Tonight in Alfheim

Where will the story go?

Things have settled down in Stull for the moment, but there is still plenty to be done and adventure to be had.  The heroes might stick around for a bit, help pick up the pieces of the damaged town, scribe some scrolls, or brew some potions.  The elf has a new spellbook.  But the longer they stick around, the more likely they are to discover the true nature of the elfstones.

Up north, a goblin war is brewing.  One tribe has failed to dislodge the inhabitants of the old Fortress, and the winners are going to press their advantage.  The news of trouble in the colony has spread like wildfire among the tribes; it sounds as though whatever disaster is impending, it could very well drive the imperials from Alfheim (if it doesn’t bring a legion from across the sea to investigate!) which would leave it to the greenskins to fight for supremacy.

Richmond’s solicitor awaits in Alfort with paychecks for the lord’s employees.  News that the saw mill has been badly damaged will surely put a crimp into plans for building the harbor and shipyard in the delta.  But Richmond eagerly awaits the elfstones, which may further his ultimate goals.  Should anything happen to the stones from Stull, he has other options to the west and north.  If the party can’t be trusted to deliver, he may need to hire some new hands.

Gernauch is still under the shadow of the Loess, but neither the party nor Caelden seem to have shown any interest in the sleepy hamlet.

Revelations that not one but two elven cities once stood along the road between Alfort and Portsdam should spark the party’s interest.

Tonight, the heroes will:
-Finish Up in Stull
-Maybe fight the goblins who’ve established a stronghold on the island fort.
-Probably go back to Alfort for their payday and maybe
–Hear about the orc tribe that is harassing caravans
–Hear about the giant ruined elf city of Malek.

If they visit Essel, he’ll reveal the locations of several of the ruined elven cities in the regions, as well as some information about them.

I’m not sure what direction the party will take, but I’ve tried to cover my bases and be prepared for anything!


Interstellar Empires

One of the guys from my D&D group sent me this. It’s a collection of ideas, quotes, tables, definitions, and examples of interstellar empires.

His timing could not have been better, as I’ve just recently finished reading several of LeGuin’s Hainish novels.

One of the greatest difficulties in maintaining an Interstellar Empire is, of course, distance. Distances in space are unfathomably, impossibly great. Consider that when Voyager took the famous Tiny Blue Dot photo of earth, it was 1.7 billion miles from earth and still not in interstellar space.

Any empire is going to be limited by its ability to react to situations on its fringes, and, even with light-speed travel, the fringes of an interstellar empire might be several decades away from main worlds. In the Hainish books, which largely take place on fringe and backwater worlds, the Federation of Worlds often appears distant, useless and incompetent, because the significant distances between worlds means that any actions taken involve such great lag times that it is an impractical body whose main impact on its member planets is exaction of taxes for a brewing galactic war (which it loses).

Even with instantaneous communication across space, being able to send response forces to deal with any sort of conflict situation is nearly impossible.

Interstellar political bodies are therefore problematic. There are difficulties in governance, difficulties in enforcing laws and difficulties in asset protection. How do they come about, then, if they are so impractical? Eventually, perhaps, technology would exist to shorten the temporal distances between worlds, but at what point would that make a federation practical?

Probably the hardest science fiction work I’ve read was Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, which chronicles the initial colonization of Mars, the process of its terraformation, and resulting political crises of a whole new world that is beyond the effective governing control of earth. Even the relatively short distance between Earth and Mars results in vastly divergent cultural ideas, identities, and political solutions to the practical problems which they face. Isolation, in effect, means independence.

In an interstellar setting, what one would most likely find is a series of tributary worlds, whose status as tributaries is the result of an initial large show of force. Eventually, the tributaries, which, unless left under the control of some autocrat in the name of an empire, would realize that it was more or less independent, test its independence, and cease becoming a tributary, at which point the empire would decide whether or not it was worth the time and resource investment to re-establish its tributary status. And even under an imperial autocrat, the world might become independent under the autocrat who realizes that he can keep the world’s wealth to himself and the empire will only challenge him if he is particularly egregious in his defiance of imperial will.

Anyway, you’ll find more and better ideas than I can articulate here in the article I linked.


