Wednesday, September 02, 2009

YOU'RE poorly written!*


Found a thread on "Naked Came the Gamer" on therpgsite. Discouraging, depressing. I don't follow the Old School Renaissance community closely enough to realize the absolute contempt with which so many of them regard Forge folks in general and Ron in particular (he's their favorite bete noire, but by by no means the only one).

I just don't get it. Why the hatred? Why the loathing? It's not mutual. Indie gamers tend to regard OSR folks with admiration, if anything. But a lout segment of the OSR just turn vicious when the topic of the Forge and its spinoffs comes up. Er, I meant a "loud" segment. Freudian typo.

Even though the essay challenges the OSR, the challenge is based on the premise that what they are trying to do is valuable -- the challenge is whether they are going to follow through on their valuable endeavor with integrity. (Whether or not Ron is correct about what "integrity" consists of here, the point is that he's saying "you're doing something awesome! Are you going to follow through?")

I just don't get it. If you just read the OSR threads you'd think that this was a longstanding rivalry and the Forge guys go around dissing them, likewise, crowing about how awesome forge games are and how much everybody else, including the OSR, sucks. But that never happens. There are a lot of asshole forge folks, and they say some real jerk-ass things, but pretty much always to and about each other. They don't, as a community, have a contempt for any other community of gamers. If anything they have a contempt for the traditional model of distribution.

Why the asymmetry?


Ah, reaction to Ron's article in Fight On is beginning. In my blog reader today was a piece by James Maliszewski at Grognardia, which complained that other OSR people were getting upset about it, rather than doing the proper thing and quietly shrugging and writing it off as "poorly written and nakedly self-serving." No pun intended I guess.

I like Grognardia a lot, and was kind of disappointed that that was the level of engagement he displayed, but I don't know what else I expected. Grognardia's reaction to Carcosa was exactly the sort of thing Ron was complaining about.

James Raggi was called out directly by Ron, and in his response he simply tells Ron that Ron is mistaken about the nature and purpose of the changes in his work, that in fact Raggi agrees with Ron, basically, on all counts, and wouldn't do what Ron complained about him doing. So that's interesting, he didn't say "Ron, you're totally wrong! I was right to do that!" he said "Ron, you're totally right about everything except what you think I did, I didn't in fact do that, because I am on the same page in the first place!" That's actually a very positive way to disagree.

Ironically the comments to Raggi's blog, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, are much more full of snotty hating than the ones in Grognardia.

Interesting stuff all around; I hope to see more. Maybe I'll have to find some fora where they're discussing it.

Of course, I'll be really geeked when somebody actually buys S/Lay w/Me in response to all that and starts publically hating on or digging my artwork.

* the title of this post is an inside joke which as far as I know will make exactly one reader of this blog chuckle. Hi Dave!

UPDATE: Grognardia's well over 119 comments now, including some thoughtful stuff, positive and negative, and bucketloads of stupid. James M himself does not contribute at all to the stupid in the comments, to his credit, and insists that only a very small fraction of Old School Renaissance folks know about Ron and the Forge, and only a small fraction of those dislike them. It's just that they're very loud people.

As far as I know, there are no loud Forge people hating on neo-grognards, nor spending long comment threads railing against caricatured boogeymen of them, so there's some asymmetry there. Seems a pity. The two groups sure seem to have a lot in common to me.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

S/Lay w/Me Actual Play - Asad at the Monastery.

OK, I wrote this up over several days, so it may not flow very well. So much happened during that short game! And every bit of it seemed important to write up! So here we go.


Joe and I sat down to try S/Lay w/Me last night. Joe was "you," and I was "I" in Ron's terminology (which causes a bit of "Who's On First" syndrome when you use it in reference to a real life situation: "I'll be 'you' and you be 'I'.") That is, Joe was the quasi-player, and I was the quasi-GM.

Joe chose the "young warrior, fierce and feared, but my hair is grey," but changed the hair to white. He's an olive-skinned fellow from a desert land, with strangely white hair, and has a scimitar. (Originally rapier, retroactively edited to scimitar cause it made more sense. We did a couple of those little retroactive edits in the course of the game where it made sense.)

He also chose the "clean, clear air of the mountains," for the setting, and for the goal, "to ring the bell in the monastery, to rid himself of a curse..." he was going to go on from there and work out what the curse was and all but I told him I thought all we really needed was "to ring the bell." He wanted a name for the monastery in these Himalayan-like mountains, and I suggested "Leng?" We went with that. In my mind, that probably fixed the character of the inhabitants of the monastery...

