Friday, September 16, 2011

A moment of clarity / Levels of reality, magic and the Awakened Mage

A number of things have bothered me about Mage: the Awakening since I first read it, and a couple more since I read Changeling: the Dreaming.
These things are mostly to do with my understanding of the Awakened state, the Supernal realms and how magic flows from these realms to our realm.
And Paradox. Mostly Paradox.
Paradox made sense in Mage: the Ascension because magic was all about belief and consensual reality.
Not so in Awakening. There is no consensual reality in this game. Instead, Mages tap into another plane of existence and apply some of the laws of that realm to our own to achieve certain effects.
So, Paradox in Ascension is the rest of the consensus slapping the Mage down.
Paradox in Awakening, on the other hand, is possibly the Mage fucking up and slapping himself. It can also be nearby sentient beings slapping them down because, dammit, people obey the laws of thermo dynamics in this house.
I get that the concept of Paradox is fairly integral to both iterations of Mage, I am just not convinced by how it has been ported across to Awakening and how it has been applied. Without it, Mages (magi?) Would be pretty much unstoppable, able to chuck fireballs, lightening and cars with reckless abandon, control, after and wipe the minds of the rest of the world, transform us all into swine, conquer death and live in luxury.
So, yeah, Paradox.

 Then there's the Supernal realms and the Watchtowers.
Having read Mage: the Awakening, I understood that the Watchtowers were situated within the corresponding Supernal realm, and that's where an Awakening Mage's soul is called to to inscribed their name. Fine. Then I read Changeling: the Dreaming and flicked through its supplement, Equinox Road. Having done so, I had no idea if the Changeling Arcadia was the same place as the Mage Arcadia. Were Awakened souls bypassing the Hedge, and its very serious negative affect on Willworkers? Where in Arcadia is the Watchtower of the Lunargent Thorn?
The Tome of the Watchtowers states that it "...occupies the centermost point of Arcadia..." yet the common descriptions of Arcadia presented by Mages differ significantly to of the escaped Changelings, enough to raise serious doubt that they are talking about the same place.
 Then there's the thematic similarity between the Shadow realm, mostly frequented by Werewolves and Spirits, and the Primal Wild Supernal realm. Also the Underworld from Geist: the Sineaters and the Supernal realm of Stygia. Stepping outside the game world for a second, these duplications of function and theme confuse me.

From a setting design perspective, its not quite right. How do they interact and relate to each other? To my understanding, nWoD is supposed to play nice with itself, and all the different parts are supposed to fit into the bigger picture. These things are not quite fitting, for me.
From a strictly Mage perspective, disregarding any information from other game lines, it all makes sense. That's how the oWoD rolled, though, with it getting sticky the more info from other lines you introduced to your game. NWoD is supposed to be better than that.

 Which brings me to my moment of clarity.
 The Astral Plane. Mages have the ability to explore their own consciousness, sub-conscious and those of the collective human race, as they ascend (descend) through distinct layers of consciousness and dream and collective sub-conscious etc seeking enlightenment, knowledge and things mortal man should not wot of. Importantly (to my theory, at least), during their Awakening, a Mage travels to (or perceives) their Watchtower by way of the Astral plane. They don't physically enter the Supernal realm in question, their Astral form journeys to the Watchtower, leaving their sleeping or semi-conscious body behind.
Which got me thinking - what if the Watchtowers are not actually in the Supernal realms? What if they're in the far reaches of the Astral plane? Maybe the Watchtowers are located at the points of crossing between the Astral plane and each Supernal realm? This would make them more properly Gateways... I'm thinking that the Astral plane can be seen as a bridging point between the Earth and the Supernal realms, that the Exarchs have cut off entry to these realms, so the Watchtowers were built on the realm edges, and are close enough to channel mana from those realms to Earth.
There's probably some fundamental point this theory misses, probably something about how the Shadow forms part of the Fallen World... However, this theory does allow me to reconcile certain things.
Changeling Arcadia is the true Arcadia. The Watchtower of the Lunargent Thorn occupies an area of the Astral plane that reflects Arcadia and is heavily influenced by its proximity to Arcadia. The same also applies to the other Watchtowers.
The Primal Wild is an area of the Astral Plane adjacent to the Shadow.
Stygia is the gateway to the Underworld.
Pandemonium is an entrance to Hell.
The Aether is next to the realm of angels and power.
 All these Supernal realms retain their sovereignty, as do the Watchtowers, and any differences and conflicts that arise from the individual game lines can be rationalized using this model.

I bet if I read the Astral Plane source book, it'll contradict everything I've just said...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When speaking, leave the 'geek' out / Missing the point

As I understand it, Speak Out with your Geek Out is an opportunity to put aside the negativity and the raging and the edition wars and all of the common failings of our shared hobby, push it all aside and instead celebrate, revel in, the good stuff that comes with it instead.

With this in mind, I have been thinking about what I should write about.
What personal, unique and valuable point of view can I share with the world about my hobbies? What have I got  to say that is worth hearing?
What really good, positive things do I have to say about Geek?


OK, so we're using the word 'Geek'.
What does it actually mean?
Without being all naval-gazey pedantic about the etymology of the word, it is still a negative term, isn't it?

Yes, we're trying to reclaim the word, make it positive, but it's not 'gay'. It wasn't originally a positive word that got subverted, it has always been an insult, a negative descriptor, an undesirable label.
Suddenly it's become cool to describe yourself as a Geek, to carry that label and wear it with pride. As long as it's somebody within the sub-culture who has given it to you. It's not so cool if some jock calls you it and laughs.
Is it, in fact, our 'N' word?

