2017/06/27

On D&D and the Freedom of Epiphany

I've been playing tabletop roleplaying games since my age was measured in single digits. It's been an integral part of my identity for 75+% of the time I've been alive. Despite all of this, I often feel left out when it comes to people discussing their D&D Epiphanies. Those "this game is so amazing, how did I live my entire life without it" moments that people who took up the game as adults get to experience. That sense of eye-opening wonder that seems to permeate every new player post on Reddit. I never got to feel that, because I found D&D as a child who had just begun to really possess abstract thought. There was no Eureka moment. It's always just been there.

I assume this is how people with famous siblings feel. To those folks, their siblings are just their siblings. For the most part, at least. People making a big deal out of it, like "Oh my G-d, your sister is the lead singer of Muscle Wizard? That's so fucking awesome!". Yeah, I know. She also beat me up when I was 12 for listening to an N*Sync CD, so... not that awesome.

I'm exceptionally envious of people who get to experience this novelty at an age when they can appreciate it. It's actively difficult to not be dismissive when I hear stories about people in their early 30s discovering D&D. Hearing about how it's opened their eyes to a fanciful world of magic and all that. People who got to avoid the social negatives of the game. Folks who get to dodge the worry of getting beat up for carrying a weird book to school. It's self centered and ludicrous and stupid for me to feel this way, but that doesn't make me feel that way any less. The spiteful hipster gene in my blood is far, far too strong.

It's probably the same for anyone who got into a particular fandom early. Those people who watched Firefly religiously while it was live on TV. The folks who were *really* into Euro-style boardgames back in the 80s when the only way to get them was to get someone on Usenet to mail you a copy and (if you were super lucky) provide translations into your native language. Or people who traded bootleg VHS tapes of anime at swap meets and flea markets back in the 90s. Folks who pronounce the initialism of All Terrain Armored Transport "@@", because that's how the Kenner Toys commercial pronounced it back in 1981.

With all that said, I'm overjoyed that people continue to discover tabletop roleplaying games in general and D&D in specific. I'm super happy that they get to have those epiphanies. It's miraculous and wonderful and magicaltastic.

That doesn't make me any less envious, though.

2017/06/02

Punk's Been Dead Since '79: A 500 Word RPG

A few years back (more like half a decade, but time is meaningless in this sort of Cat & Squid game), my friend Joe got challenged by Ryan Macklin to write a functional RPG in less than 500 words. That challenge turned into Dime Stories, an RPG about cowboy gunfights and cartoon villains in Spaaaaaaace. It got me my second RPG writing credit (after the... underutilized Red Dragon Inn Appetizer) and I've had the chance to run it at GenCon for the last 4 years. Dime Stories has been good to me.

I went through a pretty severe depressive episode over the past week. An utter loss of motivation, a huge upswing in disassociation, and a tsunami of existential dread. I'm sure part of this was triggered by editing some very personal blog entries for a friend, but I knew that going in to the project. Usually, when I'm going in to these sorts of episodes, I focus on the things that make me happy. I talk to my wife, I play with my cats, I read upbeat books, I listen to fast music. None of that really worked well this time around. Eventually, my mind wandered back to my last year of high school and my first year of college. The age when I started going to punk shows.

Punk shows, in that era and in that part of Ohio, were a really weird thing. They usually took place in VFW halls or in someone's barn, because that's where the available space was. There were a lot of skinheads, because it was Ohio and Ohio has a higher than acceptable percentage of racist assholes. There were a lot of shitty bands, because it was Ohio and Ohio's music education programs are about as robust as our Ski Rescue programs. There were a lot of great memories, because it was my first real experience getting out into (what I though, at the time, was) the wider world.

Half-remembered concerts, fistfights, and nights at Tom's Donuts (ordering only a drink and eating Day Old Donuts that were 50c a piece, for five hours, while my friends chain-smoked a pack and a half each) flooded back to mind. Inspired by Quinn Murphy's excellent game Five Fires, I felt the need to put my experience into a cohesive form. I jammed out a bunch of words and something resembling Punk's Been Dead Since '79 happened. It was only afterwards that I decided to try to fit it into the 500 Words framework. (Note: I am aware of the newer 200 Word challenge, but I can't be arsed to edit this down to that level.)

In PBDS79, you're a member of the punk community in the space between cities in the (Late 90s / Early 00s). Your goals? Go to shows, find a place to belong, seek an outlet for your feelings, look for companionship, or just break everything. It's based loosely on the (Apocalypse World / Dungeon World / Monsterhearts) games, because they're fast and easy and full of raw emotion.

Check it out.

