Gribus Takes a Leap

Gribus is the protagonist of a story I’m writing right now, a goofy story with psychic powers and funny robots. The characters, though, I want to feel like they’re real people in an airbrush world inspired by Jim Burns and Chris Foss.

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Dream Daddies

Dreamed Earth was invaded by strange 7′ tall beings with huge gorilla-like arms supporting atrophied bodies that dangled between their shoulders, long toes acting as hands that clutched yellow protein-globes and shoved them into the grotesque facial features sunken into their torsos.

They proceeded to disarm every nation, announcing to humanity that “you have lost access to the privilege and the duty of waging war”.

—Dave Michalak
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A Short Walk to a Long Pier

The three — Bashri, Galil, and The Gulabadam — were draped in deep crimson cloth and tiny silver disks that glittered in the sun. Bashri and Galil each rode a camel, but The Gulabadam would have brought even the stoutest of Chumesh’s herd to its knees. He led a similarly festooned camel by a rope that ran through the camel’s nostrils and draped over his elbow. In his other hand, he held the jawbone-topped staff that, in peaceful times such as these, served as a humble walking stick.

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Salt

The Gulabadam sat crosslegged on a rug in the shade. His thick tail, freshly brushed, rested demurely in the expanse of his lap and tinkling laughter rode on the sound of lapping oasis water in the air. Over his horns hung a large dyed and embroidered abaya, silver bells hanging from it like glittering berries. With the aid of two tent poles, it hung into a lush lean-to against the open side of the grand, opulent tent before him.

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Protected: Hammering a Protagonist from Bronze

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Protected: Hammering a Roleplaying Game from Bronze

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Doing It the Easy Way

The two Companions of The BLOODY-HANDED NAME of BRONZE each have four actions they can take that allow them to make the world change according to their will. Other things they do — a Fated Hero bargaining for the life of a loved one, or a Namedealer following earnest passion for someone — are up to fate and the Will of the Names of the World.

All four of those actions are different between the two Companions, but each has an “easy one” they can use when they have too much to lose.

The Namedealer’s eay action is escape while the Fated Hero’s is coerce — even though coerce is written identically for each of them. They work differently because of ways they touch their different contexts and where they contact other rules.

Coerce reads like this:

Coerce

  • They do what you want; else, you may harm them
  • You are not harmed in the exchange
  • No other is harmed in the exchange

The biggest difference between the Companions is that a Namedealer can, at most, choose two of these outcomes, leaving at least one to the whims of the person they’re trying to coerce. On the other hand, a Fated Hero can achieve all three in a legendary feat of coercion, with only their relationship to the Great Name. That is, they can safely protect themselves and others while forcing someone else to do what they want, all the while forcing the gates of the city open with their hands and steam rises from their skin, leaving themselves with the initiative and their opposition harmed, dead, and/or resentful (though the Hero is likely at the mercy of their Great Name at that moment).

Coerce, for the Namedealer, is only like all their other actions — something they can do effectively, with a list of three consequences from which they can choose one or two.

The Fated Hero, on the other hand, has other actions with four possible consequences. Coerce is the easy one for the Fated Hero. But it doesn’t get them much. They don’t get followers, probably don’t get many destiny dice, haven’t impressed anyone. And, if they’re experienced, they probably have a ton of trophies, which means that their bullying had better be in line with the intentions of their Great Name. In short, it’s really only your best option when your Fated Hero is inexperienced and doesn’t know what else to do.

Escape

The parallel for the Namedealer, then, is not coerce, but escape. When I first designed it, it had only two consequences: 

  • You escape
  • Your escape is unwitnessed

Which means that you’d sometimes get one, occasionally both of these consequences.

But, unlike coerce, which leaves a resentful subject or at least a body to gloat over, escape left you with nothing to work with in a subsequent scene. Sometimes that’s OK — sometimes the last thing you want to do is sail downriver, gasping for air, clinging to the bottom of a reed raft, where the tale ends.

