Thursday, December 25, 2014

Licking the Wheelchair's Wheels

When my Mom first developed Alzheimer's, I wasn't very kind to her. I was angry, irritated, and embarrassed by her repetitive questions. It was hard even to look her in the face. I wasn't my best self at that time. Now of course, I'd give anything to be able to have a two-way conversation with my Mom.

Repetitive questions welcome.

Some of the anger in the early days came from the fact that I was brought up to value intelligence above all else. How do you feel about it when the person who taught you that value doesn't seem to embody it any more? Of course, nowadays I realize that there is a big difference between memory and intelligence, and that people living with Alzheimer's have to use every last neuron of their intelligence (processing power) to compensate for the deficits in their memory. Today, I feel fortunate that I haven't (yet) had to demonstrate the kind of bravery and focus that people in the early stages of Alzheimer's have to bring to every minute of their lives.

It was really hard for me to deal with my Mom changing. It was hard to accept her as she was becoming. Fortunately, her dog has never had that problem.

I realized that today when I saw the dog licking the wheel of my mom's wheelchair during Christmas Day dinner. Imagine that wheelchair's wheels. They have rolled all over the floor of the place where Mom lives. Those wheels have ground their way though countless crumbs, dropped cookies, and chunks of muffins. They have been well-lubricated with spilled juices and energy drinks.

Those wheels are a buffet.

So of course the dog was demonstrating her Buddha nature. She was living in the moment, tasting every morsel and dribble that ever left a trace on those wheels.

That's how we have to live for our loved ones with Alzheimer's. Try to deal with every moment as it emerges, and take what joy we can in each moment. Lick the Great Wheel. Give it a lick.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Reflections

If I'm being honest, I'd say I don't enjoy holidays very much. When I was a kid, they were usually times when my parents were fighting. As an only child, I didn't have siblings to hide or run away with at those moments. Even worse, one parent consistently pulled me into the fights on their side. Often the best part of the holidays was when we set out for my aunt's house. The fighting stopped, and usually didn't resume once we went home.

More than anything in this holiday season, which can be stressful even in healthy homes and relationships, I'd encourage people to avoid weaponizing their children. If you have a disagreement with your significant other, take a break - don't break things. Go for a walk and cool down. Or agree to discuss the issue latter, when the kids aren't around to hear your mutual grievances. Even better, talk about them after the holidays are over.

Go ahead and make memories. Just make sure you are making ones you want to last.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Grit Digger

Today at The Everwayan, we have another member of Everway's original and ancient Odd Families: Clay Digger, a miner in the galleries below the city. The Digger family has maintained its longstanding monopoly on mining activities. But the City has expanded so much that mining for coal and precious metals now happens only at the edges of the realm of Roundwander, and in the spheres beyond the gates.

But the Digger family also maintains its premier role in the moneylending arena. And like all of the Odd Families, the Digger family is matriarchal and matrilineal. The Diggers' wealth is controlled by a handful of elder-sisters at the top of the clan hierarchy. Their message for everyone else in the family is: "Wait your turn."

Of course, not everyone in the family is willing to do that. The young and ambitious will always seek ways to get ahead. One of the ways is to find the Forgotten Vaults: one of the many hidden and often forgotten places where the Digger wealth of earlier eras was stored.

Grit Digger is young and unafraid. She delves deep, hoping to find some of her family's ancient buried treasure. Mums the word to her clan mothers, who have begun asking pointed questions about where she goes when she disappears for a day or two at time.

Grit Digger
  • STR 13
  • DEX 13
  • WIL 10
  • HP 3
Starting Package:
  • Pistol (D6)
  • Smoke-bomb
  • Mutt
  • Shovel

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Odd Everway

Cover art by Levi Kornelsen

Today, we're celebrating the release of Chris McDowell's Into the Odd RPG, which is now for sale as part of Paolo Greco's Lost Pages imprint.

And we have a new inspiration for Everway.

The planes are as old as dirt, and the realm of Roundwander and its ur-metropolis of Everway lies at its center. A dirt-choked metropolis that has seen stars land and industries rise and fall, Everway is still the realm with the most gates between the spheres.

At least on paper, for only a few gates remain above ground.

Most are Lost Gates, buried far underground, deep beneath a City that has rebuilt itself numerous times, strata upon strata. Meet Ruff Crow, a warrior from one of Everway's Odd Families who trace their lineage back to the founders of the City.

