame. That said, this would have been a great show for the classic Adult Swim anime Saturday night lineup back in the day, would have fit right in.

Superficially, especially at first, it feels actually a lot like Evangelion, despite it's more classic designs for some of the characters and Mecha, although it's just as likely that Evangelion was inspired by earlier Getter Robo than this series was inspired by Evangelion, but it seems plausible given when it came out that it went both ways. But whereas Evangelion is about something, is an exploration of real themes or dare I even say a deconstruction of those themes, I don't think Getter Robo Armageddon really capitalizes on what it sets up.

It seems like it's trying to explore nuclear or other human-made devastation a la Godzilla and plausibly also the classic Getter Robo, and maybe commenting on Japanese Imperialism or American Imperialism, but ya it never really goes anywhere as far as I could tell, but I still enjoyed it.

I don't have much more to say about it than that, but if you like good animation and great Mecha and Kaiju designs and want to know more about the history of Mecha, check it out.

I actually struggled to find great screenshots, but hopefully these have gotten the point across.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Weird Mecha: An Exercise in Nihilism

I've enjoyed creating these Weird Mecha / Golem for MRD2. Two of the PCs in my MRD2 Campaign are using them (Chemysterious Cascader and Lycaon Strain), and one of them showed up as an enemy in a cliffhanger in the previous session. Those two are arguably more concrete than some of the other ones, which is ok, but I do really want to test the viability of abstract "Mecha" and exploring those possibilities both subtextually and in terms of how they open up the game in new ways.

The two current posts include tables for superorganism mecha and embodied cognition mecha. In this post, I'll create a few mecha combining both of these tables. 

TL;DR Creating weird "Mecha" (including more symbolic extrapolations of the body like superorganisms and cognition) where combinations of words are used to craft them.

I didn't have a preconceived notion of what this would entail thematically when I started, but on reflection, there seems to be a kind of anti-theme, an undercurrent of nihilism and a rejection of the two previous posts' themes. Also, to be clear, I'm using the word nihilism very colloquially here.

I chose to avoid using Words I've previously used, but otherwise the words were generated randomly (as were the table combinations, except that each consists of one from one post and one from the other).


Climax Heroine
The ultimate saccharine lovey-dovey feel good pop song to end all pop. Not just a song; a movement, a moment, a memory. Something so profound and so profoundly empty; a fleeting satisfaction in the form of an inescapable earwyrm on a pretty red flower smiling.

Mixomania Turntable
Music and mood and concert and club in colorful liquid form shaken or stirred with zest or bitters and poured onto a turntable. A bath of sounds and spirits and colors and patterns transcending spacetime, controlling the mood of the party with precision, like an MC or DJ, or GM.

Black Carpet
The walkway across the Heart Attack Dimension for all the Hollywood harlots and heartthrobs. The steps between heart beats in flicker fusion. Channel the adoration and accomplishments of those who raced against death and lost.

Varicose Vanity
The disrobing of the Climax Heroine reveals bacterial blue varicose veins. Underneath the pomp and circumstance, a cruel joke of the empress' beaten body, inducing drowsiness and vivid dreams in 27 minute naps. The long overdue comedown.


Univertrax the Brownian Singularity
The last surviving entity of another universe, or the previous loop of our universe, or our future. The accidental drift of all the life and love across all of their universe, every beautiful majestic creature, poem, work of art, technological achievement, world wonder, averaged and reduced into a mindlessly replicating, incomprehensible, incompatible, irrelevant brown sludge of cosmic insignificance.

Brown Note Broadcast
The collective sigh of an innovationless mega-monoculture. An overly long series of derivative ads for long-forgotten reboots of reimaginings of old stories that weren't actually very good to begin with. The embarrassing fart that breaks a crying fit. A message out of place and without a place, breaking up joy and tension equally like an unstoppable anti-empathetic force, leaving behind an emotional wreck and oppressive stillness.

Spineless Hedgehogs
The beings of Univertrax long ago gave up the pretense of individuality, even as echoes of dissatisfaction and compromise forever belies the failure of their being. Some can be prodded and coerced to action, agitated to leave the Brownian Singularity. Though they eventually dissolve in their impotent rage back into the filth swamp of their own making, for a brief moment they channel what they once could have been in a single glorious and undeniable gesture.

Big Crunch
Univertrax compresses itself tightly into a micro-gravity field, tugging on the universe and crushing it like an implosion, like its marriage with Univertressa. Leaves a permanent mark on the universe, like a knotted scar or crumpled piece of paper. Anything that can survive the Big Crunch is changed permanently, and if multiple beings survive, there is a good chance they've merged into one, like the necromantically revived corpses of a crushed ant colony connected by a pool of lymphatic fluids.


Apophenic Arrangement
This Golem does not exist. It is the illusion of a pattern, like a gambler staking their last dollar because they've got a good feeling, or a person of meager means paying the entrance fee to see Jesus' face on toast. It exists where there is want and means to believe, to fill the empty spacetimes, and the occupied.

Hypothetical Babbler
The improbable dreams laid upon an unwanted child made in bad faith. Almost like a real baby, it crawls forward in spacetime naively, experiencing senses unadulterated- an intellectual madness. It grows and learns, but never develops an ego, or any filter on perception, purely life and sensation. Quicker to learn and more powerful than human, yet never more nor less than the sum of its experiences. An unbounded thing that grows massively, but only with linearity.

