Friday, April 19, 2024

Weekly Book Recommendations (April 19)

This weeks reads

Batman '66 Volumes 1-4 by Jeff Parker and various Artists. For my money, these are the best Batman comics of the 21st century. But I also think Brave and the Bold is the best animated Batman series, so you make the call. This book perfectly captures the feel 1966 TV show. If you like those, find these. It's so much damn fun.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 18: Pasta Alfredo with Grilled Chicken and Wilted Spinach

This is a recipe I picked up very early in my cooking journey and it's a good one. I'm gonna break it into parts. 

For the chicken cutlets, there's more detail here but its pretty basic: get two chicken breasts from the store, salt (3/4 tsp) and pepper (1/4 tsp) them, add them to some hot oil (2 tbs under medium high heat for 3 minutes/until shimmering) in a skillet, and cook 5-7 minutes on a side. Remember the chicken wants to tell you when it's done, so if you try to flip it and it sticks, it's not ready. The internal temp of the chicken should be 165F. Give it 5 minutes minimum to rest and slice it for serving. 

For the pasta alfredo, get a heat resistant serving bowl and put 1 stick of salted butter, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup grated parmesan (should it be freshly grated? yes. Does it have to be? no, buy the damn tub of grated parmesan if you don't have time), 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (see comments on parmesan r.e. grating) and a touch (1/8 tsp) of fresh grated nutmeg (buy the whole nutmeg and grate some of it; this one matters). set the water to boil and put the serving bowl over the saucepan so the sauce melts and comes together under the heat from the water. It should be ready when the water comes to boil. 

Put the pound of pasta - fettuccini is traditional, spaghetti works - in the water, and let the heat bend it until everything is in the water. Cook per the directions on the box, probably 8-10 minutes. When the pasta is ready, pour it into the serving bowl and mix together. Lay the chicken over it and you're done. 

Now, you can skip the spinach and go with chopped fresh basil on top and it's delicious. Or you can do the spinach, which is what I did here.

For the spinach take 4 oz of baby spinach and mix it with some olive oil (2 tbs, just to coat) lemon juice (1 tsp), a pinch of salt and pepper, and put it into a colander and place that over the the boiling water when you're making the pasta. It will wilt under the steam in about 3 minutes, so save it towards the end of the pasta cook time. (A more complex wilted spinach recipe is here, but the flavors on that don't blend as much)

Sprinkle the spinach over the chicken on the pasta and serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Customized Power Charts

Since we have been discussing the various power designs and generation methods I wanted to take a look an an option for our base system, V&V, that I don't know that other V&V GMs play with, which is redesigning the Power Charts for your specific campaign. The basic idea is that you can prioritize and split the powers up as you wish. Since they are mostly there for inspiration and giving some framework, you're not going to break anything. 

In some ways this takes us back a bit to the 1E charts, where the origin types had separate power charts - and you could recreate that if you wanted, but I more want to take a look at how to tweak the system. V&V 2E has two different sized of power charts: Powers, Devices, and Magic/Psionic items (which also incorporates extreme hypertech like the Green Lantern Corps Rings) are expansive lists, while Skills and Magic/Psionics are tighter lists. The expansive lists have roughly 60 powers on them, with 40-ish at 2% chance and 20-ish at 1%. The tighter lists are 12-14 powers, each with a 7-9% chance (except Cosmic Awareness, with a 1% chance on Magic/Psionics - wow did the scarcity of Cosmic Awareness make me think it must have been the most kickass power ever as a kid; in practice, not so much). 

The Skills list is generally fine, as it's not so much "skills" as it is "abilities common to non-powered heroes" or "if you've already got some things you think are cool roll here to see what training you did". It's great to be a DC style hero with your one high tech device and lots of training, or your badass martial artist. 

The Magic/Psionics list 

It's a very short list of 12 abilities designed to maximize your chance to get mental powers or Magic Spells, which is strange because you can just, ya'know, pick those. And it creates this weird implication that things rolled on the Powers table can't be magical in nature, because the Magic table is here.

This may have all be an aside, but I'm leaving it in. 

My idea then, is to build new power tables for New Salem: Renaissance that better reflect what I want to see in the setting. They will have two designs

Expansive will have 

  • 10 powers with a 3% chance each - the most common super-abilities in the setting.  
  • 20 powers with a 2% chance each - common super abilities
  • 30 powers with a 1% chance each - rarer super-abilities
  • One of those 1% powers is Mutant Power, a unique super-ability. 
Tailored will have 
  • 10 powers with a 7% chance each - core abilities of this tailored set
  • 6 powers with a 4% chance each - common options in the tailored set
  • 6 powers with a 1% chance each - rare options in the tailored set. 

Yes, this is going to force me to expand on the skills list a bit, which is also going to add more powers. But it also lets me build separate Magic and Psionics tables. WATCH THIS SPACE, TRUE BELIEVERS. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Battle for Vulture Point Act II Scene I

The strength of their sinews, the courage in their blood, the quickness of their limbs and the puissance of their enchantments having cleared the immediate field of battle our four noble travelers quickly entered the passage that had disgorged their dog-man foes, closing it behind them lest a vultures follow. A quick checking of the map provided by Lord Ambleer confirmed that they were on a suitable path and so they pressed on, little concerned by the wounds wrought by Vulture points aptly chosen avian guards. 

The passage was ill kept but showed signs of the imperial garrison that once stayed here in the carved steps, smoothed floor, widened tunnel and occasional buttressing. They quickly passed by the point where the dog men guards had been sequestered, and Cybele took that opportunity to summon forth the serpentine aspect of her soul, Renee, and send that enchanted beast scouting ahead. The quartet, with Hiram in the lead, followed at a discrete distance. Hiram's sharp senses spotted signs of stagecraft, and after a moment he was able to locate a tripwire somehow connected to holes in the wall. He gingerly triggered the trap while hopefully out of the line of fire, and was rewarded with the clatter of darts striking either side of the corridor. 

"Darts again." Dietrich muttered. "I'd like to corner the dart concession in this area." 

"Step where I step," Hiram warned his companions before cautiously moving forward. He spotted two more trip wires in the dust and avoided both, but directly behind him Cybele tripped the second, again feeling darts strike her magical protections. "What part of 'step were I step' did you miss?" Hiram hissed as Cybele looked suitably chagrined at her error. The young actor simply bent and triggered the last set to clear the path. Ahead Renee sent back a sense of something like alarm, allowing Lady Floriane to warn her companions. 

