pelagia et al

Some time ago I was really intrigued with oceanic adventure. I tinkered with two games around that time, neither of which really sang but both of which still, I think, have some promise in their premise.

The first was Navigator.

The second was Pelagia.

There might be a third — there’s a way in which Polyp fits in there too.

navigatorNavigator was about modern (ish) pirates and criminals making a living on the ocean around Thailand, smuggling and otherwise getting into trouble between exotic and poorly policed coastal cities and villages. It’s obviously a rip-off of Black Lagoon but no one has ripped that off very well yet, so it’s still viable.

Maybe it’s not obvious, but the matrix I built it on is Traveller. Or bits of Traveller. It’s very much, I realized, a Traveller premise — you have a ship, there are places on a map to visit, you use your ship, the law is relatively weak. You do crimes, make ends meet, keep the ship running.

I don’t think I have anything written for it any more — my recollection of it is that I was using paper notes exclusively and so they are gone. But it’s a kernel of an idea and I don’t think the actual game was all the interesting. Just the idea. So that could easily happen again.

It definitely had a life path system because I did find this:

Choose: NATIONALITY

Choose NATURE: HUGE, FAST, SMART, or CONNECTED

      • Huge: Unarmed Hold, Armed Heavy Weapon or Melee, Finesse Intimidate
      • Fast: Unarmed Karate (or whatever), Armed light weapon, Finesse Evade
      • Smart: Unarmed Hide, Armed Thrown weapon, Finesse Hack
      • Connected: Unarmed Talk, Armed Found weapon, Finesse Negotiate

Choose PLAN: CAREFUL, LUCKY, BRAZEN, or CALCULATING

      • Careful: when unprepared you have a HIDING SPOT
      • Lucky: when unprepared you have a WEAPON
      • Brazen: when unprepared you have NO WEAPON
      • Calculating: when unprepared you have SOMEONE ELSE’S WEAPON

Write a paragraph about yourself that integrates these. Don’t talk history, talk personality.

Choose first career path, COLLEGE, MILITARY, BUSINESS or CRIMINAL. Roll 1d6 on the appropriate chart. Write a bit about that. Write your skill as an aspect but make it clear.

So yeah, pretty much what you’d expect though certainly there are some novel ideas in there. I’m pretty sure it was asymmetric too — player character simulation is not the same as environment simulation. I think it’s also one where the ref never rolls (since that goes hand-in-hand with that kind of asymmetry).

Screenshot 2020-02-29 19.55.07Pelagia I have even fewer notes on. From what I can find it looks like it dates from a period where I was still mostly hacking Fate. It’s also related to Deluge, perhaps a less or at least very differently apocalyptic. You would be people who live in these oceanic cities or villages, mostly underwater, after some event flooded all of the land masses of the world — everything you need you have to find in the ocean.

Since it’s something you bolt onto Fate, it’s mostly about the world and the technology. I never really figured out what you do. Just where you are.

I still think it’s pretty cool. If I ever figure out what characters do here I might restart work on it. If I know what you do, I can find a system for it.

polyp-titleFinally there is the very strange Polyp. In Polyp you are the strange unspecified animal avatars of a god that lives in the middle of a world composed entirely of water. Yeah, not a waterworld in the sense of being covered in water, but in the sense of being only water. This meant I could piss away hundreds of hours researching the states of water at various extraordinary pressures (which is really cool, go do that a little) even though that had little to do with the game. The important part of the game as that your cute little larval gods spent their time (your time at the table) sculpting a civilization out of the permanent ocean.

Now this game had a whole system but I don’t think it was really playable. I’m not sure I can ever find out because the only content I have is in an InDesign file and I cancelled my Adobe subscription ages ago. Maybe it was playable. You know what, since we will never know for sure, let’s just say it was awesome.

What I can recover (and this is not easy since it is also stored in software I am know longer allowed to use, but for different reasons) has this in it:

Yshtra. The water-engine of the world. She is both being and monster, machine and mind. Her name is also the name of this world composed only of water.

The history of Yshtra is one of oscillations, of waves. Over the tens of thousands of years recorded in her memory the world has been many things — civilization, wilderness, heaven, hell, destination and origin. Today it is a wasteland — the last cycle left the world deeply damaged. But you will change that. As the Polyps of Yshtra, you are designed to bring about the next great cycle though it is up to you to decide how. You are empowered with her authority: what you decide will not only be supported by Ysthra, but it will become her doctrine in the next cycle: you will start the world on a course of reconstruction and you will decide what that will be at its peak. You may also find you have sown the seeds for its inevitable decline. This is as it should be.

Of course since I was (and am) always thinking harder about the setting than the system, there is a way to generate the apocalyptic (hmm, that’s happening again too; I wonder why) starting form of the world that you will fix.

