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Spiderfist Island
Feb 19, 2011


Rand Brittain posted:

My second-biggest problem is that the people in charge of picking which books get written are a lot more interested in the Orlanthi than I am.

Same, I'm a fan of Ralios / Salfester and the new (non-medieval-European) portrayal of the whole "Western Canon" of Glorantha, for a lack of a better word.

And Fonrit :unsmigghh:


...But speaking of which, I still haven't figured out what a RuneQuest is. Can you make it? Can you eat it?


...



I’m not going to give up on this review until I find out what a rune even is.


Previous Review Sections

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: A Brief History of Godtime
Part 3: A Brief History of Time
Part 4: Chapter II, Character Creation
Intermission 1: Creating Goonalda of the Lowtaxanoli Tribe
Part 5: Chapter III, Mechanics and Melee


Chapter IV: Combat Skills

Now, looking back at Chapter III it becomes clear that we don’t actually have all the rules for both mechanics and melee combat. From our position at a time period nearly 40 years after it’s been written, most of us have been so exposed to percentile systems that we intuitively know how they work– but, one thing that we’ve also noticed is that our ability to hit things looks, well, kind of low. I mean, Goonalda has just a +5% melee skill to hit, and what even is that +5% added to?

So, in Chapter IV we actually get things explained to us. Attacks and parries work as a roll-under check where you compare a 1-100 roll to a character’s percentile value (modified, of course, by a billion things because this is the most realistic and playable system of 1978 AD). What actually determines your base chance to hit is something called a Basic Chance. If nothing else, you have a base chance of 5% (with modifiers added) to hit a thing with any random object you find). When you attack with actual weapons (or your punches/kicks/headbutts), this basic chance can be up to 25%, a much more reasonable value.


Special Damages

In RuneQuest 2E, characters deal critical hits whenever they roll within 5% of their total attack percent chance or if they roll a 1, whichever is higher. So, unlike in AD&D, the chance for a crit will increase over time with a character’s skill. Granted, you’ll need a 40% chance to hit before you start seeing any benefit from this, but it is an interesting divergence from the D&D mindset where crits are more due to luck than skill. Successful parries against crits will absolutely wreck the weapon used, and if there’s still damage to be dealt after breaking a weapon, it will still deal the remaining damage to the user.

Fumbles keep to a similar concept, where you’re much less likely to gently caress up if you’re already an accomplished warrior, or are just using simple weapons. Rolling a 96-100 on a percentile die will make you fumble, and for every extra 20% of chance you have above 20%, the fumble range decreases, down to a minimum of rolling 100. While there’s a d100 Fumble Table, Steve and Ray recommend (based on their SCA experiences) that the Referee tailor it if it makes more sense. Most of the fumbles aren’t too sadistic, though there’s always the chance to critical hit yourself or an ally.

Impaling! RuneQuest is set in a setting based on the bronze age, so extra rules on what pointy things do when they get stuck is appropriate. Impaling works kind of like critical hits, but instead it triggers on the number that’s 20% less than your target value (so, for a 40% check, it becomes 8 or less). Impaling lets you roll for damage normally, and then adds the weapon’s highest possible damage. But it also causes your spear/sword/arrow to get stuck in a body or shield, so that’s a problem if you still want to use it. There’s a lot of optional rules dealing with the consequences of having a bronze speartip or arrowhead stuck in your body, but they follow the same attentions to details and love of fractions / percentile rolls we’ve seen so far. Of note though is that the roll for “pulling out an arrowhead” has one of the first defined skill checks that doesn’t directly involve killing people.

The book then goes on to note the bonuses to attacking surprised or prone characters and optional rules for critical parries and fumbles. Overall, this was critical information for combat rules, but I still don’t understand why Chapters III and IV were split up like they are. It may be that from a modern game design standpoint we’re used to a given set of rules being contained within one chapter, rather than a division of both training and combat into two chapters, where one’s for a grand overview and the other’s for complex rules. But in either case, I don’t think that the way that the book’s been set up so far is helpful for people new to RPGs in general.


Learning Fighting Skills: The Argrath Dragontooth Center for PCs Who Can’t Hit Good And Who Wanna Learn To Do Other Things Good Too

Like with everything else in RQ2E, character advancement is done through in-game training and experience. Most formal training is done through “guilds,” which is something that is never really talked about when I look at modern Glorantha setting material:

”Guild Credit” posted:

Bright, adventurous, men and women are at a premium in and around the Lunar Empire. The magical cults, fighting bands, and other guilds are all either (1) intermixed in the politics of the region or (2) trying to maintain enough power to keep themselves outside of same. To gain more members, the lesser skills of all are for sale, indiscriminately, often as much from the desires of the sponsoring deities as from political necessity.

By long tradition, the guilds, etc., must train those who come before them. There is nothing to say they must do it for free. However, beginning Adventurers do have the privilege of obtaining credit from the guilds.

Getting a guild to train you requires an amount of money based on the current value of the stat you’re trying to improve, which starts to brush up against the old conceit of “mechanics as game physics” while also being a way to curb rapid advancement in a level-less system. A high Charisma can reduce these training costs. Weapon training gets pretty complex in terms of how it works above a 25% score, and all sorts of caveats like “successfully attacking and parrying with the weapon on an adventure” limit a PC from just dumping all their money into becoming the Invincible Sword Princess past 50%. You also can’t get trained to more than 75% on any given weapon, and can’t increase a skill by more than 5% between adventures.

If you’re already at 75% skill with a weapon, or are in the 99% of Glorantha that doesn’t have enough civilization for a “guild,” you have to learn by experience. When a PC succeeds on an attack or parry, they make a note about it. At the end of the session, they roll a check against 100 – (specific Skill) + (Int modifiers). If this succeeds, they gain +5% to the skill, and can’t increase it again by experience until the next adventure. I understand that Call of Cthulhu uses a nearly identical method for character advancement, which figures because they’re both BRP systems.

At 50% skill a character starts to gain access to double-attacks in their turn. They can split up their skill value into any proportion they want and attack twice, parry twice, or both attack and parry in a given turn. Once a PC gets to 90% skill, they can even start to train other characters– I doubt that this ever becomes the main focus of a game, but it does allow the other party members to get free training. Weapons are also divided into 5 pretty broad groups. Having training in one weapon gives 1/2 of the training bonus to all other weapons in the group.

From what’s written in this book, it looks like the writers expect a given PC to gain in power based on both a mixture of training and experience, at least until they get to 75% in a given skill. This lets a PC increase a given skill by up to 10% between every adventure, which seems like a fairly good pace for character advancement.

As befits the era, Runequest 2E has complicated rules for grappling, weapon damage, and two-weapon fighting that are just sort of shoehorned onto the end of this section. But what confuses me is the setting implication that there are “guilds” which all work the same way and all accept the same methods of payment and give the same training. If “guild” is just a game term for groups that provide training in exchange for a standardized amount of money based on game balance, then it’s understandable. In this interpretation you could conceivably have a guild be abstracted as “that one guy in the village who’s good with a sword” and the 100 Silver for training be abstracted to “the favor he owes you for saving his two large sons from a Dragonsnail.” But within the book’s text, it’s never really made clear one way or the other and in many cases they make it sound like there really are guilds all over Glorantha that follow the sacred laws of Guild Credit. As someone who’s a fairly familiar with the setting from other sources, this is news to me.


Just What We Needed, More Ranged Combat Rules

Up until this point the vast majority of the rules covered for RQ2E were focused entirely on the finer points of melee combat. Like with any other fantasy RPG that goes into simulationist design, these additional rules for ranged attacks are mostly meant to punish a character for specializing in ranged attacks in the name of realism. You can’t use shields except under very specific circumstances, you have compounding penalties to hitting a target that’s moving at an angle to you, and you can’t move and shoot unless you’re a horse archer. Thankfully for archers, you have no downside to your impaling attacks and can fire off attacks at rapid speeds.



I forgot that there's sentient baboons in Glorantha.


Shields, Helmets, and Armor

In RQ2E armor absorbs damage, rather than acting like the all-or-nothing system of AC that’s in D&D and its design family. Since RuneQuest uses a hit location system, each section of body armor is accounted for separately and you can mix and match components (and even stack a few types). This is mostly balanced by the fact that each armor segment takes up encumbrance and gives a stacking penalty to moving silently.

And that’s it for Chapter IV! We finally have all the mundane rules for how to murder each other, though they were spread across the last few chapters. In addition to this, the skill system based on experience and training that has come to characterize BRP character advancement over the last 4 decades is established here in a fairly unified way. Would you believe that so far I’ve only covered 33 pages? I don’t.


Next Time: Chapter V, Basic Magic!

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BinaryDoubts
Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.


Cryptomancer posted:

Kill all the orcs, hack all the things.


Cryptomancer is, like the helpful banner above says, a fantasy roleplaying game about hacking. It was created by two infosec professionals - Chad Walker and "Timid Robot Zehta" (no, I have no idea either) and it shows - the game is fastidiously concerned with encryption, informational control, and hacking, with all the other fireballs 'n' swords stuff as a distant afterthought.

It's a really new game, so this will be more of an overview than an in-depth analysis (also, this fucker is 400 pages, and like half of it is a textbook about security). Oh, and if the game sounds cool to you, please support the authors! - The PDF is only :10bux:.

So, preamble out of the way, let's dive in!



The book opens with a nice introduction that sums up the two (sometimes conflicting) aims of the game: to provide an extremely detailed approach to intrigue-based campaigns, and also to have all the dungeon-looting fun of Every Other Fantasy RPG (tm).

One thing to note is that the writing is extremely clear and mostly free of typos (I only spotted a few mixed-up words across the 400+ pages, which is pretty impressive for a no-budget indie game). It's also a little dry and more than a little wordy. Here's an example:

Cryptomancer posted:

[Cryptomancer] is a game that providess avenues for players to play fantasy characters who attack and defend the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information systems that support kingdoms and factions. However, instead of adopting a “hacking as combat versus technology” abstraction that so many modern role-playing games adopt, Cryptomancer provides an unglamorous and unapologetic take on information security. This game’s rules and setting are informed by real-life information security principles, such as encryption and network defense, as well as intelligence community concepts, such as tradecraft and link analysis, all of which are presented in a context that makes sense for a high-fantasy setting rife with conflict and intrigue.
You can kinda feel the technical background of the author coming through, which isn't a bad thing! I definitely prefer clear-but-dry to flowery-and-vague, especially when it comes to the rules text (later).

