Monday, 3 August 2015

The Refinery

(In lieu of a proper post, here is a fragment of Broken Fire Regime. The 'sequel' to DCO.)



The refinery is like a crooked snake. Five long halls linked together at their ends bending back and forth in an angular way.

From each long hall flues sprout, gouting smoke and steam all day and night, they never stop or slow but run continually in shifts, day upon night upon day upon night.

This the Zones only legal smoke and anyone in the crater can see the direction of the company core by watching the tangling emission skeins crawling in the sky .

The Blue Blood begins to turn twelve hours after it is taken from the tree. In fifteen it's worthless. This time factor decides the operations of the Zone. The 'half a day' rule keeps workers running and the Zone working.

There are five great halls. Access between them is heavily controlled. As the product advances from halls one to five the processes become more precise, the result gains in value and the dangers of its production change.

Refinery workers occupy a unique space in the cultures of the company. The process is dangerous and people die. On average one a day. As a worker is promoted and becomes more expert they gradually move from hall to hall. Often they are scarred and changed by accidents or time. As they change they become more and more obsessed and focused on the process and the sap until eventually they are like stained sap-armoured machines themselves, moving silently and endlessly between the glass retorts and cauldrons of brass, testing and observing.



TESTING TABLES

Before the opening to Hall One are the testing tables where new sap is received and paid for. Here harvesting teams wait in snakelike queues' overseen by roving Safety teams. Sometimes the queues can get so long that the time taken waiting can cause part, or all of a harvest to go off and become worthless.

Arguments, scuffles, politicking, bribery and begging for a better position are all common in the queues. Queue politics are their own micro culture and resentments born here can carry over into the rest the Zone, or the rest of life.

‘Queue Gangs’ are secret unions of Workers who organise to restrict or control access to and progress through the queues. They are utterly illegal and must communicate via invisible signals and tacit movements.

On the edge of a queue workers can be easily observed and the mutual danger from Safety teams creates a degree of solidarity, but on the inside the power of the Queue Gangs grows. Stabbings and garrotting’s often take place near the centre of the queues, but, no matter how fierce the queue wars grow, everyone involved is careful not to draw the attention of the authorities or to lose their place in the queue.

It’s rare for anyone to get through a queue without *something* happening.

1. Someone begs to exchange places with you, offers future favours, makes guarded threats.
2. Someone claims you queue jumped.
3. A fight breaks out.
4. Someone offers you a better place but expects favours, plus you just pissed everyone off.
5. Roving safety team singles you out for bad practice.
6. Safety team singles out nearby group for bad practice, they appeal to you for aid.
7. Caught between two queue gangs.
8. Told to ‘look the other way’ during queue shanking.

VALUE – When you get to the tables, one Litre of good Sap is worth roughly 1gp.


.....



HALL ONE - Processing

Huge cauldrons boiling, the only light is from the crackling blue tree-frond fires beneath them, caustic hallucinogenic steam and almost-naked workers dripping with sweat, their mouths covered with piss-soaked bandanna.

The Sap is decanted and boiled. The rich skim of the sap is eased off with long brass tools and moved to the next huge cauldron, then boiled, then moved again.

DANGERS -

The Sap is adhesive and boiling. If a boil is uneven, thick glops spit out and small children are sent to scrape it off the floor, dashing between the legs of the hurrying workers. The fallen Cloudblood fronds that make up the fuel can pop, flare and burn unevenly. A fire can get out of control.

Tree Dreams are common from the combination of burning fronds and boiling sap, but reduced somewhat by the huge open doors at the front of the hall.

A cauldron can tip, spilling boiling adhesive sap all over the floor. The process cannot be delayed or stopped so clean-up operations must begin right away. No-one is allowed to leave their post.

The worst fate known is falling in a cauldron as it boils. Death is relatively slow but it’s impossible to get somebody out before the sap cools. Rumours claim the resin’d bodies of accident victims are sold or used as special products, but no proof of this has ever been found.

PRODUCT -

When a cauldron 'gives out' and becomes too caked with purple resin to be of any use then it is moved to a cleaning station and the resin carved off in chunks. Dangerous, since patches of the resin can remain hot and unstable.

The bruise-like dark purple resin is collected and sold to 'waste disposal' gentlemen. Independent men not directly employed by the company. These men are drug dealers. The resin goes back into the Zone as a drug, some is exported to other places

VALUE : In the Zone the drug is about the same value, weight for weight, as the tree sap at the point of sale. Roughly 1gp per kilo. Elsewhere it can be much more valuable. This waste product alone puts the refinery in the black. If it produced nothing else it would still be a near-profitable business.


.....



HALL TWO - Distilling

This room is divided into two, full of strange lights, silence and murmuring sound. The roof is full of spiralling glass pipes and caged children lit by wandering fireflies.

One side busy with women and children, the other  dark with silent men who carefully patrol. Down the centre run the tall brass and glass towers of the distilling columns. The sap from room one is brought through and added very carefully by tubes.

On one side workers draw off the glutinous near-paste from the bottom of the column.

Nearby, cages of fireflies are brought through and small children given the job of snatching individual flies from the cage and plucking off their glowing tails. Small fireflies are always escaping so the roof is full of small groups of the circling insects. Allowing a firefly to escape means a single whip from a supervisors stick.

The firefly tails are cracked and sieved. The fluid is mixed straight away with the near-paste from the bottom of the stills and carefully ground in with pestle and mortar.

This product is then set to cool in ceramic trays where it forms long tubes. Workers with ceramic knives sliver it carefully into single even discs. As the cutters slice into the cooling tubes, they light up very slightly at the point of the slice so each movement is accompanied by spots of light.

...

On the dark side workers, almost exclusively men, walk silently up and down, examining the fractionating columns and the distilled result of the sap as it drips very slowly into its receiving jars. They carry safety lanterns full of fireflies and the pools of light move continually from point to point.

They rarely speak. When a jar nears its fill point a signal is made, it is quickly replaced and the full jar carried through to Hall Three

...

Each distilling tower has a tiny and well secured furnace at its base to provide the necessary heat. The danger of the process is so great (it’s more true to say that the cost of replacing the distilling machinery is so great) that Cloudblood fronds are not burnt here. Only checked wood of other trees, usually from outside the Zone, is allowed, to ensure a clean, even drug-free burn.

