Found this in a dust-covered cabinet while cleaning out the basement. I swear I have never laid eyes on it before:
Do I dare?
Found this in a dust-covered cabinet while cleaning out the basement. I swear I have never laid eyes on it before:
Do I dare?
Earlier this week, I was decluttering the basement, a task made more challenging by the fact that my five-year-old daughter had chosen to spread Adorable Kid Art™ all over the floor. It was going just fine, and the world made perfect sense, until I came across this page, apparently torn out of the most demented children’s coloring book in the Known Universe:
What the… who the… where I have seen this before? Oh, right:
The similarities are pretty clear. I don’t know who Baphomet is calling on that telephone there, but you know it’s not going to end well for the free world.
|Die result (1d6)||It’s terrible because of…||Example|
|1||Ideology||The ‘Mech’s poor design is intentional, designed to encourage or discourage certain types of behavior on the battlefield. “It’s shameful the way our Mechwarriors keep their distance from the enemy, sniping at long range, when everyone knows the true spirit of bushido is manifested in face-to-face battle. Well, without any ranged weapons, this ‘Mech will force its pilots to fight with honor.”|
|2||This is What Was Available||The ‘Mech was cobbled together using the only resources and equipment available to its designers. Nobody’s under the illusion that it’s a good design, but it’s better than nothing. “We’ve got a warehouse full of heavy ‘Mech chasses, and a big pile of small lasers. Might as well put ‘em to use… better than letting them sit around gathering dust.”|
|3||Lobbying||A weapons manufacturer bribed its way into a sweet contract with the government, despite the uselessness of the product. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger—it says here we’re required by our contract to equip every ‘Mech we make with no less than five TrueAim Plus(tm) brand small lasers….”|
|4||Untouchable Designer||However ridiculous the end result, the ‘Mech was designed by somebody that nobody dared criticize or contradict. “Why, this ‘Mech was designed by the Crown Prince himself. Surely you’re not implying that His Imperial Majesty knows nothing of battlefield strategy and technology, are you?”|
|5||Production Line Screw-up||An error on the manufacturing floor resulted in a badly mis-configured ‘Mech, but by the time anybody noticed, the cost of fixing the mistake had become prohibitive. “Oh dear, we’ve just equipped 500 assault ‘Mechs with armaments meant for light ‘Mechs. But they’ve already started shipping to the frontlines….”|
|6||It Wasn’t Supposed to Be This Way||The ‘Mech was an experimental test platform (or maybe a practical joke by an over-tired engineer) that was never intended for mass production. But key emails were skimmed instead of carefully read, and you can guess what happened next. “Don’t worry, nobody would possibly be stupid enough to mistake this for a serious production design… right?”|
One of the most-read books in my game library when I was in junior high and high school was Technical Readout 3025, a collection of ‘Mechs that you could use in your Battletech games. They were designed using the construction rules in the rulebook, but were also the “official” ‘Mechs used by the different factions within the Battletech setting.
What surprised me at the time was that the Technical Readout contained a number of ‘Mechs that were terribly designed.
By that, I mean that there were numerous ‘Mech designs in the book that were obviously inefficient or just generally ineffective. At the time, I was spending my evenings and weekends poring over the ‘Mech construction rules figuring out how to most efficiently balance weapons, armor, and speed in ‘Mech designs. When “official” ‘Mechs appeared that were subpar, I was surprised and almost offended.
Nowadays, I realize that poorly-designed ‘Mechs are a feature of the setting, not a bug. They add verisimilitude to the Battletech universe. Just as in our modern militaries there are plenty of examples of poorly conceived, ineffective boondoggles, so the militaries of the Battletech world would have been plagued by such things. But at the time, I was mostly just annoyed that I had paid money for a book that contained ‘Mech designs no competent player would ever want to be stuck with.The worst offender, by far, was the CGR-1A1 Charger, an assault-class ‘Mech (at 80 tons, one of the heaviest ‘Mechs in the setting) that had almost no effective weaponry and mediocre armor. With an armament of just five small lasers—the wimpiest, shortest-ranged weapons in the game—it was completely outclassed by ‘Mechs half its weight. It was slightly faster than other heavy ‘Mechs, but not faster than the light and medium ‘Mechs that outgunned it. Its only conceivable battlefield advantage was its weight; if it could close to melee range, it could (in theory) deliver a pretty hefty punch or kick. But trust me: while your 80-ton clunker is making its own personal Charge of the Light Brigade at an enemy unit, you can bet that it’s getting showered with missiles, lasers, and autocannon fire every step of the way. Because your enemy is not stupid enough to be piloting a Charger.
