Friday, November 29, 2013

Gameable Thundercats - Old Friends

Swordfish Islands is going going going. 86.1% complete (assuming my burndown chart is accurate, and I don't suddenly realize there's something else that needs to be added). Book 1 - The Field Guide to Hot Springs Island, tentatively 100% complete with 43k words. Book 2 - The Dark of Hot Springs Island, still not done, but sitting pretty, or pretty ugly, at 79k words.

Turkey is delicious. Family is awesome. And now for some more Thundercats.

I absolutely love the screencap I grabbed for this episode. There's something about seeing the backs of the main character, with what is clearly their destination in the distance, to really give a feeling of *journey*. May just be me, but this shot really captures the grand adventure/exploration vibe.

Episode 05 - Old Friends

01. A single mountain with near-vertical cliffs and a flattened top rises high above the rest of the mountain range. Its peak is high above the normal height of clouds.

02. Lizardmen miners dig for large, eggshaped pieces of stone coated in growths of fuschia crystals.

03. Two powerfully strong warriors from a foreign kingdom seek an object of great power. Their mission is secret. One despises the mission while duty to country drives the other.

04. Only two soldiers guard the entrance to the mine. Or well... that's what it looks like. Nineteen more are stationed a very short distance inside.

05. A gigantic six legged ratboar with red eyes and tusks larger than a man.

06. Voices in the desert speak to the ambitious while they sleep. "Come to me. The power you seek awaits you."

07. A pillar of swirling sand hides a pyramid beyond the wind eaten red rocks.

08. A voice from inside a tomb cries out in your mind "Open it. Open it and I will grant you the limitless power you desire. The power you deserve."

09. Two carved stone slabs meet to form a tomb door. There is no lock or handle, but it looks like you could push them open (like an elevator door). Ancient winds blow with the force of a gale as they are pried apart. There may or may not be visible souls in said wind.

10. A mummy wears a sweet red robe with a hood.

11. An encounter with a hated foe ends in a standard saturday morning cartoon fashion. Just before combat can begin, the foe summons/calls a weaker (but still powerful) monster to fight the group. The foe uses this distraction to run away. Your party may or may not use this opportunity to level up.

12. A creature attacks the terrain around the party instead of the party themselves. (typically most effective in a mine (caveins) or forest (treefalls))

Remember: just because an entrance is secret doesn't mean it can't look badass as it opens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gameable Thundercats - Song of the Petalars

Episode 04 - Song of the Petalars

This is the episode that completely locked me in as a fan of the new Thundercats. Tiny people that sing. Plants. The bad guys are sending an entire army after the party and the army, flexing its technological might, is just clear cutting through the forest after them. When that's not enough General Slythe, while being massaged and sloppily eating fruit orders it to be set ablaze with this beautiful exchange:

General Slythe: "Burn this forest. Burn it to the ground, and the Thundercats with it."

Some Lizard: "But Kumai... and the others..." [Voicing concern for the scouts tracking the cats]

General Slythe: "Are expendible, as are you lieutenant. Now do as I command."

And then it cuts to four lizards wearing goggles and wielding flame throwers. Seriously. THIS is how you set up your badguys. Not. Fucking. Around.

On top of this, you get death (both bad guys and good) and existential angst because of relativistic perceptions of time. The show was absolutely doomed. Too dark. Too heavy. Too good. Time,  hopefully, will vindicate it. (Yeah yeah, the party gets saved from unbeatable odds at the end of this episode with a deus ex machina, but I'm forgiving it because it's the #1 it's Thundertank, #2 Panthro (thought dead) is driving it, #3 as he emerges from the tank he's one shots an attacker with a stylish flourish of his nunchucks while illuminated from behind by a planet. I mean, they literally did the deus and the ex machina.)

This show geeks me out.

Gameable Ideas from Song of the Petalars

01. Six legged frogs.

02. A forest of redwoods gives way to a dome of brambles taller than the trees.

03. In a hidden clearing, more than a hundred tiny people made of flowers standing in a circle, sing a haunting melody, as seeds within the circle sprout into their children.

04. A race of tiny plant people have been blown away from their home by a great windstorm. They are hopelessly lost.

05. A race of tiny people that are born, mature and die in a single day.

06. "This map will lead us to the cliff of winds. If we can find it we'll be able to ride the winds all the way home."

