Space to fill

What if the real stars were the friends we made along the way? No? That’s a weirdly self-centered way to look at the universe? Okay, fine.

We did a bit of galaxy-building for The Stars Are Fire in preparation for our Sunday night games finally getting offline. Fuck all this technology, let’s play some sci-fi! We’re using their Revel setting, a near-future… well 300 years in the future, that’s pretty near… version of our solar system. Minus Earth.

The Revel is intended as a relatively hard-science background. The caveat is that RPGs just can’t (unless they’re played by astrophysicists) be entirely hard in their science because…. that shit is both difficult and sitting around doing physics problems isn’t as fun as just… y’know, playing a roleplaying game for a lark with your mates.

“Arjun, are you in,? We need an off-tank”

But choosing to forgo the “well, it’s space magic” of free-wheeling space operas or the utopian fully automated luxury gay space communism where we have to go deep into space to find problems because everything is rad at home, is a cool premise. With only a few hand-wavy conceits* and everything else sort of up to you to flesh out the details.

“You don’t need to know why all surfaces in this universe seem to have the same gravity and nobody floats, even for fun.”

It is a Cypher System game, however, so digging into the setting’s particulars isn’t to come up with dense-yet-granular rules. The play should still be easy, breezy and mostly player driven. But it’ll definitely help if we’re all singing from the same hymn book. Free and fast is one thing, wildly inconsistent is another and would make it difficult for players to find their feet.

We could extrapolate some things from the setting background, but where thinsg aren’t explicitly stated, we can decide for ourselves. Gravity is a good thing to explore: how do we replicate the gravity we need for… aaaaaw jeeeez, lots of stuff. Like having bones or taking a decent shit. Is it just taken care of by some as yet uninvented technique, like Star *Franchise*? Or are we going hardish like the Expanse? And how do we overcome the long term effects of life in low gravity?

Hard, serious, thought-provoking science fiction.

So we got together and talked a bit about what we wanted from the setting and how to incorporate some of our favourite ideas about the future. In general if it is possible or near-possible today we assumed that it would be probable in the future, and that Moore’s Law would apply: everything could be made faster, smaller and cheaper. Hopefully these touchstones help ground** our characters in this exciting new space frontier.

Rolland brought up Terraforming and Resource Scarcity, both of which fit very very well into this setting. On one hand, humanity has access to more metal than ever before; like a ridiculous amount. But good fucking luck trying to get a pork chop. The humanity of the era has survived our self-made environmental catastrophes and flourished into space, but that doesn’t mean we have an abundance of certain things: Primarily, places to live and grow food or just walk around and stuff. That scarcity and the inequality with which it is handled is a fantastic source of drama/conflict.

Ben liked taking 3D printer further than we currently have, in that we could also 3D-print biological material. Combining this with an increased ability to modify our DNA on the fly and we have quite a bit of flexibility with our bodies re: replacement parts.

Greg added the idea of nanobot body modification or enhancement, especially on an ad hoc basis, where you could be physically altered to suit a particular task. He also brought up self-replicating machines which is cool because in the setting humanity has taken a small step back from the precipice of The Singularity and is sort of hemming and hawing about how to proceed. So in the setting, we definitely could, but should we? If you’ve been paying attention to humanity, you can probably guess.

Noe brought up the place of Animals and what it might mean to have animals in space. For sure, we’d have dragged dogs*** and cats into space with us, but wild animals? How would a hunter-gatherer-turned-herder species deal with an absence of animals?

Yeah, maybe.

We talked about a couple of other things that we did NOT want to see: We didn’t want to see the same silly sci-fi tropes of all spaceships being aerodynamic and floating through space on the same horizontal plane, making noises. We didn’t want there two be two immovably and perennially warring factions. And no-one wanted to be trapped in a suit all the time.

Some of the cliches are avoided by the setting. There are no aliens, so there are no aliens with slightly different noses. There are no Planet Californias because there are no settled planets outside our solar system, yet. No limitless power-sources – although I’ve got to think nuclear is pretty useful, no laser projectiles that travel slower than an arrow, no tractor beams, no replicants, why would there be replicants? I never said there was. Crazy that you brought that up.

Even though Rolland and Noe were keen on them, as a GM I don’t want to deal with much in the way of time weirdness. I know it is a feature of space travel – mind bogglingly so, but difficult time stuff is something that would make my brain and the game grind to a halt. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t weird time things, but it’s not going to be a persistent part of the background because I just can’t do that even passing justice.

