Lines of Authority

July 2, 2017

That title sounds a bit pompous, but it will suit. Anyhow, here’s another of those occasional non-geekery related posts that crop up on here. Come to think of it, it will actually seem pretty geeky to some, but it’s geekery of an altogether different order than the fare that usually makes its way onto my WordPress.

There’s a curious little card in my wallet that’s been there since the Clinton administration, one which I obtained from my late father. Upon this card is the following information about myself and the men that have gone before: Read the rest of this entry »

Abilities in M20: Brawl Additions!

September 26, 2015

Okay, so anybody that read my previous M20 related post knows that my initial reaction to the division between Brawl and Martial Arts in M20 was extremely negative. During a discussion with Satyros Phil Brucato, the game’s developer, in the M20 Facebook group, this fact came up, and I’ll shortly get to why that fact is relevant to this post. I have great respect for his wide ranging talents, his creativity and his hard-charging work ethic, even if I don’t always agree with his output. To be honest, how could anybody ever really always agree with another creator’s or artist’s or writer’s output if they’re actually thinking for themselves? It’s just not going to happen. So long as folks can be polite about those creative differences, cool.

Anyhow, Satyros argued that I was giving this particular creative decision short shrift and that I ought to take a closer look at how he integrated a meaningful distinction between the two more fully into the combat system and also built it into the Focus rules. He pointed out that this distinction was not exactly new to the Storyteller System, having appeared previously in Kindred of the East and World of Darkness: Combat back during the 2nd edition era. To that last I maintain that I disliked the division back then too and don’t care for either of those prior books. I took those rules’ having been left out of the Revised editions of Vampire, Mage and Werewolf as a sign that White wolf had moved on from the concept also at least insofar as the Storyteller system was concerned. He suggested that I step back, blank my slate and ignore the negative associations I have with the prior sources and look over the combat and focus systems on their own merits with an open mind. This I have done over the course of the past month or more, mulling over the implications of the division within the rules themselves, on play and how I feel about said implications. A more serious and thoughtful dive into the book did change my views on a number of things from my first impressions (the value of Esoterica, for example), but I hardly found all points persuasive. Read the rest of this entry »

M20 and a Syndicate Character Concept

June 10, 2015

Backers of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage: the Ascension have got their hands on the prerelease version of the PDF, and though I’m sure there’ll be updates, what backers (like myself) have is largely what the final game is going to look like. My own impression is, of course, mixed, as the reception of anything related to Mage inevitably will be given the nature of the game and its interminable edition wars, paradigm-related flamewars etc.

Overall, it’s well constructed with an eye towards giving fans of all three prior editions something to smile about, and it also embarks on the challenging task of updating the setting and Awakened society without stifling creativity, making the Spheres, Paradigm and Consensual Reality more accessible to players as well, with laudable aplomb and skill.

While I could do without it being “Mage: now with 500% more kung fu!” that last part’s easy enough to fix by dropping that superfluous Skill along with a couple of other similarly unnecessary additions and possibly tweaking how players can get access to those pages upon pages of martial arts-related special maneuvers. The addition of Martial Arts as a separate Ability from Brawl feels reminiscent of Kindred of the East, The Book of Combat and Exalted. Man, I feel dirty from having had to reference any of those three in my blog, let alone all three in one post. However, that particular (minor but noisy) gripe isn’t what got me writing tonight.

No, what got me writing tonight is a character concept that leapt all but full fledged into my brain while I was making catfish tacos with mango salsa for dinner tonight (they were awesome, incidentally). One of the great things about the rise of Onyx Path is that they finally made the (beautifully nuanced) Revised-era Technocracy convention books that White Wolf left hanging after the excellent Iteration X Convention book. Probably my favorite from that line was, of all things, The Syndicate (though I disagreed with cutting off the SPD, but hey… I just might be biased) for its very interesting exploration of an easily demonized and oft-caricatured Convention.

Anyhow, as I was cooking, I was thinking on the Syndicate and on the Management and Human Resources sidebar from M20 and extrapolating on that. I was also thinking of sympathetic Syndicate mages, and then a character concept occurred to me. Here’s a  breakdown of the concept below:


Healthcare Provider

You always felt the calling to be a healer. To nurture the growing, heal the hurting and comfort those whose loved ones are beyond help. Therefore, like many young people, you dreamed of becoming a doctor. Life has a funny way of kicking people right in the dreams sometimes. You had good grades in high school that gave you high hopes. Though you were a fine student, your real aptitudes were always people and groups and the “soft subjects” like debate and speech rather than biology or chemistry: you were the treasurer and student council rep for the Rotaract Club, and were a natural leader.

