Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Oracle Fulfilled

Story of my life. I spent last night researching this post and allowed myself to fall down an internet pit while Patrick went out and wrote on the same idea. There's probably some life lesson to this whole "action vs fucking around", but I'll cry "zeitgeist" and just use a bunch of pictures.

I want to talk about Fate. Not this Fate.

This Fate. Spin. Measure. Cut. Spin. Measure. Cut.
Van Arno - The Fates Endure an Unforseen Downturn
I never liked Fate. I have consistently perceived it as anti-free will, railroady crap, and nothing I would want within spitting distance of a D&D game. Recently, Adventure Time has caused me to completely re-examine the concept of Fate and think about why I didn't like it. This in turn has made me consider that Fate may be something fantastic to add to games.

First, a quote from the False Machine (emphasis mine):
"The doom acts just like a railroady DM. **It knows what is meant to happen and just keeps shuffling the deck until it does**."

Patrick nails exactly what I despise about the concept. The fate, or doom, or divine providence, or pre-destination has parameters that must be met. It requires some sort of setup or alignment and thus has a right way to go down. Here's part of one of Tolkien's horrible complexities, from the Doom of Mandos:

"Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever."

The problem, as I've identified it, is SPECIFICITY. Usually brought about by use of the word "and".

Not only will the Valar fence Valinor against you, this doom decrees it will work so well that not even sounds you make can penetrate the wards. That's lame. Likewise, it decrees that you will lose your treasure because of your oath. It can't just be orcs, or theft, or mismanagement of resources. No, according to fate there's gotta be some bullshit conspiracy behind it all that ties the loss to your personal oath in some way. If that string doesn't exist then the whole thing starts to crumble. Then of course is the decree that all things you start that begin well will turn to evil in the end. On its own that could be a pretty sweet curse but then that dratted "and" drops down some big old imagination walls. The thing will go evil because of treason, or the fear of the possibility of treason. Lame. Did the mining operation go bad because a telepathic demon was dug up? Nope. Treason. The foreman just started shipping stuff to your political rival. Again.

So how do you do fate "gameably"? Take a page from the story of Perseus, or Finn the Human.

Klimt - Danaë
In the story of Perseus, the Oracle of Delphi tells King Acrisius he will be killed by his grandson. That's it. She doesn't say how, or why, or when, just "You will be killed by your grandson." Simple. No "because" to worry about, and Acrisius' free will is left perfectly intact. So when he locks Danaë up in a tower so she can never get preggers, he *chooses* of his own free will to be a big shit bag and destroy his family. After Zeus goes all golden shower to get with Danaë despite her dad's protection, Acrisius *chooses* to lock the Perseus and his mother in a trunk and throw them out to sea 9 months after the coin fall. The king, and his fear, are completely in control of what happens. When Perseus finally does kill him, it's a complete accident from the perspective of everyone involved except Clotho and her sisters (Perseus throws a discus poorly in a competition. It flies into the crowd striking and killing his grandfather. Neither knew the other were there.).

In Adventure Time, Finn is doomed to lose his right arm. The how, why and when aren't just unknown they're completely mutable depending on how things play out. The doom follows him across time, realities, and even lives. There're an almost infinite number of ways it could occur, and so even though it is his fate there are no rails.
Finn meditating - Mortal Folly

The idea:
When you make a character, roll on a fate table. Tell no one your fate but the DM. Play begins and proceeds normally, but when the time is right the DM adjudicates its occurrence.

Can be implemented poorly (lame DM fiat, or just boring execution)
Likely requires campaign play to be interesting/meaningful

Con #1 is a big one. For example, if you roll "Sire a prophet" there are plenty of boring ways to bring forth the doom. It can override a carousing table roll. It could happen "off screen" as soon as your character retires from adventuring and finds a nice person to settle down with. It could be a flat 5% chance every time your character makes with the sexy tiems. This of course is lame as shit.

More interesting alternatives would be that you sire a prophet because, while carrying a dead sheep up a hill in an attempt to bribe a Cyclops you get struck by lightning and the sheep animates and begins speaking in riddles. Or, as you kill a creature in the shrine of an oracle you throw their body into a pit where holy gasses animate it. You could sire your prophet by botanical experiments gone wrong. Or an interrupted magic mouth spell. Or your characters blood and a cursed tome.

To steal an example from history (, the Emperor Nero was apparently told by the oracle that "The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!". He assumed this meant he would live to be 73, but as it turns out, the person who killed him was apparently 73. The more simple and straightforward the fate, the easier it is to twist or flex or pun into something epic.