One-eyed Ruff Crow stalks deep under City.  Donning his blood, muck, and chem-stained crowfeather mantle, Ruff takes parties below the City to recover lost things and people. He helps the truly desperate or foolhardy to find and access the Lost Gates.

You'll know he's near when you smell his cigar or see its fire.

Welcome to Odd Everway.

Here's Ruff Crow:
  • STR 16
  • DEX 12
  • WIL 9
  • HP 4
Starting Package:
  • Pistol (D6)
  • Whip (D6)
  • Cigars, Lost Eye

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sharper than a Kraken's Beak

Maybe I'm late to the game, but I just noticed that Robin Laws' Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha is now available from the store as a PDF.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I Knew There Was Something Good About Slumbering Ursine Dunes*

The Hydra Collective's Slumbering Ursine Dunes mythic Russia-inspired sandbox adventure setting has a golden barge in it. The intro to the current draft of the product points out that the Dunes takes some inspiration from Michael Moorcock's Eric saga, which has the mother of all battle barges, the giant golden zigguratic Melnibonean kind.

The Dunes have bear warriors, and a King who appears to have at least two things in common with me. (I might reveal those given a rich enough bribe.) The Dunes also has one of the most surreal rumors tables that I have ever seen. I want all the rumors on this table to be true.

There's only a few days left for the Kickstarter for Chris Kutalik's project. If what I've mentioned above is of any interest, check it out while there is still time!

I can't imagine where this Hydra Collective gets the inspiration. Well, maybe I do:

The reference makes me even more eager to see the final product.

*The miniatures pictured above aren't part of the KS but they sure are cool. Call 'em Reptilian but they sure look Melnibonean.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Enkidu FerJabbersSake

We just created our first 5E character for a campaign that my friend Boris is going to run. Meet Enkidu FerJabbersSake, a Half Orc Ranger (1st Level). He's very attractive for a Half Orc (favors his human mother, I guess) and he is hunting for his younger brother, Agni (also a Half Orc) who was captured or sold into slavery during one of the many intertribal conflicts among the orc and goblin groups.


Enkidu's about 18. Greenish hair, green eyes, light green skin. Hulking build. Both he and his brother have the Black Flame tribal tattoos on their right shoulder and back. Enkidu plays a mouth harp and has a Trinket: a tiny sketch portrait of a goblin. Perhaps, the sketch is a personal wanted poster for his brother's captor. We'll see.

Not surprisingly, Enkidu's Favored Enemies are orcs and goblins. Enkidu's Natural Explorer talent is for Forests. He guides human settlers, hunters, traders, and adventurers who arrived from the East over the great ocean, seeking opportunities to trade among the lands and peoples under the sway of the orcs and goblins. It's not long after the great war which occurred between the Eastern settlers and the orc and goblin tribes.

Understandably, Enkidu now prefers the company of humans.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reading The Guide to Glorantha

I decided to start an archive for my brief G+ posts on my read-through of the Guide to Glorantha. Most are posts of a picture from a specific section of the Guide, with brief commentary. Consider them flags marking my ascent of a world-mountain. The most recent posts at the top, and we'll be updating this archive as we continue our read-through.

Are there models for dungeons in Glorantha?

The Goddess Glorantha and her mother:

The Scorpion Man, one of the Lesser Elder Races of Glorantha:

The Ysabbau, the host hostile to humans of the Merfolk (Black Lagoony):

The Gnydron, the most colossal of the Merfolk (Krakenoids?):

On the Uz, also known as Trolls:

A more prosaic view of the Mostali, or Dwarves:

The Weirdest look at the Mostali, or Dwarves:

Dream Dragons:

Dragon Mondays - hopefully not happening to a community near you:

The Dragonewts:

The Aldryami, or Elves:

Kralori Exarch:

Kralori Mandarin and Soldier:

The Pelorians aren't that easy to like:

The Pelorians:

The Orlanthi:

Out of sequence - mural on the Lightbringers' Quest:

Out of sequence - Temples of the Reaching Moon:

The Guide has arrived!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Bandit Map

The Bandit Map is here: the first supplement for Rachel Kronick's Blade & Crown RPG. The adventure begins with the discovery of a scrap of an old map, and leads to a bandit-hunting adventure in lands shunned by peasants and burghers alike.

Our gaming group playtested the scenario in the Spring/Winter of 2014. We had a blast with it, and together created one of the best adventuring parties with whom I've had the pleasure of gaming. Each member of the party - including my youthful and violent fire mage (based on the Fullmetal Alchemist) - was part of the entourage of a noble (also a PC) who had fallen on hard times. We were bound to each other by oaths of fealty, as well as a desire for gold.