The state of life

The current state of life on Yshtra determines what your early conflicts will be about. As you progress through the oracles and tell the story of the world as it is now, codify the degree of fantasy in this reality — are you playing a science fiction game? A fantasy with relatively strict physics? A pure fantasy where physics are subservient to magic? Or will you be causing the physics to take shape as you go? When you know which you want to play, speak it out loud and write it on the map.

1. None. Whatever happened here, even if it was just entropy, it ended all life processes. The chemistry is still possible but there is nothing in the water that swims or eats or metabolizes in any way. Draw your DEATH symbol near Yshtra. Your FIRST CONFLICT could be fixing things so life can start already. Pick a new roller and roll again:

1. It’s dead cold. Solid ice. To kickstart this place again you’re going to need to start from outside the ice.
2. It’s cold. Everything has halted because the world is ice. Some warmth flows in myriad tiny crevices between the bulk of the ice, but not enough for life to sustain itself. Enough to kickstart something, maybe, though.
3. It’s warm. It’s fine. Just that nothing is running.
4. It’s hot. The upper part of the globe is water vapour and the parts that are low enough pressure to be useful are way too hot. Why’s it so hot?
5. It’s so damned hot. The world is vastly larger than it should be because of the heat. Something keeps it so hot that it’s almost entirely water vapour. Again, you might have to go outside the world to solve this one.

2. Some. There is some protozoic life here and so all of the necessary components to sustain life exist. But it can’t yet evolve and it’s not clear what it will become if it does. Draw your SIMPLICITY symbol near Yshtra. Your FIRST CONFLICT can be the jump-starting of life on a correct path. Pick a new roller and roll again:

1. It’s dark. Even the upper layers are too dark for photosynthesis and so the core life forms must do without. They live on some other energy source entirely — some heat source perhaps? An abundance of an active chemical compound? Radioactivity?
2. It’s bright. A sterilizing radiation from the sun penetrates the upper regions of the world forcing life to operate in the low-energy depths. Is something wrong with the sun? Or just the atmosphere?
3. Monoculture. There’s some life here but it’s all the same and lives in a relative equilibrium meaning there is no competition — no trigger to evolve. This world needs some change.
4. Simple. It’s just not complex enough — it’s a chemical dead-end for life. No amount of competition is going to trigger any interesting complexity. It would make a great food source for something that did, though!
5. Climactic chaos. Something external — weather, asteroid storms, solar instability, something — causes vast periodic extinctions before anything can take hold.

It just goes on like that. There is actually a ton of material here and I might reconsider it. Maybe I have enough tools now to make this one work. There’s an example of play that implies we’re working with some Hollowpoint variant here. This might be a branch of an early Soft Horizon game then.

For example, let’s say we’ve just come out of the Preparation session with the following world:

(Rolled 2 and 2): There is some simple life in the sphere of Yshtra, but the upper reaches of the water are savaged by harsh ultraviolet and worse from the sun.

(Rolled 3): The last cycle ended in disaster — a flourishing civilization damaged the atmosphere of the world (something they thought they didn’t need) and ruined the protection it provided. The sun flares at regular intervals and when it last flared, the habitable areas of the world were sterilized.

The group considers the problem and decides they can either fix the sun, fix the air, change the water so that it acts as its own radiation filter, or change the life so that it is impervious. They decide that they will bend their efforts to changing the water. As this is the opening action and there are four players, the referee rolls 8 dice: 6 6 6 1 1 4 4 3

A daunting opposition!

The players have rolled as follows:

Diisha, a Convert prime, rolls her Observe (3). She is whirling throughout the globe attempting to find more information about the water’s mineral contents and see if there is some way to use it to create a chemical cascade that will make a shield. She rolls: 5 3 4

Amal, a Deceive prime, rolls her Edit (4). She is moving through the past to find times when the water was more resilient and she will nudge some reactions to make them persistent. She rolls: 6 5 4 3

Benek, an Edit prim, rolls her Edit (5). She is moving through the past to find asteroids that were near misses that can be diverted into hits to alter the chemistry of the water. She rolls: 5 5 2 2 3

Since Diisha has rolled no sets, Amal asks to borrow her 4 since it will all make a set for her! Diisha agrees and the agree on the narration: in her travels Diisha has discovered a molecule with extra-physical properties that can be polymerized to create a floating shield on the surface of the water. It would require the presence of some magic in the distant past though. Amal now has: 4 4 6 5 3

Benek would also like a die, the 5, and suggests the narration that Diisha has discovered evidence of a huge asteroid storm in the past that grazed the planet. It would be a rich time period to mine for impacts. Benek now has: 5 5 5 2 2 3

Diisha’s remaining dice are irrelevant as she cannot be attacked since Observe was used to increase team resources.

