This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Jim Vassilakos (email@example.com)
Some years ago, I submitted several recreation ideas to Rob Prior and Jeff Zeitlin for a Traveller book they were drafting called 101 Recreations. Sadly, none of these ideas were selected for inclusion, so rather than let the material go to waste, I figured I'd toss it to you folks for comments. teams in simulations ranging from warfare to business to bizarre fantasy settings without any real-world analog. The hardcore fans, meanwhile, watched from the electronic sidelines, second-guessing every decision, and pouring over game logs, analyzing what went wrong (or right) for their team or their favorite player. During the centuries to follow, ACTS continued to grow both numerically and in technical sophistication. Now, almost every major world (Pop:8+, TL:9+) has at least one tournament arena, and masters travel throughout the spacelanes, seeking to accumulate as many trophies and (more importantly) as many spokesophont contacts as possible. Q. Why are arenas necessary given that the simulations are computerized? A. The first reason is that AIs have become so good at these sorts of simulations that they can regularly beat human opponents, so it is necessary to have competitors in a controlled setting, at least in cases where prize money is involved. The second reason is that the interfaces can often be quite complex, often consisting of a large number of simultaneous readouts, or in the case of external VR-simulations, consisting of a holographic display chamber. Such equipment is usually beyond the means of the average contestant, particularly considering that most of them tend to be teenagers and young adults. Q. What sort of restrictions exist? A. Repressive societies sometimes restrict or outlaw this form of entertainment as being potentially subversive, particularly when the simulations raise questions as to government policy or religious teachings, or when the themes are viewed as being of a particularly violent nature, and especially where the planetary leaders are parodied. In such societies, there is usually a review board which must give its stamp of approval to the particular scenario before it may be accessed by the public. Advertisement: Be Ruthless! Crush your enemies! Hear the wailing and lamentation of their women! It's okay... so long as you're playing MegaCorp Monopoly, the simulation that took the best features of Trillionaire & Corporate War and merged them together into the greatest financial and astro-political competition of all time! You are the chairman of an interstellar conglomerate, vying for ownership over everything! If you play your cards right, you may even ascend to the Imperial Throne. Cr100000 go to the planetary champion of this awesome extravaganza! Don't sit on the sidelines. Be a competitor, and sign up today! For additional ideas, see the Eldon Tannish series by Howard Thompson in Spacegamer 2-6.
Advanced Computerized Tournament Simulations (ACTS)
The value of my portfolio dipped suddenly, the virtual market running its trades as breaking headlines announced that my plant on Feri had been sabotaged by a terrorist group. Like Hell! It must have been Jason. My hands flashed over the keyboard, filling out a "black ops" form telling the computer to initiate a counter-strike. If Jason wanted to play dirty, I was more than willing to sink to his level. Afterall, if I ever wanted to become the reigning champion of "Corporate War", I had to show the other players that when I got hit, I would hit back. Minimum tech level: 9 Prevalence: Common Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-3: No regulations 4-9: Some themes restricted 10-12: Government-controlled 13+: Prohibited Cost range: Low-end: Free High-end: Up to Cr100 entry fee Each of the major races and most of the minor ones have known some form of strategy simulation exercise during their early, pre-contact development. On Earth, the game "chess" was among the first of these. However, with technological advancement, simulations slowly became more complex, each encompassing a greater number of variables and alternatives than its predecessors. The development of global computerized communication networks resulted in the explosive growth of these simulations, as well as a startling jump in their relative complexity. In time, tournaments were organized to distinguish the best players in the field. It didn't take long for corporations to realize that there were significant advertising benefits to be gained through sponsorship, and quite suddenly, the monetary prize for a first-place finish increased into the stratosphere (much the same as for athletic superstars a century earlier). By late in the 21st century, on Earth, ACTS Mastery became a full-time and highly regarded profession for several hundred individuals. Reigning champions were known the world over, and many competed in teams, trying to thwart other
As I entered Lady Anton's estate, I could see a small pool along the walkway, the water leaping up as I passed by and taking the form of three dancing figures. They slowly went about in a circle, their legs flaying upward with each third or forth step, splashing drops of water on the grass, when suddenly their limbs and torsos separated into a flock of swans. I stopped to admire them as they continued gracefully around the fountain, their pace languid and peaceful, the sunlight glittering through their translucent bodies, casting strange colors in all directions. Finally a gust of wind came along, splashing the birds back into the basin, and a few moments later, they were once again dancers. I turned my back and continued toward the mansion. Minimum tech level: 9 Prevalence: Common Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-9: Unregulated 10-14: Regulated 15+: Prohibited Cost range: Low-end: Cr100 High-end: Up to MCr10 With the advent of portable grav-units, a new art form known as water sculpting, or aqua-sculpture, was born. It began when some programmers with way too much time on their hands began modifying standard gee-compensators to hold objects in mid-air (useful for floating a hardware diagram in front of your face while you're trying to troubleshoot a motherboard). Eventually some cheese-head spilled his coffee into the null-field, and when he found out that he could suck up the coffee blob with a straw without making a mess, the fine art of cupless coffee drinking was born. Eventually, programmers started trying to out-do one another by morphing their coffee into various shapes or hand-gestures ("Hey look, this coffee is so bad, it's flipping you the bird"). Somebody must have realized that there was an untapped market here, as various small companies began churning out primitive aqua-sculpture units. The fad caught on quickly, people sharing their latest sculptures via the electronic exchange of software. The trick with aqua-sculpture is that since
few models are built to the same specifications, the programs don't always perform identically from one device to the next. Even with two units of the same model, slight differences in temperature, water purity, and air pressure can have an alarming effect. Quite often, users discover some new technique from the unexpected failure of an old program. These days, aqua-sculptures are rarely if ever stationary. The whole point is to make the water flow, to make it perform, to draw the viewer into the scene with motion, light, and swirling patterns that mesmerize as much as entertain. Some artists even use the animated water to tell a story. As the units become more advanced and the programs which control the gravity field become more sophisticated, aqua-sculpture is fast becoming a refined artform, but like traditional painting and clay, it is accessible to the masses and hence is likely to remain a part of Imperial culture well into the future. Q. Can I get one for my desk? A. As a reward for last year's record sales, we'll have one built into your desk which will continually display the fatherly face of the corporate founder. It will come with excerpts of his famous speeches at the shareholder meetings as well as words of wisdom and encouragement which will help urge you and your subordinates to victory over the competition. Q. What happens if the power fails?! A. Not to worry…the water will collect neatly in the unit's basin, and since the water has been blessed by the company cleric, it will help ward off evil spirits which cause laziness, stupidity, and boredom. Much better to avoid these demons than have to undergo the rigors of a cleansing by fire. Q. How noisy are the grav units to have permanently 'on' in a house setting? And how reliable are they? A. Because grav-plates operate by spinning magnetic fields at the subatomic level, hence projecting a barrier to gravitonic flux, they are essentially silent, however, they can impact the performance of unshielded electronics and magnetic media, but only within a few centimeters. As for the sloshing of the water itself, that can become irritating with the wrong programming, but many programs are specifically designed to generate soothing noises which can help relieve stress. Reliability is another matter, however, and depends primarily on the design and fabrication process. However, since the units have no moving parts, they typically last many years before breaking down, and when a failure does occur, it is generally in the power converter. Fortunately, these are
inexpensive and easy to replace, and so it isn't too rare to see aqua-sculptures still operating which are more than a century old. Advertisement: Amaze your friends! Frighten your children! Titillate your spouse! The AS-11 can do all this and more! Featuring an internal motion detector and 14 separate programs, you can display a wide array of aqua-sculptures in your own home, everything from our patented dancing ballerina modelled on the famous Ningli Podkletnov, to the snake that never sleeps, a sure fire way to keep your children from sneaking downstairs the night before Santagimmiegimmiegimmie-day. The snake also has other uses, although we'll leave that to your imagination (nudge-nudge, wink-wink). Only Cr199.99, and if you're not fully satisfied, send it back, and we'll give you a full refund (minus shipping, handling, and processing charges). Call us today, and make your home a more beautiful place.