07. A child found in a briar patch grows several years older every time the party loses sight of it.

08. A chameleon stalks the party.

09. A weapon made of thorns.

10. Pollen bombs explode and shimmer in the last rays of the setting sun.

11. A burning forest blossoms with new life.

12. An invisible foe is revealed by thrown fruit.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gameable Thundercats - Ramlak Rising

The first two episodes of Thundercats (2011) don't have much in the way of gameable ideas as far as I'm concerned, but that makes sense. These two episodes are, in reality, a single ~hour long episode that lines up perfectly with the first gaming session of any campaign. Its purpose is to set the stage and form the party. These two episodes accomplish that quickly and effectively by establishing the world's status quo (i.e., Highly civilized and technology is myth) and then destroying it. As episode two ends a party of five (thief, thief(bard?), fighter(speed), fighter(strength or maybe a paladin), cleirc) has essentially been formed, has been given an objective, and has no way to go back to normalcy and shirk the quest.

It's good stuff, but is more "trope, trope, trope" instead of "idea, idea, idea" like the other episodes. 

Episode 3, Ramlak Rising, is where the adventure begins in earnest and where the RPG ideas start rolling. The party leader is pissed (e.g., "You're angry Lion-o." "I should hope I'm not the only one!") but his dad just died and civilization ended so it's cool. The party now has to decide if they're going to go after the McGuffin or the Big Bad Evil Guy.


01. A child thief plays a magic flute in the smoldering ruins of a once great city.

02. A pair of theives steals from looters too busy to guard their haul.

03. Two young orphans near the wreckage of a wagon, claim to know of an ancient city of treasure, and begin following the party. They're hungry.

04. A literal sea of sand. With waves and everything.

05. Food in the desert looks like a mirage, but it's real! It's also a trap.

06. An airship that can only fly over sand hovers on a cloud of lightning.

07. A non-lethal trap (cage, net, pit, etc) has been set by a group of fishmen to catch a very specific creature. If it accidentally catches the party the fishmen's first response will be to turn them into chum and reset the trap.

08. A man with a missing leg hunts the creature that took it. Well past the point of sanity. His peg leg is made of brass and super stylish though.

09. Under normal circumstances the new friends the party just made would eat you. Their leaders respect the new arrangements but things are proving difficult for the rank and file. The party just smells sooooooo good.

10. It's easy to find the large monster that's been terrorizing the countryside because of the way active thunderstorms build up over it. The problem of course is that the lightning strikes don't even tickle it.

11. It's raining rocks. Big ones, about the size of a cat.

12. A lantern of dark magic contains the soul of a good cleric. The cleric knows the location of an item of great power, and the lantern (against the cleric's will) projects a beam of light in the direction of this artifact no matter how far away it is.

Good quotes:

"Take out the arms. Then we go for the head"

"Do you know what it's like to have everything taken from you and replaced with rage?"

"The food's fightin' better than you."

Friday, November 15, 2013

I'm a copycat - Gameable Ideas

Progress on Hot Springs Island continues. I'm fast approaching 90% and it feels good. Very good. For reasons I don't want to get into right now, I've got to hold off on sharing stuff about Hot Springs 'till I pass a certain threshold.

In the meantime I've wanted to keep blogging, but I couldn't think of anything to write about/do that wouldn't pull me too far away from the work I need to be doing. But I think I've found the answer!

Back in October, Zak Smith wrote a post of 100 random plot elements taken from Sergio Toppi's take on the Arabian Nights and Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment. I enjoyed the post so much that I've decided to copy the idea, but instead of pulling gameable ideas out of comics I'm going to pull them out of cartoons. Specifically the Thundercats reboot from 2011.

I always loved the Thundercats as a kid and was highly skeptical when the reboot of the series was announced. Mostly because I hadn't watched Thundercats since I was, I dunno, 8? and I preferred to leave my professed enjoyment of the series squarely in nostalgia land. However, as I started to watch the 2011 version I found that I absolutely freaking loved it, on its own merits. Not only was the animation gorgeous, the storyline was full of dark, heavy shit. Sure you've got your Ro-bear Berbils and know the good guys are going to win, but there's loss, betrayal, permanent physical damage, death, regret and devious, nasty bad guys. On top of that, the way the story arced through the party formation of both the good guys AND the bad guys was top notch in my opinion.

The show, as of this point, has been shuttered and it looks like there will never be any episodes beyond 26, so I should absolutely be able to make tables for all of them. If it goes well, and is as non-distracting as I think it will be, I think I'll do Adventure Time once I wrap up Thundercats.

This first list is from Episode 8 - The Duelist and the Drifter. I randomly chose an episode to watch tonight before I seized upon this idea, and I'll roll back to the beginning for the next post.

From an RPG perspective, this episode is a single player adventure. The party's techno-wizards are attempting to activate the ancient artifact they recently recovered and while they research it, the party leader heads into a nearby town for supplies where he promptly gets himself into, and then out of, trouble.