Fifty Dooms

01 - 02 - Sire a king/queen
03 - 04 - Sire a prophet
05 - 06 - Sire a great warrior
07 - 08 - Sire an antichrist
09 - 10 - Found a city
11 - 12 - Found a village
13 - 14 - Found a kingdom
15 - 16 - Found an empire
17 - 18 - Found a religion
19 - 20 - Find something unfindable
21 - 22 - Overthrow a city
23 - 24 - Overthrow a village
25 - 26 - Overthrow a kingdom
27 - 28 - Overthrow an empire
29 - 30 - Overthrow a religion
31 - 32 - Establish a legacy that lasts 1000 years
33 - 34 - Create a work of indescribable beauty
35 - 36 - Destroy forgotten knowledge
37 - 38 - Three times will you recover truth long lost
39 - 40 - Lose an arm
41 - 42 - Lose a leg
43 - 44 - Lose yourself
45 - 46 - Lose your mind
47 - 48 - Be resurrected
49 - 50 - Be resurrected as a demigod
51 - 52 - Be raised as undead
53 - 54 - Speak a true prophecy
55 - 56 - Unleash the wind
57 - 58 - Bring forth fire from the earth
59 - 60 - Wake the dead
61 - 62 - Tame an untamable beast
63 - 64 - Understand the speech of the dumb
65 - 66 - Hear the voiceless
67 - 68 - Drown a spirit in woe
69 - 70 - Tear a king limb from limb
71 - 72 - Conquer the world with silver spears
73 - 74 - The number ## marks the hour of your downfall!
75 - 76 - Shatter the heart of the world
77 - 78 - Be hunted by the gods
79 - 80 - Be banished from hell
81 - 82 - Be banished from heaven
83 - 84 - Blind many with radiance
85 - 86 - Open that which is not a portal
87 - 88 - Break the heart of a forest
89 - 90 - Steal the voice of the sea
91 - 92 - Break unbreakable shackles
93 - 94 - Undermine the core of creation
95 - 96 - Fall from the pinnacle of grace
97 - 98 - Usurp a king
99 - 00 - Usurp a god

If still in doubt let Adventure Time be your guide....
Finn sees himself in a dream - King Worm
Finn in an alternate, lichless reality. - The Lich
Finn in the pillowverse. - Puhoy
Finn in a past life as Shoko. - The Vault
Finn in an MMO. Ok, not an MMO. Finn in an infinite train filled with an MMO style reputation grind. - Dungeon Train

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Flashnewb talks about writing

This music pairs nicely with the post
Man... New Years blog resolutions must be happening. There're posts everywhere in the OSR-o-sphere and they're quite good. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting here reposting crap from reddit.

Back in November of 2013 there was a discussion on the Game of Thrones subreddit about a Vanity Fair article in which Steamboat Captain Martin requests his fans leave him alone so he can write. In the discussion, user "Flashnewb" posted a fantastic writeup on the writing process. I like to read it sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed with all the vapor of my wares, and I figured you all might enjoy reading it too. Posting the full text here because as history demonstrates over and over again, only the reposts survive.


A little bit about writing books, from someone who has been trying for some time:

The ASOIAF books are huge. North of 100,000 words apiece. There might be specific word counts somewhere, I don't know. But they are longer even than your average fantasy book.

They are being written sequentially in series, which means the overall direction of the story needs to be tracked one way or another. He often talks about 'architect writers' and 'gardener writers'. An architect would keep track of the story with meticulous outlines and then write. A gardener begins writing and tries to connect it all as he goes. GRRM is a confessed gardener.

So you begin. Let's say you come out of the blocks at breakneck pace. 5 or 6 thousand words a day. In a month you have the first draft completed. So you let it rest. You have to let it rest. If you don't, you won't be able to objectively look at your work and determine what needs changing. After a good few weeks of forgetting all about it, you come back to it and read it.

Oh. Fuck.

70% of it is shit. 20% of it is salvageable. 5% is pretty good. 4% is great. 1% is gold dust.

Of all those parts, that 1% is the only stuff that makes it through as-is. The rest? Start again. Do it better. I don't care if you're a 30 novel veteran or someone just starting out, the process is the same. Go back. Start again. Go slower.

So you do all of that. Re-write the 70%. Re-jig the 20%. Tidy up that final 9%. This is a slow process. You need to figure out what's worth keeping and what needs tossing. Also, your manuscript is currently at 189,000 words which is way too long. You need to cut a bunch of non essential scenes. And oh FUCK. Most of the non essential stuff just so happens to be from that 9% you really liked. Too bad. Cut it.

You let it sit. Again. Then you come back to it with a red pen, and go through it like you're an English professor grading the paper of your most petty enemy. You strike out anything that sounds remotely bad. You flag parts for re-writing because they're stilted. Dozens of sections need re-writes. Whole plot strands are off track and bloated. Streamline. Fix. Go back to the start. Repeat. If you're lucky, at the end of this process, maybe half of what you have will make it to print as-is.