Exiting along the downport's western concourse, I could see the cityscape bathed in rosy red rays cast by Porozlo's setting suns. Grav-boarders played cloudtag several dozen meters overhead, each of them casting two slightly separated shadows on the luggage terminal's white walls, their excited shouts reminding me days gone by when I used to surf the air without a care in the world. Minimum tech level: 11 Prevalence: Common Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-3: No regulations 4-6: Accident/injury insurance required 7-9: Prohibited in high-traffic zones 10-12: Permitted only outside urban areas 13-14: Permitted only in specially designated areas 15+: Prohibited Cost range: Low-end: Cr100 High-end: Cr1000 Non-canonical warning: I'm not sure gravmodules can be built this small or made this maneuverable, although they do exist in grav-chutes as well as fly-cycles. Gravity manipulation technology introduced a wide variety of consumer vehicles, including air-rafts, aircars, as well as flycycles. With each advancement the gravitic flux modules became smaller, lighter, as well as less expensive, allowing the vehicles themselves to follow a similar course. Finally, after much research, the gravboard was introduced. Roughly the size of an old-fashioned surfboard from the beginning of the third millennium (Old Terra dating), these gravboards drew only a small and reckless following of "cloudsurfers". The initial problem was that aside from
being too expensive for their intended market, the boards were awkward to maneuver and even more difficult to land, however, as time passed and as planetary regulations grew stiffer, new features were introduced, including CAT (Computer Assisted Touchdown), ACS (Anti-Collision System), and ATCO (Automatic Traffic Control Override). The number of "cloudsurfers" slowly grew as the boards became safer, more maneuverable, and less expensive, and through economies of scale, they are now within the price range of most working-class teenagers. While many just use the boards for transportation, an increasing number are using them to participate in an ad-hoc sport known as cloudtag. The way it works on many worlds is that players wear a sensor vest (similar to those used in old-time lasertag) and wield a low-power infrared laser to shoot others who wear a similar vest. Another version involves the use of "squirters", carbines which can shoot a compressed bolt of water for several dozen feet, occasionally sending the unfortunate recipient into a spiraling dive (which can be downright dangerous at lower altitudes). This pick-up game has become so popular that cloudtagging can be seen fairly often in the skies of many of the major cities throughout the Imperium, and while many of the taggers are in their teens, the sport is cross-generational, drawing people from a wide variety of ages and occupations. If nothing else, it's an interesting way to meet new people, and often beats bar-hopping for those who don't mind a little wind in their hair. Q. What keeps riders from falling off these boards? A. Their legs are strapped into boots which are part of the board. Maneuvering it done simply by moving one's center of mass, basically using your entire body as a makeshift joystick. Think of it like snowboarding without the snow (and with a somewhat bigger board). Q. Can the boards do spins and loops? A. The higher-tech/more-expensive ones can. However, such maneuvers push the limits of onboard safety systems, so the cheaper ones typically don't allow as wide a range of maneuvers without some soupingup, as it were. Many teens learn gravitics & electronics at a young age by trying to push the limits of their gravboards beyond the manufacturer's specifications. Q. What is CAT (Computer Assisted Touchdown), ACS (Anti-Collision System), and ATCO (Automatic Traffic Control Override), and how did they come about? A. Landing a grav-board can be more
difficult than it looks, and most accidents used to occur while making manual touchdowns. This resulted in the development of CAT, which basically consisted of an onboard computer taking control of the board whenever the rider would press a button signaling a desire to return to earth. ACS, meanwhile, was initially known as Anti-Crash System, and used onboard sensors to relay a warning to the board's computer whenever impact with the ground (or a wall) seemed imminent. In such instances, the CAT software would automatically initiate, taking over the board, often upsetting the rider who may have just been trying to conduct some daredevil maneuver. Nonetheless, such software, or safety-ware as it is often called, saved innumerable riders from the suffering the deleterious effects of DES (Dirt Eating Syndrome). ACS slowly grew to mean Anti-Collision System as the onboard sensors and computer software became smart enough to detect impending collisions with animate objects as opposed to just stationary ones. Eventually, however, so many kids began "tweaking" their boards in order to disable these features that police began demanding some way to monitor every board's "fitness" from automated sensor posts. This led to a twoway communication system between boards and monitoring posts interspersed throughout Imperial cities, and once this was in place, police also wanted the ability to take-over control of a board which was violating a particular airspace or whose rider was violating some sort of law. This in turn led to ATCO, Automatic Traffic Control Override, allowing police to suddenly ground all the boards in any particular sector or to force them to remain within certain flyzones. Advertisement: You like to Zoom?! Then get the Zoom-Zoom ZX, the latest grav-board by Magic Carpet. You know who we are, and you trust our name, and because you've been so loyal to us, we've designed our latest board to be fully configurable! That way you can race over the waves at your local beach without the worry that some asinine security feature will plop you in the water and make you look like a wet loser in front of your friends. Unlike the other guys, we want you to zoom unimpeded, and to prove that we mean it, Zoom-Zoom's the name of our boards. So don't be a wet loser. Try out a Zoom-Zoom today. We know you'll agree…Zoom-Zoom flies like magic!
reaching well over half a kilometer in altitude before they came tumbling back to earth in the form of a warm, misty veil. A crowd composed mainly of children flew about in saucershells, small makeshift floaters shaped as flattened spheres. They soared with gleeful zeal to the top of the geyser while dodging and just as often crashing into loose globules of water held together by faint geepoints in the giant lowgravity field. Those without the shells contented themselves with jumping upwards, a hundred meters or more, and then coasting back to the surface, splashing water pockets on friends and strangers. Naked above the waist and barefoot, Mike figured he didn't look very much out of place. -Harrison Chapters, Ch 15 ftp://ftp.cs.pdx.edu/pub/frp/stories/harrison Minimum tech level: 9 Prevalence: Common Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-3: No regulations 4-6: Independent back-up power required 7-9: Liability insurance required 10-12: Service inspections required 13+: Prohibited except under rare favor (sanctioned monopoly) Cost range (equipment): Low-end: Cr5000 High-end: MCr1 Cost range (use): Low-end: Free High-end: Cr20 Non-canonical warning: I'm not sure that gravitic fields can be made this big, but if they can, then this would be a possible outgrowth of the technology. Gravitic Geysering was made possible when engineers realized they could project a sizable gravity suppression field over a large, conical area with the suppression slowly tapering off toward the field's outer layers. As long as there is some automatic power back-up for the generators, the field itself is considered to be fairly safe. While there is always some downward pull (under 1% normal gravity near the field's spine), individuals can often catch a ride on a jet of water that shoots upward from the ground. Situated along the spine of the suppression field, such geysers can rise hundreds of meters before finally succumbing to gravity in the field's upper layers and falling back down to earth as a fine mist. Due to the ease of maintenance and the availability of energy, such geysers have become commonplace throughout the Imperium, particularly on worlds with breathable atmospheres and with areas of warm to moderate temperatures. Q. Do the field generators ever break down?
A. Yes, but because they are arrayed in an overlapping manner, the field profits from built-in redundancy, meaning that if one or two sections fail, the others pick up the slack, providing time to bring everyone down safely so that some maintenance can be performed. The only thing that will cripple the system is a complete loss of power, which is why most governments demand that the generators have their own backup power supply in case all the local power plants go offline simultaneously (an exceedingly rare event, but it has been known to happen). Q. Given this implicit safety, what is the rationale behind the prohibitions where they occur? A. Some societies view such frolicsome activity as a waste of time and energy, and many religious dictatorships have pulled out the tired argument that if humans were meant to fly, they would have been given wings. It has further been argued that most people have a natural acrophobia (fear of heights), and that to subdue it with safe exposure to heights is unhealthy, as it gives some people an unwholesome sense of immortality which can lead to reckless attitudes and immoral behaviors. Advertisement: Geysering isn't just for children! It's for grown-ups too. The Sintrivani welcomes you to bring your family during the daylight hours, but after dark, we kick out the kids, crank up the music, and dance in the null-field all night long! Come join the party! You never know who you might meet…at the Sintrivani.
