Wednesday, December 22, 2010

RPG session report 2

Our second RuneQuest session was far more intense than the first. Events followed as:
The group made camp, having decided not to follow the horse thieves through the night. They rose early the following day to continue the pursuit. Within a few hours, however, Flavias had once again lost the tracks of the bandits. A debate followed; should they give up the chase or should they attempt to follow in the general direction of the brigands (roughly north-east)? They chose the latter. Luckily, within a few hours, Flavias found the tracks.

The party arrived at a steep hillside. They saw bare rock and cliff above and steeper ground ahead. They smelt cooking meat. More debate; approach from the sides, sneak in, or approach up-front? Flavias, this time in the role of sneak, went in to gather information. A minute later she'd alerted a goblin lookout who'd been on watch from the second lowest branch of a tree. The first Flavias knew of it was a stone (from a sling) that struck her lower back. She yelped in pain. This cry alerted the other goblins nearby.

The adventurers sprung into action. After catching up to Flavias, Ben Polio and Soliste lingered underneath the goblin's tree, unable to reach it. Flavias fired arrows at the goblin. One arrow hit, but only grazed the creature. Trax arrived and threw a javelin into its right side. The goblin faulted and fell to the ground. Moments later the goblin was pierced through it's right thigh by either a short-spear or an arrow, but events where moving too quickly for anyone to take note. The goblin was overwhelmed by pain and fell unconscious.

Soliste noticed another goblin, further away, also skulking on a branch of a tree. She went off to deal with it. As she did so, she noticed four more goblins, this time on foot, coming down the hillside.

Regrouping around the bleeding goblin, the adventurers attempted to make a deal with their adversaries; the life of the hostage for their horses. The goblins refused. Our travellers opened hostilities. The goblins prepared spells.

Soliste prepared a complex sorcery spell targeting all the goblins. She intended to poison their senses, leave them incapacitated and overwhelmed by a phantom, burning taste in their mouths. Through all her intent, the spell failed and fizzled into the æther.
Nevertheless, within seconds three goblins were dead. The survivors hastily surrendered. They were bound and forced back up the hill to their camp. A quick glance around the camp revealed that Ben Polio's and Soliste's horses were missing. The goblins had sold them to a barbarian tribe for two hundred silver, far less than they were worth. Collecting the silver (two hundred and twenty eight in total), the goblins' weapons and the horses, all that remained was to deal with the survivors. More debate; take them as slaves, leave them bound, kill them?

Our band left the dead bodies near the burning fire at the cave entrance. Anid had acted decisively and brutally. Six dead goblins, carelessly abandoned to rodents and maggots.

When we left our adventurers, they'd had reached the borders of the Black Grove Clan, only hours from Verstead.
I hadn't intended that the party fight the goblins. I think it was partially my fault. I'd considered that they might sneak into the camp, but didn't think about what would happen if they failed to move stealthily. It made sense for the lookout to attack Flavias. However, when the goblins refused to hand-over all the horses for their dying companion, they should have at least offered to give them one horse in exchange (they were certainly never going to give up all three.) I didn't think of bartering. Obvious in hindsight.

We learnt one thing; the adventurers are brutal and not afraid to make gritty decisions.

Even though there was a fight that I thought was going to be avoided, the action played out relativity quickly. I even made the mistake of giving the goblins more combat actions than was permitted (I forgot to count parrying as a combat action). Six goblins are no match for five adventurers. (Note: I need to buy a few coloured glass beads to keep track of combat actions.)

Goblins aren't normally part of Glorantha. I wanted some tricksters that were good at getting about during the night. Goblins fitted well. Nevertheless, these weren't the goblins of D&D. They weren't evil. They were just out to make a living and provide food for their clan. They paid dearly.

This was the first time we were hit with the full impact of the RuneQuest rules. I've read the core rules at least three times. I used about 40% of them correctly and forgot about 30%. Getting so much of it wrong definitely made me anxious. Rules make the game more objective rather than "what the game master says," so I wanted to get them correct. At the same time, one needs to be ready to instantly dismiss a rules if they're forgotten or don't fit well with what the players are trying to achieve. It's quite difficult to balance. It went okay, but I wish the rules were simpler. However, I really like things like hit locations and combat manoeuvres. I've been waiting for those to manifest in RPGs for years and they're done very well in RuneQuest. Maybe in a few more sessions we'll know and remember the rules better and they won't get in the way.

Through the last two sessions, one of the issues I've had is that I've assumed the characters will succeed in what they do. I've been thrown a number of times when dice results go against what I've imagined. It's a foolish assumption. They're inexperienced, I should assume failure, not success. But, I need to plan for both.

Chris' observations are here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shrines and Temples in RuneQuest II

There are four types of magic in RuneQuest II; common, sorcery, spirit and divine. Divine magic requires devotion to a god. Only cult members that worship a particular god are granted spells and only if they pray at a shrine or temple. From the Mongoose Forums:
Both shrines and temples are made - consecrated - through the Consecrate spell. Note its description: 'The consecrated sphere is sacred to the spellcaster's god'.

A temple, then, is a site that is the subject of numerous and sustained Consecrate spells, kept in place by the presence of the permanent clergy.

Shrines are much smaller and local, their consecration kept in place by a sole Rune Priest responsible for that area. A shrine's consecration may lapse; it may not. It will depend on who looks after it and what else he or she has to do.

Creating a shrine or temple is thus a case of casting Consecrate on an appropriate area, object or building and then maintaining it. Once cast, its ties-up the dedicated POW used to cast it, putting it beyond other use (spells, usually) so a single person could maintain a shrine within a certain range if he has no other duties requiring dedicated POW or magic.

So the answer to your question: 'A character can scratch a holy symbol on a rock, or just wave his hands and say, "it's a shrine!", or what have you, and the location works as a shrine forever after' is Yes, sure he can. But he must cast and maintain Consecrate to keep it that way. If he doesn't, and the spell lapses, so does the ability to use the shrine to recover spells. Furthermore, a shrine must be recognisable to others of the same faith. Scratching a symbol on a rock might work in one culture but not another. Something recognisable and visible is going to a) declare that god's presence and b) help the divine follower find it and use it.

