Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crosstoberfest - HTD/5 Interesting - Liepaja!

1) Basically the coolest place in Latvia.

2) One district, Karosta, is the site of a ruined Tsarist naval fortress falling into the sea, the most haunted building in Latvia (a prison), and a gargantuan Orthodox cathedral entirely ringed in ugly, decaying Soviet apartments. It's basically the coolest place in the coolest place in Latvia.

3) I walked barefoot over a couple of kilometers of broken concrete. Twice. While incredibly painful and incredibly stupid, it did provide an incredibly mystifying Facebook status update.

4) The beach at Karosta is fantastic. The fortress isn't falling into the sea. It has fallen into the sea. All that's left is a jumble of broken concrete across the beach. Exploring the main site of the fortress, you can see identifiable bits of stairs and parts of building among the rubble like the remains of a giant's Lego house after the giant's mom tripped over it and bits went all over the giant family's living room and she didn't care even though the giant spent, like, all day working on that house and he was going to show it to his best giant friend when he came over on Thursday after giant school.

5) Liepaja is the rock and roll capital of Latvia. The 'official' rock cafe wasn't really happenin', so we spent the evening listening to a sloppy-yet-energetic Latvian ska band at the 'other' nightspot. Yeah, not a big town.

Crosstoberfest - HTD/5 Interesting - Vilnius!

1) Hope you like churches.

2) The Soviets turned this giant Orthodox cathedral into their Museum of Atheism. There's being a repressive, intolerant, genocidal occupying foreign power, and then there's being a dick about it.

3) More places should be able to pull off having something called the Gates of Dawn with a straight face.

4) Of the places I visited, I was most excited about eating lunch at a cafe called the Graf Zeppelin, surprising exactly no one.

5) The Lithuanians put their Museum of Occupation in the former KGB building in Vilnius. There's throwing off the shackles of a repressive, intolerant, genocidal occupying foreign power, and then there's being respectful about it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Introducing Crosstoberfest

October! The month of change! Closely following September, the month of never updating your blog.

In less than a month, the Hollow Tooth Diaries will necessarily come to a close, barring a backblog (like there is now, and boy is it hefty). For this last month of them, I'll be trying to unify its unique brand of overwritten, self-indulgent travel writing with the other regular features of this site - you know, the overwritten self-indulgent RPG writing.

But, as I mentioned, I am pretty behind. So to start with, I'll merge HTD and 5 Interesting, in order to clear some of that. Watch this space!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Departure 3: The Frenchening

Proving that I will spend lavish amounts of effort and money to stay on someone's couch for free, I am departing for points west today. Expect no updates for the next week. "But how is that in any way dissimilar to last week," I hear you ask, to which I magnanimously reply "shut up."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome New Friends, Hopefully

I sent an unsolicited e-mail to bona fide internet celebrity Chris Sims re: the Saddest Heroes of Them All, who was impressed enough to throw them up on his legitimate comics journalism webiste, ComicsAlliance with a link back here.

So, for any potential new readers, welcome! There's probably nothing for you here.

This blog is about half overwritten, melodramatic travelblog and half overwritten, melodramatic analysis and development of tabletop RPGs. Not a lot of comics content here. I guess I played some Champions. I could write about some Champions. And I've been turning over a system solution for that thing villains do where they put innocents in danger to get away, which I have loosely titled "Peril", but no concrete ideas yet.

But hey, I know full well how nerdy spheres of influence can overlap, so maybe some of you are into this scene. If so, welcome! Here are some posts to get you started:

My first post
outlines what I wanted to do with this thing when I started it back in May. You may notice that I've begun new columns. You may notice that I haven't done some of these at all. In fact, expect a post on why I haven't done Sourcebook Corner fairly soon. (I haven't done The Politics of Make-Believe because it's boring).

Baroque and Roll was fun, though it lacks a unifying conclusion.

You'll want to catch up on the latest exploits of The Old Witch of Riga.

Hey! Comics content! Inserted clumsily into one of my worst-written posts! I plan on revisiting the idea at some point.

Share and enjoy! And, theoretical new reader (and old readers too, I guess), if there's something you want me to write about, leave a comment, and I'd be (probably) happy to oblige.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Escape From Zachodni Station

(Last time. The Time Before)

You are awake. A shrill sine wave is drilling into your ears, but it doesn't bother you so much if you stop paying attention to it. There are some SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS here. There is a SECURITY GUARD here. He guards the exit to the east. He is shouting in POLISH. Exits are north, south, east.

You were not robbed during the night. You have:
-BAGS (2)
-stupid useless deadweight OVERCOAT (currently equipped to inventory slot: blanket)
-GLASSES (currently equipped to inventory slot: face, slightly bent from sleeping on them)
-HAT (currently equipped to inventory slot: face)
-WALLET (currently equipped to inventory slot: pockets)
-PASSPORT (currently equipped to inventory slot: pockets)

==>inventory, emotional
You are HELLA TIRED. The station is opening, leaving you GUARDEDLY OPTIMISTIC. Deep inside, you are still SOMEWHAT CONCERNED THAT YOU'LL NEVER SEE YOUR FRIENDS AGAIN, though you also have GRIM DETERMINATION.

The SECURITY GUARD is becoming most insistent.

You go NORTH.

You are in the area of the station that was open last night. Through the east is a BAR promising INTERNET for only 5 ZLOTY. The exit west has been unbarred since last night. An exit south leads to ZACHODNI HOSTEL.

You go WEST.

You are in the waiting area of the station. There are CHAIRS here. There is a SHIFTLESS BACKPACKER here, asleep on a CHAIR. There is a KIOSK here. There are PAYPHONES here. Exits are west and east.
==> examine kiosk

This KIOSK is about 5 feet from where you were last night, goddamn it. It contains INTERNET. Its SCREENS are-
==> use kiosk use kiosk use kiosk!!!

I'm sorry, I don't understand. And you didn't let me finish. Its SCREE-
==> use kiosk

The KIOSK does not function. Its SCREENS are blue. They display ERROR MESSAGES.
==> turn off kiosk, turn on kiosk

The KIOSK has no visible power controls, which I would have told you if you'd have let me finish earlier.
==> sorry

It's okay, you're under a lot of stress.
==>unplug kiosk

==>examine PAYPHONES

There sure are a lot of 'em. They feature detailed SIGNS explaining COUNTRY DIALING CODES.
==> call Friend Marco

And how will you be paying today, sir?
==>use credit card

Use what?
==> you're going to make me do this, aren't you?
==>open wallet

Your WALLET contains 50 LATS, 20 EUROS, and 0 ZLOTY. It contains several identity and payment CARDS.
==>take credit card

==>use credit card with payphone


I'm sorry. I don't understand. You may enter "==> help" at any time to view the TUTORIAL and list of available commands.
==>no seriously, what the hell?

I'm sorry. I don't -
==>fine, fine.
==>use credit card with different payphone

==>use credit card with every goddamn payphone

==>use debit card with payphone

You mean the debit card that doesn't work anywhere on this continent?

No way.
==>you don't want my money, you stupid machines?

Guess not.

You go WEST.


During that business with the PAYPHONES, this place has opened up some. A few CONVENIENCE STORES have begun operating. There is a TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY OUTLET here. You can see BUSSES departing and arriving through the exit north. You can see a PARKING LOT through an exit south. You can see A BUNCH OF STUPID PAYPHONES THAT DON'T WORK through an exit east.
==>examine outlet


Still closed. Everything else is open though.


