bryant: (Maggie)

I’ve been accreting a Las Vegas Feng Shui setting since we lived in Austin, where I ran a couple of sessions of Feng Shui set there. The idea stuck and I really liked Jay Ackel, PI; the Chairman of the Board; and a few other NPCs. I also enjoyed working with a primary faction conflict consisting of two Ascended factions. California is home of the bears, right?

So it’s been slowly gaining mass since then. I have a Scrivener file that gets a little more weighty every time I open it up. That isn’t all that often, mind you. Regardless, if I’m gonna run a Feng Shui one-shot, it’ll be in my Las Vegas.

Rather than write up an adventure I decided I knew the setting well enough so that I could just write an oracle. It’d work as a skeleton for any city, although you’d have to replace a bunch of People and Locations entries, plus a couple of the McGuffins. If you’re interested, grab the PDF here.

Let’s do a quick test run:

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Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

I just sent my Blades in the Dark players a summary of one PC’s research, since he finished up a long-term project clock during the latest downtime. Useful knowledge: Setarra is Dock’s chosen friend from character creation, and his long-term demonic patron. Last session, Dock performed a ritual which shows him the history of an item in order to break into a safe. As a perhaps fortunate consequence of the ritual, he learned that the a powerful set of demonic relics woven through the story to date was originally Setarra’s, and she wants them back.

On the regalia: actual possession of the belt is exactly the key you need to unlock the ciphers in Violette’s husband’s library. (Not a fun experience per se; this is a really dark set of tomes. Human sacrifice, techniques for raising the ambient level of misery in a neighborhood in order to encourage deals with demons, that kind of thing.)

The Regalia is made up of five items:

  • The Widow’s Collar (necklace)
  • The Widow’s Cuffs (bracelets)
  • The Widow’s Shackles (boots)
  • The Widow’s Leash (belt)
  • The Widow’s Shroud (dress)

The Hexhounds stole the Collar for the Attic. You heard on the streets that the Attic got their hands on the Shackles. Lisette the gambler lost her final tournament game, with some assistance on your part, and that put the Cuffs in Lord Scurlock’s hands. You currently have the Leash. The location of the Shroud is completely unknown.

Apparently Dock now knows some things about the origin that nobody else knows, so that’s exciting. Various scholars have assumed that the Widow was a demon of some sort, but nobody’s attached the name Setarra to the story. It’s widely thought that the paladin who fought the demon, Bran, is just a metaphor for the strength of humans in the face of temptation, because everyone knows paladins never existed. Dock knows his history; this would mean that the theft occurred well before the Cataclysm, which was a thousand years ago. Given his knowledge that the paladin really did exist, it’s pretty easy to piece together the next steps — once Bran got his hands on the Regalia, he carefully scattered it to the ends of what is now the Shattered Isles. The individual items used to live in monasteries, temples, churches, and so on. Since then, well, a thousand years of thievery and danger and murderous ghosts do a number on your ability to protect dangerous demonic artifacts.

It is definitely the case that letting a demon assemble all five of the items is a recipe for disaster. They are sort of thaumaturgical batteries when they’re apart; making a set of three or four is no big deal, it’s a linear addition; but getting all five together is potentially world-shaking. Setarra’s threats in the vision are not mere bluster. Perhaps she’s mellowed over the millennium? Also: useful for demons, overwhelming for humans. Trying to channel that much power through a mere human body is not a good idea. 

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

Geek joke.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing some awesome things with live-streaming. Beto O’Rourke is embarrassing himself by live-streaming his dental appointment (except he didn’t). Justin Amash is pretty blunt on Twitter.

2020 is going to be a good exercise in decoupling authenticity from our political preferences. Beto’s rambling blog posts are political; I don’t see how he couldn’t be aware of the pressure to run, the magnitude of the decision, and the pros and cons of his choices. He’s auditioning. So is AOC. So is Amash.

I think getting into the habit of being open is a good thing for all of them. The recent Washington Post interview with Beto was amazing and if you’re not applauding his decision to be frank, you’re nuts. His responses made me less likely to vote for him in the primaries, and he has to know many people would react like that, but he was still willing to admit his uncertainties.

Separating my warm feelings about authenticity from my feelings about what that transparency reveals is a 2020 goal for me.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Default)

As per last time, this is a lightly edited copy of a Twitter thread.

Wanna do a live-read of the new The Sprawl supplement? Yeah, I think I’m in the mood.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

This is not a review, it’s just some thoughts on the movie and the characters. Briefly, though: four and a half stars, superb acting, beautiful sets, funny but ultimately quite tragic.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

My folder for Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is complete. This is an OSR D&D-like game aimed at super-quick pickup and play. The concept is that the PCs are all friends who grew up together in a small village, and the cool character generation twist is that you work through a four-page story path playbook to figure out your history and your stats.