At the time, the presence of the Charger was an inexplicable annoyance. These days, it’s a charming part of the setting. And it makes for a fun excercise to imagine how such a poorly-conceived ‘Mech would make it from the planning stages to the actual battlefield. Above is a quick chart I put together to answer the question. When you’re handed a terrible ‘Mech to play with, just roll a six-sided die on the chart above to see how it came to be.
Obviously, this’d work with any military or sci-fi game, with slight tweaking. What other reasons should be added to this table?
Hey, ‘net punk! Look what some clever console cowboy has revealed on the inter-tron today:
OK, so it’s just a video game. But this is a kind of a big deal if you’re into tabletop roleplaying games, because this is a video game based on Mike Pondsmith’s venerable Cyberpunk 2013 (later Cyberpunk 2020, later Cyberpunk 203X) roleplaying game setting.
And that’s interesting for a number of reasons. First, the Cyberpunk RPG is an oldie, firmly planted in the mirrorshades era of the cyberpunk genre; the kind of cyberpunk where you brush aside your ’80s bangs and “jack in” to a Gibsonesque (and by “Gibsonesque” I mean “ripped straight out of Neuromancer“) proto-internet and talk sneeringly about “meatbags.” There are “fresher” cyber-themed RPGs out there (Eclipse Phase, Shadowrun, Transhuman Space) that might be thought to offer a nicely updated cyberpunkish basis for a modern game.
Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk hasn’t been much in the public eye for years. The last time it was the focus of any attention, its most recent edition was being dragged over the coals for using what can only be described as “doll art” to illustrate its rulebook:
Let’s just say that it didn’t emerge from those discussions with a lot of dignity intact.
But I don’t mean to mock. (Let me go on record as believing that the “doll art” thing contains a seed of genius, but was badly executed.) This new Cyberpunk video game is a reminder that there is a long history of tabletop RPGs—even obscure and mostly defunct ones like Cyberpunk—that are ripe for reinvention and re-exploration, in video games or other media. That’s exciting.
So let me offer a few comments on the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer above.
Well, we’ll see where this all winds up. But we can be sure it won’t top this artifact from the glory days of cyberpunk gaming:
I went digging through my screenshots folder this weekend, and was pleased and amused to find in it a lot of fun memories of gaming over the last 9 months. A few highlights from my PC gaming this year (click to embiggen):
Great places to visit. More later, as I further excavate my way through the screenshots folder.
So I just logged into Facebook to see what’s going on (and to wince at the inevitable flood of political posts) and I got this message:
On the plus side, being restricted from using Facebook for a few days will help me stay sane during Election Day and its immediate aftermath.
Driving around town has been a little dispiriting lately. The reason sounds a little silly: it’s those signs. You know, the red yard signs that proclaim TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY IN NOVEMBER.
These signs are clearly linked to Republicans—they’re invariably planted next to signs for Romney/Ryan, Justin Amash, and other conservative candidates—although I’m not sure if they’re part of any specific candidate’s campaign. But I do know that they seem to be everywhere. I pass several of them every day in the last half-mile of my drive home from work, and every day it makes me feel just a little bit tired and sad.
I find the message behind these signs depressing. “Take back our country”? Do the people who plant these signs really think they’re living in a country occupied by some enemy force? Apparently, the president wasn’t elected by fellow Americans in the usual democratic process; he (and those who voted for him) “took over.” Obama and his supporters aren’t human beings to argue with or campaign against; they’re enemies to be purged.
Who is this sign even talking to? Certainly not to Obama voters—they aren’t to be reasoned with; they’re to be overthrown by the “real” Americans.
And then there’s the obvious, uncomfortable racist undercurrent of this message, especially when it’s planted proudly on lawns in a predominately white city.
It makes me depressed just driving by these things.
Every election cycle, Americans seem to agree on at least one thing: politics is too nasty, too divisive, too graceless, too mean-spirited. Well, here’s one very simple, concrete way you can tone down the vitriol of this election cycle: step outside. Walk out to your yard. It’s fine to leave that Romney/Ryan sign up, or the Justin Amash one, or the Pete Hoekstra one.
But take down the one that says I HATE YOU.
Hey, look! A new version of the vintage Rolemaster RPG is out, and they’ve released public playtest documents for the teeming masses to try out.
I’d say Rolemaster has certainly earned a new edition—the last serious rules upgrade was in the mid-90s (the Rolemaster Standard System); there was technically a further revised edition around the turn of the century, but it was mostly a re-organization of the rules, with no major rules changes. All of my Rolemaster gaming used the older 2nd edition; I picked up a few RMSS books but then 3rd edition D&D came out, boasting a heavy Rolemaster influence with a simpler and faster system, and that’s when I officially jumped off the Rolemaster train.