You go SOUTH


You are now outside. There is a PARKING LOT here. There are many TRAVELLERS here, though some may be SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS. South, you can see a 24-HOUR VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT. West, you can see a FREEWAY. East, you can see the entrance to ZACHODNI HOSTEL. There is a FAST-FOOD SHACK here. There is an ATM here.
==> use atm

You use your DEBIT CARD with the ATM. You receive 50 ZLOTY, which go into your WALLET.

You go NORTH.

==>examine convenience store

A small booth staffed by a short, toadlike old lady. It seems to sell DELICIOUS PASTRIES and PHONE CARDS.
==>buy phone card

You can't! You are too scared of looking like a stupid tourist!
==>no I'm not

Are too.
==>learn how to say phone card from sign

==>buy phone card.

How big a phone card? And what kind?

==>hold up five fingers

Perfect. You lose 5 ZLOTY. You gain one PHONE CARD.
==>use phone card with payphone

That doesn't work.
==>examine phone card

Looks like you got the wrong kind of phone card! This is credit for a cell phone!
==>yeah, I kinda thought so
==>formulate cunning plan

You gain one CUNNING PLAN.
==>examine plan

Well, it turns out that back home in CANADA, it's only 9pm. Folks might still be awake there. And something tugs at your memory. You've seen reference to CANADA another time today...
==>examine country dialing codes

Wow, every country in Europe gets its own! But you can only collect call Canada and the US, for whatever reason.
==>collect call mom!

Seriously? This is your plan?
==>damn straight

Okay. After some menacing clicking noises, your MOM answers the phone.
==>ask mom for phone number

How the heck would she know it?
==>give mom facebook login info

==>chat with mom

That's really expensive.
==>chat with mom

You learn many exciting things about the health of your family and the state of renovations at home. Your EMOTIONAL STABILITY improves slightly.
==>use number with payphone

And how will you be paying, sir?
==>free local calling?

I don't think so.
==>borrow phone from backpackers

You approach some SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS. They speak English! They are successfully reassured that this is a local call! They lend you their phone.
==>call krzysztof

No answer. The backpackers are leaving!
==>return phone
==>borrow different phone

These SHIFTLESS BACKPACKERS also speak English! But they're not locals. So they're not using their phone. You suspect that might be a common problem in a bus station.
==>look for business

A business wouldn't mind making some local calls for you! You see a 24-HOUR VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT to the south.

You go SOUTH.

==>s, s, s!

You go SOUTH.


An unspectacular but pleasant little place with blue wallpaper. There are no PATRONS here. There is THE NICEST POLISH-VIETNAMESE MAN YOU'VE EVER MET here.
==>ask waiter for phone

He doesn't speak English!

He produces a PHONE. Not a landline, his very own cellular PHONE. What a nice guy.
==>give number to waiter

You give FRIEND KRZYSZTOF'S PHONE NUMBER to the WAITER. He uses it with his PHONE.
==> take phone

You take the PHONE.

It makes some WEIRD NOISES then disconnects.
==>try again!

Success! Friend Krzysztof answers! He sounds almost as relieved as you are.
==>get directions

Friend Krzysztof gives you DIRECTIONS TO HIS PLACE.
==>thank waiter

You suspect the smile on your face communicates how important this was to you. You lose the PHONE.
==>use directions with bus stop

Success! As the BUS rolls down the freeway, you exult with joy after finally having- wait a sec.

I don't know, shouldn't you have won?
==>examine transit map

That explains it. Your bus is going the wrong way!
==>get off, use directions with bus stop on other side of the street

Success! As the BUS rolls down the freeway, you exult with joy after finally having ESCAPED FROM ZACHODNI STATION!
Total playtime: 5 hours 13 minutes
Final score: 172

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Sad Superheroes of Riga

Hello, friends. As you may know, I'm currently on an internship in Riga, Latvia (which is, itself, only a slight verbal hesitation away from being directly comics-related). I saw these ages ago, and knew I had to share them. I sprung into action! Given how many months I've been here, you can tell how inspired I was. Nevertheless, you, dear reader don't want to hear my excuses, you demand results! So, I bring you, the Sad Superheroes of Riga.

Hobo Supes - A dejected Superman grilling a hot dog over a campfire he's starting with his heat vision.

Roadkill - A blue-tighted red-caped hero (presumably Superman) crumpled beneath the front bumper of a mid-sized sedan (presumably kryptonite was involved. Although, the sky in the background is tinged slightly red). Batman and some urban youth in baggy sportswear look on in dismay. (I note with equal dismay that subsequent grafitti and a goddamn car have obscured Supes's body. Trust me, he's there UPDATE: in fact, look at this detail!)

Sadcap - Captain America, but, like, 70 years old, but he looks 70 years old, wearing a respirator and looking crestfallen.

Sundered Robocop - Again, sorry for the shitty picture, but here we have Robocop missing both his legs, one arm, and various other bits.

Saddest Hulk - This one is a few blocks from the others, which makes me hopeful that there are more around town. Pretty self-explanatory: a bawling Hulk with gamma-irradiated tears running down his face.

On the corner between Batman and Cap, there used to be one of Robin with an arm in a sling and an IV stand, but the plank he was on was replaced before I got my hands on a camera. It's always the children who suffer the most.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Fixed 7th Sea Some More

I love 7th Sea, but it wasn't very good. So I rewrote it. My list of 'house rules' changes the character advancement system to be more like Legend of the Five Rings 3rd Edition, hopefully addressing some of the underdeveloped or poorly thought-out system aspects in the process. I

t currently runs to about 20,000 words. If you want a copy, let me know.

Anyway, I picked it up again this week, for no reason whatsoever, and added a new thing that I think helps an underused aspect of the system get some play. Active Defences (a topic I intend to write a bit about in a more generic sense later) in 7th Sea suck and are hard to do. So I added this:

Weapon Speed (Weapon). Advanced Knack for all Weapon Skills with that already have Parry. For the purposes of Active Defence with the noted weapon, you may treat Action Dice as if they rolled an amount lower equal to your Rank in this Knack.

Your maximum Rank in this Knack depends on the weapon: Heavy Weapons and Hand Axes cap at 1; Fencing at 2; Improvised at 2 or 3 (haven't decided, but Improvised Weapons need all the help they can get); Knives, Panzerhands, Polearms, and Staves are 3; Cloaks, Shields, and Bucklers at 4. I also can't remember if you can Parry with whips or not. If so, probably cap at 3.

'Nonstandard' Athlete Knacks (basically everything but Footwork, because I love nerfing Footwork) automatically have Weapon Speed equal to the character's Rank in the Knack.

I've tried to integrate it with some existing (and new) Swordsman Schools granting bonus Ranks and increased maximums.

Any thoughts? Specifically, any thoughts from my 7th Sea group? It feels weird to just drop it in like that, but Knacks aren't exactly hard for you guys to pick up.

If you don't care about this game, then I apologize for everything you just read.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Internet Archaeology

I have discovered what I believe to be the oldest known nerdy Chuck Norris joke in existence.

In 1999's PC game classic Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor, the Grandmaster trainer of the Unarmed combat skill is named Norris, and has kinda a blond mullet thing going on.