We begin! The Widest, highest set is the Oppositions’s 6 6 6. The referee narrates: The problem is a crushing one. Time is vast and the things you seek may not even exist. She decides to apply her 6 6 6 to Amal. Amal can choose to take her hit on a 4, ruining a set, or be damaged by the attack. She chooses to take the hit and now has an Immediacy of Sticky — she is finding it hard to move in time. The sets are now:

Diisha: 3
Amal: 5 4 4 3
Benek: 5 5 5 2 2 3
Opposition: 4 4 1 1 3

Benek is next with her trio of 5s. She narrates: But in the depths of time, in that long void between then and now, there is a hope, a shower of asteroids that nearly missed. They contain elements critical to the creation of the Barrier Layer and I change the chances in time so subtly as to cause them to impact instead of miss. She chooses to take out one of the Opposition’s 4s:

Diisha: 3
Amal: 5 4 4 3
Benek: 2 2 3
Opposition: 1 1 3

Amal has the next move with the pair of 4s. She realizes she is vulnerable here and so starts by burning a trait (Justice — a facet of Yshtra that she now no longer believes in) and adds a die rolling a 6 — no help at all). She narrates: There are now minerals in the deep past with the mystical properties needed to form the shield. I nudge them together, trigger the cascade and it begins but will it hold? She takes a 1 from the opposition to protect herself.

Diisha: 3
Amal: 6 5 3
Benek: 2 2 3
Opposition: 3

Finally Benek acts with her pair of 2s. The ancient asteroids mingle with the new reaction and parts of the world are covered for some time. But it isn’t complete and might not be permanent. The job is not yet done. She damages the opposition with a hit from her Edit: it now has an Amenable Past.

It seems this tactic will not work, but neither has it entirely failed. The polyps will need to come up with something new.

This is obviously a game that puts an enormous creative burden on the players.

Lots of apocalyptic water in there.

 

chaos and economy and weather

Economies are multi-variate chaotic systems.

What’s a chaotic system?

A chaotic system is a function. It’s arithmetic. But it’s a function in which its variables future state depends on its current state. For example:

f(z) = z² + C

C is a constant. Every iteration you take the old value of z and square it, then add C and that’s your new value of z. Doesn’t look dangerous, right? Well if z is a complex number (so it’s really two parameters, not one — the real part and the imaginary part) and you map the number of iterations before it explodes to some huge number or to zero, you get this;

File:Mandel zoom 00 mandelbrot set.jpg
Created by Wolfgang Beyer with the program Ultra Fractal 3. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=321973

And that’s just two variables. Well, one complex one. Which is like two. Even that lovely image doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this result. If you zoom in on the regions that border on the black area of certainty, drilling down into variations in starting conditions at the fifth, tenth, sixteen thousandth decimal place, you will see an explosion of new complexity. Not random, but chaotic. With tiny islands of stability, regions of periodicity, and a whole lot of places that cannot be determined without another decimal place.

Just two variables.

Let’s look at just one. Let’s use f(x) =  + 0.21. Just one variable, no complex math. And let’s use a spreadsheet to see what happens between, say 0.01 and 1.3 or so. I won’t paste in my whole sheet but you can do it for yourself. Here are some features:

Screenshot 2019-09-26 17.02.54
It’s tiny so you can see the convergence patterns. The #NUM! errors is because Excel doesn’t like to work with numbers that have more than around 300 digits. So we’re calling that infinity.

If we start with x less than 0.3, the function trends up towards 0.3.

Between 0.3 and almost 0.7 (in fact infinitely close to 0.7), the function trends down towards 0.3.

At 0.7 the function just always returns 0.7

After 0.7 the function explodes faster and faster towards infinity.

0.3 is clearly some kind of attractor, an orbit in this simple (so very simple) system. And something is magic about 0.7 — it’s perfectly, utterly stable over time and yet it is so very precise. A millionth of a millionth more or less than 0.7 and it either hugs 0.3 eventually or it spins very rapidly indeed off to infinity.

In any chaotic system there may be regions of stability, called “attractors” or “orbits” where state fluctuates around some point on the map, never quite leaving the region (for the period we simulate). You see some perfect attractors in the super simple system above — 0.3 is obviously an attractor. 0.7 isn’t but it’s a stable point. A tiny tiny one. In more complex systems these orbits might not be so reliably convergent — they might diverge suddenly as they approach. Maybe at the fiftieth iteration. Maybe later.

The important thing here is…well there’s two. They are:

Unpredictability. You can’t guess from the current state what the next state will be. You have to crunch the numbers. In simpler systems you can make a guess of course, and even likely be right, but it’s hard (or in more complex systems impossible) to prove your guess analytically.

Sensitivity. You can’t simulate the future state because tiny variations in a variable’s value can have dramatic impact on future state: your simulation has to be perfect to be useful. 0.6999999999999999 converges on 0.3. 0.7000000000000001 goes to infinity. A rounding error can kill you.