The cooling tubes for the stills spiral into the roof of the hall. To check for leaks, very small children are hoisted up into the roof in brass cages held in place by chains. Old men and old women hang onto the chains and stare at the children from below. If gas escapes, the children nearby will suffer Tree Dreams and the location of the leak will be found.

DANGERS -

Escaped Gas. A full explosion in the distillery could effectively take out the hall and possibly even part of the company core.

Falling Children.

Cracked Towers. Hot high grade sap could spill and spread.

PRODUCT ONE

Once cooled, spaced and sliced, each disc of sap is a coin of violet glass-like resin with the texture of amber. If snapped in two, each half of the disc will produce a beautiful golden lantern-strength light for roughly 1 hour.

These discs are never sold in the Zone but only exported.

VALUE -

Each disc costs 1gp at its point of sale.


.....






HALL THREE - Alcohol Crystallisation

This room is full of steam and the screaming sound of tortured valves.

The jars of distilled and purified Sap from Hall Two are mixed with pure alcohol in small bound valved brass spheres over a small and tightly-controlled fire. The valves allow the steam of the reaction to escape but allow in no oxygen (or 'bare air' in the language of the refinery) to enter.

The valves whistle continually. Workers move up and down the lines of small cauldrons listening carefully to the endless high-pitched monotone droning of the valves. If the sound of a valve shifts in its nature, even to a small degree it must be rapidly adjusted.

Too high a sound means steam is escaping too quickly, meaning the heat could be unevenly distributed within a sphere.

Too low means that air may be seeping into the sphere, if too much 'bare air' is allowed in then it may mix with the alcohol and sap and ignite causing the sphere to weep blue fire and spin madly like a gyroscope.

Even without these difficulties, the steam gouting from the brass spheres is extremely hot and highly hallucinogenic

At this purity and temperature, the Tree Dreams produced by escaping gas, affect everyone relentlessly, yet with a curious uniformity. Instead of the phanstasmorgal visions usually bestowed, the visions are always of fire.

These visions hang around the outlet valves of the screaming spheres, making it very difficult to tell whether an accident is actually taking place.

The workers in this section are mainly very old Zone-Marked types who do not fear the visions, blind people, or those with Slumber-Monkey narcolepsy. (The narcolepsy does introduce an element of danger, but also makes the sufferer mainly immune to tree dreams.) They walk up and down between the screaming burning spheres, usually with their eyes closed, tapping back and forth with long canes, blowing on specially made silver whistles. The whistles are tuned to produce exactly that tone that matches the correct noise of a sphere-valve. The sound of the whistle should blend into the ambient sound without any clear distinction. Workers know that if they can hear the distinct sound of their own whistle then something is wrong.

When a burn is complete, a sphere is picked up with iron rods put through the loops to either side, two sets of two workers form a cross around it. They carry it over to the decanting trays where the sphere is unbound and the crystal inside scraped out.

Half is ground down in huge pestles as Product Two. The other half goes to Hall Four.

DANGERS -

Escaped and rapidly spinning boiling-hot brass sphere gouting hallucinogenic steam.

Tree-dreams combined with hot equipment.

Steam build-up can cause heat-stroke and collapses.

Pressure build-up and ‘bare-air’ can result in sphere-explosion.

PRODUCT  TWO

The ground crystal is a sky-blue powder. When mixed with water it becomes a painless and rapid antiseptic wound closer. It applied directly to a wound it gives all the benefits of rapid cauterisation with no risk of infection and tissue damage and no pain.
If accidentally breathed in it can scar the lungs permanently and kill.

VALUE -

Each 'use' of Product Two is valued at 20 gold pieces.


.....


HALL FOUR - Ultra-slow melting

This room is calm and quiet and relatively safe. The main danger is from security checks and searches, which are random and continual. It is full of glass towers and sorting tables where workers with eye lenses carefully tweezer out the rare clear crystals from Cloudblood fronds.

There is no fire in this room, instead, worker-cranked belt-driven fans are kept turning continually and the temperature constantly checked to maintain it at a mild chill.

The crystal from Hall Three is placed in tall glass tubes full of distilled water and mixed with trace amounts of *only* the *clear* crystals from cloudgrave fronds. In this solution it slowly melts, separating into bands of blue, with the bottom being a very dark blue-black and the top being almost-white azure.

Beside each tube is a fresh trefoil orchid held in a pot. The Orchid is held against the tube until the exact colour blue is matched by one of the bands in the centre of the tube. This flower both lives and dies quite quickly and a continual supply is requested from the zone.

Despite every attempt to make the process more efficient, no other method of contrast-comparison can highlight a layer of the correct colour. All attempts with paint strips or pigments have resulted in degraded product.

Workers with huge syringes carefully extract this band of fluid.

DANGERS -

There is some danger of Tree Dreams from the front picking process but this hall is generally relatively safe.

PRODUCT THREE

Cast on ultra-clean ceramic moulds, it darkens, producing  a midnight-blue-black pane of half-inch thick semi flexible material.

This material is almost frictionless and is in use in complex processes in cities all over the world. It is said a Pirate Queen of the Southern Seas has the hull of her vessel plated with it. Its use as currency and jewellery is almost more common than its material use. It is a very hard trading currency and most banks and trading houses carry part of their liquidity in it.

VALUE - One pane is worth 300 gp.


.....


HALL FIVE - Acid Crystallisation

This room is well lit by glass panes in the roof, at night Product One is used in small amounts to provide a clear sight of the process. There are glass girls are kept in cushioned corrals. Gantries over the roof hold a team of Security Contractors who continually overlook the process. It is never not guarded. Most workers here are missing limbs, fingers or have suffered sever resin-ation. They rarely speak and are focused entirely on their work.

Here the Glass Girls are decapitated with ceramic hammers. A dangerous process.

They are lead to cauldrons and leant over them, their heads smashed off and the acid allowed to gout into the bubbling broil.

The fluid from Hall Four is brought in and carefully poached in the boiling acid. This is a highly skilled and incredibly dangerous job. Workers with glass staves swirl the boiling acid into a vortex. Secondary workers gently ladle the product from Hall Four into the centre of the swirl.

