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.

Gamma World's Hopeless Character

I kinda love that this guy is in both the '78 and '92 versions of Gamma World as the prototypical Hopeless Character 

In my head cannon he is now an incredibly powerful psychic who keeps mind controlling players to leave him alone, mot take him on adventures, and just let him mind control fish into his mouth. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Combat Charts and Gamma World Mutations

In my last post on this Joshua Kronengold posted the question of how Gamma World's combat chart handled mutations: since the combat chart had weapon class 7 as "Robotic tentacles", was there any mutation that said "the mutants tail/hair/tentacles attack as weapon class 7", or similar things for say, laser rifles and mutant laser generation. 

The answer is "no", because mutant powers that attack people apparently just do damage, no attack roll needed. How this squares with Power Armor giving you some defense against Black Ray Pistols but not Radiating Eyes is left as an exercise to the reader. Mutations are generally limited in how often they can be used, but when they're used they hit and do damage, at least somewhat. 

That's interesting in that it puts Gamma World in a space between D&D (which doesn't have energy attacks on its combat chart but does allow saving throws against them, which are swapping attack and defense rolls), and V&V, which compresses all of melee into one entry on the chart and then gives each energy attack and defense its own line. 

I'm trying really hard to not homebrew the Gamma World 4E that I had the kids roll up characters in for the library game, but if i did (when I do) it will include putting in something like a combat chart. GW 4E doesn't have one, devolving to an utterly bizarre mish mash of ascending armor class with the term THAC being the to hit bonus*, so it loses all the inherent physics/this part of the how technology works is consistent model of the original Gamma World that makes exploration easier, and replaces it with something deeply confusing when you think about it but more familar kinda.

*That's right. you take the THAC0 that's needed to make descending armor class rational, then replace the descending armor class to ascending armor class so you can just see the number you need to hit - and remove the concept of the Armor's Class having any meaning against the Weapon Class for the 2E AD&D model - so that the modifier just needs to be a bonus, but you still give it the term "To Hit Armor Class".... <facepalm> 

This does get to the core of Joshua's complaint: "What's fascinating but frustrating here is how the "weapon classes" are really just damage types.... but with the number in between as an extra/confusing factor." Yes. There are a lot of extra confusing factors in every edition of Gamma World. Anywhere that there was new ground to be broken the game designers came up with various new models to do it, but eveything is just kinda half-assed. It's maddening. 

Wednesday we're going to look at how Gamma World 1E and 4E compare to V&V 1E and 2E in terms of power/mutation description and design.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene IV

Shortly after the noon hour, with the waxing sliver of the sun providing limited illumination on the roads, our four nobles reached the Blue Stone in. There, in no particular order they bathed in the inn's famous hot springs (the act of which the Lady Floriane deemed 'Heavenly'), had a restorative meal and wine to aid the healing of the wounded among their number, listened to Hiram recount one of the many "Pedro and Pierre Go Crypt Robbing" farces performed in the cities that are apparently more true to the dungeoneering life than he had thought (Brian: Imagine Harold and Kumar got to Undermountain and you have the right idea), counted out the treasure from the Tor (which, by imperial law, is considered both free for the taking and tax free as a means of denying funding to the chaos cults who might use the crypt), and were separated from some of that 800 silver and 75 gold by the 2.5 gold a person fee charged to them by the Blue Stone's gnomish proprietors. (Tom: lovely place, but we're being bent over a barrel by the uppity peasants. Brian: You could always. . . Haggle. [Shocked looks around table] Melas: Haggle? Don't be absurd. It's bad enough we have to handle our own coin!)

They also found some time to further explore their magical items - the quill pen ring, the leather belt, the pearl from the spider's room and the officer's circlet on the skull they found in the stone chest - and discuss what they should do with them. Of them only the belt's function is known: it marginally enhances the wearer's strength, and is as such given for the moment to Melas as he recovers from the spider's enervating venom. They decide to further investigate the first three items in the city, but to offer the circlet to the Paladins when they hand over the rescued skulls and offer an accounting of recent events to those bastions of the imperial justice. While they might have the legal right to claim the circlet, that is a far distance from the honorable right to wear such a badge of office. Which of these items, if any, might be the key to the beast men's return mentioned in the wall carvings is unclear - perhaps that masked tomb robber had made off with something?

Or perhaps it was someone else? The shaft into the Tor appears to have been dug some months previous, so either the beast men have been slipping in there since well before winter or they just made use of the concealed entry. Puzzles upon puzzles to be explored once they reach the Chaotic City. By this time in the conversation the Blue Stone was well behind them and they were approaching both mid afternoon and the next day's in, their path made smoother by the dwarf-fitted stones of the road. The age of their next inn was made obvious by the shingle proclaiming it to be the Dusty Road Tavern, when this road had not been dusty even in the heat of summer for nearly two centuries.

The four retired inside and accepted the tavern keepers bottle of wine, with Melas checking both the label and the cork (with a brief discourse on the origins of cork checking as a defense against inferior wines being placed in better bottles; oh, and the times that poisons were placed in superior wines in such bottles as well, and the technological revolutions of the last century that make such cork marking possible). Dietrich, ever practical, kept the innkeeper from making the same 'mistake' as their previous house in laying out an elaborate, but unnecessary and repast which might added to their tab, and Hiram offered to entertain the room with a song on his magnificent hurdy-gurdy.

Before the music could begin, Melas and Cybele's half-elven ears picked up the sound of a horse approaching at a gallop. Looking out the window to see what was the concern Cybele spied someone near collapsing in the saddle and raised the alarm. The innkeeper and his wife escorted the exhausted and concussed man into the common room, identifying him as a servant of the Lord Ambleer, whose manor was not a hour away - indeed they had passed his drive in their carriage. Hiram and Melas looked the man over and the young actor, not liking the looks of the servant's head wound, performed a complex bit of dramaturgy in which the wound was drawn from the man's flesh into a handkerchief, shifting the cotton from bleached white to blood red.

The servant awoke with a start and graciously thanked them for their assistance. He then informed them that he must return to his Lord Ambleer with all speed. Our four nobles of course understood, and Dietrich asked that the servant also convey their best wishes to his noble lord. Given what both Melas and Hiram recalled of the Lord Roland Ambleer it was more than likely that they would be dining with him this evening, so Dietrich took a moment before retiring and making ready to speak again with the innkeeper about their meal for the evening - common enough courtesy, but what was uncommon was him offering to cover an upgrade to their worthy coachman's room and board for the evening, so that neither that fellow nor the Dusty Road Inn's proprietors would feel financial sting from the events Dietrich felt sure would soon overtake them.

As expected, the Lord Ambleer invited our four nobles to his manor house for dinner that evening. The house was large and tastefully appointed, with parts rebuilt by dwarvish labor in the last century. The quartet entered via mahogany doors and handed their blades over to one of the servants, as per the custom of not wearing ones’ weapon inside a nobleman's house without freely given permission. They were soon escorted into the presence of Roland Ambleer, who looked the worse for his years. The lord invited all of them to sit and enjoy some coffee (a new experience for Hiram and Cybele, who did their best to hide their shock at the bitter taste), but Roland did not drink from the same pot - Melas surreptitiously craned his neck to see that their host was drinking a tisane of reddish herbs instead of the potent cafe. As the quartet introduced themselves Roland took their measure, with the encyclopedic memory behind his keen yes placing names to families. At Hiram's introduction he gave an almost imperceptible nod and the briefest of thin smiles, but the young actor thought the moment wrong to press the issue, so he merely nodded in the affirmative when their host asked if he was a musician.

