Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Dice.

So for a while I've been trying to figure out exactly how to get the tarot card further down into the guts of Demon City than it was. It just seemed like more and more the big question was why can't the game be all tarot cards instead of dice? Why make people use two randomizers if one goes along with the game and the other is basically just the most common option?

There are a lot of design pitfalls though:

-The cards can generate numbers very much like dice, BUT you don't just want the tarot-ness to be a cosmetic gimmick. Wands and swords should matter and The Devil should not just mean "15".

-Onnn the other hand if the cards are always throwing their symbolic weight around then you risk having a resolution system where someone's trying to do a simple RPG crime-horror task like try to recognize a mugshot and the cards are suddenly like HAHA! THE EMPRESS! and then you have to deal with multiple layers of interpretation just to get through natural gameplay scenarios.

-The whole thing of the tarot is that it tells you what's going to happen, but...in RPGs (at least the kind I make) you aren't ever going to be able to completely predict what'll happen.

-You don't want to create a situation where the system is suddenly less flexible and less convenient than dice but basically doing the same things. Like I don't want anyone cheated out of a fun game just because I want some precious themes stuck in there.

-You don't want to make it a deck-building game. Distracting players from clever things their players are doing in the game with card-management tasks would be bad. Especially because this is not a game where most players throw magic around (except the occasional lone psychic or vampire character).

-I already have a gajillion d100 tables in Demon City, I'm not gonna knock them all back to d78 tables just for aesthetic consistency, that's some serious form-over-function.

-So: the cards need to be as intuitive and frictionless as dice, while still taking advantage of the special qualities and associations that tarot cards have.

And....I cracked it. There are no dice in Demon City now.

(Ok, actually I am building in a "dice option" that covers the same bases in case you're like at a con or game store and suddenly decide to play but there are no cards. But the default uses cards.)

Here's how cards work, basically. These aren't how the official rules in the book work but its a quick rundown of what you'll see in the current draft:

Part of the Hosts job is to take the full tarot deck and make mini-decks out of it to play with.

The first and simplest is the Character Deck, which just randomizes number for character gen. This solved a problem I was having before: I want numbers from 0 to 5 but I wanted extremes to be rare and I wanted the math to be simple. The character deck has 4 Aces, 4 twos, 4 threes, 3 fours and 1 five (of any suit) and The Fool (0). So then you just shuffle and pick your 7 attributes from the deck. Easy peasy. Hack-happy Hosts can even adjust the odds as they like manually to make more-instabadass or more-bathetic characters. This part actually makes dice-for-character-gen seem kinda like a kludge in comparison.

Real gameplay sees the deck used in more interesting ways:

The Host the makes a "Players' Deck" and a "Horror's Deck".

At the beginning, the Players' Deck just has 3 of each number (3 aces, 3 twos etc up to 10).

The Horror's Deck has one of each number Ace-10 plus any cards associated with the scenario and the specific Horror for that day, also the specific Ace through ten chosen will be the most thematically appropriate ones for the scenario. Advice on how to do that is laid out.

The Player's Deck sits in the middle of the table face down. Instead of taking set numbers of dice and--when its time to roll the Clash--everyone rolls dice and takes the highest, you take set numbers of cards off the top unseen and, when its time to resolve the Clash, flip them over and take the highest. The math is the same other than certain numbers slowly get depleted until you run out of cards and reshuffle.

The Horror's Deck is just used by the Host the same way. The Host, at least in the beginning, will have a few unbeatable cards (over 10) because hey it's a horror game. But they will pop up randomly rather than when the Host wants them to.

When a Big Bad is taken down, the Host fans out the Horror's Deck face down and each player gets to take one card.

This card is that PC's Significator (old tarot lingo). It gets put into the Players' Deck for next time. When you pop your own significator it's a crit for you, but each one also has a specific reward related to the card's occult meaning that can be called in at any time, which "burns" the significator and takes it out of the deck. You have to trade in your old Sig for a new one when you defeat the next menace anyway. While there's now several in the deck, each player only has one that applies to them at a time, so it doesn't become a whole thing of keeping track of cards.

The Fool also gets mixed in to the decks to act as a fumble (and yes, there's a rule for if the Fool is your Significator).

d100 rolls can be made from just taking 2 cards from the Players' deck (the Horrors' deck makes it harder to get repeated numbers like 44), one for each digit, 10=0 as usual.

And some monsters have a special mechanic for when one of the cards associated with them pops up.