However, shrines, being local and personal often aren't enough. That's what temples are for, which typically contain numerous shrines to a pantheon's gods. Grouping them together under one roof makes consecration easier, attracts maximum attention, makes a political and religious statement, and so on. (Lawrence Whitaker)
What this means is that a Rune Priest is giving up their power for other people. How different is that from real-world religions?! Real-world religion takes. It takes money, in the form of donations and inheritance from the deceased. It takes time, attendance at mass and prayers from the faithful. Of course, the cults in RuneQuest take time and money too, but you'd never see a bishop or
metropolitan physically reduced by their devotion. Of course, one could reason that devotion to a delusional belief system is reduction enough, but the distinction is real. Importantly, an archbishop probably isn't aware that they're delusional.

A better analogue for real-world religions in RuneQuest is the Empire of Wyrms' Friends. Some of their cults literally suck the life-energy from its members to feed the Cosmic Dragon. This is much closer to Hillsong or the Church of Scientology that take money (i.e., power) and must obviously give something in return, though I'm not entirely sure what. The veneer of community, perhaps?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Probability in RPGs

Dice rolling is one of the core features of basically every role-playing game (except Amber Diceless). However, when probability is involved, people often get sucked into weird beliefs and numerological thinking.

There are a couple of good documents on probability in RPGs. See here and here. I have a few extra comments, especially regarding RuneQuest.

The percentile rolls in RPGs use two ten-sided dice. (I don't think anyone actually uses d100s.) One die represents the tens, the other, units. This means that one of the dice is an order of magnitude more important that the other. Only one in ten rolls of the second die is worth rolling (i.e., you need 64%; only a 6 on the tens die makes the second die relevant). RuneQuest, however, offers a couple of subtleties - critical successes and fumbles - that brings the usefulness up to 3 in 10 rolls. I've also noticed, with opposed rolls, that that number goes up to 4 in 10. Therefore, RuneQuest is mostly a d10 system, rather than percentile. However, the second die is used about a third of the time and gives some rare probabilities that makes it quite intruiging.

Comparing the percentile system of RuneQuest (Call of Cthulu, Basic Role-Playing and others) with D20 (D&D, Star Wars, etc.), I find the d100 system more satisfying. This is because
  1. It's very easy to judge your chances of success when using percentiles. With D20, it's not immediately obvious what your chances are when you need 24+ and you roll 1d20+10. Sure, you can quickly figure it out, but it would be better if you didn't have to.
  2. Little touches in RuneQuest, like fumbles that occur when rolling 99 or 100 and varying chances for critical success (depending on your skill level), break up the standard roll of 1 for automatic failure and 20/18-20 for critical success of D&D/D20.
  3. Critical hits in D20 require re-rolls. This wastes more time.
  4. In D20, the player, when rolling, does not know the chance of success unless they ask the game master. With percentile systems, the player knows the chance of success, unless the game master modifies it. The latter is better as it gives more determinacy of the result to the player.
The above concerns transparency and clarity, there isn't a real difference in probabilities between a percentile or D20 system. It's a single roll and the probability of each result is linear (can just as easily roll 33% or 99% in RuneQuest or 2 or 20 in D20). On the other hand, there are a few other game systems that provide either real differences to the probability or more superficial complexity. They are:
  • Normal distribution systems, like the approach of Traveller, GURPS and Fudge. E.g., roll two dice and add them together. The non-linear distribution is cool in the sense that more often than not you'll roll near the average. However, the downside is the probability of success is tricky to figure out, especially when you don't want to have to put much effort into thinking about it. It also requires arithmetic, slowing down the evaluation of the result.
  • The dice pools (e.g, grab a number of d10s relational to your ability) of World of Darkness, Warhammer Fantasy, d6 Star Wars and The Burning Wheel games also sounds pretty cool, but again, it's not overly obvious what your chances are to achieve a task. Also, more dice means more time to evaluate. Not good.
  • The step dice of Savage Worlds, EarthDawn and Serenity seems very promising. You use 1d4 when unskilled, 1d6 if you're a bit more competent and 1d10 if you know what you're doing. The probability is easy to figure out and it's fast to evaluate. Having said that, Savage Worlds, at least, has complexities. Wild Cards (PCs and important NPCs) have two dice to roll (one normal die and one Wild Die) and re-roll if you ace (get a 6 on 1d6, for instance). This takes time and obscures the evaluation of probability. Nevertheless, I'd really like to play one of these games.
My preferences then, based on transparency and speed of evaluation are:
  1. Percentiles (RuneQuest)
  2. Step dice (Savage Worlds)
  3. Roll and add modifiers (D20/D&D)
  4. Normal distribution (Traveller)
  5. Dice pools (World of Darkness)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Decision making

The last role-playing session ended on a crucial dilemma; does the group continue tracking horse thieves into the night, or do they stop and rest at nightfall, continuing the hunt on the morrow? One player was in favour of pursuing into the night (or at least until the torches ran out - 4 to 5 hours). Three were opposed to the notion. As the game master, I must admit I thought it would be more fun if they continued the chase, so perhaps, one and a half in favour.

We resolved the decision in probably the worst way, flipism. Afterwards, I thought through the ways groups can make decisions. They are
  • Consensus
  • Majority rule
  • Flipism
  • Minority rule
  • Splitting the group
  • Rational argument
Clearly consensus is a terrible idea. It's little more than formalised coercion. Majority rule is better than consensus, at least the dissenters can announce their reservations even though they accept the decision. Still, it's a bad idea (what if the minority are correct in their beliefs?)

Flipism is the worst of the lot, but maybe in things like RPGs it can be fun. I thought it was fun to see the group slowly be influenced into continuing the pursuit, only to see the process break-down on the last person.

Splitting the group is also completely valid, if somewhat dramatic. Nevertheless, there should be nothing stopping one or more people leaving the others behind.

Rational argument, that is, arriving at a decision based on looking at all known options and collectively deciding which is the best, is the finest way to solve a problem. It's too bad that few use it. (I'm not sure how well it fits the fantasy world of Glorantha, however.)

