Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Shape of Everything (Campaign Setting, Races)

 anime christian wandering in the ruins of a post-Judgément system-scale megastructure

touchstones: blame!, kenshi, sunless horizon, evangelion, angel;s egge, revelation space, hellgate london, weta workshop concept art for neill blomkamp movies, deprecated lore for a starsector faction that i didn't make, that one homestuckesque browsergame about the sad lost aliens

36,000 hours ijn wholly uncited wikipedia pages on apocryphal jewish and christian theological texts


In addition to the regular GROG stuff, three-fifths of the types of folk have an extra stat called HUM (Humanity) to represent how recognizable their biometric data is as, well. This stat is always negative because all the baseline humans are long dead, and is generated by rolling it on some negative d4s directly. If you don't have any negative d4s, you can just roll regular d4s and subtract them from zero.

  1. Pilot
        The most common denizens of the Structure look much like you or I: Mostly hairless; brightly colored; six long, delicate fingers on each hand; plenty of flexible joints; several orifices to make Smells out of. An overloaded adrenal system allows them to react with preternatural speed in crisis scenarios, at the cost of severe stress to the vascular system.
        Pilots can take 1d6 damage in order to act immediately, even retroactively interrupting an action taken by someone else. They have minus 2d4 Humanity.
  2. Gammaprole
        The primary defining feature of gammaproles, also known as direfolk or shreks, is their size; eight feet tall on average; nearly as wide; cartoonishly blocky proportions. As a gammaprole ages, the dense bony plates which protect their organs push to the surface through their thick, rubbery skin to form keratinous scutes⸻an exceptionally painful process.
        Gammaproles have an extra 2 HP per HD on account of their transdermal bone armor, -1 DEX on account of their big, clumsy sausage fingers, and their STR operates on a different scale; they're always stronger than anything that isn't likewise Big or Hydraulic, and can bend gates, lift bars, or bench press a reasonably priced used Japanese automobile without issue. They have minus 3d4 Humanity.
  3. Locust Gibbon
        A friendly creature despite its alien bodyplan, the locust gibbon is six-limbed; fiercely chelicerae'd; tufted with shocks of stark white fur which spring forth from the joints of its chitinous exoskeleton. It speaks its own strange, chittering language and is an obligate mechanic who tends to wander⸻perhaps it is no wonder that so few have survived.
        Locusts Gibbon have an extra +1 INT on account of their efficient cataloguing of stimuli, -1 STR on account of their inefficient-at-scale musculature, and can ascend and descend sufficiently handhold'd passages as fast as a man can run⸻though they aren't much better at difficult climbs than anyone else. They can't speak⸻which is to say, actually vocalize⸻human languages without a translator, and are not Human.
  4. Ghoul
        Were the scientists of the past geniuses, or merely insane? Ghouls, also known as cyberpsykos, are undead; husks of prostheses and neuromuscular overrides animated by inbuilt subintelligent personality models⸻or, if you prefer, haunted by their own ghosts. They are often uncanny to speak to, at least those which have not yet fallen into completely violent incoherence over long centuries in the dark.
        Ghouls have an extra -2 CHA on account of their nonpersonhood, and don't need to eat, sleep, breath, or age. They have minus 1d4 Humanity, but roll checks against it with disadvantage on account of their mortally challenged condition.
  5. Skeleton
    So called for their fleshlessness and the general shape of their limbs, skeletons are purely artificial beings constructed with enough personality and independence to be readily distinguished by that means⸻even putting aside their uniform shape and size⸻from dumb Robots or universally hostile Archons. Although generations old as a rule, they cannot be coaxed or coerced to speak about the past. Do they truly not know, or do they just have a really, really good reason for not telling?
        Skeletons have enough going on mechanically that they're a race-as-class. In order to be a skeleton, you have to take at least the א template before you can multiclass into something else. I can tell you right now that they're not Human.


  1. Methuselah, a sort of wizard.
  2. Solar, a type of magical girl.
  3. Fisher-Man, you know, like a fighting-man
  4. Kenshi, a sword and swordplay enthusiast.
  5. Stalker, a ranger, arguably.
  6. Traceur, a thief-acrobat.


Something like this.

On Game Design, I Suppose: Big and Little Distinctions and How Much Space a TTRPG Has for Them

I'm not dead, I'm not, fuck you, I'm not. I'm not dead.

Before I start, I should probably explain what I mean by 'size' here.

I mean, like, conceptual size. How much of the book does it take up, how much does it impact the gameplay, and how much is it supported by mechanics to make up an interesting and meaningful choice for the player, a way to differentiate characters from one another.

