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Monday, November 4, 2013

Today's Pointless Crossover: Mass Effect Kryptonians

About 10,000 years ago, a group of Prothean researchers abducted enough Paleolithic humans (a few thousand) to form a breeding population, and took them to the planet Krypton in the Rao (LHS 2520) red dwarf star system, far from a mass relay. From what ancient records left, it appears the Protheans were attempting to develop a breed of biotic super-soldier in the planet’s Element Zero-rich environment. This appears to have been a "black ops" initiative, perhaps carried out by a secret or rogue cabal, as the Prothean Empire appears entirely unaware of this.

The Protheans uplifted the humans and performed various genetic experiments to unlock human biotic potential. The researchers left the humans to their own devices for a few decades at a stretch, returning to Krypton periodically to record the humans’ progress, teach them new biotic techniques, make adjustments to implants, and (of course) mine valuable Element Zero.

When the Reapers appeared and began their harvest, the Prothean researchers were absent. While the Protheans and other species were wiped out, the human inhabitants of Krypton remained secret, records of their existence presumably lost in the ensuing genocide. The Kryptonians picked up where their Prothean masters left off, mastering and further developing Prothean technology and independently developing their biotic powers. And for the past ten millennia, the Kryptonians grew and evolved isolated from the rest of the galaxy. Curiously, the Kryptonians did not develop much in the way of space travel, instead developing technologies to tap their planet's interior for power. The Reapers somehow discovered Krypton during their most recent harvest. They bombarded the planet from orbit, targeting its massive subterranean power stations; as these power plants were embedded deep into Krypton's mantle, the attacks created a chain reaction that caused the planet to break up, utterly destroying it. Whether this was intentional on the part of the Reapers is unknown. Krypton's inhabitants were killed, save those able to escape in spacecraft and to evade the Reapers' beam weapons. Cut off as they were from galactic society, no one knew of Krypton's existence or demise, until ships stumbled upon Kryptonian ships some months after Shephard stopped the Reapers. Now Kryptonian refugees cautiously enter into the galactic community, trying to find purpose and start new lives in the wake of their people's near-genocide.

Kryptonians are technically human, genetically, but with significant differences due to the Protheans' manipulations and divergent evolution. Kryptonians appear human in most respects, though by and large they tend to be more muscular and have more prominent bone structures. However, the high concentration of Element Zero on Krypton, the planet's high gravity (28% greater than earth standard gravity), and the radiation from the red star Kryptonian have caused the Kryptonians to evolve unique adaptations. Kryptonians are all natural biotics, similar to the asari. They are also are stronger and more durable than other humans, with denser muscles and bones; comparatively, they are just short of a krogan in muscle power and ability to withstand trauma. Further, the Protheans' uplifting and genetic modifications further muddy the distinction between Kryptonians being a human subrace and an entirely new species. Culturally, the Kryptonians are more Prothean than human, speaking and writing a Prothean dialect and using technologies adapted from that left by their ancient keepers. They have little in common with their human cousins aside from appearance. It is unknown whether it is possible for Kryptonians to reproduce with standard humans.

All Kryptonians are natural biotics, and they tend to develop a set of common powers. Most is the fact Kryptonians are in a sense "solar powered," able to draw energy from solar radiation to quickly consume and produce blood sugars and recharge their biotics "batteries." They benefit more from the radiation produced by younger stars, in effect becoming stronger in the rays of yellow and blue stars than red stars like Rao. Many Kryptonians can reduce their body mass, and combined with telekinesis this allows flight; this ability is so commonplace that most Kryptonians are expert fliers, able to attain impressive speeds and perform aerial maneuvers like banking and hovering. Those trained to fight can enhance their physical strikes with explosive biotic blasts, allowing them to punch through barriers, shields, and physical objects such as thick walls. Kryptonians also commonly enclose objects in their personal mass effect envelopes, allowing them to lift items far beyond their already impressive normal capabilities. Also popular are personal barriers capable of soaking massive amounts of damage. Other feats include heating objects with molecular agitation, and slowing molecules to near absolute zero.

Kryptonian technology is incredibly advanced, though little of it survived Krypton's destruction -- generally, the only items that exist are the ones refugees were able to carry with them as they fled their doomed planet. Existing items include extremely resilient body suits composed of thin, flexible sheets of polymers and carbon nanotubes; cybernetic eyes with high-energy scanning capabilities (allowing perception of x-rays and gamma); bionic ears able to detect a wide range of sounds and even pick up radio waves; and biotic implants superior anything on the galactic market. Already, various corporations and groups are exploring how to reverse-engineer and duplicate Kryptonian tech. Among them is Cerberus, the shadowy human supremacist society reviled for its role in the Reaper invasion. Others are lobbying for the right to mine the field of Krypton's rubble for eezo.