01. A stronghold is carved into a high cliff and a gigantic waterfall flows around it.

02. A village surrounded by a wall made of swords.

03. Laughter hidden in a crow's cawing.

04. A man who is so relaxed that he literally drifts about on the wind.

05. A swordsman's town where they duel for keeps.

06. The coins you try to pay with are no good because they are "relics of a fallen empire"

07. A sword forged in the lava pits of a volcano.

08. A man with a ruler tattoo on his arm.

09. A giant stone pillar stands in the middle of town. Whoever deals the most damage to the stone with a single strike wins a cash prize. Townsfolk always gather to watch because most swords break as they strike the stone.

10. A Swordsman wearing a blindfold insists on quoting archaic poetry before attacking. Sometimes he feels it necessary to quote a line before each strike.

11. A race of short, yellow skinned, humanoids with noses almost as large as the rest of their head.

12. Hubris. So much fucking hubris. It's a veritable weather pattern in these parts. All creatures feel compelled to peacock or monologue before dealing a killing blow.

13. A man with a beautiful voice and glorious mustache wears so many swords on his back he resembles a peacock.

14. An enemy you do not know, recognizes an item you carry as belonging to your dead family member. They use this information to mock and insult you.

15. An old man, with insane dexterity, invites the brash, headstrong and impatient to cut the reed he holds in his mouth using three swings of their sword or less. His ability to dodge is obscene.

16. A pile of daggers the size of a cow, sits outside the blacksmith's house.

17. Everyone in this town tells stories about themselves in third person. Always.

18. An highly skilled swordsman travels the lands challenging people with exceptional swords to duels. He is currently undefeated and when he wins he takes his opponent's sword.

19. An artist, emotionally destroyed after losing his greatest masterpiece due to bad personal decisions, has vital information for the players if they can convince him to care again.

20. A master artisan who has quit crafting can be tricked into crafting again if they see someone working in their style poorly or incorrectly (but passionately).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If you use Google+ you might want to stop posting or commenting on YouTube links

Here are a couple pieces of conventional internet wisdom: Google+ is a ghost town, and YouTube comments are a cesspool. In what appears to be an effort to tackle both of these problems, Google has begun merging these two services. The thought seems to be that forcing a "real name" G+ account on YouTube commenters strips them of their anonymity (thus increasing comment quality) and pushes more bodies into Google's land of plusses and circles. The intentions seem good, but there's some pretty awful collateral damage to active G+ users because Google doesn't seem to understand *context*.

This blog is a role playing game blog. Playing games like D&D and Pathfinder is my hobby, and there's a thriving community of tabletop RPG bloggers who moved from RPG forums as their conversational venue to G+. In this community, blogging is used for "long form" writing and G+ is a "short form" place dedicated to the discussion of other people's blogs, brainstorming, and inspirational link sharing.

Videos, naturally, are a commonly shared item, and this is where the problem with this merger comes in. You see, when the merge happened, Google went through all of the videos you've posted to your G+ feed, scraped up the comments and posted them to YouTube. When it did this, if you'd ever publicly posted a YouTube video on G+, it posted a link to your G+ page on YouTube (you know, the place conventionally called a commentary cesspool). Not only does it post a link to my profile, if I publicly shared a YouTube link on G+ and tagged someone in it, a link to their profile is now in the YouTube comment section of that video as well. That feels icky. These two sites have vastly different user bases and if I'd *known* that this would occur I may have made different decisions in how I chose to post things. My profile ending up on YouTube is one thing, but inadvertently causing someone else's to end up there because of a video I posted to my G+ feed months ago just isn't cool.

Google seems to have exhibited a complete lack of the concept of *context*, which, based on all the touting they'd done of G+'s circles, seems really strange. You see, if I'm on YouTube and I'm watching a video, the page is dedicated to the video. There's a context. And the context is that video. The focus is the video. The comments section is a place where people go to respond to what they've seen in that video (and call one another fags). On YouTube you are "at" the video.

G+ has a completely different context. I am sharing. I have found something, and I am sharing what I have found with a group of people. In all likelyhood, I've been having a conversation with that group of people about a topic and I'm probably choosing to share what I have found because it speaks to a point in our discussion. And what's awesome about G+ is that because it is a feed, and because I know who's in my circles and who has me in their circles, mini-zeitgeists emerge. People in the feed often share things that relate to one another, and make comments on the link they have shared that reinforce that zeitgeist.

Additionally, on G+ because I know that I am posting in a feed, I tend to link my posts together, contextually, and (in a fashion) tell stories. For example, a couple days ago the cartoon Steven Universe premiered on Cartoon Network. It was awesome, has thematic ties in with RPGs and gaming, and I posted a YouTube link to the show's into theme. The intro is great, especially the music (Rebecca Sugar is amazing!), and, as happens, I fell down a bit of a YouTube pit listening to chiptune music. After a while I found another chiptune song and video that I wanted to share on G+, so I did.