Barely moving and with minimal light from the shuttered lantern Hiram salvaged in the Tor they ended the passage, which opened to an unremarkable chamber – ceiling twice the height of a man with rough hewn walls, a finished floor with a large rock at its center, and the southern third raised up some six feet to make an alcove. To the north all of them could hear the sound of dog men in a panic, no doubt preparing the search for the ones who killed their vultures. They were about to confidently move to attack them when Renee indicated with a hiss that the dog men were not the threat…which was when the boulder shifted, revealing itself as another vulture, this one the size of a pony and slowly wakening. But before even that threat could be assessed a figure loomed in the alcove, backlit and sending an enormous shadow across the room - hooked beak, feathered wings, clawed hands and feet - part man, part dog, part vulture, a spawn of chaos the likes of which they had never conceived!

Reactions were swift; before the dog-vulture-man could but utter a single cry a volley of crossbow bolts and darts flew in his direction. Both Melas and Cybele fired wide, their shots misplaced either by fear or by the chaos beast's unseen magical protections, but when Hiram's dart struck its wing to no apparent effect Melas barked "it's immune to our bolts!" Assessing the scene in a flash the quick witted von Eisenwald adopted a new plan: Dietrich smoothly jumped onto the back of the quickening vulture and from there into the alcove, once again drawing his rapier mid leap and landing in full thrust, skewering the dog-vulture abomination in a single action! 

Taken through the lungs the creature fell without a sound, and before the vulture could stir Melas dropped his crossbow, drew his greatsword from the sheath balanced beside his hunch and laid waste to the monstrous bird with a single stroke! The nobles slipped into the room around the felled beast as Dietrich cast a quick eye over the alcove, but there was no time for a more thorough search - the dog men who had been preparing to raid the outside had recognized at last that their enemy had flanked them and were preparing a charge!

Dietrich stepped down, alighting beside Melas and held his sword in a quick salute. Melas, followed, then Hiram and finally the Lady Floriane, her hand dancing with arcane fire, her body limned by an eldritch glow - four of the finest of the old empire, facing a charge of three to one odds with no fear and no regrets.

It is said that a brave man is merely one who is brave for but a few moments longer than the one who runs, but how does that explain the next act of Hiram Desaud, who met the dog men's charge with one of his own, forcing their warriors to break around him, disrupted their momentum and found himself battling three of the abominations with no allies in sight? Perhaps he felt his nerve start to slip and decided to act before he could flee? Perhaps it is the foolhardiness of youth? Or perhaps, just perhaps, a nobleman's courage is cut from a finer cloth than other men. Whatever his reason, the young actor found himself beset on three sides by chaos beasts and only the dash and flare drilled into him on the stage kept his opponents at bay. 

Dietrich von Eisenwald stood his ground, making ready to face his charging opponents. When the first of the lot arrived he neatly parried its attack but saw his counter-thrust dodged by the nimble dog man. He then fell to fighting two on one, back to the wall, the flicking speed of his blade holding the things back but the heat of the fight preventing a clean thrust that would get through their leather armor and matted fur. 

Melas Mejas Belisca found himself encumbered by is greatsword in his battle against two more of the chaos beasts; the creatures too agile to hit with a swing and the sword too large for effective thrusting against the diminutive foes. He felt himself hit by their spears once, twice, three times, and while none of the wounds were deep Melas' hunched back and malformed limbs worked best in quick contests of skill rather than endurance. He knew it would not be long before his breath would begin to grow ragged in the fetid air. 

Cybele Floriane, like Hiram, faced three of the opposition, and while her magical protections turned away the first two of her attackers the third struck home. She was saved from falling to a supine position only by the wall behind her. Still, the shock and stumble were not enough to break her concentration, and with her sword weaving a six-point pattern of defense she unleashed a hellish bolt of energy from her free hand, blowing a hole clean through the beast that struck her. The other two found themselves engaged not just by a fierce noble but the venomous viper linked to her very soul as Renee slipped between them, his hissing and darting throwing the dog-men off stride, preventing them from gaining any advantage until the sorceress regained her footing. 

With first blood to the defenders of the realm the tide shifted: Hiram held his ground, occupying a mass of the enemy while declaiming a great battle oratory from a work of Armado Caltrava – who’s epic octology of the battles of Sybade Mountains never fails to bring the audience to its collective feet – to strengthen their resolve. Melas engaged in a complex beat-thrust to drive both of his opponents back far enough to bring his blade's edge into play, sundering one of the creatures in twain with an arcing swing. One of Dietrich's foes was forced to duck to avoid the great weapon's backswing and never lived to regret the error of lowering his defense, as von Eisenwald's blade flicked through the exposed gap between the creature's doublet and collar, dropping it instantly with a severed spine. Dietrich pressed his advantage with the other, scoring hits in rapid succession that alas did not draw blood through the baying beast's armor. 

Three blades against one is a dance that leaves little room for counterstroke and none for error and so it says much for Hiram's skill that it took so long for one of the beasts flanking him to get through his defenses. Even with the shallow bleeding cut, followed by a second, the young actor never thought to not press his attack, and finally worked his way past the spear of his front most adversary and ended that conflict with a thrust and kill whose flourish would be appreciated by even those in the farthest gallery. 

Cybele, never doubting victory in the overall battle but concerned about not having sufficient arcane energy for later, relied on her blade for a few seconds, holding off both her surviving adversaries and hoping that Renee might bring one down with his venom, but the dog men had quick feet and thick boots. She suffered another hit, and saw Dietrich take one at the same time, leaving all the nobles bloodied, with Melas obviously suffering from his many wounds. While Hiram's voice never faltered the young actor would be forgiven if doubted for a second. 

As second would be all he had time for, as lord von Eisenwald redoubled his attack, taking down his opponent and with a forward run and leap engaged one of the beasts flanking Hiram. Lord Belisca was likewise able to turn to the tables with a thrust that at last got his strength behind it, leaving the beast man impaled on his great blade. With a single stride and swing he flicked the corpse at Cybele's second opponent, then on the backstroke forced the creature off balance, making him short work for the Lady Floriane's saber. Her remaining opponent attempted to flee down a side corridor, but unwilling to let it summon help and no longer harried by combat she neatly removed its head from its body with a blast of magic that snaked across the room. 

Dietrich, while fatigued, was still too much for the dog man who had spent his force against Hiram's near impenetrable defense, dropping the creature with a thrust. This left Hiram alone with the beast who had plagued him from the first, and the young noble, at last able to focus on offense, forced the dog man back with a deft recreation of the balcony battle from Valentin and Esperanza, disarming his foe with a flick of the wrist and placing his rapier directly through the beast's heart, launching the thrust at the exact end of Caltrava's oration.

