Worldbuilding, Beauty and Alienation

My wife is fond of asking me when I’m going to stop trying to learn more things. I don’t have an answer to that because I suppose I will never know enough about the universe to have the complete picture of it that I want.

Lately my interest has been neuroscience and behavioral science. I think this is mainly because in the last few years I’ve been exploring the fact that I have a mild spectrum of autism and I learned that most people do not experience the world as I do.

To me autism means I do not have some of the automated processes that are normally encoded in a human being’s brain. The fewer automated processes an autistic has, or if certain important processes are disrupted the more severe the dysfunction. This is my take on my autism, it’s how I define it.

When these processes are not automatic a person has to develop their own process for dealing with input from the world. This is often on a more conscious level. It takes conscious thought to work through a situation that would normally be dealt with automatically. This usually means a greater mental stress load for common every day things but the trade off is that you sometimes know why you process things the way you do and can occasionally manipulate the process.

So it become profoundly interesting to me to learn how these automated processes actually should work in people. It’s fascinating because most people make use of these automatic programs without knowing that they’re doing it.

Today I listened to a program about beauty. I listen through the lens of the above. What are people doing that they aren’t aware of?

For one the program talked about a landscape that was nearly universally considered beautiful by humans. It was one that a human would be able to thrive in easily. A diversity of plants, the presence of water, evidence of bird life, an optimal view of the surroundings. This is a process that most people have, built in to tell them when life will be good for them. A subconscious signal that this is a good place to live.

To tie this in with world building, what does that mean for your world? Does your world deliver beauty?

Without specific knowledge of these universal human tendencies for perceiving beauty, long ago I set out to create a very alien world for The Artifact that rejected human ideas of beauty and strictly dealt with functionality. This was important to the story that I wanted to tell.

It does have it’s trade offs though. It is extremely difficult to draw and paint things that are not beautiful or at the very least intriguing. Even something that is ugly is easier to depict. It’s also difficult to describe things that are not beautiful and not ugly with words.

But why do I want to try and make a world that is not beautiful and not grotesquely ugly? To me, this is an expression that is sublimely alien to the human mind. It is not something opposed to our thinking and not something that we would want to think about. It is alien.

The difficult thing about it is to now fill it with enough humanism to make it inviting  enough to want to stay for a while. The reader can be disoriented by the alien, but invited by the human. This has been a struggle to get right, I’ve made some progress but is something I will have to keep working on.

Most worlds that are constructed swing from beautiful to grotesque. We know how to deal with those things. They are in built, automated responses. What happens when you put normal people in an environment where they have no in built response? Each response must be handled consciously. This can be taxing on the mind so it has to be done slowly and carefully. It throws off a person’s ability to easily parse their world.

Without knowing it, was The Artifact crafted as a metaphor for my own autism? They always say to write what you know. Was I recreating a feeling that I have in response to the world?

When worldbuilding, it seems that people often build off a feeling that they have. I often find it difficult to articulate the aesthetic of the world, the why or what of that root feeling. I may have found a few tools to describe it here.

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It’s time to get to work!

Loc's RobotI was thinking that I needed another few weeks of pictures to get started laying out the 3rd edition but when I did an inventory, I found that I’m already at my goal of twenty pictures. So it’s time to crank up the pace and get the 3rd edition out the door!

The first step is to get an edited version of the text finished so that I’m not editing while I’m laying out. The size of the files starts to get very large when all the pictures are added in and the whole thing becomes very difficult to edit.

It’s best for me to build each section of the book as it’s own file and then put them all together when I’m done.

I can probably squeeze out another picture or two in the time it will take me to put it all together. If I apply myself I think I could finish in a month!

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Scout

Scout

It’s been two days but we still haven’t found the real entrance to the safehouse. Jahre has searched every nook and crevice in a kilometer of where the map says the entrance should be. He’s saved us a lot of effort by tagging each tunnel that he’s already looked in. He says the his sonar imager would sometimes show entrances that have been covered over but so far it hasn’t given us any real leads. We’ll have to return for ground penetrating radar.

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Report by: Warrant Officer Robert Smith

Position: Field Scientist, Juliet Company

Assigned Objective: Observation of Scimrahn to Kelrath negotiations

Purpose of Mission: Provide documentation and observe Kelrath business and cross cultural relations.

Progress Report: The Raid that we had observed earlier was on a vessel owned by a Kelrath that the tribe had not worked with before.  The vessel’s records say that it is owned by a Kaloord named Hessik Rannil of the city Gethilsichk. Two representatives from the tribe and myself will travel to the city and make contact with Hessik Rannil.

Chiah-boch and Feraw will represent the tribe in the negotiation. They have contacted a Kelrath merchant that they have worked with before. We will remain hidden in cargo containers that the merchant will bring to Gethilsichk to trade.

Skiff

Update: We were successfully smuggled into the city where we had the opportunity to observe the Rantaa’ addressing the city.