You keep this up until you're positive it is as good as it can possibly be. Then you give it to someone else, secretly proud of what you've done. You sit back and wait for the praise to flow back to you


They kiiiinda like it. But pages 120-240 are boring, they're utterly confused by several plot developments, they think your characters are following some majorly cliched archetypes and, by the way, this whole section with the pirate ship is a straight up rip off of Pirates of the Caribbean.


Back again. Repeat. Tidy. Re-write. Gut. Change. The story is now unrecognizable to you, but you can at least appreciate that it is better. For a book that's ultimately going to be about 130,000 words long, you have easily written in excess of 2 million words that will never see the printed page. Some of those cut words, by the way, are your favourite ones so far. But they didn't fit the pace or the tone, so they had to go.

Eventually, you manage to compromise and scrape your way to a finished book. It has taken years. Freakin'. YEARS. But there it is. 'A Game of Thrones' is on shelves. And whoa, people seem to really like it! You decide you better pretend that writing this fucking thing wasn't the most miserable and frustrating thing in the world, because people want to hear about how writing is a magical creative endeavor that just happens naturally. And really, for all the misery, it was also the most rewarding thing you've ever done. For a few weeks you revel in the happiness you have brought so many people.

Then you sit down and start typing book two. You're back where it all started. And there are five more to go after that.

Oh. Fuck. What the hell were you thinking?

A year later, you're just putting the finishing touches on draft one of book two. You decide to google your book to see what the fans are saying when you notice a post on a forum.

"Jeez, when does the next one come out?? I'm waiting over here!"

And you slump at the keyboard. It has already begun.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Gameable Thundercats - Journey to the Tower of Omens and Legacy

More procrastination means more Thundercats! Or that was the plan, and then I realized that I'd already written up a couple episodes but hadn't posted them. You may have won this round Past-Jacob, but Present-Jacob is planning to be totally shiftless, if he can get around to it.

This post contains the contents of two episodes: "Journey to the Tower of Omens" which is much more of a dungeon crawl episode (shamefully linear) than a journey and "Legacy" which is badass with its whole "the distant past and the distant future are super technological", but I didn't feel like it had that much useable content as it was just one big fluffy info dump. But that's ok. Pyramids in space make up for everything. I also avoided including technological related ideas (e.g., "the big bad evil guy's sleeping/regen chamber is also a tank" and "your dead wizard's soul has been digitized and put into a virtual reality console").

Journey to the Tower of Omens

Greed traps are always under utilized in my games
01. A race of squidlike people use a single stone to power the magical offensive and defensive capabilities of their entire kingdom.

02. A book holding clues to a kingdom's past and future was taken, by clerics worshiping a god of physical speed and stamina, far beyond the kingdom's walls and hidden with the intention that it would never be found.

03. A temple build with magic and protected by ancient enchantments is hidden behind a waterfall in a remote valley far to the East.

04. A single stone bridge, built with ancient technology and no apparent supports, extends across a giant chasm filled with blades.

05. A great stone door is locked. Not to worry though, keys hang from the ceiling of the room on metal wire. One key opens the door. The other keys cause a pit to open immediately in front of the door. There are probably spikes, or maybe crocodiles.

06. Hexagonal shaped hallway. Spinning blade traps triggered by pressure plates do not stop for 1 hour, or until the door at the opposite end of the hall is opened by depressing two stone buttons (on opposite walls) simultaneously.

07. Room. Stone. 50' ceiling. Pool in center of room is illuminated from within. 1000gp sit at the bottom of the pool. Lion shaped heads carved high up on walls. One of the lion heads emits a single beam of light towards the floor. It reflects off of a pool of water filled and angles up to illuminate a lion head on the opposite wall (making a V shape). If the beam of light is disrupted (by ripples for instance) water begins to pour from the lion heads into the room. There's a grate in the ceiling and a drain in the fountain.

08. It looks like a mummy but it dodges surprisingly well.

09. A wizard, trapped in a lantern, is able sacrifice herself to cause it to emit true sunlight.

10. A magic book floats above its stone stand. It is clearly important, but it's pages are blank.

PYRAMIDS IN SPACE!!!!!! Best thing ever. Nothing else matters. Winning!


01. A magic book can temporarily extract your soul and allow it to relive events from the past. The book may judge how well you do and close itself to future uses if it considers you a failure.

02. Pyramids in space.

03. *sigh* That slave uprising will never work because the different groups that make up the slaves hate one another so much they turn on each other as much as the guards. Idiots.

04. A race of powerful weaponsmiths. They craft weapons in threes. One person shapes the weapon. Two others emit beams of heat and light (from their hands) onto the weapon as it is worked.

Ultraviolet and Ultraviolence are only three letters different and make a great color for evil magic