I also didn’t want to have to deal with background radiation. So right off the bat, that’s just something we’ve overcome. Fuck you, cancer. Massive doses of radiation are still bad news, but for the most part we do fine against radiation.

One of the biggest things to come out of the discussion was that we wanted variation and I think that fits in well with the setting of the Revel. There are Cybernetics and Bio-engineering, but not everywhere. There are brain-to-machine interfaces, but not universally. Personality/Engram replication, but it’s very rare, maybe secret. Likewise with the various forms of artificial gravity; spin gravity on O’Neill stations and spun up asteroid settlements, thrust gravity on flip-and-burn long range vessels, magnetic boots for extra-ship shenanigans and emergencies, magic floors… we were fine with having different types. I think this suits the fairly chaotic nature of the Revel well; there’s incredible wealth and technological research, but at the same time, there is poverty and squalor in an extremely unforgiving environment. Times have changed, humans less so.

Solid Light, Quantum Entanglement, Railguns, Invisibility, and Dyson Structures, powered melee weapons and what space combat might look like (explosions are NOT a good idea) came up.

I also asked everyone to extrapolate some existing technology out a few hundred years and what was great about that, but also what sucked about it.****

Rolland imagined some sort of Neural interface that enhanced our ability to empathize and interact with each other, but the downside being that it wasn’t very private and it tended to reveal more about the user than they really wanted.

Ben imagined a free fast mass transit network – incredibly efficient, except when it didn’t work and then you are stranded. It happens so often that the mass transit compartments are stocked with basic survival supplies.

Greg imagined a vast library of 3D printer templates and patterns, anything you could think of, practically! It’s just that it is completely unregulated and the quality of the finished product can be widely variable, if not downright dangerous.

Noe imagined that our grasp of genetic manipulation was incredible, but while we went around “fixing” problems (like dying of radiation sickness, or being shortsighted, or genetic predispositions that would prematurely end your life) it is also introducing new types of mutations into the human genome, that are maybe a little harder to deal with.

I’d like to get Bryce’s input on all this stuff, especially a great technological leap forward that comes with a downside, because I’m going to incorporate all of them into the setting good and bad, except one. One of these ideas is just going to be an unqualified success: no downside, just wins. We did it, yay humanity!

Okay, cool, I’m going to go try to figure out what happens if you fire a railgun on an O’Neill ring.

* 1) FTL is possible, it’s just very difficult and rare. 2) The Moon is full of non-human-constructed tunnels with… magic items? 3) Earth is inaccessible for reasons. Nothing in and nothing out.

** Pun 100% intended.

*** To be fair, dogs were in space before we were, so maybe they’re leading us. Tsygan and Dezik were the first animals to survive a spaceflight because they didn’t attempt the orbit that did for poor old Laika. Cats treat gravity and time as if they were optional features of existence anyway.

**** I hope I’m doing these justice, they were all great ideas.

cartoon minotaur

All Hat, No Cattle

When Jen’s phone light fell on the form of a large, muscular, bare-chested man with a bull’s head, you might think she stumbled into a cut scene from Eyes Wide Shut, but you’d be wrong. Like, really wrong. Seriously, why did that even occur to you? That movie was trash when it came out, why is it still in your head after all these years? You’ve got issues…


Fortunately for Jen it was not, in fact, a minotaur, but rather a statue of a minotaur. Pulse back to normal, she realized she was in something of a shrine/recovery room dedicated to the minotaur. A search of the remainder of the house by Jen and Demington turned up little of interest, though Pfutz found a very old necklace with a minotaur symbol on it and gave it to Parisia. And they say crime doesn’t pay.

Meanwhile, Marston was doing a recon of the back yard and outbuildings. He spotted the old farmer coming from the barn with a shotgun and a sledgehammer and heading into the corn field. While farming is not Marston’s area of expertise, he does know that those are tools that are ill-suited to harvesting corn. So, he headed in after the farmer, followed by the rest of the crew.

After entering the corn labyrinth, the group became disoriented and confused. Fortunately, Demington had been unspooling his twine so they could find their way back out afterwards. Unfortunately, a confused Parisia was taking the twine and using it to knit a sweater for Pfutz. Demington was forced to admit her crocheting skills were really coming along nicely.

