Friday, April 8, 2016

CW Listicle Notes

Turns out I've got rather a lot to say about a rather short piece. Specifically, the Car Wars vignette in Pyramid #89. It's all in general pursuit of world-building, but there's probably as much world-building going on in this one as all of my previous vignettes put together. Four out of the five locations make glancing reference to notable aspects of the world of the new Car Wars, so there are some significant bits of history and culture to tease out there. The fifth...well, that was mostly just me amusing myself.

There's also a certain amount of--pardon the expression--reality in there. In figuring out where to put the various arenas, I looked at a lot of maps, lists of roadside attractions, locations of current sports venues, and other such materials. Each place has a definite location in the real world, sometimes to the point of using existing buildings. Here's where everything came from:

Big Swede Arena: Parking garage at the Emeryville Ikea. We went there a few times when we were living in Oakland. Still have several pieces of furniture from there. Despite complaints about how it's cheap and flimsy, it's held up better than a bunch of other furniture we've bought over the years.

Glamorgan Yards: Glamorgan Castle, built in 1904, is a real structure in Alliance, OH. Once the home of an eccentric rich guy (as advertised), it's currently the central administrative office of the local school district and is open for tours.

Homestead Proving Grounds: I always though that Emily Dickinson's line "Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me" sounded like it could be pretty badass in an appropriate context. It goes doubly so for Car Wars. There's Death, there's not doing what Death wants you to, there's a wheeled vehicle, and there's no stopping. The belle of Amherst: car warrior.

PolyPark: Currently, Congress St. borders Prospect Park, which is wide open for development by the time the apocalypse rolls around. It's also adjacent (or nearly so) to Rensselaer Polytechnic, hence "PolyPark." I assume it's the college team's home field.

Washington Slope: Definitely an old working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh there. I don't know if the Heinz family is still prominent in Car Wars-era Pittsburgh, or if it's just a name of historical interest.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Final HT Roll

I just got news earlier today that an old friend and fellow gamer died unexpectedly last night. He had been, so far as I know, in reasonably good health and was only perhaps a year older than me (which is grown-up, but not old enough that dying is an expected short-term outcome), so we're all rather in shock.

I'll be talking to friends about this more, but since this is my gaming blog, I'll talk about him in a gaming context. Al (I'll call him Al here; you didn't know him) had a tendency to get into...predicaments. Well, he was one of several people who did that, but with him, it was usually unintentional. In one of our early fantasy campaigns, he took a memorable hit to the head with an axe, taking absurd amounts of damage but surviving. In our long-running space mercenaries game, his character took another memorable hit to the head. With an antitank rocket. I think he survived that one as well. Good armor, that.

But for me, at least, the most memorable gaming was with Paranoia, a game I could play for years in pursuit of Zen-like mastery. There was a particular adventure which comes to mind when I think of Al. Our noble band of Troubleshooters was put under the orders of a high-ranking official and had to spend the rest of the evening following him around. Being inept came naturally to them; when the officer ordered them to line up and count off starting with 1, they immediately, without hesitation or consultation, chorused "One!" Gear issuance in Alpha Complex being what it is, the group of N Troubleshooters was issued a vehicle with N-1 seats. Al's character was stuffed into the trunk, and he spent about half the adventure there. Every time he needed to say something, he had to knock on the lid to get attention.


The culmination of all this involved the Troubleshooters sneaking up on a nest of commie mutant traitors, maneuvering to make a lightning attack to wipe them out. Everyone was getting into position, using a maximum of stealth. Even around the table, everyone was speaking in whispers. And then...

*tap*tap*tap* "sir?" *tap*tap*tap* "sir?"

Al leaves behind a son who recently started college, his mother who along with his late father came over from China to raise their kids in the US, a sister, and a sizable extended family.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

DFT2 Notes

...yeah, I got nothin' for this.

OK, maybe a little. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 2: Epic Treasures is the result of my suggesting, around the time I was finishing up DFT1, that if we're going to have #1 in a series, it's just polite to have #2 in the pipeline as well. The Powers That Be agreed, and here we are.