Now, as a game inspired by Swordbearer, Blade & Crown lends itself to gritty, A Game of Thronesy/Abercrombsie-style adventure, There's magic, but most of it is subtle. But in this adventure my fire mage encountered something that quite literally blew his mind.

The Bandit Map is available in print in both full color and in B&W editions, as well as in PDF, All the details, and a free preview can be found right here.

While the scenario could readily be adapted for almost any fantasy RPG with little difficulty, the time is right to check out Blade & Crown if you're not familiar with the game or are sitting in the fence at the moment. It's 25% off right now (regardless of format) until September 30! Find print here and PDF here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Online Fortune Deck

Colin Morris has created a nifty online Fortune Deck card drawing app which you can access from the web. Select the number of Fortune Deck cards you want to pull, and then click the button.  Cards are randomly drawn (either upright or inverted) and displayed on the webpage. Refresh the browser page to make a fresh drawing of new cards from the Fortune Deck.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Miyazaki on Mushrooms"

Thursday night saw my fourth game of The Quiet Year (I think). I love this storygame more than any other. Way more than any other, in fact. One of our players described this session as "Miyazaki on Mushrooms" due to the strange aggregation of whimsy, folly, and failure that transpired.

The game had:
  • Ampicyons (the bear-dog critters on the right side of the map)
  • Bacigalupi-style clipper ships
  • Amphicyon riders
  • Rival Bear-Dog cults
  • A Stone Bear-Dog temple
  • A wooden "Trojan Horse" Bear-Dog temple
  • A bear-dog charm-witch
  • Runaway teens
  • A charismatic hedge wizard
  • Zeroids
  • Bjorner colonists from across the sea
  • Eels
  • A huge waterfall
  • A cave behind the waterfall
And much, much more. Not so much a chaotic mishmosh;  the varied strange parts kind of fit together.

The Frost Shepards were the very last card in the deck. We decided that the Frost Shepards were just that - a Winter frost.

Very Miyazaki.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reading Ehdrigohr

I've been reading Ehdrigohr, Allen Turner's fantasy RPG for Fate Core. I read about 130 pages of this full-sized book over the Memorial Day weekend, and about 100 pages this weekend. I still have another 100 or so to go. Today's post isn't a full review, but more of a progress report.

Many Fate fans gained access to this game through a recent Fate-themed Bundle of Holding. The game has a blog, Council of Fools, and a G+ Community. If you haven't heard of the game, you will probably want to check out one or both of those resources before pulling the trigger on a purchase. The author didn't market the game very intensely with the Fate community, so it is less well known than other early offerings for Fate Core such as ADX and Jadepunk. My impression is that the author saw Fate as a vehicle for portraying his world, rather than Fate as a game system that needed new worlds to explore.

And quite a world Ehdrigohr is!

Author Allen Turner has created a multicultural world that is presented from a Lakota cultural standpoint. So this is a game set on a past or future Turtle Island, and the general metaphysics of the world are based on the Four Directions or Medicine Wheel. While not all native peoples of the Americas use the Medicine Wheel concept, it's cultural currency is widespread in North America. It's a model for the universe, for the cycle of life, the social world,  spirituality, science, and an understanding of physical and mental health. It's also a zone for physical and spiritual conflicts, and plays many of these different roles simultaneously in Ehdrigohr.

At the center of the world are peoples like the Lakota and Ojibway. To the East are people of the Longhouse. To the South East are mound building city-dwellers. In the oceans to the Southeast are Aztec-influenced folk who build their cities on the backs of sea monsters. To the far South, across a narrow sea, are Bedouin-like peoples as well as a city-dwelling Empire of artificers. To the far West are people who live in a vast marsh on the backs of giant turtles, and folks who live as island cliff dwellers. There are also northern peoples who live in the ice and cold.

This creates a bit of a cultural melange. It may not appeal to people who want a historically purist or very unified cultural vision. For instance, the New Fire RPG has a much more narrow focus on the cultures of Mesoamerica and appears much more unified and less of a gathering of scattered influences as a result. Similarly, Heirs to the Lost World RPG deals with significant cultural diversity but in a narrower geographic space than Ehdrigohr (and also as an alternate history game is a very recognizable 17th C. Mesoamerican and Caribbean setting). Nevertheless, Ehdrigohr is, like the other games above, a labor of love devoted to something of deep personal and cultural importance to the author. It is likely to appeal to the sorts of gamers who want something different than traditional fantasy.

