A post in which I prove Anna Kreider correct re her statement that The Watch is inspiring conversations about masculinity

watch-shirt.gifThe other day, I was reading up on a new RPG called The Watch, a game developed by Anna Kreider of Go Make Me a Sandwich and Andrew Medeiros of Northfire Games.  The premise as described is that a nebulous evil known as The Shadow is encroaching on civilization must be fought back by women and “female-of-center people”. What players do in this game and how they fight this Shadow is not described in any of the promotional posts I’ve read. It is, however, explicitly said that “The Shadow” represents “the Patriarchy” and you have to make saving throws against it any time you are “engaging in toxic behavior”.

It clicked in my head that The Watch has a very similar core premise as James Desborough’s gonzo Japanese Horror game Kagai!: Guro, Gore, Girls.147596

-Both games feature a mysterious existential evil force that is encroaching upon civilization.

-Both games prominently feature strong female characters fighting against this encroaching darkness.

The reason for why these games are female-centric and what they say about the masculine gender and masculinity are very different, however, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

The Watch takes a very hamfisted approach to its message on gender. The Watch is described as “a low-fantasy game about women (and other female-of-center people) who are fighting to retake their homeland from the Shadow – a darkly sorcerous threat that has the power to possess men and use them for its own violent ends.”  Beyond this being a feminist’s game about women, the in-world and mechanical reasons why males would be absent from your party is that men are way more likely to be bad people because of masculinity: their 1st level Save vs. Being a Shitlord is 20. I kid, I kid, but, as “the Shadow is toxic masculinity” and ”the idea of “man” is what makes them vulnerable to its influence”, it’s probably safe to say that Men wouldn’t last a day adventuring in the Watch without losing their mind and posting Sad Pepes all over ye  Womyn’s Watch Barracks.

On the other hand, a just-for-laughs game like Kagai! actually has a fairly nuanced below-the-surface message on masculine disposability paired with its kick-ass girl-power. Sure, the game is about kendo girls, archery champs, and cool hacker chicks fighting weird monsters from other dimensions in between classes (because girls should be able to fight monsters too!), but there’s an important reason for why the party will likely be all female and why there will be few male characters in the setting: all boys and men who can hold a weapon are sent out of the city to nearly certain death to try to protect the women inside. There are only a few men who will be found in the city, and most of them are looked down on as cowards – those who were wealthy enough to buy their way out of service, those who left the front as deserters, and those who were too sickly or maimed to continue fighting.

The girls in Kagai! fight because they choose to, either for fun, to prove themselves just as good as men, or because they feel they have to (the perimeter defense is imperfect, hence why some girls choose to be monster hunters). Most of the characters in Kagai! would’ve lost fathers and brothers in the war.  Kagai! looks at and asks why women and girls would fight, and one of those reasons may be the men in their life who have suffered or died to protect them. That the women and girls, whom countless men are dying to protect, are in a situation where they may have to fight is indicative of how precarious society and humanity’s situations are in Kagai!  This message on masculine disposability vs feminine worth is subtly worked into the game, as it’s woven into the settings materials and character generation mechanics. It’s not the sort of thing that would necessarily come up in discussion during play, but you would probably think about it later.

I think it’s worth noting that the undercurrent of male disposability in Kagai! is featured nowhere in the promotional descriptions on Desborough’s blog.  Here’s his pitch:

The world has been invaded by monsters straight out of people’s nightmares and most of the world population is dead, or at war. One place is a little bit safer, a hyper-consumerist, high-tech Japanese arcology. Most of the remaining population is women and you’re a class of schoolgirls from the arcology who do a bit of vigilante monster hunting on the side, in a game styled after the hyper-kinetic, b-movie gorefests of Japanese B-list cinema. The system emphasises team tactics and differs from many games in that you roll first and then describe what you do from what you’ve rolled, rather than vice versa. You can also save dice for following turns, or push them into a pool for everyone to use.

Even in that short paragraph, I already have a much better idea of what this game will be like than I’ve been able to glean from at least three whole posts about The Watch.

While the Watch seems designed to promote girl power while attacking a strawman, Kagai! has powerful girls in a sandbox that can either be used to explore gender or social issues or to have an awesome time fighting weird alien monsters in-between cramming for finals.

You could probably stat The Patriarchy in Kagai!, though, if you really wanted to fight it.