I came up with a Monster -- the Yeti, which was at least as much spirit as flesh, mainly red eyes in the windy darkness and sharp claws. (It attacked Singly, Savagely, With Deceit, and.... um, I forget the other adjective choice.) And a Lover -- Aita, a shaman, a tiny woman, Mongolian in appearance and dress, wearing various charms and fetishes made of feathers and fur, and surrounded by spirits. Her desire for Asad was "innocent, forbidden, open-hearted, and knowledgeable."

The location was a series of plateaus and mesas connected by ancient bridges of stone or rope. Somewhere out there is the monastery of Leng, presumably. The area where things start was a broad shelf on the side of a steep cliff, with a semi-wild garden and trees covering it. There was a pool by the cliffside, formed by a stream cascading down the cliff. There were sigils carved on either side of the waterfall, and trees on either side.

Joe had Asad arrive out of the mist by a rope bridge, and walk through the garden, up to the pool and waterfall. At the very last second he saw the previously unnoticed Aita before him, sitting on the grass, in a meditative position. The wind blew the grass around her in a circle, as if she were in the center of a vortex, a ring of breezes. (That was how I imagined her to be "surrounded by spirits" as I'd jotted down.)

They spoke, and there were some locked eyes and there was some alternating shyness and fascination from Aita. She offered him food, showing him how to crack open the pods growing on the nearby trees. He asked who she was, and she explained she was a shaman and protected the people of the area, from the danger whose name she would not even speak. She offered him a necklace with a feather on it to protect him from the creature. He let her put it on his neck -- another awkward lock-eyes moment -- which was unusual for him, letting a stranger get that close to him. When that happened the vortex of spirit-winds circled round them *both*. When he inquired further about the creature, she asked him to be still and listen... and when he did, he could hear far away, under the noise of the waterfall, under the noise of the wind, a faraway roaring, that sounded like a mix of a huge animal and a person filled with pain and rage.

That noise would never leave his consciousness for the rest of the tale, while the Yeti lived.

Aita explained that even visualizing the creature could provoke it and summon it to them.

I think the above was two or three Goes.

On Joe's Go, he had Asad ask her how to get to the Monastery, and had her lead him off.... which began the Match, since he was taking action toward his Goal.

They traveled several bridges and went up high above the tree line and found a plateau with a huge, sprawling building on it, the size of a village -- the Monastery of Leng. In front of it was a deep pool, with stepping-stones leading across it to the front door, making it kind of like a moat. There was a gong to ring, and they rang it, and to the front door came a creepy little monk.

He agreed to take Asad into the monastery, but refused to let Aita in without "purification." She seemed to know what he meant by that, and agreed to it, suprising him. She took off all her clothes and submerged herself in the ice-cold pool, rising out again and dressing again while he leered. Then she dressed again, with Asad giving her his cloak, and they went inside.

They were left alone while the Creepy Old Monk went to get tea. During this time they talked, and Asad asked her why she stayed here, and she explained her spirits were the spirits of these mountains, that she was bound to them and they to her, and they were her life. He pointed out that there were mountains near his home to the south too, and perhaps she could get to know some new spirits. In doing this he pissed off her spirits, and earned a die for implying he would take her with him.

The Creepy Old Monk offered them tea, and Aita refused. He insisted, pushing the cup back (despite it being a hot cup of tea and her near freezing), and he pushed the cup back toward her again. Finally her spirits knocked the cup over, angering him. Asad insisted they get moving, so the Creepy Old Monk took them down a corridor, to a door, opened it up, and let Asad walk before him into a gray room... whose floor was a Tulpic illusion. Asad fell fifty feet down a pit, into the darkness, and heard the door slam above. And up there the Creepy Old Monk was clutching the protective fetish feather he had snatched off Asad's neck as he fell.

He was in a cave and felt a biting wind, like spearshafts of ice through him. The roar was overwhelming. The Yeti was here. It barrelled up to him and slashed him across the leg with its claws, wounding him. He attacked it with his scimitar and found it barely noticed his blows. Finally he sought an escape, and found a narrow stairwell that the beast couldn't follow.... which led to an opening onto the cliff face... and another stair to the plateau... and there he was back at the outside again.

And he could see an angry circle of winds writhing around the grounds. (Aita's been separated from her spirits? Very bad news.) He approached it and it attacked him with its feeble power -- whipping at his clothes. He spoke to it angrily and talked it into blowing underneath the door and opening the bar behind it. It did and they went in "together," man and spirit-wind-vortex, after Aita.