The four nobles, bloodied but unbowed, surveyed the scene and wondered what might come next. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Book (and Movie) Recommendations (April 12)

This Week's Read

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: so there's this anecdote about Scooby-Doo where other animators from the time period complain "why didn't my crappy kids cartoon become a cultural icon and this one did?" 

Because it did. Because Zeitgeist. Because I watched Scooby-Doo and Jabberjaw and Speed Buggy and all the rest of them and somehow Scooby-Doo is indefinably slightly better. Because suck up and deal. This is kind of what it's like reading the "Daring" "Contrarian" one-start reviews all one after another on Goodreads. Seeing one person brag that they originally gave it a 5 start review that they reversed to one star after reading Armada and realizing that Klein was a "one trick pony" in terms of his authorial voice is just the cherry on top of the social media trend chasing sundae. In the course of a decade the book went from beloved to derided because enough people on line decided they could get more engagement attacking it. 

Now, I'm not going to say that RPO is a great book. It's not - it's an early century B list book that somehow hit at just the right time with just the right marketing for people with a lot of talent invest in a film version of it. It's the Julie & Julia of the SF market. But what it is a damn engaging, quick read, laser targeted at Gen-Xers that clearly deeply loves the trivia it's tossing at you while still taking it, and the obsession of it, to task. 

There isn't a moment outside the OASIS where Wade isn't commenting on how the world was falling apart just because everyone decided it was too much effort to give a shit any more, where everyone had run away into an artificial reality, and ownership of that might be the last resource to stop the world from falling apart if you could stop it from falling completely under corporate control. There's no where left to run to. But the creators of this place are either forcing you to relive their childhoods in a fantasy realm OASIS, or built a fantasy realm retreat for themselves in the real world. They could change things, but its too much fun watching people play the game. Memorizing the trivia. Making it "matter". While as Wade keeps commenting, the world is imploding and saving it requires playing a perfect game of Joust. It's absurd, and Wade's voice make it clear that Cline knows it's absurd. 

I read it when it came out and enjoyed it for the B list fun it was - it's got just about as much heft as Starter Villain even if it's targeting different villains and audiences -  and the reread basically confirmed this. I did reread this after Netflix kicked the movie at me, but that's not what I'm recommending (it was... meh?) 

Godzilla X Kong from Legendary Pictures: Took the older kiddo, loved it. It's pure unadulterated B movie cheese. If you like the other Mosterverse films, you'll like this one. Again, it's not art, but it was a wonderful father/daughter bonding experience and it was just a ton of fun. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 11: Mexican Picadillo

This week we're going a little less fancy than the pepper crusted beef tenderloin with a Mexican Picadillo, which is essentially my grown up Manwich 

This one comes out every once in a while when we have ground beef and want something different with it. My baseline recipe is here but we have alterations. Those alterations don't make it any more complicated.  

So the shopping list is easy, as always - a pound of ground beef, a small onion, a large green bell pepper and 2-3 medium potatoes. Don't sweat the specifics sizes, it's not that kinda recipe. You'll also need 

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons garlic from the giant jar of minced or chopped cloves I told you to get
  • 1.5 cups of beef broth. If you get this with low sodium this will come out bland and you'll need to add extra salt at the end, so splurge on the salt in kind,
  • 8 oz of tomato sauce and some tomato paste for extra body - we really feel the tomato paste helps. 
  • 1 tsp each of salt, ground black pepper, cumin and coriander. I like the extra black pepper, you may want to stick with the 1/4 tsp. You should also add one bay leaf to round the flavor out, just remember to remove it before serving. 
  • Some rice or flour tortillas or both.

To prep the veggies I use one of these, which the family refers to as a 'shunker-shunker' and is damn helpful for getting things diced or chopped to a consistent size. Highly recommended. Plus since all the veggies go in at once you can just keep everything in the collection tray and drop it in at once. 

First, get the rice started per the instructions on the rice box. I used white rice but if you have some Mexican yellow rice mix, that works great too. 

Plunk the ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it's mostly browned. Once it's, say, 75% browned drain the grease off (NOT INTO YOUR SINK! Find a can or bowl or something) and return to heat. Toss the veggies in and let cook for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly. The add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Finally pour in the tomato sauce, broth, and all the spices. Stir, bring it to a simmer, and cover. Leave it for 10 minutes, check, and if the potatoes aren't soft and you still have a lot of liquid, leave it for longer. You want the potatoes to smoosh under a fork and most of the liquid gone. 

The rice should be done right about now as well. Remove everything from heat and serve to a grateful family. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Villains & Vigilantes and Charismatic Involvement

I commented on this in the discussion of mutations/power generation, and felt it needed its own post as it's something that MIGHT end up fitting into New Salem. Probably not, but I wanted to kick the idea around. 

Villains & Vigilantes 1.0 includes the origin type of Charismatic Involvement, which is... well it's hard to explain. Here, just read it 

So essentially there is a 10% chance that your PC in a super hero game is going to be... Snapper Carr. Or Rick Jones. Or Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane. This is, well, kinda nuts and kinda awesome. 

I mean, mostly it's nuts. 

So your advantages for being a Charismatically Involved character are 

  • Your Charisma is permanently set at 17. This nets you a +10% on your reaction roll with vigilantes and... well that's it really. OK not entirely, but charisma doesn't net you much.
  • You have A 5% chance of a single super power from a table that has some awfully weird outcomes as it is the same table used for Mutants and Extraterrestrials and includes pretty much ever power 
  • And you can train without taking time away from adventuring up to a 16 (knowing that 20 is the maximum score for training). This is a legit advantage but needs unpacking. 

This gets weird. In the section on gamemastering the rules advise that the GM at least vaguely stick to the real time = game time rule, with one weekly session covering about one week of time, because they also recommend that you not use the Marvel or DC universe as your backdrop but instead stick to the real world, as newspapers and headlines make great sources of inspiration. So if V&V 1.0 is dealing with the AD&D Gygaxian mandate of "You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept" then trying to train "rapidly" removes your PC from play, and doing it alongside patrolling means it takes 6 months to a year in game, which should also be of PLAY, per point of increase in a single characteristic. 

This get weird because if you do drop out of patrolling/adventuring to train, you don't have another PC to bring in. What makes the Gygaxian comment work is that the player has several PCs and can have the fighter train to go up a level and the wizard do spell research while they play their Monk in whatever is happening now. Time can be tracked across multiple PCs while the players stay engaged. But in V&V, where the PCs is based on the player and the rules for additional characters are under NPC construction, this makes no sense. Shrug Emjoi

In any event, a Charismatically Involved hero doesn't have to do that: they are constantly improving in 2 of the four characteristics they can change, since their Charisma is fixed at 17. Over the year of play sessions that it takes any other hero to increase, say, Dexterity by a point, they can increase their Dex by 3 and their Constitution by up to 6, assuming capping out at 16. This actually turns into a significant advantage if you're playing regularly and start with modestly above average characteristics - After a year of play you'll probably be powerful, very healthy, brilliant, and dexterous if the terminology to score part of the charts is to be believed, with 64 Power and +4 HP per level. 

