Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Deverry Cycle

I've been reading the last four books of the Deverry Cycle recently and its really hammered home something I've already know about myself as a reader. I really don't like Multiple Points of View. And parallel stories even more so.So Much so that I've actually been skimming or skipping entire sections until the action gets back to the characters I actually care about. More specifically the characters I'm interested in are the original four. To me at least all the others are just a distractions.

Edit: Now that I've finished I'm a little disappointing. In this set of Books Branna and Neb, the current incarnations of Jill and Nyven really don't do much. Indeed they spend most of the story sitting on the sidelines. The problem I think is that there are no less then five experienced Dweomer masters plus two other novices. Meaning that Neb and Branna are mostly over shadowed throughout the story.

Seeing as the end of the story conveniently gets most of the more experienced masters out of the way, I'm hoping we see another story where Branna and Neb get to live up to their potential a little more. Sadly the afterward to the Silver Mage says that Kerr has no plans to write more about these characters.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


In David Brin's "Uplift War" there is a pivotal chapter where the Tymbrimi Teenager Athaclena is pondering her feelings for the human Robert Oneagle. She thinks she may be in love with him, but they are different species, and it could never work. That is unless she completely changes herself and becomes human, an action that she is capable of. She also knows that it will be irreversible. Being rather rational for a Teenager Athaclena eventually comes to the conclusion that doing this for a boy is a really really bad Idea and that the most they can be is comrades in arms. This chapter probably makes Atheclena a very good role model, but completely ruins the romantic subplot of the book.  And really as the reader I was disappointed by Athaclena's rational deliberation, I wanted to see her fall head over heals and do something stupid, the chips fall where they may.

And this is exactly the point where "romantic" focal characters Like Bella Swan and Arial (AKA the little mermaid) do the stupid thing and decide yes I will change everything about myself for my handsome prince. Granted that at least in the original version of the Little mermaid things don't work out so well, it is a cautionary tale and Arial is punished for this moment of irrationality.  Bella, like the Disney version of Arial, however gets her happily ever after. What we have here is not a role model but a cautionary tale that has been subverted with a happy ending.

There is also another important detail David Brin can allow Athaclena to make the sensible choice because it is not what the book is about. You could remove this subplot entirely and still have a coherent story. Apply the same thing to Twilight and you wouldn't have a story. Bella's discovery that vampires are real followed by her quest to become one is what the story is about.

Feminist cirques of twilight tend to complain a lot about how it encourages traditional gender roles. To some extent I have to say that it does. But making the story do otherwise would really feel false. Firstly we are in small town USA, the fact that there are more old fashioned ideas of gender are somewhat expected.  Secondly Most of the important female characters are vampires. They where literally born in another age, mostly in an Age which had much stronger ideas of gender roles. From where I sit the real issue is not that Bella does not make choices but that many feminists do not agree with the choices that she makes.

Edward and Bella's relationship also gets a lot of flack. To this I would say that yea, Edward does start out as a rather messed up character. Hay he is a guilt ridden vampire who has been brooding for 90 years, he has issues. Much of this is based on highlighting things Edward says through the books. Highlighted they do seem to support the argument. But do they still support the argument in context? Very early on Bella complains that the students at Falks High School seem to not get sarcasm. And really there later conversations with Edward are loaded with it, and both of them seem to be aware of this, and playing with it.

While Edwards obsession with keeping Bella safe does go over the top repeatedly, It is also thwarted repeatedly. Generally Bella will find a way to go and do what she intended to do any way. Yes in the real world breaking up with him and getting a restraining order if necessary would have been a much more sensible choice. But we are not in the real world here, but in a fantasy world where the dangers that Edward sees are real dangers and not irrational fears.

More importantly About half way through the 3rd book Edward has his epiphany and starts treating Bella as more of an equal. By this stage he know that he really can't stop her doing whatever she has set her mind on doing, and no longer tries to do so. He has finally resolved a character flaw. After that their relationship is carefully negotiated, and both get some of what they wanted from it.

