[Meta Gaming] Whither White Wolf?

I’ve had this one in the can for a while, waiting for a moment in the content schedule to let it out. One of the downsides of trying to be more pro and organised is thinking “I could post this today but it’s not on the schedule and it’ll crowd out the regular content and argh.” This one has rather blown up – every couple of days something arrives to make it more convoluted – and now I imagine the teal deers are already bounding through the woods. Better to let it loose than wait for breathing room that never comes.

Anyway. White Wolf.

The newer, more Swedish White Wolf

Some years ago I took them to task for repeated botches of their Intelligence + Sound Business Practice rolls, and then I rather lost track of who owned what in the wonderful World of Darkness. I had my Revised books and lucked into a stash of 2e, I could still play my game, the world could go hang.

Since then, Paradox Interactive – the computer game people who were going to make the World of Darkness MMO –    {ETA: I am now aware that it was CCP, not Paradox, who oversaw development of the WoD MMO – thanks to Julius and Charles for the correction} have overseen the rise of a newer, more Swedish White Wolf. These Scandiwegian types seem to be on the ball.

For one thing, they grasp that trying to make a living as publishers of tabletop RPG books is fucking idiotic. It’s a shallow well, and it leads to the promulgation of cruft and splatbooks and shit that’s coming out because you have to try and and sell something rather than because it’s good for the game.

They also recognise that previous White Wolf rulebooks have, for all their charm and impact, aged badly – they are overwrought, poorly laid out, clunky and represent a ponderous too-many-rules style of roleplaying that needs to fucking die.

Finally, they appear to have a sense of social responsibility – a game set in the here and now is obliged to answer the here and now on some level. Oh, and the new head guy who diablerised Achilli or whatever admits the new WoD is a better setting than the old, and he’s rolling with the old one purely because it has greater clout and he can do metaplot stuff without ruining it, because it’s always been metaplot driven. Martin Ericsson is not stupid. May he be blessed with whatever it is that Swedish people like. Now get a shift on and release the Dark Pack guidelines.

Scandi LARP

Ericsson and friends are LARPers. Specifically, they’re Scandiwegian LARPers, which means a particular approach and philosophy is coming with them. This might be a bit different from the “goth scene with combat rules” that this rank outsider has always suspected Vampire LARP to be. (I make no apologies for this: I do not make a convincing vampire in my own person, nor do I do well when confined to a single character for the whole evening. Also, if the DJ drops a Sisters song I reserve the right to job off and wave my limbs around, no matter who says they’re Prince.)

These high-profile mass LARP events are the future for Vampire et al, and despite my personal disinterest in the arena, I think they’re fundamentally a good thing. They create something which can be shown, rather than told about; they are content, and in my day job I have learned that content is king. They rest on a foundation of negotiation, trust and consent – care, rather than justice – which is ultimately quite healthy. If everyone’s in the trust tree, the game can be pushed to its full potential rather than having to circle at the lower tiers because someone doesn’t think it’s fair.

(I might have a ‘wrongheaded’ approach to these things. In my book, everyone involved in a given session of play needs to be more or less on the same level. That means adjusting the group to fit the desired level of play as much as adjusting the level of play to fit the desired group. Know your players, and their boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say “look mate, I don’t think my Thursday night game of elegantly restrained erotic politicism is really the right place for someone who has custom futanari art on all his accessories and a gun catalogue in his rucksack, but how about you come to the all-out Sabbat game on Tuesday and your Lasombra can tentacle-fuck all the goons he likes.” I believe in managing expectations and selecting players so that the X-card is seldom necessary, and if it is necessary, I’ve de facto fucked up somehow.)

Video Games

Instead of being fucking idiotic, the new White Wolf is essentially going to be a video game company. That’ll keep the lights on, and the tabletop stuff will be produced out of the setting bibles that the games will need anyway. Tabletop will be the soul rather than the heart of the beast. This is good business and I’m not just saying that because it means more WoD computer games.

They’ve already released two interactive-storytelling bits, with the third (for Wraith of all things, be still my spectral heart) on the way, and announced a proper computer game… for Werewolf. Well, it’s probably about time. I’ve never been that into Werewolf but I’m willing to be persuaded by a well-tuned, party-based, richly-characterised party-level RPG that illustrates why werewolves are worth giving a damn about.

Notably, Ericsson is picking a side in the kultur wars. This is sure to provoke some delightfully tiresome discourse, but here’s the thing. White Wolf has always been anti-authoritarian, punk rock as fuck, and only just right of Trotsky. If you weren’t expecting the new White Wolf to weigh in as a device for asking questions like “what is the price of achieving one’s political ends through violence” you were tone-deaf from the start. This is what they’ve always done.