I'm skipping over the next section, which is literally titled "Obligatory RPG 101 Section" because, well, it's the Obligatory RPG 101 Section. Nothing new here. The next section is about player satisfaction, clearly laying out what players and GMs get out of a) traditional fantasy heroic stuff and b) espionage/intrigue challenges and stories. I like that the author clearly expresses that there's more to having fun than just "telling a great story" - that player enjoyment can also come from getting a kickass piece of gear, or beating a tricky combat challenge, or even just seeing the numbers on their sheet go up. Another nice thing that gets called out here: it's very hard to make a character who only excels at one part of the game (combat vs intrigue). I'm not totally convinced that's true (which we'll see during the mechanics chapters), but for now, it's a nice thought. Another key point is that there is no hacking skill: although there are a few spells to help with sneaky-type-stuff (and magical DDOS attacks - more on that later) everything to do with hacking and encryption is player-driven: if you want to find out the catchphrase, you have to go and find it. No "information gathering" rolls for you.

The next section talks a bit about high vs. low lethality campaigns, notes that players and GMs should all be on board with the tone of the campaign, but also lays out a key thematic element of the game:

Cryptomancer posted:

Cryptomancer is a pretty dark setting and includes mechanics conducive to a thematic death spiral. It’s only a matter of time until the oppressive powers that be wipe the heroic player characters off the map. This is by design.
The rest of the chapter is a grab-bag of little notes. There's a heads up about mature content which is nice but I'd say really isn't warranted - the game is dark, but not morbid or detailed on those fronts. They call out that some of the racial-tension fantasy-racism stuff is intended to address the fantasy genre's weird relationship with "race and The Other", which is a noble goal - but also doesn't really show up that much. As well, there's a mention of how Soma (mana potion/heroin) isn't intended to "endorse or rebuke" drug use in any way. A little light fantasy racism and drug use is the worst of the objectionable content - if only every game in this thread could be so cheerful. Oh, also, the books uses female pronouns by default, which is cool. Thus ends Chapter 1.

Next time: what do you get when you cross Middle Earth with a mineral-based Usenet client? Cryptomancer's setting - industrialist elves, magic encryption, and more!

BinaryDoubts fucked around with this message at 14:12 on Aug 8, 2016

Midjack
Dec 24, 2007





BinaryDoubts posted:



Cryptomancer is, like the helpful banner above says, a fantasy roleplaying game about t hacking. It was created by two infosec professionals - Chad Walker and "Timid Robot Zehta" (no, I have no idea either) and it shows - the game is fastidiously concerned with encryption, informational control, and hacking, with all the other fireballs 'n' swords stuff as a distant afterthought.

You have my attention.

FrostyPox
Feb 8, 2012



I read that Imagine review and holy balls that sounds like a miserable loving game. I'm sorta burned out on Pathfinder so any and all "Old school" or "OSR" fantasy games cause my eyes to glaze over, but that... hoooo boy. It's so much worse when you read how hyped the creators were about their game.



Cryptomancer, however sounds.... very interesting.

Kai Tave
Jul 2, 2012


Fallen Rib

FrostyPox posted:

I read that Imagine review and holy balls that sounds like a miserable loving game. I'm sorta burned out on Pathfinder so any and all "Old school" or "OSR" fantasy games cause my eyes to glaze over, but that... hoooo boy. It's so much worse when you read how hyped the creators were about their game.

Bear in mind that Imagine was circa 2000. Plus ça change etc.

FrostyPox
Feb 8, 2012



Ah. I'm not too familiar with RPGs back then TBH since I had literally only played and was aware of Dungeons and Dragons as far as RPGs go and had basically just taken my first tentative baby steps into traditional gaming. Is that par for the course for circa 2000 RPGs? It seems really needlessly complex.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.





CHAPTER ONE

Chapter one is the introduction of the game. Hot War takes place in London around October 1963, one year after the Cuban Missile Crisis lead to invasions and the firing of missiles. The winter of 1963 is going to be worse than 1962; the last year has seen the majority of Britain die, the infrastructure is breaking down and rationing is mandatory. The player characters are all survivors in Britain working for the Special Situations Group, a euphemistic name for a group of civilians, police and military working together to kill the monsters and stop the bad guys. Like the RPA, the different groups of London are setting aside their issues to try and work together. Also like the RPA, the different groups of London are trying to use the SSG for their own ends and to spy on each other.

Chapter one is also home to how and why Hot War was written. What it comes down to is that the author (Malcolm Craig) is interested in the artifacts of the Cold War and World War II: bunkers and buildings in the UK that had two purposes through most of the 20th centuries. He’s also interested in the conspiracy theories and the “what if”s of the Cold War. The game is also partially homage to the genre of the British Catastrophe, describing it as splitting the difference between the “misnomer of the Cozy Catastrophe often applied to Day of the Triffids” and the slow, brutal death of On The Beach. A lot of the environment is set up to be one of desperation and survival horror, but the setting is very much one for the GM and players to alter with what they want to play. Essentially he wants the world of Hot War to be one of Fallout instead of Unhallowed Metropolis; like the former, the world can survive and adapt if they work together, unlike the latter if they try and stay stagnant then the people of London are doomed. The history is laid out in the documents I’ve shared and other documents in the book, and some of the groups and monsters are fleshed out, but the book isn’t really going to hold your hand and make you live it. Craig has told the story he wants to tell and it’s up to everyone who plays it to take it in their own direction.

On that note, I’ll be sharing pretty much everything hook-related, probably at the end of each installment. Pictures of paragraphs, regular pictures and epistolary things will be included.

Chapter one also has terminology and what you’ll need to play. That’s pretty much it for chapter one.

CHAPTER TWO

THE HOT WAR


A lot of what was presented in this chapter was in the introduction. The first big chunk of this chapter is the diary, the article and the documents. I have no idea what exactly happens, and the game is built around building on these implicit aspects of history, so let’s get to what we do know.

The world powers disband the RPA after a few years once Berlin is stable and picked clean. The Cold War begins in earnest and the nations of the world start working on building their nuclear arsenals. Ultimately, the work on improving nuclear weapons and Mutually Assured Destruction was the cover story for the USA, the USSR, France and Britain. The four countries worked on their recovered Twisted Technology, getting deeper understanding of the things they’ve recovered. The plan is for nuclear weapons to be emergency option; if things get heated, they’ll start with the Twisted weapons first. The whole affair is kept beyond top secret in the echelons of every military, scientific institutions end up becoming cultish to work on the Twisted Technology, and everything comes to a head over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What’s not clear (and intentionally not mentioned in the book) is who fired the first shot on October 27th. It’s believed by the military of Britain that it was either the Americans or the Russians who attacked first, but Britain was called to help America and they complied. The Twisted weapons landed in Poland, Germany, France, all over Europe and the world. They were without reason, unable to be fully controlled or understood. The gate machines of the Incursors were weaponized in airbursts and created aching wounds in the skies, ships ran aground on beaches and unleashed legions of the walking dead, sleeper agents released the Alternatives being kept in captivity.

What’s bad is that it worked. What’s worse is that it worked too well. The idea behind the Twisted weapons is that they would be clean and free of the moral implications of nuclear war, that there would be no worry about residual damage (like the neutron bomb, but with monsters). But the tears in the sky got bigger. The things that came through or were released couldn’t be stopped. And someone in a silo or in a governmental building panicked and fired the nukes.

Europe was definitely hit by nuclear weapons and so were parts of Britain (but not London, the nukes missed London). Countries starting bombing themselves to put a stop to the machines that launched the Twisted weapons. The RAF ended up panicking and enacting what the government called Operation INDIGO DIAMOND when they saw what was happening to the world and dropped a YELLOW SUN thermonuclear warhead on Porton Down, blaming their R&D for what happened and claiming that something was coming from the facility.

In the aftermath, Britain was cut off from Europe and from all of its allies. The world outside of Britain is unknown because the country is too focused with keeping itself together. The plan is to stabilize Britain before they venture back out into the world again. And for that, they need the Special Situations Group.

The SSG was put together a few months into 1963 as a matter of necessity. The surviving government had to reorganize and figure out how to deal with the immigrants and food shortages. Due to the insular nature of the surviving groups, they pooled some of their resources to fight. Unfortunately, the SSG's mission statement and scope is pretty vague. They're responsible for dealing with Twisted Technology, monsters and bad guys, which makes some sense, but then they're also tasked with counter-terrorism, which is a debatable sort of threat. This has lead to jurisdictional issues with the police and the military.

It's not hard to recruit for the SSG. They get better rations, they get guaranteed and secure lodgings and they get to help protect the people around them. Alternately, they're volunteered and can't protest being reassigned. The majority of the SSG is made of people from the military and from the police, and as a result there's a loose of sense of rank that the structure of both actively enforce. Everyone else is a civilian survivor and they can be from any walk of life, from bureaucrats, truck drivers or doctors. From there, the members are divided into three different divisions. A Division is command, controlling the stores and armory and workshops. B Division (or "The Backroom Boys", which is an unfortunate name) is full of bureaucrats, scientists and engineers who don't go out in the field. C Division (or the Player Character Group) has Operational Field Units, three to six people who do the field work. Members of the SSG have some governmental powers too; specifically they have the right to carry weapons and the right to arrest and detain. This is a nebulous degree of rights and freedoms and there's a heavy overlap with the military and police and this leads to conflict across the board.

FACTIONS

Government:
The government likes being in control and they don't want to give up control. Their main goal to stop the military from inflicting total martial law and maintain the status quo.

Other political parties: Use the SSG to dig up dirt on the incumbent government to get more power. They're pretty fractured themselves with the Union Movement having a sizable power base. Despite their name, this is a bad thing; the Union Movement is a nationalistic crypto-fascist populist right-wing group that has nothing to do with actual unions.

Terrorists/Underground factions: Anti-government, anti-police, anti-military, violently or nonviolently so. Some of these groups are simply pro-refugee while others just want to blow it all up. They've placed sympathetic individuals into the SSG to help their groups get some leniency or undermine the government.