If the swirler is skilled and if the vortex is continuous and even, the product will form a cloudlike mass in the centre of the swirl. The acid will be allowed to cool and the sap will crystallise, slowly falling to the bottom.

DANGERS –

Being dissolved by boiling acid or covered with the altered resin.

Glass Girls going missing or acting oddly. They are too dangerous to be violent with and too expensive to waste.


PRODUCT FOUR

Small fingertip sized gems like three-dimensional snowflakes that collect light and seem to shine and glimmer like blue stars under any natural illumination, each one different. Each vortex results in only one 'gem'. They are delicate and as soon as they dry they are encased in glass settings which are rapidly frosted by ice, they are extremely endothermic.

Depending on the number of its points or angles, each gem will absorb and nullify a certain number of levels of magical effect. The average is around twenty, but they can be higher or lower depending on the purity of the process.

VALUE - 1000 gp per point or angle.



Saturday, 25 July 2015

Arthurian problems

I have been reading Malory's 'Le Morte D'Arthur' and thinking about 'Arthurian' style D&D.

I think a lot of things about this. It goes around inside my head. I think it would be really hard. The reasons I think it would be hard are kind-of-conservative reasons that possibly no one else reading this blog would care about.

They are about the power of the story being driven by particular kinds of concepts and structures and how deeply those structures conflict with the things that drive and allow a modern D&D-like to work.




RELIGION -

Strangely, this isn't the biggest problem, Malory's knights are always swearing by god and to god but in most cases you could swap out the gods and it wouldn’t make much difference.

There need to be hermits, these guys pop up everywhere, nunneries, monasteries, old churches, etc dotted around the countryside, but the actual nature of the religion they follow doesn't seem to matter much except perhaps as it relates to 'gentleness' as a virtue knights should have.

And the whole thing starts of in a kind-of not-that-Christian space. Merlin is possibly a cambion of some kind, many of the origin myths have Celtic roots in part, religion isn't central at the beginning

When it really kicks in is in the Grail Quest. The Grail Quest is all about the soul and specifically the soul as seen by Christianity. Pretty much every fucking thing that happens to every knight is an often-interesting but eventually frustrating metaphor for something or other. Some of these encounters happen in dreams and some in real life but the quality and nature of the encounters interpenetrate so that dreams and life interweave, which is quite interesting in itself.

(I really don't like this bit as the main hero Galahad is basically a personality-free vessel for divine sanction and god seems to play the role of dick G.M.

"Ah, in your dream you saw seven white crows and three black crows and the seven crows fed upon the poppy fields and grew fat and the three white starved and the seven were the seven sins and the poppies were the souls of the faithful and the three black was the holy trinity and so you see that your soul is hard with sin and you shall never find the grail."

"Wait, I was meant to *help* the black crows?  But, in the last vision, black was bad, because you said the herd of black cattle were the pagan sinners of the east, and white was good, because you said the twelve goats were the apostles, and there was shit all I could do there either, I just had to watch the cows kill the goats. So how the fuck am I supposed to make sense of this shit?"

"Put on this hair shirt.")

So the good things about the Grail Quest are the strangeness and beauty of the individual visions and adventures and also the interpenetration of dream and reality. And also the Devil turns up and he’s a hot chick and that is always good.

But if you are not questing for the actual holy grail, the real one from Christian myth, if it’s the holy cup of Pelor or something, it gets a bit more dull.

And if you take out the Grail Quest in total then it gets a bit ore dull again, because that part of the story essentially ends the fellowship of the round table in full, exposes the spiritual weakness of the world Arthur has built and ushers things towards their tragic conclusion.



RACE - 

Another surprisingly not-that-bad difference.

There are a handful of possibly-not-white knights in the Morte. Sir Palomydes is right there, along with his brothers. There are maybe one or two in the source legends.

We have no fucking idea how medieval people thought about race and that might be because they didn't much. My best guess is that the number of different coloured people in that world was low enough that you are either going on pilgrimage, in which case you meet a very large number of non-white people and are essentially moving through their culture, or you meet maybe one or two individuals over your life, in which case, every other thing about feudal society is more important than what colour they are. Are they a priest? Are they Christian? Do they have soft hands? Can they write? Are they on a horse with a sword?

If the bishop is black and he's the only black guy you've ever seen, what matters is that he is the bishop rather than that he is black.

...........

The exact racial makeup of medieval Europe is a culture war issue now. To boil it down we have the 'Why' side and the 'Why Not' side.

Why should we jam more black people in our history when there is really not much clear evidence that they were there?

Why shouldn't there be more brown people in European history? Since we know there were *some*, there *could be* and probably were more?

I will leave you to argue that one out amongst yourselves. Have fun. Endless fun.

...........

But if you want to introduce non-white people to Arthurian myth you have them there already in the form of Saracen knights. You have, in the Morte, Arthur taking over the Roman Empire at the beginning and vague mentions of people from all over the eastern Mediterranean. You have the likely, or possible historical existence of Ethiopian Chivalric groups and you only need to bend things a bit to get them in.

If you want anyone from further afield then you might run into problems of 'feel' and justification. And if you have the 'Drizzit' group where EVERYONE wants to play the Saracen Knight then you run again into the conflict between freedom of choice and the feel of the story.

The argument over the feel of stories and their racial makeup is a deep and complex one, especially with stories meant to carry the feel of the ancient past. It's one I won't get into here too deeply as my own thoughts are unformed and un-honed. It’s the ‘why no black hobbits’ question which I kind of briefly made fun of in a previous post but is actually kind of complex and fraught.



GENDER - 

Gender, to me, is the most powerful element stopping Arthurian myth from being easily gameable.

Highly ritualised and extremely specific gender roles are written so deeply into the structure of the world that to abandon or change them would alter the motive power beneath peoples actions so much that they wouldn’t make anything like sense in the same way.


..........

Then Sir Trystram remembered himself that Sir Palomydes was unarmed, and of so noble a name that Sir Palomydes had, and also the noble name that himself had. Then he made a restraint of his anger; and so he went unto Sir Palomydes a soft pace and said;

"Sir Palomydes I have heard your complaint, and of your treason that you have owed me long, and wit you well, therefore you shall die. And if it were not for shame of knighthood, you should not escape my hands, for now I know well you have awaited me with treason - and therefore" said Trystram, "tell me how you will aquit you."

