Monday, September 30, 2013

Read A Book In Public Week: Artesia RPG

It is once again Read an RPG Book in Public Week, and this time around we thought The Everwayan should participate.  The RPG book we're sharing  is Mark Smylie's wonderful Artesia RPG, based on his equally remarkable Artesia comic book series. The game is a marvel of worldbuilding, as only an artist can do.

If you enjoy books like Renaissance arms and armor, have a polearm fetish, enjoyed Mary Gentle's The Chronicles of Ash (and alternate history series about a 15th C. female mercenary captain), or gaming in Early Modern Europe, this RPG may be right for you!

When the game came out, people had mixed feeling about the system, which is Fuzion, the hybrid system that Hero Games and R. Talsorian developed back in the 90s. The system is complex, but it is always good to see someone find a system they like and use the hell out of it to simulate their world.

I've heard rumors that we may see a second edition of the game using Burning Wheel.

RuneQuest 6 would also be a very good fit for the world of Artesia, which has some complex and varied magic systems, spells, spirits, and charms.

There are downloadable sourcebooks on the world of Artesia right here. There are also additional downloadable resources for the game here.

An armed company is the best company!

Art by Mark Smylie

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Judas Coat

Judas Coat

Sixteen years on
I still wear your fog armor

As any urban guerrilla's 

Armor sewn of
Love and rage

Cover sufficient 
For any rebel army
Or sawed-off shadowrun

Judas offers
Magical Protection
Against all Elements

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Owl Hoot Trail: Deadwood, Lead, & The Black Hills

Jollification. Deadwood People celebrating
the building of D.O.R.R. road to Lead City

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to engage our gaming group in a test drive of character generation and play for the new d20 Western fantasy game from Pelgrane Press, Owl Hoot Trail. Today I am sharing just a bit about the setting I created for my game, with a particular focus on the standard fantasy races and how I fit them into the setting.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Owl Hoot Trail offers a recognizably Western setting, with the addition of standard fantasy races (tweaked for Western flavor), magical and magitech powers, and D&D monsters reskinned for a Western fantasy game. The book provides some guidance on how to adjust your game for specific levels of realness, from gritty low magic to supernatural Weird Western. But basically GMs are left to their own devices to create the specific Western setting and the history they will use.

This is a feature rather than a bug as far as I am concerned. We'll see people doing all sorts of interesting things as they build their own settings with this game.

Having been to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota for the first time just a few months before doing my test run with the game, it seemed natural and fun to set my game in the Black Hills. Since the game provides no explanation for the existence of standard fantasy races, I made a few decisions:
  • Shee (i.e., elves), orcs, and humans have all been in the New World for thousands of years - and some are more recent arrivals from Europe as well. The ones who have been here for a long time migrated using the same routes as other native peoples, OR came with the Vikings and other early visitors from the north and western fringes of Europe.
  • Half'ins arrived in this century. Most fled contested regions of Europe such as Alsace-Lorraine, and the rapidly unifying German polity. But more than a few are booze and weed-addled slackers fleeing rapidly industrializing pockets of Europe.
  • The Hill Folk (dwarves) are also recent arrivals, drawn to the emerging industrial opportunities in North America. They live communally in fortified cantons that specialize in mining/metallurgy. The fortified town of Lead, just a bit to the southwest of Deadwood is a Hill Folk canton. The Lead Canton operates a Land Office which sells people the rights to pan for gold in specific locations, or to prospect for gold or other precious metals. Of course, almost all of the land rights they are selling are fraudulent claims. In fact, from the Dakota peoples' perspective, the Black Hills are the sacred lands that belong to no one - especially not to interlopers from Europe.
Deadwood is of course the freewheeling home base for new arrivals intent on making their fortunes in the West, and in particular in the Black Hills. It is on the northern edge of the Black Hills region. Trails along this northern edge lead into Wyoming (Devils Tower would be 2-3 day's ride to the west), but Deadwood itself is tucked a bit into the Black Hills and ideal for heading further into the hills. Not that everyone does. In fact, more than a few inhabitants of Deadwood arrived with great ambitions and have settled into a life of gambling, spending (wasting) money, drinking, gunfights, and other dissipation. A town of flophouses, gambling houses, brothels, and saloons. A typical place for adventures to begin, and (often enough) for careless lives to end.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Testamento de Pablo Neruda

Testamento (I)

DEJO a los sindicatos
del cobre, del carbón y del salitre
mi casa junto al mar de Isla Negra.
Quiero que allí reposen los maltratados hijos
de mi patria, saqueada por hachas y traidores, 
desbaratada en su sagrada sangre, 
consumida en volcánicos harapos. 

