Friday, April 26, 2013

Legend - a playthrough

Hi folks, I know what you're thinking. Two blog posts in one day? Madness!

Well, the last wasn't really on-topic, so you get a freebie. Here's a journal of not one, but two play-throughs of Legend, by Endmaster. Endmaster's story-oriented work on the Storygames website is some of my favorite gamebook material out there, but Legend is more game-oriented. I'm curious to see how it plays out.

Without further ado...

Part I

I started out rolling incredibly well for my stats, with spectacular double 6s for stamina, and an excellent 5 for mind. Then, in an ironic twist, I rolled a 1 for my luck.

Sadly, so far the game part is uninspiring... before even getting to the end of the first page I'm already zoning out. The deeper I get into gamebooks, the less patience I have for long-winded rules.

Nevertheless, after a few false starts I manage to push through them to the point where I get to pick a class. Being masochistic, I decided to start with the mage. This makes Skill, i.e. my fighting stat, which was already not great, now even worse in exciting new ways. I am so going to die...

While poking around the small town where I start, I run into Brenda, who I've apparently had a crush on since I was a kid. Naturally, now seems like the right time to confess to her, at which point she promptly informs me she recently started dating some musclehead named Klint. Uh-oh... here he comes now.

Well then! I guess I get to try out these combat rules earlier than I anticipated. The way it works is, whenever I start a combat I can cast a spell to do damage before going into regular combat. It does 4 by default, but by making my spell test harder (a Mind check--roll under on 2 dice) I can do more damage.

In this case, the fight isn't to the death; all I need to do is knock him below 10 stamina to win, which is pretty easy to do with one powerful blast from my magic finger. Maybe the mage wasn't a bad choice after all!

With Klint flat on his ass, Brenda falls into my arms, and we kiss passionately enough that my alignment goes up by three. After some undisclosed amount of time, however, like the gentleman I am, I dump her to return to my adventuring.

I think I'm a callow jackass... nonetheless, the story didn't give me any other choice, and this way I get to take a lock of Brenda's hair on my journeys!

On the road to the next big city, I naturally get ambushed by orcs. My Flame Finger makes short work of one of them (that good roll on my initial Mind stat is paying off here) and while the other runs away, I loot the body to find a map to the orc cave.

What are we waiting for? I can't just leave orc caves lying around the countryside where they might hurt someone!

At the grim-totem bedecked entrance, I stroll on in and pick a path at random. Lo! It takes me directly to the throne room, where one ugly badass and his two guards await.

This is my first time bringing the wizard to a real fight, and some crunching numbers quickly informs me the odds are not in my favor. Heavily.

I decide to take a risk on casting the most powerful spell I think is feasible, because unless I do my butt is toast anyway. Alas, I fail the spellcasting check by 1 point (8 when I needed a 7) and the spell misfires injuring me, whereupon the three uglies proceed to teach me the meaning of pain.

Well, that was quick. Howsabout we try again with a warrior, then, shall we?

Part II

Alright, I've rolled up a new character. We'll call him Bregg Brawnbones. He's named after his muscles. I had the good fortune to roll max on Skill, and even though my Stamina roll wasn't great, with the warrior bonus it's still higher than would even have been possible for my mage. My mind... well, let's just say Bregg isn't known for his "thinking." I rolled low and it went down from there.

On the plus side, I got my father's sword, which gives me a bonus in battle. And I feel this strange urge to start repeating these words, almost as if they were a holy phrase, "I like swords."

As before, I see Brenda in the market, but she's still grieving over the disappearance of my brother, and it would be crass to impose upon her now, so I move on to see what sort of things they have for sale. I also hear there are some promising ruins outside of town which fade dramatically from the forefront of your mind as soon as you talk to a certain young lady.

I pick up some rope and a lantern, and head out to those ruins, before a certain blonde charmer gets anywhere near me.

The ruins are satisfyingly creepy, especially when a secret door lets me descend to the lower levels, where there are probably monsters. I am not disappoint. A skeleton quickly looms at me from the shadows, which I make short work of with my great brawn and fancy sword. And hey, since I have a lantern, I'm not even at a penalty due to darkness!

Pushing on into darkness and waving my sword threateningly, the darkness obligingly yields up to me two doors and swears that's all it had in its pockets. One leads to some sort of wierd blue crystal which I decide to investigate later. The other yields up some gold (aww, good dungeon! You get a pat on the head) and then kicks me out. (Fuck you, dungeon!)

Apparently no blue crystal for me.

Whelp, onward toward the big city! My business in the starter town is complete. Looks like orcs are still troubling the road. This time, there is very little subtletly to my response, and I make short, bloody work of the weaklings.