While very powerful individually, the Kryptonians are political non-entities. The Alliance Council considers them aliens, not humans, and is still trying to determine just how to deal with them. And while beyond normal human capabilities physically, Kryptonians are notably weak against kryptonite -- a naturally-occurring and extremely radioactive polonium-eezoo alloy apparently unique to their planet, and existing in trace amounts in the dead planet's rubble. While the radiation from kryptonite is deleterious to any organism in the long term, exposure is immediately and dramatically harmful to Kryptonians. It interferes with Kryptonian biotic powers, effectively shutting them down. In addition, kryptonite greatly weakens Kryptonians, and even minutes of exposure can be fatal. (One might wonder whether the Protheans built this pronounced weakness into the Kryptonians, as a means to control their would-be slaves.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Deadly Selfishness: An American Epidemic


People wonder just what's wrong with America, why we have such a disproportionate number of mass killers. It's not just the presence of guns here, as some countries have gun laws and distributions similar to ours with far, far fewer gun deaths. Guns are murder facilitators, they are not the instigators. What is the toxic element driving so many of our people to senseless violence?

I have a theory about what's wrong with our country. It has a lot to do with how we're raised by our parents and outside societal factors those parents fail to filter. It may be controversial, as it may hit a little too close to home.

Our culture of ego cultivation and urge indulgence is, if not ultimately to blame, at least a huge element in What Is Wrong With Us. We're told all our lives that we're entitled to what we want, and encouraged to pursue those desires at all costs. Think about that for a minute: Everyone is told they should have their way, despite the fact only a few of us ever will. Meanwhile, things like empathy, reason and critical self-analysis seem to be less emphasized. The word "responsibility" is bandied about, but typically applied to people the speaker doesn't like, much less often discussed as a personal quality one should cultivate. So often, people don't consider their desires in the light of reality and how they might affect others.

Building self-esteem is a worthy goal, in fact it's clearly essential to a happy and successful life. But when you feed a child's sense of importance, and keep indulging it without applying any sane checks to its growth, there's a point past which it stops being self-esteem and becomes a cult of ego -- an edifice in which a monsters can quietly grow. When this line is crossed, that person's selfishness and feelings of entitlement eclipse all other concerns. I can pretty clearly see this at work in politics, in religion, in the business world, in the media, and in how many people conduct themselves as individuals. We have millions of emperors and would-be gods out there, with no kingdoms for them to inherit... and more are bred and inflicted on us every day by indulgent parents unwilling to curtail their special snowflakes in any way.

The end result is an invariable conflict between the real world and our own overindulged desires. And the real world tends to win such battles handily.

If we're not properly prepared for this disillusionment, something has to give. Sometimes we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and adapt to reality well enough. Even if not given the tools to do this by responsible parents, we can develop them on our own later in life. And this is the ideal result. But many results are not ideal. Sometimes our dreams are crushed and we retreat into self-destruction -- either an abrupt death or slow erosion of the self through drugs, abuse and self-scourging. And sometimes, if our egos are too strong and we snap a certain way, we can't handle the dissonance between the way things are and the way we insist they must be. And we lash out at the world for not bending to our egos. Nothing is is important beyond how it supports our Empire of Self, after all, and anything that does not serve that function must be excised or punished.

In short: Along with a lot of good and selfless people who would never think of hurting someone, much less raise monsters that would do so, America is also full of spoiled children of all ages that can't deal with losing. And sometimes their tantrums sometimes take the form of mass shootings, hate crimes, fundamentalism, and countless other social ills. And it seems these malignant people are growing in number, and have fewer effective checks on their destructive behavior. They are either inadvertently cultivated by parents that are weak, overly indulgent, or inattentive, or are purposely crafted by ego-worshiping parents who feel this is the proper way to ensure the success of their young. This must stop or everything will continue to get worse.

My theory, anyway.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of the Mermaid Adventures Roleplaying Game



Okay, seriously, hear me out. This is a good game!

Yeah, sometimes it is safe to judge a book by its cover. This is one of those cases. This looks like a kid's game, and it very much is. And as a kid's game it rocks. But for the reasons it excels as a kid's game, it has great potential for us older gamers too.

Premise and Setting: You play some type of merfolk, an intelligent aquatic creature that swims around and does... stuff. What stuff? All kinds of stuff. There's not much of a firm setting here, really. No overarching metaplot or storyline, no war you're drafted into or anything. You have a history and society section for the merfolk, and list of enemies like sea witches and (my favorite) the Kraken, but it's up to you to do something with it. And this is a strength, I think, as kids probably ain't having all that anyway. You're free to do whatever. The Navigator (GM) can choose the adventure or roll randomly for it, easy enough that kids can run this game as well as play it. Big selling point.