The Lord Ambleer thanked them again for their assistance with his servant and after some small talk explained his circumstances: beset with a persistent condition he has developed a mixture of herbs that offers him some relief, but his servants were attacked on their trip back from Emirikol with his latest shipment. The account from his servant was lucid enough thanks to Hiram's curing of the man's concussion, but it seems clear that bandits have again invested Vulture Point. This time they have somehow trained the place's eponymous avians to attack, as the riders were ambushed by vultures that dropped stones on them from a great height while the gnomes kept their diminutive forms half hidden in the rock. Three of the four men, two of the horses and both mules were lost, and the surviving servant, Murthas, barely escaped with his life. Hiram manages to stifle the anecdote that came to mind: how the repeated infestations of gnomish and halfling bandits at Vulture Point are often used as a satirical device in the south to mock the ill-organized northerners, and instead forced down some more coffee with a look he hoped indicated great experience with the noble brew. While he could arrange a party to attack the place, Ambleer continued, his own condition prevents him from participating. In any event it would take several days to prepare, and his supply of the herbs runs short....

Melas fills the hanging silence quickly enough, exulting "A birding party? Capital! We can leave before first light I expect." The rest of the evening is spent in pleasant conversation, dining and making plans over Rolland's maps of Vulture Point, which does indeed resemble a vulture head. "What sort of force causes a mountain shaped like a vulture to be named after a vulture and populated by vultures?" Melas wondered aloud, and while Dietrich argued that it was the presence of the vultures that makes us see the oddly shaped rock in a certain light and name it for their presence, the Lord Ambleer supported the doctrine of signatures - that such a mountain would have to have vultures, summoned by its very shape and the order of the universe. Amidst the rustling of maps and the clatter of weapons and armor being laid out for those who lacked them for the morning a fine time was had by all, but given their early start even the full vigor of youth would be taxed by too late an hour, and Melas limited himself to splitting a bottle of wine with the Lady Floriane (who on her own then finished off some rather nice port, and woke the worse for it).

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Lore24 - Sudilitas: The Capital Guilds

Mar 18: The Capital Guilds are a relatively new alliance that practice an ancient organizing structure of guild control of various tasks. This turns out to be very helpful when it comes to training individual experts in skills and passing down knowledge. But they also integrate themselves into trade relationships, which can be helpful or frightening for the community.

Mar 19: The Capital Guilds are focused on maximizing the efficiency of action, using fiat currency to do this. I admire the efficiency on a small scale, but worry about the aggregation of power to a few based not on diplomacy, military rank, or democratic norms, but on the accumulation of imaginary resources.

Mar 20: Applicants to the Capital Guilds will be measured by various tests of skill, cunning, and phrenology (for those with skulls) and be sorted into their Merchant, Craftsman, or Guard classes. Craftsmen are then further apprenticed into various craft guilds. More common for those of you reading this are the merchant and guard classes who are sent on deals with outside communities. 

Mar 21: On these junkets the Guildmembers will be fulfilling existing arrangements (for which they will have been provided a script, or have an older Guilder as a leader); they are expected to support and complete their mission, and for the guards at the cost of their lives if need be. They will, by my reckoning, we be asked to take extraordinary risks. 

Mar 22: The guilds will rank the materials being delivered or returned with more value that the guards, certainly, and the merchants perhaps. Because the secret I impart to you now is this: you will never move up in the Guilds by fulfilling existing obligations. You must create new markets, new agreements, new deals. You must always be closing.

Mar 23: Most trips involve sending a single wagon or a small caravan to a location and back - all of which must be guarded - but canny Guildsmen will set up what they term triangle trades, and that is a sure route to guild status. And in so doing, like the Peace Brigade, they expand the soft power of Sudilitas, making literal client states. 

Mar 24: Still, most often the new applicants are sorted as guards, who are then traded cheaply (in my opinion) for the work of protecting objects traded for ephemera. And yes, I see the irony of a military man complaining about the creation of cannon fodder. But I can see the difference. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Combat Charts and Gamma World

Since I just convinced one of my two kids groups at the library to switch from 13th Age F20 Fantasy to Gamma World (because some of them are just insane little chaos agents and many of them keep wanting to make guns and bombs), it's timely that I'm looking at the early Gamma World combat charts and their weapon/attacks vs. armor/defense tables

Previously we had looked at AD&D and V&V, both of which have additional complexity in the inclusion of PC combat skill as determined by level. This isn't a factor in early Gamma World, where the weapon class and armor class are the determining factors, as characters start very capable and highly gear dependent. So rather than V&V where you cross reference attack and defense and then apply a modifier based on comparative levels, or AD&D where you compare defense and level with a modifier based on comparative weapons, here you're just comparing armor and weapon. 

With a whole separate table for what each armor class code means. Note that while shields are on here as changing an AC, they stop being relevant at AC 4 - the higher ACs are just too potent for the shield to matter. The other important thing to note is that in 1E Gamma World, Dexterity doesn't modify AC - the armor is the armor, DX doesn't help you dodge. This means the weapon vs. armor chart is unsullied. 

And then there's the weapon class table, which has some weapon classes that contain just a single weapon....

This gets very close to the implied physics model in V&V - Vibro Weapons (<cough> LIGHTSABERS!) have Weapon Class 4 and 5 pretty much all to themselves and if you look at the attack matrix they have an amazing ability to tear through armor. Stun Whips in WC 6 are all on their own, and can exactly detail how these weapons interact with armor, and show how good they are at hitting through low tech armor... as do robotic tentacles. You can see how the logic of this works inside the fight. 

Now, these chances to hit are modified by PS and DX for melee and ranged combat, and MIGHT be modified by level. Gamma World is interesting in that going up levels doesn't have a predetermined response. There are no classes in Gamma World, and leveling up gives you a random benefit that might be an increase in to hit, but might also be bonuses to characteristics or damage. Level means so little in Gamma World 1E it might almost not be there, aside from how the GM is reminded to make the chances for the PCs to accomplish things greater as they gain levels. It's such an Old School, high GM control, high trust environment.

But for our purposes it's the most pure of the weapon to armor chart concept. So much in Gamma World depends on the equipment you can scavenge, repair and use, and the combat charts back that up.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene III

As they exit the room Dietrich discussed the carvings the beast men left on the walls "it said that the key to the beast men's return was buried safely in here, and the best men seemed happy with that. Strange, yes?" Melas, apparently not listening, was focused on the damage the masked man had done to his weapon. "It's an excuse to buy a new one?" Hiram suggested.