Quiero que al limpio amor que recorriera
mi dominio, descansen los cansados,
se sienten a mi mesa los oscuros,
duerman sobre mi cama los heridos. 

Hermano, ésta es mi casa, entra en el mundo
de flor marina y piedra constelada
que levanté luchando en mi pobreza.

Aquí nació el sonido en mi ventana 
como en una creciente caracola 
y luego estableció sus latitudes 
en mi desordenada geología. 

Tu vienes de abrasados corredores,
de túneles mordidos por el odio,
por el salto sulfúrico del viento:
aquí tienes la paz que te destino, 
agua y espacio de mi oceanía. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Quiet Year

The Quiet Year is a card game that involves mapping. The players collaborate with the cards and a community map which they create, and explore what happens to a small community over the course of a year. The community, which has already survived the collapse of some kind of larger polity, has a year to prepare for the arrival of the Frost Shepherds, who bring about the end of things. Our gaming group played a year last night; it was a great experience.

The game starts with the players collaborating on establishing a few details of their community, and the landscape surrounding the community. They also need to identify a few commodities such as food and water and identify which are scarce and which plentiful. Players take turns defining features and drawing them onto the map. More details of the map are filled in during play.

Here is how our map looked (click on the image to expand it):

Our most plentiful resource was food in the form of crayfish. Unfortunately, the water supply of the town was not very clear. The mountains "west" of the town include a volcano, the statue of an ancient despot that has been entirely buried in volcanic ash, and the source of Signal, a mysterious commodity upon which the community responds which is a form of Clarkean astral wi-fi technomagic for communicating with the spirit world. To the southwest you can see one of the major hazards our community faced: cyberwolf zombies, who also had some kind of connection to the Signal. There was also another community to the northeast of the map. During the early moves of The Quiet Year, we built a dam to reduce the flow of water to their community, and then built a keep to guard the border.

Each turn stands for a week of time. A player draws a card for that week. The cards are color coded and progress from Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter. Somewhere in the Winter cards is the Ace of Spades, which represents the arrival of the Frost Shepherds. Once they arrive, the game ends.

Each card typically has two options for what happens that week - or asks a framing/existential question. The player who makes the draw decides which option affects play for that turn. One of the early existential questions on a card I drew asked us to define the highest status group in our community. I made the decision that it was elders (sans priests and prostitutes) who rule as a council. A fairly conservative community in which elders were in conflict with youth emerged from my answer that elders were the highest status group.

Some options ruin or accelerate the advance of community projects, or introduce new problems (either natural disasters, issues due to outsiders, new discoveries, or new personalities, conflicts, issues and characters within the community.

Once a player has selected and dealt with one of the two options on the card for that week, the player may take one more of the following actions:

  • Start a community project of some kind. Some of ours involved building a water purification plant, a dam, a keep on the border with a nearby village, creating a militia, excavating subterranean garbage veins for goodies, excavating and exploring a strange mountain capped by an opaque dome, hunting the cyberwolf zombies, and building a concrete cap so that effluent from a garbage vein didn't seep into our water purification system. Note that projects can be entirely cultural or ideological in nature as well; you could start a new religion as a project. Projects are drawn onto the map, and take from 1-6 weeks (the players decide as a group what the project length should be), and a die is used for each project to count down the number of weeks until project completion.
  • Hold a discussion on a community issue. Players go around the table and each provides a brief statement on one community position/opinion on the issue. Note that no decision is made during this activity; a player needs to initiate a project in order to do something substantive about a community issue. We all thought this was a pretty realistic and amusing simulation of how community problems often get discussed - with no apparent resolution - in the real world.
  • Discover something new. A player could for example make-up an entirely new location or resource and place it on the map somewhere.

(I think all of the above is fairly accurate. I am reconstructing it from memory, as I don't own the game.)

There is also a mechanic for showing Contempt. A player can use this to register a point at which they do not feel heard. I think this mechanic is intended to increase inter-player tension and represent community conflict over player decisions that may feel arbitrary. We didn't use it.

It is very difficult to register Contempt for other people face-to-face in Minnesota.

Overall, playing The Quiet Year was a really great experience, and I would look forward to doing it again. As with the game Microscope, I see all sorts of ways the game could also be used to create a setting for an RPG scenario - particularly one involving a small community.

As far as the Frost Shepherds go, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that the designers had read Hal Duncan's masterpiece Vellum.