Aaand other occult mechanics can be bolted on around predicting cards, seeing cards, which suits pop up, etc.

Sorted.
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Monday, May 7, 2018

LOVE.

Shawn Cheng sent in some more designs. Click to enlarge...



Just a prototype, we gotta get it so the moons line up with the paragraphs
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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Flat Earth Paradox

(or: How Right-Wing Culture Takes Over Nerd Spaces Even Though Nerds Aren't Especially Right Wing)

Nerds

I wrote earlier about how the category "nerd"--from the 1950s--is largely something industrial culture did to the STEM-educated people it needed to run its machines. But what about the self-identification as "nerd"? Someone who calls themself a nerd or a geek or whatever is saying some mix of these things in different proportions, and saying them about their core identity:

1. "I'm smart or at least well-educated"
2. "I'm enthusiastic in detail about some subject"
3. "I'm a social outcast"
4. "3 is because of 1 and 2 and is possibly a necessary corollary of them" (see: that Simpsons episode where Homer gets smart and suddenly has no friends)

Right-wing culture gets a foothold in nerd spaces especially when the self-proclaimed nerd's confidence in 1 is low and their confidence in 3 is high.


Step One

Everyone online sees this all the time: 

You're discussing something nerd-coded (comics or games or whatever) and someone is bad at it. That happens: a person fails to be smart or well-educated on the subject. Or: they make some nerdy thing and....it isn't that good. Like when people try to tell you it's octopi.

This is to be expected because its Sturgeon's Law that 95% of people are terrible at whatever they're doing including discussing to what degree David Micheline vs Jim Shooter were responsible for Venom or whether Fortnite is better than PUBG.

Well think of this in terms of the self-identified nerd. Somebody who believes that's what makes them them. Some fraction of them are going to have some sliver of self-awareness, at least enough to know, ok: I'm not, on the scale I'm looking at, actually that smart or well-educated. Yet I'm still a social outcast.

Soooo not fair right? The one thing that is supposed to redeem their lack of social skills (and the many social dividends that accompany them) turns out to not be a thing. They somehow got all the bad luck and none of the technocrat-hauter.

The internet allows people to connect like never before and so it also allows people to find out they suck like never before. Ever thought up a really good pun then googled it to see if anyone else..... fuck.

These failed but self-aware nerds definitely exist, the primary modes are the (1) self-mocking nerd forum comedian who openly talks about how unoriginal their ideas are as a way of inviting friends to think well maybe they're not only modest but hilariously self-aware and (2) the confessional mode where it's like guysI'mNotsmartIcan'trememberthingsIhaven'twatchedasmuchofInfinityWarasIthinkIshouldandIdon'tUnderstandTwinPeaksandtodayatworkIcalledapicklea'packle'andcriedinthebathroomfor10minutespleaseIneedinternethugsself-careself-care.

So, you have these Extremely Online self-aware nerds who are also in the 95% of people who are bad at what they do.

Despite being self-IDed nerds and identifying heavily with their own intelligence as their major asset, they can't build community or a support system on the things they make or say since they aren't actually brighter than anyone else in their sphere. Their predictions don't pan out, the things they build aren't original or shiny. But, like everyone: they need the things social intercourse brings or encourages--friends, emotional support, people to fuck, jobs, shelter.

And, since they're self-IDed nerds and Extremely Online they don't have a lot of offline support. They need people. Where to get people?



The Flat Earth Paradox

Do you think the earth is round or flat?

You think: round. True but what it gets you, socially, is fuck-all 

You're not gonna put that you think the Earth is round on your Tinder profile. It's a popular position, yes, but its very popularity is why it says nothing special about you. Nobody's gonna swipe right just because of that.

If you think the Earth is flat, though? There's a whole group of people ready to receive you. With no other requirements.


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Now you may object that this is like any fan interest--I like Peggle you like Peggle, we can be friends, but there's an important difference: people are not often called upon, in moments of high emotion, to defend Peggle. 

A Flat Earth Position though?

A nerd recently proposed on Twitter that the solution to sexcreeps like Savage Rifts author Sean Patrick Fannon at RPG conventions is that RPG pros practice celibacy at all conventions. This is a contender for literally the most conservative fear-first policy ever proposed in the RPG space but...100 Likes, 25 ReTweets. Those people can start a conversation, those people can grouse together about how gross it is that people have sex and those people can talk and form a clique. They can honestly claim to be surrounded and embattled by other tweeters suggesting that maybe repressive 13th century social mores aren't the best answer to sexual harassment (Like this is the exact same logic as Mike Pence's "Men should never be alone in a room with any woman they're not married to".). They will soon be in an online fight and, thereafter, war buddies--bonded by their scrape with the vicious sexhavers.