The crazy thing was that - during the session - I'd forgotten all about minority rule. Often in RPGs a leader forms simply because the others aren't very communicative or are disinterested. This wasn't the case with this group/session. I had a bunch of free thinking anarchists roaming Glorantha. This will not do. A leader shall emerge. At the very least, it'll create more interesting dynamics; those that don't lead, rebel. Also, having one more option to fall back on is always a good thing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

RPG session report 1

Our role-playing group played our first "real" session last Thursday night. Background and events occurred as follows:
Our group of adventurers were returning to their stead after fighting against God Learner brigands on the border of Safelster and Delela (in Ralios). They recently departed from the EWF raiding party that was heading for other tribes and clans. They hurried on their way, so they could return in time for harvest during Earth season. However, during the second night, some dastardly thieves made off with the groups' horses. The following day was spent tracking hoof and footprint through forest, stream and hill. Unable to catch-up to the the brigands by nightfall, the group decided to make camp overnight, rather than risk a potentially deadly altercation with the thieves during the night.
So, not a huge amount happened, but it's all about how you get there. (There was also something about a brown bear attending to a corpse by the side of a trail, but they were too frightened to follow that up.)

Generally, the session went well. However, I was thrown by a few questions that I hadn't prepared for, regarding regional information. That was because I hadn't figured out where in Gernetela the group were based. I have now. It's a little region of Ralios called Delela. An interesting fact about Delela is that most clans are subject to The Walker's Curse.
The Walker’s Curse
The clansfolk of the East Wilds suffer under an ancient curse laid upon them by St. Kus, after they rode through the countryside surrounding Kustria and engaged in indiscriminate slaughter. Now they cannot ride horses. Any attempt to place a saddle on a horse or to ride it bareback results in the immediate throwing of the rider. The curse ties to the sufferer’s bloodline. Orlanthi from elsewhere, including Lankst, can still ride here. (Glorantha - The Second Age, pg 110)
I think everyone had a lot of fun. I certainly did. The evening definitely contributed to my belief that role-playing games are the greatest games ever created.

An Assassin in Orlandes

I've been waiting for Tin Man Games gamebooks to come to the iPad. I tried out the first game - An Assassin in Orlandes - last night. I like it. Compared with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, An Assassin in Orlandes is vastly superior.

The art, design and user interface work really well. The writing is decidedly competent. The writing scrapes the borders of try-hard descriptiveness, but never reaches it, so it's an enjoyable read. I like the use of Spanish to give it that exotic flavour. (I speak Spanish, so it's not so exotic for me, but it's a nice idea.) I noticed a few grammatical errors (an occasional missing comma or comma in the wrong place). Nevertheless, generally it was edited well and is easy to understand.

The story is a generic fantasy affair, but that's okay with me. It's quite intriguing.

The decisions - the core of a gamebook - appear decent. It's not just "do you turn towards direction X?" I felt like what I decided to do had a real impact on the game/story. At the beginning, you can choose to have one more drink at the tavern. The outcome is that your stats are lowered for a while. I'm totally fine with that sort of stuff. Most of the time it seemed like it would really matter if I chose one option over another. Of course, it can't matter too much, else you'd get in-exhaustive branching very quickly. It's the illusion of infinite choices that really makes the difference. Thus far, An Assassin in Orlandes holds up to that illusion.

A weird aspect of the choices, however, is the "if you choose to do X, turn to 345." What's with the "turn to 345"? This isn't a printed book, why present the user with worthless fluff? I found it quite distracting.

The achievements are great. It's very cool being rewarded for going off the beaten track. (I wasn't even aware I was off track, which made it even cooler.) Unlocking the pictures is a nice touch too.

One can bookmark various places in the story. That was something I always used to do in the printed books of yore (I used to use my fingers as bookmarks, switching back to a spot in the book and trying an alternate path). It was a clever idea to integrate bookmarks into the game, limiting the number you have access to based on what mode you want to play.

I don't like the combat. It involves watching the dice roll, few (almost no) decisions. What they really need is a rock, paper, scissors mechanic. And I have one:
Each round of combat you can choose to attack, parry or cast a spell. Depending on the class you choose at the start (fighting man, rogue or wizard) you get two dice for one of those manoeuvres and one die for the other two manoeuvres. Fighting man has two for attack, rogue two for parry, and wizard has two for cast.

While fighting, if you attack and your opponent casts, you get a +2 bonus to the die roll. Same if you cast and they parry or you parry and your opponent attacks; you get a +2 bonus. If you both choose the same manoeuvre, there is no bonus awarded. Otherwise, it'll be your opponent who gets the +2 bonus.

Therefore, if you chose fighting man, you'll be inclined to attack more often than parry or cast, but not if you're going up against a rogue. If the computer opponent made random decisions with a slight prevalence for its favoured manoeuvre, it would work well, I believe. Certainly better than watching digital dice resolve.
I haven't actually read all that much of the gamebook as yet, so my opinion may change. In the main, however, I'd say it's very good. The combat is utterly uninventive and redundant, but that's my only substantive criticism. This isn't exactly what I've asked for, but it's getting there.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cholera in Haiti

There is some more discussion below from my sister (VL), dad (JL) and I (l) about the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. Nuz has a lot more on her blog too.

VL: [cholera is] getting closer. 12 cases 15 mins walk away from my house, 5 deaths. and still no material to start disinfecting houses. although im supposed to be picking up sprayers during my stay here in city

l: wow, that's getting pretty close. how are they getting it? just because other people have it? is the water sorted out in their areas?

JL: are you distributing chlorine solution ok and managing to maintain some form of hygiene [for others and you]?

VL: yeah its just when they go into nearby towns where there already lots of cases... but its surely going to spread like wildfire now. all villages near me have difficult water access (which is why big water dist scheme was started by other program manager - but still not finished). chlorine solution is supposed to be distributed by each leader of each village (they collect it at my neighbours house), but appears they're not doing a very good job. but i think washing hands is more important than treating water anyway

JL: how much can people restrict their own travelling? do they meet people from other villages when collecting water?

VL: village isnt a good word as its all so spread out, but no, each village generally has one or more water sources for itself. people travel a lot to all the different markets - the only way they can make money...dont see them restricting that. at least one guy caught it when accompanying already infected person to hospital too... and idiots in another NGO had 50 chloring sprayers for house disinfection, some of which they were supposed to give to us, but it seems they have just randomly handed them out to community members. doesnt help.

