Saturday, 31 December 2011

Endings And Beginnings

Happy Hogmanay! Or if you're in central Australia or points east, Happy New Year!

This is my 200th post here, apparently. There's a noteworthy number for you.

A year ends, a year begins. It's an arbitrary placement nine days after the more logical choice of the winter solstice, but it's the one I'm stuck with in this culture. Time to look back and reflect, time to look forward and hope.

Fantastical settings sometimes put a lot of weight on the significance of years, dates and numbers and in some it might be more than symbolic. Prophecies tied to specific times or lunar cycles might be accurate, astrology might have a defining power, and that calendar counting down to Doomsday might just be right.

A more SF-ish version might have the significance people assign to dates be a factor. So the world ends at midnight because that's when the new atomic clock goes online, to borrow an example from of all things Doctor Who: The Movie.

And the PCs might not know about every significant date. Without looking, can you tell me when St. Swithin's Day is? That might lead to forty days of rain. And in a setting with a higher Weird Level than our own, this might be literally true.

Or how about the nights that vampires in Buffy are supposed to feast or fast?

And then there's the wider symbolic weight of endings and beginnings, births and deaths, the cycle of seasons, the rituals of entering a new house or christening a new ship with champagne.

As someone who's likely to be first footing at least one house tomorrow morning, I know some traditions have more importance than others, some are just a bit of fun. Does your setting have traditions like that, which don't "matter" in objective terms? They can add a lot to bring a game world alive.

Friday, 30 December 2011

It's A Small World After All

A new (and rather loose) adaptation of The Borrowers aired here on Boxing Day.

People in an out-of-scale world is one of the classic fantasy ideas, starting with mythical Giants and Wee Folk, the modern narrative version appearing around Gulliver's Travels and it being one of the earliest uses of trick photography in the movies and TV.

There have been entire series about it like Land Of The Giants and The Micronauts, miniaturisation episodes in many of the ongoing genre series (Star Trek toyed with it now and then and hit it dead on in Deep Space Nine, which being a modern Trek show dealt with the scientific issues of miniaturised air and how to breathe, while Doctor Who generally didn't give a monkey's) so there's plenty of scope for PCs to face giants, get zapped by shrink rays and have to flee house cats and the like as they try to find a way to reverse the effect.

And if there was ever a time to use miniatures...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Hacking: Older Than You Think

As in 1903 older. (Thanks to SteveD for the link!)

Intercepting and sabotaging communications is a classic tactic in espionage and warfare, and sometimes as here in social commentary. What methods are there in your game, how could they be subverted?

Communication in Star Wars is super-advanced with across-the-galaxy holograms in some places and pretty basic with radios and camera-to-screen relays in other, so anyone can break into the latter to say “situation normal!” but it’s not the kind of setting that lends itself to hackers even though the Expanded Universe has them.

The psychic message boxes in Doctor Who, last seen in black and white, reappeared in the Doctor’s Wife as a lure to draw the Doctor and companions into danger. So does River Song leaving Gallifreyan messages across history, but at least then he knows he’s being lured into danger.

Kindred in Vampire: The Requiem often suffer the amnesia Fog of Eternity after sleeping in torpor, and some groups have ways of turning this to their advantage - like the German Carthians who find sleeping Elders and indoctrinate them when they wake.

Any giant robot is prone to having a superhero cross its wires. Armoured heroes are in danger of having their technology turned against them.

And scrying stones in fantasy can be bent to the will of any mind powerful enough. So watch out for crystal balls...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leviathan - SteveD and company use Smallville to run an HBO post-Napoleonic fantasy series.

I keep thinking I should buy Smallville, despite the Smallville connection, but it doesn't actually come with a SteveD in the book. I'll wait and see what I think of the same company's new Marvel superheroes game.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Further Thought On "Compliments Of The Season"

What is your character doing for Christmas? (Or Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or their birthday, or their S.O.'s birthday, or their anniversary, or Wookiee Life Day, or the Prince's Embrace night?)

I've prattled on at some length about GMing Christmas Specials before, but this can be a more general question for any time of celebration.

Buying presents can be an adventure in and of itself. (I say this as someone who managed to get both my parents books they already had this year. In my defence, my mother had dropped hints about Sir Terry’s Snuff and then went and bought it herself after I did...)

Then consider all the tradition and symbolism of such events. What do you do, what do you eat, where do you go, what games do you play, what do you wear, where did that whole mistletoe business come from?

And how do PCs from Culture A deal with the traditions of Culture B? What’s a good gift for the Ambassador of Barsoom?

Compliments Of The Season

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Joyous Yule! Mazel Tov! It's Doctor Who Tonight! Select as applicable.

And what did you get for select-as-applicable?

No game stuff for me directly, as I am generally the giver of game stuff rather than the receiver. I did have a go at the Black Lion FLGS raffle and got GURPS Who's Who 2 (and if Hitler, Churchill, Napoleon and Nelson are only in 2, who's in 1?) among other things. Expect a Whoblog post about opening it at random soon.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Vampire: In The Bleak Midwinter

More vampires mark the winter solstice than the mortal celebration of Christmas four nights later. The long night is their time, and Christianity has been a plague on vampires down the centuries. And very few of them have loved ones with whom to share gifts and good company.