Character Options: You have a range of interesting and appealing "folk" racial types, each a hybrid of humanoid and a species of sea animal -- fishfolk, octofolk, sharkfolk, even jellyfolk and urchinfolk -- with unique strengths and weaknesses. You have no class setup, though each player picks four unique qualities (in addition the ones granted by type) to customize their characters. This way, you can play a warrior-type, magic-user or pretty much whatever suits your fancy.

Rules: Mermaid Adventures uses the PIP System. It's simple, as you might expect, but good. You need a number of six-sided dice of two colors; the book refers to white dice and black dice, but there's no good reason you can't use other colors as long as you designate which ones function as "white" or "black." You form a dice pool from the white dice based on your character's attributes (Body, Charm, Luck and Mind); one die in a stat is poor while five dice is awesome, not unlike White Wolf in this regard. As you roll your white dice pool, you simultaneously roll a number of black dice based on the difficulty of the task, with more black dice indicating greater difficulty. (This means all the rolls are made by the player when she has her character act, instead of rolling against the Navigator.) Each result of 4, 5 or 6 on any die is a success. Now you compare successes: More white successes means you succeed, more black successes mean you fail. The more (white) successes fr you the better. Easy-peasy.

Conflicts are interesting. When two characters face off, the attacker/acting character rolls her attribute dice (white) against the defender's attribute dice (black), per the rules above. The attacker determines what attribute she rolls based on the sort of conflict she's initiating, while the defender usually (though not always) defends with the same attribute:

Body: Hit you (attacking)/dodge you (defending)
Charm: Persuade you (attacking)/assert will (defending)
Mental: Trick or outsmart you (attacking or defending)
Luck: Use magic (attacking)/resist magic (defending)

Rather than a general health/hit point pool, characters take "hits" to the defending attribute. Falling to zero hits can result in different things, depending on the attribute: Stun (Body), headaches (Mental), lose voice (Charm), or bad luck (Luck). This I like a lot.

Aesthetics: Mermaid adventures is a small and compact 6" X 9" book, its rules and three adventures fitting in under 100 pages. An easy fit on any shelf. I have the color version of Mermaid Adventures, and the book is a delight to look at. The artwork is beautiful; the colors are bright and crisp, and there are several full-page pieces. You get a very clear idea of what the various merfolk types look like. The tables throughout the book are a nice shade of cyan, though I think are a bit blocky and plain-looking and could probably be prettier. But they serve their function.

Flaws: None to speak of, really. I mean, there is the occasional editing snafu, but nothing egregious enough for me to drop my Style assessment from a 5. The simplicity of the Mermaid Adventures system, and its fanciful tone and premise, may not be everyone's cup of tea. It is aimed at a younger audience after all. So if you're extremely serious and grimdark then this isn't the game for you I'm afraid. But if you're not afraid to loosen up have some casual fun, then you will like this game.

In Closing: While Mermaid Adventures is a game you can enjoy with young family members when you're not playing with your normal group, I reiterate how the game has fun potential for us adults too. The rules are "lite" and quick, and are transparent enough that you can add your own rules and stuff with little fuss. Want to add new merfolk types, like dolphinfolk or crabfolk? New equipment? New magic spells? Not difficult at all.

I've actually considered more extensive mods, roughing up the game and making it more serious. I have a skill system in mind to plug into the game, even ideas for implants, rules for mutations/evolution, and psionics. (Yes, this is bad and awful and kills its happy, but if I'm running it for adults I'm allowed to do that.) The PIP System can be adapted to low-level supers setting or serious fantasy, whether you want to keep the mermaid elements or not. The game author doubtlessly has other settings in mind for this system.

So yeah, buy Mermaid Adventures. Your kids will love you for it, and even if you don't have any, I'm confident you'll like the game unless you're just [i]trying[/i] to be a curmudgeon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

An Awful Day

Mtumbu and I had been traveling to the Ma'at city of Riverspire with his trade goods when the path took us into the territory of a leopard. Mtumbu's sharp hearing saved us from a clawed death, and we swam a nearby river to escape the hunting cat. However, that part of the river was the dwelling of hippos, and while they didn't attack us -- they were too busy chasing the leopard -- we dare not go back that way to retrieve the goods and clothes we lost in the river. Now we're wandering the jungle in a strange land, wet and hungry and dressed only in loincloths, with no food or possessions. The heavy clouds and rumble of thunder above us promise heavy rain, making it pointless to even dry off. What an awful day!

