Snippets from Calteir: Mining

Mining is the process of extracting ore and gems from within the earth. Sources for gold, silver, copper, iron, etc. within the bounds of civilization have mostly been exhausted long since, so mines tend to be far from other settlements, frequently down very long roads into the woods.

Folklore

A hammer and a cave.Different cultures have different beliefs about miners, but they tend to center on the notion that miners are secretive, possibly magical, and also possibly nefarious. There is also a lot of folklore connecting miners to the Dwarves; many common folk believe they are one and the same.

In some cultures, it’s actually bad luck to ask a miner what they mine.

Many cultures believe that miners actually produce their ores by working with demons, cajoling dragons or sacrificing human children.

More than one historical feudal lord has attempted to grab control of a mine. There are many stories of greedy lords’ armies being swallowed up by the earth, lost in the woods, killed by Dwarven warriors or worse while trying to conquer a mine.

Mining work

Mining camps are, as noted above, often quite far beyond the borders of everyday human civilization. The specific locations of mining camps are closely guarded secrets.

While miners often hire mercenaries to guard their convoys, fairly large numbers of miners are paranoid enough that they actually won’t allow the mercenaries into their camps. Some mining roads therefore have standard meeting points. These meeting points will often be marked by carved rocks or decorated trees, as well as occasional bits of ore or even refined metal in the nearby woods.

Because so many miners do not allow mercenaries on site, they often have to provide their own guards. Especially strong miners are sometimes asked to become guards.

Many camps have the ability to smelt ores on site. This means convoys don’t need to haul as much mass, and also means that many common people are unaware of where metals actually come from.

Only the most civilized countries have invented rails. This means that most ore is hauled out of the pits by carts.

Life as a miner can be pretty good. Camps tend to be very isolated; this can be good, or it can be bad. Mining guilds recognize that they need to keep their secrets by keeping the miners happy and content, so life outside the pit can be pretty idyllic: good food, better drink, comfortable quarters, etc. Mining guilds also frequently try to cycle workers between different jobs, to prevent burn-out or grumbling. When well-run, some mining camps can be pretty enjoyable places to work. Some camps are run in very egalitarian ways; some are effectively anarcho-socialist utopias.

But many camps are pretty hellish, and many are poorly run. When conditions are bad, people occasionally flee the camps. Some guilds will just take this as acceptable losses; others may even send out bounty hunters to find the escaped workers.

Secrecy

Miners are notoriously tight-lipped about what they mine. Even when they aren’t protected by superstition, they usually make the locations of their mines as secret as possible, frequently far into the wilderness. They often don’t appreciate the superstitions that surround their profession, but the superstitions help dissuade non-miners from finding or thieving from their mines.

Mine workers are usually sworn to secrecy, with very severe penalties for breaking their oaths. Some mines bring workers into the camps in covered wagons, making it impossible for workers to know where they actually are. Most mines maintain their secrecy through a combination of oaths, guards, wilderness locales and generally decent living conditions.

Ingots

The shape and size of ingots varies by culture. Morensian ingots, for example, tend to be very shallow domes, because ingots are usually poured into hemispherical molds.

Miners in central areas of Morensia have started to use bowls with central pillars, leading to pierced ingots. This allows the ingots to be tied together and therefore handled with a little more ease.

Guilds

Miners tend to form into guilds, though the organization and scale of these guilds varies immensely by culture.

Abandoned mines

There are more than a few ancient, abandoned mines scattered around. Entrances tend to be blocked off, intentionally, with bricks or rocks to prevent nasty spirits from emerging. There are often rumors that abandoned mines still contain veins of gold or caches of gems.