Marston reached the center of the labyrinth first and was greeted by the sight of the old farmer smashing a pile of camera equipment while a very large creature was hunched on the ground dining on what appeared to be the earthly remains of one Paddington Reynolds, UFO enthusiast and YouTube D-lister. Using his ability to reason with monsters, Marston learned the minotaur needs to feed every seven years. He also learned that the missing teens are still alive, and Paddington is just the starter. The rest of the hunters arrived shortly thereafter, and the typical endgame began to play out, with the yelling, and the shooting, and the flaming swording and the whipping of the magic chain. Standard stuff really.

Then Marston, ever the paradigm-breaker, came to the realization that it didn’t have to be this way. What if this thing could be contained somewhere and every seven years fed a few bad guys? Even if he needed three or four each time, he reasoned, we would never run out of politicians, news pundits, or Freemasons. The idea had merit for a time, but as with most diplomatic efforts, talks broke down and the hunters made short work of both the minotaur and the old man. During the melee, Marston decided setting the corn on fire with his ray gun, Ronald, was a solid plan, and perhaps it was.

A further search of the farmhouse grounds found the missing boys, bound, hungry, and exhausted, but otherwise safe. Smoke from the corn brought the local fire brigade out to the scene, so the group, anxious to not be anywhere near a burning field with three murdered corpses in it, grabbed the boys and high-tailed it back to town. There they unceremoniously deposited the teens in their front yard and headed back to Minnesota, and civilization.

During the ride back, Marston stared out the window at the passing fields, deep in thought. Maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong…

Crusader Kings III

I loved Crusader Kings 2. It was, incrementally, an amazing game – an utterly pointless, engrossing, medieval sandbox simulator. You could get it running in 1066 and let it go until 1453 and it would recreate “A” medieval Europe. And eventually you could recreate a medieval Middle East and medieval Steppe and a medieval India. As it went on, the simulator got more complex and more involved. By the end, Crusader kings 2 had all sorts of cool additions and added complexity to the basic game.

Crusader Kings III comes out of the gate by pretty much just taking everything that worked in Crusader Kings 2 and starting off with that. I have no idea if they’ll release incremental improvements again, or if this is more of a finished article.

Helpfully CK3 comes with a tutorial, which CK2 did not, I don’t think. The franchise is notoriously complex and this is STILL true of CK3, but the tutorial and the provided help is considerably better. CK2 was something you just had to dive in and try to work your way out. But with this iteration,.. it’s almost like they want you to play the game. CK2 was packed with small tweakable features that made not a damn bit of difference, but CK3 has kept some of those and made them not just useful, but important.

The tutorial starts you off as an Irish Earl, because those tend to have the greatest freedom, not because Irish Earls have particularly historical good luck. It shows you the basics and then you’re off to the races.

My first playthrough, I started off as the Earl of Ulster. Through a series of shenanigans, I became Petty King of Ulster. Then, before I knew it I was King of Ireland (through more shenanigans and conquest). Then King of England (because I ended up with a halfway decent claim and better allies than the literal child I kicked off the throne). Then King of Aquitaine and quite a bit of France (through Holy Wars and Crusade against various muslim rulers who were really on a roll until they met me). Then France, then Castille, then some other parts of Spain through a few well placed Holy Wars. And before long, I had enough strength to challenge the previously (in CK2) unbeatable Holy Roman Empire. A couple of good marriages occured. Then suddenly, all of Western Europe was under my family’s thumb. From there, all that was required was to nibble into Africa and Eastern Europe.

This took many, many Kings (and a Queen).

So, being emboldened by my success: I decided to roll the dice and let the game choose me a starting dynasty, on Iron Man mode. This means no saves other than autosaves, which means an awful lot of wars get declared on January 2nd. Could my dynasty survive until 1453 without savescumming?

I got Wali Shumayl ibn Hammama of Tanas, of the Maghrawavid Dynasty. I’ve never played a muslim character before but he is the same type of muslim as everyone else in northern Africa, so that’s reassuring. Nothing worse than playing a heretic right off the bat. Shumayl is 41, which is a bit long in the tooth, and he is craven, chaste and cynical, none of which are particularly useful. He isn’t married either although he IS very clever. He has all of 579 soldiers at his disposal: he isn’t head of his dynasty. Oof, this is a considerable step down from being the swaggering Emperor of Europe-covering Alba.

There are two clear targets at start, one county to the left which is even punier than I am and one to the left that is a twofer, but the westernmost is the same de jure duchy as my starter county – so those are going to be my targets, after I get Shumayl’s end away – gonna need a wife and an heir in that order.

