Jim Vassilakos (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Anachronism & Cliché in the Jinx Campaign
In #393 & #394, Jinx mentions the 9th circle of magic, telling Furcas, “I need access to spells above the ninth circle,” and later, “my knowledge is limited to those spells of the ninth circle and below.” Naturally, I was thinking “ninth level” and didn’t want to use the word “level,” because it would have been such an obvious D&Dreference, however, I wonder if using the term “ninth circle” isn’t just as obvious, and if so, is it therefore too derivative? (Of course, this, on the face of it, is a somewhat peculiar question, because, after all, this write-up comes out of an AD&D campaign; so what’s the point in masking it?) In #394, Furcas and Jinx are drinking “Tabula Rasa,” which has an effect on one’s memory. Of course, Tabula Rasa is well-known as being Latin for “Blank Slate,” a reference to the thesis that human beings have no built in knowledge when they are born but must rather be taught just about everything they will need to survive (compared to the other animals, we are truly helpless). In this case, I thought that “Tabula Rasa,” being of an ancient language, was acceptable as the name of a magical wine, but I could see the argument that it isn’t obscure enough. Later in #394, Jinx asks how long the effects will last. “An hour or two,” Furcas replies. Of course, I didn’t like using our units of time in the dialogue. I suppose he could have said “One or two of your mortal hours” or some-such, however, the right approach, I think, would have been to develop an alternate system of time for use in Hell, although this might get unnecessarily confusing for the reader. I actually attempted this at one point, but I wasn’t crazy about the final results. Later in #394, a wand materializes in the hand of Furcas, and he waves it around to accomplish something. Granted, wands are props of the genre, but are they so commonplace as to have become trite, and if so, am I not demeaning magic to have it employed so casually, even in Hell? Among the worst of my offenses, I think, comes in #395, where Furcas is telling Jinx that his parents1 referred to Emperor Beelzebub2 as “Bubba”. In the first place, Bubba evolved from the term “brother” as a term of endearment, but because of its use in and association with the South Eastern United States, it became something of a derogatory term. Hence, does it make any sense that two devils in the fantasy genre should be using it or that Furcas or Jinx would be able to discern the derogatory overtone, given that presumably neither have been indoctrinated into American culture?
However, even worse that this, I think, is the sheer fact that two devils, even two on intimate terms, would have the courage to create and use a derogatory nickname for their Emperor. We also see much the same issue in #398 where Cedric tells Jinx that the lord of a neighboring city doesn’t much like the prince to whom they both owe fealty. In the first place, why would Cedric necessarily know this, and even assuming he did, why would he so casually share it with Jinx? I think the reason things like this pop up in the writing is that in 20th century (and 21st century) USA, in which I was raised and currently live, we can say derogatory things about our leaders without fear of consequences. Hence, it’s all too easy to forget that in earlier times people lived in terror of the whim of their rulers, as even the smallest act of disrespect could result in the most unpleasant repercussions for them personally or even for their entire families. Hence, this sort of cavalier attitude is, I think, itself anachronistic. Likewise, perhaps, is Jinx’s apparent desire to see if the cities of the region that she ventured to accidentally3 can rule themselves as a sort of council of oligarchs (this, of course, being in line with the American ideal of self-government). All in all, the problems are legion, both numerous and varied, and in many places, I’m ashamed to admit, the writing seems terribly unpracticed. Nonetheless, inserting these write-ups in A&E does give me the opportunity to think about the story in greater depth and to solicit comments, and to those who have commented, I thank you.
IGTheme: Werewolves and other Shapechangers
I’ve long wanted to run a campaign where the PC was a werewolf (or some-such) but didn’t know it. He or she would go to the town inn and fall asleep but in the morning find clothing shredded, perhaps blood on the fingers or face, and the window wide open. Then, after cleaning up, taking inventory, and going outside, he or she would hear how some local person was murdered late at night. Pretty awful thing to do to a player, but call it the way I’d start campaign, if only I didn’t fear that the player might take offense at their character being so twisted and screwed-over by the GM. Is this wrong?