On this occasion the waters churned with unusual vivacity, the warm glow of soaking bodies paddling on the surface as others more intrepid ventured beneath, between the terraces of gravity nullifiers and into the labyrinth beyond. Mike found himself swimming within a crowd of strangers, some groping each other for comfort and others huddled within large floating bubbles of oxygen, bodies intertwined, playing games of the flesh for all to see. Together they imbibed amber and purple fluids from plastic sluispheres, bubbles within bubbles holding potent aphrodisiacs, judging from the inclinations of those who shared them. -Harrison Chapters, Ch 11 ftp://ftp.cs.pdx.edu/pub/frp/stories/harrison Minimum tech level: 9 Prevalence: Uncommon Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-3: No regulations 4-6: Independent back-up power required 7-9: Liability insurance required 10-12: Service inspections required
It was noon before Mike reached the geyser or Sintrivani as it was known locally. He parked along the ridge facing the coast beneath a tall hotel and condominium complex. Below the ridge, the hot waters of the Sintrivani shot from a manmade spring,
13+: Prohibited except under rare favor (sanctioned monopoly) Cost range (equipment): Low-end: Cr10000 (low end) High-end: MCr1 (high end) Cost range (use): Low-end: Free High-end: Cr20 Non-canonical warning: I'm not sure that gravitic fields can be made this big, but if they can, then this would be a possible outgrowth of the technology. Gravitics technology has also impacted the way in which people swim. By layering gravunits along the edge of a deep conduit of water, pool designers realized that they could nullify the usual ear-popping pressure which naturally accompanies increasing depth. With the addition of artificial gills and well-placed air-jets, swimmers could explore an entire aquatic labyrinth, a sort of maze-like aquarium. These "aquatic labyrinths" as they are called are often stocked with scores of freshwater creatures of various worlds and are usually designed with mood-lighting and warm bubble sprays. Many also include theme-music, such as whale-songs or deep synthesized pulse-patterns which are felt more than heard. Q. How dangerous is this? A. People have been known to drown in two-inch puddles (particularly when intoxicated), so there is a definite danger, however, if somebody does die in one of these areas, it's usually due to their own personal negligence. How the society handles the aftermath is, of course, up to the society. Some try to transfer blame to the living. Others take a more philosophical view, ascribing such incidents to God's Will or Social Darwinism. Q. Why is it uncommon? A. Many cultures don't like the idea of social bathing in an enclosed, artificial environment, and many people in the medical profession view such common bathing areas, particularly when unchlorinated, to be a vector for the spread of disease. Nonetheless, there are other societies which see nothing wrong with this, so it seems to be a matter of cultural preference. Advertisement: Join the party tonight at Club Wet, where you're guaranteed to have a good time, or we'll toss you in the slosh pit with guest D.J. Flipper Sharkbait! So get off the couch and jump in the water. We're only a breast-stroke away!
The evening had descended into night, and the dark purple sky glittered with spangles of illumination. The streets were fluid with movement, motor cars weaving carelessly around the herds of pedestrians like a pack of hungry wolves as volumes of voids and pleasure junkies sat fidgeting in the gutters, playfully groping the wires which pumped streams of electric illusion into their skulls. -Harrison Chapters, Ch 12
memories which could be sold, outlawing snuff-flicks as well as other extreme brands of porn. Others decreed that any sort illegal activity must not be memorized and duplicated for playback, or it would encourage similar acts. Of course, these laws only served to create a lucrative black market for memory vendors. In response to this, some governments have outlawed voiding entirely, while others have taken a no-holds-barred stance, figuring out that legalization kills black markets and makes it easier to find the sickos. Q. Are void units basically memory playback machines? A. Most are, but some at the lowest tech level are simply devices that stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain. Others, at the high end, allow some degree of interactive programming. Eventually, experts hope to make these devices intelligent enough to perform specialized tasks, such as allowing a person to understand and speak a foreign language or to know how to do mechanical work, although such systems haven't yet been perfected. Q. Is surgery required, or are the devices simply something that can be worn? A. At the present state of the art, cranial implantation is still required, which essentially means sticking an array of datajacks through an individual's skull. However, work is being done to try to make the technology external. Q. So voiders are easily recognized? A. Some are. Others just grow long hair. Advertisement: Tired of the daily routine? Tired of feeling all alone? Tired of feeling like you're missing out on life? Good! Because what that means is that you've got a nice, firm grip on reality! Now for the quick and dirty: There's a whole world out there that most people never experience simply because they don't have the guts. Don't take our word for it. Any pin-head can tell you…there's more to life than the 9 to 5, and there is more to be experienced in life than any one person can ever experience in one lifetime. Artificial memories? Hardly! These memories are real. They really happened to real people, just like you, and some of them even died in the process of making them. High price to pay, but fortunately not one that you have to cough up. All you have to do is have the guts to take the first step into a whole new realm of experience. This isn't about avoiding life. It's about embracing it! Or you can pussy-out and stick with the humdrum, work/play/sleep routine. Choice is yours. But whatever you decide, don't live
Minimum tech level: 13 Prevalence: Uncommon Legality: Check the CT/MT law level: 0-3: No regulations 4-6: Legal interventions for addicts 7-9: Wide-scale content restrictions 10+: Prohibited Cost range: Low-end: Cr1000 High-end: Cr10000 Non-canonical warning: I'm not certain that such direct sensory stimulation is covered by Traveller technology. Nonetheless, for campaigns where a high degree of cybernetics are used, voiding may prove an interesting addition. With the introduction of CSRP (Comprehensive Sensory Record/Playback) technology, a whole new entertainment industry began to flourish which focused on putting users directly into the action, whether it be a social drama, a thriller, or even a porn-flick. Unfortunately, the technology proved to have an addictive aspect for certain types of people, and within a few years, millions of users were rotting their minds out in ever more extreme CSRP "memories". Because of the blank looks on their faces and the drool running down their chins, these people were thought to be utterly devoid of any real sensation, preferring the imaginary world of their playback units to RL (the term used by these sensory-junkies for "real life", as though it were a consumer product they had come to view as obsolete). In time, their avoidance of RL became known as voiding. Most planetary governments began to place restrictions on the sort of playback
without living, and don't get old without having experienced as much as you possibly can! You want my advice? Get hooked up with Cyberlife! Get your jacks today! Note: As I mentioned last issue, the movie Strange Days is an excellent source for ideas regarding this technology, and it's also a great movie in its own right.
Ragamuffin Adventure Seed: The Shopping Trip
In the hours immediately following the Ikkadju attack on Earth, what remains of humanity's leadership becomes painfully aware of the difficult choices ahead. The solar colonies (the various outposts still existing within the solar system) are able to sustain themselves only through a constant influx of supplies and materials from Earth. Everything from toilet paper to replacement parts for aging nuclear reactors, all of it comes from Earth, and now it seems that Earth will not be there anymore. Many ships in the immediate vicinity of the Earth-Moon system begin going down to look for survivors and to get them off the planet before nuclear winter sets in, but it quickly becomes obvious that there is little room for excess people. Life support equipment can't handle the strain of the extra bodies, and, in any case, there will soon be not enough food to go around. The various officials who remain quickly realize that rather than running rescue missions, what they should be running are snatch and grab missions. The off-world bases will need preserved food and seeds of every sort imaginable. They will need equipment, primarily hydroponics and life support equipment, including air and water filtration systems. They'll also need extra parts for all the various machines that keep them alive. Likewise, they'll need consumer commodities, everything from rechargeable batteries to dental floss. This is their last chance, and it is quickly dissipating as the remaining population goes into panic-mode, quickly triggering the inevitable looting and killing that is already beginning to occur. How the players react during this critical juncture should set the theme for how other people in important positions end up behaving. If the players end up disobeying orders, the referee should assume that a general state of anarchy quickly ensues.
"Okay! That's it, Mark! We're ready to take off," Stacy yells from the back of the interorbital shuttle. For the past three hours you've been running rescue missions between the surface and orbit, dropping off loads of radiation-baked survivors at the Hilton Highport. You don't know how many of them will make it. That's not your problem. Your job is just to get them off the planet, although you find that each time you land, the situation on the ground looks increasingly desperate. Just as you're about to hit the antigravity thruster, the shuttle's comm-link starts beeping, alerting you to an incoming message. You reach over and hit a button. (((Encoded Transmission))) You type in your military ID number and associated access code, waiting only a fraction of a second as the shuttle's onboard computer does the rest. To: All Evacuation Personnel From: Admiral Kao, Central Command Our orbital stations and the privately owned highports are all reporting that they are overloaded with evacuees. Their life support systems are unable to cope with the increasing load. Hence, it is with extreme regret and sorrow that I must direct you to fly no further rescue missions. What we need are supplies. Traffic control will continue to direct your missions, but these must be aimed at allowing us to save the people we currently have. You have done well. Do not falter, and remember that humanity is counting on you. You can't help but blink for a moment as you hear the noise of anxious voices from the cargo bay. Then you hit the comm-link, trying desperately to raise Orbital Fleet Traffic Control. "OFTC…OFTC…this is shuttle Alphaone-five-niner. We are fully loaded and ready to lift. Over." "A159, have you received the memo from Central Command?" "Affirmative, I have, and I have a bay chock full of people who are expecting to be rescued. Over." "A159, this is an open-frequency. I repeat, open-frequency. You are directed to follow your orders to the letter. We are in need of material supplies of any sort that you are able to lift from the surface. We are especially in need to life support equipment and foodstuffs." "But what I am supposed to do about these people?" "A159, follow your orders. Good luck. OFTC out." "Wait…don't go!" You feel a sweat break out along your forehead as Stacy comes into the cabin.
"Mark, what the hell's going on? Why aren't we lifting off?" What do you do?