Just as importantly, this isn't the erasure of Gene Wolfe's Urth of the New Sun either, where the peoples north of Patagonia are basically faceless monstrous communististic adversaries. The cultures of Ehdrigohr feel real-enough, tribe like groupings that could share some cultural commonalities as well as have significant differences from each other that make the individual cultures distinct. Along these lines, the juxtaposition of recognizably North American native peoples with Bedouin-type tribal peoples isn't that jarring to me. In fact, right here in Minneapolis, Somali and Native American people have been meeting together to promote intercultural and intergenerational peacemaking. They are discovering many commonalities they share as tribe and clan based peoples.

The setting is shared through both stories and exposition. The stories - often myths - are very good. The setting exposition and rules, however, are very poorly edited. The book has grammatical errors on almost every page with the exception of the stories. It really could have used a few more editorial passes. (I also have some reservations about the implementation of Fate Core here, although I think there's a playable game here.) Yet the vision of the world of Ehdrigohr is worth the reading. Like Tekumel or Everway, it borrows from real world non-European cultures, and does something new with them. I could see running this with my gaming group. Hell, you could probably run something like Fate Everway with it right out of the box!

We'll have a full review up on FATE SF when we have read the entire book.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

When Did Gender-Inclusive Game Mechanics Start?

That cover's not for "The Village People: the RPG", although it could be; it's for SPI's fantasy RPG, DragonQuest. This is one cover for the second edition of the game. I have the third edition (blue cover) as well as two white cover second editions - one hardcover, and one trade paperback.

The second edition came out in 1981. I was flipping through it this morning while I was down in the basement, hunting down a chirping smoke detector. (Turns out the offending device was in the attic!) I happened to pull a copy off the shelf, and took it upstairs to read over morning coffee.

Imagine my surprise when, in reading the Skills section of the book, I came across this on p. 91 in the entry on Courtesans (and interestingly, it refers to male courtesans as courtiers, although the rules alternatively refer to courtesans as "he" and "she"):

[54.3] A courtesan may attempt to seduce a being with whom the courtesan is sexually compatible.

The text makes no presumptions as to the sexual orientation of the courtier/courtesan.

Pretty good for 1981.

Earlier sections of the book though still refer to something called "the opposite sex." These sections deal with choosing your character's gender (yea, players get to, unless they want to play a hermaphrodite or an asexual character, in which case the rules say you need the GM's permission!?!) and the Physical Beauty characteristic.

But [54.3] is about the earliest expression of gender and sexual orientation-inclusive rules that I have found to date. I'd be very interested in hearing from people who know of earlier examples. (And here, I am talking specifically about mechanics or rules, not setting.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mountain Monastery Murder Mystery

Christine de Pisan
My bet is that any gamemaster who has read Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose has considered running a scenario featuring a murder mystery in a monastery. Rachel Kronick, the author of the gritty medieval RPG, Blade & Crown, did just that this weekend at Con of the North. Her session was the high point of the con for me, so I thought I'd blog about her game before I proceed with accounts of the scenarios I ran (which will post to FATE SF starting on Wednesday).

Rachel chose to set the game in an all-female monastery: one dedicated to the Earth goddess on the island of Morensia (a land about the same size as Wisconsin) set in her world of Calteir. One interesting aspect of the Sisters of Faenwitha is that all the women in the order had been assigned a male gender at birth. Each member of the order seeks in her own way to complete a Great Work in service of the order and the Earth goddess, a Great Work which will result in the goddess conferring on them the gift of a complete physical transition to having a female body.

It's worth noting that Calteir is very low-magic world in which you cannot just ask the local sorcerer, witch, or mage to affect a permanent change in your gender. In that sense, life for trans folk has similarities to our world - a transition entails a process of discernment, as well as self-commitment and significant resources.

Now you don't ordinarily expect to see murders happening in a monastery dedicated to a peaceful Earth goddess, but by the session's end, there were two. It was the PCs job to investigate them. We were all members of the order (that is, we were all playing female trans characters ranging from a lowly cellarer to an archbishop), a delegation that had arrived after significant time on the road to be part of a convocation to determine the future political direction of the order.