For example, in the Self-Taught Mage playbook, you get to a bit where you find a tome of magic. Let’s say you roll a 2 on 1d6: the book was written by a famous bard who travelled far and wide. You get +3 Charisma, and add Survival to your skill list. You then roll 1d6 to find out what kind of mage the bard was, and you get a 3 — the bard was a summoner of dark spirits. This means you get +2 Intelligence, and you learned a specific selection of spells.

I love this. It means every characters has a story grounding their stats, and it means you’ve got that random oracle goodness which sparks so much creativity. It also explicitly generates connections between the characters and, in several places, generates the details of the village in which the characters live.

The scenario packs are similar, with the additional twist that you fill out blank spaces on the random tables with details generated while the players are rolling up their backgrounds.

Thus, it was easy to prep this one. I printed out the playbooks and scenario that came with the base game, indulged my materialism by buying a stapler, stapled stuff together, and voila: done.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

I literally spent half an hour trying to make the phrase “commonplace book” fit this, but I couldn’t, so maybe stop procrastinating and go? Yes.

One of the tabletop gaming things I want to do this year: build a binder full of one-shot games that can be run with minimal prep. In some cases this means building pre-gens and scenarios. Some games make it easy enough to create characters so that you can just pick it up and go. Add in scenario seeds, with the same caveats, maybe system cheat sheets as necessary, and I’ll have a gaming pack.

In the interests of accountability, here’s my initial game list.

I also need something pulpy in here but I’m not sure what yet. Maybe one of the Triple Ace Ubiquity games, or maybe something Savage Worlds-ish. I’ve always wanted to run The Day After Ragnarok.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

As explained by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, today is Public Domain Day! Since the copyright term was extended in 1998, old works haven’t been entering the public domain regularly, but we just reached the end of the extension period. Much text, art, and music has been freed.

I cheerfully recommend Carl Sandburg’s charming stories for kids, collected in Rootabaga Pigeons, and P. G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves “novel,” The Inimitable Jeeves. The latter is comprised of previously published stories but is delightful even if you’ve seen them before.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

You have Walls and you have Wheels. It was ALWAYS that way and it will ALWAYS be that way!”

Donald Trump

Who am I to gainsay our President? And I’ve seen worse creative prompts. Thus, I present a one–page RPG: Wheels & Walls. The good mechanics and GMing advice in this game are lifted directly from Lasers & Feelings, a one-page tabletop RPG by John Harper. Everything else I wrote in a few hours before getting back to the business of celebrating the New Year.

This game wears its political opinion on its sleeve.

If you like it, you can find a long list of other Lasers & Feelings hacks here.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

As always S and I do a minimal Christmas. This year we were accidentally gravity themed — I got her a Gravity Blanket and she got me Gravity Dice. Since we consulted on these, we elected not to wait till Christmas Day to open them. Items from other people are still wrapped, since we’re not barbarians.

The blanket is really nice. It’s relatively small — smaller than a typical blanket, just 72 x 48 inches. This makes it a bit short for me but perfect for her. Both of us sleep easier when using it, so I will probably wind up with one of my own soon enough.

Gravity dice.

The dice are also awesome. They’re machined aluminum; solid but not too heavy. 3/8th of an inch on a side. The FAQ says they’re carefully balanced and I imagine they’re reasonably close.

I got these twelve as Feng Shui dice. I also have six I’m going to use for Blades in the Dark. I am super-pleased.

We are also grateful for the jams and jellies my lovely Aunt Kathy sent, the gift boxes from S’ family, and everything from my mother.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

This is unexpected but pleasing. Fortuitously, I’ve been reading the four extant Continuing Time novels in reverse chronological order. And lo, now there’s a new short story collection including a lot of Continuing Time material! I guess I’m going to pause before The Long Run.

Daniel Keys Moran’s The Long Run was thrillingly exciting to me in the 90s. It fit roughly into the cyberpunk category, and the author was clearly technically savvy. The computer technology rang true. Even today: yep, of course it’s possible to figure out who wrote a chunk of computer code based on their stylistic quirks. DKM is a very good stylist, unapologetic about his quirks, versed in pop culture. I could have mainlined his stuff.

Then in his next book it turns out that this cool near future cyberpunk series is actually a huge future history. Mind-blowing. And he has the whole thing planned out, cool!

And then stuff happened and he went quiet. If you search my blog for his name, I was pretty cynical about it for a while. Sorry: I was younger. I just wanted it to be true so much. Thirty books, millennia of story, huge themes, a completely confident author. It was so exciting.

Now it’s fine. He should be first and foremost happy, except that the Lakers should not win NBA championships. But anything else is just fine, and any more words are gravy. The existing books are good by themselves.

And now there’s another one, so that’s awesome!

