Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Planes, Games and Automobiles

Warning: "Back From Gencon" post ahead.

So I just got back from Gencon, had a blast, yadda yadda.

I actually didn't do a whole lot of gaming - a game of Kobold's Ate My Baby and a game of Orks were the only scheduled games I made.  I had Hobomancer scheduled for Saturday at noon, but convinced myself over time that it was actually Sunday at noon, and spaced it completely until around 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon.

Unofficially, I had the pleasure of joining "Dougcon", Doug Kovacs' after hours gaming extravaganza.  Held every evening, an average of 20-30 people showed up to play a massive Dungeon Crawl Classics game.  They were split into groups, and 2-4 GMs were operating in concert, as events in one group would have repercussions on all of the others.  It was named, appropriately enough, Escape From Catastrophe Island.

Doug himself ran several games, Adam Muszkiewicz, several more, Marc Bruner was up in the mix, and yours truly ran a group for the last two nights.

It was chaotic, it was raucous, it was beautiful.  There were ghosts, giant lemur-apes, a Spinner of Doom, slaves, slavers, fish-wizards, weeping angels, cannibals, amazons, lamprey eels, lava flows, corruption waves, giant grasshoppers, plagues, I could go on for days.

Beyond that, I really just did a lot of wandering.  I was really impressed by how much Indianapolis embraces this con - many of the local businesses redecorate, restaurants revamp their menus, and you can sit down at a random table and strike up a conversation with someone about the merits of ascending armor class.  Walk into a bar, and you're more likely to see a geek classic playing on the television than a sportsball game.

The overall impression was that you had slipped into some strange alternate universe where tabletop gaming was the sport of the realm.

And the Dealer Hall.  Ye gods, the Dealer Hall.  Calling it massive is an understatement.  I spent most of a day just going from one booth to the next, saying hello to various creators and vendors, and staring at the spectacle.  Some of the booth designs were just outrageous, and the pageantry on design was absolutely stunning.

As someone else said, that's a whole lot of beard
I was particularly impressed by a group of guys who run a game studio by the name of Travesty Games.  They run games that I want to play.  You've missed out on Deathfear already, but Shindig Machine is still available.  Killball and Psiduel are next on my list, but if they're half as much fun as the first two, it's gonna be awesome.

The highlight of the trip, though, was getting to hang out with my online gaming group, the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad.  I've been playing with these guys for over 2 years now, and it was absolutely amazing getting to hang out with them.  Various members of the crew and I just down the bars in Indy four nights there, and we had an absolute blast.  The guy on the far right even flew in from Uruguay.  Freakin Uruguay.

Sunday morning, we got together for breakfast and said our goodbyes, and that's when the real fun began.

Apparently, Dallas had some weather while I was gone.  According to my wife, it was rain, and there was thunder, but no big deal.  To hear American Airlines tell it, on the other hand, the Hand of God Himself came down and smote their fleet with wind and rain.  My flight Sunday was cancelled, and rescheduled for 7am the next morning.  Fortunately, Doug Kovacs had mentioned he was staying behind.  I gave him a hand taking down his art, and went to dinner with the Goodman Games crew.  That's when I found out that the flight that I had been rescheduled to had been cancelled, and I was now booked on a flight at 7am Tuesday morning.

So there I was at 2am trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get home, when I came up with the great idea to rent a car and drive back to Dallas on 3 hours of sleep.  It went about as well as you'd imagine.  Fortunately, I had some great new music to listen to, courtesy of late night conversations with Jürgen Mayer and Julian Bernick.  Through storm and wind and ridiculously over-policed stretches of highway in Illinois, I finally made it home around 11pm last night.

Remember that guy from Uruguay?  He was having dinner with his family hours before I made it home.

Despite the drama at the end, it was badass.  I sold it enough to the wife that she's even planning on coming along next year.

Can't wait - thanks everyone whose name I didn't remember!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Crawl: A Nihilistic RPG

The Setting

Time is Entropy, Gravity is Death ~ The Cursed Creed

There is a grinding certainty to life since the Black Sun Ascended.  Day over day, those that stand out are measured and reduced by the unrelenting pressure of existence, until a smooth surface is all that remains.  Soon even memory fades, and life, such as it is, continues, ultimately undisturbed.