Comments on A&E #354:
Paul Cardwell: RYCT me on where to find good political media: I tend to agree with your assessment. The problem, I suppose, is that politics itself is a polarizing force, so anybody who gets into it tends to become polarized in one direction or another. In short, we begin to care, and that's not a bad thing, but it means that nonpartisan literature will be somewhat stale either due to be being heavily edited to the point of censorship or because the person writing it just wasn't interested in the topic. It makes me wonder if a basic exposure to different avenues of counterculture media ought to be a prerequisite for high school graduation in the same way that students are introduced to a foreign language or the arts. After all, why is learning French or music more important than learning about where to find viewpoints beyond those expressed on Fox News or CNN? Myles Corcoran: RYCT Robert Dushay RHCT Brian Misiaszek and your mention of Paranoia as real SF when played in a straight dystopian manner: I've wondered if anybody has ever done this, and if so, how it turned out. People are so used to playing Paranoia as a comedy, but I think it would be more interesting to play it straight, as you say. I've read Brave New World, of course, though I didn't quite like how it ended, and, of course, everyone remembers Logan's Run, although, again, I wasn't too impressed. Any straightdystopian Paranoiaesque novel you might recommend? My thoughts on the matter aren't really developed yet, but what I picture is a situation where AIs come into being and where, over time, they are given property rights and essentially status as corporations, more or less, and that over time they end up owning everything, until finally they decide to truly control the human race for our own good, essentially turning us into semidispensable cogs in their society. Hence, perhaps by the year 3000, a human child born into such a society would grow up in a world completely alien to us. I find myself wondering what sort of "adventures" such an individual might have and whether there would be some sort of human-underground for people trying to overturn the system and re-establish human control, which is to say, knowing humanity for what it is, a return to chaos and war. Michael Cule: Congratulations on your voice-acting gig! That must have been a heck of a good time. RYCT Paul Mason on what Goering said regarding war and dragging the masses along for the ride, "…tell them they are
being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism…": That certainly rings a familiar bell. It wasn't so long ago that warprotestors were being similarly reviled by the right wing in this country. Likewise, my comment last issue to Paul Mason [where I stated: "To deny this conflict (freedom vs tyranny) as being dangerous or characterizing its supposition as some cynical attempt at Goebbelsesque demagoguery is, in my not-so-humble opinion, nothing short of a wholesale betrayal of humanity"] certainly doesn't reflect well on my self-restraint. In short, I can see both sides. Goering was quoted at the very depth of his cynicism, and while there are cynical people and cynical tactics in all societies, I'm inclined to think that for all our faults here in America, at least we kept to the first amendment. Thank our founders for that. The world, I think, should have a first amendment. I don't know why the allies didn't mandate freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly as a prerequisite for membership in the United Nations. Perhaps because it wasn't a tenable proposition given the state of the world in 1945. However, given how the world has since changed, perhaps now is the time to take this step. Granted, we'd have to let Islamic mullahs fan the flames of religious hatred, but it would be worth it. It would demonstrate, unequivocally, the difference between "Us" and "Them". However, if we did somehow accomplish this, setting up a worldwide organization of states that believe in freedom, I wonder how many nations could honestly send representatives. In any case, thank you for that quote from Gustave Gilbert's Nuremberg Diary. It makes me want to read more. RYCT me on your secret background for the Shattered Imperium of Traveller: Very, very nice. I am hereby impressed. You actually found a way to make it all make sense. Given that you've obviously thought about this stuff, you might be interested in an article by Bertil Jonell entitled "How the Imperium Really Fell" which appeared in The Guildsman #6. I'd be happy to email you a copy if you like. Robert Dushay: RYCT Jonathan Nicholas regarding "corporatocracy, masked and cloaked in democracy": I agree with your assessment. I don't know enough about the problem to propose a solution, other than to suggest some form of world-government or worldwide regulatory body with jurisdiction over multinational corporations, but this would bring about it's own host of problems. Likewise, I don't know enough about the WTO or similar organizations to evaluate the current status quo. Perhaps some betterinformed A&Eers can speak to this. Lee Gold: Regarding your thoughts on villains, that they would be more convincing
whining and bitching than boasting and gloating: Yes, excellent point. I think much of the problem with "villain-design" in much of modern cinema is that writers often succumb to the halo/horns effect. When we think of people we like, we tend to view all their qualities as positives: the halo-effect. When we think of people we dislike, our tendency is toward the reverse: the hornseffect. So the hero's arrogance is viewed as confidence and is justified by the plot's outcome (as we knew it would be), whereas the villain is portrayed with the worst of every human attribute. But people aren't built this way. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and the line between hero and villain is often hazy. Hence, in order for villains to be realistic, they should see themselves in the most positive light. In fact, the audience should even be made to sympathize with them, perhaps thinking what they really need in some time on the couch of a good shrink to work out their problems. Or maybe a puppy would do the trick. One of my favorite villains was from the movie Peacemaker, where Marcel Iures plays a grief-stricken terrorist. He, of course, thinks he's perfectly in the right, and not merely for philosophical reasons. It's his personal pain that really drives the entire plot, but strangely we don't learn enough about him. He is like this wounded creature, robotically marching toward his goal of mass death and destruction, and the movie never really explains why he, an apparently learned man, never sees any alternative. Spike Jones: RYCT me where you call me to task for apparent contradictions in my political/philosophical position as demonstrated in my article of issue #352: I must confess that I have trouble making sense even to myself at times, so I'm not terribly surprised to learn that other folks are having difficulty making sense of my arguments and putting them all into a selfconsistent framework. The apparent weaknesses you cite are as follows: (1) That I support the forcible democratization of autocratic societies despite the fact that I am not at all convinced of the likelihood of victory. (2) That forcibly democratizing autocratic states is akin to trying to Christianize them ala the Crusades. (3) That Bush's domestic policies are dangerous to democracy here in the United States, so how could any right-thinking, democratically-minded person support him? And my responses to each of these points are as follows: (1) Right is right, regardless of whether or not you win. (Of course, it helps to be the one to write the history books.) (2) I'm glad you brought this up, because this is really the heart of the moral debate. Do we have the moral right to democratize another country, particular considering how
far from perfect our own democracy is, and my personal answer is yes. Democracy is not a religion (in my opinion), and, in any case, I believe that most people want freedom, though I doubt many Muslims want to become Christians, so this simply isn't a valid analogy from a purely socio-political standpoint. I'm reminded of a story I heard on NPR. Apparently, they were interviewing Iraqis before their national election. One individual said that his family was planning on voting, but that they would go one at a time, so that if anything untoward happened, such as the polling place being blown to pieces, only one of them would die. No matter who died, he said, the family would go on. Another person said their family was planning on all going together, because they decided that if any of them died, they all wanted to die together. In any case, no amount of fear was going to deter them from exercising their right to vote. There was another story I heard from a woman who wasn’t planning on voting. Like many Iraqis, she was too afraid, as it was well-known that the insurgents would target anyone who dared vote. However, as she was making breakfast, she saw some of her fellow citizens walking by, clearly on their way to the polls, and she decided then and there that if they had the courage to vote, then so did she. So she did. Another woman wanted to vote, but her husband begged her not to risk her life, pointing to their kids and asking who would raise them if she died. So she stayed home, and after it was over, she wept with shame, wishing she could relive the day and participate in this historic election, an election which I think every Iraqi will remember for as long as they live. Of course, after hearing all these stories, I can't help but think of us fat, lazy Americans, and how many of us take voting for granted, so much so that many of us don't even bother going to the polls on election day. It is that apathy that is at the heart of our decay as a society. It is the idea that democracy is something you can just take for granted. So, to return to the central question, do we have a right to foist democracy upon oppressed peoples? In my view of the world, it is not that we have a right to do this; it is that we have a duty! And if we become so apathetic that we forget this duty, equating democracy with some seemingly outdated religion, as though it were merely a system of beliefs with little practical consequence in the development of a nation, then we have forgotten what democracy is, what it means, and what it can accomplish for all humanity. Sorry to sound so high and mighty, but this is really, in my view, the central question of the debate. And you brought it up beautifully. (3) You're absolutely right on this last one. There is a certain conundrum at work here,
and I'm not at all happy about it. This is probably what gave me the greatest pause when it came to casting my vote, but in the final analysis, I had faith in our current democratic institutions and our political process to undo whatever domestic damage Bush does to our freedoms during the next four years. In the meantime, I view the external/international situation as having primacy over domestic affairs, although this, of course, is a value judgement, and different people are bound to assess the situation differently. Let me take up your general argument for a moment, but allow me to twist it away from morality and discuss very briefly the economic straits our nation seems to be heading into. We are currently digging for ourselves a great, big, financial hole, and Bush is up in front with the lead shovel firmly in hand. The damage that is currently occurring with respect to our national and foreign debt leads me to re-ponder the fate of the former Soviet Union. Even if we win democracy in Iraq, and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and miraculously manage to disarm North Korea, and somehow manage to get China to renounce it's aspirations to re-take Taiwan, and, through some bizarre string of occurrences, somehow manage to prevent any further nuclear proliferation, and simultaneously keep the Soviet Union from plunging back into dictatorship, after all that is accomplished (which, of course, can't possibly all fall in our favor), what sort of nation will we be financially at the end of the day? Can we really sustain this international effort forever? And the answer, I think, is no, we can't. Your argument should not be that what Bush is doing is immoral. Your argument should be that what he's doing is stupid, because we are not as strong and powerful as we think we are. America is that 900-pound gorilla who in his mind imagines that he's King Kong! And we aren't. We have limitations, and we're hitting those limits, and unless we back off from our goals and start concentrating on America, we're going to end up screwing ourselves. This is probably the message that Kerry should have led with. Instead he was wishywashy, never able to decide upon a clear focus. The Democrats had a candidate in Howard Dean who could have at least expressed their true feelings forcefully and with absolute candor, but instead they chose the guy who they thought could beat Bush because of his war-record. Wrong play. Wrong move. You go with your gut, or you don't go at all. My own feeling, however, is that even if we did concentrate solely on America to the complete exclusion of international politics, we’d still be screwed, because our society is in a state of decay. Correcting this decay, cleaning out the rot, would be politically suicidal. So, in short, I do not foresee happy
times for America regardless of who we elect. Regarding Ryan Dancey: So he turned himself in. Amazing. Having heard so much criticism of him over the years, I would not have expected that he'd have such strength of character. Granted, what he did (spying on the board) wasn't exactly of great moral character, but put yourself in his shoes. Can any of us honestly say what we would have done if put in his place at that precise moment? Would we have gone to the board and said, "Hey, look, there's a security problem," or would we have exploited it, reading their emails just to see where everyone's heads were? It would be so tempting that I can't say with any degree of certainty that I, personally, would have done the right thing. And if I did do wrong, I'm doubtful that I would want people to ever know about it, so I have to chalk a point in his favor. He ratted himself out.