Adventures & encounters

  • A mine is being beset by some sort of demon or elemental, perhaps because of a Dwarven grave which they defiled to get to a better seam of silver. The mine’s own guards are insufficient to deal with the problem, and the mercenaries that the guild usually works with have recently switched allegiances to a lord who wants to tax the miners excessively. That means the miners want to hire a group of capable people to deal with the problem in the mines. But that also means they need someone trustworthy enough to keep their secrets — or perhaps who will keep their secrets through magical means.
  • As above, but the PCs are mining camp guards themselves and have to deal with the problem.
  • The PCs come to a well-made road leading through the woods. In the distance, they can see a beautifully carved statue of an eagle. Its claws and beak are covered with gold. The statue is the mercenary meeting point for a mining camp up the road. They find signs of a small battle, with numerous dead mercenaries in the nearby woods; and then they hear a group of miners coming through the woods. Will the PCs be blamed for the mercenaries’ deaths? How will they explain themselves?
  • While wandering through the wilderness, the PCs encounter an escaped mine worker. The worker has a harrowed look, but are sufficiently afraid of the miners that they will not reveal the location of the mine. (Or they never actually knew the location, having been brought there in secrecy and not really having their bearings now.) They may ask for help in returning home, though.
  • The PCs are bounty hunters, working for a mine. They need to hunt down an worker who promised to reveal the location of the mine shortly before they escaped.
  • There have been rumbles in the earth the past few days. Shepherds report that the rumbles are even more forceful out by the northern pastures, close to an abandoned mine.
And with that, I’ll have to leave you until July; I’m off on vacation for a couple weeks. And soon after that, Convergence! Busy, busy relaxation. See you again soon!

Should I run a game at Convergence?

Convergence has just posted their call for games to be run at the con. Seems like last year, with the scheduling app, it was much easier to get a game organized than in previous years. Should I run a game there? I could certainly run a session of Dooms that Came to Chaegrae, or another B&C scenario. Another session of Mountain Monastery Murder Mystery, maybe? Or I could also a session of something completely different.

If you’re interested, let me know! Convergence is hectic at the best of times, and I want to make sure I allow enough time for everything that deserves it.

WisCon 39, part 2: The Dooms that Came to Chaegrae

I ran this at Con of the North, and since I had good luck with rerunning a game at last WisCon, I decided to do so again at WisCon 39.

I was a little worried about whether or not anyone would show up. The game was opposite the GoH speeches; I hadn’t heard any definite report of interest from the gaming department; and at the appointed start time, it was just me. Soon after, though, one player came in. And a couple folks had told me directly that they were interested. By about 15 minutes in, we had a great little group, and one or two people had asked if they could join in later on.

(As an aside, what’s the best method of running game sign-up at a con? If you assume everyone will be on any given electronic social media platform, you’re going to miss whoever’s not on that platform. Paper tickets such as Con of the North uses can encourage signing up for a million things you’re not actually going to be on, which can a) be discouraging for GMs when they think the game is going to be full and it turns out to actually not be, and b) make it hard for players to get into games they’re interested in, when the information about what’s available is unreliable. Paper sign-up forms can be discouraging, too; it’s always hard to be the first person to sign up for something, and they can fail in ways similar to paper tickets. There clearly seems to be no ideal method. As more and more cons have their own apps, and more and more of us rely on mobile devices, that may be the way to go. Still, complex in the meantime.)

We went over the usual info-dumping; I introduced Calteir and Blade & Crown. I tried to follow my rule of “meaningful player decisions within 30 minutes”, and I think we got there; they were describing how their PCs had contributed to the conflict against the Golden Kraken pretty soon after we started. I introduced the usual B&C mechanics, and how this particular scenario is an experiment in high-powered characters. I forgot to mention that the PCs might actually reach their (extremely powerful) fates as part of the adventure; this made it a little shocking to some of the players when, later in the game, their PCs indeed reached their fates. But hopefully the massive amount of player narrative control they had over those fates made up for the strangeness.

There was a bit of confusion about how to approach the first problem; they actually left the Tomb and were headed to a tavern to argue about what to do. But they eventually charged right in and did it just the right way, leading them to skip an entire section of combat. This meant that the real combat specialists ended up with not a lot to fight. There was a bit of combat in the game, in the form of a peasant rebellion, but it was handled narratively, not mechanically. That lack of combat isn’t really a rarity for B&C, where combat can be deadly, but it feels a bit unusual for this scenario.

The tabletop as we played The Dooms that Came to Chaegrae

At the end, three of four PCs met their fates. The players gave it a lot of thought, and interestingly, they all chose very tragic ends for their characters. One player decided that their character was a really bad person and deserved a really bad end. The result was poetic and moving and totally appropriate.

The one PC who didn’t meet their fate ended up leading that peasant revolt, and using a Trait to narrate the results of the fight. It was also pretty amazing and had some great narrative inventiveness. The game actually ended before the appointed time, which almost never happens with games I run at cons. We even had time for the full post-game debrief, with the players telling me how things went and me filling them in on the questions they hadn’t gotten answered.

Overall, I think the experiment of Dooms has been pretty successful. The players have always come up with surprising, deserving ends for their characters, and have had a lot of fun playing these kinds of over-the-top characters. And one of the players turns out to be local to me; they were a great player, and I’d love it if we could do more gaming together in the future.