It is time to avenge my fallen brother, the mage-who-remained-unnamed. This time, though, I'm exploring the rest of the goddam cavern first.

In the first room I find an ogre, who I have an epic battle with. Just before I kill him, he manages to wing me once, giving me my first injury. "It's just a flesh wound!"

After that I brutally murder him and take his gold and jewels. Ah, the life of an adventurer is grand. After that I find some sort of wierd intelligent goblin. Mutant. I kill him before he can look up from his books and take his gold too. My purse is starting to get heavy!

His desk is littered with vials of liquid in strange colors and other mysterious things. Knowing that I'm not smart, I almost decide to leave well enough alone, but being not smart, I instead drink the nearest vial of the strange-colored stuff.

Lucky! Turns out it's a healing potion, and there's three more where that came from. I'll take that stamina back, thank you very much :)

Okay, now I'm really going to... dammit, what's this red stuff? Curiousity gets the better of me, but when I drink a bit I can discern no effect. I stuff them into my bag anyway and glare at the purple vials. Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound, down it goes...

Ack! See, I KNEW drinking strange liquids in mysterious dungeons wasn't a good idea! My corpse is gloating.

Yep, that last one was a fatal poison. Should have gotten out while I had the chance.

Ah well, we shall leave Bregg choking on his own idiocy in the dirt, and returrn to more civilized worlds where we suffer nothing for our failures except a prematurely aborted game.

Someday I shall most likely return to this world. I'd like to get past the first adventure. But that day will not be today, and those adventures may or may not be chronicled here.

If you would like to try your hand at Legend, check it out for free, here:

Just don't drink the purple vial!

Guys, I found something which offends me!

This is a little out of line with my normal content, but I think it's important. There are people out there claiming that the Boston bombings were staged.

Need I say... WTF?

First of all, this is a major public event with hundreds if not thousands of witnesses, that directly impacted the lives of everyone in one of the major cities of the US. Staging something like that would be nigh-impossible. Not to mention that the internet is full of people claiming to know, or know someone who knows, one of the victims. The sheer budget required to hire that many liars to spread the word on the internet would be prohibitive. It's ridiculous to assert that this event was staged.

So where the hell does this guy get off claiming so? There's no reason we should let him get away with that.

I mean, I'm all for a dose of healthy skepticism. That's not what this is. This is blind idiocy. Furthermore, it's blind idiocy that downplays the suffering of real people.

*Sigh* Everyone deserves the right to speak their opinion, even those of us who are blatantly wrong. That's part of what keeps the system healthy. But I've got the right to post my opinion too. Without further ado, here's why this article is blatantly wrong:

1) As a commenter points out, bleeding out from limb loss is mostly a myth. When an entire limb goes, major arteries tighten up to prevent immediately bleeding out.

2) In the scene of mass chaos and fear, describing those hand gestures as signals looks, to me, absolutely ridiculous. The woman is dazed and confused, and just left her hand where it was. The man with no legs is just trying to stand up.

3) The African woman and the man in the hood and sunglasses are not "fine" in the earlier pictures. They're half-buried under a man with no legs. Clearly they were in the blast radius. Just because they're not missing limbs doesn't mean they aren't stunned, possibly deafened, possibly injured. I am not at all shocked to see both of them laying down a moment later. Anything else would be much more odd.

4) Descriptions of those two pouring fake blood on the cement, attaching prosthetics, or making hand gestures are inconsistent with the images, and also with the timeline. These images are frames in a film reel. There's probably less than a second between each snapshot. Is that really enough time to attach a fake prosthetic (a VERY convincing one) and then pour fake blood on the cement? I call BS.

5) I don't see any evidence of false staging in the fact that everybody in the immediate vicinity is looking to the one guy who seems to know what he's doing. That's absolutely consistent with any disaster scenario.

6) The author criticizes the "relaxed posture" of several of the less-injured victims. Well, they may be less injured, but they were just in an explosion, do you really expect them to be doing a song and dance? No--they're dazed. Of course they're not doing anything! Honestly, a staging would probably have much more obvious and overblown expressions of terror and horror.

7) "Notice the rips on his jeans have no sign of blood or injury on the skin" Actually, the jeans are quite bloody where they've been ripped. He's not obviously cut underneath, but there are a few reasonable explanations for that, not least is simply that the clothes have shifted since being torn, and the cut part of the leg is no longer showing through the cut in the jeans. It's also totally feasible that a piece of shrapnel caught a loose flap of clothing without getting the skin underneath.

8) "The double-amputee actor is clearly being ignored." Again, this is happening in a matter of seconds, and it's a real disaster scenario. People aren't organized. It'll only be a few more seconds before people arrive to help him, but in these first images, it's just the initial chaos. If everybody were behaving in the most obvious and appropriate ways, that would be far more suspicious.