Genetic Backmask
Genes are not merely patterns of organic acids, but exist in any medium of sequences, including audio waves. There are secret messages of life hidden inside music. Do the observers create them, or does the living music plant the expectation? Either way, they are a novel kind of life yearning to be heard, and glad for their new friend. If only everyone else could hear them.

Shadow Generator
Our experience of reality is merely the reflection and refraction of signals bouncing off one another, a world of relational patterns and shadows. The shadow generator models sources of higher reality signals into perception, creating a shadow space like objects pinging off radar, revealing approximations of hypothetical things in higher places. Even in their lowered resolution, transduced into shadows, there is a bittersweet beauty in the things beyond our ability to conceive.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Fight! Iczer-1 Not-Review

I've previously discussed being a big fan of the Super Robot Wars videogames, and especially since MRD2 is partially Mecha-focused, I've been trying to expose myself to more obscure, or at least less popular in the US, Mecha anime and manga, especially those which have been featured in SRW. I saw this one among a list somewhere, and for whatever reason it called to me.

As is the case with most of the other not-reviews, I'm not giving you a plot synopsis really, just my general impressions.

Iczer-One seems like one of those anime that has been lost to time, and I do get why, but I also think it's a shame, because it's pretty cool. It's only three 30ish min episodes, or there's an OVA that's basically just the three episodes, I think maybe with some scenes rearranged. Tbh I'd recommend watching it as the OVA but I've watched both and it's good either way. The short length gives them little time to develop things and leaves you wanting more, but I think that works in its favor, and it also keeps it from being too decompressed.

I am a sucker for that late 80's-90's anime style, where it has that grainy hand-drawn look, a lot of painterly backgrounds and colors and details, a little more realistic, not so super-deformed, while still recognizably anime. This is a really gorgeous anime, has an amazing soundtrack, excellent character and creature designs, just oozes style. It's got this very of-a-moment style of citypop, cyberpunk, gonzo science fantasy. There's a creepy weird ominous vibe that permeates the whole thing.

I don't think all of these screenshots do it full justice; there was a lot of cool stuff that I'm struggling to find in screenshots.

There's lasersword fights in subspace dimensions, Mecha fights, body horror, and creepy monsters. I will say the Mecha designs are just ok and they don't get to do much, which I suspect non-trivially contributes to why it has not had much resonance over time. In general, there's just not a whole lot of "there" there, which is fine, it's only three episodes, and for someone like me, all the unknowns and open questions of what this is and what's going on actually just makes it better (as opposed to some uninteresting or trite background on this or that).

Big Gold is a creepy motherfucker, really left an impression on me. You really have to watch it to appreciate it. It makes this... groaning/whining sound. Also, what a name.

The anime was apparently based on a manga that was serialized in a hentai magazine, but I haven't been able to find many particulars on which issues, if they've been translated in English, etc. I will say that while the anime has some "ecchi" elements, like the pilots of the Mecha being shown naked inside the cockpit, but it didn't really come off to me as hentai, but maybe the manga is more graphic. Anyway, many of my favorite elements of the anime were the music, sound design, colors, and painterly backgrounds, so I would like to read the manga just to have that context, but I'm inclined to think I'd prefer the anime anyway.

Also, there were two "sequels", neither of which were great but not terrible, but I'll briefly comment on those too. There were also apparently some spinoff manga and audio dramas and stuff like that, but I'm not gonna bother with any of that.

Iczer Girl Iczelion was I think nominally connected to Iczer One, but it felt more like a spiritual sequel / retelling than an actual sequel. It takes a lot of the same core plot beats, but does it as more of like a magical girl thing, no mecha, and with a lighthearted tone compared to the weird, dark, ominous vibe of the original. It has a few clever ideas, and it's short (only two episodes) which also works in its favor, and it does have a style of its own, but I can't say it left as strong of an impression. Both in animation and in art design it feels much more 90's to me, with sort of a gothic science fantasy vibe that I do appreciate in itself but not as much as Iczer One's. I dunno, if you like Iczer One it's still worth checking out I guess.

Iczer Reborn / Adventure! Iczer-3 was easily my least favorite of the three. It's six episodes, which still isn't long, but even under that strain I think it struggles compared to the three and two episode runs of the preceding shows. It has an animation style closer to Iczelion, while merging the two art directions in a way that feels like neither more nor less than the sum of its parts. It's more so a sequel to the original, while also feeling weirdly like a retelling. It just... doesn't add anything. Most of the plot beats and even designs are taken almost directly from the original, but Neos Gold is a poor-man's substitute for Big Gold, and Iczer Three herself I found kind of annoying. It also has more of that goofy / lighthearted tone of Iczelion which to me clashes with the stylings of Iczer One. I didn't hate it, and it's only six episodes, so if you enjoyed Iczer One and Iczelion well enough, then go ahead and watch it, but don't expect anything more than more of the same. I dunno, thinking back on it, I could imagine a version of this that's more like Vampire Hunter D, if it brought more new ideas rather than feeling like a retread, but as-is there's no "there" there.

So ya, that's the Iczer series. It's a shame that there isn't more of it, particularly in the style of the original. I'm glad for the original as it is, bad or mediocre sequels don't take away from that, but it would be cool to see someone with a vision for the franchise revisit this.