"This is an heirloom; it has family bloodstains on it." Melas retorted as the hunchbacked man took point down the narrow passage, rapier out, with Hiram a few paces behind bearing a dramaturgically generated illuminant. Dietrich, still sore troubled by his earlier injury, took the rear, behind the Lady Floriane. The mystical glow revealed a trio of shadowed, silvery gray figures hovering menacingly in the corridor, and Melas halted to consider

Fortunate for him that he did, for it gave his half elven vision a chance to detect the nigh-invisible strands of spider-silk that stretched across the passage before blundering into them, and with a few moments of shuffling the quartet was able to light the webbing, which went up like dry lace and sent the bodies of our heroes unfortunate predecessors crashing to the ground. Thump, thump, thump...THUMP. That last was the falling of a most irate arachnid whose central body held the dimensions of a hunting hound. A second after landing the thing leaped again, alighting on Melas' torso and digging its mandibles into his neck!

With the strength-draining toxin coursing through him the sybaritic son of the empire felt his knees but not his will buckle as he fruitlessly tried to bring his sword into play. Hiram, forced to move back from Melas' collapse, was likewise hindered, and Dietrich's attempts to leap closer were blocked by both the narrow passage and Cybele's shoulders in a clumsy collision. Amidst the confusion that lady sorceress did manage to unleash both her serpentine soul and a blast of energy arcane, but neither Renee's venom nor the mystical burst prevented the spider from biting again, pumping more of the enervating venom into Cybele's newfound friend. In the end Melas was saved by his own hand, as he finally worked his rapier into a position where a thrust might avail him, and the spider, already reeling from Cybele's attack, was skewered. There were several minutes of confusion as Melas was set aright and pronounced himself well enough to stand as long as he had a wall for support.

They moved him into the small chamber past the spider's webs, which contained the bodies of still more fallen tomb raiders, all months if not years dead. Hiram was able to locate a pouch of pre-invasion gold coins, while Dietrich's keen eyes spied a pearl of some quality under the dirt. Once it was freed from the dust of the earth Hiram's sight, heightened at this moment by the power of dramaturgy, declared to be enchanted. Hiram, his youthful courage at last coming under some stress, stripped one of the corpses of its leather doublet that he might have additional protections from the threats that had nearly claimed two of his companions. Even with that he recommended that they rest for the remainder of the evening, and as one voice the group agreed to put this plan into action.

As they returned to the entrance Hiram saw the glow of magic coming from one of the cat-men's belts, so this too was secured to be researched by Cybele over the coming evening. In the long hall back to their campsite sounds echoes from ahead - the snufflings of large beasts and the sound of metal striking stone....

Undeterred by the noises ahead of them our four stalwart heroes pressed on, knowing that doing so would mean spending the evening in the company of the coach horses, which their coachman had brought into the room to get them out of the storm. Still, such hardships must be taken with good grace, and the quartet bedded down for the night, with Cybele, Hiram and their coachman taking turns watching the entrances and tending the fire. The only sign come morning of the room's earlier verminous intruders is the contented sensation in the belly of Renee, the lady Floriane's reptilian familiar.

With the morning the storm had lessened to the traditional north winter rain, and the coachman said that he should be able to get the carriage back on the road in minimal time. Dietrich spoke for them all when he told that worthy to not declare the repairs finished until he was certain, and the companions took the additional time to explore the other passages out of their campsite quarters. The coachman watched them head to the north with the surety that comes from noble upbringing and valorous hearts, and a few moments later heard a scream wrenched from the very puts of hell. The animals went wild, defying his best attempts to calm them, and to the coachman was most relieved when Hiram returned to assist him; the young gentleman was able to sing a calming song, accompanying himself on his hurdy-gurdy (the very paragon of instruments) that quickly restored the sense of equine equilibrium.

When the coachman plucked up the courage to ask what had occurred, Hiram informed him that a sarcophagus in the northern room was topped by a flying demon head, but that Dietrich had been able to skewer the thing through the eye as it charged and pin it to the wall with his rapier, that the others might make short work of it. If Hiram failed to mention how the demon's scream had incapacitated him in unnatural terror, well, vanity is a fault not know only in youth. Within a few moments the others had returned, informing Hiram that the stone casket did indeed have hinges (a point of some debate earlier) and that inside were both ashes and a ring of magical nature and extraordinary craftsmanship, its circle depicting a hand wielding a quill pen.

With that the nobles headed down the southern passage, and a few moments later Cybele emerged, asking in passing of the coachman were familiar with a symbol of a face with two bleeding closed fists in place of eyes. At his stammering certainty that no, he had never seen such a horrific thing she headed deeper into the Tor, returning bearing a small sledge, crow and spike recovered from the beast men's excavating equipment. Within a few moments the sound Hiram singing again, the sorts of songs that dwarves and men used when breaking up the stones for construction. Overlaid on that was the sound of a hammer striking a spike and the spike striking of stone, followed almost immediately by a loud exhalation of air and a yelp.

Whack - pffft! Ugh!         Whack - pffft! Ugh!         "Lay some cloaks down over it..." came Detrich's voice.

Whack - pffft! Ugh!         Then a brief pause, followed by Floriane exclaiming "that's it, someone else can try."

Whack - pffft! Ugh!         "That's broken it. Who puts that many needles in a chest trap?" muttered Hiram.

"Inside there's just a huge supply of needles and springs I expect..." came Melas' unmistakable baritone.

"No, it's another skull... and its circlet is magical," came Cybele's whisper, carried through the stone of the Tor to the coachman's sharp ears. With that the coachman figured the rest were things he ought not hear, and he returned outside to finish repairs...

After a few seconds the noblemen returned, with Cybele bearing a written description of the stone chest's lock, Hiram and Dietrich carrying the chest's contents (not just the skull, with pearl eyes and an enchanted generals circlet) and Melas looking only slightly the worse for wear from the venom still in his system. Within short order the items of interest were packed and made ready for their coachman to strap to the roof of his vehicle that the noblemen might return to the road to Emirikol, bearing some treasure and much mystery.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Lore 24 - Sudilitas: the Peace Brigade

Mar 11: The Peace Brigade are now the mortar that holds the city together - otherwise we rocks would bash each other to pieces. The Brigade are looking for a few good sentients who can multi-task between diplomacy, problem solving, engineering, and combat strategy, and they will accept anyone in their alliance. Floreaux are drawn to them more than any other alliance in the area. Civilization must be protected....

Mar 12: ...Whether it likes it or not. It is strange that the Ranks and the Brigade are often at odds given that both of us seek control over areas in order to protect their inhabitants, but the Ranks are open in their means and goals, while the Brigade are sometimes not. But of course, as an officer in the Ranks I would think that, while the Brigade would see as as conquerors and themselves as ambassadors. 

Mar 13: Still, they do good work. The most common action for applicants is just to learn the task of building and maintaining cities, Sudilitas in specific. This often seems tedious but the supplicants are also the eyes, ears, and hands of the governing counsel while they live and work in every corner of the city. 

Mar 14: When sent away from the city they have to negotiate the repair and defenses of Sudilitas' greater boundaries... i.e. the Seekers territory. This is not always the easiest as many Seekers bear grudges against the Brigade for bringing in the Restorationists. Still, walls and towers and defenses are maintained. 

Mar 15: Once the applicants have done one or the other of these tasks they will be  judged and if suitable send to one of the nearby settlements to evangelize for the Brigade's ethos and services. By design none of the people sent are citizens, so none have the Right of Allegiance. 

