Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here is a bit of inspiration for Noisms (the least I can do for him winding me up about Cyberpunk)

Haven't had much time to write lately or even read much, but after seeing this on Noisms' page "I could do with lots and lots and lots of little sketches and doodles that I can insert here and there wherever there is a sizeable blank space in the Yoon-Suin."  

Yeah but I can't draw.

However, when I read his two line description of his supplement "Tibet, yak ghosts, ogre magi, mangroves, Nepal, Arabian Nights, Sorcery!, Bengal, invertebrates, topaz, squid men, slug people, opiates, slavery, human sacrifice, dark gods, malaise, magic"  I immediately thought of this bit of artwork I scanned at some point late in the 90s. I have no idea where I got it and the only online image I found it on is in black and white and in Persian.

This is one of my favorite pieces of asian art I've seen, my  go to image when people start to yammer about Manga.
I have no idea where I got it from.  I had a scanner, the internet was lacking in such things then and I had a lot of second-hand magazines I'd buy for the art.  Then again it could be off some old roll of film I shot or out of some book. I was scanner happy and at some point trying to butter up a professor with no computer skills and a desire to do powerpoint.  

Now this I know was a post card from a travelling Mongolian art exhibit I saw in San Francisco circa 1995 at what I remember as a crappy little asian art museum they have in Golden Gate Park.   I might be spoiled by the volume of the Cleveland collection though, especially when it comes to the Japanese woodblocks and 19th century prints.  Oh and  as I tiresomely like to point out to people, it has the best collection in America to be found at a free museum., no matter what those pricks at the NY Met like to pretend with their "donation" sign, which is somehow still required.

It was this odd mix of Mongol masks,  and tapestries.  I liked this image so much I bought the T-shirt.  I think I can now claim seventeen solid years of strange looks for doing so.
This particular traveling exhibit was great, put the regular collection to shame. 

I've always wanted to use this idol as a monster in something.
Then again I want Ray Harryhausen to put it in a movie too.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Autopsy #2

Party assembled, underearth entrance assured, I started by pulling up the Palace.
Shifted the black to brown, it's easier to work on.  This way I could do some quick caverns for the sewers.  All those jakes and storm water grates have to go somewhere.  I figured large drops.  Water flow matter in the city, it's a rain forest. 
 Sketched in the old kitchens, then took what thy thought they were going for, the old treasury and stuck it under water. Come on a treasury?  Long ago looted and flooded to boot. So I swapped in the Old King's Wizard's quarters as the goal for booty.  The cool thing about drawing on the computer is it makes it easy to cut and paste floor plans for new levels. You just erase what you need to erase.  It lets you line up things, which in the case of this party came in handy once that dwarvish cleric got high in enough in levels to start casting rock to mud, lower water, and assorted mining related spells.  That gray grid is just a convenience really.  It makes drawing a room for a combat quick. I paste it in and out as needed, you use the color clear a lot when doing this. 

These are the sketches, so don't judge the final product on them (check out the previous post.)
I just keep pasting in the map as I continue, the elevations start to make things tricky.  The player's map will often contain alterations.  The one below has filled passages, collapsed ceilings, and a flooded puzzle.

So a quick synopsis.  We have the old storage rooms of the basement, the dungeon, which is filled with skeletons and a ghoul I decided became a ghoul by devouring his fellow prisoners.  So rather than enter the kitchen through the rat filled tunnels.  To the north are some irregular caverns, the usual spiders and ants.  Water filled passages might be half-filled, as good as a dead end to the Smith.  Beyond that was the front door to the Mushroom men section, a campaign specific race of myconids.  Their chief skill being they can grow new crops of troops in six weeks, modified to fit the party's last attack.  So the original sluggers eventually became black mushrooms who's spores neutralized magic, but that was for later.  Meanwhile what I thought would be the focus, a series of puzzles instead was a deadend.  The yellow star room for instance was never used and nobody ever entered the flooded room till they cracked it open by accident.   So in the mean time they set off to the south to explore the old servant's quarters.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Shameless Plug for NPR & How I Named my Blog.