Monday, May 9, 2022

MRD2 Campaign PR 2: This Time With Golem

Second session, first in the Golem! I was a bit worried about this one because we're still getting in the groove and I didn't have much time to prep, but once again I felt really good about it.

Also for whatever reason Blogger HTML is all screwed up in this post and despite my best efforts the formatting is a mess. Or maybe it's just on my device? I dunno, such is life.


The Team are Nazarites, individuals contracted by The Corporation to serve various needs across Earth, the Space Settlements, and the metaphysical depths of Tehom. They are empowered by a Wyrm Shamir symbiont provided by The Corporation granting them metaphysical abilities, as well as a Golem, a mecha, or a magnification of something more abstract.

In this Campaign, they chose the following for the respective roles:

The Corporation
RegeXperience: “Live for the RegeXperience”. Childishly edgy experimental entertainment and defense company that doesn’t want the world to know what’s really behind their algorithm. EXPERIENCE, ALGORITHM, ENTERTAINMENT

The Manager
Baz Beetz: Infectiously enthusiastic “artiste” and true believer in the company mission who is as profound as nonsensical.

The Cyblessed Liaison
“Tastes like eating out the ass-end of human progress.”: Like a cheap flaccid little candle dripping wax down an otherwise glorious cake wearing a tacky suit reminiscent of a 1980’s faux-wood-paneled station wagon.

And of the two Issues available to them on their job board, they chose:

The Issue
The Quarterly earnings report is coming up soon, and The Corporation is anomalously underperforming.
  • Several brand launches this Quarter were undercut by a previously unknown startup in San Francisco. The Corporation wants The Team to investigate The Startup on the pretense of a buyout.
  • The Startup somehow acquired the licensing rights to the old Jingo Jangles cartoon, undercutting The Corporation’s upcoming Tempeh Toons licensed products line, just as the Jingo Jangles Museum is reopening.
  • Several other corporations, including The Rival Corporation, have been hit by a similarly bad Quarter. The Cyblessed Liaisons intend to arrange a meeting in neutral territory, Venus City of Tehom.

In the meantime, events unfold in the Issue they did not choose, so expect to see an intersection of events at some point!

The Team

Ben as Larry
Nazarite Contract: Fast Lane Fintechnomancer
Larry's past life was one of public mission in conscious contrarianism to his peers partying with the money of their employers. The brief accolades received from new acquaintances never quite made up for the lack of money and freedom. When he'd ask what others were doing to make the world a better place, they'd stare as if they had never considered the question before. What's the point of caring if no one else does?

Lukas as Icarus
Nazarite Contract: Infrared Ranger
Was an heir to a crime family but betrayed them when his conscience caught up to him. In need of structure and a sense of justice, but without any good frame of reference and few other options, he shortly thereafter accepted the Nazarite Contract with The Corporation.

Huffa as Ernst
Nazarite Contract: Psychonautical Sub-Mariner
Golem: Forgetting Pile - An oozey amorphous Golem collective made of empowered trash and detritus.
An old man who trawls through the unconscious sea gathering the things people forget from their dreams. Sometimes its material that The Corporation deems useful.

Altchester (still unavailable :( )

Where we left off...
After playing Monty the Python's game, they successfully opened the door to the private office in the Jingo Jangles Museum, only to find themselves in a strange place bathed in red light...

Vessel of Tehom: Virtual Zoetrope Superhighway

  • Three glistening ruby red rings, each the size of a five-lane kaiju-scaled superhighway, each lane separated by grooves, spinning around a spherical city-sized core like a record.
  • A force like intense gravity would crush any normal human, and even Golem can barely jump in place. The atmosphere is also unsafe for humans.
  • The core is an inky black, wet and slimy sac in a near-frozen state of mid-rupture.
  • From a slit in space, an expressive eye watches, weeping with furious ambiguity.

Immediately The Team must summon their Golem or else be crushed! They were each asked to describe the process:

Larry: Pulls out a pocket knife and pricks his finger. The stream of blood flows, blood vessels expand to massive proportions, forming the Lycaon Strain.

Icarus: Ices himself, pouring out the last drops, and in an alcoholic psychedelic haze forms the Chemysterious Cascader.

Ernst: Whistles to the high winds, calling forth the trash from all across the Earth and space and the metaphysical depths of Tehom, merging into the magnificently malodorous Forgetting Pile.

They drop onto the Outer Ring where weird pixelated kaiju and transdimensional toons zoom along, and must describe how they navigate the traffic.

Larry (Lycaon Strain): The circulatory blood vessel mesh separates into congealed sub-masses and coalesces as it glides right through the traffic.

Icarus (Chemysterious Cascader): Uses his Disorientation Mirror (MIRAGE + ETHANOL) to induce drunkenness in those in his path, creating havoc and destruction in his wake.

Ernst (Forgetting Pile): Like with the Lycaon Strain, his trash piles separate and reconnect to pass right through traffic, leaving detritus and slick trash grease behind.

Design Notes
The purpose of having them suddenly dropped into this place, summoning their Golem, and describing how they navigate through this traffic, was intended to get them oriented with their Golem. Thinking about how they summon it and what that says about them and the Golem, how it moves, how it interacts with environments and objects, etc.

Outer Ring
  • Doughboy and The Dreadnaughty
  • Office Cube
  • Drag-On Dragon
  • Leaping Lorenzinos

I gave them a brief description of the events above, described in further detail below. Doughboy was in their immediate vicinity, the others got loose descriptions but they'd have to go closer (or wait for them to get closer) to get the full details.