Morality in RPGs
I think that all stories are, to some extent, focused on the question of what is right and what is wrong. As children, if our parents (or society) had been doing their job, we would, of course, have learned morally-packed tales, stories about fate’s kindness to the good and the persecuted, and heroes and heroines who, through courage and intelligence, win the prize. These stories are perhaps meant to give us heart and to, even more-so, I think, illustrate what is best in humanity. They are the reflection of the best that is within
Devils even being capable of having parents or offspring was yet another issue that I wrestled with for some time. 2 Coincidentally, in #395 Spike talks about “The Shame Game” where gods are discredited via the obfuscation or defamation of their names, and as a case in point, he mentions the well-known case of Baal-Zebul (“Lord of the Temple”) being “oopsed” into Baalzebub (“Lord of the Flies”).
See my comment to Joshua in A&E #394.
us, and so we say that their internal reward (and, thus, our moral appreciation) lay not in whatever the heroes have won, but rather in their very act of trying, bearing whatever consequences fate may have in store for them. “Grace under pressure,” one well-known author called it. That’s ultimately what characterization is about…to set up the criteria for success, so that we can understand the characters as we understand ourselves. And that, of course, is part of the lure of roleplaying; the very best players have had the experience of really caring about their characters and really getting their point of view, groking them, one might say, or becoming intimately involved in their travails, and the very luckiest GMs have had the experience of conducing them towards this goal and then observing their choices and acting the part of merciful fate if we find them so deserving. (Of course, that calls upon us to play God, our moral arbitration circumvented by the rules only so far as we choose to allow, and much has, of course, been said on this…one might say that it is a quandary.) Back in #358, Brian Misiaszek asked, “Are you an RPG Racist?” with respect to D&D and the whole kill-themonsters genre. He argued that such games teach a form of racism, and in light of this perspective, I suppose perhaps Vampire and Werewolf and the whole we’re-the-monsters genre was perhaps some eerie form of sub-cultural backlash. I mean, games do teach, just as stories teach, and I guess the question I would submit to you (at the risk of starting a great flame war, which I sincerely hope will not be the case) is: Which games do you believe are the most conducive to teaching moral lessons, and why, or do you rather think that system really doesn’t matter, genre doesn’t matter, none of it really matters except for the spirit and invention that the GM and the players both bring to the game? Or, on the obverse, do you think this question itself is somehow missing the real point, and if so, then what was your all-time favorite roleplaying experience, and did it not in any way relate to this question of morality in RPGs?
one of the court scribes to keep an accurate diary of their misadventures, as he doesn't trust his daughter to get any of the details right, and in any case, he harbors suspicious with respect to her literacy. It's always a good idea to put the PCs in their place early on, just so they know where they stand. After they win fame and fortune, you can have a scene with them returning triumphant, and it will be all the sweeter. This little exercise made me think that brainstorms of this variety could be useful not only in terms of providing GMs with ideas on how to establish a framework for their campaign, but it might also be useful in terms of creating a grab-bag of party backgrounds for GMs to use whenever the PCs encounter an NPC party either out in the wilderness or somewhere deep in the dungeon. And, of course, such exercises need not be restricted to the fantasy genre. Thus, in light of all the benefits, I was wondering if any of you would be interested in partaking? If so… 1. Roll d4 or choose a number 1-4: (1) Fantasy (2) Modern (3) Science-Fiction (4) Create a Genre (see below) 2. Roll d6 or chose a number 1-6: This is the number of characters in the “party”. 3. Roll d6 to determine (or just decide) each character’s sex: 1-3 Female, 4-6 Male. 4. Roll d6 on Table #1A to determine each character’s race or ethnicity: Table #1A5 d6 Fantasy 1 Dwarf 2 Elf 3 Half Elf 4 Halfling 5 Human 6
How Did They Meet?
A few months ago, what I presume was a relatively inexperienced GM requested ideas on how to start a campaign beyond the traditional cliché of having the PCs all meet in a tavern. The particulars of the campaign and characters were as follows: • • • • Medieval Fantasy Campaign PC #1: Male Halfling Mercenary PC #2: Female Human Noble PC #3: Female Elven Scribe
Modern Science-Fiction African Human Asian Modified Human6 Caucasian Animan7 Middle Eastern True Alien Race8 Native American Robot9 See Table #1B
I thought about it for a minute or two and came up with something pretty close to the following: The noble's uncle, as a joke, because he was drunk, or perhaps because he had his brother murdered so that he could ascend to the throne4 sends his niece, of whom he’s not terribly fond, into harm’s way with a halfling as her bodyguard, because he considers her to be a halfwit and therefore only in need of half a bodyguard. Also, he orders
…nodding respectfully toward Shakespeare.