Our economy has thousands if not millions of variables. Just three would need a three dimensional image to display, and one we can see inside of. Four variables would need a space we are not equipped to visualize. The economy is mind bogglingly complex. It’s at least as bad as the weather. And while we have all kinds of tricks for predicting the weather they all pretty much boil down to this: tomorrow will be like today only slightly different, with a sprinkling of last time it was like this the next day was like that.

A free market economy (a perfect one — a spherical cow in a vacuum) is a chaotic system in which participants have faith that this algorithm will result in the best possible world for the most people. This algorithm was not, however, designed in any fashion. It was just set loose. No one ever has understood all the variables and it’s intrinsically impossible to predict its behaviour. It has no knowledge nor interest in us or itself. It’s just a huge chunk of arithmetic. This is a weird place to put your faith.

Variations on the free market are an attempt to change key variables to get local effects that are desirable. Experimentally (and even analytically) we can find ways to reduce interdependency, to force certain variable states, and even to make certain variables irrelevant to the calculations. It’s fundamentally an attempt to simplify the chaotic system, to make it less chaotic. Or to push people into stable regions with positive effects.

You are already aware of some of the more stable regions. Being incredibly wealthy is a fairly stable region. Few variables impact you meaningfully and you have to make extreme moves to put you in a position where you won’t just be nudged back into this comfortable orbit no matter what you do.

Being incredibly poor is also a very stable region. There is very little that will shift this orbit short of the random injection of a ton of money. It’s why lotteries are so popular even though the odds are bad. It’s worth being worse off even for the hope of being catapulted out of this region of space, whether or not it comes true. Because it’s pretty much the only game in town once you orbit this dark star.

But without deliberately manipulating the system, without trying to control variables based on past experience, you are at the mercy of the winds. There are no guarantees. No large body of math cares about you. Don’t put your faith in it. Put your faith in people.

Blast from the past: The Hovercraft Parable

This has been recovered from the Blue Collar Space archives, circa Christmas 2010.

Recently a new chapter has been added to the story about the role-playing game publishing industry dying. The “death” is mostly a way to interpret the steady failing of big reliable game lines and the steady success of small endeavours with small goals by peers using technology from front to back. I think a modern parable is in order.

One day I was heading home from work, got off the train, and went to the bus stop for the last leg of my journey. Standing at the stop and looking north, I see a huge construction project in progress. This looks like it is going to be some kind of very sturdy multi-storey concrete building, like a parking tower or an industrial warehouse. They are working on finishing the second floor.

What they are doing, specifically, is laying down concrete and smoothing it flat. I don’t get that this is what’s happening right away, because what I see is three guys laughing their heads off. They are laughing because they are each sitting on a chair that looks like it is mounted on a pair of downward-pointing fans, and skidding around all over the structure at high speed.

They are surfacing the concrete by riding around on one-person hovercraft.

My first thought is that I would pay to do this. In fact, I am pretty sure that if they sold tickets for twenty bucks to give you half an hour on the hovercraft-chair, there would be a line-up around the block. The surface would get done and someone would make a packet and a half doing it. There’s even a built-in audience — about half the people waiting for the bus are watching the well-paid union labourers ride and thinking pretty much the same thing as I am. “Goddamn, what I really want to be doing right now is giving one of those guys twenty bucks and then barrel around on a hovercraft.”

There are probably many obstacles (insurance, quality of work, marketing, licensing, simple convention) but only one is really insurmountable. The union would never go for it.

 

deriving the hex crawl

The hex crawl is a classic supporting structure for role-playing games. Many of my most memorable early experiences with Dungeons & Dragons were hex crawls, and the crawl was probably a bigger factor in their success than the D&D part. But let’s look at what a hex crawl ought to do by (like with the ranger) starting with some suppositions and deriving the technology.

So a few interesting things are true about the hex crawl: there are hexes (no more about this), the player side of the game doesn’t know what’s in those hexes until they enter or get adjacent to them, and something is interesting about each hex even if it’s just the terrain.

Let’s start with the “not knowing part”. This seems essential to me and I think it ought to play a part in defining the kind of adventure that takes place in a hex crawl. Let’s say I want to get from point A to point B in order to accomplish something at B. Obviously what I do is buy a map or a guide. I am not going to strike blindly into the wilderness if I have any other options. And I’m probably going to take a road which also implies the presence of maps or at least good directions. So this is not that.

Why would I strike out without a map?

There is no map.

Why no map? Why are we in this predicament?

Why not? Here are some possibilities:

No one has been there in a thousand years. There are stories about very roughly what is where but no one really knows. This is new territory.

So you might keep a map as you go in order to get back safely. You might use it as a predictive tool (if the ref’s map is rational enough) to find rivers and mountains based on gradually revealed changes in terrain. But mostly, since no one’s been here, you might be doing classic explorer stuff: making a map so others can make this trip more safely in future. When you find Point B, you will have one possible route there.