Design Notes
This whole space is quite weird, and I was worried if they would be able to understand how to navigate the space. We discuss how the core has a gravity, but there's a competing centripetal force from the rings, so the Golem can move along the grooves or jump slightly, but can't fly between rings which have as much space between them as the size of each of the rings themselves.
I actually realized as we talked it out that I was thinking of the rings as laying horizontally, but that description didn't make sense given the competing forces.
That said, it required barely more than 30s conversing to get on the same page and collaboratively define the space. Yes it's weird, and ya it's likely we're all seeing it in our heads slightly differently. But if the Players define for themselves how they interact with the space and I confirm or disconfirm their assumptions and we continue to stick to our own rules reliably, it all goes smoothly enough.

Doughboy and The Dreadnaughty
The Transdimensional Toon Doughboy (from previous session) is piloting a precarious tower of WW1-era Dreadnoughts held together by a scaffold of oversized sexy mannequin legs in pantyhose and garterbelt.
Don’t worry, I’m here to help! (Save or take Td6 from a jumble of dreadnought guns set off prematurely). I swear that doesn’t usually happen!
Karmic Attachment Opportunity: Rather than leave Doughboy to fend for himself, accept his “help”, and be “grateful”, even as he bumbles his way into making more problems for you.

The Team chose to ignore Doughboy at the onset. However, because they're driving on a spinning ring, they were able to circle back to him, and Ernst ends up accepting the Karmic Attachment Opportunity with Doughboy before they leave the Outer Ring.

Design Notes
I like the mechanics of Karmic Attachments and how it affects encounter design and player agency. I have mixed feelings about continuing to use the Buddhist concept of Karma in MRD2, not for any philosophical reason but because it might be confusing since that's more the focus of MRD1 than MRD2, but for now I'm just going with that and I might later change it to something more rooted in Jewish philosophy but still mechanically the same or similar.

Office Cube
An office cube glides across the grooves of the ring, inside which are tacky low-res VR holograms. The cubes are human-scale on the inside, but The Team would need some kind of protection to safely exit their Golem to enter the cubes.
  • The office workers are from The Startup, and seem as surprised by The Team’s presence as The Team are likely to be by theirs.
  • The Founder is not in the office at the moment, and The Cofounder is on a business trip to Venus City.
  • As far as the employees knew (or are willing to admit), this was just an AR/VR-space, not a Vessel of Tehom.

Ernst uses the Forgetting Pile to create a trash corridor connecting to the cube to enter inside. After some confusion, he is mistaken for an AI janitor created by The Cofounder. He gets some information as above, and learns that there are more Office Cubes on the other Rings, including Office Cubes for The Founder's and Cofounder's offices on the Inner Ring.

Meanwhile, Icarus and Larry encounter The Drag-On Dragon on a collision course right towards them!

Drag-On Dragon
Draconic DeLorean-esque drag racing Transdimensional Toon Kaiju. Claws press into the grooves of the rings, shearing spacetime in sparks and flames of entropy revealing a sterile white business conference room with a full audience, once per rotation (i.e. round). 
  • An ambiguous shadow of a person gives an autobiographical one-person show account of their first failed business while a laugh track mocks them. They had developed an algorithm for interpolating frames of animation that also incorporated style transfer (DWAI [Don't Worry About It] except that they work in animation), but a corporation lowballed them for a buyout and when they refused the corporation reverse engineered it for themselves.
  • On a loop, the Drag-On Dragon drags and clings, fails, spins out in a roll, eventually to re-right itself and do it all again.
  • 20 HP; Sd6 (transdimensional friction entropy), Phid6 (claws/body)
  • If The Team engages the Drag-On Dragon, have some debris or something else escape across the dimensions, demonstrating how they can affect the show.
  • Each round the one-person show loops. The facts can’t be changed, but the interpretation of them can. The Drag-On Dragon will dissipate if the outcome of the show is successfully altered.
    • KAO: Help the shadow see the story from a new perspective, but know that there will be ramifications in the material world.

After about one round of physical Conflict with the Drag-On Dragon, The Team decide to engage with the one-person show instead. They hypothesize from Ernst's information that the shadow is likely The Cofounder.

Icarus chooses to accept the Karmic Attachment Opportunity, leading to the dissolution of the Drag-On Dragon. He alters the perception of the shadow using one of his mind-bending Gear of the Chemysterious Cascader (I don't remember which offhand anymore...) so that the shadow sees these events as more of a learning experience, and to be more careful with their intellectual property in the future.

Design Notes
I had been starting to have doubts about whether it made sense to give Golem their own Ability Scores as I had originally intended, and we discussed this in our debrief at the end of the session. As is, this would mean six Ability Scores to keep track of (three for the Nazarites and Golem each), with each acting as their own damage pools. The Gear already make the Golem interesting enough, and we also discussed maybe a stripped down version of a "tapping" system similar to Batteries Not Included to force PCs to engage more tactically with how they use their Gear. 
That said, at least in this session, there will be references to the Golem Ability Scores Physical (PHYS/Phi), Technical (TECH/T), and SPECIAL (SPEC/S).