I plan to post some of the characters from Dooms here at some point; it’s always fun to see more examples of the kinds of PCs you can play in B&C. And hey, if you’d like me to publish Dooms, let me know!

WisCon 39, part 1: Let’s Build a World

Panels from the WisCon 39 Build a WorldAs you may have seen from my previous iterations of this activity/panel/audience participation exercise/thing, I have a lot of fun with it and have been pushing for more local cons to run it. I tried to get it on the schedule for WisCon 38 but didn’t succeed; I’ve run it a few times at Twin Cities cons in the meantime. I tried different phrasing for WisCon 39 and tried to carefully explain exactly what it is — not a panel, not a solo presentation, not a roundtable discussion, kind of not really even a game — for the programming folks. Doing all that helped get it onto the schedule this year.

Even then, it still almost didn’t happen. The way the schedule worked out, there was a session of Microscope at the same time as Build a World. Two cooperative group worldbuilding activities at the same time = major conflict. I was actually kind of hoping one or the other could get moved, but that would’ve caused too many programming conflict cascades. In the end, Microscope got canceled. I was sad that it worked out that way, but glad to get a chance to run Build a World.

It was Saturday night, and it was a huge amount of fun. In the end, we had about 20 people in the audience, and while it took a few minutes for everyone to understand what we were really doing, within a few minutes everyone was totally into it. I again used thumbs up/down/sideways, and even there, I sometimes just went with what seemed to be the general sentiment of the room. Previous iterations of this have gotten a little bogged down in me counting votes; this time I tried to keep the energy up by moving the votes quickly.

We ended up with a world where the people are fluffy, bioluminescent and telekinetic. There is ancient technology found in mysterious, ancient, decaying, fantastical, smoky ruins. There is a symbiotic form of fluff that attaches itself to people and destroys their innate telekinetic powers. Religion is a creation of the fluff, used to placate the masses and make sure they don’t realize their own TK abilities. But there is also a secret religion of the masses that may be fighting the popular religion. And corrupt police, planetary rings (in both the “big disc shape” sense and the “sound made by a bell” sense) and lots of mushrooms.

As in previous plays of this, the audience quickly went from “What are we doing?” to “Well, the fluffiness is obviously oppressing them by restricting their telekinetic abilities!” I love watching as we all become experts in this place that didn’t exist mere minutes prior.

A couple audience members separately suggested, towards the end, that we now needed to write a story about this world. I managed to address this, briefly but well, with one; I said that I’m actually kind of opposed to the notion that all worldbuilding must serve plot, and that I think worldbuilding can be fun on its own. I hope, and think, that this got at least one audience member to ponder why plot is given such importance. (Hint: “productivity”.)

Later on, one audience member praised my moderating as “fabulous”. It was humbling praise. The game/activity/event/thingy, whatever it was, was a huge amount of fun. I hope it keeps happening at WisCon.

WisCon 39 was great!

WisCon 39 is now over, sadly. It was mostly pretty great. Lots of wonderful, deep and important conversations; superb panels; some surprisingly good gaming; and general fannish enjoyment a-plenty. I feel both ebullient and exhausted. More later!

WisCon 39 coming up!

And with my Minicon 50 posts finally written up, I’m heading off to WisCon! I’m not scheduled for a lot that’s gaming-related, and it looks like I might even have a schedule conflict or two, but here’s my relevant schedule as it stands right now:

Join the Mod Squad: Enhance Your Moderation Skills

Ever go to a panel and spend your time thinking, “With a good moderator, this would be a much better panel?” We will review several ways to be that good moderator, offer tips and tricks, and generally work on improving WisCon’s already high standards for panel moderation. We strongly encourage you to attend this panel if you are moderating at WisCon, especially if it’s your first time. It’s also a great experience if you ever have been, or think you ever will be, a panel moderator anywhere. Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm

Hopefully a good discussion of how to get started in being a mod. There’s an Advanced Moderating panel later on, but I’m sure we’ll have some original insights in this anyway.

Let’s Build a World!

