Exolore: Nifty worldbuilding with academic rigor

A world built by me (academic rigor not guaranteed)Through my astronomy interests, I found the Youtube channel of Moiya McTier. Moiya’s an astronomer and folklorist (what a great combination of disciplines!). She and a rotating group of subject-matter experts (political scientists, plate tectonics experts, cephalopod specialists, etc.) start with a general exoplanet type: Extreme seasons, tidally locked, no insolation at all, etc. The types they start with are based on the actual science; as we learn more about exoplanets, we realize how much weirder they are than we predicted a few decades ago. Then, Moiya and her guests work to build a nifty world and the beings that inhabit it.

The creations so far are quite delightful: Worlds with turtle-like beings who have pyrite shells, deep sea sentients who communicate via thermal dancing, and much more. Any of the sessions would certainly be great inspiration for an SF campaign. More importantly, though, they’re just wonderful worldbuilding. From what I’ve seen, Moiya and her guests don’t insist that there be a plot; they’re interested in enjoying the worldbuilding, as worldbuilding for its own sake.

It reminds me of the “Build a World” game I’ve played and run several times at conventions. The difference is, Moiya and her guests are much scientifically rigorous — while not losing any of the elegant intricacy or beautiful internal logic that “Build a World” usually has. And, really, their worlds are about as fun as the “Build a World” ones, too. Well worth enjoying.

Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

A rainbow, apparently moving between two cloudsEveryone and their siblings have already posted about this far and wide, but it’s worth making sure: The Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is a huge bundle of tabletop games, computer games, prose fiction, comics, art assets and more that is being offered to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Community Bail Fund. Donations will help mitigate, in a small way, some of the racist violence that Black people have been subjected to in recent weeks.

The games are well worth checking out. Some of the offerings are kinda junky — buggy computer games, short ditties that don’t really say much, etc. But a lot are really, really cool. Not only are there several massive, slickly-produced RPGs, there are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small, innovative, mind-expanding games. There are so many that I can’t even list them in the detail they deserve. (I might try to review some of them in the future, if time allows.)

Itch.io has a huge amount of innovation going on: Games that expand the limits of what a game can be, games that express viewpoints that are too rarely heard, games that push us to be better human beings. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toes into the Itch.io ocean, this bundle seems like a great place to start, while donating some money to good causes at the same time.

WisCONline, weekend after next

The in-person Wiscon 44 has been canceled, due to the pandemic. I’m sad to miss that; it’s always great to connect with a lot of people in person.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.However, Wiscon has moved online! Registration for the con, which will be May 22-25, is now open. The online version will include streamed panels & readings, gaming, an auction, a whole chat system, and lots of chances to interact with fellow geeks. The con is also trying hard to make it all highly accessible; there will be closed captioning, and the membership rates are very reasonable, I think.

I wish fandom in general had started to seriously explore online cons in more depth before now, but I’m very glad it’s finally happening, and especially glad that Wiscon is making such an effort (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m part of). If you’ve been wanting to attend this great feminist SF&F convention but haven’t been able to make it in person, this is your chance to try it out.

A reminder: It’s okay to not be ‘productive’

Squeevolution!The measure of a person is not their ‘productivity’. That is always true! And someone with more money is not ‘worth’ more than anyone else. But in a pandemic, of all times, remember that it’s okay to not be at your maximum. Don’t be guilty about it. Don’t measure yourself or your hobbies by how richly you grease the wheels of industry. Just have fun when you can, make things when you can, do what you can when you can, enjoy worldbuilding if you want to, read RPGs if you feel like it, take it “casual” if you feel like, enjoy something slow if it’s what you need — do what it takes to get through this trying time, in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt you or others.

Remote fandom

This is a good time to be thinking about remote gaming. The current pandemic is awful, of course. But we’re lucky in that good internet, videochat, etc. allow us to connect remotely with such ease.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.Most of my gaming these days is done remotely. I’ve blogged about some before. Videochat systems leave a lot to be desired, but really, they’re quite good.

There isn’t much reason an entire con couldn’t be run online. I mean, by some analysis, web forums, social media communities, etc. already are online cons. But for something closer to in-person cons, with the same depth of personal interaction, the technology is almost there. The videochat systems I’ve tried wouldn’t be great for doing panels, but they’d be serviceable; other methods — streaming like Twitch or some of the virtual meeting systems out there — would probably work better. Some gaming doesn’t work well online. This is especially clear where physical interaction between players is required, such as passing paper, counters, tokens, etc. Other forms of gaming work just as well, or better, though. No reason an online con couldn’t include some mutual MMORPG raids, or something like that. Costume contests, virtual raves, art contests, dealers’ rooms, readings… There’s a lot that should translate quite easily to online formats. I would miss getting to hang out in the consuite together, but a lot of cons don’t practice great hygiene even in the best of times. There really isn’t much we would need to miss in a virtual con. I’ve heard some third-hand reports of full cons done online, but I haven’t seen enough of them to link with any certainty. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

A specific thing to think about: There are lots of issues to overcome with videochat. Folks have to get used to not talking over each other, and sometimes needing to ask for clarification. While videochat boosts accessibility in some ways, it lessens it in other ways: bad audio quality can be very difficult for people who have hearing difficulties, for example. Privacy and trolling are also issues. To make a whole con work, I think there would need to be some way to guarantee that only con ‘attendees’ could access the virtual rooms. I don’t know of a way to prevent attendees from recording things that they shouldn’t. Chat moderators would become extremely important in a virtual con. It seems like a virtual con would necessarily require spending money on a professional virtual meeting service, or setting up a dedicated server for something like Jitsi, and thus still needing to spend the money on bandwidth — either way, it would take money. Though, I suspect, it would cost far less than running an in-person con.