Why could I have not been apprenticed to a hunter, or a soldier? Why a tailor of all things? I ask Mtumbu what we should do as we wander about, but he hushes me with a dismissive gesture. He is intently looking for something, I do not know what. When we crest a hill I see signs of a village not far from here, and I excitedly point it out. Food and shelter! Mtumbu does not answer me, and instead leads us further into the jungle. I begin to tell him what I think of him, but I bite my lip. He is my elder, and more importantly, I don't want to be stuck out here by myself. I swat at mosquito bites and curse my miserable fate.

We come to a clearing and stop. Mtumbu seems to have found what he was searching for, which are... some inedible plants and some branches. What is this? He is walking around and picking up branches and sticks now! Does he plan to build a fire when the rain is just going to put it out? What about finding food? I thought adults were supposed to be wise!

Mtumbu chants something, a prayer to the goddess Adire, and suddenly by magic the sticks start to change shape. My master fashions this collection of raw branches and pieces of wood into a frame. He then pulls some strips of fabric from his loincloth, and continuing his orisha prayer, expands them and uses them to reinforce his invention. He creates a loom right before my eyes! Another prayer transforms a stone into a knife and sturdy roots into knitting tools. He points to the wild cotton plants around us -- I didn't notice them before he pointed them out -- and tells me to harvest the cotton and bring it to him. As he weaves with his magical loom, he also has me fetch him other plants for fibers and dyes. The press of humid air and my empty stomach make me tired, but I am curious to see what Mtumbu is doing, and being busy keeps me from dwelling on my hunger and situation too much. And when I am not fetching, I am helping Mtumbu, and watching his masterful weaving and stitching techniques.

Within an hour or so, Mtumbu has woven new dry clothes for the both of us and several other garments; in truth, my new dashiki is very nice, suitable for a noble and better than what I was wearing before. We bring the extra clothes to a farm on the outskirts of the village nearby, and we trade those clothes for food and beeswax. We return to the loom and Mtumbu creates a small tent with a canopy, waterproofed with the wax, and some soft bedding. The clouds finally break and rain pours down, but we sleep dry with full bellies this night. The orisha magic made Mtumbu's loom and tools, but his weaving was an even greater creative act.

I have decided being apprenticed to a tailor is not such a bad thing after all. Especially one such as Mtumbu.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Take On the New Spider-Man

Hey people. I just read Ultimate Spider-Man #1 & #2, the reboot with Miles Morales as the wall-crawler.

Wow. Just... wow.

I've fallen in love with Spider-Man again! And Marvel has proven to me they can actually write good stories and good characters again. Now when I dis Marvel I will have to throw a caveat in there and mention this series (at least the first two issues). If they keep up the good work, hey, I may not even dis Marvel anymore.

Thank you, Marvel. Thanks for giving Spider-Man back to this old cynic. He was once my favorite super hero. And he may be yet again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Oh, don't mind me, I'm just laying here..."

I was walking back from 7-Eleven about an hour ago when I saw a man lying on the ground near the road. Curled up under a small tree. 40s, Ute, possibly homeless. He wasn't able to sit up or respond coherently to the questions I asked him. He didn't smell like alcohol, but the back of his head revealed surgical staples. So, recent head trauma. I called 911, gave the dispatcher info on what was up and where to find us, and kept the man company until the medics arrived.

Now, the point isn't what a great wonderful caring person I am. I can be pretty heartless and hard at times. The point is, there were numerous people driving and walking past him. Why didn't any of them call 911? Or hell, why couldn't they just stop and ask the man if he were okay? Why was I the first to try and help the man it when I certainly wasn't the first to notice it? I'm honestly pretty pissed off about it right now. Just a little effort on someone else's part could have gotten him help sooner.

In all his babbling, I was able to make out a little of what he said. Part of it was, "I love you, man." Whether or not it was just the man talking out of his head, or he understood I was trying to help him, I'll accept it either way. For what it's worth I love him too, that stranger.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Man, Djinn & Dragon -- an RPG in 500 Words or Less!


This creation was inspired by this contest, where the writer challenged us to create a complete roleplaying game (rules, setting and all) in under 500 words. We were to use two dice not added together, include a token, and have a countdown mechanic. Well, I hit two of those, and got in just under the word count.

I may expand on this later, but not much -- I like the bare bones feel of it. Until then, feel free to run with this and have fun!



You have left the realm of spirits and the confines of lamps to live on earth. But now dragons have invaded Arabia! As a Djinn, you and your kind are the only ones that can protect humanity and the sacred deserts of your homeland.

To play you need paper, pencils, a white d6, a red d6, a Wish Token (a blue glass bead), and an adventurous soul. There should be one Sultan (game master) and at least one player.