It is difficult to come up with generic racial tables, as each campaign is unique. Hence, I tried to come up with tables that were specific enough to be useable while still being general enough to be non-campaign/non-game specific. Hence, feel free to revise these tables to better suit your campaign. 6 See my comments to Lee in this issue. 7 Jaron Martin strongly advocated using animen in Ragamuffin. The idea is that several animal species are borderline sentient if not sentient already, and that with a given degree of mastery of genetic manipulation, we could transform dogs, man’s proverbial best friend, into something akin to Traveller’s Vargr, and that, likewise, we could do the same with many other animal species (perhaps Chewy is an uplifted bear). 8 Most SF-RPGs include aliens. You’ll need to select one that it appropriate for your campaign. I would recommend creating a sub-table in advance of actually rolling. Also, in cases where the alien has additional or fewer sexes, you’ll have to re-roll “sex” accordingly. 9 Or, if you were to allow it, the character could be a computer, remotely controlling several robots, androids, or what-have-you.
Table #1B 1-3 Mutt10 4-6 Other11 5. Roll d12 on Table #2A to determine each character’s profession/career: Table #2A12 d12 Fantasy 1 Assassin 2 Bard 3 Monk 5 Noble 6 Priest 7 Sage 8 Scribe 9 Thief 9 Warrior 10 Wizard 11 Dual-Class 12 Science Fiction Academic13 Industrialist Engineer Lawbreaker14 Law Enforcer15 Medic16 Media17 Military Politician Retired Noble Spy Wage Slave Pilot/Navigator Other18 Modern
Comments on A&E #398:
Ty Beard: Thanks for the thoughts on insurgencies in Traveller. In particular, I think you hit on an important trend in the effect of advanced technology on reconnaissance and how that aids the regular force. In short, I can see it making governments all-knowing in a way that they aren’t yet, and what this will ultimately mean is difficult for me to fathom. Certainly, Traveller has not adequately explored this, at least not to my knowledge, although I suppose it’s all up to the individual referee. In any case, it might be interesting to explore this in greater detail. re your thoughts on Vietnam: “The Wars of John McCain” by Jeffrey Goldberg in the October 2008 issue of The Atlantic jives nicely with some of what you’re saying about the war possibly having been winnable, or at least it apparently was in the perception of many in the military, although this problem, which I think you correctly identified, of how to deal with the lines of supply keeps cropping up. Oddly, however, you mention the Soviets in Afghanistan as being an applicable model for how the Imperium might fight an insurgency, but then you go on to admit that this is false, again because of this dissimilarity with respect to the issue of the supply lines (the Imperial Navy can control the space around a planet, effectively cutting off all foreign supply). Hence, I would think that the only effective comparables would be insurgencies that took place on islands against a power that controlled the seas. How did those turn out? Myles Corcoran: re Tudor Talents & Williams discovering that poor Rufus, who he just got done killing, was actually possessed by Cloptowe: Did he still regret nothing? Also, in your campaign with how magic works, would it have been possible to exorcise the spirit? All in all a very nice writeup, and I love your turns of phrase as well as the interspersed dialogue. re my thoughtless condescension: Actually, it was intentional, but not because I truly feel a serious temptation to give up on you. I actually enjoy your zine; that much should be readily apparent from the comments that I have given you thus far. Rather, I wanted for you to feel, for just a moment and, granted, only to small degree, what I can only imagine you made Ty feel when he read your remark of #396, in particular, the part where you wrote, “…I wish you’d just leave the APA.” Now, you might suppose, quite naturally, that I should just stay out of it. After all, why should one person strain or even jeopardize his or her relationship with another because of what the second party said to some presumably loudmouthed third-party? And the only answer that I can give, which I have little expectation of you understanding, much less appreciating, is because I felt that it is the right thing to do for reasons having to do with the rightness of protecting those who have a loud mouth (or a loud pen) on matters of politics (not that Ty actually needs protecting, as I am sure his comments have made clear). As for my not complaining about Ty’s behavior, I guess the reason is that rather than allowing himself to be shunned into silence, he has persistently advocated his point of view without regard to the attack of the rabid, tennis-hating
6. By now you should have your campaign type and your list of characters. Now’s your chance to rise to the challenge, so to speak, showing us how you’d have the party meet, thereby establishing the basic framework for the campaign. Or, if you prefer, tell us an example of how you once started a campaign or even how you’d like to start one in the future. And if you don’t feel up to it or prefer to just let the players devise their common history without GM-interference, that’s fine. I just wanted to give folks something else to do aside from discussing politics, or criticizing each other for discussing politics, or loquaciously philosophizing over whether members should even be allowed to discuss politics, and, if so, then to what extent and under what conditions…and, of course, what must their political philosophies specifically be in order to be tolerated…and so forth. The election is behind us, folks. Let’s game!