Awhile back, I did a review of Kagai! which you can read here.

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Review – Kagai!

Disclosure: I have previously received a promotional copy of Postmortem Studio’s Project (reviewed here). I purchased a pdf copy of Kagai! to review.  

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Kagai! is an over-the-top violent gonzo RPG meant to bring the madcap antics of Japanese extreme monster horror to your gaming table.  And if that’s your sort of thing, this simple system does a pretty good job of it!

One thing I’d like to give particular kudos for is that Kagai! admits right off the bat that it’s a niche product and will probably be played by people who game so doesn’t waste time on a lengthy “What is Role Playing and what are Role Playing Game?” section.  Those have a place, but 99 times out of 100, any independently released game product is going to be purchased by someone with a huge stack of games who knows what RPGs are.

The basic premise of Kagai! involves a post-apocalyptic future in which monsters have overrun the entire world save for an overcrowded self-sustaining city enclave in Japan.  A decadent consumerist culture is forced upon the surviving populace to distract them from the horrors of the outside world.  While the enclave is supposedly “safe”, monsters are still able to get in sometimes and wreak havoc. Players are expected to play as high-school girls who have decided to rebel against the system and take up their own fight against the monsters who are killing their friends and families.  While players may play as male characters, there are heavy restrictions/penalties and should be considered something of an exception.  The in-game rationale for this is the enclave’s population is 95% female; unless they are able to evade service by means of wealth, influence or corruption, all males are pressed into service at age 12 and sent off to the front to keep monsters and demons at bay.  As such, any men left in the city are either horribly and disfiguringly injured, cowards or rich kids whose parents managed to keep them from being conscripted.

It’s good that the conventions of the genre are stated up-front: characters will die and it will be gruesome.  People who like games that mollycoddle their characters (newschool D&D for instance) will suffer the butthurt and will suffer it hard.  That person who threw a fit when their Paladin got its eyes gouged out and arm melted off before being impaled on spikes?  Don’t play this game with that guy.  In fact, just don’t play with that guy.  But really, don’t play this with that guy.

Character generation is the really the meat of this game; the rest of the system is potatoes with some butter and maybe some salt, but character generation is steak with all the trimmings.  While the whole of Kagai! itself could only be lifted from the explicit setting to varying degrees, the character generation system could be used across multiple systems/settings to create characters and a party dynamic.  It’s pretty neat!

Name Generator – It’s a nice idea, but the sort of person playing this can probably come up with 20+ female Japanese names on the fly quicker than I can roll 3d6 6 times and look up base saving throws.

Boys Trauma Table – The setting-based restrictions on male characters actually offers some interesting opportunities for nuanced characters.  It’s a two tiered table where you determine the type and specifics of the various injuries (or class-related reasons) the male character might have that explains why they aren’t off at the front.

Sexuality – Interesting choice to possibly force players out of their norm by having to roll for their characters’ sexuality.  While the probability renders the likelihood of a gender-queer identity higher than we see in the real world, given the setting, I’d actually expect a much higher prevalence of opportunistic bi-sexuality.  I’m reminded a bit of how in the womanless world of Saber Marionette, dudes would rather have robot women than be gay and the one actual gay guy who was in love with the protagonist was seen as kind of an outlier.

Relationships- One of the cool bits that could be borrowed for creating ad hoc party dynamics with slightly more depth than “you all just happen to know each other” is the Best Friend/Don’t Like component. Players roll to see who their best friend is and who they are at odds with.  These will either be other players, an NPC or oneself.  In the last case, friendship with oneself means you’re a loner and disliking oneself would be indicative of a character with depression.  For good measure, disliking the character your best friends with could indicate a fairly troubled relationship (think every anime with the two girls who are always yelling at each other and fighting, then someone tells the main character “They’ve known each other since kindergarten; they’re best friends, but you wouldn’t know it.”)

There are a few other tables which determine a character’s family background (mother, father, family business, siblings) and the character’s motivation.  The character’s main weapon is also randomly selected from a two tiered 2d6 table.  Kagai! features a pretty impressive list of weapons (even if it is missing the Jo), each with unique abilities.

I’m bad at maths, so don’t hold me to this, but for female characters there are roughly 2.4 million background variations this generator can come up with, discounting anything requiring re-rolls and party relationship options.  Yowzah!