Create Your Djinn
You have 12 points to spread between your elements (minimum of 1, maximum of 5 in any element).
Fire: Anger, strength, determination.
Sand: Quickness, cunning, adaptability.
Stone: Resolve, hardiness, stamina.
Glass: Perspective, reflection, proficiency.
Wish: The magical power to make your will manifest. Only Djinni have Wish.

Game Mechanics
You have two dice: A white skill die and a red conflict die.
Skill Test: Most purely personal tasks involve a skill test: Lifting an item, hitting a target, solving a puzzle. Roll skill under your element to succeed, or “hit.”
Conflict Test: When facing an opponent or contest – wrestling, racing, riddling – roll the skill under your element and the conflict above your opponent's element. You must hit on both dice to score a hit.
Experience: You gain one point to add to an element at the end of each story.

Conflict Resolution
These rules apply to combats, debate, or any sort of conflict. Describe conflicts in creative and fun ways.
* Roll skill and add Glass. Characters act in order of high results to low. Each character acts once.
* When your turn comes up, make a conflict test: Roll skill under your Fire and conflict above opponent's Sand to affect him.
* If you hit, roll conflict above foe's Stone; a hit means foe takes a Hit, failure means no effect. Three Hits means foe is out of the conflict.

Wishes
Once per story, a Djinn can claim the Wish Token and make one wish, either for himself or another. Wishes are open-ended and minor effects that can do anything within the Sultan's discretion. A selfless wish that benefits another (“Blessings upon you.”) requires just a Wish skill test. For a selfish or harmful wish (“Curses upon you!”), roll skill under your Wish and conflict over your Wish! Your “bad wish” is granted with only one hit, but in a back-handed way; two hits mean the wish is granted as desired.

Man
Who you protect, and your allies. Create as Djinn, but with 9 points; they may not have Wish. Two Hits take them out of a conflict.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Part Time Gods: A Game Review

When I read gaming books, I typically do a quick go-through first, reading the highlights and getting a general feel for the game's themes, direction and and concepts. Then, if it's interesting enough, I'll go through and read the game again in-depth, looking at details such as systems and setting details. This is how I approached the new game Part Time Gods by Eloy Lasanta.

And let me start off by saying I'm very impressed with PTG. I think it's a good sign when ideas for campaigns and material start coming to me while I'm reading, and that's what happened before I even finished reading through PTG the first time. There have been some games out there that were quite good, and were fun to read, but I walked away asking myself, "So... what do I do with this?" Gaming books can be well-written, but if I can't imagine actually playing it, or if I have to struggle to think of concepts for the game, that's a problem. One that I don't have for PTG.

The Premise: You were once a human being before receiving the Spark, the divine catalyst that transforms you from mortal into deity. Now as a god you're blessed (and also burdened) with the powers and responsibilities of a god. You possess a Dominion that describes your divine portfolio, what precisely you are a god of: The goddess of rain, the god of wolves, the god of honor, etc. Gods also possess powers called Entitlements, which may or may not relate to the god's bailiwick and are more generic than Dominion powers.

Theme: The central conflict in the game is the conflict between the person you were and the god you've become. Do you deny your divinity and try to live as a person? Or do you forsake your humanity in the pursuit of divine identity? Gods typically fall somewhere between these two extremes, with each individual god finding her "fit." The game is good at emphasizing this conflict in both the flavor text and the rules without pushing it too heavily.

Setting: The game is immediately accessible. This is an advantage of modern "realistic" games, where it's not necessary to learn and entirely new setting, even if the game puts a spin on what we accept as reality. So PTG has that going for it, letting us jump into the game's retelling of history through the lens of the gods. The writer offers a compelling origin story for the gods of myth and legend, which glosses over many of the mythologies themselves while still accounting for the gods themselves. While there's a lot of gold to mine in the individual faiths, this is probably the best (and safest) approach for an open setting like PTG. When you're dealing with competing creation myths for multiple cultures it can get confusing. Not that there's not potential in exploring that sort of thing, but PTG isn't that sort of game. The goal of the game is not to bog you down in details or pull you into existential questions about which religion is right and to what degree, but to establish the setting so you can start playing and tell your own myths. (And you can explore religion and related issues on your own accord, if you wish, as I'd be wont to do.)

Modern gods are organized into Theologies and pantheons. Theology is a broad overview of your beliefs and approach to divinity -- your "splat," in gamer parlance.