(just so as it’s not all angry ranting on a monday)

So, between finishing the Great Alta books and starting Clan of the Cave Bear, I read the first 2/3s of Star Trek: Voyage To Adventure.

Voyage To Adventure is the quintessential example of what I call a quantum game book: not only do different choices affect the immediate course you’re on, they circumstantially alter the background reality to the exclusion of all others once a choice has been made.

The first choice you make determines which group of adventures you will have access to. The second choice determines a more specific adventure within that field, and sometimes the 3rd choice is where the final adventure path is set, with all of its possible good and bad outcomes. But each adventure path results in a solidifying of that reality over the other possible realities. For example, if you choose the Engineering track, one of the first choices you’re given is whether to begrudgingly accept Lt. Grogan’s order to swab the deck or whine to Scotty that a Star Fleet Ensign ought not be doing something so demeaning as swabbing the decks. If you whine to Scotty, you have one of two adventures in the Jeffries Tubes, and it ends with Lt. Grogan having no hard feelings, Scotty congratulating you on saving the Enterprise, and all three of you having a laugh together. However if you don’t whine to Scotty and actually swab the deck, in a surprise twist, Lt. Grogan is actually a Klingon spy who’s trying to sabatoge the ship. One ending, Grogan is patting you on the back. The next, he is an alien and he is shooting you. In a similar quantum shift in another adventure path, the choice to go down the hall in one direction results in the alien race being aggressive and evil, while the choice to go down the hall the other way results in the same alien race being peaceful and benevolent.
Anyway, the purpose of this is that I wanted to try to come up with a taxonomy of game books. This list is by no means comprehensive. If anyone has some other types, please list them, and I’ll add them.
Single Track to an Ultimate End – This type of game book is fairly rare, I think. The main example I can think of are the Zork game books. In these books, there is a fairly singular path that one is intended to take from beginning to end and any divergence from it results in death. There’s usually no purpose in going back and re-reading to get different endings, because every junction has a choice that leads you further along the story or to death. You might look at the death choice, just to see what would’ve happened if you made the obvious wrong choice, but you’re going to just keep going along until the bitter end.

Branching Paths to many ends– The old branded choose your own adventure books were typically these. Each book was more like a series of short stories that would crystalize with each choice you made. The initial choices would set you down on the path of which of the adventures you’d take, and subsequent choices would determine how the adventure you chose turned out. Occassionally, such as in my old CYOA foe Daredevil Park, there were no good endings, but usually there was a mix of good and bad endings. A lot of times, there was no ultimate best ending, just equally good endings among a slew of equally bad endings.

Branching Paths to an Ultimate End – The best examples of this kind of book are the Escape series, the Lone Wolf series and the old Nintendo books. These books have several paths you can take, not all leading to death, that will eventually take you to an ultimate ending. If the books are part of a series, the ultimate ending is a canonical ending and certain paths in subsequent books represent canonical paths (you may not have had the Somerswerd because you didn’t buy the early books, but the canonical Lone Wolf sure as hell did, and probably had an easier time of it, too, because of that). This type needs to be further broken down:

-Explore and find the end-
The Escape From books are open ended, in that you could virtually explore the entire world, sometime with different things happening when you visited a place a second time, but ultimately your goal was to get to the ending of the book.

-Find and Fight your way to the end-
The Lone Wolf books were not entirely open ended, and many paths would close to you after you proceeded ahead. This could result in you missing out on cool items that would help you finish the book without cheating. Regardless of what items you had to help you or what choices you made, so long as you didn’t die in a fight or get a non-standard game-over, you’d eventually end up at the end of the book, going on to the next one with whatever goodies you’d found along the way.

-Find your way to the best end-
The Nintendo game books from the early 90s tended to have a lot of choices, and depending on the book, you’d find various things that would have various outcomes. There was usually a happy ending that you worked toward, and sometimes you could even get there with a few screw-ups along the way, but there were also plenty of bad endings. The bad endings were often way-out and weird situations that you’d gotten yourself into, but weren’t quite the non-standard game-overs of Lone Wolf’s “You choose to fight way too many bad guys” or “You fell in swamp because you didn’t choose the wilderness proficiency” variety. They were often nooks, crannies and alcoves to explore and either escape from or die in.

