Monday, December 26, 2016

[CRIT] Deeds in Torchbearer

The Torchbearer RPG is based on the Mouse Guard RPG, which in turn is based on Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel. A lot of mechanics from Burning Wheel made it into Torchbearer, whether verbatim (with some modification) or in spirit. One mechanic that didn’t make the cut was “deeds” artha.
In Burning Wheel you receive deeds for “accomplishing goals that are bigger than you” and for “helping no matter the cost.” Considering that in Torchbearer helping is an integral mechanic and that goals are created and typically accomplished in the same session, it makes sense why deeds was left on the cutting room floor and Torchbearer heartlessly looted its corpse.
There’s a brief mention in the Torchbearer rulebook – can’t find the passage for the life of me but I swear it’s in there – that notifying the players that they have “cleared” a dungeon – whether of monsters, loot, or challenges it isn’t clear – is only fair. This gem is buried in the text, so it seems to me like an overlooked platform for implementing deeds.
Even though notifying the players of dungeon completion is important – merciful to the party and to the players by saving them fruitless hardship – the players needn’t know how a dungeon is completed. Meeting the completion conditions for a dungeon should be something special and above all optional: each time the adventurers return to a dungeon – restocked and perhaps altered between delves – they piece together its history and ecology until they puzzle out exactly how to conquer it. Once they do, they leave the dungeon for the last time, with – in addition to their loot – a notion of mastery that comes rarely in Torchbearer, a reward in its own right. The fact that the adventurers went above and beyond the call of their occupation to exhibit such master is a deeds point well earned.
The first step to implementing such a reward is codifying completion conditions into the adventure design questions: “9: How Would One of the Answers From 1-8 Be Resolved?” As in:
  • Question 2: Fulfill the original purpose of the location
  • Question 4: Recover whatever it is that you seek
  • Question 5: Remove the obstacle that prevents its plundering
  • Question 6: Rout the dungeon’s inhabitants
  • Question 7: Reverse the modifications made to the area
  • Question 8: Make the location accessible
In keeping with the theme of adventurers-as-pioneers, answer question 9 by asking how these locales can be reclaimed, bastions in the creeping tide, stakes beyond the crowded, walled cities, new beacons – though dim – in the vast, weird darkness.
Now, mechanics: in Burning Wheel, deeds are used to purchase one of two benefits: double a test pool, or reroll all failed dice in a test. Since tapping nature covers the “test pool of inordinate size” angle, deeds in Torchbearer should be sent for the latter benefit (though tapping nature without tax is attractive, since it’s one step up from the benefits provided by spending persona).
Deeds: Each location has completion conditions, which fold the location into civilized territories when fulfilled. Characters get a deeds point when they “clear” a location in this way.
When a character sends a deeds point, they reroll all scoundrels on a test, or tap their nature without tax.

Friday, December 16, 2016

[&] On the Election

The world after this election is business as usual.
Queer, POC, feminist, and other social justice movements have gained an unprecedented amount of ground during Obama’s two terms, and it is ground that we’re not likely to lose. What’s really scaring people is that Trump’s election has illuminated the vast amounts of ground that we have yet to take, ground that we have to fight tooth-and-nail to take (as we always have).
A lot of people used to think that racism ended with the civil rights movement, or that homophobia ended with the legalization of gay marriage, or that sexism ended when women were given the right to vote. At the same time, a lot of people used to think that this election cycle has created an upsurge of hate. But the writing on the wall is stark: this hate has been with us the whole time, in the same quantities, persistent.
The election changed nothing. It only looks that way because the fog of war has been lifted. The stakes have never been clearer. Nobody’s beliefs are a secret anymore, and everyone has picked a side. The board has been chosen and the pieces arranged for a battle that we’ve been fighting in the dark up until now. It’s not this battle we’ve been waging that frightens us, but this new sense of finality about it, and that we can’t possibly scream louder than we have been for decades.
The fight hasn’t gotten any harder. It’s always been this hard.
The world after this election is business as usual.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

[CRIT] MaddHouse Podcast: Episode 2

Welcome to the MaddHouse Podcast, your one stop shop for amateur Tabletop RPG discussion! Here we'll discuss all sorts of topics mainly revolving around D&D 5e, from the DM perspective of a gay D&D weirdo veteran (Me, Superhorse) and a trans D&D weirdo newbie (Maddi from MaddHouse).