JL: just when they must be particularly careful

VL: the worst is when they are walking people to the hospital. the patient must be vomiting and shitting all the way along the track, no idea what we're supposed to do about that

JL: yes, can't really clean up. now you can see the conflict between letting locals do things for themselves and doing things for them

VL: but again, as long as people wash their hands or any other object before putting them in their mouth, they wont catch it (to respond to your question about maintaining hygiene), its not that hard

l: it's not that hard, but maybe they've never learnt about germs so it doesn't make any sense to them. all the english thought it was from bad air, afterall.

VL: for sure, i meant its not that hard for me. but yeah, we only worked out hygiene about 100 years ago. plus local mayor received 700 boxes of soap to distribute free - meaning about 100 boxes for each local gov leader - the leader nearest to my house received 4 boxes...hmm... one educated guy asked me if haiti was only country that had cholera... prevalent attitude that haiti is cursed... understandable really

JL: so, you could reassure him ... must seem like that. you are having xmas in Port au Prince?

VL: i guess so. 3 of us girls will probably spend it together here (met new girl who works in totally different zone yesterday, shes really nice). plan to meet an aussie here this week too, found her through couchsurfing

JL: is the aussie an aid worker?

VL: yes. if theyre not haitian theyre an aid worker, pretty much. tis a pretty weird world here. we went out for dinner last night at italian restaurant... mostly whites, lots of different languages and accents, surely all aid workers. try to imagine myself sitting down eating that 25 dollar meal in front of people from my village

JL: When you went out for dinner you could have been in any city or not?

VL: well it would have to be a very multicultural city, but yes. eating pizza and pasta and icecream, prices the same as australia, just slower service and juices made from strange tropical fruits

JL: guess some people in your village would never have gone to Port au Prince?

VL: yeah lots of people havent been here. but lots have family here too

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Philosophy of Glorantha

There is a dearth of information on the Net about RuneQuest and Glorantha. I don't really know why. It's truly intriguing stuff. The best I've found is Mythopoeia. The most interesting is a discussion on Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock and Glorantha.

Consider Tolkien. Middle Earth is a world which has an absolute truth. Eru created the world, and those who live in accordance with the “mind of Eru” are good while those who go against it are bad. Goodness, truth, and righteousness are the rewards of those who side with Eru and the Valar. Those who defy Eru, from Melkor and Sauron right down to the Easterlings, fall into error and ultimately suffer. This is the kind of absolutism offered by Christianity, which is not surprising considering Tolkien's own devout Catholicism.
On the other hand, we have Howard. Howard's Hyborian Age has no absolutes, no good, no truth, and no real evil (its demons may be alien and inhuman, but don't qualify as evil the way Melkor does, because there is no absolute good to be the opposite of). The Hyborian Age is an almost Nietzschean paradigm where strength is the only real virtue.
Michael Moorcock offers a very different paradigm. His work seems to say that any absolute—in his case absolute Law or absolute Chaos—is intrinsically unbearable and that the only wholesome route lies through balance.
With this in mind, let's consider Glorantha. If Middle Earth embraces a single truth, Hyboria mocks truth, and Moorcock's Million Spheres seek a balance between truths, Glorantha says to us that truth is in the eye of the beholder. Truth exists, and can be obtained, but it is a cultural and—to an extent—personal truth not valid for everyone. Truth is a local, rather than a universal, phenomenon. For example, most cultures in Glorantha agree that there was a time when the sun disappeared from the sky. The Orlanthi say that the sun was a tyrannical emperor, and that mighty Orlanth slew him to liberate the cosmos. However, the sun-worshiping Dara Happans say Orlanth merely slew the solar emperor's son(the divine sun himself was far too great to slay), and that the solar emperor died of grief. Now, in any other world, we might just say that these too cultures have different beliefs and leave it at that. But in Glorantha, an objective third party—like, say, a God Learner—could go to Dara Happa, leave the mortal plane, and personally witness Orlanth slaying the solar emperor's son. The same God Learner could then go to an Orlanthi holy site, enter the Hero Plane, and personally witness Orlanth slaying the tyrannical solar emperor himself. In fact, he could get powers from participating in two contradictory myths!
Because of this, Glorantha embraces a pluralism unprecedented in other fantasy settings. Tolkien is culturally pluralistic, but his world operates around a single truth. Hyboria is also culturally pluralistic, but truth is ambiguous at best. And Moorcock may have a Million Spheres, but all are governed by the same struggle. Even Dungeons & Dragons, with its “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to setting design, still has the cosmic absolutes of law, chaos, good, and evil (lawful good is lawful good, from world to world and setting to setting). Glorantha is wholly relativistic.
This pluralism is not the result of a modern, politically correct, “accept all faiths” viewpoint, but rather indicative of the pagan attitude, which is wholly consistent with the mythic, bronze-age world Glorantha portrays. When we examine the religious attitudes of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, for example, we find that they are perfectly aware of foreign gods, and accept their existence, but view their own deities as being more central to their lives. A clear example can be found in the Ten Commandments of Hebrew scriptures, where Yahweh tells his people “I am your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.” Note he does not say, “I am the only true God, and all other gods are false.” This attitude did not appear until late antiquity, a period which falls long after Glorantha's scope (except, perhaps, where the Malkioni God-Learners are concerned).
Even though I agree that Gloranth attempts to portray a pre-modern world, I wonder how much of a benefit post-modernism was. Post-modernism was in its ascendancy in 1966 - when Glorantha was started. Tolkien didn't have access to those ideas when he was developing Middle Earth. The best he would have had access to were the ideas of Marx and Marxism. Although the former of those, Marx, is superior to post-modernism, Tolkien obviously never got that far, as it would have been awash with Marxism (something even worse than post-modernism.)

It's interesting that besides Glorantha, I know of no other game-world that embraces plurality. Most are modernist (Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Traveller universe, WoW, Midnight, etc.) You really have to go to literature before you start to get anything interesting (Le Guin, Leiber and the ones mentioned above).

Friday, December 3, 2010

It would have been good to know...

I recently found the text below in the RuneQuest II Forum. I'd have liked to have come across it much earlier.
I would recommend that anyone playing in Glorantha read either HeroQuest Voices or the 2nd Age Equivalent material in the Mongoose Books. That you only concern yourself with a few cults at a time. Keep non-humans as the weird and mystical, keep foreign powers the same where you can. Remember that if you take a small area that you can develop your own campaign around and then develop it your own way, rather than trying to tackle a huge amount of detail. If you want to create your own material, but use the Gloranthan material their are lots of little places where this can be done.