Some of the short story collection is previously published stories; “Realtime” and “Given the Game” were both magazine publications back in the day. The Continuing Time stories look to be new. There’s a teeny bit of time overlap — “The Shivering Bastard at Devnet” is dated 2676, which is also when Lord November: The Man-Spacething War was set. “The Shepherds” is set in 2049, which is the middle of the years in which the Castanaveras telepaths were born, but perhaps more interesting is the evocative line “Peter Janssen is shot from Jupiter orbit by a Zaradin Cathedral Starship” from the timeline.

Going back to the 1994 press release on the state of the Continuing Time, “The Shepherds” is listed as a short story set in 2049. “Platformer” is listed as a novel set between 2964 and 3031. The vision has stayed remarkably consistent.

Late edit: “‘Tales’ is more than half new material, btw — more than 175 pages out of the 365 or so. None of it’s ever been collected before.” So there you go.

It’s been a while since I played the reference-hunting game in the Continuing Time. If you want to play it yourself, the old Kithrup archive is still there.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Library Science)

This post is a cleaned up version of a live-read Twitter thread I posted today; I’ve been doing those as the mood takes me, and it’s a kind of fun, lazy way to review tabletop RPGs. My wise friend Ginger noted that I should be collecting these on the blog. I half-thought I had been but I was wrong! Thus, here we go. (It might be entertaining to compare my speed-written text with what happens after I have a chance to re-read it and wince at my clumsier phrases.)

I just received “The Mechanism,” a Night’s Black Agents convention scenario by Gareth Hanrahan, as a bonus with one of my other Pelgrane Press orders. As I read the first scene, I realized the loosely written approach was interesting to me, so I figured I’d share.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

So I’ve been scraping Thread Reader for a month and I think I have enough data to talk about it. Very important: the guy who runs the site and bot seems like a decent dude, I don’t think this is intentional, but there are some actions I think are worth taking.

If you look at the Trending section of Thread Reader as I post this you’re gonna see people angry at Kavanaugh, which is good. Usually, though, you’re probably going to see a lot of Trump fans, a couple of QAnon threads, a random thread… and maybe a progressive thread. Maybe.

Does that matter? Yeah, probably — a lot of us use the site to save off interesting threads, and we link to those threads, and that means a bunch of conspiracy propaganda is one click away from our links, and it’s presented as “trending.” This is a very small scale example of the kind of algorithmic radicalization that Zeynep Tufekci and James Bridle have written about. (Phrase coined by Kim-Mai Cutler.)

I’ve been scraping the trending threads from the Thread Reader front page hourly for a month, along with metadata: who posted them, how many subscribers they have on Thread Reader, hash tags, links, etc. I wanna dig more but I did some quick and dirty number crunching which is worth sharing.

The big dog of Thread Reader is Thomas Wictor. Over the month I’ve been watching, he’s had 42 threads in trending. He’s full of conspiracy theories about how Trump is setting people up — not a QAnon guy but the same kind of themes. He has 1120 followers. The number 2 poster is Stealth Jeff. He credits Thomas with converting him to a Trump fan. Jeff had 20 trending threads in a month, and has 827 followers. Number 3 is a guy named REX. He cites Stealth Jeff and Thomas Wictor often. “Now I can’t prove that this 4Chan prank was a Trump hit, but it wouldn’t surprise me.” He had 16 trending threads last month and 566 followers.

At number 4, we have Lisa Mei Crowley, our first QAnon follower. She had 11 trending threads in a month, 479 followers. Number 5 is Praying Medic, also a QAnon follower. 10 threads, 820 followers.

The first left-winger on the list is Seth Abramson, in sixth place with 5 trending threads over the month. He has 567 followers. After him there’re three people with 3 trending threads, 14 people with 2, and 91 with 1. (Hi, Ed Whelan!)

Generally speaking if you have more than a few hundred followers and you roll up threads frequently you can count on getting onto the trending list regularly. Notable progressive tweet-stormers have lots of threads rolled up — but no followers and thus rarely trend.

I also tracked hashtags and @mentions. Top five used hashtags in order: qanon, maga, fakenews, spygate, and metoo. Most often referenced Twitter accounts: Trump, POTUS, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, General Flynn… and sixth is Thomas Wictor again. Thomas just got banned from Twitter again, by the by.

This is what algorithmic radicalization looks like. It’s the unintentional result of algorithms which highlight popular content. If you’re turned off by the list of trending threads, you’re less likely to make an account. Positive feedback loop.

So: algorithms are easy to game. The behavior we see on TRA may or may not be people gaming the system; doesn’t matter. If you think it would be a good idea to see more sane ideas trending on the biggest Twitter threading platform, make an account at Thread Reader — it’s free. Subscribe to your faves. If they’re OK with it, roll up their threads. The numbers are low in absolute terms; it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Ravenous)

I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the other night, finally, and then (as is my way) devoured as many reviews as possible and man, my take on Chief Willoughby is different.