And yet, painful as it may be, some cling to the reminder of hope and forgiveness that the story promises.

To follow: practical considerations about the season, a decent-sized adventure hook, and two sketchy ones, one about a vampire showing very poor taste which I hope will not offend despite the vampire's attempts.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Fringe, and the resolving of mysteries in games

I am now more than halfway through all available Fringe.

It's pretty much "What if The X Files answered a decent number of the questions it raised?" - The Series.

"Mad scientists did it!" being the main answer, including the "mad scientists From Beyond!" subset. It explains vampires, werewolves, ghosts and the like in the first season alone, like aliens in Doctor Who. Their clearup rate is higher too - if guest stars don't die in the pre-credits they actually stand a fair chance of surviving.

Something like The X Files is a good model for a game - I tried running it once, in fact - but I'd say Fringe is better on balance because of this. The characters more often get to (a) find out what's actually going on, (b) definitely stop it and (c) help people caught up in the episode's threat. It would be a lot less frustrating than an accurate simulation of Mulder and Scully's adventures. Players might let you get away with "you'll never find out..." once or twice in a series, but not once or twice a week.

There are plenty of suitable RPGs, notably investigation games like Gumshoe which already has paranormal and mutant-chasing variants, as well as post-X Files paranormal-hunting games like Conspiracy X, or if you want to go another way model-the-TV-show games like PTA and Smallville. Indeed, I wonder why someone like MWP hasn't licensed Fringe itself.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Would you like some folkloric British monsters?

SFX are nice enough to give away their Paranormal Special's article on the subject.

Nessie, the Great Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, the Lambton Worm... Ten in all, enough to fill a British supernatural adventure show, turn out to be aliens in a series' worth of Doctor Who or cryptids in Primeval, inspire fantasy beasts or horror monsters and more.

Are the Owlmen the Strix from Vampire: The Requiem in their natural form? Is the story of the last Cottingley Fairy picture being real the truth? Is the Black Dog a friend or an enemy?

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Nine Companions

To celebrate my ninth follower here - presumably also my 20th over on The Door, hello!

How significant are numbers in your game world?

Is it bad luck to have thirteen at the table, or in the adventuring party? Is three the magic number, or is it five, or seven? Which number Shall Not Be Spoken?

And how do you apply this when you have an uncertain number of PCs?

Of course, you can make just about any number, or phrase, or physical characteristic, hugely significant in a game world. Omens and pattern recognition have presented us with plenty of examples.

"Five there must be, one for each finger of the hand!"

"2001 is actually the start of the new millennium!"
"Nobody likes a math geek, Scully. "

"Ahh, you have green eyes, you cannot enter by the front door!"

So if you have six players, they could be connected by a prophecy relating to the six senses, the days God worked on Earth, or the luck of a normal die.

And since most RPGs run off numbers and their random generation, you could even throw number symbolism into the game itself. In Nomine, the game of angels and demons secretly battling over the world, is built around the d666.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring came out ten years ago.

In some ways it doesn't seem that long ago, in others (where it connects to very early memories of the books) it seems like it's always been there.

It's why I don't generally run or play standard fantasy - I know I can't GM like Tolkien can. I'd love to have a hand in something like that, but so much standard fantasy is just about fighting through Moria rather than grieving over Gandalf, getting up the mountains rather than the importance of fellowship.

The One Ring goes towards building this in, but I think it might make it too planned out. Really, you need a group who can throw themselves into it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful

As I write this, the amusingly nicknamed Hurricane Bawbag rages outside, disrupting plans and causing much consternation. This time last year, of course, we were two weeks into six and a half weeks of being snowed in, so I suppose a storm isn’t such a big deal.

So... the weather in games.

Mostly it’s scenery, with dark and stormy nights aplenty, rain most often falling on noirish PIs, vampires threatened by the bright morning sun.

Sometimes it’s a dramatic device that forces adventurers to take shelter in the inn where the murder happens, or miss a vital train due to leaves on the line, or travel through Moria rather than over the mountains.

Sometimes it’s actively involved, under the control of superhuman powers for good or ill.

Games that tend more towards the dice falling where they may and the likes of random encounters might well include random weather, with a roll of the dice always waiting to screw up plans.

But a bit of strange weather could change a regular encounter even if it doesn’t fit the weather’s usual dramatic uses.

Consider a typical battle with a troop of Orcs/brigands/vampires/Stormtroopers and add enough rain to turn the ground to mud as the fight continues. Compare Agincourt in Branagh’s Henry V to Olivier’s to see the difference it can make to a standard narrative.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An observation caused by the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar

The Yuuzhan Vong are the Tzimisce.

For various reasons, but most of all because, for me, neither of them feel like they fit in the universes they were brought into.