-----

Follow this link to Punk's Been Dead Since '79 for complete rules.



2017/05/24

Let's enjoy blogging together.

It's been a while.

Last week, I volunteered to help edit a friend's blog. While going over their draft, I was struck by how much I missed writing in a longer format than Tweets and Instagram updates. This will be my attempt at rectifying that.

The good ship Terribad Ideas is getting relaunched. All my old content, for better or worse, is going to stay up. Don't worry. That one RPG group in Argentina that's using my Mass Effect rules for Cortex+ isn't going to lose access. My grimdarke nonsense isn't going anywhere. It's part of who I am and serves as a reminder that even if I think my writing is garbage, someone out there likes it.

With that in mind, what am I going to be posting here? Game stuff, mental health stuff, travel stuff. Maybe, after I've worked at it for a while, this place will eventually congeal into an understandable theme.  Probably not, but there's always a chance.

Where do we start? I guess we'll do a bit of catching-up with what's been going on in my life.

Since last we talked, I've:

- Taken another trip to Japan.
- Ran a successful D&D game to completion, without scheduling or drama tearing the group apart.
- Hosted a D&D fundraiser (JephCon) on Twitch that raised $3,300+ for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
- Visited my Homeland. A topic for another day.
- Struggled through a two-year battle with a very severe bout of depression.
- Started streaming on Twitch, albeit irregularly.
- Wrote a bunch of homebrew content for both 4th and 5th edition D&D. A lot of which I'll be posting here over the next few months.
- Stated a YouTube channel with my wife about our travels.
- Began a combination art project / protest over on Instagram.
- Survived the wait for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
- Crafted several cosplays.
- Wrote and recorded the first two episodes of three different podcasts, none of which were ever posted publicly.
- Successfully completed all three good Persona games.
- Continued to be gainfully employed.
- Backed a whole lot of Kickstarter projects.
- Called my Representative and both Senators every work day for the past 4 months.
- And a whole lot of other stuff that I can't remember at the moment due to lack of sleep and stress.

A good number of those experiences will be posts in the future, but for now I feel I should leave y'all with some new content. Below is the second draft of my Downtime rules for my upcoming D&D campaign. It details the stuff characters can do when they aren't out doing Adventure Things.

Town Phase:
  1. Lifestyle Costs: For each day spent in Eternal Bedrock, each PC must pay Lifestyle Costs as a way of abstracting the individual costs of lodging and food. Provided below are a series of possible scenarios and their associated costs.
    1. Sleeping in the Adventurer Tent City (Basically Homelessness):
      1. Food is basic (bread, water, bean paste), provided free of charge by the Cathedral of Pelor. Characters must furnish their own bedroll and tent.
      2. Benefits: -1d4 on Carouse and Fellowship checks.
      3. Daily Cost: 0 GP.
    2. Staying at Novagen’s Economy Lodge (Low Quality Inn):
      1. Food is simple (porridge, fruit, water, eggs), provided as part of your daily cost.
      2. Benefits: None.
      3. Daily Cost: 1 GP.
    3. Staying at Erathis’s Smile (Average Quality Inn):
      1. Food is acceptable (bread, meat, cheese, fruit, ale), provided as part of your daily cost.
      2. Benefits: +1d4 on Carouse checks.
      3. Daily Cost: 3 GP.
    4. Staying at Three Stars (High Quality Inn):
      1. Food is good (pastries, meat, cheese, eggs, fruit, wine), provided as part of your daily cost.
      2. Benefits: +1d6 on Carouse checks.
      3. Daily Cost: 5 GP.