Asad found himself a monk to talk to... The monastery as a whole was stone rooms and corridors with a spiral pattern, so that everything curved eventually towards the center. Joe pointed out to me that the description of Asad was "fierce _and feared_" and I might want to include that in people's reactions to me. I played that up in the young monk's reaction -- Asad scared the piss out of him. "Where is Aita? Where is the shaman woman?" The young monk said, "woman! No woman passes these halls..." "Not even if she has received purification?" He looked shocked. "But after purification comes... punishment..."

Soon Asad was following a terrified young monk to the Chamber of Punishment. They came down a corridor to a door locked from the other side. There was a window grille through which Asad could peer and see a small auditorium, like a Victorian operating theater, with a slab in the center, and on the slab was Aita, stripped naked, on her knees, her head chained low, her arms chained up and pulled cruelly behind her. A sequence of progressively more horrible implements of torture was laid out before her, with an empty space at the very beginning, where had lain the cat o' nine tails that the Creepy Old Monk was carrying as he walked around her, leering again. The seats were filled with monks of all ages, watching with seeming detachment.

The everpresent roar was getting louder, behind Asad, and he heard the young monk scamper back along the corridor and die at the hands of a hungry Yeti. So ended my Go with the action of the monster.

I thought there would be a fight with the monster here, but I was wrong. Asad shrugged off the Yeti behind him, letting it eat its victim, and beat his way through the door into the Chamber of Punishment. He unsheathed his scimitar and lopped off the head of the nearest monk in the audience. Then he felt the Red Rage descend, and all was a blur till he found himself in a room full of decapitated monks, with one living monk in front of him -- the Creepy Old Monk, whom he had carved up a bit but not killed.

He snatched the keys from him and held them up for the wind-spirits to take and unlock Aita, which they did, and surrounded her again, protectively. Asad gave her his cloak again, and she wore just that for now. Asad snatched back the feather-charm, which the Creepy Old Monk still had. They contemptuously left the monk behind, and went out into the corridor again, which the Yeti had deserted.

They spoke and it was established that Asad needed to go to the center of the Yeti-haunted monastery to ring the bell, that the charm wouldn't last that long in the monastery -- the protection from the Yeti would run out. Aita declared she would follow him to the center of the monastery, but that she needed to find a place alone to speak with her spirits first.

They found a storage chamber full of grains given to the monks in tribute, purple cloth such as their robes were made of, and the like. Asad guarded the door and she spread out a cloth on the ground and knelt down to commune with the spirits.

She told them she was unbinding them, that they were free and she was free of them, they could come or go as they pleased. They freaked out and created a small tornado within the storage room, laying waste to everything within, all around her, nad then disappeared... and all was quiet.

"Asad?... Asad, will you come to me? I am alone. For the first time in many years... I am alone."

And Asad entered the chamber and barred the door, and Embraced the Lover.

When they left the chamber, she had fashioned a (classic pulp magazine cover girl style) shift or tunic out of some of the monks' purple fabric and a rope belt.

The monks' chanting was everpresent, and mixed with the sound of the monster's roar. They were linked.

They made their way towards the center of the monastery, where the Bell was located. All through the monastery they found monks chanting, deep throat-singing chants, with their hands in mudras resembling claws. They were summoning and strengthening the Yeti to defend the monastery. They all ignored Asad, and he them.

I'm a little fuzzy in the memory as to exactly how things went next, but soon Asad and Aita were almost to the bell room, and the Yeti attacked, slamming Aita against a wall and knocking her out cold with a splatter of blood against the wall (killing her? the dice had yet to decide whether she would live...).

Asad fought the beast again with his scimitar, putting all his heart and soul into wearing it down, to little avail, taking hits from the claws... Through the next arch he saw the Bell itself, in the center of the monastery... in a great round room, the floor covered in sand, the bell a tube of metal on a dais...

The sight of his goal gave Asad strength, and he started to prevail, when...

The Creepy Old Monk limped from a corridor nearby and walked up to the bell. The Creepy Old Monk bared his arm and cut his own palm with a dagger, and let his blood drip on the bell. and the bell vibrated along with the roar of the Yeti and the chants of the monks.... And the blood, by the power of the bell, gave form and flesh and strength to the Yeti, and the tide of battle was turned against Asad.

The Yeti knocked Asad to the ground and held him down, its claws holding him to the ground by the neck, like a pitchfork... It raised its other claw to strike him the death blow...

And a vortex of angry wind spirits kicked sand into the face of the now-enfleshed Yeti, shocking it so that it pulled its claws away from Asad and he got away free.

Asad himself sprang to the bell and the Creepy Old Monk, and dashed the latter to the stone dais, cracking his skull like an eggshell. (I'm getting fuzzy on the order of events, that might have happened shortly before or after this.)