I haven’t kept up with Rolemaster much lately because, alas, there hasn’t been that much to keep up with—new releases have been scarce over the last five or more years and the Rolemaster community doesn’t have a large online presence these days. I’m very happy to see a new version in the works and have already downloaded the playtest files. That said, my interest is mostly fueled by nostalgia at this point; unless the complexity has been dialed down a good bit, Rolemaster would be a pretty hard sell for me and my current game group except as an occasional side game. (And dialing down the complexity might take the spark of life out of Rolemaster, so I don’t know if I really want that.) But you never know.
(And it’s no fault of Rolemaster itself, but without the late Angus McBride‘s glorious illustrations, it just doesn’t feel quite the same.)
Like every father of a four-year-old daughter, I’m called upon nightly to tell her bedtime stories. My daughter Thessaly insists that each night’s story be something she hasn’t heard before, so for years now I’ve been scrambling to come up with interesting tales.Fortunately for me, the stories she wants to hear follow the same general pattern: a villain or monster shows up, threatening somebody or sometimes stealing a piece of treasure; the rightful authorities (usually Mommy and Daddy) attempt to fight the bad guy but get in over their heads and have to call in backup, in the person of Thessaly the Hero. (Thessaly the Hero is my daughter plus magic powers, serving here as a rather blatant Mary Sue character.) Thessaly then tricks, subdues, or imprisons the villain using cleverness or occasionally a magic power.
I realized early on that it was the villain of each story that really enchanted Thessaly. Whenever a bad guy would appear in the story, she wanted to know all about it: what did it look like, where did it live, what powers did it have, why was it acting so villainous. And at some point I realized that I could tap my Dungeons & Dragons obsession to make these stories more fun. So for the last few months, I’ve been using creatures from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual as the foes in these nightly stories.
It’s worked out well, because the Monster Manual is full of bizarre and imaginative beasts. Here are some that have appeared in the nightly stories, with notes on how my daughter reacted:
Tarrasque: One night Thessaly insisted that the story’s villain be the biggest, strongest, scariest monster available, and in D&D, there’s one monster that truly meets that description: the tarrasque, a gargantuan apocalyptic terror. Despite its fearsomeness, Thessaly the Hero regularly exploits its lack of dexterity to defeat it. For whatever reason, the tarrasque is one of her favorites, and I regularly have to invent ways to bring it back for repeat appearances.Owlbear: I expected this one to be a huge hit, because it’s, you know, a bear with the head of an owl. That has “kids will love it” written all over it, right? But for whatever reason, the owlbear was a complete dud, and Thessaly’s never requested its return. Admittedly, it was difficult to come up with a compelling villainous motive for a giant owl-headed bear beyond general ornery-ness.
Gelatinous Cube: This mobile block of slime is an iconic D&D monster, and Thessaly loved it. She was so taken by the gelatinous cube, in fact, that she recruited it as a friend and it has made several guest appearances now as Thessaly the Hero’s sidekick.
Cockatrice: I don’t even remember what this one is, except that it’s, like, a rooster combined with some other type of creature. My lack of enthusiasm for this unfortunate beast was obvious and it hasn’t been missed since Thessaly the Hero jailed it a month or so ago.Beholder: A floating mouth with a dozen eyestalks—what’s not to love? The beholder was popular for several stories due to the increasingly tricky methods Thessaly the Hero had to employ to evade its gaze.
Blackbeard: OK, Blackbeard’s not a D&D monster, but he should be. He’s a definite Thessaly favorite and has escaped from prison nearly as many times as the tarrasque has. Blackbeard’s appearance on the scene has allowed me to expand the scope of the nightly stories to include oceanic scenarios.
Leviathan: I’m not sure if there’s a leviathan in D&D lore, but I needed an aquatic monster to follow up on the popularity of Blackbeard, and so was born the leviathan, watery sibling of the tarrasque. Frequently teams up with the tarrasque to menace society.Acererak the Lich: This was an attempt to introduce a wizardly villain into the stories. I described him as a “skeleton wizard,” which prompted twenty minutes of uncomfortable questions about how a skeleton could still be alive, what happens to people’s skin when they die, will deceased pets return as ambulatory skeletons, etc. Once I got through the existential grilling, I was able to establish Acererak (originally from Tomb of Horrors) as a scheming wizard who can usually be tricked into falling into his own traps.
Cribbing bad guys from the Monster Manual has made me realize anew just how creative and entertaining many of the Monster Manual entries are; watching my daughter smile at the mental picture of a beholder or an umber hulk reminds me of what it was like to first flip through the pages of the AD&D Monster Manual as a kid.
With the variety of creatures in the Monster Manual—and the sheer number of monster books published over the years—I’m hoping this will last me until Thessaly tires of the format. And at this rate, I can tell several years’ worth of stories before I have to resort to incorporating the flumph….