(Ironically Fannon himself got nerds to help him harass and dogpile people online well before being caught by using exactly the same dynamic.)

Another example: Flat Earth post. (140 likes) Round Earth post. (14 likes)

If you reshare an idea that 13,000 other people also reshared you get nothing. If you reshare an idea that only 25 other people have? Maybe you just made some friends.

This is the Flat Earth Paradox: Irrational ideas online result in networks of connected people who are more loyal, closely-knit, and active than rational ones. And the participants will be stupider--they, after all, chose this path to friends partially because they couldn't find another--which means more prone to use tactics that go past reasonable.

We have the numbers but they have, in effect, the guns.

The origin of the paradox is that people who have their own things going on have a way higher bar for who they interact with than people who have nothing going on.

What does it take to get noticed in DIY RPG circles? Well: you have to write some interesting game content, basically. That's how everyone else did it. Then, on top of that, depending which part of it you want to get accepted by, you have to pass a barrage of political purity tests (of which I approve) and online-interaction gates. Like, to hang out here you can't be racist or sexist or homophobic and you can't dodge questions or make personal attacks: that's a lot of requirements. 

Regardless of how many of my games you buy or how nice you are to me, if you can't defend every single word off your keyboard you ever type I will personally ban you from this page.

But preying on isolated people online by offering a community with a much lower bar for entry is a conscious strategy among right-wing groups. Somebody who'd been through it started a much-RTed thread worth looking at:
In addition to being disproportionately white, old, male, married, religious, parents, and less likely to actually play games, RPG harassers are more likely to be suffering mentally illness.

All you have to do to part of a conservative gamer clique is believe one insane idea. Or not even believe it: just white knight for someone who believes it.

The number of people with fairly reasonable personal takes on sex in games who will still defend people who make wildly flailing right-wing attacks on sex in games is remarkable, and the number of gamers who are ok with their friends making pro-Trump remarks despite claiming not to believe them is just weird.

The reasonable positions aren't getting attacked, though, so they doen't generate community around them. Only the bad ideas do that:
Just defend one insane idea and you'll have friends:

You're ok with saying RPGs aren't really games unless there are no rulings, ever? Gaming Den people will be your friend.

If you think it's ok that a guy once said Vampire causes brain damage? There was the Forge.

If you think elfgames are inherently dangerous and are responsible for the world's social ills? There's RPGnet.

You think the appropriate response to that idea is to vote for Donald Trump? theRPGsite.

If you think that chainmail bikini cosplayers will destroy humanity? There's Something Awful.

If you think the best way to support diversity in games is to never offend anyone and underpay everyone? There's Evil Hat.

And, similarly, this creates paradoxical irrationalist cause-celebres: the more indefensible someone's stance, the more defending them becomes a secret handshake--a mark of exclusivity. The irrationalist martyr's flaws are, to these nerds, their features. The stupider someone is the better they are: they're going to attract more and more shit and you can get more and more brownie points for defending them.

And if someone accidentally gets some splash damage by tanking for the martyr? Even more attention:

Whereas here your game will only get discussed if I actually read it (tall order) and like it (taller order) conservative game cliques are fiercely loyal to anyone who makes the right noises. If anyone gets a chance to write a Top 10 Games That Are About (your thing) you'll be on it.

This is how, for example, somebody can start a blog called "How Not To Run a Game Business" antagonizing people with snarky takes on how shitty the RPG industry is, then run their own Kickstarter, steal thousands of dollars from their friends on Something Awful, and still have their ideas defended by those same friends. Or how someone can make art for a game about rape while decrying games that include rape and be defended by their friends for their bold stand on rape.

The Flat Earth Paradox is how bad ideas are primed to outcompete good ones, at least until the good idea results in some big thing people can buy or download something the bad ones have to acknowledge.

Anybody who read Origins of Totalitarianism will see a familiar pattern and see how this ends. But the cure simple: demand accountability and be totally unforgiving of bullshit.
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Monday, April 30, 2018

Fetch Art

This the art for the Fetch.

Demon City Reference Pics (2)

Some Things To Know About Cops & Crime



For any game involving modern crime including the one I'm writing...

