Saturday, 25 September 2021

What We Have Left

Some time ago I wrote a series of short stories. Here is one of them. They will be published as a book, once they are edited. That should be some time before 2030.

If you would prefer to listen to the story (and I recommend that you do) you can hear me reading a slightly older version of it on my Soundcloud.

Here is What We Have Left:

Thursday, 23 September 2021


* Fuck The Fucking Acronyms**
** Yes pedants, <whiny voice>it's an intialism not an acronym</whiny voice>. That's not how English works. My spell checker doesn't even recognise the word "initialism" and neither does 99% of the population

TL;DR - Old Man Shouts at Clouds

Ever since I rediscovered gaming and the OSR (which I always assume stands for Old School Rules, except it doesn't, but I can't grok*** what it does stand for because it seems folks can't agree on the R) there has been one aspect of the scene that pisses me off more than anything else: the ubiquity of acronyms. If you read through just about any gaming blog post you will find them scattered liberally throughout. When I discovered this community, everybody was talking about something called LotfP. In the last few days I've started stumbling on a new one: PbtA (apparently it's a game which is quite popular). I keep seeing references to PVP and PBP which sound like they ought to be related but they're not. 

This is, of course, not a problem unique to our community. When I worked at the BBC I drowned in acronyms, some of them BBC-wide, some broadcasting-related, some specific to the technologies we were using, and some specific to the iPlayer team that I worked on. I reckon it took me 18 months before I knew what they all meant. When I worked at Autodesk they even had an intranet page where you could look up the acronyms used in the company. It was called TAD****. Yes, the solution to the problem of acronyms was apparently to throw in another acronym that you would never know existed until it had been unpacked for you. There exists something similar for the gaming community, although it's doomed to be incomplete due to the number of niche games and new releases bubbling under the wider community's consciousness.

I'm also aware that I came to this community through a practice called RPG and a specific game called D&D (then AD&D, only now it's called 5e). I'm willing to make the odd exception for very popular acronyms that have been around for decades, though even then I'm at pains to say "Dungeons and Dragons" when I'm talking to somebody who is not a gamer. But I also think that the reduction of the ur-game to its constituent initials is a major reason why every game that achieves a certain level of traction within the community needs to be condensed into jargon.

Every time a reader encounters one of these abominations for the first time, they have to somehow figure out what it means. Thank god we have Google, although if you try googling any of our communities acronyms you will was almost certainly find that there are others which share the same letters and are far more common. To discover what it means in a gaming context, you'll find yourself having to throw in additional search terms such as "RPG" to narrow down the results.

The reason this makes me so angry is that it's a fucking imposition on your readers. It's tantamount to saying "my time is important; yours, less so". To save yourself less than a second you're forcing them to spend orders of magnitude longer figuring out what the fuck it is you're talking about. They'll also have break the flow of whatever they're reading in order to do so, and the cognitive load of having to do such an apparently simple task can be punishingly high.

The solution to this is quite simple: introduce on first use. Nobody expects you to write out something long and daft like Lamentations of the Flame Princess (or is it Legends of the Flame Princess; or Lots of this Fucking Practice) every time you want to mention it. The first time you do so, write "LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)" and spare your readers a round trip to Google. If it takes you more than a couple of seconds to do that then you probably need to learn to type faster.

It's a minor gripe and I'm some sub-minor Canute trying to hold back a tide of this shit. But I beg you: have some consideration for the fuckers whom you (presumably) want to read your stuff. Spend that extra couple of seconds. Somebody somewhere will thank you for it. Perhaps many bodies manywhere.

I don't always agree with Elon Musk (no, an interest in cave diving and saving lives does not make you a paedophile), but I'm totally with him on this:

There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication… No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees.

That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action – I have given enough warning over the years… If there is an existing acronym that cannot reasonably be justified, it should be eliminated, as I have requested in the past.


*** In this post I shall use words which may perhaps not be common parlance. Fucking google it you twat. Without inconsistency I am nothing.
**** The Autodesk Dictionary
***** A little bit too long; didn't read: just reading the fucking post. It's a lot easier than reading the first letter of every word.******
****** Also, I've edited the post since condensing it to initials. Don't @ me.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

When is a Coin not a Coin?


I just bought Luke Gearing's Wolves Upon The Coast campaign which includes a draft of his forthcoming supplement &&&&& Treasure. This is a series of tables for generating treasure hordes, and alongside the expected entries for potions, wands, artefacts, etc, there is a "coins" table. I've written before about my dissatisfaction with the way money is conceived of in RPGs. So Luke's table brought a smile to my face, as it presents coinage as something much more than just some ubiquitous anonymous token used for earning experience, resurrecting old buddies, and building mansions.

Included in the table are aspirational coins, foldable coins, dogs full of coins, coins that can be worn as armour, and several forms of currency that are not quite coins.

The "special coins" listed in the table are intended to supplement, rather than replace, "modern" types of currency - your common or garden pieces of gold, silver, copper, electrum, platinum, whatever - although it's acknowledged that even modern coins will not be of a standard type:
Coins taken from pockets with grubby fingers will be of mixed modern types, and usable as tender unless a polity is actively enforcing its own coinage. Coins discovered in hoards will tie to the time of their origin ...  accumulative hoards as gathered by certain types of inhuman monsters (ogres, bankers etc) will mostly be of local, modern types (as dictated by geography)  but may (20% chance) have one of the below Special Coins. Special Coins can be used as normal coinage or sold to historians, scholars and collectors. 