This last is pretty fun: if you find a very difficult and shitty route, you will be motivated to improve it, to find a better path. Otherwise the next person with the same idea might make a more valuable map.

For this to work, the map has to be fairly rational. If I hit plains and then hills, I should rationally predict mountains. If I move from dry to wet, I should expect a river. If I’m in the plains I can probably see cities and mountains on the horizon. If I find a road, it’s probably on territory much easier to build a road on than surrounding territory. I want players to be able to make rational predictions based on what they’ve found since they are trying to map an exploitable route without just randomly walking it.

Maps are illegal. Someone has maps but they are very protective of them and sell them for outrageous prices. Copies are dangerously imperfect and worse than no map at all.

Most of the above applies except now what you’re doing is probably illegal — not only are you lost in the wilds but two other things are true: some people aren’t lost (they bought maps) and someone probably wants you to stop mapping.

The land has recently changed. You might have a map but it’s wrong. What happened? I’m not here for that — you can already think of a thousand zany things.

You could be mapping this newly changed place in order to find routes through it, as though it were virgin territory, but really this problem demands another kind of adventure: figuring out why it changed. And you’ll have to cope with the fact that huge magical changes to the landscape don’t necessarily follow geological logic since it didn’t take place over geological time periods using natural processes. The terrain can lie to you here.

Now, I don’t the the ref needs to go into this knowing why the land changed — they might be interested to discover this as well. But whether or not they know, the landscape itself is going to have to provide some clues. Each new revealed terrain is not just a choice to follow or divert, as with exploration, but also a potential insight into the why of the changed terrain. Randomness can be your friend here with the very contents of each hex acting as an oracle for you to riff off of.

You don’t know where point A is. You’re already lost and mapless. Someone out there might have a great idea about the topography but you’re not that person and they aren’t handy.

Again, this is like exploring a route, except that at some point you should be able to put the puzzle together and recognize where you are. This territory not only needs to be rational, but it also has to be consistent with a (maybe shitty) map you DO have.

So fine, that’s how a map needs to deliver a theme, but there’s another question.

Why do I care what’s in each hex?

This is only partly obvious. If I’m mapping a route, I care what’s in a hex so I can make decisions about the next direction to travel in. But we are going to reveal each hex in turn so we want each hex to have more impact than that, otherwise we might be tempted to shortcut it, and say things like “I follow the ridgeline until we reach water or flatter terrain”. But the very nature of the hex “crawl” is to reveal each hex for some reason. What reason?

Usually it’s Random Encounters. Fine, sometimes, but seriously that’s the lowest common denominator. Maybe the old Risks list has some power here. What if each hex is not just one kind of risk, but one of those?

Cost. Something in this hex requires payment. Maybe it’s a monster extracting a toll to pass the only way through. Maybe you need special equipment to get through and you don’t have it. Maybe bandits steal from you. But passing through this hex risks a Cost.

Harm. Okay fine, here’s your random encounter. Or maybe a risky chunk of terrain that could break your leg.

Delay. Risking delay is only interesting if you have a deadline to meet. I recommend that — you should have a deadline. There should be a point at which you run out of rations or your competitor finishes their map first. Or you will arrive to late to stop the wedding. Something! A delay could be a washed out bridge or terrible weather or even just incredibly dense undergrowth. Something threatens to slow you up unless you find a away to cope.

Spillover. This one at first seems a little hard to handle, but suppose your intrusion on this unsullied wilderness is having a side-effect on the locals? Maybe you are bringing attention and banditry to an otherwise peaceful people. Maybe your presence wrecks the local magic flux that is such delicate balance. Maybe you scare off the delicious unicorns. Whatever it is, entering this hex does unanticipated harm to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Ineffectiveness. Fuck this risk. Maybe you just can’t enter this hex, period. For sure if you tell players that they will try ALL NIGHT to do it anyway though.

Revelation. Something is in this hex that reveals something unexpected (ideally even for the ref) and not necessarily good. High ground reveals that you are no where close to your objective. A magical storm reveals that the land is still changing and your map may not be helpful for getting home. The partial map you stole from goblins is not just wrong, it’s a trap.

Confusion. You risk getting lost. You can’t find north. Your next move might be in a random direction. Try not to be a pain in the ass about this: making players build a map that is wrong or useless is not actually as fun for the players as the ref. But forcing them to occasionally move in a random direction and calling that “lost” is not a bad compromise.

Waste. You can get through this hex but the horses won’t make it. Or you’re out of water and need to find some as a priority. Something you had in plenty is eaten up in this hex.

Why hexes?

Because hex kit.

 

Thanks to patrons for the pressure and the energy.