The rest of character creation is point-buy stats.  Physical stats are pretty straight-forward, but a novel idea is having the character’s school course load, including elective credits, make up a part of the character’s fundamental knowledge/ability base.  So, going to Gym Class would be akin to investing in a thief’s ‘acrobatics’ skill, only more interesting because it’s actually relevant to the character, story and setting.

Gameplay is simple success-based dice-rolling mechanic similar to what White Wolf uses, only Kagai! uses d6s instead of d10s.  Tasks are on a 5 point scale with difficulty determining the number of successes needed to accomplish tasks.  Players can act cooperatively by pushing and pulling dice to a pool for other players to use later or to hold for following turns with the pools lasting for the duration of a scene.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around how the push/pull worked, but helpful examples of gameplay are included:

“Ami is trying to hotwire a mechanical door. She has Smarts 3 and Design & Technology 3 for a total of six dice. She rolls six dice and gets two successes, a five and a six. The door is a tricky prospect, needing three successes to be opened. Ami carries the five over (pull) and pushes the six into the middle. Nezuko is trying to pry open the door while Ami works on it. She has Power 3, Gym 2 and the pry-bar gives her an extra two dice for a total of 7. She also grabs the pushed dice from the pool – for a total of 8 dice, but still only gets two successes, it’s still not open.”

In combat this translates more to setting up combos against baddies, where extra successes can be carried over or passed to other players.

Unlike a lot of games, including ones with similar systems, Kagai! offers the opportunity to target stat damage instead of HP by doing horrific and disfiguring attacks.  Bonus points for gruesome descriptions.  Of course this works both ways.  And in-line with the genre Kagai! is modeled after, one can get some stats back by means of sewing and supergluing one’s appendages back on and the like.

Monsters are created on point based systems similar to characters, with some examples and suggested lists of how many points different degrees of monsters should have.  The “Monster Machine” section offers a lot of different abilities and attributes beyond simple stats that monsters might have, like being boneless or having acid blood… you could make an incorporeal vampire made of sticky razor blades!

There is a large section of Kagai! dedicated to outlining and describing the city’s locations and amenities so that a GM can make their own maps or just wing it to fit their story.  But what’s impressive is that the descriptions really go into the visceral details, such as sounds, smells and even the taste of the air, stuff that you don’t usually get or expect from most game content that adds a lot to immersion.

One of the few places Kagai! is a bit of a letdown is the Art.  The cover art is great, and the chibi art is pretty good, but the rest of the art, which is made of black and white altered photo cut-ups, while not bad does not really jibe with the expected aesthetic.  It just seems out of place, and I think it detracts from the product a bit.  I don’t think anyone would miss it if it were gone; as Kagai! is a pdf, there’s no need for it as filler, especially since between the cover, the handful of chibis and well-written content the feel is well enough established without having to up the page count.  I know that James Desborough has said he would’ve liked to take things artistically in “a more explicitly sexual and ero-guro” direction, but I think that the more cutesy chibi-horror stuff works really well for it too, especially considering that I could almost (a few explicit illustrations in the cut-up style aside) call Kagai! a mixed company game.  But his game, his call.

One other aesthetic gripe I have: I get the manga stylization on the Char sheet, but a clean sheet would be nice on one’s printer ink supply.  Still, always great to have char sheets that fit on a page.  It’s an especially minor complaint given that you could fit your character’s relevant information onto an index card, so you don’t really NEED to print off a sheet.  But a clean sheet would be nice.

There’s a lot of good here, but unless you know you’re going to be playing this, the price point ($3.99) is just on the cusp of being a little high for the curious. I’d really like to have an appendix of a few pages that reduces character creation to its base tables and a table with weapons; in that form, most of the info you needed to get everyone started on the game could be printed on maybe 3 pages. That said, if a subsequent edition (print?) has more art like Ben Rodriguez’s cover, it would be certainly be worth paying print prices for.  Maybe James could look into it as a joint venture game-system/art portfolio?

All said, there’s a lot worth checking out here if you’re into pooled dice games, anime-esque games, or if you’re just looking for something different to try out.  It’s not for everybody.  But I can honestly say that my biggest complaint is actually not really a complaint but more my saying “If there was enough interest behind this and James had some money, he could make the second edition really shiny and nice.”