The best way to deal with the law is: wherever your personal knowledge of real life legal procedure ends, that’s where the horror begins (again). If you don’t know what happens after someone gets to Central Booking and don’t want to look it up then, of course, that’s when the corrupt police or cult-infested gang members show up. If you can’t figure out how a party’s trial would work and don’t want to read up on it, have a zombie eat their lawyer. 

Legal procedure in Demon City is conducted not under the sign of Justice (11) or even Judgement (20) but under the sign of the Hierophant (5), the figure of orthodoxy, changelessness, and the lies that feed illusions of continuity. Police think anything strange is drugs, juries resent being asked to care, and neither prosecutors nor defenders want to ruin their records taking cases they might lose.

That having been said, crime is pretty fun, so here are some things about it you can use, straight from our world:

Courts can take forever even to do simple things. If your PCs get arrested, they probably won’t be in court—or necessarily even in jail—the next day.

Estate sales are a bonanza for horror and crime scenarios—they’re full of things left behind by people who nothing left to hide any more.

It can be really hard to get good fingerprints or physical evidence even if the criminal doesn’t actively try to prevent it.

In the USA tracing a gun to its original purchaser is actually hard on purpose due to laws preventing not just name-searchable databases but even computers being involved in the process. All gun traces are done through a handful of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms employees in one office in West Virginia looking through boxes and microfilm and calling gun stores that may or may not still be in business. There’s a 65% chance they’ll find whoever bought your gun.

Faking your own death in 2017 costs about 5000$.

Switzerland is one of the first places they look for stolen money.

Police k-9 dogs work with basically one handler—they have a relationship that isn’t easily transferrable. Many police German shepherds worldwide were literally trained in Germany and take directions in German.

There is no rule in the US about how long you can be in Immigration Detention. You can be there for years.

Things that can be in a cop car: first aid kits, fire extinguishers, prisoner cage, laptop, small toolkit, flares, life buoys, barrier tapes, ED panels (Automated external defibrillator).

Running a license plate can go wrong—you often have to type it in manually.

Cities have different rank systems but usually captain’s higher than lieutenant which is higher than a sergeant which is higher than a random cop on the street.

Desperate people selling babies is weirdly common, even in the US in 2018. 

Big city police are often working multiple murders, 9-5pm or 8-4, it’s easy to just run out of time on one murder if another has better leads to follow up.

Even petty criminals who don’t know much about the internet do about a billion things on the dark web, like buy drugs.

Art theft and rare book theft often go wholly uninvestigated by police, even when the goods are relatively valuable—it’s a good way to bring in amateur sleuths like PCs.

The thing they use to collect evidence from sexual assault victims is called a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK kit). 

Forensic scientists boil bodies to get at the bones—they boil disconnected small pieces like fingertips in crockpots.

Decay of bodies:
-First: Rigor mortis
-Second: Bloating, which takes 3 days to weeks depending on climate and local flies and maggots
-Third: Organs liquify, releasing a black liquid called “purge fluid”
The corpse’s skin will turn dark at some point and the purge-fluid is so nutrient rich that plants will grow well where a body has died.

The private prison system and prison overflow has made prisons in the US a mess. Coed prisons are not unheard-of and there are many anomalies like Sistersville—a white-collar minimum-security prison that was also the last residential center for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), the prisoners mixed with the patients.

When police need translators, they may get them from any other unit or even from outside the police force. The person may not be a professional.

Other random police often have interviewed everybody they think is connected to a murder before homicide gets there.

Police on the scene can and regularly forget pretty much anything—they can miss used needles and bullet casings, they can even forget to seal off crime scenes.

In important investigations, the FBI and Homicide really can have turf wars—both sides want the information the other side has, but both sides often think the other guys will mess up the collar (or just steal credit) if they give them too much information.

Getting something special like a helicopter up or a scuba unit to look for evidence in the water is largely a matter of logistics and luck—sometimes people are available, sometimes they’re not.

Murder detectives can be promoted up to that position from any other unit.

Hardly anyone uses lockpicks—bump keys are far more common and faster.

Police try to interview the least important people first in order to build a background of minor details they can use to catch bigger fish when they’re lying.

City police departments can be organized in a million ways. Homicide Special, in Los Angeles, handles any murder deemed important (12-15 cases a year) and has no receptionist—so if you call them, you’re talking to a detective.

At least in LA, the binder containing all of a homicide case information is called “the murder book”.

Detectives come in different grades and different departments do it differently—in New York the entry is 3rd and the highest is 1st.

Organized criminals from Europe often get Mexican tourist visas then come into the US that way.
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