Thursday, 7 June 2012

Worlds Yet To Conquer...

In which I display some setting ideas that I really want to run with and develop at some point but at the moment have neither the time nor the motivation (due to working on my RQ world) to do so:

I want to run an RPG, though I've yet to decide on the system, set on Oddworld. Dystopian high-tech world? Check. Tribal magic-based cultures? Check. Huge conflict between Industrial greed and naturist tree-hugging? Check. This is essentially Pandora but 15 years earlier and is such a developed world with a fantastic backdrop for adventuring and freedom-fighting/terrorising that it would be remiss not to run something here at some point. Unfortunately as it's a (very strictly) licenced world, I'd have to do all conversions and everything to a system myself which would be a drag. Not insurmountable but it's certainly delayed for now.

A long time ago there was Prince Of Persia, now there is Garshasp: The Monster-Slayer (A game I highly recommend playing by the way). Between them they sparked an interest in Persian mythology that has been brewing steadily of late. While Greco-roman and to a certain extent Arabian mythology (Al-Qadim anyone?) have been well covered in RPG canons of various flavours, Persian mythology seems to have gone somewhat unloved. Whether this is just due to a lower level of proliferation in Western culture or just the fact that their myths and fabulous creatures are less well-known I don't know but I'd like an authentically Persian feeling setting for one of my games. Similarly, classical Meso-American civilisations (Aztecs, Mayans) seem to have generally been relegated to being the calling cards of various Lizardman cultures (c.f. WHFB) and hopefully at some point an entirely jungle-based setting inspired by these cultures shall also be realised.

More shall probably be forthcoming but these two/three (primarily video-game inspired I notice) arethe ones I have been mulling over recently.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Maid: Impressions

So, as mentioned previously, Maid was played yesterday. It was... not nearly as bad as I expected. Both mechanically and thematically it flowed reasonably well and did what it's supposed to do.

As you may have noticed, the post when  I commented on the core mechanic was at 3:30 in the morning and so I am reserving the right to retract what I said about it due to not thinking it through properly. What the multiplication mechanic does to set itself apart from most mechanics to my mind is twofold. Firstly and most importantly it means there is a real difference between a skill 2 and skill 3. Whereas a + modifier would be the norm in *many* systems, the multiplication does make a difference. That is, a roll +2 is not significantly different to a roll +3, at least not when compared to a roll x2 and a rollx3. This didn't really occur to me when I was reading the rules before play, hence dismissing it as inflating the numbers. The reality is it allows a larger range of target numbers for challenges.

Secondly, the multiplication means that anyone with a skill of 0 cannot use that skill for anything. This was quite poignant coming from what might be regarded as a 'casual' game. Many games allow bases chances for success, even if it is just the roll of a dice. It was refreshing to note that as the skills are randomly generated it was possible you were going to have to work with a character that (like mine did) had 0 in a crucial skill (Athletics in my case). This is mitigated by the fact that whenever you perform an action you describe it in such a manner as to decide which attribute you roll on. If you emphasise the physical parts of an activity then you roll Athletics, if you emphasise precision and technique then you roll Skill etc. This is the main engine that drives the roleplaying aspect of the game and it works well as you have to work out how to proceed in the way that best emphasises your 'talents'.

As to the actual game: it was fun but a little disjointed and hectic. It specifically says in the rules that it could be used as a long-term game but I can't see it working that way for any group I've played with. It's fun as a distraction between other things but unless you're really into the theme (you know who you are) the ruleset is not really tight enough to facilitate campaign play and the kooky characters (lolita assassain ninja?) and plots would probably wear thin after a while. They certainly would for me anyway. But as always, YMMV and I know a few people who could probably get a kick out of it for a good long while.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Feedback Request

Yay three days in a row with new content! As you may have been able to tell from the stream of consciousness posts and random subjects this blog is mostly just for me to collate and broadcast my thoughts. That said if you have any comments on which types of posts you think are best/most interesting and also how long is too long, or too short for a post then it'd be nice for me to have some info on what people actually read.

If you have contact with me from other sites and not here (facebook, DA, YSDC etc.) feel free to contact me there with any comments rather than making an account here ;)

The Non-Euclidian Nature Of Horror

(Two new followers in under a week, I'm on a roll! Enjoy the ride...)

While I wanted to move over to RQ for a while to get away from any intensive atmosphere pressure as it's wierdly draining as a GM to try to keep that going, I am feeling an itch that I will end up implanting elements into my RQ game too. My games were never very scary anyway but I always tried to keep up a pretense of a horrific atmosphere.