Individual storytellers may have tuned that down in favour of scaring the bollocks off their players or seducing goth princesses round candelit tables, but the monsters White Wolf uses have always functioned as political metaphors. Vampires are about class and aristocracy and privilege. Werewolves are about civilisation and the primal imperative and the attempt to control ourselves. Mages are about control of their environment, the imposition of will on the world. Faeries are about the forgotten past and the refusal of beliefs to sit down and die. Wraiths are about loss, and conscience, and our relationship with ourselves – when all’s said and done, can you look yourself in the mirror every morning?

Yeah, they’re about other stuff as well, and they have to function as fun game experiences and all that, but you’re only turning the “Gothic genre as political” slider down – you’re not turning it off.

Preludes – Vampire and Mage

I’ve bought the Preludes and I’ll be giving them a review on the YouTube channel once I’ve had a chance to actually play them. Spending this weekend sorting out a collaboration with another small channel, though, so it’ll be during the week. Early reports suggest it’s atmospheric. It is alleged to make a statement about where White Wolf wants to be in ref. current events, the Discourse, and the great false binary that defines gamerkultur in this foul year called 2017. It may not be a very good computer game though. “Interactive novel” is apparently a better word for it. I suppose we’ll see.

{ETA: Either the PC version doesn’t work very well or I’m stupid. It took two attempts to get the thing running, and the first instruction betrays its ported-from-mobile origins and doesn’t implement well through mouse clicks. I’m not buying the Android version as well, dudes.}

I also gather that Zak Sabbath has been involved in some capacity. Oh dear. Why oh dear? Read on.

Zak S and the Death of the Author

Zak’s involvement makes sense. He’s an award-winning dark talent, a thought leader in the gaming discourse, in contact with the kind of talent and the kind of politics White Wolf wants to be associated with (edgy, confrontational, get-shit-done, Left-leaning art-as-politics – the likes of China Mieville and Molly Crabapple). Getting him on board has a certain “we’re back and we’re so damn good we got this big name D&D guy” flair to it. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see his name attached to the White Wolf revival, since in all respects other than not being D&D it’s very much his jam and I seem to recall he spoke well of Martin’s intentions for White Wolf when the revival began.

His involvement is also an inevitable maypole of controversy, because where he goes, his combative style of discourse goes, and his online persona goes. Said persona is what it is. Zak makes a living by creating content, and therefore his public persona should think itself and what it does are brilliant, and spend a lot of time protecting its reputation from allegations of BadWrong or crime, because that’s how the business has to work. I don’t get on well with Zak’s e-persona, I find him difficult at best to deal with, but I understand why the persona acts the way it does.

However, partly because of the serious allegations made and partly because of the way Zak’s persona operates when responding to allegations, the discussion has become about him and what he’s said and done and what people have said and done to/with/about him. He didn’t start this round, as far as I can tell – this is raking of old muck by people who don’t want to see an alleged/debunked/suspected harasser with a large and vocal ‘fandom’ and ‘hatedom’ given a platform by White Wolf. Nonetheless, muck was raked, and the fellow is professionally and personally obliged to enter the fray and address it, and here we go again.

As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a disparate thing taking place on multiple social mediaplatforms, with disparate persons and levels of bias arguing the same thing with different levels of information and input. As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a morass of sock puppets, deleted comments, impersonations and obliterations of the paper trail. If you’re half an hour late to the party it’s bloody difficult to establish who said or did what to whom and on what grounds, which also makes proving or disproving the charge of harassment into a right pain in the arse.

{ETA: Moderators on the VtM Facebook Page have deleted the thread to which I linked previously, and issued justification. Now, it’s their page and they can do what they like with it, but I would have welcomed notice so that the discussion – which to my mind was constructive, albeit tense, and nothing like my idea of a ‘flamewar’ – could have been archived for reference. Once a thing has been said it should remain said.}

I know what people are like. Screenshots can be faked, accounts can be created and uncreated with a flick of the wrist, cliques can be mobilised and the facts can be obscured. I hate it. It’s the worst fucking thing about the Internet, and I hate having to expect ill intent on everyone’s part (because presuming good intent has brought me into these shitstorms before, playing a significant role in that nervous breakdown I had recently).

White Wolf claim they’ve investigated and found no evidence of harassment. {ETA: One of the previous victims, David Hill, another White Wolf employee, casts doubt on this claim. Zak’s take on things seems most up to date here.} I have no way of proving a damn thing to my own satisfaction, or knowing who’s doing what and in whose name to who, so… I await to see how this shitstorm turns out. There is no such thing as bad publicity, but there are a lot of j’accuses in the air – not the best start for the new White Wolf.