  • The final advantage is that the Vigilantes have to come to your aid if you get into trouble: they are literally obligated to and they suffer charisma loss if you die. Yes, it's another case of Charisma loss being a stick that is supposed to drive PC behavior. But I want to dive more into this, because it never says that the vigilante or group of vigilantes HAVE TO BE THE OTHER PCS. In fact in a solo game they can't be. 
The charismatically involved hero can jump from vigilante to vigilante, so Rick Jones is clearly the template for this, moving from Hulk, to the Avengers, to Captain America, to Captain Marvel, to Rom, and back and forth. But does this mean that the player can force the GM to come up with NPC Vigilantes who the HAVE TO back the charismatically involved character? Where the original Avengers are Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, and Rick Jones, who is Charismatically Involved with the NPC Hulk? And then pick some NPC Hero like ROM and make the GM come up with adventures for Rick Jones to have with a spaceknight? 

Of course, Rick Jones never had his own solo book, unlike Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, who could have perfectly wonderful and bizarre adventures with the hook that he can summon the best hero in the world at a moment's notice with his watch as the ultimate get out of jail free card? 

I fully understand why this didn't survive into 2E, because it's a very specific character design. It's not like playing a proper "sidekick" who is just a younger version of the hero with a substantially similar power set. It's playing the normal person insert character. It's possible to play this in 2E, if you roll Pet or Animated Servant or in a pinch Vehicle, take any other rolls on the Skills table, and then define the Pet/Servant/Vehicle as a badass monster/hero/transformer who you tag along with, act as the front person for, do all the talking, whatever. It can be a hella fun design, but its not 10% of all PCs. 

How would this work in New Salem? Well either in the design I just set up where the PCs is the heroic investigator of some sort and their created by a power roll hero is a dark knight vigilante who shows up when needed to even the odds in a fight or escape - we already have one of those in Ernie Souchak, who could just become a PC - or you could build an all skills PC and state that they are the Serpico/Jim Gordon style one clean cop working in secret with the other PC heroes. Its an interesting angle. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Eclipses and Heroes

First off, yesterday (4/8) I was lucky enough to be able to take the day off work and drive the older kiddo up to Vergennes, VT to be in the path of totality. Lovely little farm town, old school Main Street, pleasant people, amazing astronomical event. as XKCD put it, a partial solar eclipse is cool; inside totality it feels like someone broke the sky. 

Camera Phone, but still not bad
The whole event got me thinking about the Heroes TV show, which was a big hit in its first season, got crippled by both the writers strike and the creators attempt to broaden out to tell new characters stories that the audience rebelled against for the truncated season 2, and then limped along for a bit after that. 

Obviously (and of course I would say this), V&V 2.1 is the perfect game system for this sort of thing because a) you can base it on players easily if you want that real everyperson gets powers sense, b) you it scales really well for the 'normal to athletic person with 1 super power' setting (which is why I use it for Legion of Super-Heroes), and c) the random power generation works well for the sense that the powers aren't matched to the personality. 

The show worked in the first season due to the puzzle tension of the overlapping precognitions - the time/space manipulator both seeing the immediate nuclear explosion in the future and traveling back to warn against the events after that, and the canvases of the precognitive painter giving a different lens on those events and other smaller ones - providing a way for the audience to anticipate scenes, and the parallel conspiracy adding yet more puzzle pieces for the audience.

Several aspects of the longer plot were clearly adjusted on the fly - Mrs. Patrelli going from a grieving embarrassment shoplifting to feel alive to a key part of the conspiracy makes no sense when you binge watch it but you kind of forget when it was on weekly. 

Note that I keep saying "audience" because the nature of following a dozen or so characters who only all get in the same place at the same time in the last episode means the audience always knows more about what's happening than the players do. That, combined with the precognitive flashes and larger conspiracy, make the also want to run this in some form of Gumshoe. Mutant City Blues wouldn't quite work because so much of the power rules are making the powers things that can be forensically analyzed - critical for a police procedural, not so much for this - but the basic Gumshoe mechanic would be very helpful. 

Of course, this is a springboard for trying to merge some of the helpful bits of Gumshoe into V&V for New Salem, since unravelling a conspiracy and investigating the opposition is a core part of the New Salem design. Anyway, the first season of Heroes is pretty solid. watch it if you have some time. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Emirikol: Notes from session 1, planning for session 2....

Asking the players what they wanted to do past the obvious clearing out Vulture Point, Dave wants to know more about the ghost, Jim wants to locate the people he’s targeting, Tom wants to settle into his house in Emirikol and Bec wants to wander the city like a gawking rube. Good to know.

Alejandro of Stormcliff Manor left just the right impression on the PCs, he won’t be back for a bit.

Re the Ghost: Since Hiram has claimed the Translator’s Ring if he encounters the ghost again in Ambleer manor Lady Lorell will be able to explain her predicament – the general location of her body and the need for water burial – but only to him. Changing from Elf in the House, Lorell is Roland's twice great grandmother, murdered stashed by a kinsman when it appeared that Lord Ambleer I had died on his 2nd southern mountain campaign.

The servants, if questioned, tell him the ghost appeared only to those with a musical or dramatic soul, and that if someone were to re-create the seeming of the events that killed her than she might be freed. This is them yanking Hiram’s chain. They don’t know who the ghost is or why she’s here, she’s just always been here. Her family portrait was by a bad painter of a much older her then her self-image ghost. Even Roland, Lord Ambleer IV doesn’t know who she is; family legend is that Lorell eloped with a lover when Lord Ambleer I was campaigning. Roland has never connected the ghost with his family’s hereditary ailment.

Apparently, the southern mountains are a constant source of uprisings, rebellions, and battles; Roland's twice great grandfather apparently fought there twice, the first time winning the family a new title and lands inside the greensward (the land on either side of the Rheel river heading to the capital). File that away.

No other threats until they reach Emirikol, where I need to describe the quadrants of the city seen from elevation and the differences between Ferrantino and Serin on the way to Dietrick's house. I suspect that Dietrick will offer up his manor to his fellows until they can find places of their own. At his manor they’ll meet his lawyer, a typical halfling bourgeois in the republic. He is Rudolph Eisenwald, the younger partner in the law firm employed by the Von Eisenwald's as business agents in the city. He's legit and efficient, the house is in good repair and has a wine cellar (apparently a big thing for Melas and Cybele) and in a good part of town.