Those unfortunates condemned to this harsh existence measure out their days in terms of length and depth - the lengths they are willing to go to survive, and how far they can burrow.  There used to be Life, but no longer.  Now there is only the Sun and It's Thoughts, and the Cursed who dig deep in a futile attempt to escape Their Wrath.  The charred remains of What Was are all around, scattered like spoiled meat across an unending plain, while the Black Sun looks down with sanguine menace.

The Black Sun has always been there, but It once had a balancing force.  What happened to the Light Sun, no-one knows, but it's gone, and nothing exists to protect Life from the disinterested loathing of it's dark twin.

Direct exposure to the light of the Black Sun causes agony and death, stretched into infinity by the weight of its Thoughts.  The only living beings that survived It's Ascendance were those below ground.  Those who currently live are the direct descendants of those unfortunate few.  Light is an inexorable force, though, and the Black Sun's light has been chasing the survivors ever since.

The Cursed, as they call themselves, are the blasted remnants of life in a universe of decay.  Cannabalistic parasites, sucking a meager existence from the corpse of a long-dead reality.  Once they had nations, races, goals.  Now they are one, scattered though they may be.  United at last in the unending struggle for survival in a reality that abhors them.

Once they had names, but names, like much else, have no use in this world.  There are many words that have gone extinct, like Love, Happiness, and Rest.

Now, all there is only The Crawl.

Each day is the same as the last - all one can do is dig, while the deathly rays of the Black Sun beat upon their backs, worming their way through the cracks and tunnels, chasing the damned souls farther and farther from the surface.  If they stop, they are assaulted by manifestations of the Sun's Thoughts.

The History

The door between This and Everything Else slammed shut when all that was good fled in the face of the overwhelming force of the Black Sun, hoping to trap It within a prison of existence .

Now, all that remains are those who weren't quick enough to get out.  The Sun squats in the center of a black and broken land, it's baleful gaze so strong that it has pulled reality itself around it.  Now it shines down upon everything, crouching in the center of a hollow universe.  Day by day, the All is constricted, pulling tighter and tighter around the Sun, and one day All will be pulled within it, finally ending it's eternal evil.


The Punchline:

The Black Sun is using the characters, and all those still Crawling.  They dig to escape It's Black Light, but their escape provides tunnels for It, pathways that It can use to dig into the foundation of It's reality.  The characters' struggle for survival will ultimately result in the release of the Black Sun from It's prison, as their efforts will weaken the mortar of existence enough to allow the Terrible Thoughts to shatter it completely, and doom everything Beyond.

Black Thoughts should torment the players with this knowledge in any encounter, making sure they understand the futility of their actions, their struggles, and their very lives.

The Game:
  • Identity is Meaningless in the Face of Oblivion - Characters have no names, no races.  They are only Cursed.
  • Only the Strong Survive - Roll 5d6 for your attributes.
  • Knowledge has no Value in a Fallen World - there are no mages.
  • Possessions are Meaningless in an Impermanent World - there are no thieves.
  • If There Is a Higher Power, It Does Not Care - there are no clerics.
  • Life is Endless Conflict - All characters start as 1st level fighters.   
  • Entropy is Absolute - Each hour of real time gameplay, each player rolls 1d4 and deducts that number from a randomly chosen attribute.   If any attribute reaches zero, they die.  Yes, even Charisma.
  • Existence is Random and Without Meaningful Purpose - If they roll a 1, they gain a level.  They still lose the attribute point, though.
  • Any Respite From Reality is Temporary - Blackrock is a rare metal that can hold back the rays of the Black Sun for longer than normal earth (approximately 6 hours).  Normal, solid earth only provides 1 hour of resistance.  Six hour rest restores CON/STA score's worth of HP and 1 randomly determined stat point (never exceeding the original total), 1 hour 1/6 of that amount, but with no stat regeneration.
  • Even Evil is Banal - There are two types of Thoughts - Black Thoughts and Terrible Thoughts.  Black Thoughts worm and slither, sliding through the cracks.  They can be driven off, and sometimes even destroyed.  Thin and flimsy things, they flutter and shiver, preferring to take their enemies unaware, while they sleep or are otherwise distracted.  Terrible Thoughts break and smash.  Huge and Solid, they cannot go where the Cursed have not already been to loosen the earth for their passage.  They cannot be destroyed, only escaped.
  • Everyone Digs Their Own Grave - Anyone without a strength modifier can dig about 15 cubic feet per hour.  For every point of Strength modifier, add 5 cubic feet.