Mar 16: This evangelism is often solving the communities problems in external threats or architectural needs. But regardless of the state of the community the Brigade will always find a reason to be there; they will always find a problem to "solve", so the Brigades can prove themselves indispensable and more responsive than the local government. 

Mar 17: If there is a real and tangible threat greater than the applicants can handle, they send word back to Sudilitas and hold the line until more Brigade forces can get there with citizens who have the Right of Allegiance. From there these people become a Sudilitas (and Brigade) client state. But as a member of the Ranks I make this sound worse than perhaps it is. It is merely not my style of conquest. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (Mar 15)

This week's reads: 

Dogs in the Vineyard by D. Vincent Baker: My work on my Lore24 setting caused me to pull this one back out and give it a proper read. It's quite clever in a lot of ways - the worldbuilding is solid, the voice to the reader is open and generally explicable (though sometimes I had to double back to make sure of something), and the dice mechanic is neat. I think as with many experimental games it gets caught up in its own dice mechanical games where the mechanic itself becomes the game, but I'd need to play it to see. I know I've run into that problem myself sometimes. Still, by making the players think about storytelling and how they interact with the game differently, Baker did great work here. 

A Stroke of the Pen by Terry Pratchett: These are some? Most? All? of the  "lost" Pratchett stories that he had alluded to from his days as a newspaperman. And they're cute. They're not much more than that, and they don't try to be. They are made to raise a smile, maybe a chuckle, take up several column inches, and then you move on to read about trade negotiations or Cold War tensions. But in them you can see the flashes of brilliance and the bare bones of storytelling that will eventually grow into Sir Terry. If you're a fan of the man, these are worth the time. 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report March 14: Chicken Wings with Garlic and Sumac

So yes, I should have given you this one before the Super Bowl, giving the wing consumption per capita that day, but better late than never and these are good at any time. Also, very simple as either the body of a meal or as the perpetual sporting event home viewing snack food. Last night we used them for dinner and my teenager was making audible "mmmmmm" noises as she ate. 

Note that in the picture above I am serving with my wife's homemade sourdough. If your spouse does not make homemade sourdough, well, middle eastern food goes great with couscous! (Also served with carrot and celery sticks because... wings.)

Shopping wise you're going to need one of those big packages of wings from your megamart - mine ran 5 lbs. and had about 20 wings in it. (why yes, we have leftovers that will serve me well). You'll also need one onion, a quarter cup of olive oil, a garlic bulb for 4 crushed garlic cloves* and some ground sumac. That last took my hitting a couple of megamarts to find, but like last week the concept of the meal is the main thing: if you like your food hotter rather than sharper, you can swap out the sumac with zaatar spice mix, which has sumac in it and is easier to find. Some kosher or sea salt finishes tings up. 

(* The thing about garlic is that it is sharper the more you cut it, but it also loses pungency over time; if you don't want to bother with buying a garlic head to get cloves, just swap in a like amount of the pre-minced garlic in a jar I've been asking you to use. Garlic is always to taste, not likely to hurt anything here.)

So the first thing to do is prep the wings. For me this just meant cooking shears to take the nubblins - the little end of the wings bits you don't eat - off of each one. If you're serving these as a game day snack, you can also use a knife to cut each of the wings in half into their two bone flatty and one bone roundy parts, but it's not necessary. 

Next, the marinade: juice the lemon (go ahead! no need to zest it this time!) into the olive oil and add the garlic (again, 4 bulbs crushed flat with the blade of a knife, or 1-2 teaspoons minced) and 1 tablespoon of the sumac. If you make this and find you want a sharper flavor and redder coloring (as we did) boost that to 2 tablespoons. Whisk everything together with a fork.

The recipe I used called for putting all the wings in a shallow dish and then rubbing the marinade all over them. If you get creeped out by handling all that cold dead flesh, put all the wings in a zip lock bag, pour the marinade into that, seal it, and mix/rub everything together through that. Cover the dish and chuck the wings into the fridge for 2-2.5 hours. 

About 40 minutes before meal time, move your oven shelf the 2nd highest position (assuming heating element is on top...), put some aluminum foil down on a cookie sheet (or don't if you don't mind the clean up on the sheet....), put the cookie sheet in the oven and start heating it to 400F. 

20 minutes before mealtime, take the chicken out of the fridge, carefully get that very hot cookie sheet out, and pour the chicken onto it, moving it with tongs to get them evenly distributed. You don't want them laying across each other. Try to get as much marinade as you can onto the wings. Put the sheet back in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. 

You want the chicken to be between the brown that i have in the picture above and lightly charred. Check it at the 8 minute mark, and if one side is getting too dark for your taste, flip them over. 

While this is happening, cut up the carrots and celery. I don't think you need me to tell you how to do that. 

Once the chicken is done, sprinkle lightly with salt and put it on a serving platter. Pour out all the juices and marinade into a bowl and whisk quickly for people to spoon onto the wings or bread (or couscous!) as they desire. serve to a grateful family. Or to whoever is watching the game. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Armor Class and the V&V Combat Chart

Continuing the thoughts from yesterday - reiterating the idea of Armor Class as literally the class/type of armor that the number code indicated, which in AD&D was then cross referenced to the weapon to see how well the armor protected you from that kind of weapon so that crossbows could do comparatively little damage but gained significant bonuses to score a telling hit on lighter armored opponents and lances just eliminated the advantages of heavy armor - are what I'm calling Implied Physics Engines. 

In AD&D's case that was an attempt to get the combat in game to mirror the real world battlefield, but there were so many variables to the roll - character level is cross referenced with armor for base chance to hit, then weapon is cross referenced with armor for modifier to that chance, then Strength/Dexterity/Magic modifier are added - that the system was too cumbersome and the weapon to armor table got chucked 5 times out of 6. 

But in Villains & Vigilantes, the attack type to defense type is central to the game, and it really is a joy. All the attack types, from HTH combat to Disintegration Ray and everything in between, has a base attack number. If you roll that number or less, your attack intersects with where the opponents body is. HOWEVER, you also cross reference the attack type with the defense type for the number to see if that intersection DOES ANYTHING. Yes, you rolled well enough to hit, but you also hit a robot, and the robot can just shrug it off because robot. Or the target is non-corporeal and the attack just passes through them. 

As with D&D the stacking of bonuses starts to confuse things: "do modifiers for agility, abilities, and level vs level come before or after the defense?" was a common question. The rules clearly say before but this mean that Cyclops with his base 16 Power Blast attack has 0 chance to hit Ariel while she's phasing (Non-corporeality drops Power Blast from 16 to 0), a punk with a club will do so 15% of the time (club adds +2 to hit) and Shang Chi with his Natural Weaponry and Heightened Expertise stacked on his Heightened Agility does so probably 55% of the time. That's messed up, and its a place we will be tweaking V&V later. 

(The 1st Edition V&V rules were even more of a mess, where each power had a % chance listed, but could be reduced by up to 5 defenses. You added up the % for each of the up to 5 defenses, using the baseline for each time the person didn't have 5 defenses, to get the chance to hit. The math was intense, and this is a rare case where the second edition of a game made the rule _less_ granular... and thank heavens for that!)