And now I want to talk about Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e for a bit. 

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e (or '.5e for short) is the biggest dungeons and dragons, and also the best officially published one. It has a lot of very big systems. It's got races, some of which are huge; it's got skills which are pretty big, huge if you include skill tricks; it's got feats which are practically huge enough to be their own game; and of course it has both classes and prestige classes which interact with everything else and let you dip in and out of them to build you own thing.

This is obviously way the fuck too much. '5e also birthed the d20 system, which I think resulted in a massive waste of potential because nobody understood that it was too much.

'5e had to have all of those things, of course, because it was the generic. The point was never to play with all of them at once, it was that you'd prune the bits you don't need away and keep the one or two that you did. 

It is my strongly held opinion that d20 system games would be excellent if they had held to this design principle instead of building their own additional scaffolding over the teetering ruin of the entirety of '.5e.

Unfortunately this was never explained anywhere and probably isn't true. 

Ah, well, nevertheless,

I think a TTRPG generally has, on average, enough space in it for one big distinction, one little distinction, and stats.

Look at most GLOGs for an easy example: Race or species is your little distinction, you can be a beetleling or an elffolk or something and it probably gives you a perk and a drawback and maybe a little bit of culture. Class is obviously your big distinction, the main thing that makes your character different from the other characters. If a species gets big enough, it probably gets made into a class. And then you also have stats. This is nice and tidy, it works well, it's about as many things as a pl*yer can hold in their tiny brain at a time.

This is also backed up by my personal experience: I used to run a post-apocalyptic d20 system game. It started out with the d20 modern rules, for the first campaign. No species, everyone was human, but still a very big system: Classes, feats, skills, and stats. Still way the fuck too much, which rapidly became evident as I was trying to teach it to a bunch of people who had never played a TTRPG before. By the end of the third campaign, it had feats as a big distinction, skills as a small one, and stats. Then it ran smoothly.

Similarly, I am or have been in a handful of G20 games. These are notable because they don't even really have 'species' in the same way a lot of fantasy games do; you've got a race, which is actually a race, and that gives you a little bump to one derived stat and maybe a special ability if your Xharisma is high enough (in classic GLOG style). You've got a skill but it doesn't even have a lightweight system attached to it; it takes up no space at all. And you've got your stats. And you've got your class, which is most of what makes this PC different from that PC. And that's enough. It is probably the smoothest-running game I've had the pleasure of playing.

This interacts with other design elements that take up space, too, of course.

I have a GLOGhack. It started off much too big. I can say this quite confidently after playtesting it. But it has relatively small species, a lightweight skill system, big classes, stats...

Well, that's already two small distinctions (species and skills) when it should really have one, but both of those are pretty small and could probably fit in together. I think they're forgivable. GROG/the Mountain wosn't too big because of species and skills, not specifically.

But those aren't the only things taking up 'space' in it. It had a cool, innovative, novel dice mechanic, and weapon tags. The realization here is that those take up space too, I guess, in a less easily categorizable way.

I dunno where I'm going with this and it's been sitting in my drafts for over two years and it's probably fairly self-evident to you if you're the type of person who would read this and it's rambly as all hell, so I'm just gonna post it now.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

They Are Neither Renowned As Great Warriors, Nor Counted Among The Very Wise (two-page RPG)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet. 


The passage seemed to go on for miles, and always the chill air flowed over them, rising as they went on to a bitter wind. The mountains seemed to be trying with their deadly breath to daunt them, to turn them back from the secrets of the high places, or to blow them away into the darkness behind.

Here is a game you can play with one or more friends. If you plan to run it, you should read both pages. If you plan to play—but not run—it, you should only read the first.

It is a silly little game that takes about two hours, maybe less. We do silly little games here sometimes. I have playtested it once, which is good enough to convince me it's fun. Ready for the prime time, on the blog circuit, bnaby.


Our intrepid two test hobbits, Snowdrop (Hobbit: 12; knife; boots; breakfast; cursed ring) and Bigby (Hobbit: 7; sling; cloak; tobacco) set off towards Murdor with fresh water in their canteens and a song in their hearts.

The first day saw them into the Razor Swamps, their path ahead blocked by spurting fire geysers as a gaggle of rich jerkass hobbits tracked them from behind, certain they had stolen something of theirs. Thinking quickly, they smothered themselves in bacteria-ridden muck from the swamp and dove through the fire, accepting some infection for safe passage. They drank nothing all day, keeping the good water filling their canteens in reserve.