{ETA: White Wolf issues statement of regret. Read it and make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, this is still mostly muck-raking. White Wolf claim they did the diligence and decided they had more to gain than lose by associating with Zak. From a cultural/political legitimacy point of view they’re right.}

Thank gawd for the Death of the Author, eh? At least it’s intellectually legitimate to talk about the work as detached from its creator, even if Camille Paglia would disapprove. I gather that more hyperactive channels already have their Let’s Plays coming out, but I have a consistent schedule to maintain. Maybe I’ll do Preludes on Thursdays, before the elegantly restrained political eroticism.

{ETA: Either I’m thick as shit or Preludes is badly ported to PC. Possibly both. Either way, clicking on the simulated mobile phone in the PC port (which strikes me as a lazy-ass way to do a PC port) doesn’t seem to do owt. Unimpressed.}

More on this as details emerge.

{ETA: The multiple edits this morning are attempts to fix the formatting of the post – the final paragraphs keep clustering together instead of carriage returning like a good wall of text.}

[Event Report] ArmadaCon 28 – Home Town Heroism, procedural megadungeons, and gross capitalism

They say that wizards can never go home.

Fortunately, as a card-carrying storygamer Swine I reject the shackles of class-based character generation, and can go where I damn well please, so I went back to Plymouth to attend ArmadaCon’s twenty-eighth instalment and do a spot of mega-dungeoning.

M’colleagues on the board have spent some time beefing up the gaming side of the convention, and politely asked if I wouldn’t mind hosting ‘something’ in the games-and-dealers room for the three-day weekend. Obviously my first idea was a through-the-ages Vampire chronicle (Dark Ages on day one, Victorian Age on day two, Final Nights on day three), but then m’colleagues pointed out that they had no idea how many gamers would be turning up, also that gamers buy day tickets rather than signing up for the whole weekend, and that putting an awful lot of work into something might leave me sitting around weeping into my Cappadocian clanbook. (I bought a copy of the first edition – which is actually for the game’s second edition – on the Sunday. It sits next to the Giovanni one on my shelf, feeling awkward about the future.)

Instead, I fished out my Tarot cards, Otherworld adventurer models, A1 sheets of graph paper and a motley assortment of monsters (mostly undead, a few North Star gnolls, and some Fireforge historicals to use as hierlings) and prepared to play some Fuckin’ D&D.

What this means in real money is that I had ten set-piece encounters and twelve PCs statted out, but the routes from set-piece to set-piece would be determined by Tarot flips, as would treasure and traps. Players could drop in and out, taking over existing characters or having a new one turn up trapped under a rock fall or something, and I would be quite chipper about killing PCs off since it’s a con game and that shit don’t matter. There was a story – something, something, expedition, something something vast tomb complex below a suspiciously Cappadocian hillside, something something midnight howls, panicking henchmen, people falling down wells and crevasses – but I wasn’t going to make a big deal of it. Mostly, the story was there to get people into play and justify the random appearances and disappearances of new characters.

Although I didn’t actually get to start until after lunchtime on both days (the sessions were down for a 10 a/m kickoff, but most of the folks in the hotel were there for the panels and regular fixtures, not for the games), I did end up running on both days (not originally in the playbook). Play was slow (they did eventually fill one A1 sheet with mapped tunnels) but entertaining, especially on the Sunday when a critical mass of about six players was achieved throughout the proceedings.

Final scores: 8/12 PCs dead, 2/12 PCs resurrected thanks to The Shop On The Borderlands‘ sponsored wandering wizard encounter, 4/12 PCs returned to surface via wishing well, 3/10 set piece encounters actually used, 3/10 sheets of graph paper covered in horrible scrawls, 3 requests to keep going regardless of time and only 1 player feeling it wasn’t his cup of tea.

That’s not bad. Next time I’ll tie it into the charitable causes side of the event and allow PCs to buy themselves back from the dead by bunging a few quid to St. Luke’s Hospice, which I wish I’d thought of at the start of the weekend rather than ten minutes after the doors closed on Sunday.

Currently playing…

It was World of Warcraft, for about a month. Legion isn’t rubbish. The new Demon Hunter class is suitably entertaining. Gold is easy enough to come by that I haven’t actually had to pay for the second month at all (the subscription was wrangled with an in-game token). As we move into the first patch the novelty is beginning to wear off and I am no longer spending six hours at a time “catatonically staring at a monitor” as one wacky bastard of a commentator has it.

At the present moment in time it’s Blood Bowl (PC version), because a new edition of Blood Bowl (tabletop version) is out just in time for my birthday and there’s talk of a Corehammer tournament early in the new year. Sadly my beloved Necromantic team hasn’t made the cut for the first batch of re-releases, but the Nurgle louts have, so I’m currently learning why Disturbing Presence is hilarious and why nobody needs two Beastmen with Leader. Assuming the Nurgle lads get some new models, I’ll finally make good on that insistent Nurgly itch I’ve have for a couple of years now, without doing something stupid like a whole new 40K army.