Before I hit spoiler territory — yeah, this was a flawed movie. Vox has a backgrounder which is mostly pretty good. I agree that Dixon is not redeemed at the end of the movie, but McDonagh’s black characters are in fact just plot devices. It’s a painful flaw. That said, onward.

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Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

After a bit of searching about, I finally found the Blades in the Dark game I’ve been looking for. I dug up two people on Reddit, of all places, and we had our first session last week. It’s a cool group of PCs, sort of occult-leaning novices to the criminal world. Dock is a kid who was raised in a cult and has no idea how the world works (but lots of occult knowledge); Crucible is an alchemist and sailor from the Dagger Isles who got kicked off her ship for stealing things and now has to figure out how to live well in Doskvol; and Loretta (aka Etty) is the child of a noble family who lost all their money and status, so she’s stuck living on the streets with the ghost of her childhood pet for company.

This game sparked my documentation obsession, so we have a wiki. For the click-adverse, the record of the first session follows.

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Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Old School D20)

These are my pre-play and post-play thoughts on Cthulhu Confidential, a GUMSHOE game from Pelgrane Press. It’s by Robin Laws, Chris Spivey, and Ruth Tillman. Short version: if you want a sourcebook for noir Cthulhu Mythos play, it’s great, and it works way better than I expected for one-on-one roleplaying.

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Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Phillipchbeeb)

So the other day I quickly tweeted a few things.

The aftermath was wild. The first tweet got just over 1 million impressions. Around 48K people interacted with it. 8K likes. Jake Tapper is now following me, but I’m more fanstruck by Eric Heisserer.

The retweeter with the biggest audience was Cory Doctorow, at 437K. He also picked it up for Boing Boing, although he didn’t ask. On the one hand, he didn’t need to ask. On the other hand, Dorkly politely checked with me first. On the third hand, someone at Boing Boing photoshopped Trump’s hair on top of Eric’s head. Meh, screw them.

After Doctorow, the retweeter with the most followers was this voice actor whose name I’m spacing, at around 100K. From there it follows the usual distribution. I spent two days hoping nobody with a million+ followers would pick it up. “OK, guys, you can stop telling Critical Role to look at this now.”  I watched it spread through liberal online journalism Twitter (you know, Vox et al) and through Catholic Twitter (“wait, is that a Jesuit priest?”). If I had to guess I’d say it was mostly spreading through tabletop gaming circles, though. That’s just a kinda wide set of circles now.

I only had a handful of people yelling at me. Some people felt I was naive for thinking kindly of Catholics; those people kind of missed the point. I met and chatted with a few really cool people and I have about 500 new followers, all of whom I followed back. I will trim a few over time (sorry, but if you retweet Louise Mensch as a reliable source I’m gonna be elsewhere) but in general I feel like I have expanded my Twitter universe in a cool way. I also reconnected with a few old friends and had a brief but nice conversation with my freshman year roommate, which oddly allowed me to let go of some stuff I’ve been carrying around for decades.

Three reporters chatted with me. None of them found a story in the tweets, although one guy has another angle he’s working on. I think that’s correct. I don’t have a good enough memory of that year to build a story. I just had an emotional anecdote with a killer stinger and a call to action.

I’m really happy about the call to action.

Final lesson here: tell your stories. You never know what’s going to resonate.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Maggie)

We hit the new location of the Nordic Museum in Ballard today. It’s been open a month or so. The space is great — a two story atrium themed after a fjord cuts down the long center of the building, with the permanent Nordic and Nordic America exhibits on either side connected by bridges. You’re crossing the Atlantic to get from one to another. The signage doesn’t go as deep as I’d like, particularly for the temporary contemporary Nordic art exhibition, but I still enjoyed myself a bunch.

The cafe is also very nice. Get the oatmeal raisin cookie.

Mirrored from Population: One.

bryant: (Default)

My 200 word RPG is up. I’ll move a copy here at some point but right now, let’s go over to the main site to read it, check out a couple more microRPGs, all that stuff.

The Widening Gyre is basically a sidestep away from a mechanic I was thinking about for Feng Shui, which I basically lifted from Blades in the Dark. Asymmetric relationship stats for the win. I think it’s basically playable although I did not work out the math.

Mirrored from Population: One.

Finally!

May. 23rd, 2018 07:17 pm
bryant: (Maggie)

It’s about time we got a mass market pop culture version of the Jack Parsons story. Ridley Scott produces. Ben Wheatley directed an episode. This will cause me to buy CBS All Access; the trailer is everything.

Rupert Friend appears to be playing a fictionalized character, so I’m curious about that. Based on John Baxter, maybe? From a quick glance at IMDB I don’t see a lot of real historical figures, so maybe they’re fuzzing all the real names. Either way I cannot wait to start watching this.

Mirrored from Population: One.

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