"Sir I shall aquit me this: as for Queen Beal Isode, you shall know that I love her above all other ladies in this world; and well I know it shall befall by me as for her love as befel on the noble kniigh Sir Kayhydyus, that died for the love of La Beal Isode. And now Sir Trystram, I will that you know that I have loved La Beal Isode many a long day and she has been the cause of my honour - or else I had been the most simplest knight in the world, for by her and becasue of her, I have won the honour that I have. For when I remembered me of my Queen Isode, I won the honour wherever I came, for the most part; and yet I had never reward nor bounty from her days of my life - and yet I have been her knight long regardless. And therefore Sir Trystram, as for any death I dread not, for I had as rather die as live and if I were armed as you are, I should lightly do battle with you."

"Sir, well have you uttered your treason," said Sir Trystram.

"Sir, I have done you no treason," said Sir Palomydes, "for love is free for all men; and though I have loved your lady, she is my lady as well as yours. How, be it that I have wrong - if any wrong be, for you rejoice her and have your desire of her, and so had I never, nor never am likely to have - and yet shall I love her to the utterost days of my life as well as you."

.........

There are things knights do and there are things ladies do. Everyone in Malory spends a lot of time worrying about their gender norms. Maintaining the correct image of yourself, not in the minds of others, but most centrally, in your own mind, is of overpowering importance. If the structure and the image cracks, you do too. When confronted with irresolvable conflicts in their own iron rules, knights go mad and women are decapitated and burnt.

Sometimes in Malory it seems that the genders appear to each other as strange spirits, not quite real, projecting from some other realm. The Lady in the Lake is this feeling personified, but the effect that women like Guenivere and La Beal Isode, and in a different direction, Morgan La Fay, have on men is either directly magical or so emotionally overpowering that it is virtually magical.

We don't get to see things from the women’s perspective in Malory, (somewhere there is, or will be, a Malory Ortberg Toast article called ‘Terrible Things Happening To Women In Arthurian Fiction’), but if we could, men would appear as strange spirits too. Violent, dangerous, clad in iron, appearing out of the mists, dealing out death and strange troubles, focuses of obsession and desire for power, greatly wanted, greatly feared.

We are each others monsters in this story. It works really well.

And this is insanely unfair and the opposite of anything you would want to put into a game. It keeps women locked in place and stops them interacting with things. It means they can't do violence. And like every game with actual sexism and actual racism, the players have to suffer it and the DM has to create it. And that's not fun. Especially over a long period of time.

There are ways around it, but they only work in part.

Damsels go on quests sometimes, and help knights. Damsels are often vectors of quests. They still never use violence and are rarely the subjects of deliberate lethal violence.

There is also the story-pattern of the woman disguised as a knight.

There is also the Brienne of Tarth 'I am one of a tiny handful of women warriors' thing.

So far as I can see, the evidence for women fighting in medieval Europe is pretty similar in scope to that regarding race. There is just enough for us to question the prevailing attitude that it could never happen but not enough for us to strongly replace it with a different well-proven paradigm. The culture-war sides break down pretty much as they do with race. 'Why' and 'Why not'.

So again there are ways out of the gender trap, if you consider it a trap at all, but the more you use them the more the strange, bonkers, psychologically fraught energy of Arthurian myth leaks out.



Religion and Women and spiritual weirdness come together in this very cool part of the Grail Quest.

.....

Then he went up into the rock and foud the lion which always bore him fellowship, and he stroked him upon the back and had great joy of him. By that Sir Percivale has bide there till midday, he saw a ship come sailing in the sea as all the wind of the world had driven it; and so it landed under that rock. And when Sir Percivale saw this, he hyghed him thither and found the ship covered with silk more blacker than any berry; and therein was a gentlewoman of great beauty, and she was clothes richly - there might be none better.

..

"Sir," said she, "I dwelled with the greatest man of the world, and he made me so fair and so clear that there was none like me. And of that great beauty I had little pride, more than I ought to have had; also I said a word that pleased him not. And then he would suffer me to be no longer in his company, and so he drove me from my heritage and disinherited me for ever - and he had never pity of me, nor of my council, nor of my court. And since then, sir knight, it has befallen me to be so overthrown, and all mine; yet I have deprived him of some of his men and made them to become my men, for they ask never nothing of me but I give them that and much more. Thus I and my servants war against him night and day; therefore I know no good knight nor good man but I get him on my side, and I may. And for that I know that you are a good knight, I beseech you to help me - and for you be a fellow of the Round table, therefore you ought not to fail no gentlewoman that is disinherited if they sought of you help."

......

Having the devil wander around as a random encounter with a sexy woman in a black ship is almost irresistible. Its exactly what I would want to put into a game. But you can only have it if you have weird christian religion and weird gender norms and ships being supernatural all in the same background. If you shift the emphasis of any of those things it wouldn't work as well.



LOVE - 

As a kind of side-order to freaky gender-norms there is in Malory the enormous power of desire, but more, of romantic love.

Both of the Super-Powered ultra-knights in the story, Trystram and Lancelot, are powered by overwhelming and consuming love for other mens wives. This is considered to be generally a good thing about them. It make them better, the emotional power of love is almost translated into physical power.

We saw above with Sir Palomydes that even second-tier knights can end up transformed by love into something more. He thinks his love is responsible for his martial success and the text generally agrees with him.

The whole story of Arthur begins and ends with sex and desire. Uther for Igrane, Arthurs bastard son, Lancelot and Guinevere’s love that breaks the court in two. It creates and it destroys.

Love is hard to do in games, especially in OSR games that try to maximise player-freedom. Love limits freedom, chivalric love is essentially a one or two-person religion, once you are in you are IN. That's it. No more freedom for you. No more setting your own aims and goals.

In D&D terms it’s like changing class. You go from whatever you were before, Knight, Queen, Enchantress or whatever, to the class of Lover. It’s massively overpowered with some game-breaking abilities but you can never change again and you only level up by doing stuff for or with your opposing number.



NARRATIVE - 

It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end. And it ends in death. If you keep the story you lose freedom, if you maximise freedom you lose invisible story-energy. Other people have written at length about jamming RPGs and fixed narrative together. They have probably done so better than I can here.