So I did that, connecting myself to a noble family of the same faith and about the same paltry power and I tasked my Imam with making up reasons to invade tiny Yalala, my neighbour to the west. No sooner had he discovered that this claim fakery was going to take more cash than I had, but my asshole family tried to conquer me. Yes, Dynastic-head and cousin al-Abbas from bigger, more successful dynastic holdings to the west declared war and despite a good showing from me, won the battle of Tana. Dick move, cuz. But with my smaller army, I killed enough of his dudes that he could not prosecute the siege against my castle. Meanwhile, I regrouped, connected with the arriving forces of my father-in-law and laid siege to al-Abbas’ castle. We won the war without having ever won a battle and embarrassed al-Abbas has to compensate me in coin, which I set away for fabricating my claim on Yalala. Everything’s coming up Shumayl, who also creates his own cadet branch of the Maghrawavid family, because if they’re gonna be dicks…

My plot came to fruition… just after Yalala was invaded by a larger Emirate to the south. So, did I give up? Heck (whatever the muslim equivalent is) no. I called in my in-laws (I had picked up a couple more because Islam lets me have a bunch of spouses) and we went up against the larger army and beat them soundly. We then took over their siege and Yalala was mine. But that put us still needing to win a war against a larger, more concentrated foe. We fought a second battle against a larger foe and our better troops (I had raised a regiment of archers and one of camel riders) and better leadership narrowly swung the day. I defended my new claim and they had to cough up more Sorry money.

I rounded out my first decade one county and a mere two sons up, despite having three wives, so I guess Shumayl isn’t kidding about that chaste characteristic.

By the time he died in his mid sixties, he’d voluntarily bent the knee to the powerful Emirate to the West, become his liege’s Chancellor, accruing fame and fortune and also prosecuted a few successful campaigns against weaker neighbours, adding to his and his liege’s domain. Along the way, Shumayl became a bit of a scholar and mystic, developing skills with real gameplay impact. He maxed out the number of county-level holdings he could successfully steward and had two vassals take care of the others, he eventually had a whole bunch of children, and no real enemies. He became the head of his dynasty too, how do you like me now al-Abbas?

The thing is, with this game, you’ll get a history so rich, in which you can invest yourself every time you play and it will be completely different every time you play.

It’s a tough game to walk away from for a while because it is so deep, with so many things going on all at once as you manage your sneaky plots, your court, your family, your personal holdings, your armies and your kingdom/sheikdom/empire/whatever. You can do the whole thing passively and on auto pilot, but there isn’t a game I know that invites you to stir up some shit like CKIII.

The new features – most obviously your ability to customize your religion through reformations (naked cannibalism for the win!) and the ability to raise standing armies of specialist soldiers – are good additions to the game. And numerous UI improvements have meant there aren’t so many vestigial, underdeveloped parts that used to plague CKII. Everything is clear, everything is useful; it’s just there is still an awful lot of it.

If you like strategy, there’s strategy here for you. If you like management sims, there’s management sims here for you. If you like story, there’s story here for you. And if you like cannibals justifiably devouring pontiffs…


Be Vewy Qwiet, We’ew Hunting Monstews

Things have taken a turn of the Supernatural/Buffy/X-Files variety as we waded into the Powered by the Apocalypse game Monster of the Week. Our group of monster hunters are as follows:

  • Demington, The Chosen (played by Ben), is a fastidious, albeit somewhat cranky individual who has been chosen by an ancient cult to protect Morgan and keep him alive until he can fulfill his destiny. He has been gifted special abilities and a bitchin’ spiked chain with which to kick ass.
  • Marston Fairey, The Flake (played by David), is a conspiracy theorist with an arcane library that is growing in size and questionable in origin. He seeks truth, justice, and the occasional oil change coupon.
  • Parisia, The Divine (played by Noe), was living the angelic good life until she realized that being bad was more fun. De-winged, de-immortalized, and memory-wiped, they are trying to find their balance between doing good, keeping off the heavenly radar, and still taking advantage of opportunities to “find” interesting and valuable items with the help of Pfutz, their 5-fingered ferret-like thief…thing…critter…partner.
  • Morgan, The Mundane (played by Adam), spends time working odd jobs, fighting monsters with Cousin Marston and the gang, and unknowingly being protected by Demington until Morgan can fulfill his ultimate destiny which may or may not have anything to do with his Norwegian revival dance band.
  • Jen Doe, The Monstrous (played by Bryce), is a special agent with the mysterious XYZ Corp., a well-funded yet sketchy organization with an interest in all things arcane. A botched resurrection attempted has left Jen half-human, half-ghost which comes in handy when needing to walk through walls or locked doors.