Games are at Lulu, DTRPG, and itch.io.

committee

Something I’m noodling with that I thought I’d share. I haven’t played so there’s zero testing so far. And you might have to extrapolate my intent from my text a little. But still, here you go, enjoy this pre-alpha nomic apocalypse.

committee-cover

Play

Each “turn” is a meeting of the council — a session — in which community issues will be discussed and actions planned. After the meeting, actions are resolved and noted.

The council card has space for CONTEXT, PEOPLE, and RESOLUTIONS. For every ISSUE currently in play there is an ISSUE card.

Characters

Create a name for your character. Choose an occupation that you used to hold. Make space on your character card for PERSONAL STRESS.

People

Chair: the person facilitating the session.

Secretary: the person managing the paperwork.

Members: everyone else

Session zero

One person must volunteer to be secretary. Do not proceed until someone has volunteered. Once identified, the secretary will start  a COUNCIL CARD and note their name under PEOPLE: SECRETARY.

One person must volunteer to be chair. Do not proceed until someone has volunteered. Once identified, the secretary will add the name of the chair to the COUNCIL CARD under PEOPLE: CHAIR.

Choose how you will choose the chair in future and note it in the RESOLUTIONS.

With the chair facilitating, discuss as PLAYERS where you are — your community is an isolated downtown apartment building and your committee is its strata council. But where? What city? What’s near? What’s far? Summarize in a single sentence under CONTEXT.

With the chair facilitating, discuss as PLAYERS what has happened to isolate your community. Help is not coming. Why not? Summarize in a single sentence under CONTEXT.

Note the community resources on the council card. A community starts with 5 food, 5 water, 5 space, 5 trade, and 5 health.

Now that you have a CONTEXT, each player should discuss their role in the community. What is their responsibility? Why are they on the council? Add a single sentence under PERSONAL STRESS summarizing why you are here. Draw a box next to it.

Council card

PEOPLE

CHAIR: Emily Fassbinder (player name)

SECRETARY: Leslie Hill (player name)

CONTEXT

Rising ocean levels have flooded our coastal city and our condominium is isolated, accessible only by boat. The salt water fills the first three floors of the building.

RESOURCES

5 food

5 water

5 space

5 trade

5 health

RESOLUTIONS

  1. The first order of business in a session is OLD BUSINESS. The secretary will recap the status of all outstanding issues.
  2. The chair will assign each outstanding ACTION from OLD BUSINESS to a committee member.
  3. The secretary keeps track of community resources.
  4. For NEW BUSINESS the chair will assign the new ISSUE to any committee member.
  5. During NEW BUSINESS any member can propose a RESOLUTION.
  6. A RESOLUTION can modify any rule in this list or add a new rule.
  7. A RESOLUTION is adopted on a 50% or better majority vote.
  8. Community resources allocated to an ISSUE are determined by consensus.
  9. Chair is determined by majority vote from council members at the beginning of every session.

Character card

NAME: Nathan Green

PLAYER: Brad Murray

PREVIOUS OCCUPATION: Veterinarian

PERSONAL STRESS

[ ] I am a doctor and am here under duress because the community has no other doctors

Every other session

If your method for selecting a chair requires it, run your procedure for selecting a new chair. If a resolution requires it, run your procedure for selecting a new secretary.

Old business

The secretary will recap the status of each outstanding issue from the ISSUE cards. For each unresolved ISSUE, examine the outstanding ACTIONS. The chair will assign the ACTION to any other council member in any way they see fit. That member will attempt to execute the action IN FOCUS. If an investigation is CONCLUDED, note the conclusion. If a MITIGATION is CONCLUDED, note the conclusion.

New business

First, if any RESOURCE is at zero, there is a CRISIS. It starts as a fresh issue with dice N+3 where N is the last ISSUE. Treat it otherwise as a new ISSUE (see below).

For each INVESTIGATION concluded in OLD BUSINESS, discuss a relevant MITIGATION. Note the proposed MITIGATION under the ISSUE ACTIONS.

For each MITIGATION concluded in OLD BUSINESS, congratulate yourselves on a job well done. The secretary will update the community’s resources. Put the ISSUE card in the RESOLVED stack.

The chair will roll a new STRESSOR and create a new ISSUE card. They will hand this ISSUE card to anyone they please, except themself. The secretary will note the ISSUE on the COUNCIL CARD and give it a number of dice equal to the highest ISSUE + 1. The secretary will note on the ISSUE card the maximum community RESOURCES available to those resolving the issue. A STRESSOR may have one or more associated resources. Note these resources.

Whoever has the ISSUE card will, in character, describe the new issue the community faces. At this time the issue does not necessarily have an obvious cause. Describe the impact. Whoever has the ISSUE card will add a new PERSONAL STRESS to their character card: this issue has impacted them somehow. A personal stress can be anything — perhaps the issue has affected you directly. Perhaps a family member. Or maybe just witnessing the effects of the ISSUE preys on your mind. Or maybe it’s your fault.