9) "A small amount of fake blood around him" Seriously? The ground there is carpeted in blood. There may be no arterial spray--as there shouldn't be, given the human body's survival mechanisms--but there's still buckets of bood and gore on the ground.

10) The blood on the african woman in the earlier scenes wasn't obvious because she's wearing a red shirt and has no major injuries, but as discussed above, that doesn't mean she's feeling peachy. She's probably in shock, which is consistent with her facial expressions and dazed attitude in the earlier images as well as with being in a stretcher later on.

11) And our author is back to how the guy with his legs blown off should have bled out from arterial spray, which only re-iterates how little this person knows about medicine.

12) The author closes with his/her credentials, i.e. having "firsthand experience with trauma in the field of EMS work." I'd like to draw your attention back up to the top, where the author specificies that s/he has been "on calls with heavy arterial bleeds, internal bleeding, fatalities, doa’s." Note those two little words "on calls." This person has not been at the scene of these injuries. The author is a phone support nurse. S/he has no idea what these situations look like when you're actually there on the ground. The author's "credentials" are crap, especially compared to some of the ACTUAL COMBAT MEDICS who post in the comments.

13) The site this is posted on is Seriously. I could have started and stopped with that.

I understand that everyone wants to feel like a special snowflake, but there is no excusing this level of sheer idiocy, not to mention the blatant disregard for the suffering of the very real people who were injured or maimed. Last word was approximately 20 people lost at least one leg. 

I, for one, will not tolerate assholes claiming that's a hoax. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review of City of Masks

Okay, guys... this week I'm going to deliver up a review that I promised a friend months and months ago. Thank you David Walters for being so patient with me!

City of Masks is a adventurous romp through an imaginative fantasy world created by author David Walters. A young assassin steals a powerful sword and flees the oppressive school where he has been trained, hot with dreams of vengeance against his former masters for the slaying of his parents. Out in the world, he meets up with a beautiful foreign ambassador and quickly becomes involved in hefty political matters, which he tackles with all the subtlety of an angry puppy. His tremendous personal skill and dedication lead to him playing a shaping role in events to come, but never does he forget his parents, or his need to avenge their deaths.

The Good

There are two things City of Masks does very well: the setting and the pacing. Pacing and building tension is a challenge as an author, and City of Masks is a page-turner. I consistently found myself on the edge of my seat at the beginning of any new chapter, wondering what was going to happen next, wondering how he was going to get out of it this time. It's an exciting yarn, no doubt about it!

But even more impressive, I think, is the vision of this world. The City of Restal is a world ruled by a strict social order. There are 12 castes, based on 12 animals, and each member of the city or surrounds must wear a mask at all times, showing a depiction of the animal that represents their caste. Each chapter opens with an excerpt from the Manuscript of Creatures, many of which describe one of the animal castes--typically one which will play a significant role in the coming chapter. Women wear masks of cloth, while men wear masks of wood or metal, and showing your naked face is considered improprietous, much like we would consider showing nudity. It's a fascinating society, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time.

I also should mention that many of the descriptions are done quite well, especially the fight scenes. The fight scenes are vividly drawn, and the author has a good sense for when to describe in detail, and when excessive detail would be tedious. As I mentioned above, the pacing is excellent.

Now lets move on to...

Edit: Also got to give a nod to some of the excellent surprised the book delivers up, especially a couple of big reveals that come later on. Well done, sir!

The Bad

While there is much that is noteworth in City of Masks, it has some weaknesses as well. The characterizations are weak, the audacity of the hero sometimes breaks my suspension of disbelief--I really feel he would have gotten himself killed after two days in the open world--and the plot flirts dangerously with the cliche.

I shouldn't say the plot, per se, is cliche. Actually, I would have to mark up "plot" under the positives in this case. There are some excellent and unpredictable twists, which bring a lot of life to the world, and everything mostly seems to make sense as you go along. It's more just the premise that is a little cliche. An assassin goes rogue, then seeks vengeance for the slaying of his parents. Hardly unfamiliar.

Actually, the real problem, I think, lies in the characterization of Rayne himself, or, as he is so melodramatically dubbed, "Darkspirit." *sigh* Reading some of Darkspirit's dialogue, I feel like I'm watching a twelve year old masturbate. Seriously, man, have you never heard of impulse control? Also, what's with the random morality at inappropriate moments? He's not otherwise notable for being what you might call a 'good person.' I swear, this guy chooses the strangest moments to grow a moral compass.