Horror comes in many different flavours. Being a Call Of Cthulhu player addict the type of horror I'm most familiar with is existential and 'fridge' horror (and I really need to learn that linking to Tv-Tropes only loses me readers as they get sucked in over there instead...) which usually takes a while to sink in such as realising you've just bricked up a living person into a stone cell or that should you fail to meet the requirements for Eihort's sealing on the exact right date you will be directly responsible for any ensuing damages. But there are a number of different types of horror, most of which can be found in all media and I have dabbled with a few others. As follows will be a couple of the ways I've considered that could be used to create a more tense and disturbing game in RQ. Needless to say these will be seasoning not to be applied with any strength more than one in ten sessions or so to keep the players grounded and not too heroically inclined...

Survival Horror: This comes in two basic flavours, wilderness survival horror and being-stalked-by-something-unnameable (BSBSU) horror. The former relies on the feeling of isolation that comes from being cut off from civilisation with very limited resources and the lurking presence of death at all times. This is, I find, hard to pull off in games because it essentially comes down to a resource-management minigamewhich divorces the players from the perils their characters face. Films such as 127 Hours (which I do not recommend spending the 2 hours of your life required to watch on btw) do show some of the fear that would be present in RL for inspiration, and I'm aware that it's my fledgling GM status that prevents me from evoking proper responses from players but even so...

The second case is much more easy to conjure up in games. Indeed the first instance I plan on using horror is based on it. It involves some (preferably hard to detect and probably even harder to defeat) malevolent entity relentless wearing down the heroes' defenses. In my case I aim to have a cave system, hopefully having limited the light sources of the PCs, which as they explore they gradually discover is the hunting grounds for a pack of tooth fairies (of the Hellboy variety). What starts as a vague chittering soon escalates into a whirling, bitey death cloud that is inexorably closing in on them unless they can escape. This I can do and have successfully ratcheted up the tension using this sort of scenario before, it's good fun.
Obviously, for bonus points you can combine the two types together.

Jump Scares: A token mention has of course to be made of the humble jump scare. While the effect of a good jump scare shouldn't be underestimated it is worth noting that a fair bit of time has to be put in before hand building suspense so it's best utilised as part of a larger mood-setting piece rather than an isolated incident. Always feels a bit cheap imo, just like in films. Gore would also fall into this category really, though most gamers I've played with are so desensitised to gore in general and in fantasy settings in particular as to not even count this as horrific any more. Maybe I need to find new friends...

Fridge Horror: This is horror that only dawns on you when you stop to actually think about it, rather than at the time. This is the stuff true Lovecraftian horror is made of, though the specifics are dealt with in the next section. I can recall a few instances when this has been used to good effect in CoC games, particularly where terrible choices have to be made. In a recent game I played in, the GM didn't let on that we'd forgotten to rescue some children from a burning cell until it was too late. From the looks around the table, that scene will stay with us all for some time. As cool and flexible as this is, it doesn't have a huge amount of place in a high-fantasy setting really so I'll be giving it a rest at least until I get back to CoC.

Cosmic Horror: This is horror born from existential doubt and the shattering of humanity's (or lizard manity's or beastmanity's) delusions of grandeur. It is is surprisingly easy to inflict on characters, especially in FRPGs, as a few failed prayers and little selective denial of confirmation bias should put them right into their place. Players on the other hand are much more complex beasts  and tend to be more difficult to scare. It generally depends on the sensibilities of your individual players, but of all the people I've ever played with, I am proobably the most susceptible to this play so it hasn't found much effective use. As Josh mentions in the comments here it is especially common among those veterans of Mythos that have either faced and answered any misgivings they have or are simply more Lovecraftian and not interested in the slightest. YMMV.

Honourable Mention: Surrealist Horror: This is what I tend to use in the Dreamlands and similar settings and is similar to body horror a lot of the time. Body parts randomly shifting andd melting, playing off of actual player phobias and similar blurring of the player-character divide can lead to some interesting outcomes. Though it's probably more along the lines of creepiness than actual fear.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Things I Get Dragged Into...

Interesting happenstance: I have been roped into playing a game of Maid (no that is not a bad link, this is just somewhat out of character for me...).

I've been reading the rules and so far they seem pretty intuitive and actually fairly interesting. That said, I despise the core mechanic: I just don't see the point of the multiplications of dice-rolls, it only serves to inflate the values seen in gameplay. THis seems to just add unnecessary maths for no real benefit. Though I'm sure there is a reason and my amateur eye hasn't caught up to it yet. Otherwise though it actually seems to be a legit, if rules-light (which I like anyway) system. The GM is replaced by 'The Master' with the players representing his obedient maids and hilarity ensues as the world can be as mundane or as wacky as The Master desires.