Army: The Army wants to be the biggest power in London. Their big goal is to surpass the Navy in means of power generation by retaking the power stations and starting up mining and forest-clearing again.

Navy: The Navy still thinks of itself as the best of the best and it really is one of the dominant powers of the moment. The guns of the battleships are still loaded, a nuclear submarine is being used to help power facilities in London and they use their boats to fish. Their ultimate goal is to get the rest of the nukes away from the RAF and stop the Army from wasting all the gasoline with their tanks and vehicles.

RAF: Ever since the RAF nuked Porton Down, they've been a laughingstock. The RAF is trying to absorb the BERB and is also waging a propaganda campaign to become the big brains of the military, hoarding all of the information and helping people to look better. Also they want to keep all of their nukes, thanks.

The Police: The police of London are made up of transport police, Metro and London PD. They really just think that the SSG's power is too ill-defined and loose with applications of its powers. The police would like to absorb the SSG wholesale and subsidize it, and it doesn't help how many cops are in the SSG.

Intelligence Groups: MI5 and MI6 are acting shady and haven't infiltrated the SSG as much as anyone else has thought. The spies are really just busy being mysterious and doing their own thing and there's the fear that they're full of surviving Soviet moles turning the intelligence divisions into weapons against London.

American Forces: There's a small group of American soldiers (mostly USAF) who have no idea what happened to America and desperately want to find out. They're helping the SSG to curry the favor of the RAF or the Navy to get them on their side and convince them to reach out to North America and find out what happened to their families and their country.

BERB: A lot of the scientists (including the Professor) ran to London when the war started and managed to avoid the nuke. What they were responsible for became public knowledge and now everyone hates the BERB, turning the group into a scapegoat for the war and everything that went wrong. Their big goal is less "make people like us" again and more "take the Twisted Technology out of the hands of the military and study it again". That didn't go so well the first time but maybe this time they can figure out how to reverse things.

NEXT TIME: Chapter three, making characters. You may think that everything is wholesale copied from Cold War, but fortunately there are some changes so I don't have to just skip this part. And now, pictures!













Hostile V fucked around with this message at 05:53 on Aug 8, 2016

Kai Tave
Jul 2, 2012


Fallen Rib

FrostyPox posted:

Ah. I'm not too familiar with RPGs back then TBH since I had literally only played and was aware of Dungeons and Dragons as far as RPGs go and had basically just taken my first tentative baby steps into traditional gaming. Is that par for the course for circa 2000 RPGs? It seems really needlessly complex.

Oh you sweet summer child.

Even though D&D3E wouldn't be released until 2001, AD&D2E was still considered the big king daddy of TRPGs even though TSR was essentially imploding from within. Overly complicated, unnecessarily convoluted fantasy RPGs involving classes and alignments and poo poo were still considered peak elfgame technology by many even though you were beginning to see things like the World of Darkness or Feng Shui challenge these assumptions (or at the least pay lip service to challenging them). People have been trying to reinvent D&D's wheel practically forever. Sometimes they did it well enough that it managed to gain some traction...these are your Rolemasters and your Palladium Fantasies...but way, way more RPGs out there than you have ever heard of were sent out into the world buoyed by the promise of being D&D But Newer And Better Because My Elves Are Blue And I Have 15 Alignments Instead of Nine only to instantly sink into obscurity because, well, who the gently caress needs another D&D-alike when D&D exists? Bear in mind as well that this was back in the day before print-on-demand, digital RPG publishing, Kickstarter, any of that good stuff, which meant that to actually publish an RPG meant going to a for-real print publisher and commissioning a batch of books usually no smaller than 10,000 copies and hoping that you could get them sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

This sort of game is where the term "fantasy heartbreaker" comes from. Ron Edwards coined it in a 2002 essay about, well, how people keep trying to publish their fantasy RPGs when it's clear they've pretty much only ever played or even heard of D&D and a few knockoffs thereof. What makes them heartbreaking is the kernel of a good idea or two buried in 400 pages of extremely derivative class-and-race fantasy gaming with elves and magic and guys with swords.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Rand Brittain posted:

Yes, well, that's the worst part of Ascension, the fact that the game about ideology frequently works to made that ideology nothing but meaningless set dressing.

When I say that it's all true, I'm not talking about literal truth so much as the fact that nobody's mythology is ever bullshit they made up to justify what they want to do, and if they resemble things that people made up to justify sketchy things, well, it's still correct.
Historically, this seems like it was probably nearer to the case than our modern mental image of religion being bullshit made up out of whole cloth by priests one day who decided they wanted to milk the rubes. That doesn't mean it isn't in large part about rube-milking, of course, but people come up with self-congratulatory narratives to justify themselves without active malice all the time.

FrostyPox
Feb 8, 2012



Heh, well, at least now the people who want to make "Exactly like Dungeons and Dragons except my initiative system uses D6s" can publish their stuff more cheaply but browsing the shelves of the FLGS there's still a lot of people who think "Dungeons and Dragons EXCEPT" is still the new hotness.

Still, at least the option is there for the people who want it for some reason. I'll stick to WoD/CofD and the shitloads of non-D20/OGL/OSR whatever games out there. :shobon:

LatwPIAT
Jun 6, 2011

Do I need a title?

FrostyPox posted:

Heh, well, at least now the people who want to make "Exactly like Dungeons and Dragons except my initiative system uses D6s" can publish their stuff more cheaply but browsing the shelves of the FLGS there's still a lot of people who think "Dungeons and Dragons EXCEPT" is still the new hotness.

Still, at least the option is there for the people who want it for some reason.

D&D is so big that if you can actually make your "D&D EXCEPT" interesting you have appeal with the biggest submarket of the RPG scene. The problem is making your EXCEPT interesting.

potatocubed
Jul 26, 2012

*rathian noises*



You beat me to it!

But yeah, Cryptomancer looks all kinds of neat. I'm not a huge fan of the authorial voice but it's got enough cool stuff in what I've read so far that I'm willing to let it slide.

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

I'm a lovely person who deserves to be happy!


Zereth posted:

I only see it for truth/illusion. :confused:

For Disorder and Harmony, look that the three strands could go on either side of the other rune, creating a cage for disorder by but binding harmony to it. Look at the movement rune, all it would require would be a single stroke for all three sections of it to contain the stasis rune. Look at life, look how it could be bisected either lengthways or sideways by the death rune, but not stopped by it.



The Death of Umath

Okay, I gave a brief of how Glorantha began, but in truth even that is probably too complex, so we will start with the basic. The idea is that you will be playing in a world where mythological rules apply, not the rules of physics. The majority of games will take place in the "middle world" whose technological and societal basis is based in somewhere close to our Bronze or Early Iron age. The idea is that your characters will probably be part of organisations that are no larger than a couple of thousand people at maximum, not nation states like in D&D but clans and tribal associations. Although it possesses a great deal of backstory the best way of defining characters, runes and magic, don't run into the problems of "Proper Nouning" that you can get in Vampire and Werewolf. Because the world itself is vast you are encouraged to play with as many different ideas as you want, some easy examples are:

Members of a Lunar Association raiding into barbarian territory for artifacts and hidden knowledge.
Pious wizards trying to find a solution to the Kingdom of War.
Simple famers trying their best to survive in a newly reopened land.

The world is left somewhat undefined even though a heck of a lot of ink has been spilled about it because it is expected that Your Glorantha Will Vary (YGWV). This seems to be a problem for some people to work from, and I can understand why, it basically requires you to come up with a reason behind a great deal of things when you may have no context for it. One of the best examples is taken from the God Learners section of the Guide to Glorantha:

quote:

When the Raccoon Guardian of Tusunimmi Ford was skinned by a wizard, they moved Mr. Raccoon from Doctor Rock to the ford. When the Grand Vizier of the Soul Pearl (who ruled a notorious pirate fleet in Teleos) complained that the Two Righteous Golden Lion Dragons of the Mountain of Light were all that stood between him and a draught of the Divine Cup of Victory, eager magicians pleased their lord by catching and dismembering the metaphysical entities, removing them from the Spirit World entirely

Who are all these people? Who is Mister Raccoon and Doctor Rock? The truth is that they are whoever you need them to be, you are the one who is expected to take the vagueries of the text and make something awesome out of them. For instance, is Mr Raccoon one of the ancestors of one of your group? He may very well be, make something so that he is! The various different ways in which the world can be interpreted is one of the biggest things of the entire setting.

Inside Context Problems

The story I wrote up earlier? About the Golden age, Yelm and Umath? The write up I gave you is just one of perhaps three different readings of the same text. Is Yelm the villain? Is Umath? What if it's neither and they are both dicks? All of these potentials are held not just by people reading the stories, but by real people in the world itself. There is an entire civilization that favours Yelm as it's chief God. They are peaceful and civilised. They are also repressive and women fearing. There is another civilization who follows Umaths son, Orlanth. They are courageous and egalitarian. They are also violent and xenophobic. If you, or your players, chose to play one side or the other they could try and mitigate the excesses of either side, or just make your enemies seem worse by comparison. Because of this inbuilt contextual problem Glorantha often seems even more complicated than it already is.

We'll get on to this a bit more later, but the best examples of this are to be found in something called "The Gbaji Wars" where in two beings of phenominal powers fight it out to work out which of them is really the teller of lies. Or take the picture below. Below we see Ralzakark, the Unicorn demon leader of a chaos torn land blessing Ralzakark, who refuses to believe the other Ralzakark is Ralzakark. Next to them we have a completly concave man who is Ralzakark when he serves as emmisary to beyond a chaos blasted hellscape. The fact that this can make even the smallest bit of sense is both terrifying and interesting.


Ralzakark blesses Ralzakark while Ralzakark looks on

Josef bugman fucked around with this message at 11:22 on Aug 8, 2016

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

I'm a lovely person who deserves to be happy!


Rand Brittain posted:

My biggest problem with Glorantha is that it's all about mythology, and it takes that mythology more or less completely at face value. It rarely goes into an examination of how people pick myths that are convenient for them, or social hypocrisy, in a way that makes it all seem kind of false.

(Sometimes it kind of hints at looking deeper, like with the idea that maybe all the different Masks of Moonson are just a bunch of different guys claiming the name, but it rarely follows through.)

My second-biggest problem is that the people in charge of picking which books get written are a lot more interested in the Orlanthi than I am.