Discuss how to investigate the ISSUE and resolve an ACTION:INVESTIGATE to take. Note the pending ACTION on the ISSUE card. During this discussion agree on the resources that the community will risk on this issue. Note the maximum resource risk on the card.

In addition to these ISSUES any member can propose a RESOLUTION regarding the way the council operates, such as the selection of the chair or secretary or any existing RESOLUTION. Or they can propose a new RESOLUTION (perhaps a new special role and what their responsibilities are — perhaps someone is elected to select who conducts an ACTION). State the RESOLUTION, vote, and if passed by 50% (unless a RESOLUTION exists that changes this) add the RESOLUTION to the COUNCIL CARD. Any diegetic rule can be created or modified by a resolution. Non-diegetic rules cannot be modified in this fashion.

A RESOLUTION can be pretty much anything diegetic. It could for example be “It is now the community policy that all refugees are turned away” and this will impact the narration of any subsequent issues relating to refugees — why weren’t they turned away? Who’s responsible.

Focus

When an ISSUE has FOCUS one person is leading (they are the LEAD) the role play of either an INVESTIGATION or a MITIGATION. They will narrate what they are doing to address the ISSUE mediated by the CHAIR. They can bring anyone along that they want (except the chair), presuming those people agree to join the FOCUS. The chair is the ref but only to guide the narrative and play any other characters in the scene.

The chair’s initial objective is to steer the conversation into a conflict relating to the ISSUE. A conflict is a place in the narrative where:

  • The outcome is uncertain
  • All possible outcomes, however horrible, are interesting

Once the conflict has been located, the chair will frame it: they will

  • Describe the scene
  • Make clear what’s at stake

The members pursuing the ISSUE will resolve it

  • Resolve it based on RESOURCES and STRESSES
  • Actor’s pool:
    • +1d10 for each council member addressing the issue
    • -1d10 for each of the lead’s stresses
    • +1d10 for community resources risked, as defined by the LEAD but not to exceed the limits placed on the ISSUE card by the secretary. Use a different colour die for the resource dice. For each resource type risked, the LEAD needs to provide a story for how that resource is helping and at risk.
  • Threat pool N (the number on the issue card) + number of open issues
  • Compare highest dice to highest dice ; player dice that beat threat dice are victories
    • If a resource die is beat by an issue die, decrement one of the risked resources by 1.
    • If a council member die is beat by an issue die, add a STRESS to one of the council members. The LEAD can choose who gets the STRESS. The recipient chooses the exact STRESS.
    • If there are remaining threat dice, they count as consequences
    • More victories than consequences? Issue resolved & chair narrates
      • Each participant resolves one of their personal stresses BUT NOT ONE RECEIVED IN THIS CONFLICT. Participants narrate.
      • If the ISSUE is related to a resource and the FOCUS is MITIGATION, reset the resource to 5.
    • Otherwise the issue remains open. Chair narrates.
    • For each consequence reduce a community RESOURCE by one. This is irrespective of those risked. Something else happened. If the ISSUE has a clear resource impacted, that’s the resource that’s hit. Any character involved in the FOCUS can choose to take the resource hit as a STRESS instead. Narrate.
  • Determine the cost to the community (resources bet and lost); chair narrates
  • Determine personal costs (new stresses for participants); participants narrate

Resources

A community starts with 5 food, 5 water, 5 space, 5 trade, and 5 health.

Stressors (cards maybe?

Food is low (food -1)

  • Many new people
  • Crops are failing
  • Some went bad
  • Hoarding
  • Theft
  • Water is low (water -1)

Many new people

  • Source dried up
  • Hoarding
  • Theft
  • Looks undrinkable
  • Storage or distribution broken

Travel is limited (trade -1)

  • Flood
  • Bandits
  • Weather

Space is reduced (space -1)

  • Flood
  • Vandalism
  • Splitters
  • Refugees

People are sick (health -1)

  • Food is bad
  • Water is bad
  • Air is bad
  • Radiation
  • Bad sanitation
  • Lack of medicine
  • Resistant bacteria
  • Pests

There is an outbreak of violence (trade -1, health -1)

  • Why?
  • Food
    • Low
    • Spoiled
    • Poisoned
  • Drinking water
    •  Low
      •  Drought
      •  Stolen
      •  Defective storage
    •   Poisoned
    •   Deliberate
    •   Stagnant, bacteria
    •  Tainted with refuse
  • Air
  • Flood
  • Radiation
  • Refugees
  • Vandalization
  • Disease
  • Predators

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transliteration

Warning. I am not a scholar on this topic. This is information I have learned or developed myself in the course of being a nerd on the topic since before puberty. I hope my thoughts align with actual scholars but it’s unlikely.