Still, you were determined to be a healer. Between your grades, extracurriculars, charm and skillfully leveraged family connections you entered a prestigious med school. That’s where your dreams started to crumble: while smart and competent, you just weren’t cut out to excel as a physician. Surrounded with driven, genuinely gifted med students, you rapidly fell into (and then below) the middle of the pack. Then you had to face the heartbreaking truth and find something else to do with your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Character Creation Blog: An AD&D 1E Adventuring party

January 8, 2015

Okay, here’s another character creation exercise, but this one’s going way back into the sands of time: a classic 1st edition AD&D 5-member gang of murder hobos adventuring party! Each will be made along the “old-school” conceit of disposable PC hardcore character creation principles: 3d6, in order, with no rerolls on attributes (aka “roll ’em and weep”). The concept here is that an intrepid, foolish or perhaps deviously cunning DM has asked his players to each show up with their own pregenerated 1st level adventurer for a dungeon crawl, and the players have done exactly that without bothering to discuss them with one another. Read the rest of this entry »

So The Votes Are In…

July 25, 2014

Okay, so the collective wisdom of the backing Wyrm fans has spoken. My vote didn’t win, not that I expected it to. Based on the campaigns (rather than necessarily the characters themselves), the results here were two out of three predictable, at least insofar as, for what it’s worth, I saw two of them coming a mile off. One of those predictable results, Ian Robertson the Money Magus, is a very interesting addition to the cWoD canon.

The result that surprised me was The Unrevealed. So this guy never revealed who his nominee was, and he never really campaigned other than a really generic last-minute post halfway through the voting period, after the bulk of the votes had already been cast, but he got the #3 spot. I’m not quite sure what this means, but my best guess is that folks voted for The Unrevealed mostly as a “meh. None of the above” reaction as much as anything else. Most of the nominees weren’t especially exciting, so I can completely understand that particular reaction. It may have been some other motivator that drove this success, but I’m not sure what.

I totally saw the #1 coming, but the main thing I take away from this candidate’s success is that I’m apparently completely out of touch with the criteria by which the plurality of voters made their selection for a candidate. All I cared about was, to quote my prior post, “their merits as a possible board member to be added to the World of Darkness’ canon”. Clearly the voters and I had very different interpretations of said merits, because had I ranked my personal preferences in order from most to least desirable, this candidate would have been in the next-to-last slot. I’m okay with having a difference of opinions with other gamers however, since differing opinions over minutiae can be described as the very soul of fandom.  I’m not going to shout “WrongBadFun!!1!” or whatever, but it’s also safe to say that candidate #1 is quite safe from existing or appearing in any game over which I am the Storyteller.

On the Pentex Board Nominees

July 16, 2014

Okay, most of you that would actually read my blog are already aware of the W20 Book of the Wyrm Kickstarter. One very interesting aspect of this kickstarter is the election to place three new members on the Pentex board of directors. There are some really interesting nominees, and some… whose existence I will cheerfully replace with preexisting canonical board members or new ones of my own devising should they win. I’ll break down my take on each nominee here, strictly based on their merits as a possible board member to be added to the World of Darkness’ canon, which the most important thing we’re doing with regards to these guys and what I’ve seen of their campaign thus far. None of this is a value judgment on the creator of said character, just what I think of having them appear in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse supplement as members of the Pentex Board. Read the rest of this entry »

Jumping Genres!

July 4, 2014

My last post was written mostly with humorous intent, but also was intended to get some thoughts churning. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, I wouldn’t derail an existing and relatively serious,steady game so wildly as to put something like the Deck of Many Genres into play. That would be a rather gross abuse of the social contract between GM and players, really.

I would, however, shift genres in a game as long as that made sense within the context of the game… and I would also run a game where the very premise revolves around shifting genres/layers of reality/alternate dimensions where the players move from one genre to the next and possibly back again. It might work best with a certain pre-determined number of predesigned genre/setting/layers where the players will run genre-shifted iterations of the same character/soul/self. I think that could be really, really fun.