It's important to know the historical roots of atrocities, so we can learn from our mistakes, and strive to build a better, classier, actually funny tomorrow.

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Beyond Riga: Zachodni Station


If you're going to write about minor travelling inconveniences in a former Eastern Bloc country in an overly-melodramatic manner, you could do worse than have them occur at a place called Zachodni Station.

I mean, just look at that name. You've got the fairly-menacing "z" and "dn", you've got a letter at the end that pretty much never ends English words, and you have the inherent feelings of terrified uncertainty that accompanies the letter combination "ch" in any language from east of the Rhine. And then you to all that the officious blank signifier of "Station". Anything can happen at a station! What kind of station?

Commentors, feel free to encourage me to tone down the melodrama.

As you'll recall, I stepped into this land of linguistic menace at about 2 or 3am (I had no watch, and no clocks were forthcoming) after a 16-hour bus ride. The station was closed, save for a few outlying fast-food shacks. Friend Krzysztof was nowhere to be found, but I expected that. I had no money, no proficiency at Polish, and no idea what to do.

I staggered around the outskirts of the station for a bit (probably around an hour - this part's a little hazy) thinking that maybe Friend Krzysztof had just decided to pop out for a snack and would be right back, or was hiding behind the homeless guys sleeping on benches. Failing that, I'd settle for one of those pay-for-Internet kiosks they have at airports. No luck.

Part of the station was a little more open. The lobby for Zachodni Hostel (which doesn't sound any nicer) was open, and several backpackers were trying to sleep sitting in uncomfortable chairs while an invisible TV blared nearby. Just through the hostel was a bar that promised WiFi for a few zloty, but a) I didn't have any zloty; b) The bartender spoke no English, and I was too exhausted and/or proud to do Touristspeak; and c) I didn't have a computer anyway.

I did another round of the station, thinking maybe at 3:30 my buddy would decide to swing back and check to see if I'd arrived yet. After an indeterminate length of time standing completetly still and staring incoherently at the parking lot, I decided to head back to the hostel lobby and get some shuteye, figuring everything would be clearer in the morning.

I draped myself with my heavy raincoat that I'd been cursing as dead weight since I left the house, left my bags over my shoulders and my hat on, and drifted off to...


First off, I guess whoever was watching the TV in the adjacent heavily-secured room wanted to make sure all the backpacker bums could hear, so he turned it up about as far as it would go. Second, have you ever tried to sleep sitting up without a headrest in a hard, bus-station chair in your sweaty travelling clothes while wearing a couple of bags, and you're right next to the door that springs open with a menacing whir every couple of minutes, and you have no idea if your present situation will get any better in the light of day, and what if you never find Friend Krzysztof? What then? Do you randomly take public transit around the town trying to find the interesting bits, dragging all this junk with you until finally you collapse from dehydration because there are no ATMs in this scenario and even if there were, you're too afraid to talk to anyone because they'll all know you're a stupid tourist and/or cultural imperialist, despite that thing you heard where Poles like Americans even though you're not American, you could probably pass off as one, but we all know that you'd just freeze up, who are you kidding, remember Brussels?

The other thought going through my mind was how great a blog post this was going to be.

During this time, I made a brief inventory of the different approaches to sleeping in bus stations that I observed. The lucky bastards that got there first stretched out across several seats, though they weren't long enough, so they either elevated their knees, tried to balance on the narrow benches in the fetal position, or twisted their bodies and left their feet on the floor. The lucky ones used altruistic significant others as pillows; the rest used bags or nothing at all. Most tried to sleep sitting up, bags around one leg or, among the more trusting, nearby. The chairs were too far from the wall for them to have much success, as they had to basically lift themselves out of the chair to get any head support. As a result they tried just lolling them back, or to the side, or forward (my first failed technique).

After a few interruptions, I did another fruitless tour of the bus station, and strode back to the hostel lobby, determined to snooze. I packed my comfiest suitcase (not very comfy) under my head and stretched out across the seats. My particular resolution to the Legs Question was to elevate one knee and wedge the other leg in horizontally between the raised leg and the armrest. It is exactly as comfortable as it sounds.

There were a few more obstacles to a good hour's rest. First, let's return to that TV. I was too tired to care at this point, but I did manage to determine that the Polish dubbing industry favours the technique of "letting the original soundtrack run in the background while one stern-sounding man does every character's part" (a movie on the bus ride back did this in Russian, so this might have been Russian too). Anyway, it was an interesting diversion and I grinned beneath the hat on my face. And I was certainly glad when the movie ended and the TV switched off. I was less glad when it started up again playing the test-pattern sine wave frequency. My immediate thoughts were I'll never get to sleep like this. Well, actually I'll probably forget it's there soon enough.

Aside from that, and the police barging in a couple of times and opening alarmed doors to the sudden shock of everyone in the room, there were no more obstacles to a nice, peaceful sleep.

At 5am, the guard office burst open (with the sine wave still playing) and we were told in no uncertain terms to get lost, you goddamn bums (Amazing! I learned Polish in my sleep!), as the station was opening. We could sleep on their benches. The two tough-looking young men that had tried to sleep sitting up had ended up with their heads on each other's shoulders. How cute. I blinked at the grey almost-dawn and staggered over to the awakening bus station.

NEXT TIME: Escape From Zachodni Station!

From Friend Ian

'Don't look back' is a good policy when it comes to basilisks.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries - Beyond Riga: Warsaw Day Zero

Europe! Tiniest of Continents! The distance between things is less here than it is elsewhere! Hell, I was in Vilnius last week. Warsaw's only one country away! And Friend Krzysztof has graciously offered to let me mooch off him for the weekend. Let's do this!

The bus from Riga to Warsaw takes 12-13 hours on a good day.

I set off with my bags and my seasonally-inappropriate overcoat. I had checked the weather before I left. It was about all the preparation I did do. I didn't, for instance, write down Friend Krzysztof's phone number or even consider the slightest chance that the merest possibility might somewhat exist that Central European discount bus lines might be the teensiest bit unreliable.

More fool I.

The bus broke down in Lithuania. At Marijampole, a town notable for its convenience stores that close some time before 6pm on a Friday, they herded us off the bus to effect repairs. You know, after letting us stew in the AC-less heat for about 20 minutes, packed like sardines in a fuzzy, scratchy, synthetic fibre-upholstered can. The passengers disembarked and serious men with rolled-up shirtsleeves sagely applied power tools to the bus's engine. To my ignorant eyes, it looked like a brutal assault on an innocent piece of machinery with hammer and electric drill. The worksite invariably attracted a cluster of (almost entirely male) passengers who looked on sagely. Beneath their stoic exteriors, one could see them struggling with that primal instinct if you just let ME look at it... And hold the drill... I too fell prey to these (entirely baseless) thoughts, which no doubt originate from deep in the evolutionary history of our species, where women tended children and gathered berries, while men repaired savannah tractors.

Two and a half hours later, they managed to excise the offending metal widget, drive somewhere to get a new and better widget, and replace the widget. We were off again! By this point, Phoneless Me knew that there would be trouble down the line.

The sun went down as we trundled through northern Poland. I read my book and watched the far-off lightning, sure that, while it might be difficult to connect with Friend
Krzysztof when I arrived it would certainly happen. Hell, when the freeway into town was washed out by waist-deep floodwaters, delaying my arrival even futher, I barely batted an eye. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when I trudged off the bus into my new home, Zachodni Station.