Review: PROJECT

(Full Disclosure: I was provided a free pdf copy for review by PROJECT publisher Postmortem Studios.  I have also donated in the past to a scholarship fund run by James Desborough completely unrelated to this or any other Postmortem Studios game or product.)

Last week, I was given a review copy of PROJECT, a new Open D6 sci-fi/magitek Role Playing Game from Postmortem Studios, to check out, and I’ve got to say that it’s made me want to give the old D6 system another go.

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Intro

In the world of PROJECT, players assume the roles of cybernetically enhanced humans who are part of a crack team of mercenaries whose job is keeping the world safe from the encroachment of fey-like entities whose very existence causes psychic disturbances in the fabric of reality.  On the surface, PROJECT looks something like a supers game, but what you get is more sort of a Ghost in the Shell meets Call of Cthulhu.  There are a lot of places where one could take this, ranging from down the dark gritty cybercthulhu rabbit-hole to all-out wacky gonzo hijinks.

The book opens with a lengthy PROJECT “Employee Manual” which serves as an immersive in-universe guide to what PROJECT is, who the PCs are as members of PROJECT, and a little bit about the world and corporate culture that pervades PROJECT.  I’ve gotten so used to DM-directed content that reading a book that starts out with a player intro to the game and its setting was strangely refreshing.  That said, the player-aimed intro is probably going to be most helpful to a GM who is trying to get a feel for the setting and whatever aesthetic and aspect of the PROJECT world they might want to run with, including setting up a “home base” and a framework of the kinds of missions the group will undertake.

One thing I find particularly interesting is that it includes in-universe “don’t be stupid/don’t be a jackass guidelines”.  While games shouldn’t need them in theory, it’s nice to have a place to point to and be able to address players in character in such a way as to say “quit being a dick”; “Your behavior is in violation of PROJECT ethical and behavioral regulations; as such, continued behavior may result in penalties, docked pay or termination” gives you a nice way to say “seriously, you need to quit being an asshole or I’m going to kill your character”.

The equal opportunities nods might seem a bit silly, but because the setting details on dress codes, gender identities and whatnot are written as an in-universe HR document, it works pretty well.  The implications along with the cyber-tech setting really invites a lot of play into transhumanist themes (cuz seriously, what’s the point of cyborg sci-fi if you’re not going to delve into transhumanism and existentialist themes?)

Setting

A lot of the book is devoted to setting.  Strangely, though, I didn’t really pick up on as much of the setting as I think I should’ve from the “Employee Manual” entry section.  The further along one gets in the materials, the more the sci-fi façade slips and the magicality of the setting starts to emerge.  What seems like a not-long-after-the-end setting turns out to be a so-long-after-the-end-it’s-a-new-beginning setting.  A few hundred years after the end of the world, those who were able to still use the old technology managed to reconsolidate power, and PROJECT is the Knights Templar of this new order.

The specifics of the setting make for interesting reading, and could maybe be used as a plot hook or two, but for the most part, I think a lot can safely be tossed out in favor of “post-post-apocalyptic bad stuff with local flavor be here”.  Fortunately, the game and most of its concepts aren’t inextricable from the specifics of the setting.  As long as you kept the basics intact, you can probably give whatever history you want or need for your game of PROJECT.

The one major gripe I have with the setting details is that for all of the time spent on world-building, PROJECT itself is left fairly vague.  I think a more concise explanation of how PROJECT came to be and how it managed to be the One True Global Power would’ve been nice.  On the other hand, it does give GMs a bit of leeway to come up with their own explanations.

Characters

PROJECT has some pretty sweet classes; there’s really no vanilla or mundane class that would leave someone like they felt stuck playing something that wasn’t fun or interesting.  As much as I love D&D, I’ve seen how being the fighter or the dwarf can be seen as a chore: you have to be the guy who doesn’t have as much cool stuff going on but you’re needed to balance out the party.  That’s definitely not the case for PROJECT.

Borg – At first, you look at the Borg class and think fighter/tank, because these guys have been fully cyberized.  While powerful and capable fighters, what you are really getting here is the stealth advantages of being completely dehumanized to the point where your identities are as interchangeable as your parts.  Of course it’s kind of creepy only being able to express oneself using masks…

Empath – The Empath is your planner, coordinator, defensive/offensive psychic, your Jean Grey.  While not quite the pyrotechnician as the Psyker or the Witch, you’ll have plenty of power to mind-fry baddies and make them dance like puppets.