If the PCs go out on the town to wander like gawking rubes, someone has to insult them. By the law of limited NPCs they're the de la Bellasteros family, the ones Melas is tasked with bringing down. Specifically, they are

·       Raul de la Bellasteros (F2, Ar2 due to inherit, proud and insulting at times),

·       Florian de la Bellasteros (Ar 3, charming wastrel, younger brother),

·       Donato De La Bellastros (C2, Ar1, close cousin, levelheaded fire priest) and

·       Victor d'Berangere (Ar1, F3, more distant cousin, full bore jerk who gets the others into trouble, holds grudges, likes to duel).

It is up to the PCs as to whether this is to the death or first blood, but with two healers on site it should be possible to do this without killing anyone so these guys can be long term NPCs. They might surprise me and go find a judge on these matters, but I somehow doubt it. More likely it will be a duel to first blood, though Victor and Raul wouldn't mind a little death-duel action.

The Vulture Point adventure also has awesome treasures: specifically, one set of saddlebags holds a cockatrice feather and a vial of green dragon blood. These are evocative without meaning anything. But… their saddlebags bear an unknown wizard’s mark… someone who might want them returned. If the PCs choose to follow up on this it will lead them eventually to Aslan Nightshade, bringing him into their orbit on their own recognizance.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (April 5)

This week's read 

Starter Villain by John Sclazi: Very much in the tone of Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzo tosses out a fun romp tackling the concept of "James Bond Villainy" as the last book handled "Giant Monsters". I gave it to my daughter for her Easter basket. She read it between 8 and 11 AM and handed it to me, so I could read it from 4-7PM. It's surprisingly deep for something as breezy as it is. 

Failure to Communicate by Kaia S√łnderby: recommended by a friend when I said I was looking for more diverse authors, this is a SF book about an autistic woman in the future who acts as an interspecies translator and diplomat as she has already had to learn how her own species communicates. The broader universe is quickly understandable (an alliance of species in a currently cold war with a conquering slaver race ala Original Series Star Trek) because those elements are there for both the novel's mystery framework and the unique perspective of being in the protagonist/narrators head. If this is what S√łnderby's early work is like I'll be tracking her career with interest. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report April 4: Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

 I know That you're reading that and thinking "he's crazy, I can't cook that!" but the secret to beef tenderloin in that it is crazy easy to cook. It's also crazy expensive, so that makes it a sometimes thing - find it on sale and freeze it until the big family gatherings. 

So grocery wise you're going to need the tenderloin (about 6 lbs), and that takes some prep. You can pay a butcher to do it for you, but its easier than you think, so you can watch a butcher teach you to do it here. Obviously he makes it look easy, but I've done it as well and I'm far from a professional. 

So here's the secret - set an oven to 300F, put a cooling rack in a cookie sheet, lay the tenderloin on that, stick a probe thermometer in and cook it until it hits 120, 125F and you're done. That's it. it will taste great. Stop worrying. Everything else is accompaniment.

Now, the accompaniment in this case is cracked peppercorns. This requires a little work. You're gong to need: 
4 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup coarsely cracked black peppercorns
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

A lot of which you likely have around the house but some you're probably going to need to buy. 

So the salt, sugar and baking soda get mixed together in a bowl and set aside. 

The take the peppercorns and put them in a ziplock bag, get all the air out and seal it. Place that on hard surface - countertop, marble board, that sort of thing - and roll a rolling pin or, more likely, a full wine bottle, back and forth over it. Youll hear them crack and pop as they split. This will take a few minutes effort, but a peppermill won't give you a course enough grind for this. 

Put 2/3rd of the olive oil (6 Tbs) in a saucepan with the cracked peppercorns and heat it on low for about 15, 20 minutes. The recipe I'm pulling this from calls for 7-10 minutes after it comes to simmer, which also takes 7-10 minutes. You won't hurt anything with, say, a 15 minute time. Just keep the oil from coming to a full boil. Then use a strainer (lined with paper towels if it's not a fine mesh) to get the peppercorns out, and put them in with the remaining 3 Tbs of olive oil. (You might a use for the pepper infused oil later, but it's not here.)

Add the orange zest and the nutmeg to the peppercorn/olive oil mix. 

Now rub the salt/sugar/baking powder mix all over the top of the tenderloin until the salt disappears and the meat gets a little wet and sticky. Once you have that, fold the smaller thinner end of the tenderloin on itself so then meat has kind of a consistent size and put it on the cooling rack/cookie sheet rig. Press the peppercorn mixture onto the meat, covering the top and sides. The recipe I follow calls for tying the tenderloin with butchers twine at the folded lower end so it keeps its shape while cooking but I don't know it's needed. Insert the probe thermometer and chuck it in the oven. 

Once its at temp, pull it out and let it rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes. During that time you can do what I did and put halved baby potatoes and chopped broccoli (both mixed with 2tsp of olive oil and 1 tsp salt) on the hot cookie sheet and leave it in the 300F oven. Everything should be good to go at the end of the rest. (300F is a bit low for these normally, but 30 minutes is a bit long, so it works out, especially if you halved the potatoes for more surface area and the cookie sheet is hot.)

Carve and serve to a grateful and potentially amazed family. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

On the Generation of Mutations

Continuing the discussion from last week on how the rules presented mutations and powers from Gamma World 1E to V&V 3E/1978 to 2017, I want to talk this week about how mutations/powers were generated in those systems over time (with a bonus rules system tossed in). 

In Gamma World 1E, the mutation generation system is as follows: you roll 1d4 for number of physical mutations, and 1d4 for number of mental mutations. Percentile dice are rolled once for each mutation on the appropriate table and recorded on the sheet. About 30% of the physical mutations table is defects, as is 20% of the mental mutations table; you could get no defects, or all defects depending on your rolls. If you are particularly unlucky on rolling your characteristics and mutations the GM might declare the character hopeless and you start over. All very early style design. EXCEPT....

This? This right here? this blew my mind. You still roll for number of mutations but the player gets to PICK which ones they want. And then based on the number of (presumably positive) mutatons taken the Referee adds defect mutations based on the numbers rolled - from no defects if you only have 3 mutations between physical and mental to 2 defects (one physical, one mental) if you have 3+ mutations in each type. This degree of player control of mutations was so unexpected based on Gamma World reputation for wahoo bananapants crazy. Of course it's also potentially adversarial in that the Referee isn't obligated to consult with the player at all in terms of defects selected, but it's also potentially collaborative in creating reasonable mutant genotypes rather than bizarre combinations. Highly recommended for someone like me who wants the idea of PCs being from stable mutant communities while not being limited to the animals/mutated human strains in the book. 

