Monday, 31 December 2012

True Land of the Free

  My last post touched on still more details about the game world and how the PCs can approach the Big Bang Theory, playing along with the premise of the world.  But what premise?  While I clearly have work to do on the character options, I feel that the premise needs the most work to clarify and make it stick.  So that’s today’s post.

  Most of the gaming worlds for D20 start from a concept and use it to inform the world’s features.  I have such a concept – Geek.  As stated before, this necessitates a world where the majority culture is safe and specialized enough that not every family needs to hunt its own mammoth or starve, just as a for instance.  Geeks are outsiders; they co-exist with cliques, social orders and complex fraternities, but typically stay outside of them.

  There is perhaps another concept that needs to be addressed.  There have always been Geeks, but Geeks have always had another social class (ex. Isaac Newton was of the landholder class in England) or was put in some pressure to conform.  Geek culture, therefore, needs something else.  It needs individual liberty or it couldn’t work.  This tends to bias in favour, not of the European empires of the seventeenth century, and certainly nothing like the world empires of Rome or China, but towards America, specifically a loose America where personal opinion matters.  This can be achieved by a straight republic, a constitutional monarchy, or whatever hidden oligarchy design informs the United States.

  Brain Flash!  Why not all three?  There can be more brutal, primitive forms of government in practice at the frontiers (one can see Eberron in my thinking, I’m sure), but the core of the civilization is a competition between three awkwardly balanced, periodically at war nations, each calling themselves the True Land of the Free.  I love it, especially as it permits Good, Evil, Law and Chaos to operate in equal measure in all three nations.  There’s so much room for unintended consequences, the Player Characters could easily set off all kinds of trouble.

  To engage these nations in “enlightened” debate (evil people don’t enlighten, they obscure), complex media are needed.  Copiers/printers with the Copy spell, a troupe of Magewrights and an artificer for applying the spell to a magic item can make thousands of copies in a day.  Newsies can distribute them, typically on the cheap, maybe a silver piece a day, maybe half.  A professional postal service can also serve to tie nations together, with very little magic and more than a few spells for improving on the base.

  There are pieces to the “geek” condition that are particular to 20th century America that I want to incorporate, including professional, low cost (ideally free) libraries and ultra cheap Dime stores.  Both would serve as the centers of literacy in the communities that they are found in.  The European version can also stand – the coffee house.  It would be in places like this that stories circulate, that whispers carry names and exaggerate deeds.  But something is still missing, something that makes heroes more important than nations, and more approachable than gods.  Something that levels the world, makes everyone kin, equal, and needed for survival.

  What is needed, is an apocalypse to strike this world.

  The apocalypse that levels Eberron is the Day of Mourning, the capstone to a terrible war that almost never ended.  There are yet other ways to end civilizations, though.  The slightly overdone follower of war is zombies, especially if the means used to control the zombies cease working, or even threaten to stop working.  It would set off panic in the streets around the war-ravaged world.
Eh, too much.  It creates pandemonium, but the panicking masses will be eaten and those left will cling all the more tightly to governments to save them.  And it doesn’t lead folks to seeking heroes to save them.

  Another often overlooked apocalypse is disease, on a Black Death plague scale.  Such diseases come with two effects; it violently breaks the illusions we have of wholeness, showing our bodies to be complex machines that can be ruined with in horribly disturbed ways.  It also causes an upsurge in the live young, die young life’s mission.  After all, how long do you really have?  Can liver poisoning from this alcohol really be so bad?  I still don’t see it leading to heroes though.

  I can think of one more: climate shift.  Caution, I do not offer that this world is anthropogenically shifting its climate, or offer any opinions on anthropogenic climate change or its scarecrow counterpart, global warming.  I mean to say that for reasons the civilization in question cannot comprehend, the climate, long temperate warm and feeding an abundance of food, suddenly shifted dramatically towards colder or warmer, or perhaps merely dryer.  The effect can half the food supply, drive governments to clear new land for the plow in a hurry, and set off running agriculture wars.  What might work even better: this is only one continent.  All three nations are now pushing out onto the other continents, setting up new convents and farming settlements, and otherwise provoking global changes in settlement patterns.

  I get the idea that colonization is sailing right into territory Eberron’s Keith Baker feared to tread.  Nevertheless, I like it.  New settlements come with conflicts, conflicts create heroes, and those heroes have their stories magnified, in the form of Daniel Boon or Johnny Appleseed.  Roving starvations in the Old World can create their own heroes and villains, variants of Robin Hood and Batman for both good and ill.  All and all, though, it mixes in a strong sense of the tragic into the villains’ stories.  This can make for some much stronger storytelling, and harder adventuring for good heroes.