There seems to be a good deal of unrest in the city. Although the Rantaa’ has the confidence of the Kaloord, the Geetin and the Gijorn class are unhappy about treatment they’ve received at the hands of the Kaloord. Apparently the Gijorn generals felt they could put some pressure on the Rantaa’ and get some relief. I was not able to follow the whole speech but Feraw tells me it does not look like the Rantaa’ is going to bow to pressure. The speech was to give the Kelrath new authority to discipline the lower castes.

The way things normally work is that the Kaloord have Geetin on loan from the Rantaa’ and if any die, they have to justify the loss to the Rantaa’. The new disciplinary measures allow the Kelrath to loose up to ten Geetin a year without having to report to the Rantaa’.

Kelrath

Chiah-boch and Feraw have decided to back out of trying to negotiate in this city. We will leave tomorrow. This choice is not made lightly, the Kelrath that brought us here has been paid very well for smuggling us in here.

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What’s In The Works?

This week’s been pretty busy so I didn’t get a picture done yet. I liked the last picture as a full page pic to introduce the Chezbah. I’m working on a full page to introduce the Kelrath. It’s about a 3rd done.

I recently posted a new adventure that I worked on for the RPG Geek Adventure Design Contest called Some Dreams Are Nightmares. It’s a simple adventure but it goes in a different direction than the existing adventures and introduces some bad guys that aren’t in any of the other books.

I’m working on an adventure now that explains some of the things the Chezbah do. We’ve been playing with the idea behind this one for a while. The main challenge to writing  this game is that I want it to be partially replayable. I’d like the main threat to be reusable in other games should the GM choose. The other difficulty is that the threat is very dangerous. Getting a balance between very dangerous and TPK is not easy.

The third edition of the player’s handbook is in the works too. This is mostly going to be rules updates and changing how some of the Comm Officer’s guide works. I might get a chance to do a new picture or two, we’ll see.

Tortuga is on hold until I can get 3rd edition done. Actually most of it is 3rd edition ready, I just have to re-write a new skill and I wanted to improve some of the artwork. When I started doing the art, I was really out of practice. Now that I’ve got new equipment and I’ve been practicing I’d like to do a better job.

Then there are the other sourcebooks. The Engineer’s sourcebook is going to be a challenge because I’m going to have to gut a lot of the equipment creation rules and update them to tech challenges. This may not be as hard as it sounds though. It was incredibly easy to do for the vehicle modification rules. If I follow the same logic, making equipment should work similarly.

I’d also love to rebuild the Fringe for 3rd ed and give it a cover. It usually falls by the wayside when it comes to projects.

In the past I didn’t like making adventures but I’ve come to see their value in telling very specific things about the world. Even if a GM never runs them, I can put some very specific details in them that would just get glossed over in the main book. Because of that, you’ll be seeing more adventures that go a lot more into plumbing the hidden depths of The Artifact.

Waiting for me to finish all this art for 3rd edition is a little tedious. It’ll be nice to finish it up and put it all together.

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Welcome Back Cody

We’re very happy to have our rules editor back. Cody has been away for a bit but he’s back now. He’s got a bit of catching up to and we’re looking forward to his input on the 3rd edition.

For now, this picture’s for you Cody. They’ve missed you too.

Chezbah Squad

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Foraging

Sponge

Today Ahach took us to his foraging and hunting ground. He says he’s hunted here his whole life. This is a thermosynthetic biosphere, everything is fed off the heat from a plasma main. This main may be set to rupture at some point since the temperatures are much hotter than normal. The mains can be thought of like volcanos, they’ve been here since the planet being built, by some accounts five thousand years. One can be ready to blow at any time but that could be in any time frame from a minute to a century. The chance of it going while we’re visiting is slim but not zero.

The biodiversity here is staggering, unlike any flora or fauna we’ve seen. The majority of it is what Ahach calls “Fera”. They’re something like tall sea sponges on dry ground. They start sparsely and about ankle high where it’s cooler, and as the temperature rises, they get taller and taller until they were well over our heads.

Ahach says that when he was younger the sponge used to grow all the way up the plasma main but as the containment has broken down, the temperatures have gotten too high for the sponge and they died off.

There are zah and nicoe here by the hundreds. There’s some other flying creatures that I’ve never seen before. We heard some ekchok a few hundred meters away but Ahach said they wouldn’t bother us since there was so much food available to them. There were seeter and gunthar tracks but not as many as I would have expected.

Something big was moving around in the sponge but it stayed out of sight. I would have loved to have gone and seen what it was but Ahach said to leave it alone.

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Hacker

Dex Web There is no computer I cannot hack, no network that I cannot infiltrate. That is what I used to tell myself. I had heard of the prime addresses. I thought it was just a story spread by cut rate operators.

I chained every computer in a thousand kilometers in a botnet to pummel the prime addresses into submission. I built an exquisite tool for carving into systems. Any network on Earth would have quickly fell to my tools.

Faster than I could react, my botnet fell. It was cleansed from the ether faster than I could rebuild it. My attack had no effect whatsoever aside from angering someone.

Now they are after me. They found me and they are hunting me down. They don’t care about soldiers or even Scimrahn. They pass them by. They only want me.

I thought for a brief moment that this meant I had done some damage, that I had broken through. No, I am like a mosquito that has caused the slightest of irritation to a man. I merely angered them.