However there is one Feminist  Critique of the Twilight saga that I do agree with. The Warewolf imprinting on children thing is very disturbing. I would note that the creepiness factor does come up in the story several times, and it does get to the point where the characters are protesting too much. In any case any pretense that this isn't an instance of Wife Husbandry is pretty well undone in Breaking Dawn when Jacob gives Renesmee the Quileute version of a promise ring. But despite this it still seems to fit the fictional world that it takes place in. It is a fictional element in a fictional story about a fictional race that is not quite human. Most readers will realize this and know that it was not intended to apply to anything in the real world.

All that out of the way, What do I think of the writing. Occasionally it does drag on a bit. But this actually makes it feel more authentic. We are in the head of a girl who likes reading classic English literature. She has read Wuthering Heights so many times that the binding is almost falling apart. The flowery delivery fits, and at the end of the day I liked it. Though I will admit to Breaking Dawn getting less and less satisfying the more I think about it. The following alternative conclusion (taken from this amazon review, does indeed sound like a much better story:

Bella would have actually wanted to marry Edward. She would have cared about the decorations and Alice would have developed into a real sister, and not some overblown party planner. There would have been real sex - not smutty, but real, nonetheless. Pregnancy would have disappeared. Bella would have had to make the choice - between having babies and having Edward. She would have been cruel to be kind and given Jacob his freedom. Jacob would have grown and gotten over her, and moved on and found real love with someone who loved him back - maybe even Leah, since that ground was laid pretty well. Bella would have spent months being a newborn, filled with nothing but bloodlust. Jessica would be her first victim. The Cullens would have worked tirelessly to help her transform, and we could have gotten to know them all so much better. Rosalie might have died, doing something selfless for once in her life. That would have been doubly meaningful if Meyer rewrites the whole series from Edward's POV (ala Midnight Sun, which in rough draft form is head and shoulders better than Breaking Dawn.) Bella would have to give up Charlie and Renee for a while, but eventually they would be able to be in her life, altho in a much more limited way. There are a million possibilities that could have had a very nice happy ending, with a bit of bitter thrown in with the sweet.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mythic why it works and Why it dosn't

So I've worked out why I love Mythic as a game master emulator but am not so keen on it as a standalone RPG. And it all comes down to the Fate Chart. In both versions of the Mythic book there is a chapter of play advice. And of the items in that chapter says don't ask the fate chart too many questions. Go with one, or two at the most and then do whatever seems the most logical in context.  This is great advise because using the fate chart is a bit of a mechanical process.

The problem with Mythic as an RPG is that it breaks this rule. To resolve one attack you need to ask the fate chart at least three and possibly four questions. And that can take a while.

Worst still how you look up the fate chart is much more complicated. When doing emulation you use the same column of the chart for the entire scene, and the only thing you need to do is estimate the probability. Better yet you do this by basically asking and answering the question in a very natural way.

Has the the Don's Bodyguard got a gun?
Sure thing.
Is the Butler still carrying the murder weapon?
That's very unlikely.
Easy quick and simple.

In the attack version things are not that simple. Firstly both the row and column vary from roll to roll, with the Column representing the defenders most relevant attribute or ability. And even though both edges of the chart have textual labels, you have to do maths on them. So lets see I'm attacking and and I have a +1 shift for being so quick so that's a High, but I'm wounded for a -2 shift so that brings it back to average. VS your Exceptional ability, ow but your wounded as well so that's a -1 shift.  OK so now I can roll. to see if I hit. Really if your going to make me do maths its better for my character to have a strength of 7 then a strength of "average".

But back to the example. I've already rolled to establish that I get to go at all. And then to hit, lets assume I do. Now we do the same dance again, with a different set of abilities and modifiers to work out if I do damage. And possibly again for a fourth time to see if you succumb to you injuries. And the end result is that it all takes too long. The attempt at realism is just hard to implement with dice, paper and brain.

And if we where playing a supers game things could be even worse ad the full fate chart is open ended, while the the GME version is fixed. 

Now I have a campaign running with my Son which is using Mythic and will probably continue to do so. But realistically I think its the one and only game I'll run using full mythic rules. And Even that's not a sure thing, If I can work out a nice way of making Pokemon Trainer into a Dungeon World Class.