I think that it can do, let us take one of the Orlanthi heroes. His named is Jarankol. Instead of supporting what was most intelligent, backing up people to fight against the evil chaos god (potentially) he instead chose to go off and raid the wealthy lands of his neighbours. He was so good at it that he became a hero for it! He believed, truly, in Orlanth but he did not seem to help and instead used his magical might to enrich himself and his followers. To me that is pciking a particular myth as partial justification.

And yes, there is a lot more on the Orlanthi than there really needs to be. I think the worse places in this regard are Kralorela, a stupifying dull idea of what China was like during the Han dynasty, and Vormain, a Tokugawa Shogunate Japan in a bronze age setting. Every other area actually gets at least a bit more interest that those two.

Mors Rattus posted:

Well, one of the things is that the stories people tell in Glorantha become what is true. The stories and the truth of myth mutually inform each other.

That's really the thing the God-Learners started abuysing and taking advantage of in ways that are really quite fascinating but which started to break things because they were basically anthropologists loving with the building blocks of reality, but had all the cultural biases of, say, 1940s anthropology and incomplete understanding of anything they interacted with.

That said: yeah, the Orlanthi are clearly someone's favorites. Personally, I like the Praxians and Trolls.

This is also true, the myths and stories are part (and indeed the bedrock of) everyday reality. We'll get on to the God learners in a bit, but it is worringly true how much they are designed to tell players to "not gently caress around with myths too much or it'll start biting you in the rear end".

The Trolls are the second best covered, but yeah I'll be doing as much as I can on every people as we go along.

Covok posted:

Well, I think that has a lot to with the fact that the mythology of Glorantha is 100%, veritably true and you can even relive it for confirmation and reward. It's like the Guide to Glorantha says when trying to establish the world. I don't remember the exact quote but it's along the lines of "consider that, in a world where the gods are fact and the existence of the afterlife is 100%, then many would take death before dishonor since dishonor in front of their god is much worse than death, objectively" and stuff like that.

So, people could pick and choose in the individual society, but it'd be hard to hold constant, I'd feel.

It's worth noting I never read the guide more than a chapter in before I feel asleep so take that with a grain of salt.

To quote the guide:

quote:

These deities are palpably real, and the certainty of a life after death means that behavior is more important than survival for most people.

It's not too hard to hold only to myths that you "know" to be true, because almost all of the biggest gods have hundreds if not thousands of different aspects that allow you to be "dickhead" or "reasonably nice" whomever you worship. There is even an example of how Humakt, the death god, killed the entire world because he could not be stopped. This included men, women and children. There are also stories of Humakt dfending the innocent from the threat of undeath. They are both true at the same time, and so if you want to be a dick you will pick and choose the first one if you want to.

wiegieman posted:

Much of this comes from the fact that linear time is a recent invention,

Linear time is, by the usual measurement, only about 1600 years old by now.

Nessus posted:

Doesn't seem much different from Mage: The Ascension to me.

Except Glorantha has ducks, and ducks pay the bills.

I wouldn't know about this, as Mage has never been my wheelhouse, but I do appreciate the pun.

Nessus posted:

Historically, this seems like it was probably nearer to the case than our modern mental image of religion being bullshit made up out of whole cloth by priests one day who decided they wanted to milk the rubes. That doesn't mean it isn't in large part about rube-milking, of course, but people come up with self-congratulatory narratives to justify themselves without active malice all the time.

This too.

Zereth
Jul 8, 2003




Rand Brittain posted:

My biggest problem with Glorantha is that it's all about mythology, and it takes that mythology more or less completely at face value. It rarely goes into an examination of how people pick myths that are convenient for them, or social hypocrisy, in a way that makes it all seem kind of false.

(Sometimes it kind of hints at looking deeper, like with the idea that maybe all the different Masks of Moonson are just a bunch of different guys claiming the name, but it rarely follows through.)

My second-biggest problem is that the people in charge of picking which books get written are a lot more interested in the Orlanthi than I am.
I was sad that the Guide to Glorantha barely talked about the God-Learners at all.


Josef bugman posted:

For Disorder and Harmony, look that the three strands could go on either side of the other rune, creating a cage for disorder by but binding harmony to it. Look at the movement rune, all it would require would be a single stroke for all three sections of it to contain the stasis rune. Look at life, look how it could be bisected either lengthways or sideways by the death rune, but not stopped by it.
That's a rather different definition of "inside" than I was expecting.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


I thought the God-Learners were a giant middle finger to Joseph Campbell's idea of the Monomyth.

I mean, it's a game setting written by an anthropologist. I imagine he and the other writers had some axes to grind within their own profession.

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

I'm a lovely person who deserves to be happy!




We've been getting into some of the background stuff of Glorantha, as well as the more technical details of it, so let's try and roll it back to the smallest levels.

The basic unit in Glorantha is the family. This cane number anywhere from about 10 to 100 people. It is also the major building block for most societies. Most of the more "primitive" peoples tend to live in these sorts of communities solely. The next is the Clan. The clan is usually people who are all "related" back to an ancestor of some description. They may all be "related" and as such it is expected that no-one sleeps with each other, but they are not as close knit as families. Think of it like a large school. You sort of know everyone a little bit, even if you can't remember everyone's name. This is traditionally the basis of the more "settled" peoples of Glorantha, and in most parts of the world these may be the only people you see every day of the year.

The next step up is a Tribe. Tribes are made up of Clans, and are usually for defence, or for easy trading. They can sometimes number up to several thousand people. They are most common in the more "civilized" areas of the world and are traditionally somewhat fractious than the lower levels of orgnisation. In some places the Tribe is replaced with the City. The City is even more fractious, riven with internal disputes and foreignors, but it also usually bands together in times of need to ensure that there is nothing to threaten it. Most places will only go this high if there is an advantage to it.

The final stage is a bit fuzzy. Some would call it a "nation" but it is not like our idea of the nation state. Above tribes there are more likely agglomerations of tribal groups, ones that form both Kingdoms and (if particularly vast) empires. They are absolutely torn by discord most of the time. The big difference from our world is that, often, a nation is simply another step above a tribe, it doesn't neccesarily mean that you all swear alligeince to a particular flag, or that there isn't overlap between other nations. Borders, both physical, artistic and political are far more porous than ours with nations not being around for very great lengths of time in most cases.


From bottom to top:You, Your Family, Your Clan, Your Tribe, Your Kingdom
From top to bottom: How much you give a poo poo about these things

Of course, this is true in central Glorantha, where most of the people are Orlanthi, or influenced by them. The social units of the East are a little different. Here instead of close knit clans you also have kinship groups that are spread through different areas. They are closer to guilds that you are part of based on who your ancestor was. With the West you are more likely to be lumped into Caste restrictions, with the level's above more accurately described as "you, your family, your village/ Your local City, Your Kingdom". The division is important, because of the lack of kinship ties between village and city there is less of an urge for many people to fight and die for it. There are some advantages to the Western System though, which we can come to later. But in truth the average worker in the West will not care especially who is in charge at the city, or the kingdom but will know (in exquisite detail) the details of all the sheep going missing up on Old Elf Hill!

Now what does this mean? Well it gives you ample opportunity to have very weird stuff going on in your heroes back garden. The average person will probably not go beyond their clan or family grouping on a day to day basis, they contain the basic mythological and social unit of everything. But it also gives you options for larger changes, as the instability inherent in these sorts of things mean that you can usually make a nation if you are powerful enough. Indeed many kingdoms are founded by magically powerful peoples who just decide to band people together at a certain level.



Now, militarily your basic unit is again the family. There are more than likely a few people in your family who can fight reasonably well if they are not looking after the farm or hunting. So they form the traditional "defend the farmstead" sort of warrior. They can fight, they have the tools, but are not especially good at it and their real skills lie elsewhere. The Clan on the other hand can usually rely upon some of it's members to be really good at fighting. And not just fighting but killing. They are expected to have other people do some of the farming for them so that they con focus on martial actions. Because they can do that they are, usually, expected to fight better on the field than their lower down the ladder friends. The advantage of Tribes is that they should be able to form even more. But here is where it can start getting tricky. You see once you reach tribal stage it becomes a bit harder to simply pull people from their jobs and expect them to fight, because they need to keep farming or they will starve. Unless the tribe (or city) can properly recompense them the average soldier will be none too keen to go into battle if it causes him to come home to barren fields. Then with Kingdoms and Empires you encounter the same problem but from the proffesionals as well. They don't want to waste time fighting here for no immediate reward when they could be acquiring more money and land back closer to home. As for the common soldier, he knows that if he goes away from the farm he's going to come back with nothing, so why fight for you in the first place?

So, how do you get around this? Some places make sure to try and cultivate a specific royal army, though this usually requires a very competent hand. Some people simply rely on the kingdoms army through oaths of service, which given we are in a magical world can be enforced by dreadful spirit guardians. Some simply only coalsce out of a genuine immediate need. Most of the time though people stay in their clans, and do not get too involved in the ways of the world. Of course, it is expected that you definetly can and should get involved in everything.

MAGIC


Now instead of talking at length about what magic is in Glorantha, lets talk the basics. Functionally everything is at least slightly magic, the way you till the soil with a plow needs rituals in order for it to work at it's best. The sheep need to be calmed with a song before they can be safely sheered. The flax needs some sort of looking after if it is going to be woven correctly, etc. Functionally that means little more than what people would do nowadays when coming into work, little rituals that set you up for the day. Sometimes they are larger rituals designed to bring better blessings, but for the most part it is kept small scale. With one exception. Every year there are two weeks at the very end in which people need to revive the entire planet. Everyone on Glorantha takes part in some small way in a cosmic rebirth of the planet, to ensure that stuff grows in the ground, Rocks continue to fall downhill and the cosmos does not start making GBS threads out tentacle demons. In clans this is easy, you just get everyone together. In cities it can be a tad harder, as not everyone keeps the same faith, but for the most part people take part in it to try and ensure the world does not collapse.

This renewal is the only time most people will interact to the world before Time. You see, behind the curtain of the physical world is the unchanging "Before World" which contains all of the Gods, all of the stories and all of their permitations all at once. This obviously can't exist inside linear time, and so it doesn't, it lies underneath it. The same actions taken back then repeat now and allow people to strengthen themselves and the world by doing them. The magical nature allows people to renew the world, just as each little actions during the every day helps to knit it together. The problem is that it is not as simple as "put prayer in, get good stuff out". There are tonnes of people praying for wildly different, and even contradictory, things all at once. This lack of input is what helps make Glorantha "Mythic" and not Physics.

