Mind control. Tricky subject in any RPG, let alone Fate, but I've got supers on my mind, and when you get to someone like Emma Frost, these things come up. How to handle it?

* Use Will to set a Mind-controlled aspect on someone, then pay a Fate Point to compel it? Seems a bit harsh.

* Stunt, or stunts?

* What about that image I linked? How to get a herd of npc innocents to toe the line or (in another example) all simultaneously bliss out in some kind of hedonistic hallucination. (Touches on illusions and how to get people to buy into them.)

If this has been gone over a hundred times, please don't hesitate to point me that direction. 


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Testing the Google+blog plugin with a public #gaming post about the tabletop/hangouts…

Testing the Google+blog plugin with a public #gaming post about the tabletop/hangouts game I'm playing in this weekend.

"In the not too distant future, an alien race invaded the Earth and threatened to enslave humanity. But soon after their arrival, and subsequent announcement of their intentions, the first SPB (Super Powered Being) showed himself. He saved Manhattan, spurning other SPBs to action across the globe. Together, they saved humanity from enslavement… for a while."

"One of their number, formerly the most devoted to the fight for freedom, changed his name to Despot and killed the rest of his team. Within a month, he and his trusted cohorts took over the north american continent. They enslaved humanity under the "rightful rule" of an SPB aristocracy. Under Despot's watchful eye, and direct order, the most savage crimes against humanity have been committed."

"Ten years later. The situation has only grown worse, with many superhumans being added to the fold as the lower class expands to include all but the most powerful SPBs. The genocide has gone on long enough. The United Nations of Humanity have announced their intent to overthrow Despot, but know they do not have the ability to do so. If he is to be overthrown, it is to be from within, by an SPB resistance."

Farscape as gaming group

Recently Farscape became available on the ‘view on my computer’ queue via Netflix, part of a re-release that also put the whole series up for sale for a very reasonable price (as opposed to the original DVD releases, priced for something insane like 30 bucks for two episodes).

All of this pleases me.  Initially, my plan was to watch episodes while I’m on the elliptical, and while I’m doing that, I’m not only doing that, because it’s Farscape, and it kind of sucks me in. (I’m excited to watch past third season, actually, because I don’t think I ever saw all of Season Four, and I never saw the Peacekeeper Wars.)

But in rewatching the show, I’m struck by how strongly Farscape seems modeled on the story/structure of a gaming group. Not ‘game-based fiction’, but the group itself. Not even Dragonlance reflects my experience with the ebb and flow of a game at the table, and the things that happen with your players over time.

Five players, plus the GM.
Five players, plus the GM.

Season One:

So here’s what we’ve got when we first start playing the game.

GM: “I’m going to do this sci-fi game.”
Crichton: Cool.
Most of the players:
“What about the DnD game we’ve been doing?”
GM: “This will still have most of those dynamics. All the classes are pretty much the same, it’s just a few skills that will be different.”
D’argo: “As long as I can still have a big fucking sword.”
GM: “… fine. Whatever.”

  • Warrior: D’argo
  • Ranger: Aeryn
  • Cleric: Zhaan
  • Rogue: Rigel
  • Crichton, the only one who tries a new class, starting out as an ‘astronaut’ (basically a scientist/pilot multiclass with none of the multiclass disads… like the way elves and hobbits worked in original DnD).

Now, the GM quickly realizes that the guy playing Crichton is never going to miss a game session. The dude writes diary entries from his character’s point of view, podcasts random stuff, and even writes some fiction about the stuff that happens between official sessions.  A lot of the game is built around what this player does and the stuff he and the GM talk about. But everyone’s having a good time, and the bad guy seems to be working out pretty well, and word gets around. A couple more players want to join in.

And this GM has a real problem with telling a player they can’t join if they want to.

Chianna wants to play a rogue, but the group’s already got a rogue, so she goes the ‘physical burglar’ route so as to keep from stepping on Rigel’s toes.  It takes a few sessions to really take, and a it’s quite a few more sessions after that before Rigel’s player really acknowledges her at the table, but once that happens, those two kinda bond.

Stark is just a buddy of Rigel’s who’s visiting from out of town for a couple weeks and wants to play, so the GM has him play Crichton’s cellmate. The dude’s kinda of crazy, and doesn’t seem to give a crap about the actual game system — he just wants to roleplay everything instead of rolling dice, but whatever — the GM makes up death-priest variant, figuring it’ll never matter anyway, cuz the guy’ll be gone before long.