A late night drive at the end of the weekend found myself listening to the Ted Radio Hour, Why We Collaborate.  I was in the dead zone for my ipod, who's little gadget gets overwhelmed by too many signals for a couple of hours, when the metro area is dense.  They often explore various "futurist" ideas and technology, a much better alternative to angry shouting in talk radio. It involved some interesting stuff and beat out listening to the same five hundred classic rock songs or the pair of girls who incessantly talk about their vaginas and kale on college radio.   Which is shockingly the most boring radio show ever heard, this show is the equivalent of a doctoral thesis on why everyone shouldn't be a radio show host.

Well I named this blog because for whatever reason, I have a difficult time convincing Google I'm a not a Robot.  The rest just combines my conceit that Gort is the coolest robot of all time and a joke borrowed from the old Rogues Gallery.

One of the segments of the Why We Collaborate episode involved Luis Von Ahn, who invented CAPTCHAs, those particular little tests which demand you prove you aren't a robot.   Yet they aren't just a way to jerk you around and cut down on the spam.  They're actually crowd sourcing.   It's one of the few things that humans still do better than computers, pulling the patterns out of distorted or broken text.  Tasks like discerning the text distorted in a scanned book.  Those blurry google street level signs in current use as a Captcha?  That is google using you to improve google street view, five seconds at a time, every time you feel the need to comment about someone's blog.    I think arguing over the Big Ten expansion has likely clarified the addresses of six states by now.

So next time you find yourself frustrated as you try and order tickets or are commenting on someone's fine-ass map, keep in mind you've just made the world a slightly better place.

There you are.  It's Monday, everyone needs a bit of optimism on Monday.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Noism and his damn interesting thoughts on cyberpunk, a more than 4096 reply

Noisms'speaking of cyberpunk brought this particular raving

It's not the punk that went missing, it's the cyber.   Much of the vision found in Gibson is still valid.  Finding myself with a shut down government in the middle of what he always called the Sprawl, the 70s vision of a future of a balkanized America seems as threatening as ever.  Then again, this half of cyberpunk existed before Gibson and existed after Gibson.  All that is really missing is the menacing world brought on by the baby boom's glut of young men.  The inner city that Burgess wrote of in Clockwork Orange or Norman Spinrad wrote of in Little Heroes has largely been Disneyfied.  There simply aren't as many angry young men about anymore in the developed world.  Most of America's would-be revolutionaries seem to be FYAM, formerly young angry men, than the AYMs of yesterday.

The vision of a chaotic future of change, a world where half the population is discarded as victims of future shock is still a valid one.  As valid as it was when science fiction was founded in the 19th century, when Wells wrote of Morlocks and Verne wrote of technological doomsday devices. Automation or modern times, the inequalities brought on by change,  and the attempts to stave it off by the followers of King Ludd are just as valid as they were when Kurt Vonnegut wrote Player Piano.  For that matter, it's just as valid as when Dickens used it as a setting in his works.  ( Before  you say  luddite?)

All that has really changed is the industry which is undergoing change.  The Information Revolution has put as many people on the road as the Industrial or the Agricultural.  It's made as many robber barons and the edge is always just as near.  The last time this happened it was the shift to modern agriculture, the tractor which displaced the Joad's mule, a shift which is still going on in the undeveloped parts of the world. (There have been a number of pundits drawing parallels to the Gilded Age lately, either in horror or to point out America's New Deal came out of these inequalities.)

 Much of their technological vision hasn't paid off yet.  Which doesn't make it anymore invalid than say the O'Neil habitats were invalid in the 1980s.  In fact, Gibson reused many tropes of 50s science fiction.  We've yet to perfect virtual reality.  We've yet to invent an interface between your brain and a computer.   We've yet to invent a real artificial intelligence. We have no real nanobots.  Our Feed is the rather sad "3d printer" which turns out plastic crap on demand.  The hopes and fears of this tech are still there, waiting for us in the near future.  They can be used today, just as easily as two decades ago.

Recently I've reread what I consider to be the cream of cyberpunk, of course they missed any number of things.  Of course it didn't all come true.  As I read Gibson's Sprawl and Bridge trilogies, Spinrad's Little Heroes, and Stephenson's Snow Crash and Diamond Age, I was struck by the fact that much of the science is still valid in theory.  All that has really changed is the idea of cyberspace, which has panned out more into a digital library and the prevalence of cellular communications.