  But I must return to a point made above – in order to be geeky, the world has to be more or less safe.  While I think making the fields prone to drought and starvation would be very unsafe, the cities traditionally become very dangerous when the majority can’t get their day’s bread.  So where is safe?  Fallout’s Vaults?  Let me ponder that question for a while.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

More Raw Ideas for making a Geek game world

  So today I return to a gaming idea that intrigues me, of having a setting of AD&D set in a world sympathetic to geeks.  Last post focused on a few choice classes that need only a little context to make them Geeky.   They are not by any means my only ideas on incorporating Geekiness into the game formally.  Consider the following:

  New Class – Devoted Fan

  This class is designed as a 20 level base class.  Like the Cleric, the PC is required to chose an icon of devotion.  Unlike the cleric, this icon should be mortal, rather than divine.  It should be a hero of the world, fictional or not.  PCs devote themselves, in body and mind, to replicating this hero’s powers within themselves.

  Saves, hit points, and Base Attack Bonus should progress as per Cleric. 

  Literacy is optional.  While I intend to stage a high literacy world, Devoted Fans of illiterate society can select icons from lore. 

  The Icon must be thoroughly well known to the Devoted Fan.  They needn’t know everything (as I intend to include competing traditions about heroes and gods), but the Devoted should have studied extensively his/her Icon, should have an opinion about everything about the Icon, and should be willing to fight for his/her vision of the Icon.  This is something DMs can dock roleplaying experience for.

  Over time, a progressive series of powers and attributes of the Icon become shared with the Devoted.  I started plotting these powers out for the obvious first choice, Batman, before I realized that the powers granted by being devoted to Sherlock Holmes would be worlds apart, and different again from the powers granted by Hulk. 

  There is work still to be done for this class.  The mechanics are rough outline form only, more or less limiting the power curve to one every other level, starting at first (just like the Cleric).  Also, a lot more work needs to go into making new heroes who would be valid Icons for the Devoted.  Either that, or rules by which the DM and Player can make up new heroes.  Both objectives challenge me right now.

  While the class is not ready yet, I like the feel of it, especially in the sense that the PC will act like their hero, but will invariably come short.  It’s a recipe for LOLs, I tell you. 

  Other ways to make Characters Geeky:

  New Flaws: Example, Intolerance (name a Food), Allergies (name an allergen), Situational Disability (ex. Raj), Relation (as per Contact, but more demanding of the PCs time).

  Most of these flaws are clear references to the Big Bang Theory, and represent what BBT’s writers clearly thought would be cheap and easy ways to make the characters more Geeky.  That’s pretty much exactly what they are doing here.  But AD&D 3.5 has a terribly sparse list of flaws, and a few more mundane ones could hardly be a problem.  The bigger challenge is that they have to be tested for balance, though.

  I think that I saved the most important change for last: a new focus on the social.  AD&D 3.5 has a fully dimensioned system for social tests, but how often do those come up in a dungeon crawl.  There is a reason why I began this thought experiment in Eberron, because its cities are marvels of real and artificial magical energies. 

  The game focusing on geeks should start in towns and cities in spirit quite like Eberron.  A very strong urban component is required to make the game work.  The challenges should reflect trouble coming to the PCs rather than the PCs chasing trouble.

  This last thought, very much the center of the game concept, is one I will expound on at length next post.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Building a world of nerds

  So yesterday, I laid out the barebones plan for a world I’m joking calling Dungeons and Dweeblings.  It’s a custom world using the D20 system to realize a part of the humor of Big Bang Theory, which stands as a pretty big fixation of mine right now.  Although a good start, the devil is always in the details, so let me see if this vision will withstand being expanded.

  The core of the experience in any Pen and Paper role playing game is the dynamic, the discussion, around the gaming table.  Every player comes with their own world view and baggage, their own heroes and dreams.  AD&D is brilliant as it offers a way to explore those ideas socially.  The core of the version that I’m putting together is the thus far over-represented people at the table and the under-represented in the adventure; I speak of core of the geek.  Big Bang Theory explores this sub culture quite thoroughly, both as a function of the living and working, as well as the social functions.  The flawed protagonists speak well of the geek culture from whence they come, as well as the world that increasingly caters to them while holding them at arm’s length.