Vs Books
The only example of this I ever owned was “You are Eric Sunsword: Legendary Knight of the Northern Marches”, and for much of my childhood I was confused by it, as I did not have the matching “You are Neves: an Ancient and Powerful Wizard” book. Each person was supposed to take turns reading a ‘chapter’, fight the monster, get the treasure, spring the trap, and move on while looking for the other person. Ultimately, the two players are supposed to fight each other to the death with the treasures they amassed in the ruined castle, but, since I didn’t have a 2P, I aimlessly wandered the catacombs looking for an evil wizard who wasn’t there. There were one or two non-standard game-overs, but the main way of losing was by losing all your hp, dying in a fight or being killed by a trap, in which case you were supposed to turn to a page in the back that displayed a masoleum of your character, and text “Here lies Eric Sunsword. He gave his all for love, but it was not enough.”

The Race Problem in Gaming

A new post on the excellent Postmortem Studios blog and the post at Tor to which it linked have me hopping mad.

I am sick of everyone lamenting about gaming’s ‘race problem’.  The biggest race problem in gaming is all of the hand-wringing and subsequent pandering.  No, I’m not talking about the moral quandary of killing fey-aligned greenskins.  I’m talking about the constant cry for more diversity in gaming.

To get diversity, people from diverse backgrounds need to jump in and become content creators.  To demand that existing content creators cater to diverse groups, you end up with the sort of shallow and patronizing crap that everyone whines about as being appropriation.

And since everyone has to play their ethnic minority cards these days when talking about gaming, I couldn’t give two craps about what’s going on in latin game design.  I’m not really looking for any Man of LaMancha  B/X modules to run, and I’m sure as hell not going to write one just because I’m latino.  Then again, maybe if we all rallied together and called the RuneQuest people racists, they would’ve had to give in and let a spanish publisher release the 25th anniversary edition of HeroQuest, because calling people racist is the fastest way to get anything done these days.

If someone comes up with a good product, I don’t care what race they are.  Just so long as no one is talking about making more “Oriental Adventures”, because God, just no!

Also, it’s like white people aren’t allowed to do or write anything that’s not ‘white’ because they’re going to be accused of cultural appropriation.  So if you don’t like what white people are doing, don’t demand that they appropriate your culture and then complain when they do it badly.  Do it better!  Do it yourself!  But don’t whine about how white people have this stranglehold on gaming, because they don’t.  If kickstarter or indie-gogo blocked projects by non-white designers or fulfillment companies check to make sure that you’re white before they publish your board-games and game books, then come back to me and I’ll pat you on the back and commiserate with you about how bad we non-whities have it.

Yes, yes, Hollywood is more racist than mainstream America (Americans made people of color millionaire actors for decades before Hollywood would recognize people of color with their self-congratulatory garbage awards).  If Gencon can’t implement its own harassment policies, that’s a problem with Gencon, not gaming.  Last I checked, Gencon was a convention, not the abstract concept of gaming.  I’m sorry that Nazis apparently show up at your convention, but again, that’s a convention problem.  When Nazis show up at gaming tables in people’s homes and flip the tables if there’s a person of color sitting there, you still don’t have a problem with race in gaming, you have a problem with Nazis, and you should probably buy a gun and lock your doors.  Hell, there are probably some gaming companies and publishers out there that ARE REALLY RACIST.  But that’s a problem with publishers, not with gaming.  Gaming is what you make it.  Gaming is you and your friends at your table playing a GAME.  Don’t support publishers you think are racist.  Don’t play games with people who are racist.  Don’t go to cons that can’t enforce their policies.  If this isn’t enough, publish your own game.  There is literally nothing stopping you.  Even if you’re just running your own homebrew of “Dungeons & Dragons but Without the Racisms”, if you think the game is racist, there are other games.  I’m pretty sure you can find people who aren’t racist to play games with.  And hell, you can start your own local cons, just talk to your local library about event space.  It’ll be small, but all cons have to start somewhere.  But most of all know that complaining does nothing; action does everything.

3659884(Cuz, uh… this isn’t a real thing…)


(Of course PMS went and announced they were making a Gor RPG right after I write this ::facepalm::)