19 June 2011


As I picked up my thirdhand copy of Dune Messiah I realized something bizarre: I'm much more of a science fiction fan than I am a fantasy fan.

On my bookshelf right now, there are perhaps 5 fantasy books, with two of them being rather large Robert E Howard compilations (one of Conan and one of Kull, respectively). One other is the Rincewind the Wizzard thing which contains the Colour of Magic, the Light Fantastic, and Sourcery. One of them is a book that isn't mind, and I'm not sure where I got it from. The very last is the Jack Vance omnibus thing.

There's something in common with these books, naturally. 1) They're not strictly "fantasy" fantasy. 2) They're all omnibuses because I once had a subscription to Book of the Month Club and you'd be surprised how many giant collection books they make for authors, and 3) They're all very unique in the fantasy world for being the sort of fantasy that science fiction lovers like.

And I'm cool with that.

That's all I have to say this morning.

Thank you, and have a pleasant morning.

10 June 2011

LotFP: The Nihilistic Game

This post from 5 Stone Games interested me quite a bit, what with its mention of two things I'm interested in, all in the same blog post: Philosophy and roleplaying games.

According to his article, there's a man named THOMAS who posts:

I read the back cover and hated the rejection of the concept of "hero" ala LotFP. It deliberately discourages the ideas of nobility, self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, honor, etc. Better to be non-committal philosophically, and let DMs create the tone they want. Game designers are trying to give their games a nihilistic bent, which I think is a mistake.
Sure, not purely for nihilism's sake, but the section on alignment demonstrates that good/evil are merely ideas or opinions. This makes all ethical ideals baseless, including valuing life and respecting others. The cosmology chosen in the alignment section leads to nihilism, which leads to the mercenary spirit, contra honor, nobility, heroism. Honor and nobility become opinions without base, no more intrinsically good than dishonor and evil. That cosmology stinks, and it is too bad that it is accepted by default.
I think this game, and LotFP, are both trying to make their games more unambiguously conformed to the nihilistic sorts of literary inspirations (e.g. Lovecraft). In other words, they are "purging" so to speak other works from Appendix N (Tolkien). AD&D was less committed to this nihilism than these two newer games.

And really, that's fair criticism but I think that it's being approached from the wrong direction.

What we have here is a clash of worldviews, and the basic misunderstanding of said worldview. I'm talking about theism vs non-theism, in roleplaying game form. It's pretty interesting to see the same arguments get applied to a roleplaying game that would get applied to a personal philosophy, and I'm really interested to see where it goes.

My personal view? Well, I'm not a theist, so you can probably figure out which way my ideas bend, but I will say that THOMAS is mixing up non-objectivity with pointlessness. Just because good and evil are culturually-ingrained ideas rather than handed down by some sort of all-powerful being doesn't mean that they're totally baseless. You don't need to be told something is good for it to be good. It's the sort of deal where in some cultures, it's ok to shove your elderly off on an iceberg and let them die by themselves, and in others, you stand by them until their life leaves. Neither one is more "good", but that doesn't mean that the rituals themselves have no meaning.

For what it's worth, I imagine that the supposed "nihilism" is a sort of broad stroke against the "you're a good guy so here's some cosmic good for you." People have been complaining about alignment for years now, or then ignoring it. What's the problem in making a game that doesn't just have alignments, it has non-alignments and tells you "There are no gods to tell you what to do."

That takes some brass balls, and I'm all in favor of it. That's real life for you. It's not some candy-land sort of deal where you don't have to worry about whether you're doing the right thing because you can ask your DM who will sagely shake his head that no, that isn't good, and your character won't do it even though it causes problems. You're left rudderless in a world without any morals of its own. What will you do?

It reminds me of a lot of people who encounter an atheist for the first time.
"But you don't believe in God, right? So why are you such a nice guy?"
"Because I like to be. Just because there's no gods doesn't mean that I don't have ethics. That's not where they come from, anyways. Have you read that book you talk so much about?"

So maybe this is THOMAS's first encounter with an atheist game. It might be the world's first encounter, and I think it's pretty cool.

09 June 2011

The Whims of Chaos

This is also apparently (on a quick googling) the name of some sort of fan-fiction book that some guy's slowly writing.

This post is not about that.

This post is about, rather, random tables and a request for some entries populating it. The sorts of things that could reasonably be applied to starting characters in any given fantasy game, where there's nothing like "You're one armed! Good luck!" and everything like, "You've only got one eye!" or "Pox-Marked", or "You were adopted by a band of marauders!". You know, the sort of thing that's vague enough to be interesting without being stupid or boring. Irreverant is good, funny is good, (I plan on using them for a beer and pretzels game called SKELTON PUNCHER for fuck's sake, this isn't World of Darkness) just nothing boring.

I think that's where a good chunk of our hobby has gone wrong. Warhammer's absolutely got the right idea- random generation charts for quirks and birthplace and even class feature heavily in their games, in part because it helps reinforce the setting and the theme, but in part because it's still relentlessly old-school and rolling on giant charts to find out that you're a Rat-Catcher who's obese and missing his nose is so interesting that it's a real shame not to roll. How can you go back to planning out your character's entire path again? How could anybody want to go back?

So SKELETON PUNCHER's going to have a chart here or there. I plan on dedicating an entire section to a couple of random character-generation tables. They're just too much fun to use, and too much fun to write. 

08 June 2011

How Is This Game Different From What I Played Before?

Leafing through the Dungeon Crawl Classics Beta, and the first thing that struck me on the head was the section on how the game was different from other retro-styled games.

Holy shit, it was like an epiphany.