Together we will start with first principles—cats as nobility, floating continents, steampunk far-future romance, whatever the audience wants—and create a world to fit. Marvel as a functioning society coalesces before our eyes! Watch as you become expert on a world that didn’t exist minutes before! Dazzle as connections present themselves in astounding ways! Audience participation will drive this. Sat, 9:00–10:15 pm

As it worked out, someone is running Microscope at the same time as this. Hrm grumble grr. Hopefully we can figure out a way to have both games, because I’d really like to go to both! For further updates, it may be necessary to check the at-con newsletter, as I won’t have access to this blog after the con starts.

The Dooms that Came to Chaegrae

The Tomb of Gemenos has loomed over the middle of Chaegrae for generations. All who have dared to enter, or even to approach too closely, have had horrible fates. But now, you and your motley friends have come to plumb the depths of the tomb. You are unafraid of the Tomb’s strange fates, because you already know how you will die. The Tomb is but the next step in your destiny. A tabletop roleplaying game, using the Blade & Crown system (which I wrote). Themes of fate, destiny and the wrongs of history. No more than five players. No rules knowledge or materials required, though you may want to bring your lucky D10s! Sun, 7:00–11:00 pm

A reprise of the scenario I ran at Con of the North 2015. A nice epic delve into a fantasy history, appropriate to WisCon.

There are lots and lots of other great panels that I want to see, including “Feminism in Thedas”, “Are Casual Gamers Considered ‘Real’ Gamers?”, “Why I Need Diverse Games” and many others. Some of which aren’t scheduled against something I’m already on. I’ll have to miss the Guest of Honor speeches to run “Dooms”. That’s how it goes at WisCon, though — too much cool stuff going on at the same time, all the time.

Hopefully see you there! And see you on the other side in any case.

Minicon 50, part 6: Wrap-up

The Minicon blimpMinicon 50 was overall very good. There were more than twice the usual number of members, which meant that it had a very lively feeling. Even though the total membership was about the same as WisCon, it didn’t feel as crowded as WisCon sometimes can, because the Minicon hotel was larger. (I’m still pretty thoroughly in favor of the RadiShTree for Minicon, though its options for programming rooms always mean difficult choices.)

Lots of programming was great; only one panel I went to wasn’t very good. There were some programming problems behind the scenes, but they mostly worked out in the end.

I got to do some good gaming, the consuite was generally superb, and it was good to hang out with folks I knew and folks I didn’t know.

I’m of course biased, since I do several things on the Minicon concomm (I’m part of the programming staff, I was involved with the code of conduct committee, and I usually design and print the pocket program), but I do all that because I enjoy Minicon and like helping to make it happen. Minicon has just about the right mix of serious and silly for me, with a nice helping of socializing.

Minicon 50, part 5: Actual gaming

I managed to get a fair amount of actual gaming done at and around Minicon 50:

  • Star Traders: The aforementioned pre-con game. It was nice to have this before the game, because as I mentioned, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to play longer games at a con. (Or anytime, in fact.)
  • Zar: I played several games of this, winning a couple. Zar produces fun in a nice, semi-automatic way.
  • Spot It: I played this once, for just a few minutes. It’s a good filler game where you compete to spot some basic symbols on cards before your fellow players do. It plays very fast.
  • Moneyduck: There was no Mega Moneyduck reveal this year, but I added a drawing to the scroll and played several regular sessions of the game.
  • Build a World. As I previously detailed, this was a lot of fun, if slightly cramped by scheduling constraints.
  • Trivia for Chocolate: I was thinking this might turn out to be irrelevant or uninteresting, but it was instead fun, distracting, quick and well-designed. There was a good variety of questions. I ended up getting a bunch of correct answers by knowing too much about Philip K. Dick. Go figure. Priscilla and Marc Olson ran this adeptly.

I think I may also have played a quick game of Timeline while waiting for something else to materialize.

No RPGs, and not much that was very in-depth, but still, lots of good gaming. That’s something I enjoy about Minicon: it’s entirely possible to go to a thoughtful panel, then follow it up with a light boardgame. There are many kinds of enjoyment available at Minicon.

Minicon 50, part 4: Iain (M) Banks

This one was apparently opposite some very popular panels; the audience was rather small. It was therefore a missed opportunity to spread enjoyment of the amazing stuff Iain Banks wrote. But the audience was also composed mostly of people who are already love Banks’ writing, so it was fun to have an excuse to just geek out with a bunch of fellow fans. And it was nice to not have to worry about spoilers. We talked about a lot of interesting aspects of his work.

There was of course the ritual listing of everyone’s favorite Culture ship names. Greg, my fellow panelist, said his is the I Said I Have a Big Stick (which must be said in a whisper), with a runner-up as the lack of Gravitas series. My favorite is Ultimate Ship the Second. Audience members listed their own.