While there have always been issues with these sorts of weapon vs armor or attack type vs defense class charts, I like them because of the implicit physics. Lances will tear through armor. Non-Corporality protects you from power blasts but not force fields. The game world has an inherent logic built into it at the combat level. The trick is finding a way to make it work that isn't too top-heavy. (And it's interesting that D&D does NONE of this for energy types, because spell had a totally different set of combat rules.)

Next time we see this for V&V I'll be going through several ways I have modified the rulebook, but the time time we see this at all it'll be looking at it in Gamma World. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Thinking About Armor Class

As things gear back up for my B/X game I was having more thoughts on Armor Class , where it came from, and how to use it. 

Right there in the title we're in to old wargame design, where the Class is a number or letter code to let you know a) what the thickness of warship armor was and b) what column to cross reference on to see if a hit occurred. D&D and other F20 games just absorbed that even as the linkage between the Armor's Class and the chance to be hit attenuated. 13th Age even makes a joke of it, saying that it should be Armor Defense to go along with Physical Defense and Mental Defense, but they are traditionalists.

Now, I know almost no one used the weapons vs. armor tables in AD&D. I know I didn't... but I am a fan, because I love the implied physics engine. (Something you'll see more of in my V&V natter later; there's a similar one in early Gamma World.) It was just too complicated because there were too many weapons and too many armors and Armor Class lost all meaning because the AC on your sheet wasn't the Armor Class on the chart, which was just your armor, or maybe armor and shield (which also got weird because AC 7 could be Studded Leather or Leather and Shield, which doesn't make much sense on how weapons interact with the armor). 

So lets strip this down to B/X levels and my own "get the d20 roll to match 1 in 6 chances" ethos. There are 5 "Armor Classes", that is to say, broad classes of armor.

  1. None: This is everything from nudity to general clothing. Unless the clothes are constructed with the goal of blocking weapons, your Armor Class is "None". 
    1. For animals, this is light fur; everything from cats to dogs to cows and horses are Armor Class "None" 
    2. This gives a bonus on stealth and physical action. 
    3. An average opponent hits you 4 times in 6. (8+ on d20)
  2. Leather: This is any sort of animal products being used to protect the bulk of your body, with or without some metal studding, of which there are a million variations. 
    1. For animals this is heavy furs and moderately thick hides, such as wolves and bears. 
    2. This gives you a bonus on stealth and no penalty on physical action.
    3. An an average opponent hits you 3 times in 6. (11+ on d20)
  3. Chain: This intermediate stage is, for humans, interlocking chains covering at least your torso backed with some leather or hard metal in form of greaves, bracers, etc. 
    1. For animals this is rhinoceros and elephants, or large lizards where the scales approximate chain, or insects with basic exoskeletons.
    2. This gives you no bonus to stealth and a minor penalty on physical action if you don't have specialized training. 
    3. An average opponent hits you 2 times in 6. (14+ on d20)
  4. Plate: This is classic conception of "Knight" or "Royal Guard", where the bulk of the body is covered with solid metal backed by chain mail. 
    1. For animals we're now talking giant insects with natural carapaces, younger dragons, and other thing that have that level of protection. 
    2. It gives you a minor penalty to stealth and a major penalty to physical action which is reduced to minor by training. 
    3. An average opponent hits you 1 time in 6 (17+ on d20)
  5. Adamant: This final category is for magical plate armor. It is nigh impermeable. 
    1. For animals this is elder dragonscale, or extraplanar creatures
    2. It gives you a major penalty to stealth and and a minor penalty on physical action if you don't have specialized training.
    3. An average opponent almost never hits you (20 on d20)

This seems self explanatory, and lends itself easily to naturalism: lots of animals will have Armor Class None or Leather, you can easily eyeball threats as they come up. Now... how much complexity do you want to add? 

Shields: Ugh, I love them conceptually, I hate the idea of of them messing with how weapons interact with the armor, and I'm meh on having them affect the number needed to hit you. So what to do with them? 

  1. In my current rules hacks, Fighters gain bonuses in combat based on their raw d20 rolls, as per 13th Age. Rolls of 1-7 give them an informational or defensive bonus, rolls of 17+ give them an attack bonus, determined by what style they're fighting with. 
    1. Weapon and Shield is already a style here, so there's already a mechanical reason for fighters to have a shield - fighters want to unlock those benefits
    2. I can add a 1-7 benefit that is only accessible for shield carriers, to give another reason to carry them which feels diegetic. 
    3. The problem is that these are Fighter only benefits, but Magic Users and Rogues don't use them. So why do Cleric carry shields? Cleric is a pain because it's such an amalgamation - it's scholarly magic and divine channeling and armor using combat - that it's hard to split apart. Since I'm already planning to make the current 'Cleric' a multi-class off the scholarly magic class and the divine channeling class, the divine channeling class needs some sort of shield bonus. 
  2. There's a lovely rule in Feng Shui section edition for bulletproof vests where they don't reduce damage or change your chance to hit, but give you a chance to pop back up from an otherwise fatal wound. Likewise, the Magic Shield in 13th Age just give you more Hit Points. 
    1. A similar to Feng Shui rule here, where the Shield lets you evade death, might be helpful. But maybe too helpful? Or too complex? The Shield let you eliminate the damage from one attack per fight, or two attacks if you let the shield break and renders it unusable for later fights? That would work for Fighters and "Prophets"
    2. A similar to 13th Age rule might also work, where carrying a shield just gives you 1.5*level more HP, but how does that effect healing. Given my own healing rules are idiosyncratic that's less of a concern as it hard to do in dungeon healing. 

Now what about Dexterity Modifier? That also changes the "to be hit" threshold of your Armor Class. That's easier. Dex Mod adds to your Hit Points, just like Constitution. Hit Points are, to me, "Don't Get Hit" points, the reserve that turns what would have been a fight ending hit into a lesser one. The pool is an indicator of your tricks and skills that minimize attacks, but you get tired and run out of tricks eventually. Constitution modifiers show how much pain you can take that might put other people out of a fight. Dexterity shows how much faster you are than other people and gives you a deeper bag of tricks. Make that change and the rules for Armor get a lot easier because it's not BOTH dodging and blocking, It's just blocking. Dodging is back into HP. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene II

Dietrich and Melas stepped forward into the torch lit room, with Hiram and Cybele directly behind them. The quartet quickly took in the scene: the altar-with-chains in the room's center, a large crate to the right, two smaller ones to the left, a large hole in the ceiling apparently excavated to the surface, the monotonous clatter or rain on the altar rolling away in the blood grooves across the floor, the four ropes - two loose, two taught - hanging extending down from the hole, the torches braced on the floor out of the rain. "So, not the wine cellar then? I'd had hopes" Melas muttered.

Only Dietrich was able to make out the shadowy shapes behind the altar and larger crate, and yelled out, "Come out! Those are not very good hiding places."