Why wouldn't you want to flat-out say "This game is different from this edition like this, and this edition like this", especially when retro-clones are one of the few areas of the hobby where people really will compare and contrast your works like that.

Just a quick thought, and I'm back to what I was doing before.

06 June 2011

Adeptus Mechanicus

The Machine Cult is what gets me excited about playing Dark Heresy with my brotherman and buddies. Given the choice, I would always be a tech-priest in that game, and possibly several others as well.

I'm not sure what is so cool about those guys. These guys with crazy implants, parts replaced by machine all in serving the Machine God. These guys are technological magicians in a universe where a majority of people have no idea what makes technology work. Then again, I guess most people don't know what makes their computer go nowadays. Regardless, they are powerful enough to essentially be an allied empire within the Imperium. So essential that they follow a different religion in the extremely puritan Imperial society. 

Starting out as just a tiny cog in the huge machine of the Priesthood of Mars is what gets me in the mood to play some Dark Heresy. If we are barred from choosing our class, wish my dice luck!

Dark Heresy

So I've decided that the next game I'm going to be running is the Warhammer 40k themed game, Dark Heresy. If you're not familiar with it, it's the game about Inquisitors, as opposed to Rogue Traders about wandering merchant guys, and Deathwatch which is about the most badass Spehss Mahreens going off to do the toughest jobs. Or something.

I know Dark Heresy isn't the oldest school of games, and there's something about the system that grinds me the wrong way (maybe something to do with the percentile thing that doesn't seem right, or maybe the way all the scores are low and they advance so damn slowly), but I like it. The biggest thing for me is that, despite the rules, the built in advice and setting help and the concept is great.

The setting stuff is honestly the reason that I like the game so much. The sample sector, the Calixis Sector, is both detailed and vague, with a description of major festivals and saints and important sections of the planets and some of the aristocrats, but some planets are given little more than a brief description of their climate and quirks, and (best of all) some planets are just names on the star chart in the middle of the section. It's enough detail that you can work with the given adventure plot (in case you don't feel like making up your own) and then totally branch off into your own stuff without worrying about "colliding" with any future adventures you might read about and want to run ("But how can anybody still be alive on Tartarus IX when it was almost totally destroyed by a warp storm?" "Don't worry about it, they got better and now there's some political intrigue...") It's the best of both worlds, and it's immensely helpful.

The setting, as usual, is pretty cool. Warhammer 40k is big and rich enough that it avoids the God-Awful Author plague, so you actually have some pretty good writing both from the Black Library psuedo-publishing house that produces 40k literature and in the actual game book itself. As a matter of fact, it's the setting itself that really makes me think that Dark Heresy would be better served as a stand-alone game than as a re-re-re-utilizing of the basic Warhammer rules. I know that the whole point is that the same system has to be used for Inquisitors, Space Marines, Rogue Traders, and the medievial Warhammer Fantasy Battle games, but it'd really be nice to see Inquisitors and their henchmen get some sort of special rules. And then, on the other hand, it kind of makes sense. You're not anybody special in Dark Heresy- you're just kind of a regular guy who's been called on by this shadowy agent to deal with some extremely bizarre stuff. And that's kind of what the rules are good for.

I really just wanted to talk about Dark Heresy without talking about the conspiracy I'm brewing up for my players, so that would be this.

02 June 2011

Fuck Space Marines

Seriously, fuck Space Marines. The entire Warhammer 40k universe is a playground with a hundred thousand themes you can choose to play around in- between cyberpunk-esque scenarios with a corrupt government, black and white morality plays against chaos, epic stories of heroism from common men against overwhelming forces, backstabbing politics, religious folly, and on and on. It's the reason that I like playing Dark Heresy so much; the first game I ever played of it took place on an abandoned mining planet that was being taken over by roving swarms of chaos-tainted mutants, with abandoned cities, sand worms, lunar mining lasers, all kinds of science fictionary.

And that's the point, I think. The galaxy is huge. There's a thousand worlds with a million problems on it. The scale is beyond staggering. There's literally anything you can do with it- it's like a GM's wet dream, to have a setting that's both extremely flexible and extremely detailed.

And yet, all anybody ever talks about is the damn space marines, or worse, the stupid eldar. Oh wow, so interesting. Giant guys who kill everything and everybody they're up against, who always win because they have the best training regiments and are bred to be huge and tough and are superbly organized. So interesting.

I mean, really. Is there anything less interesting than space marines qua space marines? Nobody bothers to give them a personality, or anything more than maybe a color scheme and then their weapons. They're designed to be the best, and I'm really more of an underdog man.

See, the Imperial Guard have personality. They're run by a monolithic, religiously fanatical government who doesn't care about their individual lives. Their commissars are more concerned with getting their objective done than any massive casualties they might incur, because fighting men are plentiful and easy to recruit, so suicide charges and the like aren't uncommon. Their armor tends to be scraped together across their careers, and if they're lucky, they can become tough, experienced veterans who hardly flinch when artillery slams into the foxhole across from theirs. The Imperial Guard are outclassed, and they know it. They haven't got the sorcery and brute force of chaos, the sorcery and brute force of the space marines, the sorcery and technology of the eldar, etc etc. All they've got is a fighting spirit, some world-class tanks, and the drive to succeed.

Every Imperial Guard victory is a story against the odds. Every space marine tale is a "and then we mopped up the remnants."

In case you're wondering, you're forgiven if you play Space Marines on the 40k minis game (how can you afford the prices, btw?), because that's entirely different. But if you're a space marine fan, the kind that argues about how many space marines it would take to level a planet or about the difference in effective ranges between a bolt pistol and a chain-bolter, then I hate you a little.