Well ain’t this place a geographical oddity?

The hunters find themselves in Hendersonville, IA investigating the disappearance of two local teens who were UFO hunting next to a huge crop circle that appeared in the cornfield of farmer Nikos Cristos and his son Pavlos. The investigation is made difficult by the lack of cooperation from the Cristos’ and the appearance of Marston foil, and YouTube D-lister Paddington Reynolds. Reynolds is a self-styled UFO “expert” who has all the tact and finesse of gum on a park bench. He is in the area to treat his YouTube faithful, who number in the tens, to his investigation of the crop circle, which he claims will provide irrefutable proof of the existence of extraterrestrials. After a vision of being lost in a maze, Demington hits up the local feed & seed to buy up all of their spools of twine. In a town like Hendersonville, when you walk into the building that isn’t the post office or the feed store, you’re in the bar. That’s where the hunters met the parents of the missing boys, who required little convincing to throw their lot in with the hunters for help. It seems the local sheriff thinks the whole crop circle is a teen prank and the boys are just holed up at a friend’s house to add to the story, so even when a group of weirdos show up offering help, that help is welcomed.

Straighten Up and Fly Dizzy

A quick drive-by recon of the area and the gang is ready to execute what passes for a plan to find out what happened to the boys, discover the origin and purpose of the football field-sized crop circle, and maybe, just maybe, save Paddington Reynolds from an untimely, albeit not entirely undeserved fate. Or not. If it’s convenient. When Morgan finds the boys’ flashlight it seems they headed into the crop circle, so that was super good news (it wasn’t really. I just wanted to mention that because sarcasm doesn’t always come across in written word. Anyway…).

Gifted with the power of flight, Demington heads skyward for a better look at the crop circle, but the properties of the crop circle leave him feeling disoriented, dizzy, and unable to make sense of the circle, or locate Reynolds who has plunged into the corn maze seeking the center and the adoration of…well…himself. Plan B is put into effect and the hunters approach the Cristos farmhouse looking for clues, information, and perhaps something vaguely bullish looking (I mean come on, they’re Greek, there’s a maze, how is there not a minotaur running around somewhere?). With Demington flying high-surveillance, Morgan in a sniper’s perch in the windbreak, and Marston standing in the place danger is least likely to befall him, Parisia sends Pfutz into the dark house to see what he can see, and Jen passes through the wall into the house. After a quick check of the run-down main floor, she discovers the basement stairs. Since nothing bad ever happened to anyone who went into a strange, dark, basement of a potential evil-doer/monster, Jen headed down the stairs guided by the light of her smartphone.

You can see where this is going. Honestly, what was she thinking? Call yourself a professional?

As Jen descended into the basement and began to look around, her flashlight fell on a very large, very angry looking bull-headed creature (and by bull-headed, I don’t mean it was stubborn. Although if I were six-and-a-half feet tall with the head of a bull and massive muscles, I’d be inclined to let you try to change my mind.

To be continued…

It’s been a while…

Normally I’d have littered this blog with all of my gushing excitement over the next game I was about to run: and believe me, my excitement for Legend of The Five Rings is still torrential.

The best laid schemes o’
mice an’ men gang aft agley
said Samurai Jock

But this whole global pandemic has placed an implacable dam in front of that metaphor and my anticipation of samurai action has had to be put on hold, at least sorta*.

I’m blessed with having friends who have TAKEN THIS SHIT SERIOUSLY. None of us have done anything other than accept that meeting in person is just off the fucking cards for a while. And while I was doubtful of our ability to switch to Sunday-night Roll20 session (my favourite thing in the world being able to look a man directly in the eye while you lay a gnome pun on him), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it limitations and all.

Our Sunday night Numenera campaign was nearing the end of the first act when it got called to a halt. Rather than try to keep that up, we’ll just return to it when happy days are here again. In the meantime, it is entirely possible that we’ll be able to incorporate more world building games like we did with The Quiet Year. Tiny Taverns, for example, is a rules light, remote friendly game where you run a fantasy tavern. Adventures in customer service. I’ve thought about getting that and coming up with the story of their preferred tavern in bohemian Sham. Tiny Taverns – Gallant Knight Games | TinyD6 |

I still miss Numenera, of course, but it’ll wait. The distant future is going nowhere. Actually, it’s getting closer. But hey, my itch for samurai action got an asterisk beside it, so let’s put an asterisk beside my love for Numenera too.**

Instead, we pivoted to using Roll20, which has been good and also bad. Bad because it’s a dreadful UI and I can’t believe that this is the default platform for RPGs, holy shit. Good because… it does kinda work. Not as smoothly as it should, but hell, it lets us do the thing we like to do. I’m just saying, competent UI writers, Roll20’s lunch is there ready to be eaten.