Sample Events

  • The party breaks through into a city, hidden so deep that they are unaware of the catastrophes that have happened above.  The party has to convince the town elders to evacuate before the Thoughts catch up with them
  • The party's tunnel connects with a tunnel being dug by a family.  The father is almost dead, and the child and mother ask to join the party.  A quick examination determines that they will not be able to keep up.
  • The party encounters an abandoned avatar of a long-forgotten god.  It is flickering in and out of existence, it's power almost depleted.  It offers to use the remainder of its power to heal the party, but discovers that he cannot, and flickers out of existence, apologizing as he goes.
  • Cave In!  Anyone who fails a Dexterity check is pinned under a large chunk of rock.  They can amputate their leg, reducing CON/STA by 1/4, otherwise they must be left behind

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Art of Zdzisław Beksiński

Prepare for mind fuckery, because this dude makes Giger look well-adjusted.

There's a whole lot more where this came from, the dude is nothing if not prolific...


Friday, June 13, 2014

Post Apocalyptic Theater: The Rover

Ten Years After the Collapse.

Looking back on the film, this really sets the tone for the next hour and forty five minutes.  This is a sparse movie, cutting the plot and exposition to the bone, leaving a tale as rawboned and gaunt as the characters.

It tells you nothing you don't absolutely need to know, like the nature of the Collapse.  It doesn't matter.  Shit is so far gone that nobody cares about how it got that way anymore.

I'm pretty sure that this is the latest in a trend in movies, where the funding comes from governmental agencies, tied to the promise by the filmmaker to ensure that they show off the beauty of the land, presumably to encourage tourism.  As a result, despite the sparse nature of the film, it feels maybe ten or fifteen minutes too long.  Without that extra time, though, it's doubtful the movie would have gotten made, and it's a fair trade for the wide open views of Australia.  The vivid colors that float above the dry and dusty brown where the humans live.

The result is something that feels like a cross between the Road Warrior, but with the breadth and scope of The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford.  It's a movie that showcases the beauty of the land, even as mankind roots about in its own shit.  It's as much a slow seduction as a film - it pulls you in, teasing you with beauty and ugliness combined, innocence and damnation, black humor and bleak realism.

As for the acting, Guy Pierce is Guy Pierce.  'Nuff said.

The real surprise, though, is Robert Pattinson.  It's unfortunate that he cut his teeth in Twilight - this is twice now that he's surprised me.  While Cosmopolis was ultimately forgettable, he stood out, and here again he disappears into his role, perhaps even more so than in Cronenberg's weak outing.  The range of acting on display in his role is nothing short of remarkable, and really drives home the ending.

It's a testament to the directors of this film that you are sucked into the movie to the extent that you assume the same intensity as Guy Pierce's character.  The hows and the why's fall away, leaving you only with the Now.  You stop asking questions. You accept situations with the same equanimity that you do the introduction - Ten Years After the Collapse.  You quickly realize that it doesn't matter.

It's not until the end that you're reminded that some things do matter, and all of a sudden, you reevaluate everything that has come before, and only by seeing the distance between your perceptions at the beginning and the end of the film, only then do you understand what it truly means to live in that world.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Wow, I've let this go, haven't I?

Yup, it's been a whole month since I posted anything.  I've had a post I've been working on, but every time I go to finish it, I just don't have it in me.

Regardless, I do have a bit of shameless self-promotion to mention - if you look to your right, you'll see an image of Pulp Mill Press' Libram Mysterium.  Click upon it, and be transported to its Drivethru Fiction page.

You'll find within its pages tales of pulpy goodness, with fantasy, horror and other weirdness all well represented.  My own story, Frosttouch, is within, and it's not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Anyhow, that's all for now.  I'm sure I'll pick back up on this soon.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Moving Taxyis off the nose

I remember reading an interview with David Simon, executive producer of the late, lamented TV Show, The"I hate it when somebody purposely tries to have the lyrics match the visual. It brutalizes the visual in a way to have the lyrics dead on point. ... Yet at the same time it can't be totally off point. It has to glance at what you're trying to say."
Wire.  He was discussing his choice of musical numbers to appear on the show, and he had this to say -

I've been struggling with Tayxis to find this type of balance.   While the game was born of my love/hate relationship with the state in which I reside, it also needs to be playable, which means that it needs to be able to be taken a bit more seriously.  

So I'm going to change the name of the game from Tayxis to Lonestar, and go back and edit some of the names of cities and such.  So if you come back and wonder why you can't find Tayxis anymore, that's why.