NEXT TIME: Danger! Exhaustion! Broken machinery! Annoying noises!

Update Update Update!

Internet failure! Roaming Central Europe! Exchanging labour for wages, thereby alienating myself from my work, myself, and my fellow man! Or I would be if I got wages. Anyway, expect more updates in the days ahead. I've got a huge backlog of HTDs (interesting ones, even!) and a shiny new RPG project which I'm sure you're dying to hear about.

N.B. HTDs in coming days will not be in chronological order.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

ZSP Has Begun a Great Work!

It has the working title Pentad.

It is a universal conflict system that was conceived for mass combat, but works alright on individual, social, and biplane dogfight scales. Also, eerily good for spaceships.

It is preventing me from serving my country to the best of my ability.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Old Witch of Riga, Part II

From the Riga Municipality website:

It is prohibited in the territory of public property:
to engage in fortune telling and magic;

This is first on the list, before the interdictions against open alcohol on the streets or driving a vehicle on the ice of the canals.

I guess the old girl gave them some trouble in the past.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Connectivity Calamity!

Bad news, Hauntheads! Internet at the Casa de My Place is out-ish again! Expect fewer and smaller updates.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Workshop Yesterday: Playmobattle Creator's Commentary

Let me explain. Three years ago, I worked at a toy store.

That store sold the popular European toy line Playmobil. When I was young, I considered Playmobil to be Lego for chumps and babies - an opinion I hold to this day. The store organized its Playmobil along a massive shelf that constantly needed adjusting, front-facing, and aligning.

Playmobil is identified by a four-digit serial number in a coloured lozenge. The colour roughly corresponded to the theme of the toy. I saw a grid of modular pieces with printed information. I saw a pre-built resource system - the price tags. I saw an excuse for employees to keep going over there. I saw a game.

The previous post is the complete text, unedited from the product of that one fevered evening three years ago when I banged this out.

I played once, but it proved too difficult to manipulate the pieces on the shelves without rearranging everything. It was also too hard to identify which pieces were whose. It kinda choked and died - like most of my first playtests - and we never returned to it.

I note now, on reviewing the piece, that no victory condition is included. I assume it's when a player destroys all his opponents' pieces, but I should have wrote that down. I also should have defined a few terms. I present it here, in lieu of original content, for posterity's sake.

In an ideal world, where no one minds Post-It notes on their toys, I think this could have been an awesome game.

Workshop Yesterday: Playmobattle

First Draft
The once-tranquil town of Playmoville has been torn asunder. Rents through time and reality have turned the quaint metropolis into a warzone. By now, previous allegiances mean nothing; emergency workers, warriors from across history, and common citizens fight side by side to determine who will control the Playmoville of the future. But at this time, there is only playmobattle.

The Rules
Playmobattle is a simple strategy game using shelves of Playmobil as pieces and board. There is one rule that deserves mention above all others: THIS GAME CANNOT AND WILL NOT EVER EVER EVER INTERFERE WITH THE OPERATION OF THE STORE. DO NOT PERMIT THE GAME TO DISTRACT FROM YOUR JOBS! This is so incredibly important that I will elaborate further. If there are customers in the store, cleaning or restocking to be done, or if closing is within one hour, the game is done and forgotten. As an extension of this, no part of the game can upset the organization or neatness of the shelves. Failure to follow this, Rule One, will result in immediate and permanent cessation of the game and all future games. Understand?

Beginning the Game
Players begin the game with an agreed-upon sum of money. Games using less of the shelf should begin with less money. Randomly determine a player to make the first purchase. Players take turns purchasing units until all players pass consecutively. Then the first round begins.

The Round
1. Refresh all units- Remove activation markers from all units.
2. Determine first player- The first player is the player with the most money in reserve in this step. Play proceeds in alphabetical order by last name.
3. Perform Tactical actions with Locked units- Starting with the first player, all players may perform one Tactical action with each of their Locked units in any order. This does not grant an activation marker.
4. Unit actions- Starting with the first player, players activate units one at a time. Activated units may perform up to one Tactical Action and up to one Attack action with the active unit. Play progresses to the next player in the turn order, who may activate a unit or pass. Once all players pass consecutively, the recruitment phase begins.
5. Recruitment- Starting with the player with the least reserve money, players may take turns purchasing new neutral units. Only neutral units adjacent to friendly units may be purchased. Once all players pass consecutively, the round ends. Repeat from Step One.

Each of the four digits of the part number is a statistic. In order: Influence, Combat, Agility, and Willpower. Each statistic has an associated Tactical and Attack action. Attack actions require a “Test”. A Test is successful if the acting unit’s relevant stat is higher than that of the target unit.

1. Influence is a unit’s social power and pull in the world of Playmobattle. The Influence actions are Collect and Manipulate: “Tactical: Collect this unit’s Influence in dollars”, and “Attack: Influence test: If successful, place an Activation Marker on an adjacent unit.
2. Combat is a unit’s capability to survive and succeed at physical violence. Combat actions are Guard and Strike: “Tactical: Give an adjacent unit this unit’s combat value for the purposes of resisting Combat checks”, and “Attack: Combat test: If successful, deal this unit’s Combat in damage to the target.”
3. Agility is a unit’s speed, wits, and maneuverability. It can be used to Move and Evade: “Tactical: Make one valid move with this unit to a space within (Agility) spaces”, and “Attack: Agility Test: Move the target a number of spaces equal to the amount the Test succeeds by.”
4. Willpower is a unit’s strength of spirit, and conviction. Willpower actions are Focus and Intimidate: “Tactical: Distribute a number of points equal to this unit’s Willpower among this unit’s statistics”, and “Attack: Willpower Test: Reduce the target’s statistics by a total number of points equal to this unit’s Willpower, distributed as you choose.

Additional Rules

Adjacency: Units are adjacent if they touch at points along the sides at any point. Units touching exactly at corners are not considered adjacent.
Movement: Movement results in exchanging with the unit in the target space. This cannot break Rule One. If either the moving unit or the unit in the target space does not fit in the intended space, the move is invalid. Movement paths may only be drawn across adjacent spaces. Movement paths may not cross themselves or backtrack. If a path results in unusable movement points, the acting player may choose to Lock the moving unit.
Hit Points: A unit’s hit points are equal to its cost in dollars. They cannot be recovered.
Locked Units: Locked units may not perform or be targeted by Agility actions. At the beginning of each round, all Locked units may perform one Tactical action. This does not require activation.
Specials: Specials are considered adjacent to all units. Any Attack action targeting a Special returns them to Neutral status.
Mercenaries: Units on sale cost their sale price, but have hit points equal to their regular price. In subsequent recruitment phases, other players may attempt to outbid the unit’s current owner. The unit will switch sides only if the owner’s bid is beat by $5 or more.
Large Units: Large units on the top shelf are considered adjacent to all units directly underneath them. Large units are permanently considered Locked for all purposes, but may not ever move or be moved, even by a Red unit’s Authority ability. Large Units may perform two Tactical actions when activated.
Customer Activity: Units moved by customers count as moved. An honour system is the only mechanism for ensuring that when shelves are cleaned, a player will not twist positions to his or her advantage. Units purchased by customers are considered casualties and are gone for good.