So "special" coins may be used as a stand-in for modern coins. But most have other uses too, and will be far more valuable if sold to a collector rather than used as a "modern" coin (see noisms post about finding suitable collectors who buy rare artefacts).

Another interesting aspect of the coins table is that it lists the type of things you're likely to find on the obverse & reverse ("heads & tails") of each coin type, whether these be heads in profile, animals, trees, lighthouses, internal organs or, in one case, parts of a larger picture which can only be made out when 500 unique coins are arranged into a specific pattern. The pictures which appear on coins are one of the most prominent things about them, and yet I can remember very few examples of these pictures described in RPGs (here's a nice table, again from noisms, for generating coin descriptions).

A few currency ideas:
  1. Monster parts as coinage (e.g. dragon scales: one dragon = HP x 500 coins equivalent)
  2. Coins tainted with magic
  3. Rubber coins that squeak when you're hit in combat, fall down a trap, etc
  4. Coins made from radioactive substances which decay and damage the carrier if not spent rapidly
  5. Coins which change their design according to, e.g., the weather, or the mood of the region's ruler 
  6. Propaganda coins (for inspiration, see the  early 20th Century German medals designed by Karl Goetz - this one being the most notorious - content warning: explicit racism; naked woman; unfeasibly large penis; doubled-up exclamation marks!!)
  7. Coinlings
  8. Interlocking coins. What do they make? And where can you find the missing piece of the jigsaw? Don't say that bloody dragon's got it!
  9. Translucent coins which show looped footage of glories from long ago
  10. Coins which weigh so much as to be effectively worthless
  11. Coins which weigh so little as to float away if uncontained
  12. Cowrie shells et al
  13. Ectoplasmic currency

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Interview with Patrick Stuart of False Machine

 I interviewed Patrick Stuart of False Machine.

Patrick has a Kickstarter for his new project with Scrap PrincessDemon Bone Sarcophagus (ends Saturday 11th September - be quick)

I also mentioned the Gelatinous Cube podcast.

If you're a masochist, read The Psychoanalysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Running Lasers & Feelings

I ran my first game of Lasers & Feelings last week. The scenario I rolled up was: zombie cyborgs seek to bond with an alien artifact which will bring about a war/invasion. I was scared of having to improvise the entire scenario beyond that sentence, but actually it went great - the players' actions prompted me to come up with ideas I'd never have done otherwise, and the desire to have a complete story by the end of the (90 minute) session kept things moving forward, and kept me finding new ways to allow the players to save the world. The hardest part was probably combat: it's hard to get away from thinking in terms of rolls to hit. Actually, combat should be played out quickly, with single rolls covering large chunks of the action rather than individual attacks.

Here's the session report written by one of the players, Tom Baker:

From the personal log of Science Officer T J Turing23:

As our Captain is currently in a coma, and in the absence of a sufficiently qualified Fist Officer, I am preparing to take over command of The Raptor. The only Officers on board currently are Stan Frenk, our emotional Engineer, and Dr Lovebeam, who is a competent physician, but somewhat dangerous. I have activated my swearing subroutines in order to more effectively integrate with these oddballs.

We spotted a ship falling out of orbit towards an unexplored planet, and decided to persue, bringing the Raptor into orbit, to be close enough to transport across to the vessel, which we have identified as an older Consortium cruiser. Scans revealed movement throughout the ship, but no actual life signs.

On arrival at the ship’s Transporter Room, we were assailed by several entities, who seemed to be some kind of hybrid cyborgs (still wearing out of date Consortium Uniforms). Our phasers were enough to deal with them quickly, and we headed for the bridge (deciding that this was more important, given the rapid descent of the ship, than trying to harvest energy crystals for the Raptor’s energy guzzling Warp Drive).

We passed the Med Bay, where we found another unconscious Cyborg, and an unconscious Human who had evidence of interrupted surgery. ~I attempted to interface with the cyborg’s tech to find out what was wrong, but was immediately attacked by malware in the bot, and only saved myself from infection by quickly unjacking.

We managed to revive the human, but only for long enough for her to say “ Don’t let them get there” before expiring.

At the bridge, we found more cyborgs piloting the ship towards a crash landing on the planet’s surface. Incapacitating the monstrous hybrids, I took the Helm, and managed to avoid a total wipe out, and we managed to crash land the ship. While the Cyborgs on the bridge were dealt with by now, we soon realised that two parties of six cyborgs had left the ship and were now making their way towards a large alien building.

Following them, I determined that this was an abandoned alien spaceport, and the cyborgs were heading towards a large military ship, armed with a massive bomb. Hoping to find a ship to destroy the bomb-ship, we entered a cruise liner, whose crew and passengers were in suspended animation, but swiftly left when we realised it would have no weapons.

As the bomb ship launched, we beamed up to the Raptor, and considered our options. We had barely enough fuel to apprehend the ship, which we now realised was on a course for Earth. Beaming back to the spaceport, we commandeered a military freighter and leapt to pursue the bomb ship. We approached close enough to beam on board, and found our way to the alien bridge, where we managed to jettison the bomb, and destroy it safely.

We will perhaps never know exactly what alien virus infected the crew of that ancient Consortium ship and turned them into cyborgs, but they’re all dead now, so problem solved. I believe.