Seven hours journey the next day saw them come along a gritty, poisoned stream, where dancing lights enticed them to submerge themselves and swim. Snowdrop waded in cautiously to investigate and was grabbed by a slow-moving bog mummy, but managed to distract it and pry herself free. Once they had made some distance, they drank their clean water and camped for the night.

A full eight hours travel on day three brought them to the Dark Gate, a hulking fortification amidst the horrid mountains that ring Murdor. They began taking sporadic boltfire from the battlements while caught in no hobbit's land, and suffered bacterial infection in the scratches and glancing wounds they obtained while scrambling for cover, plus more as they were forced to drink from the murky pools in the mountain foothills that night.

The hobbits continued to make good time with seven hours march on day four, which brought them high into the greasy, dust-slick slopes before they began to hear hissing shrieks from the skies above—ringseekers, mounted on horrible flying snakes! Snowdrop used her good boots to brace the pair on the slopes while Bigby covered both of them with his cloak, and they waited there for the ringseekers to disperse. Camping for the night, Snowdrop collected some flint from the mountain so as to be able to make fire in the future—though they decided not to risk one that night in fear of the patrolling ringseekers, and instead drank cold, bacteria-ridden water from the murky pools on the mountainface.

Day five saw the hobbits high into the mountains, where they crested a peak and were unexpectedly tumbled into the snow-filled valley beyond by a rogue gust of wind. They dug themselves into a hollow and, finding overproof whiskey and dried bread among the provisions of Snowdrop's hearty breakfast, burned those to keep warm. In this impromptu igloo they were approached by a ghostly dwarf-presence, which Bigby immediately mollified by offering it some of his tobacco before it was able to make any grim demands. As the snow was not specifically poisoned nor infected with bacteria, the two melted some with which to drink, clean their wounds, and refill their canteens.

Six hours on day six brought the hobbits to the numerous trapdoors and cave entrances which would let them into the Goblin Mines, all of which seemed frighteningly rickety and decrepit. Bigby confirmed that some trapdoor-paths were frayed rope ladders, and pulled two up to braid one mostly-sturdy rope from them which they could descend safely. As the pair abseiled down into the tunnels they heard something huge shuffling about below them, but Bigby slung a few stones down a side passage and whatever it was that they heard chased after the noise into the darkness.

On day seven the hobbits broke through into a lower layer of caverns—ancient dwarf tombs—when a distant rumbling shook the tunnel and broke several nearby urns, which began to emit a noxious poison fog. Bigby gathered the two under his waterproof cloak while they ran, but it did not prove gasproof and both suffered heavy metal poisoning from the fumes. Worse, their headlong rush drove them into a tunnel faced with the source of the rumbling they had heard: An enormous digging machine which ate through the dirt towards them. Snowdrop attempted in vain to dig a hiding-burrow while Bigby cast about for some (famously flammable) goblin grog and, finding some, set it aflame and hurled it into the behemoth's grinding maw where it caught something internally and stopped the monster...filling the tunnel with choking oilsmoke and further poisoning the hobbits as they ran. Later that day, stopped to rest, the pair risked a fire in the tunnels to boil some brackish water to drink.

Five hours into the eighth day, the hobbits spied a group of orcish secret policemen searching through the tunnels ahead. They took up some discarded goblin mining coveralls from a breakroom and attempted to sneak by, and while briefly halted in passing they managed to keep their cool and lie proficiently when asked if they'd seen any trace of hobbitses. Fleeing the encounter, a trick catwalk tilted down under them and threatened to slide them feetfirst into a goblin limb grinder—Snowdrop, being further down, sacrificed her good boots to save her hairy hobbit feet while Bigby, further up, was able to hurl bundles of nearby mining tools into the grinder to jam it.

Day nine, four hours in, Bigby led the way through a series of underground and mostly-abandoned records offices as the mines gave way to the barrack-warrens beneath the Training Grounds. Opening a door with uncharacteristic caution, he luckily and hobbit-ly managed to prevent a makeshift noise alarm from being sounded. A seemingly never-ending armored column of orcish war machines trundled down a vast underground highway ahead, but the pair managed to cross by reusing their goblin disguises from earlier along with invoking the names of some orcish officers found in the records and reports of the offices they had just crossed.