OTHER CRAP

The rules that knights live by, exactly when and why you joust, what it means to knock someone off their horse, when you do or don't fight on foot, how honour works, how tournaments work e.t.c, are actually all really gameable. They are literally rules that you can literally write down and make explicit so they fit very neatly into the structure of a game.

In fact it’s kind of creepy how neatly the rules of chivalry fit into the rule structure of RPG's, almost as if they were devised by the same kind of mind.

The dumb rules the story needs to work, knights never recognise each other, there is always a friendly hermit or monastery nearby, ships mean spiritual stuff is going down, damsels arriving with missions, dwarfs in the background, the quantum squires whore a clearly sometimes there to help with all the complex jousting stuff but also clearly gone some of the time, all of that crap fits neatly into the structure of a game.



NIGHTMARE VISION

Let’s look at a nightmare vision of what could happen to an Arthurian RPG game if you were totally fair to everyone.

Firstly, it isn't really a nightmare, it’s just very different. Secondly, this would never happen since almost no group would ever do all of these things, but by mashing them together I can make a crude, William-Buckley-esque sort of point. Thirdly, it’s composed of nothing but good feelings, honest intentions, respect for everyone involved and a genuine desire for them all to have fun

So, first everyone wants to be a cool outsider so they all play a Saracen Knight, one guy is Ethiopian, another wanted to play a T'ang Dynasty poet-knight because its sort of about the same period and maybe could almost have happened, maybe there was a shipwreck or something. There is one guy who wants to play a white guy but he's actually Muslim in real life and you freak out a bit about having his character do explicitly Christian stuff so you remove most of the more explicitly Christian elements.

Half your gaming group are girls, half the girls want to play their gender and half the boys want to play the opposite gender. Your only transsexual friend wants to play Lancelot.

So you have a group of Middle-Eastern, African and Asian characters wandering around pseudo-medieval england, half the knights are women disguised as men, there are three warrior women in a world where there might have been none ever, some of the Enchantresses sometimes try to clout a bad guy on the back of the head and one has taken to wielding a glaive. No-one is sure what religion they are but they keep having visions of vaguely religious things and deciding they are important before forgetting them. They are after the grail of something-or-other. All of the NPC's are programmed for standard Arthurian society but get used to your group of weirdoes surprisingly quickly because it gets tiring having a hermit go "but thou are a Womaaann." They get bored easily and half of them forget their feudal oaths, the other half forget their eternal loves, but it seems like they are having fun, they turn up every week.

It’s actually a pretty fun D&D game, or possibly a good night on the town. It's just not a very good Arthurian game.

If you want to start making it 'Arthurian', you need to start taking freedom away from players. And those freedoms are racial, sexual, religious and personal. They are exactly the freedoms that modern gaming is, if not built *on*, then at least built *around*.


.........


In a less blathery way, Malory and modern D&D are driven by different dreams. They are both dreams of harmonious order.

Malory was an imprisoned low-level knight living in a time of  political and physical chaos, his dream is a deep dream centred in an imagined past. It’s a dream of peace and tragic loss where knights are what they should be, not what they are, and where love is a super-power.

The modern west is, for most people, quite physically peaceful. Socially it’s in tumult. Gender norms and sexual norms are changing as fast as they ever have. It’s more racially and religiously mixed than it has ever been. Everyone is either upset about Islam, upset about people being upset about Islam, upset about the whole situation or all three at once.

The modern D&D-alike often feels more as if it’s in a kind of post-everything future rather than the past. Instead of there being once central feudal authority, there is usually a kind of pleasurable chaos that lets everyone do what they want without much consequence. Instead of almost everyone being the same colour and religion, everyone is different, everyone is a unique race/species/gender combination and everyone is utterly equal and generally regarded so in the imagined society, with about as much race or species hated as an episode of US TV, enough to overcome in about 42 minutes plus ads. Instead of all the violent people being men and all the women being trapped in castles, physical power and the assumption of physical force is shared equally between the genders. Instead of everyone being the same religion, except for one guy who eventually converts, it’s vaguely pantheistic most of the time.

This is also a kind of dream of order. It’s the harmonious order of the concert rather than the order of the hammer. It is society, in some sense, as many of us would wish it to be.

They are two dreams that don’t mix well.


But, since I have looked at the problems, I should try to look as possible solutions and see what could be done to translate Arthur or move his mood and feeling into D&D without losing so much that it becomes pointless. I suspect that the best possibility might be a total transformation. But I have been at this essay for a while and that will need some extra thinking so I will have to leave it to a later post.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Old School Doctor Class

T.V. Doctors are basically insane super-competent hyper-dramatic badasses who, when they aren't saving lives, are kicking ass. Its almost like the best thing you can possibly be because you can do the two most important things that a person can ever do to or for another, keep them alive, or end them.

Also you can bone them.

This is an idea that has swum about on this blog since the earliest days. Maybe it’s a repeat post, I don't know. Maybe its one of those ideas I will have again in five years time.

Fuck it.



DOCTOR CLASS

Basics:

Attack Bonus, Hit Points, Saves and Levelling like Fighter. The Doctor is a badass.

KUNG-FU. The Doctor knows KUNG FU and knows pressure points. You do d4 damage unarmed and can always grapple with a successful hit on any humanoid not wearing plate or natural armour. You can do this one handed, Mr Spock style, and still do something else with the other hand.

SCALPELS. You generally have a scalpel on you. This does d12 damage on those who are incapacitated or grappled and d2 on everyone else. You can do stuff like cut ropes with it.

KNOWS EVERYTHING. Once a day for each level you can effectively cast 'Identify' on any item or localised process. This can be an object, disease or 'how it works' question.

This isn't magic and can't be dispelled. You are drawing upon the vast learning you are assumed to be engaged in pretty much continually. You retain this knowledge so if you find the same object, situation, process or disease again you know what it is. For very complex illness or curses, working out what it is and how it is cured can be two, or more, separate things.

LANGUAGES. If you level up in a culture with a different language, you learn that language.

SCROLLS AND ITEMS. You can use magic scrolls and items like a thief of your level for the system you are in. At least until you choose, or roll SCULLY-ASS MOTHERFUCKER below. In which case you realise its all bullshit and never do it again.