    1. Staying at Twin Drakes (Exceptional Quality Inn):
      1. Food is grand (full buffet for each meal, along with beverages of choice), provided as part of your daily cost.
      2. Benefits: +1d8 on Carouse and Fellowship checks.
      3. Daily Cost: 10 GP.
    2. Staying at The Cockatrice and Medusa (Fantastic Quality Inn):
      1. Food is grand (full buffet for each meal, along with beverages of choice), provided as part of your daily cost.
      2. Benefits: +1d8 on Carouse checks.
      3. Daily Cost: 50 GP.
  1. Downtime: Players may spend as much or as little time in Eternal Bedrock between adventures as they want. For each day the characters pay Lifestyle Costs, they gain one Downtime Day to spend as they wish on the options below. Downtime Days may not be earned or spent while Adventuring. (Note: While other options are possible, these broad-reaching examples cover 90% of downtime activities available to PCs.)
  2. Carousing: Adventurers can spend downtime and GP to gather information, hear rumors, or find quests in addition to those listed on The Board. For each Downtime Day spent, the player rolls a hard Streetwise check (with a possible bonus or penalty from lodging and a +1 bonus per 10 GP spent on carousing). Depending on the result, the Character chooses one from the appropriate list.
    1. On a success, the Character:
      1. Learns a useful rumor.
      2. Finds a lead on an otherwise hard to acquire Magic Item.
      3. Gains access to an otherwise secret quest.
    2. On a failure, the Character:
      1. Learns a rumor which gains them no useful information.
      2. Runs afoul of The Law.
  3. Shopping: Adventurers can spend downtime shopping for new or replacement gear. For each Downtime Day spent, the player may purchase any number of pieces of non-magical equipment with GP or a single piece of magical equipment (Note: Purchases subject to rarity and availability.)
  4. Religious Services: Adventurers can spend downtime to attend or perform religious services and rites for 5 GP. For each Downtime Day spent, the player may gain Advantage on one roll during the next Adventuring Phase,
  5. Equipment Upkeep: Adventurers may spend downtime to maintain their equipment. For each downtime day spent, one piece of equipment does not have to make the Saving Throw at the end of the month. (See the Equipment Upkeep rules in the Adventuring Phase section below.)
  6. Fellowship: Adventurers can spend downtime to build bonds with other characters. (Note: Both characters must spend a Downtime Day on the same day for the Fellowship action to add to their Social Link.) See the Social Links section at the end of this document for more information.


Thanks for hanging out with me so far. It's been fun. We'll have to do this again sometime.

2013/01/23

On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha...

Preface: This is another one of those not-at-all-related-to-gaming posts. So if you come here for those, you'll be disappointed. I seem to be doing that a lot lately; disappointing people that is.

Since I was young, probably 11 or 12, I've had panic attacks. My brother also suffered from them, though his started when he was around 16 if I remember correctly. It always seemed like our shared terrifying experience. After I moved out, whenever I was having one, I would call him. Just hearing him tell me that everything was okay seemed to get me to calm down. He'd do the same when he was having one. We had a decent system.

That all changed this summer. When I heard the news of his death, I had a panic attack that lasted for the better part of an hour. I was curled on the floor, shaking uncontrollably, sweating profusely, and I think I may have blacked out at one point. The worst part was, I reflexively picked up my phone and started to dial his number. I couldn't imagine dealing with this without him.

Since then, I hadn't had any panic attacks. I'm not sure if I'd developed some sort of psychological coping mechanism to keep me safe or if it was some sort of empathic thing with him. Last night, I had my first panic attack since last June. It was just as terrifying as usual. And just like I'd done since I was 18, my hand went to my phone and started to dial. When I realized what I was doing, it just made the situation worse. I was shaking and sobbing like a 4 year old. All around me was darkness, and not just because it was midnight and I didn't have any lights on in the house. The only thing that brought me out of it was my contempt for myself. I knew I was stronger than this; I wasn't some lost kitten in the woods. I refused to be a blubbering mess on the floor. My rage burned back the darkness long enough for me to get my bearings again. Eventually, it passed.

I have people I could call. I know that. I have people that care about me, who don't want to see me like this. I also can't bring myself to bother any of them with this sort of thing. I refuse to be a burden on them any more than I already am. I'll figure out a new way to cope; a new way to deal with the panic and dread.

I will stand against the darkness. I will not let it win. I will endure. That much, I can promise myself.

2012/12/31

It's all about the galleons, baby.

Lets talk about Assassins Creed 3. Specially the ship to ship combat sections.

How did Ubisoft manage to make the most engaging pre-industrial naval combat simulation ever as a throw away minigame in a game about jumping out of trees to kill rabbits?

Everything from the cannon arcs to the rigging speeds to reinforcement is insanely fun. It's making me want to run a privateer campaign in Fate Core in a few months.

Speaking of Fate Core, go kickstarter it if you already haven't. It's that good.

Meanwhile, I'm currently running the anniversary edition of Rise of the Runelords for my casual group. We've got a horrifically unbalanced party, but that makes things seem more dangerous.

So I've stolen a rule from D&D4:

Second Wind. Once per encounter, use a standard action to recover one half your maximum hit points.

This may seem a bit overpowered, but in a group of six with no healer it's almost necessary.

Also, next week I'm starting another diversion project; this one for one of my favorite adventure paths of all time: The Key of Destiny.

Stay tuned for more awesome.

-J

2012/12/28

But, I wear long pants...

Taking a break from my normal nonsense related to gaming to talk about my actual life nonsense. If you're only here for the gaming, this update may not be all that interesting for you. Then again, it might be, maybe you'll learn smethng about yourself. Maybe you'll not. Only the Shadow knows.