Some suggested places to start...

A small Orlanthi clan - It doesn't matter really if this is in Ralios or Kethaela, just create a small village or similar at its heart, some local woods inhabitted perhaps by local spirits, perhaps some elves or even a dragonewt. Then you need a few local hills, perhaps with the odd caves that are taboo, perhaps because they hold monsters or are of a religious nature. This is Glorantha so there should be at least one weird location from a forgotten era, a collossal face in the wilderness, a strange henge or monument or an bizarre ruin.

The inhabitants of this area need to be pencilled out, work out who the chieftain is, his wife, his champion, the local healer, a shaman or priest and perhaps two more local characters (a bully, love intrest or mysterious stranger).

Cults, keep it simple, Have most men worship Orlanth, most women worship Ernalda, then have the Champion worship Humakt, there will be most likely one follower of Lhankor Mhy, Chalana Arroy, Odayla or even Vinga. If you are doing a Draconised clan then you need to use Orlanth the Dragon and Ernalda the Scale. You now need at least one source of conflict, a nearby clan, a troll tribe, nearby foreigners (Coastal Pirates, Praxian Nomads, or a small group of God Learners, is a good source). You will need to know a few protagonist from that enemy, their leader etc. You only need to know a little about this enemy to start with.

If you are playing a Dara Happan game, then instead of a Village you could look at setting the game in a small section of a city, familiarise yourself with the head of the household or Association, your family priest, the local merchants and perhaps a couple of NPC's in the association guard. Keep the cults simple, choose one or two. The opposition in the game comes not from monsters but from opposing Associations. If you want to play a bigger plot then bring in the Golden Dragon Emperor and the EWF cronies. Alternatively why not create your own small town, there are plenty of sources on the net, from maps to building plans (Look a Babylonian, Assyrian sites for inspiration). You can then make the oppositions barbarian raiders, river pirates, foreigner polluting your purity).

If you are playing a game with a nomadic culture, it is not the location that is important, but the journey that is being undertaken. Think about a route and detail a number of encounters along it. You need to know who the chieftain or khan is, who the healers, warriors and potential wives are. Most nomad cultures are shamanic, so encounters do not just have to be of the physical kind, clan members could be possessed by hostile ancestors or spirit animals could be encountered. Again focus on a couple of primary great spirits. Enemies should be traditional ones for Praxians it could be Chaos, Pentans or other Praxian tribes. For Pentans it will be Praxians, Trolls and Foreigners from the east or west. For Agimori it could be God Learners, Fonritan Slavers or monsters. You also have to remember that the weather and elements will play a big part in these stories.

For the God Learners and Empire of the Wyrms Friends it is probably easiest to think about a cell or small group. The God Learners will be seeking to explore the world, perhaps upon a ship. Their scenarios could be a lot more about exploring the world, in some respects you only need to understand the God Learner perspective to do this, they will see each culture in this manner, as resources to be taken, entities to be categorised or people to be conquered, whilst protecting their own interests.

The EWF will be similar, they are seeking draconic connections in the world, to spread the word. Both groups are essentially being sent on Missions in this case, for the better good of the Empire. Thier enemies are each other, and those that oppose their progression, but most of all it is their internal conflicts that will bave the greatest impact on most games. Create several 'Bosses' above the players and some contacts.

- Simon Bray

Even more Glorantha

The cult of Orlanth the Dragon is a male-only cult because Orlanth was the first to split his tongue and so taught all others to do so.
The above is one of my favourite lines from the Cults of Glorantha. It reminds me of the Bible. Almost all of the Bible follows this syntax; "[premise] because [utter nonsense]". If someone were to say such a thing in the real world, I would think "befuddler" or "liar". In Gloranth, it's a sentence paragraph that requires no further explanation. All I think is HeroQuest!

Orlanth was the first to split his tongue, literally, and in doing so he allowed all others that followed him to mystically incise their own. The HeroQuest would involve divining the knife that Orlanth used (a la the Grail from The Last Crusade) as well as following closely to the ritual Orlanth followed in being the first non-dragon to speak Auld Wyrmish.
Auld Wyrmish
This is the language of the Dragonewts and the Empire of the Wyrms’ Friends. Humans who speak it must mystically ‘split their tongue’ in order to be able to replicate the curious sounds made by the forked tongues of the Dragonewts. It is a complex language; mystically rich, including poetry, song and ritual chant. It sounds like no other language in Glorantha and is exceptionally difficult to master. Draconised cultures use both Auld Wyrmish and the tongue for their culture and/or region: Auld Wyrmish is rarely used exclusively.
And now for something that I'm almost 100% certain has never appear anywhere in any version of D&D, a spell called Delivery.
Duration Special, Rank Initiate, Touch

Delivery ensures that a natural childbirth is safe, clean and with managed pain for the mother. The spell lasts for the natural length of the delivery and is usually cast when the waters break although it can be cast when contractions have begun. The beneficiary of the spell feels relaxed and calm, and, although she will still feel the pain of childbirth, it is neither distressing nor overwhelming. The spell dissipates once the child has been born (the spell guards against still births or birthing difficulties) and the cord is cut and tied magically as the closing act of the spell.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Glorantha quotes

What Wyrmfriends Know
Misery, hunger, confusion and desire are part of the world because it isn't perfect yet. The violence and treachery of the human condition can also be attributed to this lack of perfection. The dragons made a cure for this when they created the world. They gave men the potential to perfect themselves and at the same time, to complete creation. This final act of completion will occur when all the people of the Empire perfect themselves and also create the conditions for the land itself to transform into the greatest dragon of all. All of the people will then be transformed, too, into the collective consciousness of this new dragon. Thus will they achieve eternal bliss, as the world emerges from its egg to finally achieve its ultimate, perfected form.