Doresh
Jan 7, 2015


chiasaur11 posted:

I'm pretty sure that a mech can use a bow.

Of course, you might need to be an expert doctor/engineer/martial artist to pull it off, but the point stands.

BattleTech doesn't take kindly to your silly excuses for "Real" Robots. All a 'Mech can do with his hands is whack people with trees and make rude gestures :colbert:

Halloween Jack posted:

It reminds me of nothing so much as Imagine, a game that came out years ago and got pilloried by Darren MacLennan (and maybe Jason Sartin) in one of the long-form mocking reviews they did for RPGnet, sort of a spiritual predecessor to this thread.

Imagine had all this dreamy, trippy ad copy saying stuff like "Are you tired of games that don't let you do stuff? Welcome to Imagine, the game where you can do anything and the only limit is your imagination!" It was a high-fantasy D&D heartbreaker with elves and dwarves and halflings and poo poo.

I always get a laugh out of these "You can do anything! Your only limits are your imagination!" games that then go "Now pick one of these Not-D&D classes. Now have fun with level 1, where you can barely do anything!". Bonus points if most of the character generation is randomized.

Mr. Maltose posted:

All myths are true. They are not all true at the same time or all places. Because they predate linear time and discrete locality.

Schrödinger's Mythology.

Doresh fucked around with this message at 16:27 on Aug 8, 2016

Spiderfist Island
Feb 19, 2011


Regarding the tension between the two points of Glorantha's mythology (that all mythologies are true, and that there were still major events that happened before Time):

The way I've seen it explained is that because of the lack of causality in the God-Time, everything that could happen, happened, with every combination of actors conceivable involved in those happenings. But, nothing that happened really mattered until Chaos grew to such a strength that things started to happen permanently (as Chaos is first and foremost a force of entropy among its other terrible aspects), which is why all cultures share some variant stories of the destruction of the Spike, the fall of the Cosmic Court/Delusions of the Erasanchulas, the end of the God Time Moon, or the Great Darkness/Ice Age. In the Great Compromise/5th Action of Malkion/etc., Time itself was partially created out of a defeated aspect of pure Chaos, so the world as Gloranthans know it is separated from the Otherworlds by a permanent, low level presence of the things you do mattering baked into the mortal world. So even absent the influence of mortals hero-questing, some things in God Time are much, much more 'historical' or ordered into a mythic cycle than others because of the latent effects of encroaching Chaos back then and their massive repercussions. Or maybe not.

Either way, only idiot barbarians descended from wild beasts would believe the pretensions of the wayward Erasanchulas, and sell their immortal souls to 'gods' that can be moulded and compelled by the pure rationalism of Sorcery. Now if you excuse me, I have to keep to my Zzaburi caste restrictions and wear a parka in tropical weather while shouting from my tower about the virtues of the VolCel lifestyle.

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




You know, they may be jerks, but at least the Vadeli don't have to go through all the usual bullshit for their immortality.

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

I'm a lovely person who deserves to be happy!


wiegieman posted:

You know, they may be jerks, but at least the Vadeli don't have to go through all the usual bullshit for their immortality.

Their bullshit immortality is worse though. The Brinithi are cheerfully amoral. The Vadelli are actively Immoral.

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




Josef bugman posted:

Their bullshit immortality is worse though. The Brinithi are cheerfully amoral. The Vadelli are actively Immoral.

Not only that, but Immorality is their caste requirement. They become immortal and more powerful by being evil wizards.

For those who don't know what the heck we're talking about, the western Brithini culture is divided into four castes, and following the strictures of their caste (brown workers, red fighters, yellow rulers, blue wizards) makes them immortal. The Vadeli are the descendants of Vadel, the evil brother of the original founders of Brithos, and regardless of their color (which they mostly ignore) they get immortality from "being like Vadel". The Vadeli have messed with most cultures in the world at some point or another, especially the ones on islands or coasts, and maintain a thriving merchant empire and a million evil schemes.

As far as anyone knows, all the blue Vadeli are dead now. The other people of the world were very thorough.

Adnachiel
Oct 21, 2012




Part 2: The Perfect Place to Hide Your Keys

This book is about Lucita de Aragon. Lucita is in Washington D.C. because she has business with a group of vampires called the Council of Ragnarok. After getting a dirty look from a hooker that she considers loving, she comes across a protest in front of a three-story sex store that reminds her of the Inquisition.

quote:

The sight of these religious zealots protesting the presence of hookers, sex shops and X-rated video parlors revived old memories of other times, other "righteous" causes espoused by those who deemed themselves morally pure. The hair rose on the back of her neck, and a shudder undulated up her spine. Even centuries later, she could still remember the cries of the tortured, Kindred and kine alike, when they were put to the Inquisitor's rack.

One of the protesters approaches her, mistaking her for a prostitute. She dominates him into going into an alley with her with the promise that she will “suck [his] brain right out the end of his dick”. Once there, she gets into a bout with the Beast about whether or not he's worth it. Eventually, she just knocks him out, drinks, and makes it look like he was jacking off.

quote:

The zealot flung the pamphlet in her face. "Whore, don't you know you're damned?"

"rear end in a top hat, don't you know you're hosed?"

She smiled and rammed her knee into the young man's belly, then, when he doubled over, brought the same knee up between his eyes. He went limp and flopped to the ground.

It turns out the Council of Ragnarok is meeting within the “Pleasure Arcade”, the same complex that all of the sex shops are in. (It’s on K Street across from McPherson Park, if you’re curious. According to the book, the area had been undergoing a “general smutting-down” over the past few years. I’m not from the D.C. area. So I don’t know if that’s an actual thing that happened or if it’s a contrivance created for the book. Probably the latter.) So she goes around the side and is let into what is very obviously a Toreador’s haven. One that is, naturally, obsessed with sex.

quote:

At one end, pink-lit water poured from the penis of a plump creature that resembled the product of a mating between a cherub and a troll.

It’s symbolic!

I think that cherub-troll needs to be checked for kidney and/or bladder problems. Also, outside of a Nosferatu, I can’t think of a more unerotic centerpiece for a fountain.

quote:

Of more interest to Lucita than the artwork, however, were the slaves who waited like tamed beasts at intervals along the wall. Living spigots. Gorgeous men and exotic women, each one outfitted in some lavish or quixotic costume -- Spartacus, Marie Antoinette, Helen of Troy.

One of the slaves, in particular, caught her eye. Not because this woman was more alluring than the rest - in truth, she wasn't to Lucita's taste at all -- but because her sleek, jet-black hair, tanning-booth-bronzed skin and artfully plucked black eyebrows were strangely familiar. Less tarted-up than the others, she wore a long black velvet skirt slit up the side and a silver satin blouse. An opal choker, pale against her dark skin, circled her neck. Whatever vague recollections the woman stirred in her, however, Lucita was sure it had nothing to do with Kindred unlife and politics. Still, she was convinced she had seen this woman before.

The Council of Ragnarok is roughly a dozen local vampires who have come together to overthrow the current prince of D.C., Marcus Vitel. The only two that Lucita knows personally are Bjorn Garinson, a Viking-looking dude with a poo poo ton of piercings that leads the group, and Velvet, who is not Velvet Velour from Bloodlines and likes tight leather pants and “gently caress me pumps”.

quote:

she recognized [them] from an earlier visit to that bastion of hedonistic excess, the nightclub Purgatory in Adams-Morgan.

These are characters from D.C. by Night. Garinson is or was the Brujah Primogen for D.C. (The book says he’s “fiercely anti-primogen”.) Vitel’s downfall is detailed in the Clan Novels, but I couldn’t tell you anything about that because I haven’t read them. But none of that matters because these characters pretty much disappear after this chapter. So you can forget that I said that.

Lucita is looking for Jan Pieterzoon, the group’s funder and her former lover. Pieterzoon paid her to interrogate and assassinate an art dealer and mortal associate of Vitel’s named Enrique Torres. But Pieterzoon’s sudden disappearance and rumors that the Sabbat are in town and in cahoots with Vitel have made the council nervous about assassinating anyone outright. Lucita refuses to abandon the job, since she hasn’t received the final payment yet.

After mentioning offhandedly that Vitel likes to bone his daughters on top of the Washington Monument, the council gets uppity with Lucita. She in turn accuses them of being cowards. Another member of the group, a “giraffe-like” Giovanni named Noah, notes that New York City, where Lucita and Pieterzoon made the deal, is under the influence of the Black Hand and suggests that Lucita may have betrayed Pieterzoon to them. Lucita scoffs at the idea, saying that her loyalty is only to herself and that she has never killed any of her employers.

A nameless vampire comes in late to show that there’s a commotion going on outside between the protesters and the cops. Garinson tells everyone to ignore it.

quote:

"Mobs of Christians is probably violating the hookers," laughed a stylishly dressed Ventrue. "We should go help."

"Shut up; we aren't finished here!" snapped Garinson.

In an actual porn, they would have adjourned the meeting and gone right outside for a pre-rebellion celebratory feast and gently caress.

The slave girl comes up and whispers something to Garinson, and it’s here that Lucita finally realizes who she is: Senator Cordelia Waylan Rosenthal. Cordelia claims that she can pull some strings with Immigration and get Torres shipped back to Spain. Lucita still insists that the hit is not off and that the council ain’t the boss of her.

Just as Garinson gets ready to tear into Lucita for being an rear end in a top hat, everyone realizes that the protesters have set the building on fire! While all of the nameless background characters frenzy, the important characters follow Garinson to the building’s escape route into the sewers. The building is built over them specifically for this reason. At this point, Cordelia’s skirt changes from a sleek, silted on the side one to a cumbersome, voluminous number with a petticoat that prevents her from easily going through doors.

quote:

The other Kindred followed [Bjorn's] example and after that, the slaves, with the exception of Cordelia Rosenthal. She had difficulty fitting herself into the opening, but seemed unwilling to remove the voluminous velvet skirt that was hindering her descent.