I think the "Making It Epic" section in the introduction, discussing approaches to take to big treasures, may be the most important and reusable part of the book. Big treasures should go beyond mere bonuses (though, certainly, there are a few things which are all about the mere bonuses in there a page or two on). The GM has to consider scope in different ways, several of which I suggest, and each item in the book has a power in some way related to those criteria.

For example, the Marvelous Crab is about freedom of movement and, to some extent, freedom from resource management. It's not a fantasy tank. And despite calls from multiple playtesters to add claws, make it more armored, and so on, I kept it as a movement-only device. It provides transportation for a reasonably sized party and a lot of gear and/or loot at better speed and with better DR than a wagon while avoiding a lot of terrain problems (Rocks and pits? Step over them. River or small lake? Go under them.). While it does cost FP to use, it only needs FP from one character at a time so travelers can swap driving duties, and there's no need to carry along feed for beasts of burden. For long-distance travel, that's an excellent deal. As one of the playtesters (who shall remain nameless, except to say that it was Peter Dell'Orto) pointed out, if the Crab is more capable, the question becomes more "how can we fight from inside the Crab" and less "how can we get to the adventure in it."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Knowledge Is Power Notes

So, yeah, I found the imperial Chinese civil service interesting enough to write a substantial article about it. This is very much about a social technology: the cultivation and staffing of a bureaucracy capable of administering a major empire. For China, this involved several prerequisite and accompanying technologies: a well-developed body of philosophy to serve as the basis for exams, a population wealthy enough to support a population of scholars providing the necessary human resources, reasonably inexpensive writing media, and a physical infrastructure of dedicated testing facilities. 

I wrote a couple of paragraphs which I ultimately cut, partly for space (I went rather longer than projected on this one) and partly because I didn't think they quite fit. But for anyone interested, here they are:

Senior Scholars

Persistence in the face of repeated failure in the exams posed certain problems for administrators. The nominal age of retirement from the civil service was 70, but there was no formal age cut-off for the exams; it would be disgraceful for seniority-loving Confucians to turn away the aged. Therefore, very old exam-passers were accorded special treatment. Men over 70 were graded more leniently than their younger brethren, and if they passed, they were granted honorary titles, though not actually put in office.

Lèse Majesté

At various point in the cycle of exams, candidates had to answer questions written by the emperor himself (or, at least, ghost-written and sent out under the emperors name). This posed additional problems for test takers. The candidate had to be careful to avoid using characters used in the emperor’s name and in the names of any member of his dynasty. The emperor’s name was regarded as sufficiently sacred that using bits of it was regarded as criminally disrespectful. Fortunately for the candidates, Chinese has enough characters that one could substitute characters producing the same sounds, but it was one more detail to watch out for.

This article is mostly world-building material, but it implies a variety of adventures. Going anywhere in the ancient world is difficult and risky. An adventure or series of adventures could be built around a group of friends trying to get a candidate for office to the testing location on time. Under various conditions (usually when heading to the more advanced tests), candidates had permission to travel by official vehicles rather than on their own yuanbao, but even then, if bad weather or uncooperative officials intervene, individuals must find a way to push through. Ghosts and other supernatural critters who appear at exam time may need to be appeased or otherwise dealt with. Cheating attempts are the perfect venue for Ocean's 11-style capers (and, of course, the caper-y and the supernatural combine; what if, as the surviving Imjin War veterans assemble at the funeral, the dead one pops up from his coffin full of forged exam papers as a hopping vampire?). And all of this can just be setting the groundwork for a higher-level intrigue campaign in the civil service. The stakes for the exams are largely personal; once the candidate attains office, they become political as well.

(I realized that I'm posting on GURPS-Day, but since I'm writing now on a topic which has only tangential GURPS content, and it's essentially coincidental that I'm posting on the right day, I didn't throw my hat into the ring to be listed for GURPS-Day posts.)