Although the struggle for perfection will be long and difficult, it is not without its rewards along the way. It grants its adherents powerful magics to use against its enemies, both from within and without. Some people cling stubbornly to their imperfections, to the old forms of worship which were meant only as stepping stones to transcendence. These must be shown the way of truth, to have their third eyes opened. Sadly, some are incapable of making the essential transition and must be snuffed out, lest their imperfections prevent blissful attainment for everyone else. To bring misery to the miserable is not a good or righteous action, only a necessary one.
Those who perform these acts of oppression sacrifice greatly, marring their souls with hate, greed and violence. They must fast and meditate to return to a pure state. Some of these will be corrupted and must also be extinguished. This is sad, but sadness is also a trap, as are all of the ordinary human emotions. They bind us to the reality around us, which is false, and prevent us from perceiving our Ultimate Dragon Natures, which are cold, analytical, inscrutable, yet partaking of a higher joy than any ordinary sort of human happiness can prepare one to understand.

Those who participated first in the revelations will gain most from the shared energies. If you join us now, you will be more powerful than if you do it later. If you bring in others, you will gain from that, and then gain again when they do the same.

This higher, mystic joy is worth all the hard spiritual work required to attain it. If we suffer deprivation, sorrow, war and doubt, it is only to fulfil cosmic destiny.

Looting the World of Myth
If the Otherworlds are the ultimate source of power, myths are their treasure maps. In the theist tradition, when you go on a HeroQuest, you venture into a well-known myth of your culture. You always encounter surprises, which may give you new insight into your gods, but the essential outline of the experience is pre-established. You become part of the story, with yourself in the role of the god you worship. You are tested as the god was tested in the original tale. If the story tells you that your god first fought a troll, then an ill-wind, and then bedded a mysterious woman, before finally battling the dragon, you expect to do the same when you enter the Hero Plane. If you do all of these things successfully and in the proper way, you win a great reward, either for yourself or your community. You might come back with a magic sword, gain a Divine Magic spell, end a drought or increase your clan's birth rate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

WPF ComboBox and XAML parser

For the past few days I have been trying to figure out why my ComboBox didn't work when I selected an item from a list of data-bound items. I've gone through the code over and over, tried different types of collections and different ways of accessing the selected item (SelectedValue or SelectedItem as int, string or object). Nothing worked.

Data-binding to a ComboBox in WPF/Silverlight isn't always as smooth as one would assume. People have problems here, here and there. The XAML was fairly easy to lay out, I thought. I had:

<ComboBox SelectedItem="{Binding Path=ReferenceType}"

="{Binding Path=ReferenceTypes}" />

It wasn't until I read "I always set the ItemSource before the SelectedItem and all works fine." that I thought I'd try switching my code to:

<ComboBox ItemsSource="{Binding Path=ReferenceTypes}" 

="{Binding Path=ReferenceType}" />

This way I define ItemsSource before SelectedItem. However, I never thought for a second that the XAML parser would care. I assumed the parser would figure out that it needs to know about the collection before it cared about what was selected. Obviously, if this were c# code I'd always specify the collection first, but this was XML, what does it care about the order of attributes?

I had broken the first rule of programming, never assume.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Backup Solution

For the first time I've gotten around to doing a decent backup solution for my semi-important files. I've had my critical files (i.e., source-code) backed-up for a long time using source code repositories of various kinds (mostly subversion.) My photos I store on flickr. For documents that I move around a lot I use either google docs or Dropbox. But what about books, music, videos (films, tv shows, etc.) and computer game files?

For these third-party media, I tried a couple of solutions.
  1. Internet storage (the best of which, for large amounts of data, seems to be carbonite.)
  2. Specialised backup software
  3. Simple folder syncing software by Microsoft (SyncToy)
The first option is good. It's about $70 a year, almost completely safe (no-one is like to steal the internet, though the back-up company could go out of business). But it's fairly slow to back-up and, therefore, recovery would be slow too. (I have about 1 tera-byte of data that I would preferably back-up.)

The specialsed software that I tried were way too complicated or had poor interfaces, so I ditched them.

SyncToy is pretty good. I have six folders on my main hard drive. Each of those folders back-ups to one of two secondary drives. I have scheduled the folders to sync every time I start my PC. In this way, two drives would have to fail or my computer would have to be stolen before I would lose all my data. I can live with that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I've been reading quite a bit from Glorantha - The Second Age. There is a lot a detail. I like how all of the cultures steal and inherit customs from others. Everything is inter-related.

Yelm, the sun god of the Dara Happans, is recognised by the Orlanthi (i.e. the Storm Tribes), but only because Orlanth kills Yelm. Yet the Orlanthi have been partially coopted by the Empire of Wyrms' Friends. The God Learners, on the other hand, want to steal everything from everyone in order to gain greater control of Glorantha and the Other Worlds.

I can't remember an RPG book that has gained so much of my attention. Usually, I glance through an RPG book, maybe reading some chapters in full. With this I read and re-read.

Some quotes I found interesting:

The final contest was of weapons and now Orlanth was angry. So he accepted a sword from the crazy trickster, Eurmal, who can be useful but always in a troublesome way. This sword was a new thing called Death and when Orlanth struck Yelm with it, Yelm died. And then the sun went out.

They wandered for a long time there, until unreliable Eurmal guided them to the Hall of the Dead, where Ernalda and Humakt and Barntar and all the others were. There was Yelm, also. And Orlanth saw what he had to do. He had to atone for what he had done and save the Bright
Emperor, too. They tested each other again and finally were reconciled.

Their new cooperation spawned the last rightful god ever to be born, Arachne Solara, the spider. She wove a net, which was the Great Compromise. It started Time and separated gods from mortals.

We will bring down both the God Learners, who loot our myths like we raid each other's cattle, and the wyrmtalkers, who think that you can worship anything, even a crawling snake, so long as you call it Orlanth. We are not just people who make new things. We are a people who fight for what is right.

We organise ourselves into bloodlines, then clans, then tribes, then kingdoms. Of these associations the most important is the clan. Clans control their own pieces of territory. They are governed by chiefs, who may be male or female. Each chief appoints a ring, a council of seven worthies who provide advice. Wisely chosen rings are balanced between worshippers of the various Orlanthi deities, so that their counsely draws on life's many spheres.

How To Play A Yelmite Noble
  • Straighten your spine, balance your shoulders and stick out your chin.
  • Speak in bold, declarative sentences.
  • Never admit to uncertainty.
  • Be offended.
  • When in doubt as to what to be offended by, select any of the following: insults to the Sky gods, darkness magic, sexual license, disrespect for tradition, presumptuous women, irreverence toward rightful authority, the Orlanthi ‘Lightbringers Quest' story.
  • Fight bravely for what you believe in.
  • Obey rightful authority.
  • Think rigidly.
  • Treat all women as accoutrements. Treat all peasants and foreigners as chattels.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Speeding-up role-playing

With the attempt to re-boot role-playing, I've been thinking through the annoyances. The main annoyance is the extreme time-wasting that can occur. Sessions can devolve into referencing and debating nothingness, rather than creating a shared narrative.