L5R: Family Matters

I’m Grandma’s favourite.
No, I’m Grandma’s favourite.
No, me.
(A tense stand off ens-.. oh, it’s over)

Welp, I’ve got plenty of time to sit around thinking about Legend of the Five Rings RPG now… After ingesting the fluff and checking out the game mechanics, I got into looking at what makes the characters work and how are they different from each other in a world where everyone is supposed to think and behave in a prescribed way, but also there’s no objective truth.

The heirarchy of loyalty in Rokugani society goes, from the top, Emperor/Clan/Family. But within each of these levels there is room for ambiguity: is everyone supposed to have loyalty to the Emperor or the Empire? Could those two things ever be at odds? Families have their own Daimyo and each Clan has their Champion, can those two authorities ever pull the player in two different ways? And how do more abstract values like the tenets of Bushido interact with these things? If honesty would hurt the Emperor or Empire, should you be honest and put personal integrity ahead of the Empire’s wellbeing?

There aren’t really right answers to these questions, only individual interpretations and that’s the source of so much conflict and drama, big and small, in L5R. I mentioned the Major Clans in the last post, but within each Clan there are several families. There are also Vassal families and Minor Clans, which players may interact with, but in the basic out-the-box game you can’t play these. FFG or Edge or whoever: RELEASE BADGER CLAN SOURCEBOOK NOW!

You can order this on a t-shirt and I wouldn’t even be mad if you did. Look at that little guy!
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Rokugan on my mind

Way back in 2018 I mentioned that I was excited about all the games that I was fixing to play or that were headed my way. I was VERY excited about The Stars Are Fire, because I was on a space adventure kick. But now I’m not. I have no idea why. Star Trek likely suffers from the same problem. I’m just not that into space right now. I will be again, that’s how it works.

I think the problem with Star Trek is also that it’s a sorta clunky ruleset, compared to the sleeker, easy-come-easy-go Numenera. There’s a time and place for those games and I love many of them dearly. The writing for Star Trek was a bit patchier too, with some excellently organised stories and some really confusingly edited stories.

Tang Garden hasn’t arrived yet, although it narrowly seems to have escaped China before Coronavirus started affecting transport. I do hope it will be here soon, the last email I received said it would be here this week. Longer on a container ship just means it is safer to inhale that new game smell, right?

Nope, the Spring lantern that has been lit in my heart is for Legend of The Five Rings and the fire shows no sign of going out any time soon, buuuut…. I do this, a lot; get super psyched for some game and get really into it and then… a brief pause and I lose all interest in it. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve learned to go with it now and not try to make something last. I’m SUPER-INTO Legend of The Five Rings right now, but when I’m over it, I’ll be over it. The ideal way this would happen is for all the stars to align and I’d actually get to play the game while my ardour is up, so to speak. But at the moment I’m crashing towards MNUFC home game schedule, wanting to finish the arc of the first “season” of 2menera, enjoying the easy dungeon-bash nature of Descent and wanting to play all the cool boardgames we all own and some of the ones we don’t. It’s a trial for sure.

A very cool playmat they make for the RPG that helps people keep track of initiative, Void points, stance and what the hell the dice faces mean.

Fortunately, L5R has plenty to keep me going. It’s a game that has a whole bunch of lore, but with Fantasy Flight’s reboot, they’ve dialled back the timeline and are writing a new story, one which is a bit more… organised. I’m not saying the original story smacked of cool ideas hurled together haphazardly… but the new story is real good.

I never really got into Game of Thrones because it was mostly magically warmed-up history nuggets hurled at each other into a (sort-of) coherent shape. Nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe there’s a Japanese guy out there looking at the L5R lore and thinking exactly the same thing and that’s also totally fine. The game definitely owes a lot more to samurai dramas than any other source. This isn’t an historical re-enactment; Rokugan isn’t even an island FFS.