Special Unit Abilities: A unit’s colour determines its original intent, and grants it a special bonus.
1. Red units are often emergency personnel or other legitimate installations. They have the power of Authority, allowing them to use Evade actions on Locked units normally. Locked units that would become Locked again are destroyed and become neutral.
2. Orange units are construction vehicles. They have the power of Fortification; they are always considered Locked, no matter where they are. They may be affected by a Red unit’s Authority power. Furthermore, Orange units have an additional Tactical action: “Tactical: Lock or unlock an adjacent friendly unit”.
3. Yellow units are equipped with rapid vehicles, capable of the power of Mobility. This grants an additional Tactical action: “Tactical for the remainder of this turn, this unit may use Attack actions against units two spaces away instead of one.”
4. Green units are masters of the outdoors: farmers, forest rangers, even wild animals. Their mastery of resource management expresses itself in the Logistics ability. When a Green unit uses the Focus Tactical Action, the bonus points may be spread among adjacent units as well as the acting unit.
5. Purple units are the fiercest warriors history has to offer: pirates, knights, Napoleonic legions, and Roman legionnaires. They have the Ferocity power; they are always counted as having Combat 9 for the purposes of Combat Tests only. This ability does not enhance damage or the Guard action.
6. Pink units are the aristocrats of Playmoville. Their wealth and holdings ensure that their power remains undiminished in the era of Playmobattle. A Pink unit’s Resources power allows it to earn $10 each time it uses the Collect Tactical Action.
7. Grey units are the blue-collar workers and possess the majority of the industrial resources in Playmoville. Their Infrastructure power reduces the cost of purchasing adjacent units by the Grey’s Influence rating. Multiple Greys can discount the same unit, but the minimum cost is always $1.
8. Blue units are the common folk of Playmoville, mobilized in an effort to cleanse the chaos from their beloved home. Though seemingly weak, their spirits are strong. Through their Solidarity power, they add one to the difficulty of Attack actions targeting them, plus an additional one for each adjacent friendly unit.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Employment and Un

Latvia was one of the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. A severe real estate bubble and the failure (and eventual nationalization) of a large Latvian bank did a lot of damage over here. Unemployment shot to (I think) the highest in Europe (I've seen several conflicting statistics).

You can see that here, not by unemployed people hanging around (though they exist), but in the people that are working.

Basically every low-paying job that you might see once in a while in North America is filled. Ice cream vendors (in city centre, more than one per street corner, and they work even in the rain) and security guards (everywhere, even in grocery stores - also deemed important in high unemployment to prevent theft) are very prevalent.

There's also a plethora of jobs in the 'unofficial entrepreneurship' sphere, like bicycle taxis, flower sellers, and minibussses. Also, extensive use of carpooling.

When people are desperate for work, employers who can afford it can fill a lot of otherwise extraneous jobs.

EDIT: I forgot performers! There are lots. Buskers are plentiful, and the outdoor beer garden affairs seem to engage live acts every night. I also saw one of those places that had hired a magician to circulate through the tables, doing card tricks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Old Witch of Riga

A few weeks back, I saw her. Waiting for the tram outside the grocery store. Wrapped in many coats and scarves despite the summer heat, eighty if she was a day, and sporting a genuine hunchback. Furthermore - and what initially caught my eye - she was clutching a pair of gardening shears - a perfect folkloric witch prop.

She looked fully capable of dicing up naughty children and trapping their screaming faces in the old tree behind her cottage, only her cottage got bulldozed by the Soviets, and independence did nothing to restore her to her ancestral home over the ley lines, and the tree got cut down and chopped into firewood that drove the family that burned it mad, and now she has to take the tram into town to shop for gingerbread and prunes.

Things Get Worse Wednesdays - Spycraft

It should have been amazing.

A game based on espionage should not make it as difficult as it is in Spycraft for Things to Get Worse. You're spies. If they already knew how bad Things were, why would they send people whose job it is to find stuff out?

Spycraft is a well-made game, if you're into that sort of thing - namely lots of planning, preparation, and a system for everything. It even resolves the classic modern action game problem of gear. How do you have a wealth system that reflects lifestyle? Put another way, how do you stop the first level rich doctor spending all his starting cash on a Blackhawk helicopter with attached minigun while still making it possible to get one of those when it's appropriate?

Spycraft solves this problem quite handily - you have a small amount of gear as personal possessions and fancier stuff you can requisition if the mission's severity warrants it. The problem is when you don't know how severe the mission is until you get there. And what spy mission, I ask you, what spy mission worth a damn goes exactly as planned? Need to get a thing? It's missing, it's not what you thought it was, the person you're supposed to get it from is dead. Need to talk to someone? That someone is not who they appear to be, kidnapped, or dead. This is basic stuff. Regrettably, you have to get that briefcase full of anthrax from that rogue KGB splinter faction with the same Walther PPK and set of lockpicks you were issued when you thought you just had to pick up Mission Control's drycleaning.

Spycraft does allow for requisitioning gear in the middle of a mission, but it still can't exceed the threat level of the mission and, if I remember correctly, is prohibitively difficult and time-consuming. Changing threat level in the middle of a mission only works if players have the time to reequip somewhere and if they don't abuse their privileges by burning up all their ammunition and limited-use items knowing that a reequip was on the way.

Another possible workaround is story-based. If the hook is "Some anthrax is missing. We need you to find the anthrax", then you can get away with one threat level. But you can't phrase all your missions like that. At least, and not have the game stay fun. It's a damn shame that a solidly built game like Spycraft has in-built, systematic opposition to Things Getting Worse. Especially as an espionage game.

Five Interesting Places - Snooty Sounding Words!

The esplanade.

The opera house.

The plaza.

The veranda.

The vestibule.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Five Interesting Places: Modern!

A freighter dry-dock.

A stopped elevator.

A waterfront mansion miles from civilization.

A CDC hot lab chock full o' eradicated diseases.

The grocery store.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Beyond Riga - Sigulda

Sigulda - the Switzerland of Latvia. Friend Geoff says that whenever anything is described as "The ______ of Latvia," one should prepare for disappointment. In Sigulda's case, this is a little unfair. It's pretty nice. Sigulda gets the name from its not-uniformly-flat terrain and its castles. Of course, what the tourism bureau wants you to know about is its various 'adventure' attractions - bungee jumping, bobsledding, an arboreal obstacle course called 'Tarzans'.

The castles are quite an eclectic mix. The run the gamut from tumbledown Dark Ages ruin to baroque summer home converted to a swanky restaurant. I spent the most time at Turaida, a castle that was steadily expanded from its foundation in the 13th century until its destruction in the 18th. It has been reconstructed as a park and museum, though its shiny new bricks (bricks!) do lessen the sense of verisimilitude. The park includes traditional Latvian statuary, lovely gardens, and a memorial to the Rose of Turaida, a legendary woman who died to preserve her honour. The memorial is now a destination for newlyweds to pledge their love. All good castles should have local lore like that.

Sigulda also hosts a charming river valley hike, occasionally broken up by the need to follow a main road for a time. Along the walk is Gutmanis Cave, the largest cave in the Baltic states (about 20 feet deep), which is much more interesting for its engravings from visitors - going back centuries. The cave is also the site of the death of the Rose of Turaida.