Golem – Golems have been engineered into hulking giants with the strength to tear apart just about anything.  When the psychics and empaths can’t use magic to solve a problem, the Golem is there to punch through.  Part of the safeguards used by PROJECT on Golems is that they’ve been made ‘simple’.

Grunt – At first glance, the Grunt seems like he might be kind of boring compared to the other classes with their wild and over-the-top modifications, but with a plug-n-play interface for a wide range of psy-weapons, the Grunt is probably the most versatile of all the augments.  Plus, being still mostly human, they don’t have quite the range of mental issues that the other augments do.

Medusa – The Medusa are the next step beyond the Borg; rather than having their humanity almost entirely stripped away, the Medusa were never human to begin with.  The disadvantage is that this type is much more likely to become unhinged (“go ‘Frankenstein’” is how the book puts it).  While being close to a straight-fighter type, there’s a lot of versatility in where you can run with the Medusa’s advantages and disadvantages.

Psyker – The Psyker is your Akira-style blow stuff up with your mind class.  Less subtle than the Empaths, Psykers are masters of offensive and defensive telekinesis.  These guys are the bread & butter of a psychic army.

Wytch – At the risk of sounding like Tim Brannan, I totally want to give this class a go.  The Wytches have developed an understanding of the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed earth and the entities that it unleashed to such a degree that their skill in using technology to manipulate and control them is akin to magic.  As a mage class, I’m somewhat reminded of (I think it was) Tales of Vesperia, where magic was actually accessing and rewriting the code of the supercomputer that controlled the world on the fly.  They’re more defense-oriented than the Psyker or Empath and have healing abilities, but they’re also able to summon and bind the various monstrous entities that threaten the world.

One of the running themes across all classes and throughout PROJECT in general is that the psy-tech enhancements are not without their risks and drawbacks, particularly the psychological drawbacks.  All of the classes have various issues with how their modifications affect their psyches, ranging from issues with depression to full blown violent psychosis as a side-effect from dehumanization.  Depending on where you want to go with this, your game can be anywhere from simple over-the-top action to some really introspective stuff looking into what is it to be human.

It’s only a minor complaint, but each “class” gets a description in three different places.  Part of this might just be from my unfamiliarity with the open d6 system and the content folks generally make for it, but think I would’ve preferred a one page matrix of each class’s starting stats in the character creation section to get a better at-a-glance comparative view of the classes.  Also, Kinetic Kineses (Kinetic Telekinesis, for example) seem a bit redundant, but, again, it’s a small complaint.

Art

There’s not a ton of art in the PROJECT book, but what is there is great.  It’s enough to give you a feel of setting and the tone without being a distraction or – worse – trying to distract from a mediocre product.   It’s all line-art, very clean, with limited shading to give it that digital comic feel.  There are only a handful of ‘characters’ featured in the book, and most of them only get a few illustrations each, but even just within those, they all have a lot of personality.

The Wytch looks awesome.

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Conclusion

As I said before, I’m willing to give the D6 system another go to check this out.  It’s an easy to grasp setting and the book offers plenty of adventure hooks.  Someone already familiar with the D6 system could probably pick this up and run it right away.  Fortunately, D6 is simple enough anyone not particularly familiar with it could still probably pick it up and run it after double checking a few things now and again.  It’s a solid product with a lot going for it.  If your group is into weird science, Cthulhu-tech, cyberpunk or the such, there’s a lot to like.  It certainly has more crunch than a micro like Pockets, but if you wanted to play a game with a similar feel that has a bit more teeth to it, PROJECT’s got you covered.

If this had been put out by anyone besides Postmortem Studios, it would not even bear mentioning, but PROJECT is very much a “general audiences” title with nothing salacious about it whatsoever (punk-fairy giving the middle finger aside).  You’d be fine picking this up and running it for anybody.

Once the print edition becomes available, I’ll probably be putting it on my wishlist.  In the meantime, you can download a pdf copy from RPGNow.