Awhile ago, I started referring to my hobby as 'geeking', as a kind of short hand amongst friends. We all knew what it meant, and, importantly, it excluded those who didn't know what it meant. We could talk about the weekly Vampire: the Masquerade game I ran in mixed company in our own little secret language, and not feel self conscious. Those around us, though, who weren't 'in', they were the ones who felt socially awkward.

About three years ago I started a local gaming club using Meet-Up initially to identify and approach local Roleplayers. I stopped using the word 'geek' then because I was actively reaching outside of my normal social circle and needed to engage with strangers.
We pulled in a few first time gamers and a few veterans who'd not played in twenty years. A good mix, in my opinion.
I'm not sure we'd have drummed up the level of interest we did - 12 players initially - if we'd used exclusive terms or loaded language.

All of this does not mean that I object to people wearing their Geek badge with pride. At a recent job interview I described myself as "A Massive Geek", so I don't have a problem using it myself.
The interview didn't go too well, but I don't think it's because I said I like Sci-Fi and Fantasy films...

I guess what I'm saying is, if we want to hold our heads up high and make it OK to like the things we like and to get other people to take an interest, then maybe we need to check our terms, and be more Inclusive and less Exclusive.

I'll leave you with two definitions of Geek, one objective, one subjective.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gore to Plot Ratio / Fear Itself

Question: In a stock teen horror / slasher movie scenario (Scream, Darkness Falls, Harper's Island, Nightmare on Elm Street et al), what should the split be between horrific encounters/gruesome murder and investigation into the monster that leads to the final confrontation?

I'm thinking 30/70, with most of the screen time being tense, gory action.

I guess there's an argument for 10% of the movie being bare breasts and lustful activity and/or comedy, and about 5% being character development (oh, she's the Good Girl, he's the Brain, she's the Mean Girl, he's the Dumb Jock etc. Or, Alive, Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead).

I'm plotting out my first Fear Itself game, which uses the Gumshoe system, and I want to get the balance right.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hypocracy / Ooh, I am excited about Pathfinder

I swore myself off Dungeons & Dragons about six years ago. I'd finished running a year long 3.5 campaign with seven players that had taken them from Level 1 to approx Level 15, killed off all the original characters except one and sapped my will to live.
I think it was the extreme silliness of spells, spell-like abilities and general epic prowess D&D characters start acquiring around Level 10 and above that did me in.
The sheer number of modifiers, potential for insane actions and improbable escapes that got me in the end.
I just couldn't comprehend just how epicly competent these characters were.
It did my nut.
When 4th Ed came out, I ditched all my 3.5 books in the bin and embraced the new edition whole heartedly. After all, it was streamlined, improved, easier to grasp.
It was differently insane.
And seemed to focus entirely on tactical dungeon combat. It was like playing Diablo.
Or Dungeon Siege.
I ran it for my local gaming club, and after about 3 sessions jacked it in and played a halfling in somebody else's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game.
Every now and then I'd look in on the D&D guys. They were always in some dungeon working out if they should plow on and get the Action Points, or take a short rest and heal, or weighing up if they should use their per day power now or save it.
I never actually saw them have a conversation with an NPC or do something non combat related.
So, I swore myself off D&D entirely. I'll stick with my WoD and Gumshoe games, I thought.
Earlier this year, though, I realised I had an itch for D&D style fantasy.
I thought about hacking WoD into a fantasy game, and bought World of Darkness: Mirrors. Good ideas, just not quite the same...
I picked up my copy of Ars Magica 5th Ed and flicked through. Yeah, but not quite. It's not epic fantasy. It's not disposable. It's not fast paced.
So I've bought Pathfinder.
I'm halfway through it, and I'm getting a little giddy about it.
Yes, I know its essentially 3.5 with tweaks, and I can see characters becoming insanely powerful by 10th level again, but it sings to me.
The Classes and Races look like fun to play, I'm already familiar with the rules, so just need to spot the differences, it encourages multi-classing and non-standard skill point distribution.
It's a game I hated 6 years ago, and right now I think its great.
I first went out with my wife in 95. We split up some five months later.
Ten years later, we get married.
Not that I'm comparing my wife to D&D/Pathfinder...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Search Terms / Drug Raids

I've been away from this blog for a little while, mostly due to real life crap and mucking about on G+

I return to discover that six people have stumbled upon my blog this past month whilst searching for a Kilo of Coke.
Like they can order it from eBay or Amazon.
They can't, can they?

Technology Fail / The joys of remote gaming

I'm pretty pumped. I've just finished my first internet gaming experience, and it went well... sort of.

I'm running a game of Fear Itself for a group of six players, three of which i've never gamed with before, one of whom has never gamed before. Tonight was a dry run for the technology and a character creation session.

The technology was a massive pain in the ass.

I'd committed to Google Talk, because I believed it allowed conference calls. Noooo. One conversation at a time. Fail.
So we tried a Google+ Hangout, which would've worked just fine, except one of the players couldn't get in. Apparently G+ was full. Or so it told him.

So then we switched to, which is a free web conferencing service, with video cams, 'unlimited' users, text chat, file sharing and an interactive white board.
After five minutes of setting up, we were in, and then my Shockwave crashed. Luckily it didn't close the conference, so I just rejoined. One other player had an issue, so this is what we're using going forward. It worked really well.

Once we were all on, we went through character creation and the basics of the rules. Then we had a fight.

The fight was fucking great.
I've not GM'd or role played for over a year, and by god I've missed it.
I set the players up in a standard tavern brawl, with a last man standing brief, and let them go mad.
It was gratifying that the 'combat specialist' died in only two rounds.
They are so fucked.
We didn't get round to doing Stability loss, however they're most likely to go insane before they die.

I am itching to get into the game, now.
I can't wait a week...