Transliteration is the process of writing a foreign language in a native alphabet. So, for example, writing Georgian or Inuktitut or Korean (using the Hangul normally) in the Latin alphabet. Its purpose is to allow the native reader to make sense of the sound of the foreign words. To be able, possibly, to repeat them vocally, whether or not they are understood. This purpose is important to the process.

However, when I first started transliterating at the tender age of 13 using a stolen book (yes I stole from the library — I was a voracious consumer of books and my allowance was a dime a week and I was in more ways than this ethically compromised) of Greek stuff I was doing the opposite: I was looking for codes, and using the Greek alphabet as a code. Therefore to compose my native language in a foreign alphabet, the opposite of the usual purpose of the process. I did, however, invent many rules that would seem to align with more correct use.

Later I would spend hours transcribing Tolkein’s wildly inconsistent use of the Tengwar everywhere it was found in my copies of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. In fact I was much more interested in this bit than the stories themselves. And in examining his usage I found many of the rules I invented for myself echoed as well as the discovery that while inconsistent, his methods were not purposeless. Pedantic nerd that I was, I also compiled errata so I could tell where Tolkein was playing and where he was just screwing up. And where he was playing was revelatory as well.

So when transliterating you have a translational choice that depends on your purpose: how much of the alphabet’s power do you bring to bear on your choices? This is necessary because different alphabets have different powers. The Latin alphabet has a lot of letters that perform multiple roles and that compose (ch, sh, &c.). So in translating, say, სახლი, to Latin, there’s a lovely glottal k sound in there. The word is typically transliterated as “sakhli” using the flexibility of English usage of the Latin alphabet as well as quasi-standards to imply with an “h” that we swallow the “k” a little as we speak it. We leverage the Latin alphabet to do something it doesn’t do but that English does apparently allow us to imagine it should. We similarly use “zh” here and there to soften a “z” even though in our own language (say, “azure”) we don’t need it because we aren’t teaching pronunciation with our own spelling of English words. We’re just echoing convention.

So as a kid I wanted to write English words in the Tengwar, the Elvish alphabet, because what could be cooler? It’s calligraphic rather than runic and so clearly much superior to the stonecutter’s alphabet of the Dwarves. Anyway, the question is, how to use it? Consider the word “that”.

Now as a strict substitution cipher, a code, I’d use the Tengwar t, h, a, and t. Simple! But how inelegant! Let us, though baby nerd Brad, think instead like an elf. Or even better, think like a human in Middle Earth: they aren’t transliterating. They are simply using the Tengwar because they have no alphabet of their own! So would a human invent the clumsy “th” structure if they had only the Tengwar to write with? Surely they would not! They’d use the existing Tengwar for “th” and get:

Screenshot 2019-04-18 11.37.39.png

That is, a “th” glyph, a “t” glyph, and a “a” diacritic. I’d use the power of the Tengwar to get my job done. And as a consequence an elf who knows no English can effectively sound out the word.

So this is a thing that bugs me about so many fantasy alphabets: they are built to work as substitution ciphers and not actual alphabets. That is, they are just new shapes for Latin letters as used by English speakers. This is…

Screenshot 2019-04-18 11.40.12.png

Or, better…

Screenshot 2019-04-18 13.29.39.png

Alphabets for other languages evolved to support them. Languages evolved to support the alphabets. They are intimately connected. So a credible fantasy alphabet can’t just be a substitution cipher. Too naïve. It has to have its own rules that are leveraged to create a useful transcription: one in which the native user of the alphabet could sound out the word.

A human in Middle Earth, therefore, would not spell “laugh” that way because they don’t have the history of Latin alphabet usage. They don’t live here. They would spell it “laf” or possibly “laff”. But in the Tengwar. Not this, which zanily uses the Tengwar “gh” glyph as well as an “a” and a bastardized “u”:

Screenshot 2019-04-18 11.43.38.png

But rather:

Screenshot 2019-04-18 11.44.59.png

“Laff”. Using the correct symbol to double the consonant even. You leverage the foreign alphabet and the foreignosity of it is what’s important. It’s what makes the transliteration interesting. It’s why we’re here playing around like this.

Substitution ciphers are fun but they are a million miles less interesting than actual transliteration. Accept no substitutes in your wacky sci-fi and fantasy constructed alphabets. Make a real alphabet, built to serve a different (perhaps literally) tongue, and wonder how you need to twist it to make it say English. Research how the Hangul works, the history of the Inuktitut which was invented only recently to support an entirely oral language. See what choices are made beyond the Latin alphabet.

Normally I’d just draw the Tengwar myself but I got lazy and used this Elvish engraving tool. Its output is Unicode (yes there’s a Unicode set for Tengwar) so I screen-capped it as it was rendered in my browser.

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weapons technology in d&d