HEALING. Out of combat you can heal d4 basic trauma damage per turn (10, minutes). This can be stuff like splinting arms and stitching wounds, but also possibly replacing a bit of someones broken skull with a coin.

........

SAVING LIVES. If in combat rounds for any reason (not just combat itself) you can heal and even restore to life by going to war with DEATH ITSELF.

The DM plays death (as always).

This is a mutual roll-off with you against death. It happens twice each round, on your turn and the DM's.

You both roll a d20.

You add your level and either INT, WIS or DEX bonus, whichever is higher.

The DM rolls d20 and adds the number of HP the target is under zero.

You need to win three times in sequence.

Stage 1 - Stabilises & stops the bleeding.
Stage 2 - Searches wound & removes any foreign object.
Stage 3 - closes and stabilises. Restarts heart if necessary. The target now has 1 hp.

Every time you lose the patient slips back one place. If they are in Stage 1 and you lose then they get closer to death in whichever way is usual for that system.

ACTING gives you a plus one to your roll and if you ACT CONTINUOUSLY then you get a cumulative bonus. +1 for the first turn, +2 for the second etc.


........



BUT

NO WEAPONS. No weapon proficiencies if those are normal for your system (I.e. 5th ed). If they are not normal for your system then you get minus d3 to hit when wielding any weapon other than a scalpel or your hands.

NO ARMOUR. You are not a violent person, you are a person who can do violence.

DO NO HARM. You cannot do *lethal* damage on another self-aware humanoid. This starts out humans only but each level you grow as a person and add another self-aware humanoid species that you May Not Kill. If you take them below zero hp you have to save their life.

If you break this rule you have a Dark Night Of The Soul and lose a level.

MEDICAL BAG. You have a medical bag with most of your medical stuff in it. You can't do much Doctoring without it. It’s boring when it goes missing so it generally doesn't.

Thats level one. For the other levels, choose or roll from below if you like.



1. SCULLY-ASS MOTHERFUCKER. 

You know some magic is real because you have evidence of that, you also know it’s entirely explicable and rarely what it seems, or claims to be, more delusion and madness than meaningful knowledge. The sooner everyone stops indulging in that claptrap, the better off everyone will be.

You gain a double save against any magical effect. Essentially meaning you save at advantage. This applies to positive effects as well.

BUT

Magic Stuff won't work for you. Not scrolls, spells or items of any kind.

Also you 'Scully' every imprecise conversation, thereby draining joy from the world.


2. ATHEIST ASSHOLE

Gods are just hyper-dimensional aliens or active psychic fields and PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW.

You are immune to non-physical Clerical or divine magic. I.e., if a divine rainstorm soaks everyone then you get soaked. But a Geas spell or soul-reading thing has no effect. If a god throws a rock at you the rock can hit, but if they slap you, nothing connects.

BUT

You cannot be healed by said magic. You wouldn’t want to be anyway.

Also you tend to irritate everyone by banging on like Dawkins twitter feed when you are under stress. You just will not let that shit go, and frankly are something of a liability when dealing with the religious.




3.BRAIN SURGEON

Like Doc Savage, you are convinced you can make people, and monsters, 'better'. If you have the time and money you can, and will, try to do brain surgery on subdued monsters and 'evil' people.

Brain Surgery requires the living but sedated body of a person or humanish monster and a carefully prepared antiseptic environment. Simply transforming a normal room in this way with boiled sheets and vinegar swabs costs 500gp in an urban environment. In a privileged rural environment like a castle or monastery it costs 1000gp and may be impossible.

Surgery requires an hour per HD of the individual being 'improved'. Each hour costs 50gp in materials. The subject must make a save each hour to avoid death. If they fail a save they go below zero by the same amount they failed by. You can attempt to resuscitate them with your SAVING LIVES power.

On waking the D.M. rolls a loyalty value for the creation on 2d6. Also deduct this number from the INT of the creature. The very loyal are also very dumb.

If doubles are rolled then the Doctor has created a PERSONAL NEMESIS. Add d20 intelligence to the creatures base. If the total goes above 20 INT for every point above 20 give them a freaky mind-power like a Hypnotic Stare or a cool talent like an Eidetic Memory or Organ Music Savant. The Nemesis is OBSESSED WITH THEIR CREATOR and will dog their steps on and off until one of them is destroyed



4.CHARISMATIC ADDICT

You always have drugs on you. Not that boring herbal shit either. The real stuff. You always have Laudanum at least.

(Laudanum - save or pass out for minutes equal to your loss. d8 extra hit points from loss of pain. Immune to fear and panic. You save on advantage because you are a JUNKIE.)

If the PC's come into contact with a drug or druglike substance and its even slightly possible you could have bagged some behind the scenes then you can simply mention it and bang, looks like you did. d4 doses right there in your bag.

DM's choice as to how reasonable this is.

BUT

You are a goddammn junkie. In any environment and situation when the DM thinks its reasonable, the DM may say that you need to score (and you would be surprised where you can score), you lose 50% of your money. These regular losses fuel your drug 'creation' power.

You gain a Criminal Contact each time this occurs, they are a Horrible Person and they are familiar with you. This happens whether you like it or not.

In any urban environment, if the opportunity presents itself, you MUST CAROUSE.



6. HEALER OF MINDS

yOU ARE a shit-hot psychologist, or maybe psychiatrist, or both. Probably you invented both those things. You know the secrets of the subconscious. You can heal people of madnesses and mental effects, but this takes TIME and they must COMMIT TO THE TREATMENT. Usually it takes an hour long intensive meeting once a week with the number of weeks equal to the level of the effect. The DM may ask the patient and Doctor to role-play out at least part of this treatment.

Your Identify effect now applies to secret motivations of people they meet, as well as to curses, geas's etc.

BUT

Fucking Nuts. You understand the crazies so much because you ARE a crazy. Roll a random Madness. You will refuse to have this treated in any meaningful way, if it is ever cured, you lose your mind-healing ability.



7. MULTIVERSAL DIPLOMA

You are a Real Doctor and can prove it with a fancy diploma that you keep on you. This also includes stuff like an official pass saying 'This Person Is Really A Doctor' which applies to most reasonable social situations. It can get you into places and people won't disbelieve it unless they have good reason.