But a lot of the time, you just want to get out of the queen’s closet without anyone seeing you because you have other weirdo wizard business to attend to that doesn’t involve being stuck in a closet.

So I added a third option:

  • Seize one destiny!

Destiny is hard to come across for a Namedealer, so this is a pretty good enticement. It means that, when you roll, you might take that destiny instead of escaping at all because it’s funny — or because you wanted Babafesh to face you, and having them capture you suddenly appeals to you as the way to make that happen! Or you might escape, seize the destiny, and they see you on the raft, Looking like a drowned priestess, sailing away from them at the dock with both your middle fingers raised. Never mind that destiny die. You’ll come back for it later. Better to let them know what you think of them.

(True story.)

So: it’s still a choice of two, plus an enticement to do something different. It gives you a certain amount of editorial control (that’s why you use the actions at all, of course) and hands other players the levers they need to pull if they don’t have something else in mind.

Shock:2 Actions

So the question now is how to construct Shock:2 actions in a way that works to activate the best parts of Praxis. A lot of the fun of Shock: is the resounding irony of having to choose between, say, “Space Battles” and “Sex” to solve your problems. It’s fun to throw those down at the beginning, then see where they lead in play. It leads to unexpected, often funny places.

I’m not sure how to reconstruct this dynamic with actions — the irony comes from other places in Bronze, so maybe this just isn’t a place to find that anymore. Bronze’s Dice of Jet and Gold are almost certainly the place to find Audience interaction with carbon dice being allotted for stuff on your character sheet and orange dice coming from Audience, who then get to tell you what you need to do to use their dice after the roll.

Rather than trying to plot full structures out beforehand, I find I work best if I put these questions in my mind, then design a game and watch myself to see how (and if) I did it.

I’ve got a couple little games that have been bonking around my head for a while. I think I gotta try some stuff out! I think it’s coming time for some new μShock:s to see where the ideas lead!

I wonder what the traditions of hospitality in The Fifth World are. How do you feed someone you haven’t seen in a long time? Is it different when you want to ask them a favor?

Shock:2 Actions: Using “Offer Them What They Desire” as a Model for Design

In The BLOODY-HANDED NAME of BRONZE, the agency of companions — the characters you stick with throughout a story — stems from four actions you can take with your character to have an effect on the world. Those four types of action, designed and playtested over the course of game design, are the levers a character can pull when they want to do more than plead with the world. They set the moral framework in much the way Praxis does in Shock:Social Science Fiction by saying what you can do to affect the world and what kind of effects that action can have. The consequences have ironies built into them, giving players hard choices between effects they want and passing control to another character whose interests might not coincide: Coercion is liable to harm the aggressor or the aggressed; following your passion heedlessly is likely to make someone else jealous; offering someone something they want might leave you making promises you can’t make good on.

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The Syntaxis µLFO

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ve seen me working to build a noizmachin called Kerberos, a triple low-frenquency oscillator (LFO) of of Syntaxis µLFO modules. Generally, LFOs don’t produce sounds themselves; rather, they’re made to send repeating patterns of control to other modules. So a slow sine wave that’s controlling the pitch of an audio-frequency oscillator (a voltage-controlled oscillator, VCO) can make it play a sliding scale.

I find that I always run out of LFOs. They’re a system that gives a structure and overall sense of the sounds over time. You can think of them as the sheet music; they tell the other instruments how to sound, with most of the timbre defined by the audio-frequency oscillators as the LFO manipulates their parameters. Several of them together can syncopate with each other, can amplify or suppress each other, and can even control each other’s rates of change.

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Belo Mutasu

Belo Mutasu has all the contacts they need to allow them to fence, valuable stolen items, and so, they do. They aren’t a thief themself, of course. That wouldn’t be ethical. Their people don’t really have a solid concept of ownership, but they recognize that some other peoples believe that, if they are holding something and put it down, everyone will understand if the “owner” resorts to violence if someone else picks it up.

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