The group fumbles around in the building for a while until they come across a locked gate leading to the sewers. It’s at this point that Taylor realized that she had gone seven paragraphs without mentioning anything sex related, so this wonderfully insane thing happens.

quote:

"It's all right, I can open it." So saying, Garinson unzipped his fly and pulled out a flaccid but hefty penis, the underside of which was weighted down with piercings. He now unclipped a tiny key from a ring midway along his cockshaft and used it to unlock the door.

Yes, Bjorn Garinson, the Brujah Primogen of Washington D.C., keeps his key ring on his dick.

That is the best part of this book to me. It is just so ridiculous and hilarious.

I guess his reasoning is similar to swoozie’s when he and some of his friends cheated in high school: no one’s going to check your no-no place for the goods. Though considering that this takes place in the Porno Dimension, a place where nearly everyone and everything wants to touch dicks, that tactic doesn’t really work.

After running for a bit, Cordelia gets tired of fumbling around with her skirts and pulls out a cigarette lighter and a drinking flask. She calmly and flatly chides Bjorn for not knowing “true power” and explains that “it” told her that the riot was going to happen, along with how to kill vampires.

The way to kill vampires, as she then demonstrates, is to douse yourself with a drinking flask’s worth of gasoline, set yourself on fire, and run through them.

quote:

Pinwheeling her arms, the woman made of fire charged the cringing Kindred. Her eyes gleamed with a bizarre, almost lust-struck radiance. Whatever madness gripped her apparently made her impervious to pain, for even as the skin charred on her bones, she was laughing, screeching, capering like a crazed jester as the Kindred fled before her.

In-between killing some vamps, including Noah the Giraffe, and descriptions of how gross she looks from being burned alive, Cordelia, still calm, lifts her hands to the ceiling and proclaims her love for her master.

quote:

"My lord," she croaked through her scorched throat, "my lord, I do this for you. For love of you, my master!" Her dying eyes shone. Agony mixed with an unholy radiance.

Lucita quickly deduces that Cordelia is being buffed up by a supernatural benefactor, because people on fire don’t act like that. Then she draws her scimitar and throws it at Cordelia’s neck, decapitating her just as Cordelia turns to charge at her.

She picks up her weapon and continues on alone. A Nosferatu reveals himself and compliments Lucita on her sword skills.

quote:

"Quite a spectacle! It's been centuries since I've watched the undead burn, and it's no less ghastly now than it was then. But you, you're the best I've seen with bladed weapons since I made my haven beneath the mountains of North Africa. Quite resourceful. Still, if you want to get out of here without having to swim through poo poo up to your ears, you'd better follow me."

That is Erasmus Bonhomme. He’s so ugly that Lucita has a physical reaction of disgust when she sees him. But you don’t have to take my word or Taylor’s for it, because he’s featured in the first of 16 pictures drawn by Bolton for this book. As you probably expected, every last one of them is not safe for work.

:nws:http://imgur.com/dKqN91P:nws:

I actually went and looked up medieval hair removal methods because of this picture. (Lucita, if you don’t know, was embraced in the 1190s.) I’m certain the explanation for the shaved look is “it’s porn”, but I was curious anyway. I’m going to stop talking about this now because it’s a weird train of thought.

Also, Erasmus’ look is not what I imagine when I read…

quote:

His face looked like a ball of wet clay that had been dropped on its side, squashing half his features into unsightly lumps and wattles.

After doing the stereotypical “does my ugly rear end bother you? I’m not touching you” Nos spiel, Erasmus mentions through some small talk that he’s “gainfully employed in the mental health profession” and that the D.C. brood used to have a drier haven underneath a church, which they got evicted from by a hunter. He then offers to show Lucita the way out, which she accepts. Before they head off, he gives her a helpful tidbit/opinion: Whenever awful, violent poo poo goes down in Washington, “you’ll usually find a black hand in the picture”.

Adnachiel fucked around with this message at 01:01 on Aug 9, 2016

SirPhoebos
Dec 10, 2007

Horned Rat-Sempai Noticed Me! :swoon:


I got to thank Rocket V for his write up of Rocket Age. I played a scenario at GenCon where I was an Ionite Gadgeteer as portrayed by Sid Melton.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


I didn't think I could actually hate 90s White Wolf more.

They're impressive, in their own way.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.



SirPhoebos posted:

I got to thank Rocket V for his write up of Rocket Age. I played a scenario at GenCon where I was an Ionite Gadgeteer as portrayed by Sid Melton.
Yooo, that's awesome and that sounds fun.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


While at GenCon I got to talk to Robin Laws about the origins of GURPS Fantasy II: Mad Lands. Apparently it was originally a game he ran using a homebrew system that would be a predecessor to HeroQuest (the Glorantha game, not Milton Bradley) that he had no intention of putting over to a publisher, but he did write it up for Alarums and Excursions (the RPG APA, not the play). Apparently Steve Jackson read up about it and liked it so much he approached Laws about doing it as a GURPS book, but Robin said he never actually used GURPS for it. He agreed that Hillfolk was probably a good system for it but said he never had any trouble running it with a more conventional system.

Evil Mastermind posted:

Maybe they mean "lush" like "we're drunk off our asses".

If I drank I'm certain that press release could drive me to it.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.





CROSSROADS: A look at the past and the future

I had to take a bit of time to step back from Brave New World, clear my head and forget some of it before I finished the whole shebang. We’re officially done! Hooray! If you want to just check out, go ahead. This is all about what could have been and thoughts about what did happen.

The Death of Brave New World

It’s hard to find anything about what happened to the game, why it got cancelled. This whole exercise has been a good crash course in how to use the Wayback machine (and how there are shortcomings with records of the early 2000s). It’s hard to find anything from Pinnacle or AEG about Brave New World. What I could find is that Covenant came out around March 2001 and the AEG website mentions Brave New World somewhat nominally until around 2003. It doesn’t really get any presence compared to Legends of the Five Rings and 7th Sea; you have to dig around a little to find out about the game. But that’s it, after 2003. That’s the last you see of Brave New World in any official form of recognition.

On the other side of things, Forbeck’s site isn’t really too put together until 2003, ish. There’s also not much of an explanation for what happened (but it is a good source for information). It turns out there actually was a Deltatimes.com and that’s ill-maintained and captured as well. So I guess the big question is what happened to Brave New World?

Well I think it’s pretty obvious it didn’t sell well. BNW was with Pinnacle up through Delta Prime and let’s be frank: I can’t call the life of this product a rollercoaster ride, but the Bargainers book is definitely where everything starts to fall apart. It’s telling that I personally consider the core rulebook to be the best of the whole series and I say that with gritted teeth. I can find faults with the first book (and I did) but the first book didn’t have Evil Genius Ronald Reagan, the Unabomber, weird religious metaplot and most offensively copiously useless Delta powers. And these things only get worse and only get more stupid as the AEG releases go on.

It’s pretty abundant that AEG didn’t give a poo poo about quality control. I can’t find any announcements about the acquisition but it’s also telling I can’t find anything about the cancellation of the line. AEG has many irons in many fires and knowing what I know about 7th Sea they’re more than willing to just let the developers do their own thing. It’s clear in BNW too, with the awful premade missions and rote repetition of everything and Forbeck just following his own interests. But at the end of the day, the product didn’t sell and it got cut three books short.

I don’t have to ask why it didn’t sell. The two biggest offenders are egregious 90s metaplot and the lack of versatility hindered by the metaplot. Brave New World has a lack of conversation about it compared to all other superhero games because players had something to talk about for Aberrant or Herosystem or any other superhero RPG. And let’s not forget, the majority of the powers are just crap and the system makes them be crap. You can’t ever be better than you already are outside of buying tricks. If they ever did implement the rules to become Alphas, you would have been underwhelmed. Officially, making an Alpha is just giving the Delta 3-5 more powers. So consider that the following counts as a loving Alpha despite being the worst combination (maybe, this is just a personal opinion): a Bargainer/Translator/Sneak/Genius/Ace/Hacker.

What Could Have Been

Before we talk about Crossroads, we have to talk about the further reveals of the metaplot. And in order to talk about that, we have to talk about a lot of hot, sweaty sex in the BC era.

Once upon a time the gods were real and they liked loving their worshippers and they were legitimately jerks. Zeus really was a shapeshifter who put his dick in everything, Coyote really was a trickster supreme, so was Anansi and there were also dragons and draculas. But get ready to have the script flipped: they were not actual gods. The Omegas were from universes where shooting energy blasts and smuggling things in your chest are a common fact of existence. They were not necessarily well liked in their own dimensions and Brave New Earth ended up becoming a place to lay low, set yourself up as a god and gently caress all the locals you want. Because they were so powerful, they Torg’d it up on Brave New Earth, being in full control of their powers in spite of BNE’s limitations (no magic, no superpowers).

This had two problems. First, the power was hereditary and passed on through genetics. The children of the Omegas were demigods, their children had powers, etc. Enough people had super-powered kids to permanently influence the human gene pool. Second, the fabric of BNE literally couldn’t handle a bunch of Omegas Torgin’ it up and started to tear and corrode. The Omegas didn’t care. The Multiversal Police did. The Multiversal Police started gradually killing/deporting the Omegas from BNE, leaving a weird genetic trait in mankind’s DNA and the opportunity for people to get superpowers if their genetics ran pure enough.

As Leviathan: the Tempest shows, this is not a stable way for people of power to discover their true heritage. Outside of the occasional hero of legend, life continues as per normal until the 20th century. Around then is when the unpatched holes in time and space caused by the Omegas started to get bigger. And from there come the first Bargainers. The Bargainers only existed because their power is pretty simple: talk to creatures from another dimension. But the exploration of their powers and Houdini’s rules lead to demons putting their hands through the holes, which makes the tears wider. When the tears get wide enough, Peter Payne becomes the Silver Ghost and the other Deltas start existing because reality is compromised enough to allow Wonderbolt and Rough Rider to exist.

Too many Deltas are an issue, but the universe can survive and function. Unfortunately, Alphas have a harder strain and make things worse. Sparky’s transformation to Superior sunders the universe more and every Alpha after contributes to the unraveling of BNE’s dimensional fortitude. The Multiversal Police realized that the work wasn’t done, but they also didn’t want to invade a backwater dimension and they didn’t have the same span of time like dealing with the Omegas. So they took another choice and contacted JFK (aka Façade) and gave him a machine that would banish all of the Alphas when activated. Overjoyed that now he has a way to get rid of Superior to become Super President For Life, JFK gives the machine to his pet Gadgeteer who gets the machine (in the form of a doomsday device) to Evil Unlimited who get the doomsday device to the Devastator.