As I discussed in a previous post, this year has been frought with ridiculousness. I've traveled to the other side of the planet, bought a house, got married, and started a new job. I've also watched my mom and stepdad get divorced, lost dozens of friends due to me being an insufferable assshole, and lost my brother due to.... well, mostly due to his lifelong battle with depression. The depression thing wasn't exactly a perfect unknown, but not something you can ever prepare for.

I've always taken suicide far more seriously than I thought I should. Now that I've been confronted by it face to face, I can see that I didn't treat it seriously enough. If anyone reading this ever, ever, ever even remotely considers taking their own life: don't. Email me. Text me. Call me. Whatever you need to do. I can't watch another family go through the hellscape that my family has endured over the past six months. I promise you that whatever you're going through will pass. You can make it through, even if I have to drag you through against your will.

My family takes solace in the fact that my brother is "with G-d now". I have no such comfort. The days of my belief in an almighty grandpa in the clouds are as gone as my days of belief in a magical sleighriding madman from the North Pole who distributes presents. I don't discount the possibility of their being an omnipotent overbeing who watches over all, but I also don't discount the possibility of their being an indestructible teakettle orbiting the third moon of Jupiter. Just because I can't disprove it doesn't mean it exists. My brother held similar beliefs. He wore the guise of Christendom, but from our many long discussions on the topic over the years, it was clear that his faith had dried up entirely.

They tell me that he's in a better place, but I cannot fathom nonexistence being superior to existence.  That ideology is so alien to me that I cannot even begin to comprehend it.

This life is all we have. That's why there's generally such a low incidence of Atheists and Agnostics killing themselves; if this is all we have, why would we ever voluntarily give that up? That's also why most spree killers profess some sort of religious faith; they believe that their faith will either protect them or reward them for their actions. They think that they can be forgiven by G-d for their transessions, so they have no mortal law or repurcussions to fear. That is the true danger of zealots.

I know this has been rambling and only semi sensible, but it's just a bunch of words that were clogging up my head. Thanks for reading this far.

Oh, and I meant that bit earlier about the contacting me in the event of thinking about considering suicide. Seriously. I'm right here.

-J

2012/12/26

Snowmapocalypsageddonclysm

It's all sorts of fun out on the streets today. Slip, slidin' away like I'm Mario vs some Pengins.

Today, a new Pathfinder feat for your usage in coldness themed campaigns.

Fires of Permafrost [General]
Requirements: Ability to cast spells with the Cold descriptor OR the Cold subtype.
Benefit: As a swift action, you may choose to ignore Cold resistance or immunity when you cast a Cold spell or spell-like ablity. Targets effected by this ability may are immune to its effects for 24 hours.


-J

2012/12/24

The Colors of Magic and Specializations

Anyone who's played MtG knows that certain colors are better at certain schools/specializations of magic than others. White provides the best Protection, Blue provides the best Counterspells, Black provides the best Curses, Green provides the best Enhancement, and Red provides the best Elemental Damage. In that vein, which Affinity you choose to add to your dice pool can have an effect on your Specialization dice.

If you use a Specialization which is one of the Linked Specializations with the Affinity you use in your die pool, step up that Specialization die. There's no penalty for out-of-color magic, because that makes things less Epic and that's the whole point, right? (Editor's Note: I may make it so that if you're using one of the enemy colors of a specific effect [using Red or Green for Counterspell], it'll step-down the Specialization die. We'll see how each plays during the next playtest.)

White: Protection
Green: Summoning
Red: Elemental Damage
Black: Curse
Blue: Counterspell

The other specializations fall in to more than one color, so they've got no specific bonuses.

So, taking from last week's character creation example:

Uriel is stalking the streets of Mercadia, hunting down a criminal. He corner's the poor sod and gives him a chance to surrender. Being a nonsensical criminal scum, he draws a knife. Uriel reaches deep into his magical reserves to Justice the wretch into ashes.

Uriel's die pool is as follows:

Red Magic (d10) - Affinity.
Elemental Damage (d8) - Specialization.
"Burn with me!" (d8) - Characteristic.

Since the Specialization matches the Affinity, it is stepped up to a d10. Uriel's final die pool is two d10s and one d8.

If he had, instead, tried to restrain the criminal, his die pool would look more like:

d10 (Red Magic) + d6 (Domination) + d6 (Heart of Darksteel). Since Domination is a non-color tied effect (being historicall used by White, Blue, Black, and Red), he gets no bonus step-up.

I've got a second playtest this Friday, so I'm sure there'll be more changes coming down the pipe.