Roll twice on Table #1 and combine the results. (Incidentally, I find nothing derogatory about this term. Most of us are probably “mutts,” at least by the standards of our ancestors.) 11 Create a table of uncommon races or ethnicities particular to your campaign and roll on that to determine outcome. 12 Just as with the race table, feel free to revise this table to suit your individual campaign. 13 Academics can be anything from mad scientists doing cuttingedge research to burned-out middle school teachers. 14 Lawbreakers include both petty thieves and career criminals. This profession can include smugglers, drug kingpins, illegal weapons dealers, contract killers, career burglars, jewel thieves, art thieves, conmen, etc. 15 Law enforcers can be police, FBI, Interpol, etc. 16 Medics can be full fledged medical doctors or just somebody who knows how to splint a broken arm. 17 Media includes reporters/journalists, celebrity anchors, actors, pop-music stars, filmmakers, writers, etc. 18 Either create a sub-table suitable for your campaign, or, if you’re not feeling up to it, just re-roll.
Chihuahuas19, and in so doing has proven that he’s a more determined person than I (and, thus, a better man), and I can’t help but admire him for that. Also, I should add, that although he’s been both fixed and forceful in his opinions, he’s not requested that anyone else be quiet with respect to theirs, nor, to the best of my knowledge, has he stated a wish that any of the contributors should leave the APA. The fact that you did this vexes me, just as you accurately presumed that it would, and so that I call you to task for it should not come as a surprise (although, I will admit, my tactic was dishonest except insofar as I find your intolerance intolerable, which, actually, come to think of it, was exactly my point). Finally, I will note for the record that if this situation were reversed and a bunch of republicans were telling you to be quiet, I’d be in your corner preaching to them about the virtues of tolerance, not because I expect it would earn me any favors, but simply because I have to live with myself, and to not do so would be against the core of my beliefs. As for your accusation about me not being a fence-sitter: I plead guilty, your honor. As with every election season, I eventually had to get off the fence and make a choice. This time around, I went with the democrats and voted for Obama (sorry Ty/Louis). Just as with the last presidential race, I had much venting to do afterward, but in light of my decision to spare A&Ers my political drivel, I just posted it to my blog instead. If you’d like to read my tortured thoughts on the matter (perhaps merely for the amusement of seeing how a crazy person attempts to reason, which is to say, hazardously), you may check it out20, although I warn you in advance that this may cost you sanity points, and I’m not sure that you have so many that you can afford to squander them on mere trifles. Robert Dushay: RYCT me on the mythology article of #397 and the originality of God breaking apart to create the angels: That was actually one of the few areas that was, more or less, original, and I say that with some hesitation, as I think much of the inspiration came from Bob (see my article of #351). Other areas that might at first appear to be original were actually derivative. For instance, the initial rebellion by Kos (Gian ben Gian) was mentioned in the write-up of “Iblis” in Legions of Hell, the first volume of the Book of Fiends by Green Ronin (2001). There’s a vaguely similar story that I found in an 1891 translation of the first volume of the Rauzat-us-Safa (pgs 36-40), which itself purports to draw from a translation of the Book of Adam by Abu Ali Ja’fer Bin Yaqûb-ulisfahani (and I thought I had a difficult name), and it talks about how there were these four cycles of civilization before humans were created, and in each turn of the wheel, so to speak, termed a “cycle of recompense” in the text, the Jinns or Genii went through much the sort of history that we in The West have been going through as of late, where each time the society becomes wealthy, it also becomes complacent, turns away from its previous God-fearing ways, and turns toward the satisfaction of vice: “…they began to sin, to disobey, to be obstinate and haughty.” Later, “…they became disobedient, because their nature