In this episode our discussion will span the ideas surrounding the topics of powergaming, character integration, ect. and how those things can affect your campaigns.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

[&] My Relationship with Writing

As part of the last class for my BA (English, with an emphasis in Professional and Technical Writing), I had to discuss my personal writing history. My narrative quickly became a manifesto, so if it sounds pretentious, you’re right. That’s academia for ya! But I couldn’t have better conveyed my relationship with writing if I tried.
There are two motivating factors that drive my writing in both personal and professional writing contexts: stress and spontaneity. Both of these factors involve procrastination, but I feel that term is a little cynical. Instead: I allow ideas to percolate in my head, and my signal to put those ideas to paper is when the time frame that I have to do so is at its absolute minimum.
I didn’t choose my motivating factors. In the field of professional and technical writing, specifications, deadlines, the project you’re assigned to, and the medium you’re working in can change at a moment’s notice. Technical writing mentors hammer into their students from day one that the most desirable trait for any technical writer is adaptability (there, a much more agreeable word for the aforementioned “procrastination”). Stress and spontaneity drive me because my education and experience have instilled in me the belief that creativity is derived from constraints.
But I didn’t always write this way. I used to work out of notebooks, building a framework for each piece – snippets from sources, key points, character biographies, etc. – that I would rope together into a coherent piece. I stopped working out of notebooks when I received my first laptop in middle school; however, once I entered my senior year of university, I got back into notebooks. Even though electronic text is easier to edit and rearrange, I recognized the value of immortalizing those changes – slashed-out text, arrows indicating relocation, notes scratched in the margins – in the pages of a notebook. Electronic writing is very clean and aesthetically sterile, but messiness is just as valuable to creativity as constraint.
Just because I prefer electronic writing doesn’t mean I’m a clean writer by any means. I make my messes by working on a variety of devices in a variety of locations: my phone while I’m in the bathroom, discreetly-written emails sent home from work, public computers in the public library, etc. Working on a familiar device in the comfort of your own home is a death sentence for any creative endeavor; “familiarity” and “comfort” are both code for “distraction.” When I write nomadically – as made possible by The Cloud™ – it comes from the gut.
My writing is percolated, constrained, messy, and nomadic. Considering these descriptors, it makes sense that my approach to writing is “one-and-done” with some polishing afterwards. Pre-structured writing cannot exist in the environments in which I thrive. It’s much easier to construct something when you have a dearth of raw materials – a half-baked junkyard – than it is to build something from scratch. More comprehensive editing may be applied, but it is often violent – there’s another descriptor for the list – in that large swaths of text are deleted mercilessly if they don’t meet a strict utility quota. “Kill your darlings” is an old adage, but technical writers have capitalized upon it and made it a martial art.
It’s no wonder, then, that the writing I do best is that which necessitates precision. I am most proud of my writing when each word carries its own weight, and when the sentences they form have immutable meanings. This isn’t to say I lack a love for creative writing; even imaginations need instructions. Stephen King’s The Stand was formative to this philosophy: devoid of adverbs and other vestigial parts of speech, King told it like it was over the course of a thousand pages with a cynical voice. Every line of the book was riveting down to the page numbers.
The purpose of writing is to provide instructions: how to build a helicopter; how to visualize a fictional culture; how to be a Socialist. Writing is an enduring medium that humans invented to codify their ideas. In the hands of a skilled communicator – particularly a technical communicator – the ideas codified cannot be misinterpreted, and if it were altered, there would be version histories. Technical writers are perpetually engaged in a dialogue about the relationship between power and access to information, the principle being that publication technology overcomes and creates social and physical barriers by influencing the distribution of information, thus changing the balance of power. We seek to verify the integrity of the instructions humans write, and part of that verification involves observing how writing is taught.
In her Noise from the Writing Center, Elizabeth Boquet affirms that Writing Centers should be modeled after hard labor, childbirth, infection, and subversion. Mess. From an institutional perspective, such “monstrous” writing is vilified because it is threatening to them; when an uncensored dialogue is coded into our culture through the writing, the foundations of the structures that distribute societal power are unsettled.
My personal history with writing is one of percolation, constraint, messiness, nomadism, violence, and subversion. Since information is power, and writing codifies information, then writing is power. And as I continue to transform as a writer – perhaps even a teacher of writing – I want to help others not only recognize their writing histories, but to subvert them.

Monday, December 5, 2016

[CRIT] MaddHouse Podcast: Episode 1

Welcome to the MaddHouse Podcast, your one stop shop for amateur Tabletop RPG discussion! Here we'll discuss all sorts of topics mainly revolving around D&D 5e, from the DM perspective of a gay D&D weirdo veteran (Me, Superhorse) and a trans D&D weirdo newbie (Maddi from MaddHouse).