Now here's what happened:

On the Steven Universe post I said the following: "Premiered today. Man... this intro track is just solid gold. Rebecca Sugar is so fantastic. #cartoons"  

On the Anamanaguchi track I posted a bit later I said "And it's apparently a "chiptune is the definition of eternity" night for me."

I'm not trying to win any awards for creative commentary, but hopefully it's clear that the way I presented those two videos in my feed is linked. They work off one another. They go together. But what happened after the YouTube/G+ merge? The words I used to describe the videos in the context of _my feed_ were put directly into the YouTube comments on the two videos. This completely strips my words of context, and the words I put on the Anamanaguchi link make me look stupid when viewed from YouTube. "And it's apparently a "chiptune is the definition of eternity" night for me." does not work in both places. That phrase doesn't stand alone, but it wasn't ever meant to.

In the end, the TLDR that everyone on G+ needs to be aware of is:
  • If you publicly post a YouTube video on your G+ feed a link to your profile shows up on that video's YouTube comments
  • If you comment on a YouTube video that someone else publicly posts in their G+ feed, a link to your G+ feed shows up on that video's YouTube comments
  • If you're not a fan of this, and you want to go back and "clean up" those links you've made over the past months/years you can't just delete the post from your G+ feed. You have to delete it from G+ and from YouTube.
  • When you post a link to a YouTube video on G+ you need to be aware that the words you post along with it are going to simultaneously appear in two different communities on the internet with two inherently different audiences.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bee and Puppycat

I would like to take a moment to recommend that you back the Bee and Puppycat Kickstarter. There are only 9 days to go, and I believe it is representative of exactly what Kickstarter is here for.

To begin, I have no affiliation with the project in any way, shape or form. I don't know anyone that's working on it, and it doesn't really have anything to do with RPGs.

Natasha Allegri
Bee and Puppycat is a cartoon by Natasha Allegri. She's a character designer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time and, I believe, is responsible for the way Finn's gender alt Fionna looks among other things. She seems like an awesome, funny and super sincere person in a quiet and flighty kind of way (check out this interview), but this post is about the quality of the art and not the personality of its creator.*

The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $600,000 to make six more episodes of Bee and Puppycat with stretch goal potential for more. The project is being run by Frederator Studios for Cartoon Hangover which consistently delivers wonderful things and seems to truly give a shit about protecting and defending their artist's visions. My personal bias in all this is that I think animation is humanity's highest art form and if I could ever be a part of a cartoon project I'd want to work with Frederator above all others.

So what makes Bee and Puppycat so special?

#1 It's beautiful

Cat scratch fever dream?
#2 It's funny
Accidental dick punches are always funny. As are farts, and thumbing ones nose at an authority figure by eating all their candy after they ignore you. Great stuff.

#3 It feels so fucking sincere it almost makes me sick
Bee feels real. The show begins with her having just been fired and her depression is executed so well. Then it goes on to effortlessly execute bashful love, embarassment, and self doubt.

#4 It Pushes
To me it feels like Bee and Puppycat is trying new things. The voice of Puppycat uses the "Oliver" vocaloid (

#5 Excellent use of tropes
Tangentially related to number #4 it does an excellent job of using tropes, allowing them to expertly draw the audience in, but then slaps, stretches and flips them. (costume, oh but I hate it)

#6 It's fucking weird, in the right way
Go to fishbowl space to babysit giant fish that's on, not in a fishbowl. Talking, yet apparently unrelated ladybugs.

#7 The Zoom
In my opinion this is so fucking important for any story and even in just one episode Bee and Puppycat shows the future potential so elegantly. It does this by telling a story of love and betrayal using song and then gives a single flash, right at the end of the show to indicate that there is truth to that story.

#8 Darkness and Light
I believe the... cleansing(?) of stories for children is a disservice to civilization. Darkness, badness, evilness, wickedness, corruption (and so much more) is real, and to cut it out of stories told to children is awful. Cartoons, like the fairy tales of old need, to be able to explore serious topics and Bee and Puppycat have already explore a lawfully sociopathic authority figure as well a monster in disguise.

But don't take my word for it. Watch the first episode and use that brain of yours to decide for yourself!

Check out the Kickstarter and let's help make this happen!

*Note: It's possible to have a long drawn out discussion about the fact that powerful art cannot be created by an interesting, powerful or compelling personality, but that's a discussion for another time. And I wrote this most all of this blog post before I'd even seen her tumblr. She's brilliant. Her work is amazing. I just... I don't even know. I think the world is richer because of people like Natasha. I cannot even begin to imagine how much amazing stuff is going to come from this show if it can become a show.