In the extremely unlikely event that I haven’t talked your ears off about this game: players play members of the privileged Samurai class of the Emerald Empire. The game plays with the tension between the character’s wants and desires (extremely low on the scale of what is considered important), their loyalty to their family (and their unique abilities), their loyalty to their clan (and all its political maneuvering), their loyalty to their Emperor (who owns everything, but doesn’t necessarily have their best interests at heart) ALL while trying to live up to the unattainable code of Bushido. And keeping the elemental spirits happy. And trying not to let the demons and foreigners over-run the empire. Also, there are forest-spirit giant squirrels that shoot streams of angry bats out of their mouth. Someone should do something about them.

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Numenera 2: Out into the world.

Scene: The handsome man grabs the oversized metallic hand before the knife fingers can slash his throat. With a twist of his hips and a powerful yank, the arm detaches from the cybernetic humanoid who reels back in shock. The man hurls the still grasping arm at the surprised construct as it wildly ignites a cutting laser beam from one baleful mechanical eye. His cry of defiance as the beam misses him is muted as his throat pushes out a wave of the breathable superfluid in which he exists.


“Yep, that’s me, Germain. Right now I’m fighting for my life at a nanoscale against cybernetic-saboteurs who are infesting a giant drug-addicted symbiotic life form that I helped rescue from a gravity-controlling would-be despot while searching the world for the means to defend my hometown against semi-mythical celestial slavers. You might be wondering how I got here…”

I have a LOT to recap, having fallen so far behind with recaps that… I have no idea how to start.

In short:

  • They assembled to investigate a complex beneath the Inert Cylinder that dominates the sub-settlement of Sham.
  • They discovered that the complex housed a time manipulation device and that it warned them of impending doom/maybe caused the impending doom.
  • After some deliberations the Council of Elders sent them out beyond the borders of the Makhtesh and find… something, anything to help them avoid the terrible fate foretold by the time machine.
  • They journeyed down the Peristaltic Funicular through the mountain and travelled across country to the settlement of Glawv and made contact with the nearby Clave.
  • They saved Glawv from the predations of a wannabe Warlord, Halcus, destroyed his warband and rescued a Lattimor who had been held hostage.
  • They accompanied the Lattimor home to help him get healed of the various cruel things done to him and in doing so gained restricted access to an archive of technology.
  • They got a quick ride to a not-that-nearby city of Tilt which has a University and a LOT of religions.

So how is their Initial Goal of finding a way to prevent the devastation of Lone going?

  • They have figured out that the timeline manipulation is REAL dangerous and seems to have accidentally erased Shaar Greyfeather, the Pletbird Poulterer who owned (and used) the tunnel they initially explored. Not only is Shaar not there, people don’t remember him and as far as they all remember, everyone takes care of the Pletbird flock communally.
  • They’re racking up Allies: Councillor Acobe went along with their crazy plan to trick their past selves into going and fucking with a time-machine; relic delver Tsuro turned out to be Father Bazzurro of the Order of Truth; she knew a Clave of other (much less useful) Aeon Priests two of which are headed to Lone; the townsfolk of Glawv are grateful and willing to open up trade for their weird malleable amber goods; Vo-Hurrin, the rescued Lattimor, and (to a much lesser extent) his roomie, Dillom collect and store an absolute treasure trove of Numenera plans.
  • They’ve made an enemy too. The proto-warlord Halcus is a member of the Sisters of the Eclipse, a network of criminals and marauder gangs. While the drug-peddling Sisters are found throughout the great valley beneath the Makhtesh, the characters don’t seem to have attracted attention beyond the ire of Halcus, who probably turbohates them.
  • They’ve secured sources of large edible birds with flammable feathers and malleable amber glass, just in case that’s ever important.
A really rad bird by Dave Melvin which is now canonically how Tiltbirds look.

Scythe, “I was smitten by the artwork”

Ooh theres a digital version too:

Over the holiday break Kat and I took Magnus to the mall in Edina so he could play in the children’s area next to the DMV In The Mall. On our way there we happened to pass by Games by James and perused their end of year sale, which was mostly just those $50+ shitty games you didn’t want before were now $5-10 cheaper and I wasn’t impressed so we moved on.

After about 10 mins of watching him not get run over by the nice and patient other children, I looked up some of the top reviewed games on and found that Scythe was a highly recommended game for 1- 5 players. I go back to Games by James where I found another customer holding one of their last copies, who gladly handed it over to me and I promptly took to the checkout. What was his problem? Bureaucratic fool, he has no idea what he’s got there. Turned out it was a bit of foreshadow.

Some time later Kat and I sat down to play. I broke open the game, punched out dozens of pieces, arranged them in what I thought were the correct groups, and stared at the rules for just over an hour at which point Kat had fallen asleep. Seriously this game has so, many, damn pieces – and it should.