Originally I was going to go back to the last post and edit it to that effect, but then after my friend Terry made a comment on his repost that was very much in line with my thinking, I decided this might be better suited if I post it by itself. I’ll share a few specific examples of times I’ve experimented with the genre-shifting concept already in games and found it a satisfying pursuit, point out a few narrative media where this technique or a variant has been used to good effect. I’ve never run a campaign where shifting realities and genres was a major part of the premise, though I have done individual adventures in a couple different systems that explored the concept either seriously or otherwise.
Read the rest of this entry »

Deck of Many Genres

July 2, 2014

Mandatory Legal Disclaimer: side effects of bringing the magic item in this post into a game with a group that takes their games too seriously or that aren’t already expecting some serious weirdness may include rage quitting by players, blank stares, loose teeth, lost friendships or, in extreme cases, critical existence failure.

Recently while at my desk, an idea occurred to me for a magic item that might inspire far more dread in the hearts of players than even the infamous Deck of Many Things… as the title suggests, this is none other than The Deck of Many Genres. This is a magic item that is best reserved to particularly open-minded, experimental or creative play groups and GMs, and would clearly be much easier to use in a game like FATE, Wushu, Capes or Savage Worlds that can be retooled to new genres on the fly without hours of number-crunching misery. Alternately, a wily or enterprising GM might have stats generated for existing characters from your D20 or whatever game in FATE, Capes or something similarly fast and fluid that can be taken to hare off into crazy land with this thing as a side jaunt. Read the rest of this entry »

Awakening: Procedures

June 21, 2014

(This is a side bit from ACWoD/ The Awakening Chronicle, from Story 4: City of Angels. I’ll periodically post other side bits from the chronicle here as time goes on.)

Special Agent Luz Martinez pursed her lips as the tracking bullet embedded in the Superstitionists’ bumper failed to respond to its activation code. Her tracking Procedure was being jammed. She tried several applicable alternate frequencies, but was unable to sufficiently modulate it to penetrate interference and pick up a signal, and she finally acknowledged that her own apparatus was unlikely to get a fix on their location before they could find and dispose of the device. One smack to the dash of her service vehicle communicated her annoyance, and then she was once again the picture of operational professionalism.

“So we lost them,” Agent Sumner stated matter-of-factly. The Man in Black pulled the nondescript black sedan over and looked over to his senior partner, mirrorshades glinting in the late morning sunlight slanting in through the windshield.

“Yes,” she replied calmly. “They won’t flee the city again yet; they wouldn’t have risked returning here without a solid reason.”

“Agreed,” Sumner said and checked the radio, not picking up any reference to their quarry.

“We don’t know where they are or where they’re going right now,” Martinez said to herself, “But let’s see where they’ve been.” She called the display in her mirrorshades online and patched in to the vehicle’s onboard computer and communications array with a couple of subvocalized commands into her wireless headset,

Satellite Location, UID CZ411, timestamp 30032011-1106. Magnify. Isolate targets at 1200 and 1155. Magnify.

She regarded the vehicles and reviewed their information and the analysis she had already been sent by Bates, her Amalgam’s Watcher. The sports car first: 2007 Dodge Charger, red, NY license plate # ADL 4681, registered: Brennan, Rowena Brighid. Ms. Brennan’s driver’s license photo matched the woman Martinez and her partner had seen. Ident confirmed, she notated, adding Probable Reality Deviant.

Next, the battered van that she had picked up first, and which had been the reason for her picking up the pursuit: 1975 Dodge Ram Van, brown, CA license plate # 3LUE042, registered: Milton, Irene Ruby. The identification of its color as “brown” was certainly suspect as far as Agent Martinez was concerned, but she let that slide. The flag of what had initially caught her attention earlier when she ran the plates was much more interesting to her: Vehicle matches one identified via satellite departing facility at +35° 41′ 1.46″, -116° 50′ 11.05″ designation “Overwatch HQ” prior to said facility’s destruction via aerial strike. Vehicle believed to be operated by Reality Deviant designated “Eel,” wanted for reality crimes and for murder of Enlightened and UnEnlightened Personnel in connection to attack at US Bank Tower Dispatch Center. Last confirmed sighting: Las Vegas, NV. Detain and question operator. If positive identification is obtained, subject to be processed or terminated. Subject to be considered armed and dangerous. Known associates: probable Reality Deviant designated “Steve” [status: unknown]; Reality Deviant designated “Umbra” [status: unknown]… she noted that this “Umbra” fellow was probably the same man that had been the passenger in Brennan’s vehicle.