The hiders apparently took umbrage at this, rising and throwing javelins with practiced motions; Melas was able to dodge the one aimed at him but Dietrich was momentarily shocked by the felinoid nature of their assailants' faces - cat-man! The javelin pierced his clothing and scraped across a rib, opening a long gash in his side. Less than a finger's breadth in either direction and the wound would most assuredly have been fatal! Hiram wasted no time in providing a counter-stroke, flicking his hand up and letting fly a palmed throwing dart that took Dietrich's assailant in the throat; the beast-man fell with a gurgle and his blood joined the rain washing away in the gutter. Melas fired his crossbow at his attacker, but his aim was low and it merely splintered the wood on the crate.

At this moment Dietrich proved his mettle, for wounded as he was, he nonetheless sprinted, drew and leapt, landing atop the crate and piercing the cat-man's shoulder with an expert thrust. The beast was reaching for his blade when the lady Floriane ended the encounter with a word - an arcane syllable that sparked a bolt of light from her hand to the furred brow between slit eyes, laying the cat man out stone dead.

A quick exploration of the room followed. It seemed obvious to all that the beast men were looting the tomb, but for how long had they been doing so? The shaft extended at least thirty feet into the ruins of the tower, and so could not have been dug overnight. Cybele lowered her head into her blouse and queries "are you well in there?" Causing the men to wonder what madness was this (Tom: she has a chaos armpit with a mouth in it? The inquisition will notice that!; Jim: It's not often you see a woman talking to her own breasts like that) before her familiar, a viper named Renee, emerged with a hiss. The ophidian part of the Lady Floriane slithered up one of the ropes, confirming that this was indeed a night not fit for man or beast - at least not in the tower above.

Hiram, meanwhile, recalled his awareness of the stage to glance down the room's other passage and see it extend at least another 40 paces, with an all but obscured side corridor to the south at about two thirds of that length. With Melas assistance he then opened the largest of the three crates, with the hunchbacked man chucking and saying "likely a pile of skulls!" Instead it contained loose packed dirt to act as a cushion for five urns. Hiram produced yet another anecdote, informing his friends that the chaos beasts practiced fire burial (rather than giving their dead to the sea, as is proper) and identifying the pictographs around the urn as being the life highlights of those whose ashes they contained. With a kick he opened one of the smaller chests - that one contained the skulls! - and while Melas had only been joking Hiram was serious indeed, as these were the skulls of the beast men's most worthy foes, taken to insure that they would not be revived or even reborn.

Certain that something foul was afoot here, the nobles decided to travel further in; Melas bound Dietrich's wound and then followed Hiram - a young actor taking the lead in his most challenging role yet.

Eschewing the cramped passage to his right, and lamenting the loss of an option to his left, where a falling block of stone had closed a separate passage some months ago at the least, Hiram continued straight down the passage until it opened into a room much like the one they left - same size, same central stone altar - but lacking any other exits and containing the ursine body of a bear-man lying motionless on the altar. Unable to tell if the figure was alive or dead from the entry Hiram took several cautious steps forward and focused his senses. It was clear that the bear man was dead from the wounds on his body, and the young actor's ears filtered out the sound of his own heartbeat and breath to find the breathing of Melas (slightly labored), Dietrich (disciplined and steady), Cybele (light and unaffected)... and one other person, nervous and shallow.

Hiram rotated quickly, drawing his blade and stepping back to the altar, hoping that if the figure were behind him his allies would spot him, but knowing only he could search the other corners of the room. At this motion Melas raised his crossbow to fire where Hiram might indicate, and Hiram spotted a figure pressed against the wall to Melas' left. His yell and throw were simultaneous, as were the figure's dodge and upward swipe with his long sword that snapping the string of Melas' crossbow and expending the bolt harmlessly into the room.

The figure continued his motion, moving to face Melas, Cybele and Dietrich outside of sword reach, leaving his back to Hiram. Dietrich leapt to the right, leaving the figure blocked on three sides. Melas considered swinging the crossbow as a club (Tom: his ancestors would understand - the purpose of heirloom weapons is to kill people), but reconsidered: the man had not attacked when he might, and moved with surety to a weaker position... indicating some gentility and great confidence. His mismatched eyes took in the man before him; a half elf by the eyebrows, piercing green eyes and tanned skin, and while the rest was hidden by a scarf, large hat and night black clothing Melas was certain he would know him, mask or no, when they next met.

Cybele prepared a spell of offense, leaving it hanging in the air, and queried the figure as to his name. "I'm afraid I cannot oblige at this time; please stand aside, gentle folk so that I might leave in peace." Hiram was still considering what to do when the figure leapt forward, forcing Melas to either crash into him or step aside and taking the brunt of the Lady Floriane's arcane attack (which went off by instinct rather than intent) with a grimace. Melas chose to let the man depart, and they heard him flee down the tunnel, then the sound of rope and counterweight working - the man must have grabbed one of the taught ropes, sliced it and rode to the roof as the weight fell. (Tom: That probably would have looked really impressive if any of us had been watching.)

Coming up with little of certainty about the masked man they scouted out the room, finding the story of the trapped beast-men leaders carved in pictograms on the walls, and the body having been already stripped of valuables, including its heart. There had been several items cut loose from the bear-mans belt, rings removed from his fingers, an amulet snapped from his neck and so on. "I took him for a gentleman, but it seems he was a common tomb robber. Is there any treasure left?" Melas asked. The only item of value remaining was a greatsword strapped under the body, barely visible beneath the bear-man's bulk.

Ultimately deciding that it could be a valuable clue... and valuable... Cybele strained her highly trained muscles and pulled it free, revealing a very fine blade indeed. "This ought to be worth enough to keep me alive for a few months more," the Lady Floriane mutters, hissing "damnable halflings." "You're being threatened by halflings? Melas gapes. "How embarrassing." There is another effort to roll the body off the altar and reclaim the sword's sheath, and both Hiram and Dietrich take a moment to check over the altar to see if there is any more evidence of what was occurring here. Alas, there was not, and so the quartet of nobles exits, deciding the take the cramped southerly passage in hopes of finding out more...

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Lore24 - Sudilitas: The Seekers

Mar 4: The Seekers outside the city have the support of those who still remain in Sudilitas boundaries... and its politic. It's a strange arrangement. Those in Sudilitas and partaking of its technology sending their petitioners to aid their (mostly Moreaux) brethren who abide by the more technophobic (and humanophobic) examples of that creed away from Sidilitas, but live under our aegis. 

Mar 5: I am of two minds on this arrangement. As a Moreaux i feel for their fear of the Restorationists and the quiet implication of our return to servitude. As a medical scientist I cannot share their position on Ancient technology. In the end, out of solidarity, I chose them as my third Patron for citizenship, which let me see close up what they ask of their applicants. 

Mar 6: The easiest are when the distant Seekers feel they face threats from Flora or Fauna that the Ranks cannot spare resources to hunt or track. Combat-ready residents might find themselves tasked to find such threats to the crops and herds and deal with them - diplomatically if the threat is a sophant, or violently if not.

Mar 7: Next easiest is when the Seekers dig up or stumble across Ancient remnants. The nature of their creed means when they do locate something they will have an applicant resolve the issue. Exactly what this means varies wildly, but the stiff backs of the Seekers means they seldom continence Restoratonists on their lands; the applicants must resolve it alone. 