Number of pieces aside, if you’re not someone who plays a lot of boardgames, and by a lot I mean every few days for the past decade, it’s gonna take you a minute to digest what it is you’re actually supposed to do to win. It ain’t fuckin monopoly here and once you think you’ve got the basic flow down there’s a tiny gotcha that makes you turn the car around and go back to that fork in the road.

In Scythe, each player represents a fallen leader attempting to restore their honor and lead their faction to power in Eastern Europa. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Scythe works like this: you’re one of 5 selected faction commanders in the game trying to make your way through a dystopian post WWI landscape filled with advanced military technology (robots and lasers) but contains farmers that still harvest their crops by hand. Somehow the forced communist government spent ALL their R&D on advancing weapons of war for the past 25 years and not one dime on inventing a… tractor or plow. I think this is how they make the setting to be more 1920’s-ish because a robot harvester would make the game too futuristic, but they wanted to have Mech’s because Mech’s are just fuckin’ cool man.

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, deploy mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

This to me was primarily the “flow” breaker and where things got confusing. It’s a strategy game but not necessarily turn based so yes you can think about things for a minute but at the same time the other players are doing their “turns” so what you thought was a good idea 5 seconds ago isn’t anymore and oh well fuck it I’ll just go with this. Which is ok if that’s what you expect, but we weren’t and it made it less fun. I think other player types might not like this as well.

This guy – does an incredible job at explaining the rules and gameplay. We ended up watching this video after losing faith in our ability to understand the rules. The rule book is well written, but just to understand what to do in a turn took over 20 minutes and a lot of not giving up.

The game was Kickstarted and it feels to me that while it was being funded (or not, right?) the makers just kept coming up with more and more rules to cover the “what if?” and “but what about” ism’s. This is ultimately a good thing and means you can play it over and over again, but makes it difficult to know what is the happy path when you start out.

We haven’t actually had enough time to finish a game. Yeah right, so how can I write a review? Well because I think we’ve got it down now and when we go back and get our rhythm down I know it’s gonna be a good time. Learning a game is fun because you get that little hit of dopamine whenever you discover a new route or method to do a thing and it seems like this game is chock full of those little gems.


Bottom line (pun intended) don’t play this game if you’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s not relaxing due to it’s complexity. But, if you want to forget everything and just focus on this tiny universe of scrutinized options, consequences and tiny victories, take off your coat it’s gonna be a long night.

Numenera 2: Art Inspiration

Bryce wanted me to check to see if the website migration had worked, so rather than get stuck into a recap that may never materialize, I thought I’d post a few links to art stuff that I’d been mentioning on Sunday.

One of the many inspirations listed in the Numenera 1 book is Moebius. I mentioned him last Sunday because his stuff really is great and I’m always on the edge of pulling the trigger on a big fat coffee table book of Moebius art.

I mean, right?

Jean (Moebius) Giraud is dead now, died a few years ago but not without doing a little bit of a lot of stuff. He had a graphic novel, themed books, stand-alone projects and (I think) some animation. I almost prefer the works out of context though, especially when I’m trying to get inspired late on a Sunday afternoon.

If I had a sentence to try to describe the style, I’d say Tintin-meets-your-favourite-Prog-Stoner-Band’s-Album-Cover.

I’m reasonably certain Moebius inspired a lot of the look of Nausicaa, an earlier Miyazaki movie that’s also listed as an inspiration in N1. (I think Vampire:The Masquerade was the first to list its non-RPG influences. Bauhaus, sure, but Vaclav Havel… that was a curveball.)

Anyway I try to keep a rolling Pinterest flow of art that gets my thinkparts pumping because if I’m ever flummoxed for an idea I can often fall back on something I’ve seen or, hopefully, come up with something new that’s egged on by the themes and style of the artwork. Berenock owed its weird hat-based hierarchy to a couple of atmospheric pieces on Pinterest an that played out into a cool addition. It’s a great place to sift through for character art, too, if you’re too coward to draw your own character.

Inspiration for the Sheep Station in Cypher Deadlands. I think this was by Erikas Perl.

My current Art-Crush though is Cosimo Galluzzi, who does some stupendous work, a lot of character stuff very much in keeping with Moebius’ aesthetic. Really enjoy his stuff.

Anyway, check out Pinterest for neat ideas and check out Moebius just to make your life better. And if you find cool stuff let me know!