Now chronologically we jump to V&V First edition, where you start with a roll to determine your origin type 

Followed by rolls to determine how many powers you have based on your origin type and which table you roll them on.

Where each List is tailored with the powers that they felt most likely for heroes with each origin type - you can see that Designed and Sponsored share the same 40 random options... 

Because they get their powers through the same mechanisms, but the origin type is not just how you got your powers but the relationship to maintaining those powers/your place in society. 

Note that the pervasiveness of the Marvel Universe mutants is present in this game, even though it's not in the Marvel Universe. (More on this in another post.)

As with the 2E combat charts, there's a lot of implicit world building in 1E's tables: the powers you may get depend on the origins of the powers, and you're funneled into certain concepts. This isn't bad, per se, but it's got a lot of inherent restrictions, and the tables probably aren't robust enough. Here's the last little step: 

Note the strange division of authority. If you have 2+ powers, you have to drop one. If you only have 2, the player picks which one to drop. If you have 3+, the GM picks which one doesn't fit. I mean, why is this there? Why does the GM get to decide which power doesn't fit? It just seems so bizarre. 

As an aside the language in that last sentence is strange - how does the GM modify a non-combatant power into a weapon? What does that entail? My first thought is that you could take, for example, Invulnerability and make it a sword that grants that power, so the PC now has a sword to attack with that also has, I dunno, super-parrying or something. That is something I do regularly in 2E and a lot of other GMs/Players don't think of, but maybe my doing that is reading something into it. 

Thanks to a friend of the Blog I have had a chance to look at Golden Heroes, which the 1984 printing is apparently pretty close to the 1981 fan publication. Gold Heroes lets you roll 2d6 powers (!) and there is only one table to roll from but many of the powers have Grades, where if you roll it multiple times you get extra stuff. Alternately you can in the process decide to not roll but just spend a power roll upgrading something. You can also allocate rolls for "advantageous background" which is what lets you play a millionaire industrialist with a ton of government contacts, for example (that would be two advantageous backgrounds) or a head of state (another one), but you still have to roll for which one you want. 

This is an interesting gimmick, solving some of the issues of how wealthy/connected to make the super hero in a game without point systems. Easily my favorite bit out of Golden Heroes and maybe stealable for V&V. The player is then urged to develop the rationale for how all the rolled powers fit together - the origin story and core concept - and forfeit anything that doesn't fit. This is very open ended and very much in player control, which is great. There are also statements that if you want to make up a power that is not on the list you and the Scenario Supervisor (SS, unfortunate acronym) can work it out. 

But then the SS is meant to come in and insert weaknesses and limitations into your rationalized powers. This power requires a device, this device is charged this way, these powers can't do X things because of your rationale. It's presented as adversarial and controlling in the dozen examples the book gives, with the player having no control over the changes the SS is making to their character. It's deeply strange, and very freeform, and I can see it going very wrong. But it's also of a piece with V&V 

Moving on to V&V 2E, we have the following: you roll 1d6+2 for number of powers. You can roll on any of 5 tables - Powers, Devices, Magic/Psionic Items, Skills, and Magic/Psionics - swapping tables however you wish on each roll, and then roll 1 time on the Weakness table. You can also skip rolling all together and just write down the powers you want, or pick the ones you know you want and then drop others. Once you've rolled your 3-8 powers (plus any secondary effects they may have, like how good the Heightened Strength is or what your Animal/Plant Powers are), you pick one power to drop. You can also drop your weakness if you're willing to drop another power. You can also work with the GM to modify or tweak any of your powers, decreasing one to increase another, making one a subset of another, or just boosting the ability of your small number of powers to make you more capable compared to PCs on the team who rolled a high number. 

It's all very player controlled, open ended, and pretty much guaranteed to spark ideas while giving you the character you want to play. The GM does have some input to make sure you're not going nuts with the rules, but the combination of randomness and player control make it my favorite of the ones we've seen here. Also notice how the origin type concept is gone from 1E: there's no more implicit worldbuilding in the design. Now, this also means there's no guardrails to help players build consistent characters to steer them towards ideas like the Charismatic Involvement hero (much much more on that later), which can be a problem for some players. 

Last up is Gamma World 4E, which has significantly edited the process. There's no mechanism for the players to select their mutations with the GM determining their defects

Everyone has 5 mutations, which are randomly split between Physical and Mental with a d6 roll 

And then rolled randomly, with high rolls meaning chances for multiple powers or picking a power. So you have somewhere between 2 Defects and 3 Mutations, to 6-7 Mutations. There's no space for GM intervention other than declaring a character hopeless, but there's also no place for player control. The dice rule all.

EXCEPT: Each mutated animal and plant gets mutations based on their player selected base stock. There are some balancing aspects to it, but but it's a player controlled way to get a set of controlled 'mutations' - all Octopi start with chameleon power and extra limbs and gills - and it's a pretty slick implementation for players to feel that their choice of animal or plant stock matters (in 1E it's all up to GM and players deciding what the character has). And they can gain another mutation if they decide to have no human features (including speech). So mutated animals get perhaps an overly generous deal.

This has been interesting to me at least. I obviously like V&V 2E best for this in terms of its player control and general design, but each of the systems has their charms and drives certain things about the games. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene V

Hiram's evening was disturbed by different demons. He had been escorted to a more distant room and, at midnight, a ghostly figure materialized before his banked fire, singing a plaintive song. Again, Hiram's nerve failed him in the presence of the supernatural and the young man screamed and pulled the covers over his head rather than meet eyes with the ghost (which in all the stories bears dire consequences). Soon one of Ambleer's dwarvish servants opened the door and, when pressed by the discomfited nobleman, explained that the manor house did have a ghost, a musician who was reputedly murdered here some centuries back. She must have been attracted by his lordship's own musical talent. Hiram was not flattered by the compliment and spent the remainder of the evening downstairs in the hall, with the night servants bustling about in their efforts to clean the house and prepare things for the birding party.

In the morning lord Ambleer saw his guests off with horses, crossbows (the servants having repaired Melas' ancestral weapon), provender (including coffee in insulated containers) and a map of Vulture Point. As they were leaving Dietrich commented that since Vulture Point was such a prime strategic position there should be a permanent encampment of the guard present there, only to learn that a century ago that had been the case, but with the growth of sea travel and the diminution of road traffic to Emirikol the senate had deemed it an unnecessary expense, and it was outside Lord Ambleer's lands so he lacked the right to station a force there himself. This cast a new light on Hiram's oft heard tales of how the bumbling northerners could not take obvious steps to defend themselves, even before the sliver of the sun cast new light on the terrain. The nobles set out, intent on clearing away the gnomish bandits and their vulture pets before noontime.