was intent upon aggrandizement.” Later still, “The wicked sons of Jan blasphemed and sinned; the Most High sent prophets to admonish them and to advise them, but all in vain.” In this version of the tale, Eblis/Azazil (Iblis/Satan) was originally a Jinn (one of the race of Genii), and being not yet grown to maturity, he was made a prisoner of the angels after they came to make war upon the Jinn. He was taken to Heaven, educated by the angels, and eventually he improved so much that he was made a teacher of angels. Anyway, things didn’t quite work out in the end. The Jinn, who he hoped to reform, were not capable of being reformed, at least not for very long, and, in any case, God had other plans, something that Eblis, no doubt, found difficult to accept. One of the things I found interesting about this tale, particularly because it is indisputably old, is that the author has at some level a good sense of history and how it operates. Civilizations rise and fall. He ascribed their turning away from God as the reason for each fall, but whether or not the divine actually exists, moral vice can be said to be a form of societal decay, inducing weakness and eventual collapse, and here is this ancient writer basically saying, “Watch out.” And it’s not just the idea that this happens but also the idea that it happens over and over and over again, the repetition of rise and fall, the Eternal forever watching. As ancient as he no doubt was, he knew this. He knew it stone cold, and he wanted to convey it to the reader, and that’s something that I find very interesting. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to use the whole story. I wanted to keep it short and sweet, but at the same time, I wanted to mention this previous rebellion and briefly describe how Lucifer and other angels were once on the same team. Also, it gave me a perfect opportunity to create the origin of Kossuth21, arguably the most powerful of the Elemental Lords. But it doesn’t address this cyclical nature of history, except insofar as one conflict follows another. Also, the part about Abdiel coming with news of the rebellion is straight out of Milton’s Paradise Lost. I’m not really crazy about Milton at this point in my life, but there’s certainly a lot of source material there that could be mined. (Incidentally, I think I heard they were making a movie, which should be interesting.) As for the earth being of fire at one end and a great ocean at the other, this was partially an oblique reference to our own universe, the Big Bang at the beginning, and (if there’s not enough mass) a possible ocean of endless space at the end, although the notion of a rebounding or oscillating universe seems to be gaining popularity. There is, of course, also the obvious yin-yang symbolism of fire as a destructive element, whereas water is the element of life, and so such a world, bounded by these two elements, is a nod to the creative-destructive dualism that is at the heart of nature, which, of course, also falls in line with the write-up’s imagery in the very first few words. But, for the most part, I tend to agree with you insofar as the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological epic seems just a bit overdone. I mean, we’re all too familiar with it, or as Lisa remarked, “I’m more partial to the Silmarillion
See the beginning of the 5th page of my submission for #394. 20 http://jim-vassilakos.livejournal.com
See the AD&D (1st edition) Manual of the Planes, page 40. He’s also mentioned on page 46 of 2nd Edition’s Planescape: The Inner Planes.