The biggest time drainers in role-playing are:
  1. Checking/arguing rules
  2. Book-keeping (checking/updating values on character sheets and GM material)
  3. Dice rolling
All of these make the game part of Role-Playing Games, yet when it becomes the bulk of a session, it's wearisome. I have a few ideas to reduce their impact:

Issue 1

Choose a simpler, more integrated game system. RuneQuest and Traveller win here, over things like D&D and MERP.

Choose a better game system. Even little nuances help, e.g., while playing D&D, one looks-up a modifier for a skill check (e.g., roll 1d20 +6) and references it with a required "difficulty check" (e.g., you need 13 or higher). Sounds simple? Yes, but that's two things you need to know ("+6" and "13+") and it requires two people involved to know the result. With RuneQuest, one looks-up the skill for the task (e.g., 43% chance of success) and that's all one needs (though the GM may modify the difficulty, e.g., -20%, given particular conditions).

Players should only attempt something that they already know the rules for. This could be linked with the character. "I want to knock-back the trollkin... just got to check how that works." "Bah baw, the trollkin anticipates the rush and sidesteps." The same thing can apply to the GM too, if they forget how an action works. Characters (and NPCs) can have momentary lapses of competence, so it may be explained in that way. Note: This is different to players considering options; decisions are what make it a game. Tactic talk is crucial!

Issue 2

For turn-order (in combat): Assign players a card (from a normal deck of cards, or wherever), e.g. "Jack of Spades", and create a deck from the order of each player's turn from first to last. Add opponents' cards too. Cycle through the deck as people take their turn. OR: Ditch randomised turn-orders entirely and have people sit around the table in order of their speed (i.e., Strike Rank in RuneQuest, Initiative in D&D). That way players will always know who's next. OR: Combine the two methods above; non-random turn order using cards.

If a player isn't ready on their turn, drop them down the turn order.

Use the numbered cards from a deck of cards to keep track of the round number (if you care about spell and effect durations).

For RuneQuest, each player could have a number of poker chits to match their number of combat actions. Throw them into the pot as they use them.

Issue 3

I'm worried about the amount of dice-rolling in RuneQuest. In combat, a player rolls to hit and the opponent rolls to parry/evade. If the strike succeeds, roll for hit location and damage. That's four dice rolls! I can think of two solutions:
  1. Roll all dice together. Attacker: d%, 1d20 and weapon. Defender: d%. Maybe you'll ignore a few of those dice, who cares?
  2. Use an average for damage instead of rolling (rounded-up or down depending on how deadly you want the game to be). At the very least, this is how the Damage Modifier based on strength and size should work in RuneQuest.

On Haiti

Vanessa and I just finished a skype chat. She's living/working in a remote area of Haiti. It had an earthquake earlier this year, is currently experiencing an outbreak of cholera, and there is a cyclone on the way. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.


l: what u having for lunch? do they have many corporate food places? mcdonalds? subway?

V: i had lunch hours ago

l: oh yeah. it's the evening.

V: squashed fried bananas
V: rice
V: crushed pea sauce
V: and lots of leaves, i think cooked in meat unfortunately
V: wasnt so bad, apart from the meat
V: i havent seen a mcds
V: chains dont seem to exist here
V: not even supermarket chains
V: most of the supermarkets are lebanese owned
V: and there's a few bakeries that also do burgers and McDs type stuff

l: oh right. well, hopefully the aid people will do something about that. might be a good emerging market soon. heh heh.
l: sounds a bit crap there at the moment though. i'm pretty interested to go and see.

V: ha well yeah they've already had an effect on the supermarkets, massive new one opened recently, can get everything there
V: even tofu

l: is the government ok at the moment?

V: elections coming 28 nov
V: seems like its going to be 'stable' though

l: is it two-party?

V: i don't think so
V: there's millions of presidential candidates

l: not a real democracy then

V: ha, but i think the guy who will probably get in is friends with current pres
V: and he's directeur of some massive company i believe

l: so overall it's a good place to be?

V: i like being in the mountains
V: it's pretty quiet and i think i'm going to keep interested in my work so that's good

l: what happened to the guy with cholera?

V: the first guy was fine i think, but there were many more cases up there since
V: been about 300 deaths i think now
V: but i'm told official stats seem a lot lower than reality
V: want to talk to my friend who works in camps in city tonight, see what's happening there, must be crazy

l: yeah, couldn't be good with lots of people living in poverty, all in one place.
l: it isn't overly infectious is it? just health related.

V: what do you mean? pretty infectious i think
V: you don't want to shake hands with someone who has got it
V: but pretty easy to treat
V: it's just that a lot of people don't realise how serious it is and so don't react
V: and it would be pretty hard to walk for several hours to get to nearest clinic if you got it in the mountains

l: oh right. i guess i must have half-known that, but it seemed weird because it is so related to water.

V: well admittedly i don't know how long the bacteria survives outside of water

l: so what do they do up there?

V: just a whole lot of farming
V: corn, beans...
V: rice, bananas, avocados, some root vegies

l: animals too?

V: yeah lots of animals, but they don't seem to eat them very often
V: although supposedly they eat cats and dogs

l: well, nothing wrong with that. in many ways it's a good idea. you don't have to farm them for meat.

V: lots of chickens but the chickens lay their eggs anywhere so not a whole lot of egg collection
V: nothings very organised
V: but lots of mules and horses etc to transport things to markets

l: and just dirt roads?

V: in the mountains its really just walking tracks
V: but they are improving the road leading to Chambo, which is the last town i can drive to
V: it may even be all bitumen to Chambo by the time i leave
V: but suspect they doing it all pre-election and then there may not be much after

l: and then you walk over hills to the village and then on to your hut?

V: its actually pretty flat to get to my house
V: the mountains start a bit further north from my village
V: i walk through the river a couple of times
V: its a pretty nice walk actually
V: and weather is cooling down a lot at the moment so even better

l: many trees near there?