Recommendations: a nice spot for hiking and sightseeing. Well worth the hour train ride out of Riga (though do check the schedules or you'll end up waiting at the train station forever like I did). Don't go bobsledding.

Big Rolls and Little Rolls

Something to consider in RPG design is the size of the average roll. I use the term 'roll' pretty loosely. Whatever conflict-resolution mechanism - cards, resource expenditure, whatever - is fine.

The dimensions in which a roll can be big or small are:
  1. Absraction - the more of a scene gets resolved in one roll, the bigger it is.
  2. Player Control - the more the players can affect the roll, the bigger it is - especially if players can affect it at the time of the roll.
  3. Side Effects - bigger rolls often have consequences that extend beyond a strict determination of success or failure.
Let's take some examples. The biggest roll I know of is in Don't Rest Your Head. You only roll the dice in that game when it's really important, as each roll involves the chance of madness or death. The roll also resolves an entire scene or antagonist. Fights, escapes, explorations, are all abstracted down to one roll. The roll is also complex. Besides the level of danger inherent in the roll, characters have control over the amount of risk and effort they're willing to take on in exchange for success.

The smallest roll is a coin flip for a single action. Heads or tails, success or failure. Neither players nor GMs can affect the probability of the outcome, the 'roll' itself only affects one action, and it doesn't 'mean' anything beyond the very minimum required by a roll in an RPG - does the action succeed?

Another game with large rolls is the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. All the bits and non-standard dice govern not only success and failure, but your character's approach to the situation and positive and negative side effects. The result is fairly baroque, but intuitive enough at the table to do complexity well. WFRP3E's rolls are still as common as a smaller roll - less abstract - but are still large in their level of implication.

Other ways of enlarging rolls (without using funky types of dice) are degrees of success (Alternity, Dark Heresy); complex, multi-roll challenges (D&D4E, both Spycraft editions); and Cool Points or Effort Points or the like (Shadowrun, 7th Sea, even HERO System, with its rules for 'pushing').

Conclusions? I don't really have many. It's just worth thinking about when designing a game. These are gross generalizations, but more abstract rolls tend to favour games less about combat and more about story. Rolls with more player control tend to favour characters that succeed through style or inner strength, rather than strict competence. Side effects can add levels of mechanical or tactical depth, as well as mechanical representations of more story-based consequences, but side effects can also easily be handled inelegantly.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Beyond Riga - Jurmala

Gorgeous natural seaside overdeveloped and overexploited by tourists and wealthy Russians. But in a good way.

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: Beyond Riga - Rundāle Palace

So, despite spending over a month here, I've let these posts slide. I'll try and recap in future entries, but here I'll do a quick piece on places around Latvia outside Riga that I've visited.

Rundāle Palace is really neat - a bargain-basement Versailles an hour or so outside the city. The exterior courtyard is a particularly striking tableau. When we arrived, the courtyard was entirely empty, the clock was chiming 5:00, and swarms of small songbirds were flitting about between perches on the baroque moulding and windowsills. An interesting juxtaposition of opulence and desolation that you wouldn't get at a more tourist-y palace - enhanced by the fact that past the French gardens are nothing but rundown farmhouses and Soviet-era, decaying brick buildings.

The interior was characterized by a few nice arcades and stairwells, rococo decorations on almost every available surface, and a few truly atrocious paintings. Well, they might have been very good paintings of a large number of women sporting five o'clock shadow.

Much of the palace was undergoing restoration, but the rooms that are open more than adequately get the point across. A few hints around the edges also speak to an interesting recent history for the palace as well. Restoration began in the Eighties and halted in 1992 or so - following the newfound independence of Latvia. It picked up again in recent years, thanks to the generous donations of Boris something, whose name is all over the informational placards. I don't know anything about this man (like his last name), but it seems like it would be an interesting subject to pursue.

Recommendations: If you make it to Latvia, Rundāle is well worth a look. The museum charges for the short tour, the long tour and a walk of the garden, as well as extra for photos or video cameras. I'd recommend only the short tour - the extra rooms are basically more of the same - silk wallpaper, bad paintings, naked babies carved out of stucco. All the really impressive rooms are in the short tour. The gardens are nice, but we got there too late in the day to really explore them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Things Get Worse Wednesdays - TGW Versus High Concept

This was supposed to go in the last post, but it got too long and - fine, you caught me. I forgot - I forgot all about it. It was supposed to be in but I didn't remember. Happy?

High concept - a storytelling feature perfectly suited to RPGs - can act against Things Get Worse. High concept is what you get if you ask a student of the geekly arts for a story that's never been seen before. Literary crossovers, supernatural creatures in mundane lines of work, and groups of people with superpowers that don't lend themselves to dressing up and fighting crime - these are some basic 'formulas' for high concept, but as one might suspect, it's hard to nail down. A brief and arbitrary list of examples in fiction would be Chew (heretofore unexplored superpower) The Five Fists of Science (historical figures in fantastic situations - impossible to describe without giving a full plot summary), and everything Tim Schaeffer has ever done.

For lazy or poor writers, or for those too blinded by the power of the concept, high concept can be a crutch, or even a liability. In the drive to show off the concept, stuff like characterization, plotting, and pacing can be left behind. As can Things Get Worse. If you start with a crazy concept, it's hard to get either the build or twist necessary to keep the story punchy. If your concept is good enough, you can sometimes power through, but that shouldn't be something to plan for.

One great example of TGW versus high concept can be seen in My Favourite Thing on the Internet, MS Paint Adventures. This is a webcomic written like a text-based adventure game, where the transitions between panels are written commands to the characters. He has two stories worth talking about: Problem Sleuth (completed) and Homestuck (ongoing). Problem Sleuth leans on its concept pretty hard. Things still Get Worse, but through build, rather than twist. It doesn't subvert your expectations, save your expectations that one person could come up with all this cosmic, world-shattering raw creativity. It stays fully within the domain of its concept - The Adventure Game that Could Never Be.

Homestuck by contrast, is constantly taking your expectations and hurling them through brick walls. Aside from the more superficial additions, like characters with personalities, actual dialogue, and shiny Flash animations with music, Homestuck asserts its superiority to Problem Sleuth (which, don't get me wrong, is still amazing) even more by having everything go wrong. It retains a concept at least as high as PS's - a group of children in a world governed by video game logic play a game that can affect the realities of their fellow players. Them going through the game, building each other's houses and levelling up their skills and gear would have been interesting, but the repeated instances of everything going completely off the rails turns it from a neat and well-done little comic to a badass epic.

Comparing GMs to authors is always a dangerous analogy, as players of course have input into how the story of a game session develops. Also, players can tend to be cautious when threats to their beloved PCs might arise. Even so, GMs out there, plan to drop a little something unexpected - a new type of challenge, a shift in objectives, a conflict of interest - before the climax of your adventures. Done right, everyone has a better time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Things Get Worse

Okay, I'm already three days behind on the July Vow, and that's assuming you count the post where I made the vow, as well as that one about bricks. I have a whole bunch of stuff to write worked out in my head, so all I have to do is write them out for my literally some of readers.

Today, I talk about Things Getting Worse.