BUT

You have ACADEMIC ENEMIES  - a Rival Team of adventurers now exists somewhere in the world, lead by your Philosophical Opposite. You were best friends in college, maybe TOO CLOSE, they called you both radicals but they REALLY GOT YOU. Then after the accident, things went wrong and now you are FOES. This person levels as you do, has a team of roughly the same competence and ability as yours and has a belief system apparently similar yet in fact opposite to yours. They exist only to foil you and prove you wrong. They don't necessarily want to kill you, they just want you to admit that they are right, which might involve you being very close to death.

In cases of multiversal shift both the Diploma and Foe have equivalents in other realities.


8. ELEGANT DUELLIST

Ok you can have one weapon proficiency or decent sword that you are good with. You have a 'name weapon' like a rapier or a sword stick or something and you can use weapons of that Exact Type as if you were proficient.

BUT

This proficiency only works in one-on-one duels or semi-formal fights (ie above Reichenbach falls). In a brawl or unstructured melee it has no effect.


9. BIBLIOPHILE

You double any XP you might get from stealing, recovering, possessing or preserving books. You gain an always-on 'Identify' effect in regards to books or written materials. If you haven’t heard of it, you have heard of something quite like it. Even if you cant read the language you know what it is.

BUT

You think essentially all books belong to you. You will NEVER sell or surrender any of them. When they grow to heavy you must build, buy or rent a library and send all your books there (this can work across, or be mirrored across dimensions). The player must keep a detailed record of which books they have there.


10. DRAMA QUEEN

You cannot heal or save anyone in combat rounds without starting and persisting in an entirely inappropriate conversation about your EMOTIONS. You have to talk about your RELATIONSHIP with another team member and YES it has to be NOW. You must continue and actively role-play this conversation for every round of healing.

BUT

It actually does make you better at your job. You gain a cumulative bonus for each round. This is in addition to any bonus you get from ACTING. So if you are both screaming "I need a pint of Troll Blood STAT" and "Janice this isn't about my career, this is about US." At the same time, then you get +2 cumulative for each round you do this.


(Thanks to everyone who contributed to this G+ post about Doctors.)

Monday, 20 July 2015

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Three common design solutions

We've all had those sticky moments in adventure design where nothing seems to be working out. well don't despair, if you are having trouble just try one of these these common solutions.


1. Add a Fuckedupness level.

Head of Zone Fuckedupness is, of course, always Maximum



2. Add Cephelophants.



3. Add a Third Gender and Make Them Fight

Gender-Typical Fighting Styles:


Men tend to fight like European knights. They wear heavy carefully-made suits of self-created Ceramic armour, usually carry shields and prefer mass-impact weapons.

Men traverse slowly, wearing down their opponents. They are rarely willing to fight unarmoured.
Missing an armoured male in combat usually means you actually made contact but your blow was repelled from or slid off their armour or shield.


Women fight like samurai. They prefer edged weapons and they win great status for delivering a single clean killing blow. Their battles often involve long pauses and very sudden crossing attacks.
They may fight armoured but woman-on-woman duels are often fought without armour to speed up the result.

Missing a woman usually means that she parried the blow, (they are weapon masters), or simply moved a minimal distance out of the way.


Solum fight with gymnastic, acrobatic kung-fu. They are always moving in and out in a constant and unpredictable dance. They are most likely to make use of the third dimension in a duel, or to bring in elements of the environment.

They wear minimal armour and prefer complex, somewhat exotic weapons two-handed like spiked chains or nunchuks. Missing a solum means they probably danced utterly out of your way.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Snail Jousts

The nature of a Snail Knight joust is this:

The offer of single combat must be issued and accepted, usually with the flourish of a lance.

Both parties then approach each other until their lance tips touch. Once this is done, the joust begins and for a Snail Knight retreat or move beyond the range of a weapon, means that they have lost.

The Snail Knights then circle and spiral closer and closer while striking at each other with whatever weapons they each think best.

It is customary to begin with the lance and then, once the range of the lance is no longer of use, to move to the sword, though axes, maces and flails are also sometimes employed.

Snail Knight lances are more like pole arms, often fitted with blades, hammers or claws at the head of the shaft as well as a piercing tip and used with a jabbing (foigning) blow, as well as over and underarm crossing (traverse) blows.

Each particular weapon and fighting style has its own subtle techniques and methods and these are much discussed and argued over by Snail Knights.

Snail Knights are almost always armed with a shield on their off arm, though, rarely, more exotic combinations are employed.

....

Key points in a joust can be:

 - When a knight changes over from lance to hand weapon, this shortens their range and puts them at risk but allows them to try a cutting blow to strike off the head of an opponents lance. Some jousts are fought only to this point, which is called, literally 'jousting to the point'.

If a knight loses their shield. They may ask for a pause or 'succor'. It is considered honourable to allow your opponent to re-arm with a new shield so long as they are still on their snail. Even more honourable is to abandon your own shield in these circumstances so that you may exchange buffets on even terms. However there is no loss of honour for simply continuing to fight and may older and more careful knights will do just this.

- If a knight voids their Snail, meaning they are knocked off its shell or dismount, it is knightly for the opposing knight to also dismount and continue the battle on foot. Though, again, it is reasonable for an older or more careful knight to simply declare victory at this point.

If the battle is continued on foot then the same rules apply. To retreat beyond the range of the two weapons touching each other is to lose. Because of this most on-foot duels proceed in the same way as mounted duels, both parties circling and spiralling around each other, exchanging buffets.

....

A knight may submit at any time and it is considered knightly to accept a surrender. A promise or service may be demanded by the victor.

It if one knight tries to surrender and the other knight will not accept, they must inform them so directly, and pause before the joust can continue. Killing a knight while they try to surrender is wrong. Refusing a surrender is not knightly, but is legal.

....

Due to snails adhesive properties, duels can be offered and fought on vertical or even inverse surfaces, for instance, on the walls of fortresses or the ceilings of caves. In these conditions, to void your snail is almost certainly to die.

....

Striking directly at a Snails shell is legal but not knightly. It is also usually pointless as few weapons wielded by man can penetrate the shell of a Snail Knights Snail.