I have vague itches towards the World of Darkness and will probably muster the Dark Ages group for another one-off or two shortly after Christmas. These episodic ‘tales from Constantinople’ take a bit of adjusting-to, since I’m used to running an ongoing weekly or fortnightly campaign and can afford to have loose ends dangling between sessions. When it might be months between times, events must be more contained and discrete, and I’m still learning how to pace them and make them feel important while still maintaining the proper quotients of vampirism and player agency.

I also have vague itches towards Warhammer. No, not Age of Sigmar, stop that, back that truck right up. I mean Sixth Edition, the Silver Age of Warhammer, the one I and m’colleagues actually enjoyed playing. More on this as details emerge – at the moment it’s taking the form of “actually acquiring a Black Coach and redoing the movement trays and finishing the display army like I said I would two years ago.” Actual gameplay is being negotiated with the learnéd Dr. Shiny and something may occur in that vein before the year is out.

Currently reading…

The odd couple of Eddisons I hadn’t finished. Styrbiorn is excellent – austere and restrained in a way quite distinct from the lavish prose of his Zimiamvia novels. His extended obituary to one Philip Sidney Nairn, which I read purely for completism’s sake, is quietly moving and offers a glimpse of the late Empire and the standards for being a decent chap therein, but is of little direct consequence. I also started Diary of a Drug Fiend, which is a delightfully rambling little confessional but not hugely compelling, which is why it’s only ‘started’.

Currently hobbying…

You wish. The learned Dr. Shiny will be carrying out much of my miniature painting in the future, in return for the free practice of my trade upon the manuscript for his novel. I hate painting, Shiny’s good at it, I like editing and Shiny needs some done. You see how this works?

[Meta Gaming] A Moment of Sanity

Apparently this appeared in the New York Times the other day.
 

Judge John Hodgman on the Quest of Dungeon Master Dad

Paul writes: “I have a dispute with my son’s friend’s parents. They feel that Dungeons & Dragons is inappropriate for 5-year-olds. I think the imaginative play is good for our boys, but the other parents believe that the game will make their child an outcast. Help these parents see reason and allow their child to play a game of D&D.”

The court agrees that your neighbors are terrible snobs. I suspect, however, that playing D.&D. with your son is more your fantasy than his. Five-year-olds don’t need a lot of hex paper and dice to imagine that they are warriors or elves (or cyborg mermen with rainbow breath): They’re built for it. It is the adolescent who craves D.&D., as it offers the illusion that all of his increasingly terrifying interactions in real life are governed by a secret math that, while occasionally cruel as a vorpal blade, is at least comprehensible. Your moment as dungeon master will come, Dad, but for now I order you to simply let the children play.

I’m not dead. I’m just playing WoW again. I’m also designing a dungeon crawl for this year’s ArmadaCon. Well, I say ‘designing’, it’s more ‘flipping tarot cards and working out how many undead miniatures I can fit in my luggage’…

[Off Topic] Recommendations, inter alia

[30/08/2016 21:01:07] Von: (I am currently Low on Cash and do not need to be thinking about Chaos Space Marines)
[30/08/2016 21:01:27] Von: (hell I don’t even know how to plan and manage a 40K army any more, what with all these Formations and Allies and shit)
[30/08/2016 21:01:54] Prince Charles: YOU DO NOT NEED MORE CHOAS MARINES
[30/08/2016 21:03:12] Von: YOU ARE QUITE CORRECT IN THIS
[30/08/2016 21:03:26] Prince Charles: VON
[30/08/2016 21:03:30] Prince Charles: YOU HAVE PLENTY OF SHIT
[30/08/2016 21:03:42] Prince Charles: PRIORITISE
[30/08/2016 21:03:49] Von: I KNOW RIGHT
[30/08/2016 21:03:54] Von: PRIORITIES ARE A THING
[30/08/2016 21:04:08] Von: that fucking Mammoth is sitting there waiting for me to Google ‘elephant toenails’

I don’t know where this whiff of interest in the Grimdark has come from again. Must be the Stars aligning or summat: I was in the right mood to reread the Night Lords Omnibus, replay a bit of Dawn of War II, and idly look at the Start Collecting Chaos Space Marines box and wonder if that and a bunch of Night Lords helmets off Forge World (the skull ones, not the stupid bat-wing ones) were a viable acquisition. I also binge read a few blogs.

(By the way, Jimmy, your Eldar army looked lovely, and I’m sorry for all the egotistical and derailing responses to your posts; upon rereading them now I am struck by a sense of wisdom, and a frequent “oh, I should have said this, instead of gabbling on about things I already understood”.)

This is the perfect opportunity for me to raise a glass to A Gentleman’s Ones, and to recommend – besides his excellent army logs and game reports for the Arrugginiti and Onorevoli Chapters – this post on inverting colour schemes and this one on bases and their power to unite disparate elements within a miniature or collection. As the man himself might say – glorious.