 

 

#Gamergate Card Game Designer Statement

DriveThru disgustingly claims to ‘find anything that smacks of censorship… distasteful’, then compares a cardgame satirizing Gamergate to a game satirizing police killing minorities and for the first time bans a game from their site for non-legal reasons. But hey, it’s okay, because unlike with RPGs, they don’t have the Card Game market cornered! Remember, this is a site that hosts titles like “An Erotic Foursome”*, “A Night With A Skinny Girl”*, “Licked by the Lizard King”*, maid RPGs* & other various fetish catering games*, and (goddessanitaforbid!) the “Damsels in Distress”* bundle. For god’s sake, they carry unofficial Cards Against Humanity expansion sets!*

DriveThru claims that they didn’t cave to publisher or customer pressure, but I can’t imagine why out of all the things they carry on their site, a game that makes fun of an internet shit fight is so offensive that it becomes their first-banned-game-evar. Hell, they even admit that people complaining about it couldn’t have known what was in it. Based on the dozen cards previewed, it’s mildly offensive at best, somewhat more offensive than your average game of Say Anything when children aren’t present and would seem like Candyland next to CAH.

*:These examples are only given for illustrative purposes and are not meant to single out these titles or authors; I do not think that any of these titles should be pulled, banned or protested.

**: It has been brought to my attention that DriveThru even carries an X-rated game called Crack Whore about about being a Crack Whore.  So much for that ” too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire” bullshit, huh?

Postmortem Studios

cbldf-bannerWe really need something like these guys, or the CARPGA of yore.

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Shadow Over Alfheim – Pt 12 – That’s All These People Want… POISON!

Things took a grim and brutal turn in underhalls of the ancient elven metropolis in our last session. It should’ve been a Total Party Kill, in all likelihood, but I’d really hate to do that when one of the players was out sick. And maybe I’m too damn nice?

The party descended the spiral corridor down to the second level of Malek. The party still seems convinced (mistakenly) that whatever they need in this Dungeon is probably in the Ant nest, but went downward because they are still convinced (mistakenly) that the talking stone face was giving specific rather than generic advice on how to defeat the ants. Some throwaway rhyming lines listing things that are helpful fighting monsters in D&D that included mention of magic rings had them sold on the idea that there was some sort of ring of giant ant removal somewhere at the bottom of Malek.

Anyway, following the right hand rule, the party hit the south bend of level two, which is more or less empty until it turns back north again. Disaster struck the party in the form of a random encounter just as they turned north. The Cleric and Thief stumbled over a nest of pit vipers. 8 pit vipers. They also both immediately failed their saves vs. poison. I checked the listing for Pit Vipers. Save vs. Poison or die. Man, I thought, that’s rough; I’ll let them make it to the end of the encounter before the venom works its way through their system and see if they have any options. At first, the party only was fully aware of the two snakes that had bit the Cleric and Thief. The Thief, following his “burn this place to the ground” strategy that he’d begun applying to small vermin, torched the viper nest, sending the remaining half-dozen vipers into a biting frenzy. Very luckily, the party killed these and survived the rest of the vipers’ low attack rolls.

Given a moment to assess the situation, the Cleric and Thief both understood that they were dying and there was very little that could be done for them. Minor magic healing could cure the wounds but not counteract the necrotic toxins slowly killing them. Tourniquetes were applied in an attempt to slow down the poison, but it was concluded that amputation would be just as bad, if not worse, as dying. The Monk, however, pointed out that they’d milked poison before and might be able to create some sort of anti-venom on the fly; given than the monk’s shtick for how I built him is to make non-magical anti-death-poison stuff as well as slow-acting heals, I allowed that if he made a successful roll, that he could use the venom they’d milked and some of the alchemical equipment they’d salvaged to make an anti-venom. As they weren’t attacked during the time it took to make, I allowed that he successfully created a counteragent, though both the cleric and thief took substantial damage due to tissue necrosis. This was enough to “kill” the thief; after being brought back above 0 HP, he’ll have a permanent limp hampering his combat movement rate. So, now he’s a one-eyed limping goblin.

Why the party thought it would be a good idea to press on at this point is beyond me, but they did, finding first the empty stink room, then the room with more freaking snakes. The party’s response to this other viper nest was to immediately try to torch them. Luckily, these vipers were fewer in number and failed their morale save. But as this was going on, they were spotted by some wandering accursed elves, who made a mad dash at them. At this point, the thief, dying to make a sneak attack on something, ducked behind the corner of the room where they had just torched the snakes, while the other party members backed off and made ranged attacks. The cleric went down from the paralyzing strikes, and the Thief rolled a 1 on his sneak attack, but the others, including the goblin ranger who made his save vs. paralysis, managed to kill both elves.