Bigby continued to lead the way on day ten, six hours into which he blundered directly into the wrist-thick strands of a giant spiderweb stretched across the tunnel, and Snowdrop became entangled as well when she tried to free him with her knife. The rough clatter of bone and metal heralded the arrival of burned-dead infantry who proceeded to roughly cut the hobbits free, inflicting heavy metal poisoning with nicks from their jagged, rusty blades. Bigby took advantage of this to break out of their grasp, but Snowdrop was further wounded by the bacteria-laden clawed fingers of the burned-dead as she failed to struggle free and had to be rescued by Bigby.

The eleventh day saw the hobbits finally back above-ground, winding their way through a network of mazelike trenches while the evil eye of g_d searched for them with burning gaze. Fortunately a trench network is a fairly easy place to hide from such, and no special precautions were necessary. Snowdrop collected some handfuls of shrapnel for later.

Seven hours into day twelve, the two crossed a cratered and bone-dry wasteland under Bigby's cloak while a last, forlorn ringseeker flew circles overhead in fruitless search. Both badly fatigued this late in the march, they failed to take proper care around the coils of concertina wire stretched through foxholes and barricades and suffered more poisoning.

After six hours of marching on the thirteenth day, the hobbits came to the foot of Doom Mountain, and rested by a stream laden with metallic sand (of which they drank deeply). While they were doing so, a piteous voice warned them of "great danger from the skies above" and bid them join it in a muck-filled dugout by the side of the water. Not trusting it, Snowdrop turned her face skyward and was instantly and permanently blinded when a column of burning golden light scorched down from the heavens—Bigby managed to wrestle her into the stream to save her from being cooked alive, and chased off the piteous hobbit mutant when it mocked them for not heeding it. He kept watch through the night to make sure the creature didn't return, and was vindicated by continued signs of its presence.

On the fourteenth day Bigby led the now-blind Snowdrop to a fractally sharp forest of obsidian spikes. He wrapped his cloak around his arm for protection and smashed through the brittle glass with his canteen, which ruined the cloak but allowed him to escape with only lightly infected scratches. The hobbit mutant awaited them on the other side, but they threatened it away, and Snowdrop stayed awake through the night to keep it at bay with hurled handfuls of shrapnel targeted by ear.

On the fifteenth day, very near the peak now, the two happened across something exceedingly unlikely: a small spring of cool, pure water issuing from the side of Doom Mountain. Not trusting it, they lured the hobbit mutant toward them by promising it the ring (it was desperate, and very stupid) and shoved it in. When no ill effects befell it, they chased it away again and rested and drank and bathed luxuriously until a lavaflow forced them to find higher ground, where Bigby again kept watch through the night.

On the sixteenth day the pair of hobbits reached the summit, the ring above the glowing, lava-filled caldera where the ring must be destroyed. The hobbit mutant charged them from behind in a last, futile ploy, but Bigby tripped it easily into the fire below. Inching out over the edge, Snowdrop produced the ring, paused... and, failing her final hobbit check, put it on. Fortunately Bigby was waiting for this moment and wrestled her down, and, knowing that he would never be able to dispose of the ring himself if he possessed it (due to the bacterial infection and heavy metal poisoning having by now entirely suppressed his already low hobbit-ness), he realized what must be done: He pushed the blind, screaming Snowdrop bodily into the pit, cursed ring and all.


And that was that. Nobody actually started dying of bacterial infection nor heavy metal poisoning through the whole game, mostly due to luck, but they still provided a nice sense of urgency and did force a few hobbit-roll failures near the end. 

The encounters got ahead of the hazards early and forced some interpretation to make them fit, but a two-page RPG was always going to require some interpretation anyway.

If you play this and have fun, let me know. If you play it and hate it, I meant for that to happen; fuck you, I guess.

"The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo; adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end." 
—Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien, I assume 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Farewell to the Forests, Farewell to the Torrents (LANCER setting)

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow on the mountain. But when I look up, 
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain 
would be

Despite the Best Efforts of my Biggest Haters

I am still alive.

Also, my real-life friends want me to run a LANCER game. There are several things about this that worry me. I will enumerate them:
  1. I have not thought about Tabletop Role-Playing Games in any productive (as opposed to lazily, purely consumptive) manner in well over a year, and am massively intellectually unprepared for anything approaching a Creative Endeavour
  2. My friends have a high opinion of me and aren't sandbox-B/X-brained OSR layabouts and thus expect some sort of detailed Setting and/or Story
  3. I don't know shit about LANCER

That's okay. I have played at least one Video Game and I am going to Cheat, and Lie, and I will never be punished

Here's a prayer for the body buried by the interstate
Mother of a soldier
A tree in a forest up in flames
Black valley, peace beneath the city
Where the women hear the washboard rhythm in their bosom when they say
"Give me good legs
And a Japanese car
And show me a road"

This is the map for Elden Ring, the fifth—or seventh, depending on how you count 'em—game in the critically acclaimed (I assume, I don't pay attention to critics) Kings' Field series of Japanese Videogames, and the first one in it that I played or liked at all.