myself.” Part of me agrees with this sentiment, not merely because delving into the myths of our theology requires work (i.e. research), but also because to a certain extent, applying one’s own creativity to this story is to a certain extent presumptuous. I mean, in #397, Brian Rogers mentioned how he didn’t want to trample around in the Harry Potter world for fear that he might get it wrong (see also my comment to him in #398). Just imagine how much more egregious it is to trample around in the myths of three major religions that are still very much alive. Having said all that, I still feel that this myth could stand to be polished up a tad, preferentially by someone from a culture that has gone through the Enlightenment. This notion in the Rauzat-us-Safa that God had to come down and continually punish those civilizations that got out of line seems, at first glance, just a bit arbitrary. I mean, what if God hadn’t decided to punish them? Could they have wallowed in sin indefinitely? The writer seems to be seeing history as it is (the continual rise and fall of civilization after civilization), but, at least for the prospective rationalist/atheist, he’s perhaps misinterpreting the cause. Hence, God has to be taken out of the picture, but at the same time, “He” or it has to unite us in spirit, which is why I divided Him/it into parts right at the very beginning, to say not only that “We are One” but also to say that there’s nobody that’s going to come out of the clouds to save us from ourselves, because what we do becomes a testament to what we worship. Either we succeed or fail, rise to heaven or go to hell, as a global civilization, our fate not individual but collective, but, of course, perhaps that’s just my personal perspective. Regardless, these final remarks go beyond the Jinx campaign and, for that matter, beyond the subject matter of the APA. I do hope that wasn’t too much religious nonsense for you to read. I just wanted to put down my thoughts on the off-chance that you or anyone else might be interested. That said, perhaps it is better if a writer refrains from commenting on his own gibberish. Lee Gold: RYCT me (RMCT Ty Beard) on world habitability being a function of technology: When I normally speak of habitability in science fiction RPGs, I am typically speaking of whether or not an unmodified human can survive unaided by technology for an appreciable amount of time (say, for instance, an hour). Granted, Traveller presupposes that there are a lot of worlds with thin or tainted atmospheres, meaning that the characters can breathe with only minimal equipment, such as respirators and/or filter masks. I guess the dividing-line would be more of a continuum, and there might be some controversy, as I could imagine humans being genetically modified to allow them to survive in such marginal environments. Regardless, I think that both habitable and marginal worlds would be so rare as to be points of interest, at least to humanity, and that because of their conspicuous nature (how does one hide a planet?), it would be difficult to keep them secret for very long (when I spoke of such worlds being mapped, I did not mean geographically but rather astronomically). On a related note, just as there is much speculation regarding the probability of habitability, I would also be intrigued to learn the probability of marginality. My guess is that there are probably a great many marginal worlds for
each habitable one, this because there are a great many ways that an otherwise perfect world might be ruined for one particular species or another (Wells seemed to be making this speculation in War of the Worlds). Traveller enumerates air pressure and atmospheric taint as two primary causes, but I’d imagine that one could splice atmospheric taint into a plethora of subcategories, some biological, others chemical, and to be added to the main list should be such factors as temperature, gravity, and radiation. And, of course, it would be useful to know if a world was naturally marginal or made so by its inhabitants. These are all factors that I would like to see addressed in a world generation system. Louis La Mancusa: RTCT Robert Dushay, thanks for the long quote from Pat Buchanan. I never really understood the key ingredients of what was going on there behind the decision to just let Hitler take Czechoslovakia. John Redden: So your star cruisers run on solar. re Zenred & the Cylon & the Burglar: Stop it! You’re hurting my ribs! Brian Rogers: re the “Sulu Question” that you posed in #394, there’s an article in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic that you might find interesting.22 re Hogwarts and the goblins and the Grey Lady: Nice plot, but it’s a bit of a let down that the players didn’t investigate this. Nonetheless, they seem to have found a satisfying conclusion. Good write-up! Marco Subias: RYCT Steven Warble regarding LAUSD: RAE (in a manner of speaking). Your comments sync nicely with those of Jinx’s player, who is also a teacher, although he hasn’t seen corruption and violence on the level that you have (at least not in the school system). Nonetheless, he’s of the opinion that there are serious, systemic problems with our educational system. To turn this toward RPGs, perhaps it might be interesting to detail a school, either fantasy or science fiction, in a decaying, urban society, mirroring the problems of our own educational system, including the issues revolving around fear of lawsuits, fear of negative publicity, fear of angry parents, grade-inflation, teaching to tests, lack of serious punishments for disciplinary infractions, lack of effective classroom management enforcement, lack of effective instructor accountability, and, last but not least, sociallyignorant parenting. Oh, wait…forget it…that sounds way too much like real life and would probably be too depressing, even for a World of Darkness campaign. It’d probably make all the players run out and slit their wrists. For those with sanity points to spare, my past A&E submissions are at: http://www.esnips.com/web/Alarums