While I’m feeling recommendative (silence! it’s a perfectly cromulent word!), I should also like to draw attention to Gardens of Hecate, where work is put into that most neglected and ill-considered aspect of the wargame: terrain.

In conversation with Hawk Dave a couple of weeks ago (oh, the namedropping!) the great man happened to mention what a shame he thought it was that people didn’t spend model prices on terrain features. The reasons I detect behind this inarguable tendency are numerous. As Dave himself says, it’s not something you can actually play with. Adding something to an army feels more fulfilling.

I would add that terrain often has to be generic – it’s kept to the hills and woods level because that’ll work with damn near everything. When something like the Killzone tournament comes along, someone like Brian emerges to curate specific terrain for that specific environment – the rest of the time, what we generally want to curate is something that works with everything.

It’s an odd reversal of the trend toward the branded and proprietary that we see with miniatures and rules – and I think terrain has held out against that because, frankly, it’s something we had to do ourselves for the longest time, and so it’s taking longer for the Bought Kit to replace Termite Art as the standard practice.

I have a box of ‘scale’ hills and rivers that I should finish at some point. They’re huge. Tall enough to award elevation within WM/H, and broad enough that they aren’t dwarfed by the buildings, trees and some of the models on the table. Given that my kitchen table is a trifling 4′ x 3′, they almost dwarf the table; they imply something massive just off the edge, which is how I feel hills ought to work in the 25-32mm scale of my preferred wargames.

There’s another blog I wanted to recommend, but its name escapes me. It’s not Haute Macabre, but it’s something that feels like that: something arty and strange and a bit pretentious. The authors do a lot of kitbashing, play a lot of Mordheim, and carve out their own eloquent and erudite take on the shared universes of the Workshop. For the life of me I can’t remember what it’s called. That’s annoying.

Currently Playing… a spot of Dawn of War II and that’s honestly about it. I’m feeling a bit flighty right now. I ‘should’ be giving WoW a roll since Legion’s out now, but in honesty, I can’t be arsed. I have no intention of being sucked into the serpent’s coils again. It can wait. It can wait until it’s bloody well working properly, for one thing.

want to play some Black Crusade. It’s coming to the point where I might put up some sort of notice in the ‘Model Centre’ in town – it’s been a year, they’re still selling GW kits, it can’t be a total flash in the pan.

Currently Modelling…

A Scourge starter set for Dropzone Commander. I scored a bargain on the Facebook group immediately before taking a short break from Facebook (I realised I’d spent the best part of a day mindlessly scrolling up and down instead of doing anything worthwhile, and that I couldn’t focus for thirty seconds without popping open a new tab for the blue and white god: that’s an addiction profile if ever I saw one, and I’m not having that). There’s a set of command cards, which I’ve opened and sleeved, and a second starter force, which I’ve decided to sell rather than overloading on bread and butter at the expense of the full dining experience offered by the Scourge range.

I’m also painting the Mammoth. Finally. The armour is done, the skin is done, and some of the metal has received its basecoat, with metallic ink to follow. It stalled slightly while I thought about how I would be painting ropes (of which there are many), nails and  tusks (which are prominent) and the howdah (which is a significant detail). I’m still not sure about the ropes. Purple is technically my spot colour and is thus far absent from the figure, but I’m worried about it detracting from the gun barrels and fists. The nails and tusks are going to look suspiciously similar to the armour, but I think I can treat it like I do the skin on the infantry, i.e. worth a layer of Actual Paint besides the lazy man’s “slap ink on everything” that deals with the rest of the model.

Currently Listening To… the Sucker Punch soundtrack. Say what you like about that film, there’s a bangin’ set of tunes on it. This one’s my favourite.

[Actual Play Review] Dropfleet Commander (Demo Day)

I find myself in the strange situation of having been to the Dropfleet Commander pre-launch event at the South Wales Gaming Centre and come away having spent no money on Dropfleet Commander. I do have a batch of four strange aquatic-looking spaceships  for the Scourge faction, but those were bestowed upon me for turning up and for buying Simon a pint.

Dropfleet Commander, like its companion Dropzone Commander (previously discussed here), is Quite Good. Much like Dropzone, it owes something of a debt to Games Workshop skirmish games (Battlefleet Gothic, in this case), not least because Andy Chambers wrote the rules for it, but the relationship is one of direct ancestry and improvement rather than “it’s basically Gothic without any GW trademarks in it”.

Engagements take place in high orbit, or low orbit, or the actual atmosphere of a planet. There are urbanised ‘clusters’ on the ground  (yer actual mission objectives) unto which you endeavour to deliver troops and vehicles by means of carriers – relatively lightweight spacefaring vessels capable of atmospheric flight. These are escorted into the fray by frigates, cruisers and battleships – other vessels of varying size, most of which can’t go below low orbit.