Leaping Lorenzinos
Kaiju-sized pixelated chromatic creatures with petit dancers’ lower body, bodybuilders’ upper body, and UFO for heads, leap-dance from ring to ring, giggling “ho-ho!” with joy, perfectly coordinated and without regard for The Team.
  • KAO: One Leaping Lorenzino has a broken(-off) leg, and is getting trampled, crying “oh-noh!”. Fix his leg, but also, help him bring joy through anachronistic art.
    • “How can I bring joy to the audience when I’m ruining the choreography!?”
    • A disembodied audience like a pre-recorded track can be heard booing.
  • If his leg is fixed, he’ll carry The Team between rings whenever he revolves to their position.

The Team actually ignored the Leaping Lorenzinos on the Outer Ring, instead using Forgetting Pile's trash and Lycaon Strain's blood mesh to create a bridge. Doughboy in The Dreadnaughty runs up begging to come along, which is when Ernst makes the Karmic Attachment, which then leads to Dreadnaughty accidentally blowing up the bridge as Icarus in Chemysterious Cascader is crossing, leading to a desperate and daring leap, barely sealing the landing, and losing one of his Mods, but otherwise crossing unscathed.

That said, on the Middle Ring they end up doing something that incidentally breaks a Leaping Lorenzino's leg, giving me the opportunity to reintroduce the KAO, at which point Larry ends up accepting the Karmic Attachment.

Design Notes
While The PCs did use their Gear quite a bit, they did not use their Mods much. They only have I think one Mod each right now anyway, and there was one encounter in the Middle Ring where they may have gotten more but they mostly bypassed that encounter. I will try to be better in future sessions about giving them more Mods and creating circumstances which encourage their use.
My hope is that, like with Karmic Attachments, once a GM gets in the habit of supplying them, and Players get in the habit of engaging with the game in that way, that it'll be more seamless.

Middle Ring
  • Office Cube
  • Leaping Lorenzinos
  • Transcending Descender

The Team are immediately confronted by The Transcending Descender.

Transcending Descender
Words scrolling left to right, down, left to right, down, like if a vector monitor were a typewriter. The words narrate themselves, this very statement. They also say, or rather, I say, that I know why you’re here. Perhaps, I know better than you do. Do you know why you are here? How did you end up in this place? What decisions led to this moment? Will it have been worth it, in the end, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, following the user generated content catered to your wants and interests, to sell you things. Did you enjoy the things they convinced you to want? Are you happy? How much has your “happiness” cost others? Was it worth it? My words descend and descend, and they have every intent to crush you, and if they fail, they will loop back to the beginning, and do it all over again, endlessly. There is no escape, only confrontation. You must confront this. You must confront me.
  • KAO: Choose not to confront. Know that the Transcending Descender will follow. It’s not about denying the thing, as much as recognizing that confrontation per se solves nothing.
  • HP: NA, Sd8. Each attack deletes a sentence. Sentences that have other sentences below them can’t be attacked. 
    • When a sentence is destroyed, a Word representing its meaning falls (e.g. “You must confront this”: Confrontation; “Was it worth it?”: Retrospect).
    • These Words can be used as Mods, or used to attempt to communicate with the Transcending Descender.
    • The Transcending Descender can’t be defeated through Conflict alone; either it must be fled, ignored, or successfully communicated with.

I gave The Team basically one "free round" before the sentences would be in range, giving them essentially two turns each to confront it or escape to the Inner Ring. While they did not choose to confront it, they also didn't really engage with it at all in a way that would apply for the KAO.

On the one hand I was a little disappointed that they bypassed this encounter because I think it would have been fun, but ultimately the session didn't feel worse off for it so oh well. It is unfortunately ironic that this got disregarded, so I might try to do something devious with this in the future...

They also skipped the Office Cubes in this Ring (consisting of a cafeteria and lobby area, not The Founder and Cofounder Offices that they were interested in), so they basically just talked with the Leaping Lorenzinos as previously described, before arriving on the Inner Ring.

Inner Ring
  • Office Cubes
  • Leaping Lorenzinos
  • ???

The Inner Ring is comparatively barren, with just the Office Cubes and Leaping Lorenzinos. Dreadnaughty accidentally destroys one of the cubes, and I offer The Team to make a Karma roll to decide which Cube is destroyed. They wanted to investigate The Cofounder's Office more, but failed the Karma roll, so they get The Founder's instead.

Inside the virtual space is a simulacrum of The Founder's actual office, and a bunch of free-floating encrypted files.

Icarus uses Infrared Immolation Nazarite Feature to apply a "brute force algorithm" approach to decrypting some of the files. They also investigate some objects in the office. They learn that The Founder, despite previously being described in the other Office Cube as being "dreamy", is also a big dork with Gundam action figures, Star Wars posters, Jingo Jangles memorabilia, etc. He also has a case for a high-tech helmet that he wears, seemingly for medical reasons. 
The files allude to some time off after “the illness”, and subsequently the big technical breakthrough leading to the Jingo Jangles deal. Additional references to the “transfer of power” on Tomino’s Array and what role The Startup will play in it.

Tomino's Array is one of the Space Settlements and was at the heart of the other Issue that they did not choose. They learned that Tomino's Array was dealing with a piracy problem, an outbreak of genetically engineered creatures gone rogue, and an encroaching fleet of Amalekites, a human civilization long-lost in Tehom which has come back to try to take Earth which they see as rightfully theirs.