It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't consistently get away with it! Darkspirit's character consists, basically, of being a pissy little bitch, and for some reason no one ever calls him on it. The world itself is warped by the power of Darkspirit's raw supposed-awesomeness, such that no one can stand in the path of his blazing, adolescent indignation, regardless of social class, combat training, or weight of numbers.

This is definitely the weakest part of the book. There's something about the entire story that feels like a young boy's immature power fantasy--even more than most fantasy stories. But hey, if that's your appetite, then bon appetit.

The Ugly

I'm giving City of Masks a 3 out of 5. It held my interest through the whole novel, and that's not easy to do. But some of Rayne's dialogue is cringe-worthy, especially early on. The characters never completely sell it, but they're colorful enough to be interesting, and the plot, though not original in concept, has some blisteringly tense twists and turns that keep you hooked right up until the fantastic big reveal at the end. If the characterization had been stronger, this could have been a great book, especially with that big reveal, but... the soul of the story really seems to be a power fantasy about Rayne, and I just can't get too excited about that.

By high standards, it's good, but not great. Still definitely worth a read. If you can make it through Rayne's dialogue, you've got a great ride ahead of you. In closing, I also want to say I love the concept of the setting, and would love to see this world brought to life further.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Vigilante RPG

So, this is a crosspost from the Black Hat Writing blog, but since this blog gets a lot more traffic, I thought I'd mention it here as well. This is an attempt to do a more formal writeup of what the Vigilante RPG is all about than my last post on the subject. See the original post, or sign up as a playtest GM at Thanks :D

The Beta rules for Vigilante are complete! With this milestone, I am now actively recruiting playtest GMs to read, run, and make every effort to break my rules. I'm planning on releasing in November, and I want to make every reasonable effort possible to make sure that the ruleset is prepared for the wilds before I release it.

One of my prospective playtesters asked me, "What kind of game is it?" Well, let me explain...

Vigilante is a simple but firm system designed to tell stories in a modern, realistic setting. It uses an innovative, 'blackjack-style' core mechanic that is designed to minimize calculations in your head, relying on number comparisons rather than arithmetic. The core rules are designed around building vanilla mortals and playing in a totally mundane world. That said, there are optional rules for various supernatural elements which may be included, and the fact that the players don't know what's actually going on allows for real tension in a way that other games don't support. You could find that it's a ghost, or you could find that it's just the guy who runs the water slide. Only the GM knows for sure.

One of the things I love about Vigilante is that it supports making realistic human characters from any walk of life. A PC could be a gun-toting assassin, or a coffee shop barista who paints in her spare time. It's about bringing the world to life, not trying to fit all characters into some sort of mold. Character creation uses Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences for the statline, and there's a fairly deep skill system that can represent just about any possible skill set. When people look at the character sheet, a common first response is, "Well, Music is clearly the dump stat." To which my response is, "Sure, if your character is not musical." The game isn't about making a badass. It's about making a person.

In Vigilante, normal humans are at the heart of the entire story. Maybe there's something else going on... or maybe not. Most games open with the players in the dark. As far as they know, their characters live in a world just like ours. Because mundane reality is so strongly established as the standard, if something supernatural does come up, it's that much more powerful. In my own Vigilante game, the first time a fae lord appeared and started growing long teeth and claws, the look on my players' faces was priceless. Jaws dropped. My own girlfriend whispered, "I didn't even know that was possible..." If I'd called them together for a game of Changeling, I never would have gotten that response.

Before I leave you, let me address the system briefly. First, it's a firm system. By this I mean that if a PC wants to leap across a crocodile-infested river, the result is determined by considering the width of the river and his skill at jumping, not by considering the arc of the story and whether it's his turn for a success. Beyond that, every effort has been made to keep the system simple, realistic, and easy to use. The core mechanic relies on the easiest of mental functions: number comparison. It's a blackjack system, so higher numbers on the dice are always better, but if the result exceeds your skill number, then it's a failure. In contested rolls, there's simply two comparisons: compare your result to your skill; if you succeed and your opponent does as well, then compare your respective results. Whoever has the higher number wins. Done. No shenanigans. As for difficulty, difficulty is increased by using larger dice, rather than modifying the target number. The target number is always equal to your character's skill. It's a little different, but it works smoothly. And there's almost no math involved.

In a few words, Vigilante is a system designed to get out of your way and let you tell a story. It solves the problem of trying to figure out what happens when A wants to shoot B and B doesn't want to get shot, but it doesn't take up too much of your time while doing so. Combat moves quickly, guns are lethal as all hell, but characters don't have to be combat oriented to have a place in the story. It's focused on the mundane, normal world, because that's where we all live. Somewhere in our secret hearts, we all want to believe there might be monsters lurking in the shadows. When you play Vigilante, there might be.