Theologies: The Theologies are:
  • Ascendants: Gods who look to become as powerful as the old gods. 
  • Cult of the Saints: Gods who believe themselves to be messengers from Heaven - they hear voices.
  • Drifting Kingdoms: Nomadic gods who build powerful domains, simply to leave them behind to build the next.
  • Masks of Jana: Gods who hide the existence of magic from the world, hoping not to lose themselves in the process.
  • Order of Meskhenet: Gods who look to the past for their power and survive through aristocratic-type families.
  • Phoenix Society: Gods who guide humanity to greatness through direct and intimate interaction.
  • Puck-Eaters: Gods who learn to draw power from chaos and ingesting the flesh of another.
  • Warlock’s Fate: Gods who seek the answers to the universe, but rely too heavily on their Relics.
I'd be hesitant to call the Theologies the weak point of the game, as that would suggest the writer did a poor job on them, and that's not what I'm trying to say. But I will say certain Theologies are the part of the game that I get the least. Some were quite well-done, and make sense to me; I can see how to fit a character into those Theologies easily. Others... eh, not so much. I feel a game's primary splats should be broad rather than narrow. You can get more specific with smaller and less central groups, but the main groups should be inclusive and be able to accommodate a wide variety of character concepts, while still having flavor and uniqueness.

And some Theologies are like this. But for other Theologies it's hard for me to create characters concepts for, or to understand the motivation of a god to join them. I think the Drifting Kingdoms is the one I get the least. I'm challenged to think of any god that it might fit the Theology, save Siddhartha (the Buddha) if you want to count him as a god -- an expression of the dangers of attachment and the desire to explore and learn. I don't get Wanderers' motivation to invest all this time and energy into establishing a territory, and then just leaving it. I can see a Theology based on imbuing places, sure, one focused on territory the same way the Warlock's Fate is focused on relics. It's the Wanderers' rootlessness I don't get. I mean, I can see an odd pantheon or two formed from Drifting Kingdoms gods doing this, seeking a new interpretation of their Theology's purpose... but an entire theology based on this idea? It doesn't gel for me.

The visceral Puck-Eaters are interesting, but they're another example of a conceptually narrow Theology when a general approach might have worked better. They're cannibalistic gods that devour people and Outsiders (divine monsters) for power. Which I think is a cool idea, if unsettling, recalling the heart-eating dark gods of Aztec myth. But I'd have preferred a more general "thieves of divinity" concept, which includes cannibals but could support similar characters that weren't. For example, a god that withers its foes as he steals their life force, or a "naughty vampire god" that drains power through blood, or a trickster ala Anansi the Spider that steals powers from his victims. I'd also have made gods vulnerable to these thieves' attentions as well, so that there's a certain element of danger and risk with associating with them. As it was, I feel in the stereotypes the other Theologies weren't quite horrified enough at the concept of Puck-Eaters, a little too accepting of their grotesque practices. Inclusion is good and all, and we don't want them to be so hated that they can't be viable characters in mixed pantheons... but cannibals that target human beings and Outsiders for power should be a nauseating concept for gods to that still are very human, and even to those that aren't.

With these exceptions, the Theologies are well done. My favorite is probably the Masks of Jana. They preserve the proper order of things and protect people from knowledge of the divine, yet at the same time they must gain worshipers; it's an interesting dichotomy. I might like to have seen a seeker or unaligned Theology as well, for gods that don't have the answers or a specific agenda but that are trying to understand the universe and where they fit in. Even if something so disorganized and without a unifying ethos couldn't really qualify as as a Theology, I'd have liked to see the idea of unaligned gods explored, as certainly some wouldn't want to join one.

That smaller and lesser-known Theologies exist was mentioned. This is something I'm very interested in exploring.

Pantheons: While theologies are broad groups with global presences, pantheons are local. These are alliances of gods that hold and maintain territory. Pantheons aren't necessarily Theology-specific, and in fact most pantheons seem to support a variety of them. It's analogous to the adventuring party. However, what's interesting about pantheons is they're more than just alliances of convenience or people that just hang out together. There's spiritual weight to pantheons, and pacts are formed.

I'll take a moment to describe a god's territory, as it's relevant to this issue. A god's territory begins taking on qualities and characteristics reflecting that deity; while the change is nothing drastic, it is noticeable, especially to other gods. And it seems largely out of the control of the god, instead being a natural consequence of the god dwelling there. A god of death's territory would have a slightly higher death rate than average, and perhaps the mood of that area is more somber; meanwhile a goddess of liquor (an actual signature character for the game!) would infuse her neighborhood with feelings of revelry, stupor and drunken brawls. The demesne of a god of crows would support a high population of corvids, and so on.