Near the end of the first story arc, the GM introduces Scorpius, whom everyone universally decides is cooler than Crase as far as bad guys go, and the GM likes playing him a lot, so Scorpius become the new big bad, and Crase flies off stage with the gunship that the GM mistakenly gave the players (he just wanted to make use of the ship-design rules he’d been playing with, and Crichton saw the design and talked him into introducing the ship via a weird pregnancy plot).

Season Two:

Six is a lot of players, but the situation doesn’t get appreciably better with the new storyline. Crichton is still super active, but the whole wormhole thing is kind of going by the wayside for the player, cuz he likes being chased by Scorpius and trying to hook his character up with Aeryn, so that’s pretty much the main arc.

Other players saw the whole torture scene stuff with Crichton, though, and want a piece of the story-action. D’argo nags the GM to push the ‘I have a son’ thing forward, for example.  Zhaan’s player is pretty pissed about the ‘crappy healing’ that clerics get in this system and continues to nag everyone to go back to the ‘real’ DnD game, but no one’s listening.

Rigel’s fine. Rigel’s always fine. Don’t worry about Rigel. He’s good.

The GM loves playing Scorpius, so he finally comes up with a way to play him even more often by sticking him inside Crichton’s head. Crichton actually stats up Scorpius’ second in command just so he and the GM can play some one-on-one ‘bad guy’ scenes.

Oh man… Rigel’s buddy actually decides to move to town (he’s got a semi-permanent gig with the local community theater). He wants back into the game. As the same death-priest guy. Crap.

Zhaan really wants to quit the game. Honestly, she’s run by Crichton (so he can play in more scenes) and the GM as much as the original player, cuz she doesn’t show up much. (Though she does come back for awhile when Stark’s player shows move into town, cuz she’s got a crush on him, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she can’t even get his attention with a glorious death scene, so shes quits and doesn’t make a new character.)

The group is left with no healer except for the guy who’s main skill is helping people die. Crap.

So the GM finds someone to play a ‘regular’ doctor. Jool. His girlfriend. Who doesn’t game and doesn’t like science fiction. Even the guy playing Crichton thinks this is a bad idea.

Plus, the group is hitting nigh-critical mass. Too many of almost every class.

The GM wants to split the group into two separate groups for awhile. Crichton hates that idea, because he wants play more, not less, and doesn’t want to make another ‘main’ guy.

“I have a solution,” the GM says.

So the group’s get split up.

Group Moya

  • Fighter, D’argo
  • Rogue, Chianna
  • Jool, “healer”
  • Crichton

D’argo’s spending points on “I have a ship”, but he can’t do it all at once, so the GM’s letting him buy it a little bit at a time. That’s fine. But Crichton realizes that in this group he’s got nothing going on — his “Loves Aeryn” thing and “D’argo’s Buddy” doesn’t let him go after Chianna, no one’s really hunting Moya, Jool is dating the GM and they both give him dirty looks whenever he tries to hit on the character…

… so he only has wormholes to work on. This quickly gets old for EVERYONE.  The only respite is when Crichton takes a break and roleplays Braka in scenes with Scorpius.

Group Talyn

  • Fighter, Aeryn
  • Rogue, Rigel
  • Priest, Stark
  • MORE Crichton, who by this point in time has multiclassed so many times that the GM just simplified the system by making “Crichton” a class. Crichton loves this group, because he gets to continue to hit on Aeryn, shoot stuff, get chased by bad guys, and fiddle with wormhole tech.

But the GM is getting a little fatigued by running two groups every week. He isn’t aware of it consciously, but he resents all the time the game is taking — it starts to leak into the game itself: it’s basically impossible for anyone to do anything in any game session without making the situation worse, even if they succeed.  This trend will, we fear, continue.


And that’s about where I am right now in Season Three.

You gotta admit, as good as the show is, it’s weirdly similar to gaming groups.

… which in turn makes it dissimilar to any other kind of ensemble cast show I’ve ever watched. The characters are more strongly archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) than anything like BSG or Babylon 5 or… well, anything.