Character gen is almost entirely random. You roll on what are essentially tables of fetishes to decide essentially what kink your maid will be fulfilling for your master. Examples include: lolita, leather, werewolves, cat-girls, hermaphrodites and vampires. Plus about 5 dozen others, some more obscure some less so. There is a perversion chart for Demogorgon's sake. It's all done with tongue firmly in cheek (not like that, you dirty sod) though and it takes refuge in audacity fairly well. You get the feeling this game is played by people who take their slightly fetishised games seriously but not so seriously that they can't laugh at themselves while doing it. The best kind of people in other words ;)

In the english translation there is something like 17 scenarios included though the nature of the game means they are basically just frameworks for you to do whatever the hell you want to do.

Needless to say, all the pontificating in the world is pretty useless without having played the game so I shall delay proper judgement till it's done. But I'm fairly certain it's going to depend entirely on meshing well with the GM (who is a first-timer as far as I'm aware) and especially the other players, most of whom I know but there are a couple of surprise players too.

Should be entertaining... I think...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Inspiration Series: Temples and Tabernacles.

Firstly, welcome to my new follower! Hope you enjoy your stay.

While there is an annoying lack of inspiration for commentary posts at the moment I shall at least attempt to post a content post. Dungeon design for the RQ campaign is going well so I shall post the results of my brainstorming sessions in the hope that it sparks something useful for you too.

In trying to define my niche, I'm thinking of doing a series of posts on psychological principles as applied to gaming and how they can be used to improve your game. Not sure if I like it, or more to the point if it would be of any use to anyone but it's floating around. Anyway, enough of these (empty, going by past experience) promises, the last brainstorm I had was on shrines and similar places to be found. As they are for RQ they are predominantly designed for a high fantasy setting but some could probably be repurposed.

 Many of these may appear in my game and as I know some of my players read this, stop here.

The Temple of Tears: This mysterious temple is inhabited by two-faced statues. Each of these faces is crying, the liquid running down one face into a moat surrounding the statue and then runs up the back of the statue and into the eyes of the second face. Each statue cries a different liquid from water through blood and quicksilver to molten lead.

The Temple to The Stars: This shrine consists of a single round room. The domed ceiling of this room has been treated with some sort of lacquer or paint that absorbs all light. Inlaid across this backdrop are hundreds of gems. These emit a gentle and harshly cold light that gives the entire room a foreboding fear. Combined with the loss of depth perception on the jet-black ceiling, a true experience of the vastness of the skies can be had here. The gems can be prised from the ceiling with a lot of work but they stop glowing if removed from their settings and absorb heat, likely causing freeze-burns to the hands of all who wield them. If a suitable storage can be devised, they are worth 10gp each.

The Wandering Shrine: This is I suppose technically a creature rather than a place. An earth elemental akin to an bent and twisted Ent meanders through the forest, it's pollens spreading life to the forest's denizens and spreading disease and poisons through it's invading foes. The top of this wandering construct is formed from an age's worth of entwined and knotted branches in a plateau. In the centre of this plateau is a large spring bubbling up from the depths of the elemental's soul. Akin to the tears of nature herself, should this spring be blocked or spilled clear of the elementals pond temple-head the forest will die. Where the spring flows in the elemental's dying moments a new tree shall sprout and when the next age passes it shall pull itself clear of the ground, a new clear spring bubbling forth and wherever it treads and sprinkles its waters new forest shall grow.

(Shamelessly pillaged from Akrasia: Thief Of Time): The temple to the God of immediate gratification shows the promise of a fabulous building. A golden minaret perches above a gem-inlaid tower. Closer inspection reveals it is just a shell however, the inhabitants were distracted by more immediate pleasures before they could finish. Remnants of these pleasures litter the surrounding area, from the hastily constructed brothel/tavern to the nearby fields of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms Akrasia has let grow around to fulfil those fantasies as fast as possible.

The Caged Temple: The ancient being associated with this temple believed that their priests should fully trust each other and as such, in order to enter two priests have to stand in metal cages. Each of these has a door that leads to the next room. In the next room it is clear that there is a single benefit of some kind. Two levers are present in each cage. They are clearly labelled, one allows the other priest to proceed while keeping their own door locked. The second unlocks their own door and traps their companion (or at least, prevents them advancing). This is according to the symbols anyway. In reality, to promote trust, if either priest betrays the other, both priests are killed by traps.