I did this picture for the rules section under the description of the Dexterity attribute. I liked the roughness of it. It feels a bit more raw.

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Kayfabe RPG Sessions

Robot ThingyYesterday I talked about what RPGs could learn from Pro Wrestling and how wrestling went from a sport that took too long to win so was only sometimes entertaining enough to an entertainment that looked like sport focused on pleasing fans. It did this by kayfabe or ‘keeping it fake’, fixing fights and enhancing the action with moves that make no sense as far as real wrestling is concerned but are exciting to watch.

So how do we use that to make RPGs an easier hobby to take up and make them more fun in the process? At first the idea of kayfabe making the game more fake sounds awful but so does turning a sport into a pseudosport. The fact is though that Pro Wrestling is a bigger money maker now than it was. The concept when executed properly is successful.

What we have to remember is that the players are not the audience. They are the contestants and the contestants are in on the fakery. In fact, they act out the fakery which is core to making this work.

Lets back up though for a moment and look at the goal of our faking. One is to make the game shorter. Two it’s to amplify the excitement of the game. To get to the good part right away. What is “the good part?” That could change from game to game but I’m going to start with the example of a the final conflict with the Big Bad that comes at the end of the game.

Just skipping to the Big Bad would be unsatisfying. There is no discovery, no ramp up, less challenge to the PCs. We don’t want to just skip to the end. This is where the players being in on the kayfabe comes into play. They generate how they got to this point. The GM presents them with the big exciting finale and then asks them “How did you get here?” and the players describe why they took on a job offered to them by a old man in the village. It doesn’t matter what they come up with as long as it fits the description of them getting to the finale.

You might be thinking “But they don’t have to fight their way through the Big Bad’s hordes to get to this point, they’re fresh as daisies. This won’t be as interesting.” Lets fix that then.

The point of all that build up is partly for the story of a struggle to get to this point and partly to wear down the PCs resources. Let’s have the players generate both. The GM can offer a set of deals. Take 2 hit points of damage and get the “Brave and Heroic” experience bonus. Take off half your ammo and get extra cash. Take 30 points of stress of any kind and you get to pick from this list of equipment. Nothing says they have to take any deals so they have to be tempting enough that the players will bite and make a more interesting story.

Now as well as “How did you get here?” the players also have to integrate the deals they chose into their story.

This whole process should take 15-20 minutes. The finale could then take 40 minutes and you have a game in one hour that included everything you normally put in your games.

There are story advantages to this process also. Because the players can describe their own story, they will likely tell one that is more interesting to them. The GM may learn more about the specific interests of the players and be able to really tune into what they like and want out of a game.

The players can throw in crazy things that they would never accept from a GM. Things like “The guy that gave us the job turned out to be my long-lost father!” because it’s safe from consequence. They have control of it and more or less know what the GM has in store in the finale. Yes there’s some room for surprises but the players have a reasonable expectation of what’s to come.

Mixing it up

What if the real draw to your game isn’t the Big Bad? What if it’s the puzzle, or the mystery that you worked so hard on? Then we reverse the process. The deals happen after the puzzle is solved. So that take off two hit points happens only after the puzzle is done. What if the PC has lost most of their hit points while solving the puzzle and then goes into the finale with only two? Well they die in the battle. Kayfabe it and make up the heroic battle and how they die saving their friends.

Try it, see if you like it. No doubt it will be a bit different from what you’re used to but remember the point is to enhance the entertainment and make the game quicker and easier to take up. This will be an odd sell to a lot of players but would be a lot of fun if embraced. The main question is can players fake it so well that it feels authentic to them, like they really went through all those things.

Let us know what you think. Will you try a kayfabe session?

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What RPGs Could Learn From Pro Wrestling

In the 19th century wrestling was a big deal. People loved watching a good match. Towns would have their local champions and these champions would battle for the best in the region.

But wrestling had a big problem. Sometimes a match would take hours to finish, maybe even days. This meant that people would eventually lose interest in a match and stop paying to see the next match.

The guys that organized these matches didn’t like that. Even if you have a wrestling fan, you don’t know if they’ll show to see the next match. You don’t know if they’ll keep paying you.

RPGs have a similar problem. They usually take a long time to play. Even if someone likes RPGs, they may not have time to invest in reading a new game. They may not have the time to sit down and play through a session. They may find parts of the game fun but would like to get to the good stuff.

So what did wrestling do? They made the matches shorter. They encouraged wrestlers to use the moves that really got spectators attention.

How did they make the matches shorter? Well, that’s where this gets weird. They lied, they fixed the matches, they even have a word for it. Kayfabe, meaning keep it fake. It’s why the WWF changed to the WWE. It isn’t about a match to see who’s the best wrestler and hope that it entertains spectators. It’s about a match that pretends to see who’s the best, to make sure that spectators are entertained.

In some ways that’s a much more technical endeavor. You have to know what people want and give them more of it. You have to pretend you’re doing one thing (combat) and while you’re doing another (acting out a story).

So how can RPGs do that? I’ll write about that tomorrow.

 

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