This is a critical part of any story, and the easiest one to forget. Part way along, something happens and the problem set up in the initial hook isn't the most important problem any more. Or it is, but it's only part of the problem. The Sceptre of Oroborous you're after has been stolen from the Tomb of Shattered Nightmares and bugbear tracks lead into the Forest of Misery. The villain you're battling fires a slow-moving missile at your daughter's piano recital. The ambassador you're supposed to escort to a rendezvous with the Duchess of Montellico slipped away, then died. And so did the Duchess.

In improv theatre, they call this 'raising the stakes', as the central problem of the story has its importance to the characters increase. Junior High Language Arts class calls it the 'rising action'. For RPGin', I like to call it Things Get Worse, as the problems the GM poses to the players start to mount up (speaking strictly in the traditional, semi-adversarial RPG model here - if players give themselves problems - whether for the sake of dramatic tension or Cool Points, good on them). The twist adds tension, danger, drama, or ideally all three.

So why wouldn't a GM do this? There are a couple of reasons why a twist is easy to leave out in RPG plots. First, an adventure structure and a story structure aren't exactly the same. The end of an adventure might be right when Things Get Worse, and the story arc gets wrapped up one or more adventures down the line. Also, it used to be that 'threat of serious physical harm to the main characters' was sufficient Worseness to create tension. In most games out there, action is a given. No one thinks that recovering the Sceptre of Oroborous is not going to involve exterminating a small village of snakemen. You need something else, something plot- or character-driven to get the tension and excitement a proper Things Get Worse needs.

Things Get Worse is about messing with expectations. For that reason exactly, you can't as a GM do it every time. Or, at least not the same way every time. If every authority figure and quest-giver turns on the players once they bring back the Jewell of Mak Guef'n, it'll stop being a surprise and start being a bore. Not every Things Get Worse should aim to be a Usual Suspects-style mindscrew; just punch up the tension in the second act somehow.

In future posts, I'm going to write about stock plots, and how Things can Get Worse in them. I'll also review some games that as-written have features that encourage or discourage plotting like this. Probably on Wednesdays, as to have Things Get Worse Wednesdays. Weak alliteration's still cool, right?

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I know I said I'd write about social combat today. But I only have about five minutes of me and my computer in the same room, so instead, I'm going to write about bricks.

Bricks! Bricks are great. Bricks don't get the press of your other building materials, like your stones or your woods, which is a shame because bricks can do a lot of great things. Let's talk versatility. Bricks can do stately, Olde Worlde class (like this or this) or they can do slummy urban decay. They can be used in pre-modern, industrial, and even contemporary buildings. New bricks look sharp, if conservative, while old bricks capture perfectly the post-industrial urban wasteland aesthetic. Cover bricks in plaster and they can look like anything. (You get all of these and more in Latvia.) Brick walls are great when stuff smashes through them, because they crumble and break in great geometric fragments. Loose bricks are great places for hiding small items. Bricks make pretty good thrown objects, though they don't have quite the same resonance as a paving stone. That movie, Brick, it was pretty good.

Next time you need to describe a fictional building, don't forget about bricks. I have too many times.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Hate Social Combat

... I really do. But that doesn't mean it can't be fixed.

I like the idea. It's a roleplaying game. Why not have a game-y bit that supports roleplaying? Why not make talking at least as mechanically interesting as combat? Why reduce the complex cut-and-thrust of a discussion to a single roll? Not to mention the classic argument "My character can do a whole bunch of stuff better than I can. Why can't he talk better too?" Which is a solid argument. I've just never seen it work in practice.

Why is that? As far as I can tell, it's for a couple of reasons, but they mostly stem from the fact that the basic assumptions of RPG combat don't really apply to conversations. They don't necessarily proceed in a logical order, they don't always involve the whole team, and most importantly, it's hard to synchronize the roleplaying aspect of them with the mechanical aspect.

The problem basically comes in when you have to break up a conversation to roll dice, and the dice deny the logic of the conversation. Of course, you can just ignore them, but then why have the system at all? For example, and this has happened to me, a player spouts a perfect, cast-iron argument in a social duel, amasses all his Rule of Cool bonuses, and still rolls garbage. The GM has no comeback; the NPC just says "Nuh-uh!" Utterly shatters the whole roleplaying immersiveness and leaves everyone feeling let down. The GM in this scenario was adept enough to make the next social 'hit' on the NPC basically do what the total flub should have done, but it was a jarring experience.

The attempts at doing a social combat system that I've read or played all had these problems, though some were smart enough to attempt to address them. Some games simply use the same system for physical or social combat. Examples are Mouse Guard and Spirit of the Century, aka My Favourite Game I've Never Played. These games are both clever enough to know that conflict, in whatever form, has consequences other than getting battered into the dirt, and both encourage the players to consider what 'losing' a conflict means in the circumstances of the conflict. This is a good start. They still have the problem of running out of things to say before the conflict is over, break up the conversation with arbitrary initiative rules, though do okay at incorporating multiple participants.

By contrast, and those who know me knew this was coming, Exalted has the most execrable excuse for a social combat system. A single attack is apparently five minutes of back and forth, so is therefore impossible to roleplay (which is the whole point, isn't it?) and doesn't need to follow any sort of objective set from the start. You can imperiously command some schmoe to go fetch your slippers from your affordable studio apartment in Great Forks forty times until he's out of social hitpoints, then, as long as you can hit his social defence value and keep him from punching you for five minutes, he's your willing slave. One could make the excuse that the book is supposed to include a table describing how much willpower people are willing to spend on single issues, but asking for clemency based on something the authors forgot to include in the book is a bit of a weak argument - no stunt bonus to MDV there. On top of Exalted's generally bulky dice-rolling mechanics, you have a social combat system that actively disrupts in-character roleplaying, arbitrarily governs the discussion with its '2 willpower per topic' rule (a necessary evil to prevent assholes from making the same arguments over and over - though it does also mean that the arguments that don't work are the ones that get repeated more in the conversation), and makes little to no logic when it comes to the endgame. Also, though this is more an issue of personal taste than an inherent flaw that makes things less fun, physical combat is fully incompatible with social combat. If a character makes a remark so cutting that someone pulls a sword on them, it doesn't sound to me like the conversation's over. It sounds like that character is winning, though. Why punish them for pushing the right buttons?

Friend Kris over at Glitterdust just took a swing at social combat for 4th Edition D&D, which I'd love to discuss, but this is getting a bit long. I'll look at his system, as well as attempts from my game design projects - one of which is based on 4E as well - tomorrow.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back on the Bloggerhorse

So I've been silent lately. Apologies. Due to poor internet connectivity, business, and laziness when I'm not busy, I've not been taking this blog thing very seriously.

That changes tonight.

I hereby issue this challenge to myself: one update per day for the month of July. I've got tons I want to write about - RPG stuff mostly, plus of course more Riga news (in case anyone's concerned, I'm having a great time), with Sourcebook Corners to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, I can get into a groove, and be a King of the Internet by the end of the summer.