In the pre-dawn light, our four noble heroes made their way along the cobbled road till Vulture Point was in sight, then took a side path to avoid detection while they compared map to reality in an attempt to find the best path of ascent. The cliff face did indeed resemble a vulture whose open beak formed a declivity which once housed an imperial garrison and has since been home to an endless cycle of bandits. While there was a hewn path that approached the 'mouth' from the northeast, the foursome did not dare take that lest they rouse sentries or trigger traps on so obvious a route. Instead, they stuck to the western slope, moving up one of the gentler parts of the incline with Cybele's strong arms and sure feet picking out a path when the incline approached the vertical.

The group was roped together, which proved a boon at points, and despite one brief slip no harm was done and little sound was made. They passed under the vulture's beak, eschewing entry through any of the waste holes that carried water, detritus and offal out of the vulture's maw, opting to circle out of sight to the head of the hewn path, where they might enter with safe footing having circumvented all obstacles. The lack of any organized resistance to their arrival was taken as proof that this had worked, but passage through the maw into the caverns below was blocked by dozens of vulture nests.

Melas again raised his argument about the improbability of Vulture Point both looking like a vulture and being infested with them, to which Cybele replied "I don't know… my aunt Bunny's land is just infested with rabbits. . ."

They conferred quickly in the brightening day before Hiram's plan to light some of the nests with thrown oil was adopted. The hope was that this would startle and scatter the beasts and throw any defenders into disarray and with the young actor's strong pitching arm this was achieved - oil spattered and caught over 4 of the nests, sending a flock of panicked animals into the sky. Before our heroes could press their advantage a quartet of giant vultures, each the size of a pony, emerged from one of the deeper tunnels and, in a trained fashion, took to the sky bearing stones!

Rocks rained down on our heroes as they retaliated with crossbow bolts and magical attacks, with damage on both sides. Two of the giant vultures dropped their rocks and landed to press the attack. While they drew blood on Dietrich and Melas, they fell to those warriors' deft rapier and tremendous greatsword as Hiram and Cybele accounted for the two remaining fliers. Once Melas removed the neck of the enormous carrion beast with a single swipe of his greatsword both he and Hiram spotted someone preparing to attack their position - not Gnomes, but Dog Men! Melas charged forward and engaged the agile creatures, finding them harder to strike than the vultures. Still, between his skill, Hiram's support and a timely spell from the Lady Floriane the beast men guards were dispatched.

But as the panicked normal vultures began to reassess the situation or heroes are left with few options but to seek shelter inside the caves, now know as home to more beast men, and therefore more threats to themselves and the stability of the Republic.


And this is where we ended the first session: the advantage of being in our 30’s and able to dedicate entire days to gaming, I figure this took us about 6 hours. Some notes

·       The PCs acquired enough XP to go from 1st to 2nd level, not that it mattered given out strange start.

·       The 3E is more formulaic then 1E/2E when it comes to cash gained, which actually worked for me here. But more importantly the magical headband on the skull, and the magical pearl, were very small treasures GP wise that I was able to imbue with cultural significance well beyond their worth. Plus the clever rules tweaks – the belt increases Strength for just carrying capacity, the ring gave you extra languages (in Hiram’s case the languages of ghosts and devils) – etc. are just fun minor things that are rewards without breaking the game.

·       I love the ability loss rules for 3E because they give low level PCs other resource pools to threaten – the spider venom can sap Melas Strength without it being save or die or HP loss – for more tension levers.     

·       Dave failing his saves against both the Lesser Vargoulle head and the ghost set up a nice running gag for the game; there’s another one coming next session for Deitrich.

·       The complex backstory for the 2E adventures is actually useful for Hiram’s Bardic Lore ability, since I have the framework of history on hand to work from. It wasn’t useful in 1E at all because no one was using Legend Lore to learn about this nonsense that I knew of, but when it’s a minor class power with no resource loss this is useful!

So far, 3E was doing exactly what I needed it to, and the outcomes weren’t significantly different than what a 1E party would have encountered.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Lore24 - Sudilitas: the Other Cults

Mar 25: These are all of the alliances that have integrated themselves into the Sudilitas political structure, but there are some that operate outside of that structure. These can prove to be nuisances, irritants, threats, or seeds of our destruction if we are not careful. 

Mar 26: the Radioactivists have a small religious cult here; while technically frowned upon and placed under observation the cult itself is not illegal. Just that the agents of the Peace Brigade track them, if only to keep the Restrorationists informed of who is a member, lest any Restorationist plans to enter the ruined city (and face its Readioactivist cults) is comprimised. 

Mar 27: If they keep to themselves, there is no issue - they can be found most nights on the battlements, keening their quiet paeans to the glow that still flickers from that massive southern ruin. Every few years a number of them leave together, taking their likely final pilgrimage to the source of the Glow. 

Mar 28: The Holy Roan Empire has agents here as well, even if I can't identify them. This Zoopremicist offshoot is always trying to feel out our intentions and defenses, and doubtless has agents inside the Ranks, much as it pains me to admit it. The Horselords are subtle and patient in ways that the Badders and other inheritors of their philosophy are not. 

Mar 29: The Red Death, while obliterated in this area years ago, may still have spores lurking among our community. Should even one of these abominable lichenthropes reveal itself the poisonous ideology could spread through pollens and pestilence, and must be burned out root and branch. 

Mar 30: There are Archivists amongst our community as well, finding the puts of irreparable junk that are too far gone for even the fulgurators and placing them in personal niches for veneration. Madmen all, but it's only when their creed pushes to disturb or deactivate RWN that they cause issues. 

Mar 31: A group of them once snuck past the guards into the lowest rooms of Sudilitas center to to accost our solitary AI saint. The clean up was horrific, and getting archivist ash off of the walls kept work crews busy for a week. One hope they have learned from the experience. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Levels, Structure, and Creativity

So some time back I was having a chat with my much younger cousin who had gotten into D&D in the 5E generation, and I was trying to explain to him why I preferred the relative simplicity of 13th Age's character design during level up.

Now, in 13th Age, each class has a list of a half dozen or so Talents, which are classic genre beats for that type of character (some also have Talents baked in - every Barbarian can Rage, for example, that's just part of being a Barbarian). You also have 8 points to divide as bonuses to player defined Backgrounds, which include within them flags and world building and generally have huge penumbras in play. You have 1 feat, or two if you're playing a human. Depending on the class you may have some additional bits such as spells accessible or fighter maneuvers. And you pick your 3 icon relationships. 