They attempt to leave with the remaining encrypted files, and Larry uses his Nazarite Feature Transcranial Tachyonic Stimulator to cause the security wall to trigger prior to the action of attempting to cross the wall with the files, allowing them to escape with the rest of the files to decrypt later.

Design Notes
I think the Transcranial Tachyonic Stimulator is a really cool Feature, but one that is conceptually kind of difficult. I was prepared to play fast and loose with it, but I was genuinely concerned if it would be viable or not, so I'm glad to see it get used effectively already in session 2!
In general, the Players felt like they got to use a lot of their Features and Gear pretty freely and felt good about how they were able to interact with the game, so that's all very encouraging.

Entropy Elancer
The core ruptures, and the auto-erotic necro-rgasmic moan of an entire civilization whines at a jarring frequency like poking at a blister, before turning tinny, and abruptly and prematurely ceasing. Amid the destruction, a merely normal-sized Golem not unlike The Team’s elances onto the Inner Ring as if it were a stage. Strobing lights flutter like bugs in the sky and the Entropy Elancer dances in myoclonic jerks masquerading frames between moments of light like a kinesthetic zombie artform. Dead bodies and viscera in detailed Transdimensional Toon form slough off its sleek body apathetically.


The "Big Boss" of this Vessel of Tehom. We chose to leave this off as a cliffhanger for next session, so that should be a fun way to start things off!

I've been writing Design Notes throughout this post so I don't have too much wrap-up stuff to say, except that I'm really satisfied with how this is going.

Also, in addition to the aforementioned Design Notes, I tried to be more detail-oriented in this PR in terms of not just posting my GM Notes but also explaining how things actually played out (I drafted this only a couple days after the session this time which probably helped).

I also tried to make this post more fun to read, so I hope I was successful in that regard. If you think I was successful in making this PR more fun to read, please let me know.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Maximum Recursion Depth 2, or Sometimes Less is More and Sometimes More is More: Campaign First Play Report (+ Design Notes)!

New Game New Campaign! I will still be playing in a new MRD1 Campaign with the previous group online, being GMed by one of the Players of that campaign, but I'm also running an MRD2 Campaign IRL with a mix of IRL friends and people I've met through the RPG community online (who are now also IRL friends).

I'm not 100% committed to this name, but I'm tentatively thinking it will be:

Maximum Recursion Depth 2, or Sometimes Less is More and Sometimes More is More

Very open to discussion on that.

Anyway, first session was off to a really good start; with what is a partially new system/setting, and a new group, and one of the players having never RPed before, you never know how it will go, but I think we're gelling pretty much immediately. We spent most of the time finishing character creation and going over the system and setting briefly one more time, so we did a bit of RP but I had prepped more for breadth than depth.

So these first few sessions are like a test-run of the scaffolding for what I hope will become the MRD2 Module. I'm definitely making up a lot of the details as I go, and it will surely change for the book, so it shouldn't be too spoiler-y.

Last comment before getting into it; I'm getting my ass kicked at the moment by some work and life stuff so I may be slowing down posting for a while, but I intend to continue this blog, my work on Iconoclastic Flow, and MRD2, just need to take care of some things and also reprioritize a bit.

With that said, some context about MRD2 before diving into the Play Report:

Campaign Introduction

The PCs (I will generally refer to them as The Team) are Nazarites, employed by The Corporation to pursue various Issues on their behalf. They have powers provided by the Nazarite Contract they signed with The Corporation, and they can summon Golem, often mecha but sometimes metaphysical constructs, and solve problems on Earth, the Space Settlements outside Earth orbit, or the metaphysical cosmic ocean Tehom, by opening up Wyrmholes with their Wyrm Shamir symbionts provided by The Corporation.

I realize there's a lot said in that, I'm frontloading so you have some reference, but if you can just go with it for now, if you are willing to put in the moderate effort required to learn about a New World, if you have the capacity and desire to do so, if like me, you enjoy going down internet rabbit holes on fascinating new topics for which you have no frame of reference, clicking hyperlink after hyperlink and enjoy the process of discovery therein, of history or comics or mythology or cuisine or RPGs or whatever else moves you, then come along with me on this ride, it will likely be worth it.
That all said, I'm still considering other ways to better convey the information...

At the start of the Campaign the Players roll on Role Tables (or choose entries if they prefer). As with MRD1, the entries of the Roles don't radically change the Module per se, but they may change how The Team interact with them in unique ways.

The Roles use my Character Formula Design Pattern, and the purpose of the Roles is to fulfill Social Intrigue.

Currently the Roles are The Corporation, The Manager, and The Cyblessed Liaison. The other entries that aren't chosen for each Role can be used for e.g. The Rival Corporation, or other NPCs, etc.

The Corporation
The Corporation Role does have one mechanical effect; each Corporation comes with three words and each PC can take any one word at a time as a bonus Mod for their Golem Gear. The Team can attempt to leave the Corporation over the course of the campaign, but it should be difficult and weighty to do so; among my intentions for the game is for Players (not just The Team) to confront the complexity (moral and otherwise) of the modern world, and how to do good in the world in a way that isn't just wish fulfillment of some radical lifestyle that most of us will realistically never lead.