Hope I haven't lost all of you, my loyal readers.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Workshop Tomorrow! A Sad Excuse for a First Entry

My biggest RPG project lately is a pretty crazy appropriation of D&D4E. Before I chuck up too many details, does anyone know what happened to the OGL of old? If I share this with the world, will sinister agents parachute from helicopters and mess up my house?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: First Impressions

Airport: serviceable and small.
Oh, God, I'm not going to be able to get any cash ever.
Fixed-rate taxis=civilization.
The outskirts at least are pretty North American: Malls, freeways, etc.
Alright, there are some church spires.
This isn't my apartment. This is the rustic shack of a humble woodcarver.
This IS my apartment, I just can't get inside.
I'm a man in need of some free WiFi.
Look! Free WiFi!
Zannis is online! I'm saved!
On my way to a new home.
Wait, if Zannis was online, that means my new home ALSO has free WiFi!
Palatial much?
Wait, EVERY building has statuary?
Oh. I got cash. That was easy.
Dinner with new friends in a new home.
Man, I gotta get off this free WiFi and do something.

(Further Hollow Tooth Diaries will provide a retrospective of the Tour and more on Riga as I get out into it. As always, the Diaries are cross-posted to the EUSTblog)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Contest of the Century!

This phrase should mean something other than what it means:

Luxembourg Bicycle Race

Tell me what it means to win a prize! Post your submissions in the comments!

Note 1: No prizes will be awarded.

Note 2: Anyone saying "sex position" will be disqualified from this and all future Contests of the Century. Unless it's really, really funny.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baroque and Roll

I want you to imagine something.

Imagine a golden warrior angel in mid-flight, swooping down with sword and shield, ready to stab some loathsome beast. This image frozen in tableau above an impossibly-tall fortified Gothic spire. Below that, curvy women lounge about in diaphanous robes and bits of ornamental armour. Lower still, sea monsters from the forgotten deeps writhe and coil. Around the spire gaunt, unnatural monsters that look like like some combination of alligator, panther and dinosaur shrink back in horror and twist their malformed bodies in impossible ways as the angel's terrible radiance sears their eyes and pierces their souls.

Not enough? How's this? A well-muscled manly-man of a hero stands atop a castle tower. Beneath him, all the vile, subterranean minions of hell boil forth from the earth and sea in an effort to devour him. Defending him is a naked mermaid whose purity fills the devils with both fear and unnatural lust to despoil such a perfect beauty. Against the tide of evil, the hero wields a severed hand still spraying fluid from the stump.

Perhaps it's just Friend Kris's recent writings on heavy-metal influenced fantasy over at Glitterdust. Perhaps it's my relatively-recent playthrough of Brütal Legend. But these descriptions - at least to me - sound metal. Nothing to do with metal music, necessarily, but everything to do with the metal-fantasy aesthetic. Muscley guys fighting loathsome denizens of the underworld while poorly-dressed women with unrealistic figures look on.

So, what are these shining examples of unironic heavy-metal aesthetic excess? Album covers? Artwork for fantasy games or novels?

None of the above. Would you believe nineteenth century public fountains?

The first one is the fountain on Place Sainte-Catherine in Brussels (Google Image Search fails me here). The second is Brabo Fountain in Antwerp, which the Internet informs me is based on the founding legend of the city, in which Roman soldier Silvius Brabo chops the hand off a giant and throws it into the nearby river (source) - a fact which makes it even more metal.

So why is trashy metal/fantasy art derided as, well, trashy metal/fantasy art, while this stuff gets a pass? The content is about the same, so is it the (slightly) less testosteroned-up aesthetic? Is it just because it's old? Is it due to the connection with their respective associated musical genres? I don't really have an answer, nor any sort of conclusion. I'm certainly not calling for the installation of trashy metal/fantasy art in public places. I'm just intrigued and amused by the connections between some of the 'lowest' and 'highest' arts.

I guess I do have one conclusion: men like art with babes and violence.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day Zero

Hollow Tooth Diaries will be cross-posted (that's the lingo, right?) to EUSTblog: http://eustblog.blogspot.com/

Air travel, as we all know from standup comedy, is terrible. In economy class, they don't give you much food, or legroom, or comfort, or respect. I think I heard someone tell me once about some self-aware comedian who responded to the cliche of comedians hating on air travel by expressing in vehement terms "Yes, let's complain about the food in the metal tube they put you in to fling you at high speeds through the air!" It's a reminder about the age of miracles in which we live. It's a reminder to have some perspective.

The anti-air travel perspective has always mystified me as well. I'd never even thought about complaining about it. It's something that happens to you for a while; you sit still and you read a book or sleep or watch a movie and then you're somewhere else. Even on long flights, I had never had the slightest discomfort

Until this time.

Now, I'd flown to Europe before. That time and this, I neglected to sleep on the plane, as I was landing in the early evening and I could then crash immediately and thereby adapt to the time zone. No more of a challenge than staying up till 5AM with friends, right? Well, something was different. Maybe the frantic packing and final errands the morning before. Maybe the uncomfortable plane ride. (Who puts the seat far enough from the window that you can't rest your head on it?) Maybe panic at leaving my home continent and living out of a suitcase for six months in a post-Soviet republic wracked with unemployment, poverty and political turmoil. Who knows, but I was deposited in Frankfurt with over three hours to wait in a hunger and exhaustion-induced haze.

My departure gate was about as far from my arrival gate as it was possible to be, so I had to stagger through what seemed like the entire Frankfurt airport hauling my probably-oversized carry-on bags. The trip involved creeping around in disused corridors trying to avoid passport controls as long as possible (long story - I was advised that it might have been travelling illegally), and schlepping through a surreal blend of antiseptic corridors, security checkpoints and garish high-end shopping. I finally collapsed at my gate (found only by asking a security guard who was privy to secret knowlege) so early that the flight attendants thought I was running late for the previous plane.

Due to exhaustion, general malaise, and shame over my poor German, I didn't get anything to eat in Frankfurt. It didn't help that the food places were far from my gate, overpriced, and didn't have anything I wanted. Also, once past the mall and through security, the Frankfurt airport is about the bleakest building imaginable. One could likely make a crack about German philosophers, given how great the place is for contemplating the futility of joy.

When the flight from Brussels departed, I basically passed out immediately and woke up just in time to miss the drink cart. My water had been confiscated at Frankfurt security.

The Brussels airport was Frankfurt in miniature. Boring bits, mall, arbitrarily long walks. When I managed to make it into daylight my first Belgian experience was a shouting match between my busdriver and a gentleman who'd decided the best place to park his van was in the only exit to the parking lot.

Research plus transit maps plus (decent French skills X helpful transit guy) got me to the hotel, where I met up with other people on the tour. Plan at this stage was to head out and get something to eat. Street food doesn't really exist much in Brussels and the restaurants nearby were all too expensive for my blood, despite having not eaten in, like, a day. Also, then we ran smack into a pride festival, which took some time to navigate. We also got hopelessly lost three or four times. My friends decided to go boozin' and I decided to head back to the hotel, as my hour of airborne unconsciousness hadn't done much to alleviate my fatigue. Of course I got hopelessly, mercilessly, entirely lost again on the way back. I only found my way home by ducking into a Metro station and finding how absurdly not-going-the-right-way I was. Never did find anything to eat.

Unknown Armies has those little magic urban legends in the margins. One of them holds that food is actually a drug and if you can survive the withdrawal, you can do without it forever. A little insensitive to people who have starved to death but still kinda cool. Anyway, that's basically what happened. The next day (The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day One!), I went out for breakfast not because I was hungry, but because I knew I should be. I didn't need to eat at all! I was free! This was convenient, because nothing is open in Brussels on a Sunday before 10. After getting lost a couple more times, I found an open cafe, just to test myself.

That was the most delicious croissant I have ever tasted.