“Bates,” she said via comm to her Watcher, “What else have we got on file for these people?”

“Getting what I can now, Agent. There. There’s not much. Both ‘Umbra’ and ‘Eel’ have very sparse information, considering that both are known to have been part of Incident 05092010-B17,” Bates responded. Off the record the area’s Operatives had dubbed the prior year’s debacle “The Non Event” in a tongue in cheek reference to the Herculean lengths to which their Methodology and the NSC had been called upon to go to contain the outbreak of deviant anomalies and to maintain the ignorance of the Masses afterwards. “I suspect that there are further details that are classified,” he elaborated, though for a moment Martinez entertained a paranoid, niggling suspicion that perhaps the paucity of records might be due to tampering instead. Further inquiry and request for access to classified documents would be warranted. There would be time for that and a review of other known associates later.

“I need to trace the movements of the two suspect vehicles, Bates. Designate Suspect vehicle 3LUE042 as Primary, ADL 4681 Secondary.”

“On it,” he answered and she heard him talking with his staffers for a moment before he patched what he had been able to get through to her onboard computer. “The satellites didn’t get complete coverage of that space and period, but I think I can stitch most of it together by cross-referencing the traffic camera system where possible and extrapolating the rest,” he advised.

Collating, her display informed her. Plotting movements of suspect vehicles back to timestamp 1036. Looking at the map of their movements, she observed that they had at one point converged on a point in silverlake and parked there for a while, and so she had the system home in on the timestamp of their arrival and magnified the imagery to see what they had been doing there. Brennan and a pair of suspects that she felt she could confidently confirm as “Umbra” and “Eel” along with several other as-yet unidentified persons emerged from three vehicles and met with the occupants of two automobiles that had arrived shortly before them.

The tense confrontation between the two parties played out silently for her. Deviance detected: increased mass and bodily transformation, three subjects. UnEnlightened observers of Anomaly: 0. Luz shook her head, grateful that the RDs had at least had that much decency. The shroud-barreled, slabsided weapon that one of the deviants brandished caught her attention as well, and she commanded the system: Search records for pictured firearm. The results came back after a moment: IMI Vanguard pistol, chambering 12.7mm Sagittarius gyrojet ammunition. Hypertech, pending approval for insertion into Consensus.

“Where did our cowboy get hold of one of those beasts anyhow?” she asked rhetorically. That would bear further investigation, but she decided that he and his companions were not the primary targets just yet, and she added a notation to open up further lines of inquiry.

She noted how after the group including the wielder of the experimental firearm departed, the group of targets swapped from one vehicle to another before splitting up and she decided to stick with the primary target for the moment, and traced the battered old van back to a neighborhood in West LA. The imaging was too patchy at that point for some reason to pick out a specific house, but Bates advised her that he could readily pinpoint their stopping point to within a one block radius.

“Sumner, we’ve got them,” Martinez said with some satisfaction. “We’ve got some more due diligence to perform and some classified records to request access to, but we’ll find them. There are a couple of fish here that really need catching.”

“What were Hart’s instructions when you reported you’d spotted the van?” Sumner asked by way of reminder.

“To proceed with all caution,” Martinez replied firmly. “Let’s get the rest of the Amalgam involved and see if we can’t requisition a little more help. We’re going to need some backup.”

A Few Old NBish Bits

June 18, 2014

As a follow up to my last post, I thought that I would share a few old screenshots that I still had lying around somewhere from back in my old NB days or just following its demise. Most of the bits I’ll post here, I held on to for humor value, though a few I kept for more sentimental reasons. NB was a weird and wild place, and I enjoyed it… most of the time. Most but not all of the below are bits of out-of-character conversation. Due to the format of this blog, quite a few of these images are displayed at a smallish size. You should be able to right click on them and view their full size versions, however. None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Below, the ever-awesome ST Keith shared with me something that a player (who was running a Demon: the Fallen character) had asked him via private message…


Apparently, Georgia’s got some, ah, interesting rules regarding their driver’s licenses:


Sometimes, a player would post in the wrong window, with embarrassing results:

Image Read the rest of this entry »