Unlike its spiritual ancestor, it doesn’t feel like a naval warfare game that’s pretending to happen in space; pin that on the three levels of playable altitude (across which shots can be fired, though munitions travel more accurately toward targets at similar height). The range of scenarios and deployment types also offer alternatives to the ‘ship of the line’ feeling that Gothic was rather prone to at its worst, and the frigates are actually useful (especially the Scourge ones, nippy little shits that can enter the atmosphere alongside the carriers).

Dropfleet does have one major flaw, however: the means by which all the fun stuff like altitude, damage inflicted to ships and energy spikes (which make a highly active vessel easier to detect from a distance, extending the effective range at which they can be targeted) is actually tracked. It’s done on the models’ bases, which have pegs, holes and swivelling windows which allow coloured card inserts to be seen.

These would make a great UI for a computer game, but on the tabletop they are fiddly as all hell and difficult to manipulate or even see without picking the model up. When one has to pick the model up every time one wishes to change or check its game state, something is wrong. By midway through the demo game on which I sat in, I was scheming what would need to go on a WM/H style card and how such a thing might be laid out.

This aside, I am sufficiently entertained by Dropfleet Commander to consider giving it and Dropzone a go. I’m attracted by the cross-compatibility between the two games, with the objective areas of the Dropfleet board representing a Dropzone battle, and by the approach taken to releases and backstory advancements, with each phase of releases and accompanying rulebook moving the game’s timeline along by a mere 100 days or so. There’s space in the setting for one to make up one’s own planets and personalities and plotlines, and of course my wheels are already turning with regards scaling up and laminating a map of South Wales so I can infest Blaenavon with Scourge and blow up Barry Island.

Currently Playing – just completed VtM Bloodlines for the second time (the Malkavian ninja and the Tremere lounge singer made it through, the Nosferatu stopped being interesting once I had five dots each in Obfuscate and Potence and I never really mustered the enthusiasm for a Ventrue). Re=acquired Diablo II, because I vaguely missed jamming runes into weapons, but that may have been an Error of Judgement now that I’ve been spoiled by graphics originating after the turn of the millennium.

Currently Modelling – the last bits for the Skorne army (unit of Immortals, Extoller Soulward, Hakaar the Destroyer  – and I’ve even started painting the damn Mammoth, a mere six months after the convention at which it was supposed to make its debut). Also, this miscellaneous lot here:

That’s Privateer Press Trollbloods (just the battle box, because I happen to like the models); Heresy Miniatures Zombies, Cultists, Blight, Flesh Golem and Werewolf (Blood Bowl team/WFRP encounters/Frostgrave warband); Wild in the Streets goth gang (only had those in the ‘to build’ pile for a year); SmogCon pirate captain.

Currently Reading – besides the rules for Dropzone Commander and Frostgrave, I’ve just reread Down and Out in Paris in London and Equal Rites. I keep looking with guilt at my non-fiction shelves and remembering how few of these books I’ve actually read cover-to-cover rather than raided for references at one time or another…

Currently Spending – more than I should, but I did make nearly £100 from flogging old Orks last week, so it’s fine. Nobody panic.

[Off Topic] Currently…

Currently PonderingEmergence vs. Determinism, although not in the usual “railroading r bad and u r bad for doin it” sense. It’s more to do with how the process of designing and ‘solving’ encounters works. Perhaps “Imagineer vs. Prepper” might be a better dichotomy.

Every so often Ben (co-host of that podcast I pretended to do for a while) pops up to ask for my perspective on a strategic or tactical choice that’s emerged in his Star Wars play-by-forum game, and I’m always flabberghasted by the amount of detail – if-this-then-that-ah-but-what-if-this that he presents in these scenarios. It’s not a PbP thing either – he’s the same in tabletop, he seems to think that he needs an elaborate map of his Brujah’s haven and a series of boltholes established all over the city.

Jaro, the DM of my intermittent Roll20 game, is the same – he’s a nice bloke but asking for exact rules on composition, cost and storage of bullets made me raise an eyebrow or two. In Jaro’s  case there’s an element of damage by a dick-move DM who once had an entire party die of exposure because nobody had said they were wearing clothes (this is a dick move because they were in mid-adventure when he dropped this bombshell). Jaro is something of an enthusiast for precision and adherence to rulebook and sourcebook, I think because he wants insulation from this sort of cockbothering behaviour, but it makes for some friction between us since I am definitely not inclined to the “gotcha” nor to the elaborate and intricate modelling of situations.