What is needed in a reboot isn't a radical change, but an update to the technology. To stop relying on the rather narrow number of inventions.  The general shell of a chaotic near future is still a good adventuring environment.  Just as the tentacled mutant post apocalypse future of Gamma World or the Morrow Project  is still valid every time someone makes a zombie movie or whatever that cheesy "no electricity" show is on NBC.

I'd envision such a reboot as simply being a near future scifi game, rather than one true to just cyberpunk. One which would refurnish that same noir/punk future with new scif ideas.  That would borrow the biopunk of Paolo Bacigalupi .  That would acknowledge the last thirty years of changes and ideas.

The biggest problem is that such near future scifi hasn't been in vogue lately.  Most of the big name authors of cyberpunk no longer write as much scifi.   Most of the current Hugo awards seem to go for fantasy, steampunk, or slipstream. The ones which are scifi seem to be distant futures, alternate realities, or space opera.  I tried to come up with something newer than windup girl and failed.

For near future scifi RPGs to become re-energized we need a rebirth in scifi, to something which isn't just a super hero comic book, start trek utopia, or space opera. Something which isn't just third string authors borrowing a first rate author's visions.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Working on a new campaign

So, I'm planning for a new a campaign,  trying to rustle up the people who will commit to a weekly game.  Even a weekly game during football season.  May happen may not, but a DM can dream can't he?    Part of this is trying to talk people into playing who haven't played in awhile or don't get out, or won't be in a  room with someone else.   That is the slow part.

I'm committed to the world.  One I've used before. It's high medieval, verging on the renaissance, lacking only gunpowder.  Norse based invaders over-running a rain forest covered island and conquering the bronze-wielding, pseudo-Celtic people to establish a number of kingdoms in the highlands of the island.  A period of eight hundred years or so passes and it's a much more modern time then it was when the Redhand waded ashore and founded his city dedicated to the War God Tyr.  A second wave of invaders has arrived enslaving the northern tribes, loosely based on the Babylonian mythos, inhabiting a as yet unfinished city in the classic autocratic eastern model, filled with slaves which have a religious hatred of Dwarves and Gnomes. 
(Yes it's the idly sketched map you go just go with)

Yes that Dark Elf Empire up there is roughly sketched in as corrupted by Demons.  The elves on the main island would be either high elves or wood elves, with varying magic.    The races tend to keep to themselves, the halflings are unknown in the human lands, as of yet.  A very Tolkien vibe.
 Those population notes are one of the things that need to be changed.  I'm still trying to get an estimate on the number of people in the city proper, but it's much higher than the original projections.     The god Tyr is the patron deity, as the king cares not if you're good or evil, just that you swear him and his house allegiance.   Other Gods have since surpassed him, the common man's Thor and the nobility's Odin are richer.  The mystery cult of Balder is popular, as are dozens of other lesser Norse Gods and Goddesses.  I'm going a bit old school with them and pulling things from a translation of the eddas I own, rather than settling for the homogenized versions of Bullfinch's. The Celts' Lake Goddess is not ignored in the city, nor is her lover the green man, as he has a lot of pull in the climax rain forest.  That religion is a bit less organized, much more Joseph Campbell influenced, where the religions tend to flow into each other by location. The Norse worship the pair as Frey and Freyja and the elves in their own way. Then mix in a smattering of Sumerian and Babylonians cults, as hidden temples.  Think of the climate as somewhat like Seattle in the high lands and the Amazon in the low lands.

The city is pretty sweet if I say so myself.   It's  about three miles in diameter and is mapped on street level down to 2.5' equals a pixel.  In part this is a result of the constraints of the computer I started it on.  The under earth part is still loose, as I've been using it for as dungeon for different campaigns. So some parts are sketched in, others are detailed.  The text varies as well.  If I need something I spend time on it.  I have no desire to make the six figures of NPCs that current estimates would require.    That is just time wasting, better to make six hookers and use them, then worry about making five hundred.

The sandbox is about recognizing what can be faked and what needs to be theorized ahead of time, so you can do things on the fly.  So I've bothered to sketch out the general powers of various religions, the priests are somewhat specialized by religion.