Still determined to press on, the party found the room with the grey ooze. Grey ooze is a particularly nasty monster which is damn near unkillable for a party without an arcane caster. Anyway, the thief pokes at it with a stick (he really should’ve learned by now). Though he’s able to usher the others out of the room, before he can leave, the ooze manages to get on his arm, causing ridiculous amounts of damage. At this point, the party says “time to go” and carry the dying goblin thief out of dungeon. They find an entire squadron of goblins, presumably those who’d been dogging them upon their arrival at Malek, massacred, butchered, disemboweled and gnawed on. Among the dead goblins are also the scattered bones of larger humanoids.

The thief’s melting glove is removed along with all of the ooze cleric and monk are able to get off. A potion of healing is poured down the thief’s throat, but it’s not enough. The monk covers the thief’s burned arm with salves. The party finds enough combat-anti-septic paste among the remains of the massacred goblins to come up with something with 1/2 efficacy of a cure light wounds to bring the thief back to 1 HP.

While this is happening, the Thief is having a traumatic near death vision: an angry elven mage points at him and shrieks with hatred. When he regains consciousness, the thief finds that the bracelet he stole from Nuromen’s maze is on his wrapped, burned arm, though he could’ve sworn he’d sold it. A strange tinkling music begins to emit from the goblin ranger’s pack. The strange puppet that had once belonged to Nuromen’s daughter has begun to dance on its own in a wriggling fashion inside the ranger’s pack.

Upon returning to Alfort, the party is greeted by an atmosphere of dejection. Plans for the construction of the harbor seem to be in jeapardy, the church does not seem to offer the people much comfort, and the gloom of defeat seems not limited to the party but to the whole of the town. Things are bad. Even I’m not sure just how bad, yet. But to get a small indication of how bad it might be, the Cleric learned that the home of the mage under whom the the party’s now-departed elf was studying has been burned to the ground. Taramedes was burned up inside along with all of his scrolls and spellbooks, including Nuromen’s.

It may be awhile before my next Alfheim update, as we won’t be meeting again until the new year. In the meantime, I still ought to have plenty of content to write about, I’m sure. Soon, I’ll have some time to devote to MYFAROG when I’m not making home-made Enderman plushies by hand. I might talk some about the card games I’ve been playing, but I don’t know that there’s much to say other than that I’ve played them. (Props to both Cthulhu Gloom and Cthulhu Fluxx for sticking to Lovecraft and not including all of that fan-wank by subsequent mythos writers. There, that saves me a long rambling blog post on the subject.)

Lastly, screw people who talk about the need for greater diversity, inclusivity and access in the game markets out of one side of their mouth and praise the takedown of James Desborough’s product from DriveThru out of the other. If you care about keeping access to avenues of publication open for all, be sure to politely express your concern to DriveThru.  You can also throw a few bucks into the art scholarship he is offering. Regardless of what you think of James, the games he likes or the games he puts out, unlike the folks who are trying to run people out of the industry, he’s actively encouraging and supporting people to get into it.

Recap, Dame Celeste, and James Desborough

Lots of games over the weekend were played. Shadow over Alfheim was brutal and there was nearly a TPK that was averted largely because of my generousity to roleplaying. I played several games at someone’s tabletop games birthday bash, and I also continued by journey through Kongregate. As much as I wanted to get through Hardmode of Starwish to unlock the ultimate ending (seriously, getting through the first two acts without dying to unlock the final conversation with Ginny is ridicuhard, and I wasn’t going to start over and try again a 3rd time), the call of other games lured me away. I’ll be talking about the first one I played today.

Dame Celeste is an 8-bit-style stealth game that is something of an homage to Anita Sarkeesian’s “The Last Princess”. There are several differences between Dame Celest and Sarkeesian’s proposed stealth game, but if the obvious similarities weren’t enough to clue you in at first, the game eventually smacks you in the face with it (a non-hostile Hammerhead Shark named Lady Sharkeesian complains about misogyn and the fact that the cat-guards are of indeterminite gender is lampshaded in a conversation where a cat-guard complains to a mouse-chef that the big-bad is goign to start forcing female cat-guards to wear bows so you can tell them apart; “damsel” is even in the protagonist’s name).