I’m sure there are other things I haven’t thought of. But still, it must be completely possible to make virtual cons happen. If we aren’t already, we should get working on that.

A reminder

Detail of a monasteryThe Medieval Mountain Monastery Murder Mystery is a scenario in which all the characters are trans. All the characters. And it deals with some pretty deep trans issues.

I’ve done what I can to get the word out about it, yet there’s never been any serious demand. I could just publish it anyway, but if sales from the Bandit Map are anything to go by, I wouldn’t make more than US$1/hour for all the work it would take. Vastly, vastly less than minimum wage.

Diversity is a great goal. It would be nice if it was actually rewarding, though.

Variation Die: Things to say

Another thing I perhaps didn’t clarify enough about the Variation Die in the Blade & Crown rules: You can use your Variation Die roll as inspiration for an original, evocative thing you say. It doesn’t just have to be a description of what you do; it can equally be a description of how others perceive your actions, or what you just outright vocalize.

Illustration of a brush-stroked twelve-sided die with a 'V' on one face(The sample of play hints at this, but I didn’t make it very explicit in the rules.)

A lot of snowclones are likely examples. “That has to be the mother of all X!” and “I don’t care how many X there are, I am determined to succeed!” are good examples of quantity-related quotations that are possible. There must be a billion variants on “You think that’s going to stop me? I X easier things than that for breakfast!” and the like.

Making a quote truly evocative and original can be tricky, but that’s where context comes in. What you say is going to depend heavily on the particular situation — cool things to say while dodging a sword are usually going to be different from cool things to say while saving your friend from a fall. And the situation will give inspiration for specific original things to say.

All that makes it difficult to come up with a single list, but here are some general ideas to serve as inspirations.

  1. “Well, that wasn’t so hard!”
  2. “All in the wrist, my dear. All in the wrist!”
  3. “Sorry about the mess.”
  4. “Just in the nick of time!”
  5. “Nice and easy… Slow but steady…”
  6. “You haven’t seen the last of me!”
  7. “Now, that’s a bit more of a challenge!”
  8. “Come on. Just… this… once…”
  9. “It’s either you, or me. And it’s not going to be me.”
  10. “You have to pay attention to the little details, you see.”
  11. “I’ve been practicing.”
  12. “It just took a little finesse, that’s all.”

100 sessions so far

While I was preparing for my most recent Blade & Crown campaign session, set in Calteir, I noticed that the wiki entry was number 100. That meant my campaign has had a full hundred sessions. Wow!

Not sure how many hours that totals, because for the first few years, we met pretty much monthly, but longer for each session. Now we meet something closer to every three weeks, but for a shorter amount of time.

In any case, it’s an impressively long span of time. A lot of history has happened. It’s sometimes hard to remember it all! Characters have come and gone and come back again. Villages have burned; sieges have been laid; major alliances have been forged. Huge decisions have been made.

But it’s been a great campaign so far. I hope we keep going for at least as long again.

Social combat via CMP

I designed B&C with no specific social combat system. As I’ve mentioned before, I and a lot of other people tend to find social combat rather deprotagonizing. That is not to say, though, that B&C couldn’t have a social combat system. It would be pretty easy to implement one via CMP.

The way I envision it working is much like the process of doing tasks with haste. If social combat is begun, then the parties involved bid on how much CMP they’re willing to risk, one point at a time. Higher bids will make you more likely to win, but make the penalties for losing higher. Bidding a huge amount can mean serious mental damage if you lose the opposed task. And yes, this advantages characters who have a higher CMP to start with: they can bid higher amounts and not suffer as much damage. Bidding 3 or 4 or higher should be extremely rare.

When one party stops bidding, then both are frozen at whatever they bid. And, of course, you don’t want to bid too much; see the effects of lowered CMP in the chapter on Madness & Morale.

Scales of JusticeSomehow, the stakes of the social combat should figure in here. I’m not sure how, though. Part of the problem with social combat systems is that just setting the stakes is a winnable game, and one that is very hard to balance well. If one side sets the stakes at “If I win, I have to pay 1 cost less for the wine” and the other sets the stakes at “If I win, you have to give me all your money and everything you own”, then some unbalancing issues are going on. It’s probably best to first have the sides agree to set the stakes in terms of phrasing that could apply to either side, such as “Whoever wins gets the cost of the wine modified by 1 in their favor”. But that can’t always work. Again, social combat can be difficult in RPGs.

Once bidding is complete, both sides roll whatever skill + stat they’re using. This could, as always, vary wildly. Rhetoric is going to be a frequently-used skill here, but many combinations are possible.

What you bid in CMP acts as a positive modifier to your roll. For example, if you bid 2, then you get a +2 to your roll.

Whoever wins the opposed rolling wins the stakes. Whoever loses, loses the stakes, and loses the CMP they bid.

Again, this is a system I haven’t particularly playtested, but in principle, at least, it should work well. Let me know how it goes if you try it out.

New Traits for Blade & Crown: Naïve

Another B&C Trait, not inspired by anything in particular:

long-sword_1f300

You are naïve. You tend to assume the purest motives in others, to look at the world with childish simplicity, and to perhaps assume that the way things appear now is as they always have been.

Your naïvety may persuade others, with the innocence of babes; and it may cause others to let down their guard, where perhaps they shouldn’t. But your simplistic outlook on the world may also cause others to discount your ideas, or may cause you to be easily manipulated — or to have a reputation for being easily manipulated.

May need further specificity regarding what you’re naïve about. Perhaps you are naïve about how the wilderlands work, while still being quite cunning about life in the big towns. Or naïve about the ways of magic, while having a strong innate talent for it. Or naïve about whether a given block of text should be italicized or not.