The Players chose:

RegeXperience: “Live for the RegeXperience”. Childishly edgy experimental entertainment and defense company that doesn’t want the world to know what’s really behind their algorithm. EXPERIENCE, ALGORITHM, ENTERTAINMENT

The Manager
The Manager Role is meant to be a Handler. A Handler is an NPC that can provide PCs some context, give them leads, give them a reliable point of interaction; basically a way to kickstart things, keep the ball rolling, or smooth over rough edges. In my MRD1 Campaign the Players quickly abandoned their Handler, and other NPCs ended up serving that Role to varying degrees over the course of the campaign, but I still like having one. Especially in a Weird setting, a Handler can be a really useful way to give information to the Players that isn't just big exposition dumps. The GM can have The Manager come along with The Team, but I think it's better if they're a resource that can be called in as needed or that checks in periodically, rather than a GMPC.

The Players chose:

Baz Beetz: Infectiously enthusiastic “artiste” and true believer in the company mission who is as profound as nonsensical.

I additionally described him as being like Werner Herzog or Andy Warhol or Bob Dylan.

The Cyblessed Liaison
I've previously used the Cold War as an analogy for the Campaign Setup; not because I have anything really to say about the Cold War per se, but it is a useful framing device for the themes of the setting. The Corporations are to The Cyblessed as the Banana Republics were to the US and US Corporations. The Cyblessed are Weird cybernetic "aliens" from Tehom with beams of light, holographic encoded messages, for heads. If The Corporation is The Team's overlord, then The Cyblessed Liaison is The Corporation's overlord. The Cyblessed Liaison is like The Manager, another kind of Specialist. The Team will encounter The Cyblessed Liaison when shit hits the fan.

Each entry in The Cyblessed Liaison Role Table has a word, sentence, phrase, or symbol for a name, representing the holographic encoded message in their beam of light for a head.

The Players chose:

“Tastes like eating out the ass-end of human progress.”: Like a cheap flaccid little candle dripping wax down an otherwise glorious cake wearing a tacky suit reminiscent of a 1980’s faux-wood-paneled station wagon.

Issues, Escalations, and Hotspots

The intended gameplay loop of the Module, and the onset of this Campaign, is that The Team has a job board from which they can pursue various Issues (basically quests or adventures or whatever). Each Issue includes some leads, including Hotspots (relevant locations on Earth, in Space, or Tehom), NPCs, etc.

They can theoretically work on several Issues simultaneously, but the longer an Issue remains unresolved, the higher its Escalation; in other words, it's a living world and if The Team aren't getting shit done, things move forward regardless, in ways where they'll still have to deal with it in some way or another, eventually.

Play Report

The Team

Nazarite Contract: Fast Lane Fintechnomancer
Larry's past life was one of public mission in conscious contrarianism to his peers partying with the money of their employers. The brief accolades received from new acquaintances never quite made up for the lack of money and freedom. When he'd ask what others were doing to make the world a better place, they'd stare as if they had never considered the question before. What's the point of caring if no one else does?

Icarus Tromp
Nazarite Contract: Infrared Ranger
Was an heir to a crime family but betrayed them when his conscience caught up to him. In need of structure and a sense of justice, but without any good frame of reference and few other options, he shortly thereafter accepted the Nazarite Contract with The Corporation.

Nazarite Contract: Psychonautical Sub-Mariner
Golem: Forgetting Pile - An oozey amorphous Golem collective made of empowered trash and detritus.
An old man who trawls through the unconscious sea gathering the things people forget from their dreams. Sometimes its material that The Corporation deems useful.

Altchester (not present :( )

The Issue
The Team were given two starting Issues (in the Module the intention is to have between 3-6), and they chose to tackle this Issue first:

The Quarterly earnings report is coming up soon, and The Corporation is anomalously underperforming.
  • Several brand launches this Quarter were undercut by a previously unknown startup in San Francisco. The Corporation wants The Team to investigate The Startup on the pretense of a buyout.
  • The Startup somehow acquired the licensing rights to the old Jingo Jangles cartoon, undercutting The Corporation’s upcoming Tempeh Toons licensed products line, just as the Jingo Jangles Museum is reopening.
  • Several other corporations, including The Rival Corporation, have been hit by a similarly bad Quarter. The Cyblessed Liaisons intend to arrange a meeting in neutral territory, Venus City of Tehom.

They decided to investigate in the San Francisco Hotspot first, holding off on the meeting in Venus City, so they were given information on the following Locations relating to this Issue:

The Startup’s Office
Small but stereotypically indulgent startup office in The Mission District. Unassuming from the outside, while impressively dynamic from within, even by the standards of The Corporation. Utilizes an advanced augmented reality system bathing the office in a hazy red light and interspersing pixelated hard holograms.

Jingo Jangles Museum
Once glorious museum in the Design District that had fallen into a sorry state over the decades, newly renovated and receiving a LOT of buzz. Most notably, the mascot workers are purported to be real-to-life cartoons!

The Team were suspicious of The Startup and decided they wanted to investigate the Jingo Jangles Museum first. How did The Startup get the license? What are the real-to-life cartoon mascots?

Larry used his Zip Ribbon Regressor Nazarite Feature as a Fast Lane Fintechnomancer to learn some additional details. For instance, they were able to learn all the basic history about Jingo Jangles on an internet search, but who actually owns Jingo Jangles now? The internet points to a reasonable-sounding corporation, but really that corporation is just a shell of a shell of a shell. While many important details are still unknown, they did learn that the owner is someone or something called Virtual Boy, from Tehom, and that while The Startup might not necessarily know this, they're certainly tied up in it.