In Dame Celeste, the evil walrus king has taken all the water in the desert kingdom for himself and Dame Celeste, who has been thrown in the dungeon for refusing to marry him, has to escape the palace and recover water droplets to bring water to the people.

The gameplay is entirely stealth-based, with a ‘costume’ component. One of the first and most obvious shoutouts to The Last Princess is Dame Celeste’s default purple outfit which bears a striking resemblence to the Princess’s. She also has a fancy dress in her inventory, but if it has a use, that use is somewhere past where I was able to get. Patrols have sight-ranges which can be reduced by wearing the appropriate clothing: cat-guards/guard-outfit, mice-chefs/chef-outfit, shark-court-ladies/ball-gown, etc.
Getting into an enemy’s sight range results in the enemy making a bee-line for you. If you run gob-smack into them, you’re found out immediately and are sent back to your cell (actually the last check-point you reached). If you can get a little distance but are still caught, several phrases will appear moving accross the screen, forming a multiple choice response to make to whomever caught you on the fly. Get it right, they let you go; get it wrong, you get sent back to the last checkpoint. There are several things that you can hide in, such as suits of armor, cauldrons, or even bushes that you can take with you for a ways, to evade detection. Getting through some spots requires planning, timing, and sometimes a bit of luck.

One thing about Dame Celeste worth noting is that it is hard. Incredibly hard. Not quite as bad as the NES port of Metal Gear, but still rough. The main thing that keeps it from being Nintendo hard is that there is no limit on how many times you can get caught. I eventually got stuck on the 3rd level in a spot where you have to go from bush to bush across a giant ballroom filled with Hammerhead sharkladies (that describes lots of places in the level, but this one was extra hard). After getting caught a dozen times in this same spot, I eventually gave up. Despite the cute graphics, this game would take some truly grim determination to get to the end of.

I’ve pointed out already that Anita’s game idea wouldn’t hold up to her own criticism, and TL;DR saves me the reiteration.

Seriously, though, my favorite part of her idea is that the princess, who was overthrown by a ruling council that wanted to do away with the monarchy, overthrows the ruling council so she can do away with the monarchy. Quite the little Napoleon there, huh?

If I wanted to, I could use FemFreq style feminist criticism to shit all over Dame Celeste (“Dame Celeste’s inability to protect herself when confronted with foes is inherent to the expectations that we force upon Celeste as a woman as a non-combatant hero, because self-protective force is only seen positive in the realm of the male protagonist”), but I won’t, because Dame Celeste is a pretty awesome game and worth checking out.

It does make me re-examine City at the Top of the World a bit. One of the reasons I wrote it with a female protagonist was that I felt that with a male protagonist, there would be more of an expectation for Aeryn to ‘fight’ his way to freedom. In the same way, if Dame Celeste were Dude Celeste, would people find the gameplay disappointing because Dude Celeste could not clobber the Cat-guards? Is it because Dame Celeste is a female character that we can resign ourselves to going peacefully when we’re caught?

Anyway, you can find and play Dame Celeste for free on Kongregate and visit their development page here.

Coming up soon, I’ll do my Shadow Over Alfheim recap and talk about Defender’s Quest, a tower defense game that just may be the model I’m looking for in regards to a tabletop adaptation.

As a final note for this morning, I’d like to say that what is happening to James Desborough, aka Grimachu, and Postmortem studios is messed up. RPG pundit has weighed in, as has Jeffro. I myself have already sent an email to DriveThru. Note that it’s not just Evil Hat who has put pressure, though they are the first developer I’ve heard mentioned by name. Lots of people have been dogpiling this, or at least bragging about having dogpiled this on twitter. Game developers should be scared shitless about this. For every Jennifer Dawe whose game benefits from an outpouring of love when slanderous boycott attempts backfire and fail, there will probably be at least one James Desborough who will be isolated and ground down by the haters. I’ve said before that we’ve been living in an unprecedented time of unprecedented access to the tools and avenues of publication, where anyone can be a game designer and anyone can get their game published, but these halcyon days may be on their way out if things continue the way they have been and ‘concerned individuals’ can get developers excluded from the market because of ‘feels’.