What’s weird and remarkable is that they largely retain those archetypes even three years into the series. That’s not say they’re shallow, but their depth tends to be strictly confined to the original silos they were built into. Character archetypes. Classes. It makes the show immediately easy to grasp, no matter which episode you jump into.

(Until, if I recall correctly, Season Four, where everything goes CRAZY and the GM starts dropping acid.)

More as I think of it.

Writing for (make believe) television: The Game!

I’ve been a bit periscope-down for the last week or so, but I thought I’d pop in for just a moment before my students show up and muse on a game I’m starting up this evening. I don’t normally talk about my gaming on this blog (saving that for Random Average), but in this case, I thought it was relevant.

The game is Primetime Adventures – a story-game that’s designed to simulate the ebbs and flows of (mostly) genre television melodrama, best exemplified by shows like Buffy, Alias, Six Feet Under, Chuck, Heroes, Lost, and things of that nature.

Tonight we will have the Pitch Session, in which participants will propose various show ideas which we will then shoot down or hammer on until we have a concept for a television show we rather like – at which point in time we proceed to make up the protagonists for the show and figure out the basic flow the story arcs and the character issues and all that good stuff that we’ll explore for the next five or six game sessions.

The television metaphor is a powerful one, and leads to some good concepts, many of which are inspired by the basic idea “this is something I think would make awesome television, but which no one IN television would ever have the balls to make.” Maybe it’s faerie-invaded Edwardian England, or ghost hunting noir, or undead-fighting kung-fu holy warriors, or everyman robot-overlord survival horror. Could be anything, really.

I don’t have any ideas.

Rather, I have about a hundred ideas, none of which are stepping forward and shouting “pick me, hone me, LOVE ME” the way I always expect they should do — the way that actual quality television or stories do.

In fact, what I’m feeling right now is pretty much what I feel every time I’m about to start a new writing project for which I only have a kinda-sorta idea. It’s a good place to be, and kind of a rotten place to be all at once. When all you have is a blank page and no constraints, you can get a little paralyzed.

I can hardly wait to get started. I’ll let you know what we come up with.

Wizards of the Coast takes a… novel approach to dealing with PDF piracy

Angry Bear is angry.And by “novel”, I mean to say “utterly stupid and short-sighted.”

Earlier this evening RPGNow, Paizo, and DriveThruRPG pulled all of their Wizards of the Coast PDF products (where both new and much much much older products were available) at WotC’s request.  The ability to purchase them ended at noon – the ability to download products that you’ve already bought ended at midnight.

According to Wizards of the Coast, this was done to prevent piracy.  (In a followup statement, they clarified that they believe this… because they are luddite morons.)

“We have [taken these actions] to stop the illegal activities […], and to deter future unauthorized and unlawful file-sharing.”

I love the vast understatement from one gaming site today:

“I predict an increase in piracy of Wizards products.”


Let me take this one step further.  I guarantee – not ‘predict’, but guaran-goddamn-tee that every single PDF of WotC products made available after midnight tonight will be a pirated copy.

Just… think about it for a second; you’ll see exactly what I mean.

See… before today? Sure, some people were sharing PDFs like that on file-sharing sites, and there was pirating going on. Sure, yes.

Was it because the PDFs were made available by WotC and sold online?

No.  You’ve been able to get PDFs of ANY game book — hell, any book at all — even ones that have never had electronic versions available, ever since scanner technology became remotely mainstream (early 90s), because people have time, and geeks have desire for the electronic versions.

Until today, at least most of the people who wanted electronic versions of their game book were getting the PDFs the easy way: google search, got to RPGNow, click, click, download.  No torrent software. No worrying if you picked up a virus with your latest PDF. Easy.

Now, the only way to get the electronic version of a WotC product is to get it from a pirate site.

I can either not get it at all (sucks for me, and WotC gets no money), or I get it from a torrent site (hassle for me, and WotC gets no money).

The pirating people? This has no fucking affect on them what. so. ever.

Well, no; that’s not entirely true.

This move by WotC, ostensibly meant to fight piracy, will actually ensure that more people will come to their site to download ALL the PDFs they want (for games, for novels… whatever — I mean, as long as they’re THERE for the DnD stuff, they might as well look around and see what else is out there, right?…).

It’s not just stupid and short-sighted.  It doesn’t just ensure the piracy of their work by 100% of those that want PDFs of DnD material; it actually hurts all the other companies in the industry as well.