Regarding Professors vs. Technical Staff: I see your point, that professors allegedly move the sciences forward while the staff just keeps the equipment in working order. Being that I don't work at a University and never got a degree in Computer Science, I'm in no position to comment authoritatively on whether CS professors are a waste of space or are worth every penny we taxpayers pay them. All I have to go on is what I've been told by friends who went through the program (as well as one who didn't). Perhaps the problem is systemic rather than having to do with theory-laden professors themselves. After all, if you want
to do research, you will almost inevitably have to teach as well, and perhaps this isn't really a terrific idea. I don't know. I guess there are pros and cons. All I know is that of my friends who went through that program, I don't think any of them wanted to study the theory. They wanted to graduate, get jobs, and make lots of money, and so, except for Cprogramming, which the program excels at, they ended up largely teaching themselves the skills they needed to be valuable in the marketplace. I'm reminded of one friend in particular who had to completely bullshit his way into his first job. He was hired to set up a small computer network on campus, and he had no idea how to go about it, but he had faith in his ability to learn from the "man pages" and the paper manuals, and, somewhat miraculously, this self-faith was wellfounded. He spent a few weeks living with that network, eating his meals there, working there throughout the night and bringing a sleeping bag for when he needed a nap. He spent hours upon hours learning and trying ideas and finding problems and learning how to fix them, all on his own, the professor waddling in every now and then to check on his progress (the professor who hired him didn't know the first thing about networking, so it was easy for my friend to snow the guy). In the end, my friend finally succeeded in creating a distributed network where if one computer went down the others barely missed a beat. But more important than that, he had learned an awful lot during the process, and he was rightfully proud of his accomplishment, proud of the fact that he'd demonstrated to himself the wherewithal to make good on his previous bullshit, proving that he could take this tall order, a seemingly impossible task to one with as little training as he had originally possessed, and sit down and learn like a motherfucker, refusing to give up, and finally succeeding as a result of sheer persistence and self-faith. He went on to design other networks, such as one for the Center for Environmental Research and Technology in Riverside, and, more significantly, a much larger network for the entire computer science department at UC Riverside when they moved into their new building, and these days he runs his own network consulting firm. But, strangely enough, he could never pass the math requirements nor many of the theory-laden CS classes, so he never got his Computer Science degree. Nonetheless, when the CS department needed help, he was on the short-list of people they went to for answers. I can only imagine that it must have been deeply embarrassing for them, this sharp incongruity between perception and reality. After all, one would think that there might have been at least one professor among the faculty who should understand computer
networking, who would have an intuitive knowledge of how networks function and would be the authority when it came to designing and building networks. But no, this apparently wasn't the case. From what I've been told, many of these professors were studying computer science back when computers barely existed, so they had this whole collection of abstract computation theory stretching back for many decades, and meanwhile, the world of real-life technology had passed them by. Now, all this may be a gross oversimplification, and things may be getting better with old professors retiring and new ones joining their ranks, but I have to say that I personally expect teachers to be able to do. If they can't do, they should go learn how to do before they try to teach. Just my opinion, and as you indicated, perhaps my judgement in such matters is somewhat naive. Nonetheless, this is my layman's view for what little it's worth. Please note, I don't mean to insinuate that professors are bad people. I think that they represent something of the best of people. To devote your life to research and education, it just doesn't get much nobler than that. Nonetheless, educators should make an extra effort to keep up, not merely so that they can know what's going on and pass along the latest knowledge, but also so that they can better determine what topics are no longer of as great importance as when they were themselves first learning their subject. I think this is obvious to everyone, but, of course, saying and doing are two different things.
Mephistopheles in the hope of finally bringing down Ahriman who she came to see as her lifelong nemesis. Is Jinx right in her opinions? Perhaps and perhaps not. She's never met Ahriman and knows him only though others, but she knows that he's been brewing potent magics from her father's blood in order to control lesser demons, attempting to establish a domain for himself in the Abyss. She knows that he needs more blood, her blood to be specific, so she does have reason to fear him. Nonetheless, seeking freedom from one's enemies by escaping to the Hells for protection should seem a little bit strange to anyone with a pair of brain cells to rub together. Clearly, Jinx hopes to establish a place for herself in the Hells, but her true dream, I think, is simply to be free. Whether or not she can find freedom in Hell remains to be seen. That is a brief outline of her story so far, but as it so happens, I will be going into this backstory in greater depth as she relates all of this to a certain Duke of the Hells, the leader of the Dark Eight, in an upcoming installment of the series. It will take a little while to get there, but we'll get there eventually. Regarding your assertion about poor game
Joshua Kronengold: RYCT me regarding the background for the Jinx campaign: The general sketch is that Jinx was born on an out-ofthe-way prime material world where Malarea, her mother, wanted her to grow up in secrecy, finding her own way in this world without the intervention of devils or demons. Unfortunately, Malarea eventually fell under the influence of Ahriman who learned of Jinx (his niece, in effect), and he sent a cambion to keep an eye on Jinx. At the time, he was in negotiations with Lolth for support in his own designs, and it was her will that Jinx should be Troll by David 'kruzader' Lattka allowed to be free until she should become powerful enough in her own right to join their little coalition. design: If my understanding is correct, what Unfortunately, Jinx, through the magic of you are saying is that many game systems her blood which was handed down to her by come with so many combat abilities that no her father, eventually fell off their radar even player can hope to initially maximize them as she was in the process of learning that she and still have points to spare for roleplayinghad been watched and manipulated for a related abilities. This situation, you argue, very long time. She grew resentful and leads players down of the road trying to extraordinarily cautious, planehopping in maximize their combat-related stats at the order to learn about the planar societies, and expense of non-combat stats, hence causing eventually deciding to submit herself to them to end up with powerful but boring
characters. I'm afraid I have no choice but to agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. I was an example of your very point just this past weekend. I'd rolled-up a new character for a friend's D&D 3.5 game set in the world of WarCraft, and I was initially thinking about playing a member of the free-willed undead, thinking that it would be interesting to get into their whole philosophy and world view. However, I then recalled that my friend tended to run combat-heavy games which were rather light on roleplaying, and so I looked at the option of playing a Troll. As a Troll in WarCraft, I'd get +2 to my strength and my dexterity, and I'd get regeneration. Plus, my large size would give me extended reach, allowing me to really kick some ass (taking greater advantage of D&D3e's rules on attacks of opportunity), and by being a straight fighter, I'd get all sorts of extra combat feats. So, I ditched my previous idea and just became a troll fighter, mainly because I didn't want to be a big wussy on the battlefield. Sad. Truly sad, but it illustrates your point. Even players like myself, knowing the propensity of their GM to run combatintensive adventures and knowing the game itself to be effectively combat-oriented in its design, will succumb to the temptation to maximize combat-related abilities at the expense of everything else. And, in my opinion, that's a problem. One possible solution which you mention is the notion of having "characters hit a power ceiling long before they hit a breadth wall." This was something I thought about around the time I was submitting my article for A&E #353, and it was Patrick Riley's comment about "depth and breadth" from issue #352 that gave me the idea. Basically, I'm thinking that maybe the intelligence stat should be split into, say, focus (depth intellect) and common-sense (breadth intellect). That way, for example, a player could spend a lot of points on the former and play a specialist, or he/she could do the opposite, spending points on the latter in order to play a generalist, a jack-ofall-trades. Either way, the player would have to decide fairly early what sort of character he or she wants to play. Sadly, if the game were combatoriented, I'm inclined to think that most players would choose to play the combat-specialist, as I decided to do in this weekend's game. And that's not necessarily the wrong choice, but I think it would be preferable to have a system that rewards the generalists a little more heavily, or perhaps penalizes the specialists more heavily. If depth intelligence determines the total depth to which you could go in any particular skill (or the ease with which you could go there), and width intelligence