We talked about the Culture, and how it’s a culture many of us would like to live in. I mentioned again my idea that the Culture itself is rarely the direct setting of Banks’ work, because post-singularity utopias are both unwriteable and boring. (At the same time that they’re places we might like to live, they’re also places where no much happens.) Instead, the books are usually set in the peripheries of the Culture, either literal or figurative: mostly other nearby civilizations, with occasional forays into Infinite Fun Space or offshoot cultures or Minds who’ve gone off to do their own thing.

US cover for The Hydrogen SonataThe Hydrogen Sonata, Banks’ last SF novel published while he was alive, got some discussion. The novel really feels like a love letter to his fans, written while he knew he was not going to live much longer. It is a novel about the difficulty and importance of art, how fame works and what lies on the other side of death. It also gives us a bunch of insights into things we’ve wanted to know about the Culture, including how it formed. Our discussion made me want to reread the novel. And a bunch of his other books.

One audience member mentioned that sometimes Banks’ plots aren’t actually all that great, yet the stories end up being great. My theory is that his worldbuilding is so endlessly inventive and fascinating that we drag ourselves through his occasionally turgid prose anyway.

We talked a little about how much a gamer Banks was. He was apparently very addicted to the computer game Civilization at one point; he stated that he deleted the game from his hard drive when he started writing Excession, and that the Outside Context Problem of that book was inspired by experiences he had while playing Civ. And of course, Player of Games is about a society built around a game.

One audience member mentioned that there’s a brief glimpse of the end of the Culture in Look to Windward. A background character who’s from the Culture gets their consciousness instantiated in the form of a very long-lived species; at one point, they wake up after a very long time in storage and find out that their home civilization went away several galactic rotations ago. I totally didn’t remember that, so it looks like I’ll have to re-read Look to Windward at some point, too.

Another topic of discussion was Banks’ interaction with fans. Specifically, why doesn’t he have more fans in the US? Refusal to come to the US post-Iraq War; very long space operas when US fans seem not to be very interested in such stuff; pretty blatantly leftist politics — there are several possibilities. I can only hope that more and more US fans manage to overcome their hesitance.

We also had small forays into Banks’ non-SF work, and even his non-fiction (specifically Raw Spirit, a travelogue of whiskey distilleries). And I talked a little about my love of Against a Dark Background, which I’ve written little about here before.

All in all, this panel was a great discussion of Banks’ work — lots of knowledgeable folks sharing insights and interest.

Minicon 50, part 3: Build a World!

I’ve been running this quite a bit at recent cons. It’s a lot of fun.

Build a World from Minicon 50We ended up with a world with some pretty weird physics: light moves in discrete packets, sound is faster than light, gravity is bouncy and time is like water. I occasionally had a hard time figuring out what all that meant. (This is a problem for worldbuilding: it still has to be something that the people involved can wrap their heads around. If your world assumes that triangles have four sides, you’re going to just have some serious contradictions to deal with.) We had some very silly elements: conflicts are handled by dance-off, Wile E’s law holds sway, and the ruling class are talking cats. (I don’t think I’ve yet had a game of this where talking cats didn’t come into it somehow. And not that I’ve been pressing this.) I enjoyed the detail of having to do prescribed dance moves up into the mountains to finish your pilgrimage to the Time Stream.

I tried to keep track of audience preferences via the “fist of five” method, where people show fingers to express their preference for an idea: five fingers = heavily in favor, zero finger = heavily opposed. But it’s hard to count fingers on the fly, so I ended up just doing thumbs up/down/sideways.

Another difficulty was that audience members kept slipping in and out, so folks who showed up later didn’t quite get what we were doing. It is difficult to get a social contract working in a game at a con; it is even more difficult to get one working when the players keep shifting. So that was an annoyance.

Finally, we ran out of time. I forgot what the time slot was — we actually had fifteen minutes more than we did — but we also got started late due to lack of audience at the beginning, and then things went slow because of the shifting audience. (See: social contract problems.) We only got about three categories finished, where we usually get five or six. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

I’m still curious if this game can work in a serious mode. I don’t think I’ve had one where it didn’t go goofy pretty much right away. Would a strict requirement that all following elements have to work with all previous elements change this? I might never find out, because people seem to enjoy goofy iterations of the game, and that’s what the audience seems to push for.