Mar 8: Most common is for the Seekers to simply appoint the applicants as being a sort of Shire Reeve for a period - from 3 moons to 13, depending on which Shire - and use their status as an outside arbiter to resolve issues inside the community. The applicants become impartial reviewers and scapegoats for all manner of social conflicts, with the promise of support should they do well. 

Mar 9: For city folk thinking they will just have to plant crops for a year without technology, leaning that they are tasked with resolving the issue of the corpse of a long missing Seeker tilled up in a field, or to placate a divorce dispute that would sunder a community, or to reconcile wayward children with their parents when all are a found family of different genotypes... it is a challenge. I know it was for me.

Mar 10: It is not impossible for the Seekers still in the city, though with such a narrow commitment to the anti-technology creed it is a stretch to call them that - will use the applicant on local matters. But since inside Sudilitas the Ranks handle law enforcement, the Restorationists would deal with Ancient finds, and the Brigadiers manage household counseling. Such requests would be secret, and almost certainly criminal....

Friday, March 8, 2024

Friday Book Recommendations (Mar 8)

_All Star Superman_ by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely: The recent 'Discourse' around the upcoming superman movie made me pull this gem out to reread. I've never been an enormous fan of Quitely's artwork, but it works here, bringing a post 2000 sensibility to this re-presentation of everything that made the Silver Age Superman delightful: genius criminal Lex Luthor; Lois Lane being fought over by rival extradimensional strongmen' Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Pal kicking ass and taking names; Bizarro World; Daily Planet bullpen hijinks; Intelligence; decency; compassion. But since it's a closed off story they are allowed to make these things grow and change and die and be reborn. 

In my unvarnished opinion, people who think that Superman needs to be more 'violet' and 'gritty' are operating at the level of teenagers, loving what they loved as children but being afraid of being seen as children, they have to mold that thing into something "adult", but their definition of "adult" is limited to "things not allowed for children". But old C.S. Lewis said it best: 

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This is a very good Superman story. You should read it.  

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report March 7: Greek Branzino

 You may ask yourself "why does Brian do so much chicken cooking" and the answer is "because it's easy" but the other answer is "my beloved wife is a monster who doesn't like fish". This means the fish recipes only get trotted out for special occasions, which is a shame because they are easy and tasty. Like this one! 

The recipe for this one comes from here and here, but I do want to break it down for you. 

You're going to need one or two whole fish at about the 1 lb. level, but have the fishmonger clean and scale it for you. These things might look intimidating if you haven't done this before but you'll be fine. Trust me. The recipe called for branzino but you can substitute striped bass, black sea bass, flounder, or red snapper. Lots of options. 

I want to focus on the cooking the fish part. Set the oven 20 400F, with a rack in the center and another closer to the top. Pat down the fish, cut slits on both sides. Rub the surface of the fish, and the cavity with salt and pepper, getting the seasoning into the slits you just cut. Fill the interior with sliced lemon and onion (1/2 of each for each fish) and place on cookie sheet to roast. Roast for 5 minutes. Then flip them with a spatula and roast for another 5-7 minutes. Move the cookie sheet to the top rack and broil until skin starts to char, 3-4 minutes. 

THAT'S IT. Flipping the fsh can be intimidating but take two spatulas and get it done. It doesn't have to look perfect and just like that, the fish is ready to eat. Everything else is gravy. 

OK, not gravy, but you get the idea. 

Now, for this recipe you then drizzle some Greek lemon/olive oil dressing over it, add some halved tomatoes that have a pinch of salt on them and some dill. I included a link to the ladolemono dressing recipe but you know what else works? This bad boy right here. The dressing is simple to make, I recommend doing it, but you don't need to. 

That being said, you don't need to use that dressing - pretty much any oil and herb based dressing will work, especially if you skip the dill (which has a distinctive taste... works well with fish, not for everyone). Or you can stick half the dill into the fish before it roasts. Or add the tomatoes to the sheet pan when you broil it to change their flavor. 

The trick is to a) not be afraid of the whole fish and b) serve to a grateful family. 

Oh, you know what goes really well with Greek fish? Couscous. You know what to do. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance - Physical Maximums

Getting to this in a roundabout way, but it's time to look at Strength (and to a lesser extent, Endurance and Agility), Carrying Capacity and Movement. Last week I laid out a calculation for resources that was mirroring the calculation for carrying capacity, albeit with a tweak. Time to bring that back around to its original use. 

V&V may be unique for how much it uses your Basic Characteristics: they aren't just things that give bonuses to die rolls and let you abstract stuff, they run through all of the game: they directly calculate your hit points, some of them are added to determine power score and movement, they determine the ranges of your super powers, and strength and endurance directly calculate your carrying capacity. 

The math is ((Strength/10)^3+(Endurance/10))*Weight/2

If you have a 10 Strength and Endurance you can lift you weight. If you have a 20 Strength and a 20 Endurance then you can lift 5 times your weight, which is practical human maximum for people of average size. This gets tricky for real world comparisons the multiplier droops a bit when people get bigger as the current deadlift record hold (Danny Grigsby, July 2022, 1078 lbs) weighs 268, so at 5 times weight he should be lifting 1340. By rules as writ he has a Strength of 19 assuming his Endurance is a mere 10. Ay lower weight classes the roughly 5 times weight is surprisingly accurate for a deadlift maximum. 

Which means anyone with Strength 21+ is superhuman. You can play it that way, buuuuut, well since the rules do ground themselves in reality so well lets tweak this a bit. 

If we change the calculation to this 


only taking the square of the Strength score rather than the cube, you can push the 5 times your weight number up to Strength 28. That gives us a nice wide band of scores for non-powered heroes, those getting Heightened Strength A with its +2d10 bonus, to play around in. (Mr. Grigby would now have a Strength of 26 and a 14 Endurance, very respectable). This is my preferred method. 

Now you may be saying "Brian, but V&V already has a problem with getting people to Thor levels of strength, and this makes it worse!" Well, yes. But the solution there is tweaking the Heightened Strength Power. For people who have Heightened Strength from a skill, it comes with a bonus power that gives them an advantage on physical abilities to compensate for losing the carrying capacity. For people with Power-based strength enhancement (even if its a Heightened Strength A from Animal Plant powers or other similar increases), they keep the original capacity formula. (More on this another day.)

Does this mean that two characters with the same Strength score have different carrying capacities? Yes, and I'm ok with that. Because it helps play into V&V strength of being so grounded in the real world, and in the basic characteristics. Someone whose spider powers giving them a Strength of 28 and someone whose super training giving them the same score will have the same Hit Points, Movement Rate, and Power Score, but Spider-Boy will be able to lift more while Skill-Girl will have a bonus power of the players choosing. 

So what does this mean for maximum human scores? The other thing to look at is land speed. This gets complicated because the Speed Bonus skill can also factor in, and there's the question of how long and whatnot

Speed is harder to measure, in part because there are inherent endurance issues in real world speed and in part because game mechanics use 3 stats to measure speed. To best measure things I'm using not just sprints but also medium races (1-2 miles), marathons and steeplechases (which is probably the best measure of super-hero combat area speeds). 

current human maximums are 

Marathon: 13 mph, 57"

Steeplechase: 14 mph, 62"

2 mile: 15 mph, 66"

1 mile: 16 mph, 71"

400m: 20 mph, 88"

100m: 23 mph, 101"

People have clocked Usain Bolt at part of a race at 27 mph, or 119"

Now, having a 28 (human maximum) in Strength, Endurance and Agility gets you to 84" which is just a hair off the 400m world record. 