What I am about is a sketchier kind of gameplay where the fun is not in solving an elaborate situation with detailed resources and forward planning, but in making shit up as you go along. If there needs to be a chandelier for someone to swing off, there will be a chandelier (although dice must be rolled for swinging and the results of the roll are binding). If there needs to be an escape route it will be there when someone looks for it, if they look for it in a plausible place and if  they roll well on some sort of “can you find it in time” check.

This applies whether I’m playing or running the game. If I’m playing… well, the 5e game has now settled down into a predictable and well-oiled machine where I come up with a bare-bones plan which will work and leaves room to improvise, Charles overcomplicates it with needless flourishes and excessive moving parts which nevertheless impress Jaro into letting us get away with it, and we both have to bully Arianna into taking any sort of risk when executing the plan.

(Sidenote: Look, if you roll a rogue you have to accept that you’ll be sent on dangerous sneaky solo stuff, it’s the law, if you wanted to stay at the back and be safe you should have bagged the coveted Cleric/Mage slot and then I’d have been slavishly defending you and not Charles, and yes, I know you’re reading this, Ari, because you hang on my every golden word.)

I suspect this sort of thing has come to my attention because I’ve been playing a lot of single-player CRPGs lately, and those are all about picking your way through a predetermined encounter or chain of quests that trigger in a particular order. I generally suck at this since I’m used to muddling through and improvising, not having to talk to that guy to get that objective before I do this thing so I can actually get XP and phat lewtz and so on. I am getting better at it, but I still occasionally think “can I not just come out with my hands up, spin a plausible yarn about being attacked by four big lads with guns, and coming off best in the shoot-out because I’m brilliant, and then Dementate their disbelief away?”

Currently Playing: Besides occasional sessions of 5e or LotFP on the Intertrons, I am mostly playing Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. I tried this for about five minutes back in the day (real time, strike one! FPS/action controls, strike two! likelihood of accidentally punching a hooker, breaching the Mass-Charade and getting shot in the cobblers, strike three!) but, like Planescape, I’ve reappraised it after a few years away. Buying one of those Razr game controller things (so that I didn’t wear out one half of my expensive split ergonomic keyboard, which I bought so that I didn’t wear out my ailing wrists while typing several thousand words a week for work) has helped me learn how to FPS even as it’s made my MMO-ing suffer and contributed to a drop-off in Warcraftery.

Bloodlines is fun, in a very oWoD kind of way – it feels like a sort of farewell tour of all the wacky shit which was due to disappear when Time of Judgement came out, and if approached in that style it’s not bad. Sadly, the game does indulge in the Major Sins of front-loading, reducing interactivity while NPCs show off in cutscenes, and including arbitrary combats which show up the limitations of my social-build Tremere, but… well, it’s oWoD.

(ETA: This is the sort of business decision which only makes sense if you’re White Wolf. You’re in the process of wrapping up your old game line and launching a whole new universe, and you make your tie-in video game a valedictory salute to the old rather than a launch platform for the new world with its new concepts, encouraging crossover and buy-in. It’s almost as bad as making a mechanistic nerdy-boy game with no particular focus while paranormal romance is ruling the roost, or taking the makers of a major motion picture based on a short story within your setting to court instead of using the buzz to republish and revamp said material. Essentially, you are spectacularly dumb and you deserve to go out of business within the decade.)

I am playing the GOG.com version with the extensive fan patch that actually makes it playable. I am also playing a Malkavian who thinks he’s a ninja (with a katana and a six dot Melee pool he is not entirely wrong about this, and shafting Sabbat thugs up the arse from Obfuscated safety has yet to get old) and a Tremere lounge singer (shagging her way through most encounters and heavily reliant on Disciplines in a scrap). I experimented, briefly, with a Ventrue dominatrix and a Nosferatu eco-terrorist hacker, but the Ventrue was a bit dull and the Nosferatu is definitely hard mode for someone not accustomed to first-person stealth-em-up. If this lot were all in the same party it’d be ‘perfect’ Classic WoD.

Incidentally, while the other V:tM game was very faithful in its adoption of Disciplines but introduced some overly granular percentile bollocks for stats and had an awful level-by-dots feeding/healing/buffing mechanic, this one keeps the elegance of the dot-based system (streamlining it with fewer dots and more defined combinations) and does good things with Disciplines. Streamlining Auspex, Presence, Obfuscate and so on as per the physical Disciplines and eliminating the action economy horrors  of Celerity (as far as I can tell, having not gotten to use it yet) is a good idea. I’ll have to try it in the tabletop game at some point. Hacking White Wolf’s excessive mechanisation = good call.