As the Yeti loomed over him, Asad stood over the bell and Established Mastery Over the Goal (as mentioned in the rules -- got a die there and his Go ended) by cutting his *own* palm and bleeding over the bell.

On my Go I responded:

As the blood fell on the bell a new spirit arose, Asad's own soul-form, and it gathered to it the sands (Asad, a man of the desert...) and even as the yeti was born of spirit and mist and snow, a Djinn arose from Asad's spirit and the sands... Asad's consciousness blurred and wavered, and as his body fell he awoke in the Djinn's body, and faced the Yeti, Monster to Monster.

And the Yeti tore into him, rending the sand with the force of the ice and wind. The Yeti was on his home turf, strengthened by the old monk's life force, and even a Djinn was no match for it...

I *think* this was where the match ended. I could be wrong. But I think that was it. I took a short break for a phone call and Joe added up the numbers and chose: * attaining the goal (free), * saving the life of the Lover, * killing the Monster. He did not choose to save his own life, though because he got the Goal he didn't die, he was badly wounded.


Then began the Red Rage. But in Djinn-form the Red Rage took physical form -- an unquenchable fire in his heart, which fused the very sands into molten glass, so that instead of a Sand-Djinn, he became a Djinn of glowing, molten, pure crystal -- transparent magma.

The Molten-Glass Djinn destroyed the Yeti, and steam and the smell of burnt flesh were all that was left. Across the monastery, the chanting monks who had sustained and strengthened the Yeti ended their chants and drooped forward, blood dripping from their nostrils and eyes, dead, to a man.

And then Asad as the Molten-Glass Djinn turned back to his body, and his consciousness fstarted to flicker back and forth between monster-self and man-self, and through that haze the man-self stood up and with great difficulty struck the bell a clear, loud blow, and in that instant the curse was ended.

(This was another slight retroactive edit -- we had this happen without the bell struck at first, and then shortly thereafter we realized it ought to happen *because* the bell was struck, so we decided that was how it happened.)

The Djinn and the man were severed, and the djinn, fifty feet tall, strode out of the monastery, leaving clouds of billowing steam in the snow behind it... and it began walking back to the Desert Lands, and many a legend tells of the time that the man made, as it were, of ice glowing with fire, strode through the mountains surrounded by hot clouds, its glow reaching up into the heavens.

For the curse had always been the Red Rage, and that rage was now no longer a lurking presence in his heart but a beautiful, elemental Djinn.

Asad lost consciousness and awoke in the care of Aita, at her spring, where she'd carried him back with the aid of her no-longer-bound spirits. The first blow from the Yeti to his leg had lamed him, and without the rage in the depth of his heart to push him on, it would cripple him. But it mattered no more -- without the rage his warrior's ferocity was no longer necessary. He could just be a man now, not a warrior, fierce and feared. He was no longer burdened with the curse.

Asad stayed with Aita in the mountains, ending his story as part of the game.


some notes -- so much of this seems as if it would have been planned out beforehand, but not a damn bit of it was. I was astounded at how well it all held together and cohered. Both Joe and I have read Graham Walmsey's "Play Unsafe" chapter on reincorporation, and its source material in Keith Johnstone; I'd recommend either or both as good background in how to do a game like this well. But I was pretty blown away by some of the reincorporation Joe did -- he way he reincorporated the freed air spirits as a help to him during the final fight? most of all, how he made the Red Rage he'd come up with during the fight in the chamber of punishment into the curse he was here to rid himself of, and making the split into Man and Djinn into the manifestation of the ridding of the curse? That was stellar.

I was surprised to find myself creating Aita as so innocent and shy. I wouldn't have expected myself to do that, given the sexy nature of the game, but it was what came to mind and it worked beautifully. Perhaps it was in overcompensation for that that I pushed kind of hard to get her naked, and even in bondage, at the insistence of the creepy old monk (who in retrospect I suppose is my evil lecherous avatar in the story... good thing he got what he deserved!).

I felt kind of bad making the whole monastery kind of creepy and evil. Like Alec Baldwin and the Dalai Lama were going to go shout FREE TIBET and kick my ass. But it's the way it came to me. I blame Lovecraft. (The "whole monastery creepy and evil" thing was unexpected to Joe too... he expected the old monk to be the monster in disguise.)

Overall the whole game was a creative high at a level I haven't experienced in a while. Several times during the game I restrained myself from whooping and hollering at how awesome it was.

I know this kind of awesome isn't exactly unknown in well designed story games with creatively engaged players. But I just don't get to play such very often, and it was a big deal to me.

Well done Ron!