Meanwhile these people claim that humans can conceivably reach 40 mph with our stride and musculature. That's our extreme outside at 176", which with a 100" Speed Bonus and a 25 in each stat. This all looks good for a maximum of 28 in the physical stats. 

Now, does Usain Bolt really have a 28 in each stat. probably not. But he does have a hella strength score in V&V terms, because it's musculature in proportion to physical size and there doesn't look like a lot of damn body fat on that frame. He's probably about a 17 Strength, 26 Endurance in this system. Alas no one on the internet can give me Bolt's deadweight lift....

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene I

On a dark afternoon, with just a sliver of sun waxing in the sky, the Eastern Road to Emirikol is lashed with rain - the perpetual winter rain had grown over the last four or five hours into an outright tempest that even a skilled coachman of Imperial Service would have problems navigating. Indeed, did have problems, as the coachman was forced to slow the horses and, with much professional chagrin, inform his four noble passengers that they would not be making the Bluestone Inn as scheduled, but he would continue to drive through the night if need be to reach their destination. That stalwart worthy then indicated to is charges that beneath the left rear seat were provisions laid in against such an eventuality so that their lordships might not miss dinner.

With a gesture of apology to the one lady in the coach - the fair Cybele Floriane, whose rough clothing was outshined by her gracious manner and gave evidence that to be noble means more than simply being with funds - Melas Belisca shifted his overlong arms and hunched back with unexpected dexterity to extricate the provender, and then turned his eye to the contents: cold chicken and wine. His epicurean experience was most immediately evident with the speed and grace of the corks' extraction and the pouring of the contents to his road company of the last several days - the lady first, of course, and then to Hiram Desaud - a man of few years but many an anecdote - then Dietrich von Eisenwald, whose dancing smile and eyes display a wit as dry as any wine - before pouring for himself. "I've drunk from this vineyard before; the Bordeaux is pleasing, but don't expect too much."

Before the elixir can be sampled, however, there is a horrendous lurch and crash that Dietrich correctly surmises is the axel, (Tom: The finest in German Wine and French Engineering) and Cybele is just able to discern their left rear wheel bounding off into the darkness. "Well, that's spilled the wine then," bemoans a now doused Hiram - a statement made without reckoning on Dietrich's unparalleled reflexes and balance that kept both his and the lady's glasses upright (with just a hint of their hands touching), nor on the vast experience Melas has on protecting his spirits. With a quirk of a smile at his ill luck Hiram is doused again as the now-angled widow cover gives way, exposing all in the carriage to the elements. The door opens an instant later as their coachman bows to them in the darkness.

"My lordships and lady, I regret to inform you that we shall make no further distance this evening. Yonder hill his Hightower Tor, and with your permission I shall scout about it to locate a space in the lee where you might seek more effective shelter." Permission is of course given, and Cybele took the opportunity to show her athletic nature by exiting the coach unattended to search, fruitlessly, for the missing wheel. (For the reader's knowledge, the wheel rolled some twenty yards away before come to a halt in a deep puddle, so her inability to locate it should not be seen as a failing in the keenness of Lady Floriane's vision, which was quite keen indeed.)

Inside the carriage Hiram produced yet another anecdote to enlighten and edify his friends: "Hightower Tor is one of the main road marks to Emirikol; we are but a few days away. The tower and crypts itself predates the Chaos invasion, but it was defiled by those forces upon their arrival and ultimately became their site of their last stand against the forces of the Empire. Indeed, in act five, scene three of the Marquis of Order the Imperial General ordered a boulder rolled into place before the entrance, preferring to seal in the chaos beasts rather than lose more men fighting them. The author took some liberties with the final scenes of the chaos beats slaughtering each other, locked in the dark. According to that work there is also a headless demon locked within."

Melas took this information into careful consideration with a sip of wine. "So our plan is to shelter in the ruins of a haunted tower in the middle of winter storm miles from civilization? Capital!"

With that their coachman returned, and that worthy informed them that he had found a cave that would do for a shelter, and he would get their luggage. Dietrich and Melas both, with the air of true gentleman and pragmatists, said that the luggage could wait, and the coachman should instead bring along the carriages tarp that he might secure it across the cave to produce a more secure shelter. Melas also collected his heavy crossbow, leaving his greatsword secured to the carriage. After all, what could happen?

Our four stalwart (and now rather damp and cold) nobles worked their way up the hill to the cave located by their coachman; when they arrived both Dietrich and Melas noticed the rubble strewn around the entrance, as if a large boulder had just recently been sundered by lightning. The coachman had raced ahead of them and thus the tarp was already in place, allowing them to step into the relative comfort of the 'cave' - in fact a rectangular room with a finished floor and doors on all walls. Dietrich eyed the coachman as that worthy added wood to the fire and inquired "City boy, are you?"

Intrigued, Cybele took a brand from the fire and circumnavigated the room. Hiram took a different route, drawing upon the secret arts of draumaturgy to make himself 'aware of the stage'. He was able to confirm the lady Floriane's assessment that the doors were stout and locked but not warped by the elements, but he kept to himself the absence of any concealed passages, trap doors or other obscurements. (Brian: we are giving Detect Secret Doors a formidable power boost). Comfortable in their security they rejoined Melas, who was securing his comfort with the wine and the fire. Being a gentleman, he had saved enough for the others, and the bottle was passed around as assessments of their situation were made. The storm grew more insistent outside, with flashes visible around the edge of the tarp followed by blasts of thunder that loosed dust from the ceiling. Finally, the flash and the sound struck simultaneously followed by the crash of wood on stone as all three doorways fell in! Worse still, from the north came a gush of water and a flood of small, wet vermin - Rats!

"Well, I certainly shan't be tipping our coachman if he lacks the sense to clear the cave of vermin beforehand," muttered Melas as the panicked creatures advanced. Not wanting contact with the plague bearing and generally foul beasts the nobles moved clear of the rodents rush; the creatures broke for the outside, and when faced with the storm ran back into the room and through the door to south. Once the excitement had died down - and once Dietrich, ever the pragmatist, had confirmed that the water flow would not endanger their fire - the quartet examined the passage to the east, which had at least the advantage of not previously or currently containing vermin. Dietrich's sharp ears caught the sound of movement some distance down the long passage.

"Who's there? Announce Yourselves!" he yelled, knowing that with the passages width, length and their torch taking the individuals by surprise would be nigh impossible as well as ill mannered. In the echo of his cry, the aforementioned keen ears picked up another sound he was well familiar with... that of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.

He communicated this to his comrades, and Melas readied his heavy crossbow before he and Dietrich started down the passage, Hiram and Cybele directly behind.

"Why did you think to pack a crossbow?" Hiram asked as he prepared and concealed his own weapon.

"It's a family heirloom. My Aunt Matilda committed suicide with it." Melas responded with hushed tones as they neared the end of the passage and the torch lit room beyond...