The convention book had called-out this event as involving LGBT themes, so the players all knew to expect this to come up in the game. Except for Rachel, the GM, all the players were males. The players really immersed themselves in their roles and characters they were playing. (This was easy to do as Rachel had created brief but memorable bios for each of the characters.) I have no idea if any of the other guys at the table identifies as LGBT, but I can say as the gamer who for years was the only queer person at the gaming table that the GM and players worked together to create a space where everyone took the story seriously and had fun together.

The only disconcerting thing about the game was the very LOUD GM running a B5 game at the next table. Trying to solve a medieval murder mystery while hearing Londo imitations at a million decibels was a bit disconcerting, to say the least!

"The Mountain Monastery Mystery" was a VERY satisfying event, and once again showed off Rachel's eye for detail and preparation.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Realm Of Vortex

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Hunters in the Snow" (1565)
Vortex is a realm with six months of brutally frigid winter and six months of insufferably humid summer - and there is scantly more than a week or so between these two seasons. People in this realm are convivial and social during the winter months. Villages suffer the cold together, with much fellow spirit. But in summer, people become vindictive and aggressive. Each village is torn apart by multiple feuds. It is a war of all against all until the first winter snows fall.

Spherewalkers should plan their sojourns in Vortex accordingly.
  • Virtue: Fearing Shadows, Reversed - Recognizing Safety. This Fortune represents the people of Vortex in winter; communities are united, because people turn to each other for friendship and support.
  • Fault: War, Reversed - Effort Misspent. This Fortune represents the people in summer; communities are divided because people turn against each other in petty feuds.
  • Fate: The Smith - Productivity vs. Evil Effort. In most years, communities are able to set aside enough food produced in the summertime to feed everyone when the season turns to winter. But what would happen if the crops failed one summer? Would people turn on each other in the winter? Might they even become cannibals? Or would they pull together somehow and find a solution that avoids violence and starvation? Recent auguries have people worried...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dollar Store Dungeons: Serpent-Tapirs

The enormous Serpent-Tapirs aren't native to the Sixth World; they are survivors of the worlds destroyed in past ages. Because their stride is like thunder, they are favored by gods associated with fire, thunder, and lightning, including the fearsome Django-Tlaloc of the Olmeca.

In ancient times, the lords of the Forest of Kings made war on each other's city-states astride these great beasts. Today, only a few of the Mayan city-states still have a Serpent-Tapir. Those who do no longer use their beast for warfare but instead to clear jungle and forest areas and ready them for agriculture. After all, the creatures' enormous bodies give them enormous appetites. And the Serpent-Tapirs not only clear land; they fertilize it as well with their prodigious amounts of excreta. 

The Olmeca have four of the beasts which they use for warfare. From enormous war-howdahs astride these beasts, the Olmeca archers and spearmen can rain down iron-tipped death on their enemies, or use great grapple hooks to tear down the steep stone walls of a fortress or city. The mere threat of these creatures is sufficient to keep the tribute flowing from Xochiquetzatlan and the city-states of the Maya folk into the coffers of the Olmeca king.

Unfortunately, the Olmeca are dependent on others to heal these great beasts when they fall ill; the Olmeca retain healer priests from the Forest of Kings for just this purpose, as they have a great deal of ancient lore on care of the Serpent-Tapirs. Another problem the Olmeca have is that the beasts do not breed well in captivity. The Olmeca have sought the help of the sorcerer-priests of the ever-fecund city of Xochiquetzatlan to devise a magical remedy for this problem. 

The Olmeca are pursuing other alternatives as well. One is to summon Serpent-Tapirs from the stone-bones of their kind who perished long ago. Discovering these often requires lengthy and expensive rock hunting expeditions to the deserts, hills, and badlands of the great continent to the north, as well as the cooperation of the few sorcerers among the Xochiquetzatlani and Maya who know the ancient summoning spells. 

Finally, the Olmeca are also commissioning Serpent-Tapir egg hunts in the jungles in the deep south of the isthmus, and to the great southern continent beyond there. Their shamans have had visions of large herds of the beasts still alive in the wilds of these far lands... 

This post is part of the cross-blog community project Dollar Store Dungeons. It is but one example of how a $1 plastic dinosaur - and a plant eater at that - can be put to good use as a gaming prop and inspiration for world-building. Other uses for this beastie might be in games of Hollow Earth Expedition, Rocket Age, or the forthcoming Ubiquity game system implementation of Space: 1889. We know that both the Hollow Earth and Venus have creatures like these. Hopefully humans do not hunt them to extinction.