Chicago was sent to an artificially built dimension, created by the Multiversal Police and the other Omegas who aren’t dick-swinging jerks. The Deltas and Alphas and regular citizens of Chicago are trapped there, good and evil alike. The main reason why there’s trouble becoming an Alpha in the first nine books is because there’s a lingering net over BNE that automatically snatches up a new Alpha and plops them into the prison. They’ve been trapped since 1976 and surviving but unable to escape.

Enter Crossroads.

In the remaining books of Brave New World, Superior would return to BNE alone, left in a coma as his body healed from the trip. The players would retrace his footsteps and find out that Chicago was still intact, just trapped in such a way that the city can’t be returned to BNE without destroying Crescent City. The main goal, ultimately, would be a way to create some kind of gate that goes far across dimensions. This “FarGate” would allow the people of the prison dimension to go between dimensions, but it would attract the attention of the Multiversal Police and the Omegas. Façade’s impersonation of JFK would have been revealed, Truth would have been fully rescued from Delta Prime and probably Patriot would have become a public figure again.

The final book of Brave New World would have been a direct tie-in to the follow-up series Crossroads. Crossroads would have been a separate game line and series about players exploring alternate dimensions to stay one step ahead of the Omegas and Multiversal Police to secure the safety of BNE and Chicago.

This would have been an interesting idea, to say the least. That’s a polite way to phrase it, but it’s the truth. There’s no doubt in my mind there wouldn’t have been at least a wink towards Deadlands, but generally I don’t know if it would have been particularly good. Multidimensional travel mixed with 90s metaplot, plot important NPCs and this somewhat janky system would not have been a good pill to swallow. But we’ll never know; Crossroads exists just as an idea in Matt Forbeck’s head. This isn’t including the fact that he wrote everything with the mindset of “there are two sides to every story”. This is best exemplified by the existence of the Delta Prime and Defiance books. He admits in a Q&A that Bargainers might have the wrong idea or the Covenant might, so who’s to say that the Multiversal Police don’t have their own story to tell? Did they do everything out of a sense to do good things, are they in the right or should you question them? So there likely would have been a MP sourcebook as well.

But this is something that never happened.

The Future of Brave New World

Brave New World, as far as I can see, is dead. Matt Forbeck ended up writing three books a few years ago that continued the story and worked through the plots of the core book to later. There was also a short film or trailer that came out. But aside from that, I don’t know what he has planned but I honestly don’t expect much. Brave New World was a passion/pet project for him, a story he really wanted to tell that he poured a lot of time and effort into, but it wasn’t the only thing he worked on. He has other projects (licensed books, freelancing) and he goes to conventions (he was recently at GenCon and apparently goes to almost every GenCon). I sincerely don’t know if he’d ever pick it back up again, but I doubt it. It feels like writing those books was his way of finishing the whole thing on his own terms.

On a related note, I will not be reading the Brave New World novels. They’re very short and I skimmed them for some interesting plot details that might have been included in later game books (Patriot’s wife gets free from the prison dimension, it turns out that Superior was actually The Devastator with a rebuilt body from becoming an Omega) but here’s my main reason to leave those books alone: I personally feel like they’re apocrypha. There was a ten year gap between the books and the game line and I feel like they’re too far removed because of the gap. Same author, same universe, sure. But it just doesn’t feel right to cover them here because I came to cover these books alone.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Word of advice: do not shotgun books like these back to back to back. You will hate the product, you will hate yourself and the flaws will be wildly apparent. Never bite off more than you can chew.

I did have fun covering these, and I did have fun with the comments. I appreciate you all in the thread for talking about historical and cultural errors and for giving me your two cents. But I did burn out hard and this was a pretty good teaching experience for how to continue with these in the future.

In the long run, I think I’m going to remember Brave New World. I’m mostly going to remember it as one of those things that never lived up to your mental expectations. It’s like I said in the first post: there wasn’t much to find about this book and I had a mental image of it from what I could glean until I found the books. It was a bit disheartening. Still, thanks for reading and tagging along. We’re finally done.

THE END

Young Freud
Nov 25, 2006



Adnachiel posted:

It turns out the Council of Ragnarok is meeting within the “Pleasure Arcade”, the same complex that all of the sex shops are in. (It’s on K Street across from McPherson Park, if you’re curious. According to the book, the area had been undergoing a “general smutting-down” over the past few years. I’m not from the D.C. area. So I don’t know if that’s an actual thing that happened or if it’s a contrivance created for the book. Probably the latter.) So she goes around the side and is let into what is very obviously a Toreador’s haven. One that is, naturally, obsessed with sex.

I'm not sure when it was written, but late-'80s, early-'90s K Street apparently was like New York's Time Square, pre-Giuliani. There were sex shops and prostitutes within sight of the FBI building and drug dealers making deals in the middle of McPherson Square. Things must have changed by the mid-'90s because, by 1995, K Street had become synonymous with lobbyists because of Grover Norquist's, Tom Delay's, and Jack Abramoff's K Street Project.


Hostile V posted:



CROSSROADS: A look at the past and the future

I think that the idea of the Omegas and their offspring corrupting reality is something that should have happened earlier and without the creation of the Multiversal Police. Like, the more superheroes are in an area, reality being warping and breaking down, leading to more supers need to fight stuff coming through or the disasters it creates. And you could even have normal people who learn how to manipulate the reality tears and what not, being magicians or scientists or whatever, who aren't genetically-gifted with the Omega gene or whatnot, just smart and inquisitive. Everything about BNW seems like wasted potential.

BinaryDoubts
Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.



Congratulations for reaching the end of your progressively-more-awful journey. Really enjoyed your whole BNW series.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


Congratulations on the finish.

Brave New World just feels like Forbeck was so focused on being clever and adding twists that he forgot to make a really compelling game. It definitely feels like something that would have been better as novels in the first place; it just doesn't seem a really fun world to play in or a really fun game to play with. Matryoshka doll plots are better for fiction, IMO. As an RPG they just don't work real well, especially when spread across an entire game line where even the GM isn't privy to what the gently caress is going on.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder
2014-2018



To me, all BNW reads like is that it was all made up as he went along, with no plan at all.

Adnachiel
Oct 21, 2012


Young Freud posted:

I'm not sure when it was written, but late-'80s, early-'90s K Street apparently was like New York's Time Square, pre-Giuliani. There were sex shops and prostitutes within sight of the FBI building and drug dealers making deals in the middle of McPherson Square. Things must have changed by the mid-'90s because, by 1995, K Street had become synonymous with lobbyists because of Grover Norquist's, Tom Delay's, and Jack Abramoff's K Street Project.

EH (and the Clan Novels, which it seems to take place alongside of) was released in '99. So that was well underway at that point.

Josef bugman
Nov 17, 2011

I'm a lovely person who deserves to be happy!



Congratulations on finishing! If it helps BNW did sound like a comic universe. Just going into way too much complexity about random crap!

Kai Tave
Jul 2, 2012


Fallen Rib

Alien Rope Burn posted:

It definitely feels like something that would have been better as novels in the first place; it just doesn't seem a really fun world to play in or a really fun game to play with.

On the contrary, I think it would have sucked no matter what form of media Forbeck had tried to shove it into because once you lay the whole thing out it's basically on par with terrible fanfiction. None of it hangs together, it's just a mishmash of whatever Forbeck thought sounded cool at the moment and in it goes. Evil JFK? Who's also a shapeshifting imposter? Superheroes, only they're actually all the great-great-etc-grandkids of multiversal squatters? Zombies and merpeople and vampires and Catholic superpowered monster hunters and duels in the street and Bargainers and and and

Like okay, the actual western superhero comic book universes that everyone making games like this are drawing inspiration from are pretty fuckin weird and full of random dumb crap that someone stuck in there one time and then it winds up ingrained into everything because these fictional settings are the equivalent of a hoarder never throwing anything out. But the stronger examples of stories people manage to tell in those universes frequently know where they're going from the outset and also ignore everything else that isn't relevant or would actively detract from what they're trying to say. Nothing in BNW is curated even a little bit, I guess for reasons that are at least somewhat understandable because it's an RPG meant to be played and not a story meant to be read, but at the same time focus can help make games stronger as well.

And then there's just a bunch of dumb crap like the Unabomber and the Yellow Journalist aka "this totally isn't racist, and now here's my character to tell you in his own words how totally not racist this is." And that's when you realize that, no, Brave New World just kinda sucks period.

Tasoth
Dec 12, 2011


So reading how Hot War starts really makes me want to believe that A|State has connections to some of the ideas in Cold City/Hot War. I need to finish my Armageddon review so I can do A|State, but the short of it is A|State history starts with a rain of fire from the sky that flattened everything and murdered many, many people. All knowledge of what came before aside from there being a before was destroyed. The City itself is stuck in some kind of wasteland and is surrounded by an invisible 'If a human crosses this boundary, they're ash and dust and weee bitty scorch mark' boundary. There's also places and things that are reality warping and feel like Alternatives and Incursors.

So yeah, you could easily run some linked games.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.



There's not a stated connection but I could believe it is. However, I would say that the biggest argument about A|State isn't connected is how different both games feel. The writing, the tone, the content, they feel like wildly different narrators and worlds and creators. Hot War does a good job of continuing Cold City but A|State feels nothing like either of them, it's fascinating. Hot War feeds you locations, A|State casually paints a picture of The City in a bit of an oh poo poo way. It took me a minute to realize that the insignia of the game is the canal map of The City. Really I'm just playing devil's advocate as I'm ifnding myself liking both (though reading A|State is a lot harder because of how it's wrapped in the way it shows the world).

chiasaur11
Oct 22, 2012





Doresh posted:

BattleTech doesn't take kindly to your silly excuses for "Real" Robots. All a 'Mech can do with his hands is whack people with trees and make rude gestures :colbert:


I'm pretty sure science will show you that G Gundam has the realest robots.

I'd like to see one of your fancy "'Mechs" ride a horse back to Earth from space after killing the devil with the power of love!