V: not many. i really miss the trees
V: around my village there are some, but surrounding hills are bare
V: have to get into the mountains where i was before to see trees

l: u going to start planting some? or is it not really anything to do with your job?

V: not really... maybe could do it about the water sources
V: but they really need trees
V: but if a program did just start planting them, just like that, they would just be cut down to make charcoal...
V: need to do a few other things at the same time as planting i think

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kindle Surprise

The best thing I've noticed about the Kindle since getting it last week, is the superb dictionary integration. It works better than it does on the iPad version. This is a feature I have wanted to have for years; almost instant look-up of the meaning of a word. Not only that, but if you read in another language, you can install a new dictionary and use that instead. You can also select the definition and save it for later revision.

This is a feature that every operating system should have built-in. One should be able to instantly look-up the meaning of any work at the click of a button. Why OSX and Windows fail to do this, I do not know.

Some new words:

reave v. (past and past participle reft ) [no obj.] ARCHAIC carry out raids in order to plunder. [with obj.] rob (a person or place) of something by force: reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast. [with obj.] steal (something). reaver n.


hummock n. a hillock or knoll. a hump or ridge in an ice field. NORTH AMERICAN a piece of forested ground rising above a marsh. hummocky adj. mid 16th century (originally in nautical use denoting a small hillock on the coast): of unknown origin.


broil1 v. [with obj.] NORTH AMERICAN cook (meat or fish) by exposure to direct heat. [no obj.] become very hot, especially from the sun: the countryside lay broiling in the sun. late Middle English (also in the sense ‘burn, char’): from Old French bruler ‘to burn’, of unknown origin.


expostulate v. [no obj.] express strong disapproval or disagreement: he found Fox expostulating with a young man. expostulation n. expostulator n. expostulatory adj. mid 16th century (in the sense ‘demand how or why, state a complaint’): from Latin expostulat- ‘demanded’, from the verb expostulare, from ex- ‘out’ + postulare ‘demand’.


arabesque n. 1 [BALLET] a posture in which one leg is extended backwards at right angles, the torso bent forwards, and the arms outstretched, one forwards and one backwards. 2 an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in ancient Islamic art: [as modifier] arabesque scrolls. 3 [MUSIC] a passage or composition with fanciful ornamentation of the melody. mid 17th century: from French, from Italian arabesco ‘in the Arabic style’, from arabo ‘Arab’.


capon n. a castrated domestic cock fattened for eating. caponize (also caponise) v. late Old English: from Old French, based on Latin capo, capon-.


faugh exclam. expressing disgust: ‘Faugh! This place stinks!’. natural exclamation: first recorded in English in the mid 16th cent.


embrasure n. an opening in a wall or parapet which is bevelled or splayed out on the inside, typically one around a window or door. embrasured adj. early 18th century: from French, from obsolete embraser (earlier form of ébraser) ‘widen a door or window opening’, of unknown ultimate origin.


Warlock MapGamebooks are a strange invention. When I was young, the Fighting Fantasy books were one of the coolest series I read. Playing The Warlock on Firetop Mountain again on the iPad, I realise that:
  1. It's not well written;
  2. It has a labyrinth that's impossible to escape without mapping the whole-damn thing (no wonder I thought the book was broken when I was a child);
  3. It's focussed on physical movement from room to room (Why? Choices can/should occur at any point in a narrative.);
  4. Most choices aren't really choices at all. "You may go east or west." But there isn't any hint, any decipherable reason to choose east over west. The story might as well have been linear.
Gamebooks are still with us. Computer role-playing and adventure games contain decisions through dialog trees. RPGs, like the D&D red box, occasionally feature gamebooks.

My questions are:
  • Why have gamebooks remained in the amateur and children's area of literature?
  • Why hasn't a competent author written a multi-pathed novel?
Ever since Borges and Cortázar, no really good author seems to have gone close. It's a shame. How about a murder mystery, where the reader has to piece together clues found in branching decisions? I'd read that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

RuneQuest adventurer

Benwyn the Herdsman


Str 10
Con 10
Pow 4
Dex 12
Cha 6
Int 11
Siz 14


Age: 19
Combat Actions: 3 (4 with hammer and shield)
Damage Modifiers: +0
Improvment Roll Modifiers: -1
Magic Points: 4
Movement: 8m/r
Strike Rank: 13
Hero Points: 2

Hit Points

Legs 5
Abdomen 6
Chest 7
Arms 4
Head 5


Athetics: 33%
Brawn: 24%
Culture (Own): 52%
Dance: 18%
Drive: 16%
Evade: 39%
First Aid: 28%
Influence: 12%
Insight: 15%
Lore (regional): 62%
Perception: 25%
Persistence: 50%
Resilience: 60%
Ride: 26%
Sing: 10%
Sleight: 33%
Stealth: 54%
Swim: 16%
Unarmed: 22%

Hammer (Shillelagh) and Shield: 62%
Sling: 64%
Common Magic: 10%

Advanced Skills

Acrobatics: 42%
Craft (cartographer): 28%
Language (native): 50%
Survival: 54%
Track: 51%


Bestial Enchancement (3)
Endurance (3)


Aba (6 SP)
Shoes (2 SP)


Adventuring Kit (70 SP, 17 ENC)
Footpads (12 SP, 1 ENC)
Shillelagh (40 SP, 1 ENC)
Heater shield (150 SP, 2)
Sling (5 SP)
Walking stick (5 SP, 1ENC)
Writing Kit (45 SP, 2 ENC)

Character History

Benwyn grew up as a nomad, in a small family of three that consisted of his father and twin sister. His mother, Samara, died when he was twelve years old.

Benwyn spent his teenage years as a herdsman, assisting his father to move cattle and sheep for sale between the markets of three small settlements that are many kilometres from the hills he grew up in. His family has gained a good reputation with two of these settlements.

Due to his culture's continual roaming, Benwyn's skills in survival and tracking are well developed. On occasional visits to a not too distant village, a family contact has trained Benwyn in the art of cartography. It has become a passionate interest, though his ability lags behind his enthusiam.

Two years ago, a long-standing feud between Benwyn's father and another herding family resulted in bloodshed. As a result, his family has been forced to abandon their livelihood, and it is for this reason that Benwyn has begun a life of adventure.