determines the total number of skill points you're going to get to play around with, I can see players becoming more reticent to choose the specialist-path. Realizing the steep sacrifice they would be making, I think most would prefer to be generalists. But is that really fair? It makes me think of the difference between class-based systems and skill-based systems. In class-based systems, you know what your character is. There's an archetype for you to follow, even if you decide to stray from the general concept. In skill-based systems, there's a greater propensity for generalization, but you can easily end up with a character who is such a generalist that they can't really do much of anything. So, is specializing really such a sin? I think the real way to get players to shyaway from creating these boring, combatmonster characters is to de-emphasize combat as a part of the game. And this argument, of course, makes me think that all my whining and theorizing is rather asinine. After all, we were playing D&D, a game descended from miniatures wargaming rules. The game's whole conceptual framework has been one of "kill & loot" since its invention. Add to that the fact that we were playing in the world of WarCraft, a setting derived for a computer game created specifically to simulate fantasy warfare. And then add to all that the fact that I chose to play a Troll! So here I am, the hapless victim? I'm playing a Troll in D&D3e's world of WarCraft, and I'm whining because there was too much combat? Please excuse me while I go have my head examined. But yes, I'm gonna whine even if it's patently stupid to do so, because it just strikes me that this whole game, arguably the most popular RPG ever published, was built for a thirteen-year-old mindset. Granted, the new edition has all sorts of features for greater character-customization, but I still come away thinking that most of this is combat-related. All they really did was heap on more opportunities to add pluses and minuses to the character sheet, so instead of roleplaying, everyone sits around rolling dice and trying to figure out if they hit or how much damage they're doing. It's the same thing I was doing back in the 6th grade, only now the rules are more complex. I hate to have to be the one to say it, but that's not progress. I'm thirty-six now. I think I deserve a system made for somebody in my age-group. Or better yet, maybe I should hang-up the dice bag and find something more constructive to do with my time. Nah, who am I kidding? Like that's ever going to happen. :-) Louis La Mancusa: Congratulations on your first zine. You make some excellent observations, first about the pen-and-paper RPG industry being a virtual feeding ground
for electronic games publishers, and secondly about how the attention spans (and an interest in reading) seem to be going downhill. Compound that with the retailer wanting to move as much product as humanly possible, and it all adds up to a tough situation for small publishers like yourself. Of course, the national inventory tax doesn’t help either. I'm ashamed to admit that I only recently learned about this, but from what I've come to understand, the government apparently tax retailers on the inventory they have in stock, and this, quite sadly, includes bookstores and other purveyors of intellectual property, who in the past might have held a product for years before selling it. Now, apparently, these retailers get taxed for each and every year that they hold the product (inventory tax), and then the product gets taxed again when they sell it (sales tax), and then their profits get taxed yet again (income tax), meaning that any given product can be taxed any number of times, essentially forcing such businesses to either get rid of their inventory (burn it) or close shop. Paige Gifford of "Corner Comics" (http://www.cornercomics.com), a comic book shop in Kenmore, Washington, was apparently approached by the IRS in March of 2003. They claimed that she owed $14000 in back inventory taxes and that the only way she could avoid it would be to destroy her entire backstock (shred or burn every comic book) by the end of the year. (Honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. For those who don’t believe me, go to http://www.eskimo.com/~tegan/blog/2003 1207-20031213.html and see the entry for December 11, 2003.) Since this was all more than a year ago, I contacted Paige to see if she really had to go through with it. She wrote me back, saying: "Yes, I had to destroy a huge portion of my backstock in order to keep them happy. (...) The whole thing was a complete joke. Nonsense. Just to get money out of me. Anyway, it's behind me now and I try not to think about it." Except of course, that she can't carry inventory from year to year without suffering this insipid tax! Kevin O'Donnell, Jr. has written an interesting article on this topic (see www.sfwa.org/bulletin/articles/thor.htm). Also, I've recently come across a number of newspaper articles on this topic dating to the early 1980s. If anybody wants them, just let me know. I'm no expert, but my take on what happened (and somebody please jump in to correct any mistakes I might make) was that this tax had been in the law for several decades, but for some reason it wasn't being rigorously enforced. Apparently, businesses (including publishers) were discounting their inventories in order to avoid the brunt of the tax, but were then turning around and later selling this same inventory at the full MSRP.
Then, some time in the late 1970s, the IRS decided to get serious. This move sparked a case which went all the way to the Supreme Court: Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The IRS won, somewhat predictably. They were, after all, only enforcing the law as it was written. Unfortunately, this law was written to encompass the entirety of the U.S. economy, including publishers and booksellers. I'm now going to pull some quotes from one of the articles in my little pile, a story by Michiko Kakutani headlined "Millions of Books Endangered as Result of Tax Ruling" which was published in the New York Times back on 05-Oct-1980: "The social consequences of this ruling are clear and clearly undesirable. It will, in a word, leave creators, the publishing industry and the country economically and culturally poorer." Townsend Hoopes, president of the Association of American Publishers, testifying before the Senate Committee on Small Business "It affects books across the board. Everyone's dumping like crazy. Unfortunately, publishers are going to look even more severely at those books they realize will not have immediate commercial appeal. If someone has to work backward from a profit-and-loss statement, it will be hard to justify the publication of such books. It will have a devastating effect on culture." Roger Straus Jr., president of Farrar Straus & Giroux "The ruling is going to have its heaviest impact on the commercial publication of scholarly works. In the past, if we weren't selling 250 copies of a book a year, we wouldn't think of reprinting it. With inflation and Thor Power, it's now nearer 1,000 copies." George Brockway, chairman of W.W. Norton "Ironically," Kakutani adds, "the IRS will probably not profit from the ruling either. If a book is kept in the warehouse, there is always the chance that it will eventually sell, generating taxable income; disposed of, it could not earn profits or yield taxes." Likewise, I should add, authors don't seem to be receiving royalties on remaindered books. In short, the system seems stacked against the individual writer in a way that would have sent earlier generations of writers running for the hills. Is this really the America we are living in?