They Might Be Giants puts it best, of course:

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tayxis: Bright Lights, Big City

Up until this point, I've mostly toyed with the "Weird Western" aspects of Tayxis, but there's more to it
than just prairie dogs and barbed wire, or at least there can be, if someone so desires.

Because of the way technology works in Tayxis, there is an opportunity for completely different types of adventures once you get into the bigger cities.  Dee Eff Dubya, for instance, is pretty much the same in Tayxis as it is here.

Except it's not like here at all.

Foul beasts creep in from the wastelands, nesting in the sewers and tunnels that criss-cross the metroplexes.  Religious revivals are followed by counter-revivals  and neorevivals, as one spiritual trend after the next sweeps up the hoi polloi  in rapturous fervor.  Modern Primitives seek to knock the underpinnings of society free from their fragile moorings, while Big Oil Men set fire to the land, one oil field at a time, hoping to attract the attention of their demonic masters.

                                                                                ~ A Disinformation Guide to Dee Eff Dubya, 2014 ed.

Yeah, I'd say drugs are rampant, but cocaine and heroin?  Shit, that's for pussies and teenagers these days.  You haven't seen somebody get high - I mean really fucking high - until you've caught up with someone who just smoked some angel hair, or done a line of powdered demon's horn.  And speaking of angels and demons, whoo-boy.  Turns out they can NOT hold their shit together here on earth.  They almost all end up junkies, but they don't get addicted to drugs, or at least most of them don't.  They just get... fixated.  I used to know an angel that was addicted to the sound of a saxophone, and went into fits if one weren't playing constantly.  What happened to it?  Got killed trying to break into the apartment of the Saxman.  You know, the one that plays down at 35th and Vine?  Yeah, climbed through the guy's window in the middle of the night.  Saxman's girlfriend stabbed him in the eye with a letter opener.  A junkie is a junkie, no matter where they're from.

                                                                                                     ~ Sgt. Mike Greeley, DEDPD

The Devil lies under Palo Duro Canyon, my Brothers and Sisters!  He lies there, but he is not sleeping, oh no!  Do not be fooled my friends, for his agents walk the earth, and they reside in the buildings behind me!  Our very souls are in peril, and while the hour grows late, there is still time!  The First Assembly of End Times Salvation welcomes you all, and begs you, implores you - pick up your weapons and fight!  Fight while you are still able for the Devil's arm is long and his claws are sharp!  He reaches out - Hey!  Wait!  You can't.... Stop!  Aaaagh!  AAAGH!!!!!   HE - HELP ME FOR THE LOVE OF GAAAAA....  *unintelligible screaming*

~Final words of Hezekiah Smalls, moments before being ripped apart by an unseen force, as caught on tape.  Case Pending.  Tape property of DEDPD.

While I certainly understand the concerns of the citizens, I can assure you that the tremors and sinkholes which have sprung up are simply part of the natural order - these things are cyclical, you see.  Going back sixty years, you find another rash of such geological instability, and another eighty years before that.  It's just the way the Earth works, and has nothing to do with the recent rollout of our Urban Oil Project.  Let me state unequivocally - there is no correlation between the recent geological instability and injection wells or other fracking techniques at use in your neighborhoods.  

                                                                                                     ~ Elijah Brockman, CEO of Texxon Oil

Ah... um... yes.  At oh-four-forty, we were deployed to a position approximately three miles outside the Barrier, in response to a Terrorantula sighting.  We, uh... we established a beachhead at the, uh, the rise over there. It was then that we, uh, we discovered the tunnel.  As it turned out, a group of narcomutants had constructed a tunnel and were funneling their, uh... their product into the city via this method.  We found ourselves under fire from the, uh... the perpetrators, and uh... we sustained heavy casualties.  It was only due to the, uh... the Grace of the Good Lord... Is it okay that I said that?  Grace of the Good Lord?  Okay.  It was only due to the Grace of the Good Lord that we were able to defeat the, uh... the narcomutants.  I do understand them, uh... to be affiliated with the Cartel, but obviously, I... uh... I would have no way of knowing for sure.  I'm just a jarhead.

                                                                                 ~First Lieutenant Samuel Hayes, Tayxin Marine Corps

This city is ours for the taking...
                                                                 ~Timothy Sterns, Grand Warden, OAP (Ordinem Aurea Palma)