But the Mythic Game Master Emulator is another question entirely. The GME is awesome, and a Really good fit for Dungeon World by the way. I'll say more about why I think these two rule sets work well together next time.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Techniques of the Rules Author

I make sporadic attempts to write something good enough charge people money to read. So far these have not resulted in a published work, though they have made me a rather brutal literary critic at times.  Over the course of these various attempts I've amassed a little writers bookshelf.  Some of the books seemed good but I've never gone back to while others have become standbys that I refere back to and re read all the time. One of these standbys is Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain What has struck me is how much of this book I've seen in RPG rule sets recently. So much so that it seems to be the unsung hero of rules wrting, unlike Hero of a Thousand faces which gets mentioned all the time.

Two systems in particular stand out in this regard. Marvel Heroic Role playing1, which has an explicit structure of Scenes and Sequels, and even calls them this in the rules. And the various games derived from Apocalypse World. Apocalypse World and its derivatives, of which I'm most familiar with Dungeon World, have  the interesting idea that the Dungeon Master does not roll dice, only the Players do. And based on the role they either fail, succeeded at a price or succeed outright. IF success is not outright the Dungeon Master gets to make a Move in response which may involve just dealing damage, or a host of other things. End result is that every dice roll matters to the story.

The standard rules in Dungeon World is present the situation, the looming threat and ask "what do you do?" The player then responds and probably rolls their dice. In Dwight Swain's terminology the chunk of converstation between the Dungeon Master and Player is a Motivation Reaction Unit. Indeed go to any example of play in the Dungeon World manual and you will see a seqnece of prefect MRU's strung together into a scene. And that accounts for everything the game calls a basic move.

Then we have special moves, which could just as well have been called sequal moves. They are things like making camp or making an entire perilous journey through the wilderness, and other such bridging details that go to make a smooth narrative wihout getting bogged down.

I've also being playing Mythic RPG both in whole (Pokemon inspired game with my sons) and the Game Master emulator subsystem (solo play dungeon world on the train). What has struck me in the last day as missing from Mythic is any mechanic for dealing with sequels. The system as it stands works very well for scenes but I can't seem to get it to frame sequels at all. At the table with my sons we just narrate them, while in my solo play they are quit conspicuously missing, mostly because I'm not motivated enough to type them in on my tablet. That said The Mythic GME is a great product, and has worked very well for me both at the table and solo. Mythic as a generic system not so much though, but thats a post for another day.
  1. What? Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has been pulled. I went looking for the link only to find that the entire product line is gone from the Margret Weiss Website. I'm assuming their relationship with Marvel soured for some reason, but man I didn't see that coming,

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Lost Region

I've started a new Table top RPG campaign with my Boys (aged 8 & 10). As I predicted before we started the story involves kids who go around forcing cute little monsters to fight each other. What we have always gotten stuck on is me actually creating adventures to run. So this time we are doing something a little bit different. In that we are using the Mythic System and its Game Master Emulator.

I'm also getting the boys, well mostly the older one, who is more into Role Playing, to keep a Campaign Journal. For which we are using one of these hard bound note books. I remember buying these books for one purpose or another all the time when I was a Kid. There is just something fun about having such a serious looking book to write in. So far we Have Bio pages on the Characters, there Nemesis (played by Me) and the start of some maps of the Town of Tworocks and surrounding regions (currently a single dot on a blank page).

My Older son also designed a whole Slew of Pokemon based on the Cumberland Games Pokethulhu rule set. I've build a few more that He doesn't know about yet. I was planning on using the Pokethulhu rules alongside the Game Master Emulator but several things got in the way. Firstly after some negotiation with the party pretty well all of the Thulhu aspects got removed in favor of canonical Pokemon types and behaviors.  Secondly the Party expected to have evolutions and legendary Pokemon, just like in the cartoons. Sadly a Xd12 roll sort of under system just does not scale particularly well when you have a range of powers from mouse to deity. So What I did was take the Pokethulhu attributes and translate them into the Mythic system, at least approximately. This also completed the de Thulhufication as we changed sanity to bravery while we where at it.