I'm sorry to use your situation as an opportunity to get on my political soapbox, but I'm somewhat flabbergasted. This wasn't the way that I'd imagined things worked. What bothers me the most, I guess, is that I had to learn about this from a weblog, and a quarter-century after the fact. Why isn't every writer and every publisher out there screaming bloody murder?! I really can't believe that this has been going on for the past twenty-five years. What world have I been living in all this time? In any case, back to your situation, I don't view this as a particularly good time for anyone to attempt to break into the RPG market unless they're writing for a wellestablished brand, are using print-ondemand, or are publishing electronically, such as via rpgnow.com. And in your case, you're a small publisher probably operating under the radar of the IRS. For what little my advice is worth, I suggest you keep it that way. Paul Mason: RYCT Brian Misiaszek regarding the psychological diagnostic of RPGs without adventure seeds (such as the three little black books of Classic Traveller) and how this leads people to come up with "murder, mayhem, and theft": That's an excellent observation. Of course, one could argue that D&D played an influential role in this regard, seeing as it was probably the only other RPG on the hobby shop bookshelf during Traveller's inception. Of course, there is also the possibility that Traveller was intentionally based on noir themes, which led to various criminal enterprises on the part of the players. Michael Andre-Driussi explores this idea in his article "Deciphering the Text Foundations of Traveller" in The Internet Review of Science Fiction (www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10119). He analyzes Traveller in some depth, attempting to discern from which prior sources it derived and noting that this predisposition toward criminal enterprise seems to be a large part of the game's early focus. For example, he does a brief analysis of Supplement 6: 76 Patrons, a book of what are essentially adventure seeds: "Of these missions, some 10% are morally good (three cases of missing persons, one case each of 'find a hidden place,' antismuggling, and anti-theft) and 20% are neutral (bodyguard, ship work, and 'guard a place'). The remaining majority of 70% are criminal activities, including eight burglaries (five in a Watergate style), four assassinations (two of them political leaders), two cases each of hijacking and kidnapping, and one noteworthy case of global terrorism with a weapon of mass destruction." So it seems that Traveller, at least during its inception, was never intended to be
anything like Star Trek (good guys representing a benign government) or Star Wars (good guys fighting against a bad government). Rather, being heavily influenced as it was by E.C. Tubb's Dumarest of Terra series and H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human series (Space Viking in particular), Traveller, it seems, was originally intended to be about itinerant, SMG-wielding adventurers trying to scrounge together enough cash for their next jump. RYCT Jonathan Nicholas regarding the British experience in Ireland and Malaya: I could stand to learn more of this history. Thank you for citing these examples of antiterrorist campaigns done correctly. It makes me want to re-evaluate your comment from issue #353, that perhaps Bush should have asked Blair to put to British diplomats in charge of the initial occupation government, since it appears that you guys have done a decent job at this sort of thing. Brian Misiaszek: If you're going to use the
Regarding the AEsclepius of Aesculapius, the Greek physician, vs. the caduceus of Hermes, that god of theft and commerce: Wow! No wonder seeing the doctor has become so expensive. They're all wearing the wrong symbol! Regarding Polymancer: Ooh…I want a copy. Who published it? Regarding trying to get more contributors for A&E: I think we have a pretty healthy contributorship right now, although it surprises me somewhat that more people don't contribute to APAs. I mean, it's so much fun. Lisa Padol: RYCT me regarding PBeMing: I agree that my style bequeaths to the GM more powers than he should rightly have, but I try hard not to abuse them, and I've only rarely had any complaints. Likewise, I tend to mix the tone from serious to comedic depending on which best suits the scene, and I also use as much of a player's own words as I possibly can. Likewise, from what I've observed, most players seem to like seeing their dialogue woven into an edited story. I like to think that it makes them feel as though they are contributing to something that will have some permanent value, a story that will be relatively easy to read and may perhaps be entertaining to people who didn't participate in the initial telling. Nonetheless, from what I've seen of other PBeMs, most are run pretty much as you describe your preferences to be. I seem to be the lone weirdo when it comes to these issues. On a similar topic, in order to move the plot of the Jinx campaign forward, Kurt and I have recently begun gaming by Instant Message (AOL) between actual face-to-face sessions (rather than just PBeMing, which was our previous modus-operandi). I find that in some ways I prefer this medium to both face-to-face (F2F) gaming as well as playing by email. Like F2F, it has the advantage of immediacy, but like PBeMing, it involves the production of a writtentranscript and still allows for some measure of thought in between "turns". Hence, whereas we might normally feel pressured to respond to one another's dialogue within seconds, PbIC (Play by Internet Chat, as I'll term it so as to encompass AIM, IRC, and ICQ as well as other similar chat-wares) allows the participants to take a little more time with their words. I should probably point out that in the Jinx campaign, particularly during a critical conversation (and many of them, at this stage, seem rather critical), each line of dialogue sometimes feels like making a move in chess (see my comment to Ted Shelton in this issue). Likewise, Kurt and I are both playing characters with intelligence scores well in excess of our own intellectual capacities in real-life, so I think taking this extra time is justified. After all, if the characters are of genius intelligence, they
robosapien to guard the TV from Lauren, I do hope you're getting some video of all this. It will make for some great family movies in the years to come. Regarding your idea to speed up combat: I like just about anything that speeds up combat. It my AD&D game, I use a computer to control monster attacks. It's great to just hit a button and see what happens without having to resort to the tedium of dice and math. Regarding your one-time GM who used burnt matches to represent torches, and a cork board to represent the dungeon: These are interesting ideas. What did you think of the game? Did these props speed the game up or slow it down? Also, is there a certain “silly-factor” inherent to props. Regarding the Tactical Combat Simulator for Star Trek: Do you know anybody who actually used it? I'd be curious as to their comments. Regarding cards: I like the idea of using index cards to represent anything from characters to equipment to whatever, and I like your idea for organizing them. This certainly deserves further thought.
should be able to converse like it. Perhaps the main reason why I'm beginning to prefer PbIC at this point is that it involves less editing than PBeMexchange, and, likewise, it is much quicker to produce any given scene. Hence, I tend to find it more satisfying simply from a timetable standpoint. However, I have to admit that PBeMing is still superior insofar as it gives the GM time to produce vivid descriptions. Likewise, F2F is the best insofar as one considers the purely social aspects of gaming, as well as the acting and the inevitable snide comments from the peanut gallery which often make F2F sessions so enjoyable. Hence, I think we'll probably continue to use all three forms of gaming for the on-going development of the Jinx campaign. I should note that I committed what you might consider to be a cardinal sin this past week. We were doing a PbIC session a few nights ago, and it just didn't feel quite right. I wasn't as prepared, going into it, as I should have been, so the whole scene that Jinx walked into was a little bit cheesy. So the following day, as I looked over the chat-log and began editing the material into a rough draft of the scene in a novelized format, I grew increasingly dissatisfied with it. It needed much more than to merely have the rough edges filed off. It needed a substantial rewrite. Now, as I mentioned to you before, I am loathe to do this, but I decided to just try it, and in the matter of an hour or two I had a substantially revised and much improved scene on my hands. The general idea of what transpired was still intact, and almost all of the salient dialogue was still there, faithfully preserved, but I'd ended up adding a great deal more in terms of description as well as in terms of plot and dialogue. I'd even completely mucked around with the new NPC who was introduced in that scene, both in terms of his status in the hierarchy, which I significantly modified to his favor, as well as his general intelligence and how he handled himself (although, sadly, this was not a particularly happy scene for him). In short, I did exactly what a GM shouldn't do under most circumstances, stretching my editorial authority well beyond the point that it should really be restrained. In any case, I sent the new scene to Kurt, and his emailed response was: "I like it. Just a bit more class than the last :-)." And so, with player approval, the new version is apparently official. That's the sort of player I like to work with, somebody who is willing to let me muck around from time to time. Granted, this time I went too far, but it did make for a much improved scene, and I really like being allowed the leeway to do that every now and again. However, this is exactly the sort of thing I would probably not even consider trying with players who I don't already know pretty well.