  To set the center of the experience in the geek, the setting needs a solid non-geek presence, and a geek presence.  In my opinion, non-geeks are quite well placed in AD&D; warriors are professional weapon users, rogues are the make-their-own luck tricksters, wizards are the super-serious utility spell jockeys, and clerics are the super-serious devotees of their gods and divine notions.  Anyone of these classes could be made geek-like, but geeks themselves are harder to find.

  Google, ever the mainstay of geek argument resolution (for good and for ill), offers the following two conditions as the definition of geek.

  1.     An unfashionable or socially inept person.
  2.      A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: “a computer geek.”

Right or wrong, this expresses much of what the popular culture sees in geeks.  I might add:

           3.      A person lacking in physical presence, whether by skill absence or interest absence.

  This third article is my own invention, and covers something I wasn’t expecting: when Nintendo, geek tempter of millions of obese, not active grown children in America, offers a chance to get up and get active, millions of obese, not active grown children in America say “meh” and continue playing games inactively, same as ever.  The wording needs fine tuning, as I know some very large gentlemen who have some very large social presences, but it seems the social convention that geeks are some form of unhealthy person.  Don’t I know it, at 220 pounds!

Wikipedia adds something very important to the discussion. 
  1. A peculiar or otherwise dislikeable person, esp[ecially] one who is perceived to over intellectual.
  These ideas compound the above terms.  Dislikeable, and intellectual.  Both of which the Big Bang Theory carries in spades.  Since having an entire cast of unlovable characters would be a turn off, Big Bang Theory showcases flawed characters, with a lot of redeeming value.  

  I’ve covered a good chunk of the meaning that I need.  Comparing these characteristics to existing AD&D classes shows a general lack of overlap, so here are some of the newer, 3.5 approved classes that might work a little better.

  1. Artificer – devoted to meticulous attention to detail, Artificers use magic to make, and possess the Retain Essence ability, to break down enchantments into their components and study them.  Artificer is my leading case for geeks in AD&D right now.
  2. Psion – devoted to “sciences,” psions get things done using the force of their minds and wills.  While not a perfect match, they meet the criteria for introspection and deep focus.  A commitment to Telepathy or Psychometabolics is unlikely to be very geeky.
  3. Archivist – The highest ranks of your church involve Clerics and Paladins with deep investment, lots of responsibilities, and the miracles to match.  You’re an archivist, you cannot cast any spells from faith, but you play by the gods rules and learn every spell that crosses under your nose, sometimes learning more than the Cleric has time to study, such as the reason why that miracle is offered by the god.  Archivist is a much more appropriate class.
  4. Swordsage – in the Tome of Battle.  Swordsages are warriors who do not plan to be on the front lines, taking injuries.  They plan to be striking enemies with swords!  They have a near obsessive devotion to a particular interest, and prize a high intelligence score for the higher skill points it gives.
  5. Illusionists – Don’t get me wrong, all wizards prize intelligence.  But how much planning is needed to summon 1d4 rats or a fireball?  Illusionists come with a significant power, but also a penalty.  They can do anything, but anything they do can be disbelieved.  A firm grasp of the illusion rules is necessary for this class.
  I’m sure that there are others that I’m missing, but this seems like a good start.  It covers most of the classic for roles for party members (Artificer is the unlocker, archivist the healer, Swordsage the warrior, illusionist the mage, psion the utility caster).  New character classes should fill in these gaps, and the classes themselves should reflect a game world rich in geek-ness.  As I said above, the non geek culture needs to be pretty solid, so I don’t think any class would be forbidden.   This contradiction would have to sorted out, either with new mechanics or powers that emphasize the attributes of the geek.  But such a thing I will have to plan for tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Another new project in creativity – Dungeons and Dweeblings

  It’s been a while since I thought very long about role playing.  Although keeping up with my group, I’ve been working full time and have been without the time for so much day dreaming.  Nevertheless, it always provides me with my greatest, most original writing, so I should really continue this commitment with more diligence.

  Okay, so about the new inspiration.  I’ve been on a Big Bang Theory kick recently, and the thought has occurred to me that this program has so much of the awesomeness both desired and absent modern roleplaying – flawed characters, power tripping.  Admit it!  AD&D brings out the Sheldon in all of us.  But is there any way to bring these concepts into greater alignment? 

  And so began the thought process of this new world.   It looks a lot like our Blue Earth, but in many important ways it resembles the fantasy worlds common to roleplaying.  The following is a quick sketch, while I hope to return to the concept tomorrow.