The Tabernacle Of The Fates: In the entrance hall to this labyrinthine construction there is a huge tapestry. If examined closely it will be revealed to update itself every 30 seconds as a view of various areas of the temple, not quite a map almost more akin to CCTV really. This will reveal the various traps and creatures wandering the halls if used correctly.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Always Believe In Yourself...

This thread on YSDC got me thinking a little about how to portray Real-World religions within the context of Lovecraftian nihilism. Partly because this intrigues me anyway - as I may have mentioned before, I'm a psychologist in training - and also because my current character in my role-reversal sessions of CoC is a Catholic exorcist. Now, my Keeper has specifically stated that religious rituals etc. will have no discernible effect on the world except for psychological effects. That's fine, and especially as he's only running a short game I completely understand the lack of ambiguity. That said, I think there's some wiggle-room for my own game to play with and I'd like to explore some options.

Obviously, some people will take it upon themselves to view this post as some sort of flame-bait. I do not intend to tread on any toes and these are not reflective of my RL views (which are entirely irrelevant to the issue) but my stance on portraying religion in a fictional universe, albeit one much like our own. If you are offended, please feel free to shut the tab and navigate away. Fair warning, I'll simply delete antagonistic posts.

I am working from the standpoint that no major world deities exist as independent deities. This is for two reasons. Firstly it gets very idealogically charged very quickly as you decide which ones are left out or left in, even things like meshing all the Abrahamic conceptions together can cause problems. Secondly, there are too many anyway, from major religions down to Egyptian beings. Incidentally, when there are exceptions to this rule, it is invariably Egyptian gods that actually exist in my game as I have a soft spot for the whole pantheon.

Option 1: The Facade.
This is an approach that is very popular among many writers of CoC scenarios as it is malleable to individual scenarios and situations. It involves treating the deity in question as an avatar or facet of an established Mythos entity (I hesitate to call them deities as they aren't technically in my game). This is typically Nyarlathothep (Baron Samedi in Burning Stars, for example) but could be Y'golonac, Yig or even Yog-Sothoth itself. I understand why it's become such a trope and have indeed invoked it myself, but I do have reservations about this. Firstly it disagrees with my conception of many of the mythos beings. Nyarlathothep especially suffers from this, probably largely due to a certain well-liked published campaign that is based around the concept, and it means he has basically turned into Loki. Who is far, far too human for my tastes. Mischevious and trickster deity is all well and good, but I don't like it when he's too heavily involved. It just smacks too much of anthrocentrism. With the exception of Y'golonac of course who is a deified version of everything that is wrong with humanity born from our basest desires. So fair enough. He doesn't usually use avatars though, preferring followers who join his debased ways anyway.

In this instance, religious folks who appeal to their deity of choice are in fact attracting the attention of a Mythos being. While this can never be a good thing, it may achieve short-term goals. There are likely to be conditions or, more likely, consequences of these appeals though and as the person's faith is likely to grow stronger if she has prayers that are answered the final revalation is likely to be that much more sanity-shattering.

Option 2: The Derleth.
This is a very unpopular approach among many purists in particular. It involves factionalising the various beings into 'good' and 'evil' sets that are at war in the cosmos. The general divide is that the GOOs are fighting for the destruction of the Earth, while the Elder Gods are attempting to suppress their efforts. Thus, again the native gods of earth religions are likely to be avatars and masks of the Elder Gods. The differences are chiefly that these deities are much more likely to be sympathetic. Again though, they are unlikely to wear repeated pestering and smiting shall be visited upon an uppity follower. Under this section would also come the 'actual' deities, such as Bast and Hypnos in the game's canon. These tend to exist as benevolent deities and also work with Nodens if he is around. Similarly, it could be that all benevolent gods are facets of Nodens. While I'm a pulpy gamer, I'm a Lovecraftian purist so I don't like touchy-feely deities like Nodens wandering about in my game world.

Option 3: The Lovecraft.
No being that isn't mathematically summoned using the correct ritual can be interacted with. Prayers and the like go completely unanswered and many will lose their faith in the face of the unholy truths they encounter. Most powerful entities are mere aliens and natural forces rather than actual deities.


I tend towards option 1 when these issues come up. But it varies and as I have said before, I am constantly meddling with my world's canon as much as the rules of my game.

Now, I reckon that there should be psychological implications of religion for characters. These can be both positive and negative of course. To start with at least, the promise of an overarching plan and a guardian would make a seriously religious character fairly hard to shake. Similarly, courage of one's convictions can lead to a persuasive personality and a master of argument. Of course if and when their faith is challenged and found wanting, there is a massive downward spiral from there.