In any case, for anyone who has experimented with playing by internet chat, I'd be curious as to what program you consider to be the most ideal for this purpose and whether you've discovered any tricks, policies, or processes that can be used to improve the game. Simon Reeve: Regarding the passages you quoted from Kelley Armstrong: Impressively funny. I must read more. Regarding your comment about being immune to gravity and momentum: I imagine that one could create a killer scroll. "It says here that upon casting this spell, the caster is rendered immune to both gravity and something called inertia, whatever that is. So here goes. Everyone stand back." (These, of course, being his famous last words, just before he goes flying off the edge of the landscape at some astronomical speed, never to be seen again. "Where'd he go? Is he coming back?") Patrick Riley: I liked your exponential strength scale: It's an interesting bit of game design, and it was nice to see the theory behind it. RYCT Lee Gold on the psychological tugof-war between distinction and acceptance: I think you're really on to something. It explains a heck of a lot, everything from why the dwarf fighter wants the Hammer of Thor to why, in the Jinx campaign, our dear protagonist wants to have her cake it too. Jinx, after all, would like to become a member of the infernal hierarchy, the cool kids club, as it were, yet she also covets personal freedom. These goals seem rather difficult to reconcile unless she attains such a state of favor that she becomes essentially untouchable. In any case, I wonder if perhaps your theory explains not only the actions of characters in stories but also the actions of people in real life. After all, it could easily be used to explain how many of us first got lured into gaming and then into GMing. Well done. RYCT Paul Mason regarding character backstory vs. character development instory: If I ever get that Ragamuffin PBeM off the ground, playing-out the backstory of each character will be the first item on the agenda. Unfortunately, it will require a good measure of "lackadaisical roleplaying", something you state you don't have time for in your own game. I talked about this at length in the most recent issue of APAcalypse (T-50), and perhaps I’ll eventually get around to talking about it here. RYCT Brian Rogers about building a space station within an asteroid: One advantage would be the natural shielding from specks of high-speed space rubble and radiation. Likewise, the asteroid might also provide your base with lower EM & IR signatures, just in case you don't want to
advertise your presence to everyone in the neighborhood. Brian Rogers: Regarding Kirk-style fistfighting in SF-RPGs and why it tends not to happen: Your observation makes me think that perhaps there should be combat rules explicitly favoring the unarmed over the armed, such that jumping somebody while they're pulling out their gun or flipping the safety is a relatively trivial task, and that once this happens, the gun is likely to go skittering across the deck. Under such rules, if the gun isn't already aimed and ready to fire, it should prove more of a distraction than it's worth. This, actually, may not be too far from the actual truth. Grabbing a gun, even if it’s sitting right next to you, flipping the safety, and aiming all takes time. Doing it all under stress takes even more time. I don’t think people appreciate just how quickly a guy with a knife can kill a guy who’s fumbling for his gun. Regarding your comment about "man vs. nature" being a difficult conflict to manage in actual practice: You're right. I'm not quite sure how to do this either. Like you say, the "intensity" never feels quite right unless the players are taking actual damage and really feeling the pain. I recall in one AD&D session before Jinx came to the Hells, she was with a band of people in one of the lower planes of Tartarus (also called Carceri). There was this light acid rain which was falling, basically killing them little by little, and they had no ability to teleport out of it. I told them that unless they found shelter inside about an hour, there would be little left of them save for the bleaching bones. So they scampered, finding a tower in which to hide, though, of course, they had to take on the current inhabitants in their already damaged state, and, of course, it wasn't a battle they could afford to run away from. I think the key ingredients in "man vs. nature" style conflicts are urgency, constant pain consistently described throughout the episode, and the situation of having the whole ordeal compounded by a tough choice that the characters must make in order to survive. To use your example of a starship crew passing through a high radiation zone: "Your skin feels hot. Your whole body, even the insides, even the roots of your teeth, all feel hot. You're sweating, and your eyes feel like they're going to explode. Just as you're coming out of it, however, you see an enemy warship hanging on the outskirts of your sensors. You can see them, because they're not in the radiation field, but they can't see you yet, but if you come out of it, they will. Meanwhile, your insides feel like they're beginning to boil. Everyone take X points damage. What do you do?" If they hang out in the radiation, have them all roll to stay conscious, and allow them to watch each other pass out one by one.
Inevitably, the last one will take the ship out of the field, or that's the end of the story. RYCT Mike Kubit regarding your Great Rope Bridge adventure in Pyramid: I think this is a great attempt at inversion. Granted, the players might be put-off by something so ingeniously ignoble as guard duty, but what a great way to get them to see things from the typical NPC's point of view. I applaud your effort. Ted Shelton: Regarding that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first time I saw it, I just about fell off my seat laughing. It was mainly the look on Ford's face just before he blasted the guy, as if to say, "This fight is so not going to happen." The whole audience just roared. It was quite possibly the funniest, shortest fight in movie history. Regarding PBeMing vs. playing by some internet chat application, see my comments to Lisa Padol in this issue. In general, I'd say that PBeMing is more convenient, as everyone can respond by email as their schedule permits. However, playing by internet chat is more akin to the actual experience of F2F (face-to-face) gaming, so if you want to stay in touch with old friends by recreating that gaming-group atmosphere, I'd recommend the later. Keep in mind, however, that there is a definite trade-off. PBeMing is to chess as face-to-face is to…um…volleyball? What I mean is that PBeMing allows you to take your time to make the best move. It gives you more opportunity to really consider the story and the details that have to go into it, whereas face-to-face and play-by-chat don't allow for this same level of concentration. Instead, they provide the immediate feedback necessary for a more socialcomponent to assume dominance. In short, you have to ask yourself which is more important, the story (the final product) or the social experience of gaming (the fun you have while creating the story)? In most PBeMs in which I have played, none of the players knew each other personally. This isn't always the case, but it seems to be the general norm, so the point of these games generally isn't to socialize. The point is to create a story. However, in your situation, the point seems to be to reconnect with old friends, so in your case I think the gaming experience itself is probably more important than whatever story results from it. Hence, play-by-internet-chat (PbIC) is probably the way for you to go. That said, you'll need to find a schedule that works for everyone, and you'll need a program that can support multi-player chatting. I'm not sure which is the best program to recommend. I've used mIRC somewhat, and I like it, but there are many others out there, and I'd be curious to hear about other people's experience with the different applications currently available. As for guidelines to follow, they're pretty much the same ones you'd apply during a
face-to-face game. Give every player the opportunity to shine, and don't favor one over the others. Encourage roleplaying by such lines as: "What exactly do you say?" and encourage them to put their dialogue in quotes so you know when it's their character talking versus them just making some sidecomment as a member of the ever-present peanut gallery. Also, have some dice on hand to resolve conflict, and if you are playing by internet chat, go with a rules set that you either know forwards and backwards or which is minimalist enough that you don't have to pause for an extended period to figure out what happens next. You mentioned liking FUDGE, so this would probably be a good choice. Finally, if the players get into some protracted argument amongst one another, find some way to break it up if it doesn't resolve itself rather quickly. For what may be a wide host of reasons, arguing via a keyboard and computer screen tends to devolve more quickly than arguing face-toface. Perhaps there are subconscious cues we use to break tension and resolve face-toface conflicts, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, which aren't available to us via the keyboard. Hence, conflict over distance may have a tendency to escalate unnecessarily. Therefore, you may have to nip such conflicts in the bud if for some reason they flare up unexpectedly. Just a small warning about one potential pitfall. Marco Subias: If you lose a zine, you might be able to cajole Lee into emailing you a electronic version of A&E in a big ol' zipfile. Regarding extreme partisanship which demonizes the opposition, I find myself continually torn by political and social issues. Nearly everyone, regardless of whether or not they believe in God, has a secure faith in their convictions, both moral and otherwise. I find myself outside of this mainstream. Whatever convictions I have are plagued by doubt and the constant tug of countervailing arguments. Perhaps that's why I feel the need to discuss it all, if only to get it out there where intelligent people (you guys) can lend me a helping hand (or beat me with a stick). There's actually a great deal more political crap I want to heap into these zines, but I'm not sure I dare. I'm not sure it would be welcome. Jim Vassilakos: I can't believe I wrote "itsybitsy you-know-what". I'd really appreciate it if somebody would please kick me in the face a few times. Aside from the not-soobvious allusion to a particular episode of South Park, this was completely inane on my part, and so I apologize to everyone who had the misfortune of reading it. Sometimes I can be a real ass. Regarding my comments on Lord of the Rings, I’m also having second thoughts. I had the opportunity to watch the extended
version of Fellowship recently (the Director’s cut, I suppose), and I have to report that it’s a different movie from the one I saw in theatres. I am actually somewhat awestruck by the story’s structure as well as purpose. It’s essentially a moral tale, not merely a story of adventure, and although I made the comment that the characters don’t seem like people I’d be likely to meet in real life, that may have something to do with the fact that they’re not from 21st century Earth. In short, I need time to rethink my opinion. Finally, with respect to my comment to Simon Reeve last issue, where I agreed with him regarding the Bush administration's attempts to justify torture: Although I agreed, my comment did not properly express my outrage over this situation. I am deeply concerned that my government is not merely trying to rationalize torture, even sexual torture insofar as it occurred in Iraq, but that it is still the Bush administration's policy to condone torture so long as it thinks it can get away with it. I shudder to think what we'll learn from the prisoners at Guantanamo when they are finally released (if they are ever released or allowed to be interviewed). That is going to be a watershed moment when all the abuses come frothing to the surface. It will be deeply shameful, not only for Bush supporters but for the entire nation, and yet I am looking forward to it. We have to confront this if we are to correct it. Jonathan Woolley: Regarding the saying "one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel": I love it! Regarding "Power Word Humiliate": What if the target creature is an exhibitionist? Oleg Zacharov: I'd be interested in seeing maps of Debar'kall, Igor, and Senacran. RYCT me about not being able to understand my logic with respect to my vote in this past election: That's probably because I spent most of the article citing my numerous recriminations. In any case, it's over. All we can do now is hunker down and hope for the best. I will say, though, that I'm glad Bush stuck to his plan of holding the Iraqi elections at the end of January despite all sorts of pressure to postpone them for several more months. I'm somewhat surprised that even given the prospect of insurgent retaliation, the Iraqi people turned out in as high numbers as they did. When people claim that we shouldn't be "forcing" democracy on other nations, I want them to remember this turn-out and the way the Iraqi people felt about finally having a say. This is what it's all about. I just hope the new Iraqi government manages to seize this moment rather than failing in their mission and allowing their country to disintegrate into a civil war.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.