      1)      Streamlined emphasis on Geekdom in the fantasy kingdom setting.  This tends to recommend a  technology level where brains are favoured as much as or over brawn, such as Ancient Rome/China, Modern America, or the Renaissance/Late Medieval Europe.  It tends to decide against Early Medieval or Dark Ages settings, and while funny, Conan-Age geeks would be quite impossible.  Yes I’ve seen Year One featuring Jack Black and Michael Cera.  Not for me, man.

     2)      With an emphasis on Geekdom, the broader multiverse is something of a distraction.  Broader, and far older discussions of Heaven and Hell persist in this world, themselves forms of Geek obsession with faith, that is real, non magical powers faith, keeping the ideas in play.  There is no plane of shadows or the hunt, no Chaotic Evil or Neutral Good planes.  There’s the world.  No one knows what happens after death, but people talk of divine punishment and reward.  And then, there are the worlds of imagination…

      3)      Eberron is a campaign setting that intrigues me.  Magic is used to make peoples’ lives easier.  Magic already has a complex set of rules in Open Source D20.  Why not use it under these terms.  What I think is missing is a “rarity” system, as not all spells are as commonly known.  That’s just what I would add, and shouldn’t contradict the D20 system at all.

      4)      I need to think about the worlds of imagination and the vectors of communication.  This is “media.” 
a.      Consider this: a troupe of performers can put on a play, so can an Illusionist, much cheaper.  But do you get the same experience from both?  The troupe of performers can only be on one stage – they would need something else to broadcast this performance to others.  Illusionists as created don’t fill this role, but I can see them being remade to do so.
b.      The copy spell is a level 0 spell that replicates non magical writing instantly.  An army of Magewrights can do this four times per day (equivalent of zero level sorcerers).  Not quite that impressive, eh?  What about a magical device with a level zero copy spell in it.  Now that could be impressive.
c.      Bards can control sound, as can high level wizards.  Bards would be cheaper.  Could they distribute music?  Sort out the monetization, and the Bard class could be the most profitable around.

      5)      I wanted this game to center on the player characters, who are human (or races like as human) and geeks (obsessive characters with fictional worlds intruding into their real lives).  I believe that this would create some complicated and hilarious role playing, so it should be stated that I’m picturing a whimsical setting rather than a serious one – or a setting where you make fun of serious players!  That’s always cool!
a.      The question becomes how to incent the players to obsess.  The requirements I can anticipate are:
                                                    i.     Cool options for gaming, illusions, and social distractions.
                                                   ii.     Open rules accepting Science Fiction, within limits (consider who Jules Verne saw Science Fiction; adopting a kind of Renaissance influenced MMO should be far greater than just including an outlet for World of Warcraft).
                                                  iii.     Every fantasy has to have a publisher behind it.  This means rolling up NPC founders and visionaries to interact with and be served restraining orders by. 
                                                  iv.     Loose day jobs.  Big Bang Theory takes the University as its backdrop for much of its narrative, where the Geeks (is boys more or less offensive, okay wait) where the Cast earns a stipend then engages in all sort of Geek flavoured conflicts.  That would be cool.
                                                   v.     I am on the fence about Dragons.  If Dragons exist in this world, they are well hidden and unlikely to serve and Smog; that is to say unlikely to sit on treasure until you traipse in and kill them for it.  Other monsters and enemy types should be explored to serve the same job, such as Pirates (arr, sunken treasure), Pack Rats (follow the thief through urban dungeons until you can reclaim your pocket watch, and the hoard it was keeping to itself in the process), or others as I think of them.

  So, yeah.  This is the barebones of the setting.  Much like Earth, limited technology, magic used in its place, faith and geekdom, obsession about fantasy dreams conveyed by fantasy media.  That's what I've got so far.  It needs more details, I know, but that's the awesomeness of doing this on the blog.  I can spread this out over time and hopefully get more done, thinking through more of the problems that arise, than if I simply did it in a sitting.  For now, I envision using D20 from the OGL, mainly for the magic system.  But the fantasy universes, the types of conflicts and enemies, and the complications of binding this to a day job, all of these things promise to make this setting a world onto its own, and in my hope, much more real than the AD&D worlds that I've been adventuring in.  

  Once again, this has been a creativity exercise.  Let me know if what I'm working on tickles your fancy at all.  Until next time, True Believers! 

Links in this document.  
  I’m trying something new, where the links in the document lead you here, where all of the links to places outside my blog are contained as a kind of stripped down Works Cited.  Trying to look professional.  Lemme know if it works.  Now, the links:
Year One movie on the imdb.