Striking at a Snail direct, or trying to wound a snail, is contemptible in every respect, it is a loathly thing that no true Snail Knight would ever do.

However, Snails can sometimes go wild and issue into combat with each other. A morphologically complex process in which they entwine about each other and each attempts to subdue the other. During this process, due to the tilting and twisting of the shells and the interweaving of the snails, it is customary for jousting Knights to void their snails and fight on foot. (However this does not _always_ take place, some duels between very angry knights are continued from a mounted position even as their snails adhere to each other.)

I think this is sex actually
Luckily snails find it hard to do each other permanent damage.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

WTF did you say THIRTY knights?

This is my favourite part of Malory so far. This is what happens when a normal guy hangs out with a chivalric super hero. The best part is that the whole book is about chivalric super heroes running around beating the shit out of insane numbers of dudes, and then from nowhere, this guy turns up who seems to to be as shocked by the nature of the fiction he is in as we would be.

My translation is almost certainly inaccurate.


......

And then Sir Trystram and Sir Dynadan departed from them into a forest; and there met them a damsel that came for the love of Sir Lancelot to seek after some noble knights of King Arthur's court for to rescue Sir Lancelot - for he was ordained for, by the treason of Queen Morgan le Fay, to have slain him, and for that cause she ordained thirty knights to lie in wait for Sir Lancelot. And this damsel knew this treason.

And for this cause they came to seek noble knights to help Sir Lancelot, for that night, or the day after, Sir Lancelot should come where these thirty knights were. And so this damsel met with Sir Bors and Sir Bleoberys and Sir Ector and with Sir Dryaunte, and there she told them all four of the treason of Morgan le Fay. And then she promised her that they would be nigh her when Sir Lancelot should meet with the thirty knights - "and if so be they set upon him, we will do rescue as we can." So the damsel departed, and by adventure she met with Sir Trystram and with Sir Dynadan; and there the damsel told them of all the treason that was ordained for Sir Lancelot.

"Now, fair damsel," said Sir Trystram, "bring me to that same place where they should meet with Sir Lancelot."

Then said Sir Dynadan, "What will you do? It is not for us to fight with thirty knights! And know you well I will not thereoff; as to match one knight, two or three, is enough, if they be men - but for to match fifteen knights, that I will never undertake."

"Fy, for shame!" said Sir Trystram, "do but you're part!"

"No," said Sir Dynadan, "I will not thereoff, but if you will lend me your shield - for you bear a shield of Cornwall, and, for the cowardice that is named to the knights of Cornwall, by your shields being ever forborne."

"No" said Sir Trystram, "I will not depart, for her sake that gave it me - but one thing," said Sir Trystram, "I promise you, Sir Dynadan: but if you will not promise me to abide with me right here, I shall slay you. For I desire no more of you but to answer one knight - and if your heart will not serve you, stand by and look on."*

“Sir.” said Sir Dynadan, "I will promise you to look on and to do what I may to save myself - but I would I had not met with you."

So than anon these thirty knights came fast by these four knights; and they were aware of them, and either of the other. And so these thirty knights let them pass for this cause, that they would not wrath them if case be they had ado with Sir Lancelot; and the four knights let them pass to their intent, that they would see and behold what they would do with Sir Lancelot.

And so the thirty knights passed on and came by Sir Trystram and by Sir Dynadan; and then Sir Trystram cried on high,

"Lo! here is a knight against you for the love of Sir Lancelot!"

And there he slew two with a spear and ten with his sword; and then came in Sir Dynadan and he did passing well. And so of the thirty knights there rode but ten away, and they fled.

....

Than Sir Trystram and Sir Dynadan rode forth their way till they came to shepherds and to herdsmen; and there they asked them if they knew any lodging there near-hand.

"Sir," said the herdsmen, "hereby is good harbour in a castle; but there is such a custom that there shall no knight harbour there but if he joust with two knights - and as you be soon shall you be matched."

There is shrewd harbour," said Sir Dynadan. "Lodge where you will for I will not lodge there."

"Fy, for shame!" said Sir Trystrams, "are you not a knight of the Table Round? - wherefore you may not with your worship refuse your lodging."

"Not so," said the herdsmen, "for if you be beaten and have the worse, you shall not be lodged there; and if you beat them, you shall be well harboured."

"A," said Sir Dynadan, "I understand they are two good knights."

Than Sir Dynadan would not lodge there in no manner but as Sir Trystrams required him of his knighthood. And so they rode thither; and to make short tale, Sir Trystram and Sir Dynadan smote them down both, and so they entered into the castle and had good cheer as they could think or devise. And when they were unarmed and thought to be merry and in good rest, there came in at the gates Sir Palomedys and Sir Gaherys, requiring to have the custom of the castle.

"What array is this?" said Sir Dynadan, "I would fain have my rest."

"That may not be," said Sir Trystram. "Now must we needs defend the custom of this castle, insomuch as we have the better of the lord of this castle - and therefor," said Sir Trystram, "needs must you make you ready."

"In the devils name," said Sir Dynadan, "came I into you're company!"

And so they made them ready; and Sir Gaherys encountered with Sir Trystram, and Sir Gaherys had a fall; and Sir Palomydes encountered with Sir Dynadan, and Sir Dynadan had a fall: that was It fall-for-fall. So then must they fight on foot - and that would not Sir Dynadan, for he was sore bruised of that fall that Sir Palomydes gave him.

Than Sir Trystrams unlaced Sir Dynadans helm and prayed him to help him.

"I will not," said Sir Dynadan, "for I am sore wounded of the thirty knights that we had ado withall. But you fare," said Sir Dynadan, "as a man that were out of his mind, that would cast himself away; and I may curse the time that ever I saw you, for in all the world are not two such knights that are so mad as this Sir Lancelot and you Sir Trystram - for once I fell into the fellowship of Sir Lancelot, as I have done now with you, and he set me so a-work that a quarter of a year I kept my bed! Jesus defend me," said Sir Dynadan, "from such two knights, and specially from your fellowship!"




* I think this exchange means.

Dynadan - Ok, everyone knows Cornish knights are pussies.Let me use your cornish shield and the bad guys will think I am not important and leave me alone.

Trystram - My bae gave my this shield and I won't give it up. If you run from this spot I will kill you. You can watch if you like, just don't run away.