Currently Reading: The Prince (the treatise by Machiavelli, not the Netherese review/antiSocJus blogger/belch-vector, although I’m reading his blog too). Rob Kuntz was surprised that I could manage to write decent Renaissance-esque intrigue settings without having read The Prince and I’ve been meaning to make good on this for a while now. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (decently accessible social history, conveniently attuned to the needs of a modern reader who wants to understand the difference between Now and Then, possibly recommended reading for twenty-first century gamer-prats). The first four Discworld books (yes, again), although I’m currently on a reduced-fiction diet as I have bought quite a lot of non-fiction (Spinoza, Castaneda, Bowker’s biography of Orwell, the rest of Padel’s poetry essays, and a collection of excerpted Brecht) and had it sitting there for months.

Currently HobbyingI bought a job lot of cultists, demons, villains, zombies etc.  from Heresy Miniatures (they have a sale on until the end of July, buy now, beat the rush, help Andy recover from honourable Dragon-related fiscal suicide). These will be making up a Blood Bowl team/rounding out a Frostgrave warband/providing something for my Otherworld adventurers to slap around in RPGs. I was working on a new wargaming table but space seems to be at a premium these days and that one may have to go the way of the dodo. I realise that I barely wargame at all these days, which has checked my hand every time I consider giving Frostgrave or SAGA a proper poke. Insert gripe about how I am old and tired and hate learning new rules, too.

Currently Smoking: Poles.

[WM/H] Symptom of the Universe – the absence of a Mark III review

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.
— Henry David Thoreau

I had every intention of doing a full readthrough of the new core rules for Warmachine and Hordes, focusing on what had changed from the rules I ‘learned’ in 2005 and attempting to amuse the lay reader (those faithful few who come here for the Planescape reports, the Ravenloft ramblings and the ill-considered belchings on progress and the nature of things) as I went.

The thing is, reading this document cover to cover, paying close attention to every key word and every clause of every sentence and how it affects the operation of the game as a whole… well, that may be what’s demanded by the Zen Masters of the Privateer forums, but I tried to do it this morning and then naffed off to do the washing up instead.

The text is pedantic, semantic and hung up on niceties. I would call it autistic, in the sense that devilmen commonly use that word, i.e. to mean ‘desperately spoddy and inclined to excessive complexity’, but speaking as an autist I refuse to be associated with this sort of thing. As a player of the game I understand why such clarity is necessary to resolve those little snags and snickets which come up all the time, but reading the rules does not make me want to play the game in the slightest.

I have come to understand two things.

Firstly, why Privateer Press is so keen to have the Word spread through demonstration games rather than people just buying the books and giving them a shufty. If you start with the rulebook and attempt to learn a game like this before playing, you are either a twelve-year-old with time on his hands and wasted potential, or you are going to give up very shortly and get Settlers of Catan out instead because board game rules, and even the best of RPGs, are structured much more experientially. What’s the first thing you’ll want to do? Set up the game so you can start playing. This game starts with explaining the legalese used in its rules. Can you think of a less thrilling introduction?

Secondly, why an old schoolmate of mine, upon turning eighteen, abandoned all games to which his grandmother would not know the rules. This standard is not universal – some people’s grandmothers play bridge, a game so Byzantine it would make Anna Komnena blush, while my grandmother struggles with anything more complicated than Snap – but nevertheless, the choice makes more sense to me this morning than it did last night.

There is an elegant simplicity at the heart of this game, and others to which I have reacted with such sudden revulsion, but it is lost behind – OK, let me give you an example. I’ve played Magic: the Gathering, and the basic business of the lands, the mana, the creatures and the spells are all clear to me. Instants, Sorceries and Enchantments take a little semantic juggling, especially when explaining them to someone who doesn’t quite get it yet, but there is a clear difference that can be understood (“you can use that one whenever, that one on your turn before or after your attack, and that one on your turn before or after your attack but it sticks around until something gets rid of it”). When you get into the stack, and how to resolve the complex “this happens then that happens then – wait, I play this in response to that” timings, the red rage rises in me and I wonder why the fuck we’re doing this. When play becomes about these complexities, about maximising the potential of what can be done at each step of a complex process and ensuring the opponent can do nothing to stop you, if they even understand what’s happening in front of them, I throw all my cards out of the window and start drinking, irrespective of the sun’s position re. the yardarm.

I don’t want to offend any of my chums who play this game, nor my acquaintances who have worked on Mark III and are doubtless proud of what they’ve accomplished here. I don’t think you’re at fault here. I think it’s a symptom of the universe, really, Complexity emerges as surely as entropy increases, and one has to kill one’s darlings on a genocidal scale (I’m thinking third edition 40K levels of revision and abolition here) to bring it back under control. Meanwhile, as age wearies me and the years condemn, I am in less and less of a position to appreciate the myriad mechanisms on offer here. My reluctance to engage with this material is down to me too: there is an innate issue here but let’s be fair and admit that I am more affected by it than countless others will be. I’m still going to play Mark III but sitting down and assimilating the rules as a thing in themselves just isn’t going to work.