There was a long line to get in obviously. I expected them to just try to pull Corporate strings or whatever, maybe call The Manager, but instead, Ernst used his WetOps Nazarite Feature as a Psychonautical Sub-Mariner to get them into the museum.

Both Jingo Jangles and Tempeh Toons are entirely made up, sort of analogous to Walt Disney, Merry Melodies / Loony Tunes, or Max Fleischer. They asked some questions about the context, the relationship between Jingo Jangles and The Startup, etc., and I did have some pre-written notes and preconceived ideas, but I mostly just vamped.

Who came up with Jingo Jangles?
Jasper Jangles of course. DWAI (don't worry about it). Connor Goldsmith's favorite phrase for all the nonsense in X-Men continuity that doesn't matter. Off topic, but FYI Cerebro is a great literary analysis podcast of the X-men.

Early 20th century. Around whenever Disney started probably. DWAI.

What happened?
The cartoons fell out of relevance by ~1980s, had a brief revival in the 1990s, finally went bankrupt after that bubble burst, and then recently the property was revived under new corporate ownership. DWAI.

I may want to add some of these details as stuff for the GM, but also I'm going to try to write it in a way where most of it doesn't matter, and only what matters will be provided, and if PCs ask questions, the GM can just vamp or say DWAI.

What's the relationship between The Startup and Jingo Jangles?
It's like how videogame companies license properties- The Startup doesn't own Jingo Jangles and isn't involved with the museum per se, but clearly it's part of a larger coordinated effort.

This question is obviously more important for the game. It was easy to clarify this point, but I was a little surprised that that was not clear in the first place, so I may try to explain that more clearly in the Issue description in the Module.

How big is the museum?
I don't really know SF that well to know what's appropriate, but I described it as being similar in size to the museums in NY, or at most like the Javitz Center which is a conference center. Basically DWAI, you can make it larger or smaller as long as you're consistent.

Why are the real-to-life cartoons a big deal in a setting where much of the Weird stuff is public knowledge?
Think of it like a new iPhone launch. It's still a cool thing and a big deal, but not the same as if real-to-life cartoon mascots actually happened IRL. Then again, people seemed pretty nonchalant about the Tupac hologram or whatever (that was real, right?), so...

This latter question probably should go in the Module as well. This is a really good example of how to think about how to scale Weird things in a Weird setting, keeping in mind that the real-to-life cartoons are just the tip of the iceberg of Weirdness here anyway.

In the Jingo Jangles Museum

The Team realized that the Museum was way over capacity and at risk of a crowd crush or otherwise dangerous situation.

The real-to-life cartoons behaved in-character and followed a similar kind of logic as the cartoons of Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Cool World. There's a kind of syntax or internal logic to their behaviors, and while they were conscious of the crowd, as things got more crowded, there was greater likelihood of an accident.

Among the various real-to-life cartoons present were Harry the Honeybadger and Barrys the Bees (like a Roadrunner / Wiley Coyote situation), Doughboy the WW1 Sailor whose schtick is trying to help people but causing more problems than he fixes, and Monty the Python who had a mock-gameshow from the 90's revival.

The Team decided to mess with Harry the Honeybadger and create havoc, basically to disperse the crowd before things get too dangerous, but also to undermine the Jingo Jangles brand by creating bad press, and so undermining The Startup. Ernst also pocketed some of Barrys the Bees' cartoon honey which Harry the Honeybadger was throwing at them, curious as to its properties, in that it sloughs off easily enough and disappears when no longer relevant, in a classic cartoon logic sort of way.

They succeeded, but coincidentally at the same moment, the whole museum shook, people ran out in a panic, and it became apparent that some grand catastrophe was happening way uptown.

The Team had to decide whether to investigate whatever was happening uptown, or use this opportunity to investigate the Museum while nobody was there, and they chose to stay and investigate the Museum.

The Museum was phasing in and out with a dream-like cartoon-scape, and they could barely see the outlines of an emergency exit, a conspicuous office, and the restrooms. I was definitely vamping a bit, I had prepped breadth and not depth, but it worked out fairly well, but I'll probably redesign this for the Module. Anyway, I know they dealt with Harry the Honeybadger, Barrys the Bees, and Doughboy somehow, but I didn't write notes right afterwards like I should have so I've forgotten some of the particulars. They do a Monty Hall Problem with Monty the Python in order to gain a reward or else have to fight a cartoon goat monster, but anyway they succeeded at that too. I think I gave them a word for this as well (for Golem Mods), or if not I might do that retroactively. They opened the conspicuous office, and it led into a hazy red hologram space, and that's where we called it a wrap on the First Session...

Wrapping Up

So that's a whole lot of stuff, but it was fun! I hope this was an engaging first Play Report and introduction to MRD2, that the setting and structure of the campaign generally make sense and aren't too difficult to follow and seem intriguing.

You may have noticed that they never even used their Golem in this first session, despite the fact that this is nominally described as a "mecha" game. My intention is for a roughly 25:75 split in- vs. out- of Golem, but we'll see how things develop. It's worth exploring further the range of narrative or game possibilities that can exist inside a Golem, I want it to be more than just about fighting, but I also think that the use of the Golem should feel climactic and important, so we'll see. Also, maybe if they had gone uptown and investigated that situation then things would have been different, but that's ok! Both options were viable options, and even if that way may have led to situation requiring their Golem, it's not like there won't be plenty of other opportunities for that later.