For pantheons, what you end up with is a mix of divine themes based on the gods that occupy the area. So for a territory defended by the above three gods, you'd have a party neighborhood that sees a higher incidence of death from drunk driving and sclerosis of the liver, with a morbid tendency for crows to gather. You have to take the good with the bad, here, and there's a sacred bond between the gods and the areas in which they live and with one other as they form the pantheon. Gods don't even have to like each other or hang out during off hours, but once the pantheon is formally founded their fates are all thrown in together and they have to cooperate.

I like this approach a lot. It gives a strong justification for gods to gather and work together, even if they don't have much in common. There's a lot of story potential with this sort of thing as well, as gods try to balance and manage the influence they have on their territories.

Mechanics: So far PTG's system is my favorite one out of the Third Eye Games lineup, and that's saying something. It runs with DGS Lite, a less rules-intensive version of the Dynamic Gaming System. It's very similar, though with some of the crunch taken out. While basic DGS is a great system, I tend to prefer simpler rules and less math, and DGS Lite fits that bill.

Easily my favorite part of the system is the rules for divine powers. Your Dominions determine in a broad sense what you can influence or control, while your Manifestations are specialized skills that describe how. A goddess of rain with the Beckon Manifestation can conjure rain from the sky, while she could manipulate how the rain falls and pools with Puppetry, or even see what's happening in a distant area where it's raining with Oracle. Meanwhile, a god of dogs with the same Manifestations could summon a canine companion to his side with Beckon, direct her actions with Puppetry, or use Oracle to see through the dog's eyes and detect where she is. And a fear god with those Manifestations fear-god could conjure fear from nothingness, influence how a fear manifests, or sense who is feeling fear in his vicinity. The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider how open-ended Dominions are, and it rewards player creativity. Yes, this means the Game Master has to make a lot on on-the-spot adjudications on what's allowed and how powers might work, but that's a feature to me and not a flaw. This is one of the best "magic systems" I've seen and I look forward to exploring it in-game.

Antagonists: One of my favorite parts of the book is the Antagonists chapter, which details the Outsiders -- entities invested with divine power that are not gods, sometimes enemies of them and other times allies. Rather than being a mini Monster Manual with dry stats, the chapter details how the Outsiders might exist on modern earth, along with their behaviors and motivations. This is a lot harder to do in realistic settings than in fantastical ones, but I think the author did a good job here. A lot of the "classic" mythical entities are covered, like Elves and Minotaurs and Unicorns, but a decent number of lesser-known entities from non-Western mythoi are detailed: The ghoulish Japanese Jikininki, the child-eating Manananggal from the Philippines, and the Tengu (one of my favorites).

Art: Art tends to be a secondary concern for me, it doesn't make or break a game -- I focus on thecontent underneath the dressing. But the artwork in the book is very good, so those of you that like visuals won't be disappointed. The art in the book trends toward the realistic rather than the epic, presenting the characters as people rather than toga-clad deities riding lightning bolts while smiting legions of demons. Not that there isn't art with epic overtones in the book -- such as the front cover -- but most of it gives us glimpses of the gods how they'd be in a modern setting. Which I think is a good thing, as it helps ground the game and give it context.

Also touched on (heh) are the Touched, people invested with divine power that aren't gods, but that can present strong opposition or serve as capable allies. Champions fulfill the archetype of divine heroes like Perseus, while Seers and Hags serve similar roles in the PTG setting as they did in Greek myth. No, Touched are not full gods and they lack Dominions and Entitlements, but this doesn't make them weak. To give you an idea, some are known as God-Killers, and they are called that for a reason...

Other Things: The sample/signature characters in the book are interesting, and not as stereotypical or strictly archetypal as you might expect. In other words, the writer didn't confuse Dominion with character concept, and didn't write the characters around the sort of powers they had. Each character has a backstory and a life as a person before the Spark, which is richly detailed. They give you a solid idea of how a character might be put together and how they can be roleplayed. The Storytelling chapter is also quite good, and offers useful advice even for those of us used to running games.

The editing could have been better, with a few word transpositions and extra apostrophes. (Funny enough, my name is in the editing credits. So this means I wasn't doing my job.) But the writing is solid and easy to understand. I can't think of any instances where a description was unclear or so vague I couldn't understand what the author was getting at.

The "feel" of the game is very, very good. The game doesn't take itself too seriously. Yes, there's serious subject matter in the book, such as cannibalism and addiction. But the tone imparts levity more than gravity, and isn't not bogged down in seriousness and melodrama. The book is easy to read as a consequence, and gives you the idea the game would be very fun to play.

In Closing: Part-Time Gods is a damn fine game, and one of my favorite games to date. Like I mentioned before, the ball was already rolling for campaign ideas, settings, characters, alternate Theologies and antagonists. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd easily give the game a 9.