All skill checks and attacks add Level to them. Your basic attack damage is your level in weapon dice. So when you level up everything automatically gets better, no need to fiddle around with decisions for points spends, and your basic attack damage scales with level so it removes the linear fighter/logarithmic wizard problem. You get another feat, maybe a new options in your additional bits (more spells, a new maneuver, etc.), and you're done. 

He said he found this uncomfortably formulaic and a bad design, because he doesn't get all those decisions and design bits and levers to pull as he levels up. He was sure every 6th level fighter would therefore look like every other 6th level fighter while 5E lets everyone be different. 

This was flabbergasting to me, because it's the exact opposite of what I see happening. 

In 13th Age and other freeform games I get to make a unique character at the jump. No one else has my backgrounds because I defined them. The powers are genre classics that I get to mix and match from so there are some 30 possible talent builds per baseline class. The icon relationships are equally in the players hands. The rules are explicitly loose in a variety of places to make sure you're getting the character you want to play very quickly. The feat selection is so much an afterthought of "oh that might be neat" rather than "I need x to get to y" because the character. The characters also start at about the 3rd level of power in 5E terms. (Mind you, I'm not 100% on board with how much the rules assume you're maximizing attributes to class given the strength of the underlying math, but that's been a bugaboo of mine across a lot of non-random roll systems where attributes provide a lot of the bonus)

What I've seen in 5E is MUCH more structured, with 1st level PCs looking very close to one another and the differentiation not starting until 3rd level, and after that it's navigating a tree of decision points to make every character fit within a tree of branching, evenly powered options, so you can carry your character from game table to game table and know that you're balanced. He wanted that list of switches and options, the system mastery and the regular decision points. 

In short, when he looked at 13th Age he didn't see the structure to build the character over play. When I looked at 5E I saw all the characters the structure wouldn't let me play without someone official coming up with a design tree to "allow" it. I'm not saying I'm right and he's wrong, but it's amazing to me that we can be looking at the same two systems and see completely different outcomes on it. Especially as I do work again now on B/X and 3E, which are at other places on that spectrum.

Friday Book Recommendations (Mar 29)

I didn't so much miss last week as not finish any books I considered worth recommending. Which is why this week I was up from 2 am -5 am finishing this, which I have been savoring my way through for the last 9 months. Don't say I never do anything for you. 

The Best of Catherynne M. Valente, Volume One by Catherynne M. Valente: This book is a delight from start to finish. Her prose style is so distinctive that every story feels like meeting an old friend with a spectacular new saga, and her sense of compassion for humanity and sense of humor makes every such saga a reason to linger over coffee all afternoon to hear it. I can't recommend this highly enough. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

On the Origin of Mutations

Jumping between the 1E (1978) and 4E (1992) editions of Gamma World and the 1E (1979) and 2E (1982) editions of Villains and Vigilantes and you can see some interesting changes in the depiction of character powers - the earlier 


Look at how much more detailed Mental Control is in 4th edition than it is in 1st, and so many of those are further limits on the power. Who it can and can't attack, how far away they can be, how long it lasts, what they can do with the controlled body, are all seriously diminished in 4E from 1E. But the concept of this being a dominance/possession where the PC can only control one body at a time and if the controlled body dies the controller also dies, are consistent. 

Between 1978 and 1992 there are so many more RULES in place for how to handle this thorny power, but they are all still diegetic: you can go either way on whether you get to use the controlled body's muscle memory, but there's a logic to it; the rules don't get anything into the player experience of what happens to the player if their PC is under Mental Control, how to handle that at the table, the strength of the PCs will or the Players desires. 1992 didn't have the language for that. 

As an aside, so many things in Gamma World feel, well, controlled. Like yes, you can be a mutated human, animal or plant, you can have any number of strange abilities, but Mental Control works like this no matter what, by god. It's strangely reminiscent of the Gumshoe game Mutant City Blues where the mutant powers are so consistent that they can be forensically tracked and used for crime solving (which is the whole premise of Mutant City Blues, a sort of CSI Super Heroes setting). 

When you take a look at the two editions of V&V, separated by a much shorter period of time, it is both similar and different 

It's hard to tell from the formatting of the two editions but the length looks roughly the same, with 2E being a little longer. But 2E is also more elegant. It has rules for fatigued elsewhere in the book it can reference rather than lay them out here (but they are the same concept of the controlled character being at half ability because of fighting against the control. Rather than a set deadline, the player has routine chances to escape the control based on their characters established personality; not great from today's design standards but also not as bad the the total lack of escape opportunity and rules for how the other characters in the scene can try to free the character. The power also becomes more rather than less open ended in its implementation: there's no discussion of whether the target remembers the mind control, it says that it may require communication, and doesn't discuss range once established. While the 1E power was open ended, the 2E is more so. 

The power becoming more open ended and clearer makes it more comic book: here's the rough set of rules for how mind control works, but the specifics and chrome will change from character to character. Gamma World remains, for all it's crazy, a place where rules still apply, if you can learn them, and therefore manipulate them. 

The V&V 1E to 2E is clearly a clean up edit. Gamma World 1E to 4E is laying down new rules and restrictions. 

I don't normally refer to Mighty Protectors, which is the V&V 3E, because the system is just so different, but this is an interesting case

Please forgive the choppiness of the cut and paste there but I needed to skip the point cost table. But look at what the change between 1982 and 2017 produced. The mechanics and terminology are much more technical and precise. The absence of an attack/defense table in MP means a lot of rules around how to calculate a successful hit, with specific rules on if the attacker can tell the mind control worked: this would be depending on the specific character chrome in 1E/2E, but here is designed to set up the exact scene of pretending to be controlled even if that doesn't necessarily follow the character intent. Being able to silently control someone is a paid for ability rather than something determined as part of the character idea/ general power weighting. The mind control lasts even after the mind controller is knocked out, which again might or might not make sense and used to be up to the GM and Player to design for the character

Controlled targets get a chance to save every round, as well as when ordered to act against their nature or when allies try to help them; Mind Control as a way to remove player agency is just so much easier to escape. Except there's a save involved and the GM can say "Oh this villain spent eleventy-skillion imaginary points so your save penalty is enormous" so the chance to escape may be illusionary. Still, stochasticity says a 5% chance is gonna come up sooner or later. 

All told the decisions around how the power works across the 5 examples are interesting to me in terms of time and design and GM/Player Design at Start agency. Likely more on these topics later.