After the first play session I can report that they translation has worked quite well. And after some early hiccups we got an impromptu game going. Mostly due to me realising that I want yet another book from my bookshelf, and us not being able to find my main dice box (its still missing, but fortunately I have a backup). What happened was:

It is the first day of the summer holidays and the a batch of Eager young trainers are at the Tworocks Pokemon center for their first training bouts. While Hans Granite, the Tworocks Gym leader, is explaining the rules, our heroes see their Nemesis sneaking into a staff only area. They follow with the obvious consequence of a Pokemon battle.  Which our nmemesis won in classic cartoon style.

This would be the point where in the cartoon Ash would go and lick his wounds and start training Pistachio for a rematch. Instead what did my Son do? He had his character punch his opponent.  She wasn't hurt but played it up, getting the attention of the Gym leader and forces our "heroes" to flee to avoid being caught. They did however find out that Sabrina Silver is searching for a Sapphire Pokeball.

This leaves the story our story with three thread open:
  1. My Younger son's character wants to travel back to Nova City, where he used to live, but is afraid of wild Pokemon who live around Tworock.
  2. Both characters want to Find out more about the Sapphire Pokeball and foil Sabrina's plans. Out of world the players know that she is trying to get into the evil Team Quake.
  3. My older son's character wants to journey to the mountains to capture a particular Ice type Pokemon. He just decided that towards the end of the play session.
Since that session ended I've also being playing with PocketMods. So they each now have a PoketMod Lost Region Pokedex instead of a stack of Pokemon character cards. And I'm using a second one to record the special rules that Pokemon use to battle each other using the Injure, Frighten, Trap and Dodge abilities from Pokethulhu.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


So I've read almost all of the Tortall books. All except for the Prequels For whatever reason I'm just not a fan of going back and reading things about the past of the story world, so Beka Cooper will remain a mystery to me.

The most frustrating of the sequences has to be Trickster's daughter. On the one hand I really like Aly as a character, with a particular unique set of skills and abilities. On the other the stories just did not reach what they should have been.

For a start the trickster god was just too in your face. After book after book of the straightforward Gods acting with subtlety and stealth we have a trickster who just can't stop showing up in person to mess with everything. Worst yet he actually spoils Aly's chance to shine. Every time she needs to win someone over, The Trickster just shows up and does it for her. Really we should have had at least one conspirator that did not trust Aly at all ever, and continued to distrust her. And as for the God, it would have been much better if he had communicated via the Crows rather than in person.

Then again there is also the question of what this book is actually about. You'd think that a privileged girl finding herself a slave would have some adjustment issues, but no Aly just shrugs it off and gets on with things a little too easily.

Then we get to the second book and Aly who is now the Rebellion spymaster has no real adversary. Heck she is so good at remaining hidden that the opponents spymasters never even learn of her existence. The most disappointing moment being when she makes a dumb mistake and instead of things going wrong in the worst possible way, she just gets a lecture on how they could have gone wrong in the worst possible way. In trickster's Queen, over confidence should have been Aly's character flaw, and a flaw, and it wasn't.

Again the gods do all the important things, and Aly is left with the drudge work. How much better it would have been if Aly had come to the conclusion that the wrong sister was going to be put on the throne, and did something about it, rather then having a random god do the same. And then there was the final hurdle of reconciling two rebel groups with different goals, and our Hero is rendered unconscious for almost the entire incident. Not only does she play no part in it but we don't even get to see how this feat was achieved. And to think that given not one but two rebel groups there was not a single turncoat working for the powers that be, not a single enemy within that wanted to get rid of our hero, why not!

Really Aly needed an adversary, a rival spymaster that looked like he or she was as good or better then she was. We even had a candidate for the position, except that his goal was so narrow that he never actually did anything. How much more interesting if he had been part of the Lurian Mobility's plot to replace the regents.

And finally we have yet more romance that we are told about rather then being shown. Yes I persevered in reading but I was disappointed in Aly's easy ride form debutant to spymaster.