(I want to go ahead and point out the author is a friend of mine. I was a PTG Kickstarter backer and I did a little editing work for the book. And I'm interested in doing some publishable work for this game in the future. But I wasn't part of the game's creative process, so all the things in the book are Eloy's ideas and not mine. I'm objective and critical enough that I'm willing to point out issues I had with the game -- and I did. I don't want anyone to worry there is a conflict of interest at work here, but I wanted to point out the relationship in the interest of fair disclosure.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Home

Some fools fight for wealth and glory. These things come and go, and what is valued today will be forgotten tomorrow. Others fight for ideals, and they too are fools... though perhaps of a higher order than those motivated by mere greed. Your ideals and values will change with time, and the less you accomplish in your misguided youth the less you must undo later as a wiser man. Your nation is a foolish thing to fight for, as it will survive you and will not note your passing or sacrifices. Your village may celebrate your name and feed your pride, but it too will persist when you do not, and your name will not be sung long before another comes along and takes your place as “hero.” Your ancestors and orisha reward dutiful service, but they have many other lackeys serving them, and ultimately they shall do just fine without you.

Looking for purpose? Then look at your mother and father; they are whom to which you are most indebted, above kings and divinities. Look at your siblings, cousins and your other family; these are the people that will support you when no others will. Look into the eyes of your children and your wife; there you will find your your greatest strength and purpose. And look at the life you make for your family; there you will find your legacy and true destiny. Your family will appreciate and support you in ways that causes, that other people, that powers from on high never shall. Pursue other things by all means, and go forth and adventure. But do not forget what is truly important in this world. Do not forget the home and family you leave, and to which you must eventually return.

Take the word of a bitter old fool, who once placed his faith in lesser things and now sits alone, in a dwelling empty of home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Hyena Stole Lion's Spots

Hyena saw Leopard out hunting one day, but almost didn't see him. This is because Leopard had just gotten hunting spots and he blended in with the bushes around him.

Hyena called out. “Say! That is certainly new, Leopard. Where did you get such spots?”

Leopard said, “Bah! Go away, annoying Hyena. You are no friend to me. Why should I tell you?”

But Hyena was persistent, and she kept asking Leopard where to get spots, and he knew he could not hunt until she went away. “Fine!" Leopard said, "I got my hunting spots from Creator, who is giving them to all the cats. I got the biggest and best hunting spots, for I was first in line. Now go away.”

And Hyena did go away, but was jealous. Why did Creator favor the cats with such fine hunting spots? Was Hyena not a hunter too? So she set out to visit Creator and ask for her own spots. On the way she saw Cheetah returning to the plains, herself sporting brand new hunting spots.

“Say! Those sure are nice spots,” said Hyena. “I would like to have some of my own!”

Cheetah said as she walked by, “I am sorry for you, but there is only one set of spots left and those are for Lion. He is last so he will get the smallest spots.”

Small spots or no, Hyena was determined to have them. Then Hyena had an idea. She went to Creator's hut and hid in the bushes outside. 
 
“Who is out there?” asked Creator.

“It is me, Lion. I am here for my hunting spots,” said Hyena.

“You do not sound like Lion,” Creator said.

“My voice is so tired from roaring,” Hyena said.

“Then why do you not come out where I can see you?” asked Creator.

“I am hiding from Rhinoceros, whom I insulted earlier,” said Hyena.

“Then here are your spots.” Creator came out and sprinkled a pot of black night behind the bushes and onto Hyena, then went back into the hut. Hyena slunk off, laughing to herself, adorned with hunting spots and having played a great prank. She passed Lion on the way back. Hyena said nothing when Lion greeted her and commented on her spots, knowing that Lion would be sore with her very soon and wanting to get as far away as she could.

Lion soon arrived at Creator's hut. “Who is out there?” asked Creator.

“It is me, Lion. I am here for my spots,” said Lion.

“I just gave the last set of spots to you. Were you not just here?” Creator asked. Then Lion realized Hyena's trick and roared in anger.

Then Creator said, “All I have left is this lordly mane I was going to give to Hyena.”

“Lordly mane?” Lion asked.

“Yes. When Hyena wears this mane, she will have majesty in the eyes of Man. Further, she will not have to hunt, but instead shall have food brought to her by her mate."

Lion said, “Well, I shall take the mane if you do not mind, so I will not feel I have walked here in vain.” So Creator gave Lion the mane he meant for Hyena, and henceforth Lioness has had to wait on Lion and bring him food. Hyena saw Lion's mane and was jealous, knowing that her trickery had made her a better hunter, but had cost her both a lifestyle of relaxation and Man's respect.

That is where the enmity between Hyena, Lion and Lioness started.