LANCER is a rules-heavy small-force cooperative skirmish wargame dressed up as (and grafted to a vestigial version of) a tabletop rpg, much-but-not-exactly like Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition or Chainmail II, which is the same thing but exists only in my head, and somewhat less like but still similar to Pathfinder 2nd Edition, I think, at least in action economy and general visual layout, I don't know, I haven't read it. I personally think it works quite well as one of those (rules-heavy small-force cooperative skirmish wargame) and rather terribly as a tabletop rpg. 

This works out pretty well when you intend to steal and pilfer and thieve from a from software action, rpg, because those spend a lot of time on Fights and a little on exploration and have some Sad, Giant Men and Weird ,Unhelpful Fuckers and OSR Aesthetics Of Ruin to spice things up along the way, a rhythm I think would lend itself well to LANCER. Perchance.

Furthermore, clever readers will note that the map has a big glowy thing in the middle. You know what else has a big glowy thing in the middle? That's right. Solar systems. And you know where LANCER is set? Yeah. Space. It's all coming together, baby.

There's a forest on whose branches, 
    Stretching forth like withered arms, 
Clusters hang of fruit that blanches
    In the sun — but never warms.
'Neath the leaves are ravens tenting,
    Kites are hovering on the wing
Round-about, the harvest scenting,
    In the orchard of the King
Ye who love or pity cherish
    Come not near these laden boughs,
Here must hearts in terror perish
    Or to rebel thoughts arouse.
What's this sound the wind is bringing?
    Do the foul birds dare sing?
'Tis the croak of corpses swinging
    In the orchard of the King.

So we can generate cute little planets with a website as long as we time our use of the snipping tool correctly to get them in good lighting, and google image search "low poly sun" and "low poly tree" and "low poly space station" and so on for the others, and put it all together in photo shop with a little violet prose. Assume these planets are star wars style: Lava Planet, Ice Planet, Lake Planet, Grass Planet, Cursed Poison Swamp Planet ,et cetera. One to four or so important locations each, five tops. Happily that also works out to how many the game's got if you ignore minidungeons. I'm crushing Weeping Peninsula and Limgrave together because they look the same and the castle is the only interesting thing in Weeping Peninsula.

We're stealing the tone, too. This is a cursed system, long forgotten or abandoned, populated by withered husks in creaking hardsuits grown together with one another over long centuries, the Giant, Sad Men so bountiful in soulsgame population. Lots of tree-theme. Weird fucking merchants—actually, I think those are already LANCER canon. Easy.

The players, I want to fuck with the tone of as little as possible, so I don't have to redact or correct anything present in the player book. With that in mind I suppose they're regular Union lancers in service of the Administration, sent to make dangerous First Contact with this supposed ancient colony, and when they appear in a dark hole on Fascimile it's a surprise; intercepted—killed instantly—by an anomalous blinkspace effect, probably related to the fact that there's a giant space tree growing over the local gate. They wake up as subjectivity-overridden flash clone in some sort of pirate lab, ticking the box of soulsgame protagonists being undead and likely explaining some of the corruption undergone by the rest of the populace.

The stated 'goal' of the campaign after that point is escape—or at the very least finding a way to get word back to headquarters.

I left the Elden Ring map in there at like 3% opacity, as a little treat. Little Eastere'd Egg. Private little joke just for me, that I can point to if and when my players figure out what I'm doing.

What miracle is this? This giant tree.
It stands ten thousand feet high
But doesn't reach the ground. Still it stands.
Its roots must hold the sky.

I don't know! Fuck! I do this in vain hope, I suppose, that this kindles the cold, dormant spark of Editing (not Creativity, that one's all-the-way extinguished or maybe never existed in the first place) in ym Brain and I can finally think RPG thoughts agaibnm, g_d fucking willing. In which case I guess there might be Posts in it, for you. Not necessarily related ones, just ones with a frequency greater than whatever the gap is between now and September of 2021.

Also, I might try to post play reports or mech stats for elden bosses or something, purely as a masturbatory exercise.

Our piss will fertilize next year’s zinnias as we rut atop decaying tomato vines. Eating out each puckered cavity, draining one another of all sweet salty goo. Ah, what a joy it is to recline with you in the sex forest.