BinaryDoubts
Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.



Swords, sorcery, and infosec... let's read Cryptomancer! (Part 2)

A note on art - the book has some very nice full-page B&W sketches at the start of every chapter (all by Philipp Kruse), but that's it for art, aside from some diagrams that I'll be posting later. Since there's so little art in the book, I don't feel great about reposting it here. Apologies for the ol' Wall-Of-Text going forward. Anyway, let's find out how the hell internet hacking and fantasy pastiche fits together!

Setting Overview
The first sentence of this chapter doesn't fill me with confidence, given that it directly calls out the setting as being "bog standard" in many ways. They explain that it's a specific design choice, the idea being that players can feel comfortable with the background stuff so they can focus on the hacking/encryption/intrigue that's been sprinkled on top of Tolkein's grave like so much fairy dust. I'm not totally sold on this, and frankly the author doesn't seem to be either - there's more than a handful of references to the setting being, like they said above "bog standard" or "Tolkeinesque". If the author seems bored by his own setting, than maybe it's a sign that it's in need of a little more of a shakeup than "elves, but with Internet."

The setting is divided into two eras: the Mythic Age, and the Modern Age. During the Mythic age, things went pretty much like you'd expect: in the author's words, it's when the setting "conformed to fantasy genre tropes." Elves were elves, men were men, and there were plenty of dragons to go around. They mention that the history of the Mythic Age has been rewritten and argued over so many times that's impossible to know what's true any more, which rather conveniently saves them having to spend more than a paragraph talking about the Mythic Age. Regardless, the time of myths ended with the advent of the shards (Worm fans, take a drink - we're gonna be seeing that word a lot).

I'll let the author describe what the Modern age is like:

Cryptomancer posted:

The past is complicated, but not as complicated as the present, also known as the Modern Age. Things are considerably less epic and more existential than they used to be. The dwarves have become Medici-like merchants, the elves have become expansionist industrialists, and the humans struggle to maintain decaying feudal and caste systems in an era of information and social networks. The advent of the Shardscape, the magical equivalent of the real world’s Internet, has been absolutely disruptive to society. Technology, society, and identity are transforming much faster than the medieval mindsets of this game world can comfortably manage.
The modern world of Cryptomancer is divided in three: Subterra, the realm of the Dwarves, Sphere, the realm of the humans, and Sylvetica, the realm of the... well, you can guess. Subterra is a megalithic dungeon-world, a vast network of tunnels and cities split by winding chasms and rivers of lava. Sylvetica is a "boundless prehistoric forest", warped by magic and clever botany into something stranger than a mere forest. Sphere is the realm of the humans, and it gets even shorter shrift than the other two domains: there's a lot of city-states, and humans have a booming population. (You get a little more detail later, since this is just an overview, but still... give humans SOMETHING unique, guys). Humans insist that Sphere is the name for the entire world, not just their territory, and since there's no other names given, I guess that's what we'll call the planet.

Risk Eaters
This chapter also introduces the putative villains of the game: the Risk Eaters. The advent of the Shardscape (coming up next, I promise) led to an explosion of complexity: local crises become global disasters, once-isolated villages join a thronging global economy, and instant communication has made war faster and more deadly than ever. Recognizing the threat posed (by, let's be honest, mostly humans), all three sentient races got together and agreed that the growing instability of Sphere posed a threat to the entire world. Out of the three races, a cabal of mages was selected to act as the realm's caretakers, working from a cryptomantic monolith. There, the Risk Eaters maintain a vast network of spies to maintain a continuous flow of information into "ancient dwarven decision engines" to help guide their decisions. Their actions are opaque and enigmatic even to their agents, but one thing is clear: you do not gently caress with the Risk Eaters. They will murder you, kill your friends, and level your entire village if their machines tell them it will prevent a greater crisis in the future. It's unclear if their desire to protect the status quo reflects a benevolent impulse - that they're holding back some greater disaster by putting down popular uprisings, discrediting powerful leaders, and assassinating future heirs - or if they're just a bunch of assholes. Either way - don't cross them.

Cryptomancer posted:

Those who would dare to upset the delicate balance they have achieved chance the wrath of an all-knowing and all-seeing entity with limitless resources and unmatched aggression.
The player characters, of course, begin the game having crossed them. The idea is that they've seen something they shouldn't have, or escaped what was planned for them - and so, have earned the Eaters' ire. I like this premise a lot: it gives an immediate reason to stick to the shadows, provides a clear (but likely unbeatable antagonist), and encourages players to seek out a powerful patron who can help protect them (and help the GM dispense cool missions, too). There's a specific mechanic, risk, that measures how pissed the Risk Eaters are with your party, and it only goes one way: up. Unless you can somehow topple the sorceror-kings of the known world with a rag-tag group of ne'er-do-wells, every campaign will end in tragedy. Have fun!

Cryptomancer posted:

Now steel thyself for some crypto.
Alright, I'm going to try and make some headway in the main event: Cryptomancy. This will probably be split up into two updates, because this poo poo goes deep down the crypto rabbit hole. I'm going to be jumping around this chapter (and a bit from the previous one) to try and explain everything in a somewhat clear order.

SHARDS
Shards are rare crystals found deep in Subterran mines. Needless to say, the dwarves covet their monopoly on shard mining very, very jealously - they know that control over the shards is the only thing keeping their dwindling race relevant in the modern world. They're fabulously expensive, and only the very wealthy or well-connected can hope to have access to their own shards. Shards begin their life as a single chunk: the larger, the better. Shards must be perfectly cut into equal-sized chunks to function, but once you have at least two shards cut from the same whole, you've created a shardnet. (I'm so sorry for the amount of times you're going to see the word "shard" in the next section). Anyone clutching a crystal belonging to a shardnet can instantly and silently broadcast their thoughts to anyone else holding a piece of the same shardnet. Thoughts sent through a shardnet are called shardcasts (and those who use them are called shardcasters, natch) and they'll persist, echoing through the 'net for a number of hours equal to the number of shards that make up the net. They function regardless of distance, meaning they allow for the same thing that revolutionized the modern world: instantaneous communication.

There's a catch, though. Shardnets have no easy way to keep eavesdroppers out. Anyone holding one of the shards from a 'net can listen to any current echoes without being detected - so you if you're going to be conducting some skullduggery (which is apparently how everyone on Sphere spends their time) you've gotta start concealing your words from potential enemies. Enter: cryptomancy.

Cryptomancy
On Sphere, cryptomancy has existed for as long as written language. Anyone can do it, although it was only after the dwarves began to study the art that it began to be more widely understood and used. In its most basic form, cryptomancy enables the instantaneous encryption of a written, sensical (no made-up words) message from readable to gibberish (or clear-text to cipher-text, in crypto-speak). All you have to do is concentrate on your message, raise a hand, and the utter aloud a keyphrase. Anyone who knows or has ever heard that phrase will see clear-text when looking at the message, while everyone else sees gibberish.

There's no specific action required to decrypt cipher-text: if you know or have ever heard the keyphrase, you'll look at the cipher-text, "see" the keyphrase emerge from the gibberish, and then instantly perceive the original, clear-text message. Everyone can do this basic encryption/decryption trick, although most aren't any good at actually using it - think about how many people in real life have gotten hacked for having "password123" as their Gmail login.

Obviously, choosing a keyphrase is important. The book mentions "don't look a gift-horse in the mouth" as an example of a lovely keyphrase, since it's a common idiom. Instead, you should choose phrases that are unlikely-to-impossible to ever emerge, even accidentally, under any circumstances. This basic lock-and-key encryption is called symmetric encryption, and it works fine for low-level security, but it's easily broken by any number of methods - subverting (through torture/bribery/blackmail/etc.) someone who knows the keyphrase being the most obvious one. It's also not much use against the Risk Eaters, since they have agents who do nothing but gather local idioms, digest printed material, and eavesdrop relentlessly. They even have codebreakers who do nothing but write and recite nonsense phrases so that their organization has the largest possible knowledge base to use on intercepted encrypted communication. Remember, you only have to have heard the keyphrase once in your life to be able to use it to decrypt.

Keyphrase Espionage
That said, the weakness inherent in symmetric encryption can be used to your benefit. The book points out that it's great for mindgames: if you suspect someone's suborned a shard, you can use an intentionally weak keyphrase to let them eavesdrop on fake information, setting up an ambush for later. Of course, there's always the possibility that they'll know you're trying to gently caress them and then purposefully avoid the ambush and so on and so forth. Mind-games aplenty already, and this is just the basic crypto.

Cryptomancer posted:

Unless it is dramatically appropriate, players and GMs need not actually articulate their keyphrases. It should be assumed that unless otherwise specified, a keyphrase for a specific cryptomantic task is strong and extremely difficult to guess. Clues about a specific actor, such as where she is from, what she reads, what she does, and who she knows, can sometimes allow an attacker to guess a keyphrase that actor might use, but generally, this is a shot in the dark.
Thank God for the above. Coming up with passwords on the fly sounds like a nightmare.

The book also points out that the greatest weakness of a keyphrase isn't in its inherent complexity (since only the Risk Eaters stand a chance of guessing a very strong keyphrase), but in how it's handled. They have to be short enough to be manageable to share between parties, and they also have to be spoken out loud, making them prime targets for physical surveillance. And of course, the human element is always the weakest: there's the analogue methods mentioned above (torture, etc.) but also mind-reading magic and other fun fantasy bullshit to worry about. Oh, and I kind of touched on it earlier, but this kind of encryption also works over shardnets: you have to grab the shard, raise your hand, and utter the keyphrase. The shard will glow while the 'caster speaks the phrase, and then goes dark again. Until you release the shard, any message you send will be encrypted with that phrase.

I hope I explained this stuff in a relatively easy-to-understand fashion, but if not, there's some helpful diagrams coming in the next update. I'm happy to clarify or explain before then, too, so post away if you have any questions.

Next time: private-key... I mean, true-name cryptomancy. And diagrams. Exciting stuff.

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Kaza42
Oct 3, 2013

Blood and Souls and all that

As someone who loves information theory, encryption, and specifically using magic FOR encryption, this game is My Jam.

What happens when you use Cryptomancy to encrypt a written message, hand it to someone who doesn't know the keyphrase, and have them transcribe it via their own encryption keyphrase that you don't know?

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