Thursday, July 20, 2017

[CRIT] Stinkhammer

It was the first D&D table I sat at where everyone went around and shared their pronouns before play. I had been invited to join a newly-formed queer D&D group, as a player. I’ve been a DM since got into D&D, so I’ve often found it difficult (to put it lightly) to transition to the other side of the screen. But there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to queer up the world’s most popular roleplaying game.
The game itself was very tropey – meetings at inns, kidnapped blacksmiths’ daughters, goblins in abandoned tombs, escorting rich benefactors through an Elven wood – but it was done in a way that felt simple and charming. “Trope” has become something of a swear word nowadays, but when employed right, they can make a gamespace give off that warm, fuzzy “embarking on an adventure” vibe.
Our DM sprinkled in a few neat mechanics to build on that vibe. The first was handing out rumours to players at the beginning of the game, which we were encouraged to let filter naturally into the party through roleplay. It gave the whole “inn meeting” trope a little extra crunch, lending authenticity to that first conversation over mugs of mead. Then, during our daytrip through the Elven wood, the DM had us go around the circle and each invent a problem, which the next player in the circle would have to solve. It was a hell of a way to make travel feel grand for once, instead an unengaging mess that was either prepped into the ground or an unwieldy mess generated from encounter tables.
But the kicker was how these comforts were subverted at the end, as a levitating bald dude in black-red robes paid a sobbing inkeeper one blood-caked gold piece for each man slain on his grounds, as goblin cohorts with red bandanas on their arms collected the dead, the same goblins that we fought in the tombs. This whole time, this innocuous, trope-laden sandbox was masking the scent of something sinister that had been lurking right under our noses.
I’m getting way ahead of myself. You see, this whole reveal felt like cosmic justice for my Half-Elf Paladin of Silvanus, Tell. Tell couldn’t handle being shunned by both sides of his heritage, so he blamed the whole thing on civilization at large, using an oath to Silvanus and the Ancients as an excuse to isolate himself in the wilderness. He’s a filthy, spiteful boy who refuses to sleep under roofs or practice basic hygiene. He’s not just stinky, he’s d4 poison damage within 10 feet stinky. The one-and-a-half people’s worth of Halflings in the party added that to the fact that Tell carries an oaken warhammer to whip up this cute little moniker: Stinkhammer.
Being a Paladin of Silvanus and an ardent isolationist, Tell’s got quite the beef with buildings. While burying Goblins in a shallow mass grave (he cares, but not that much), he muttered cryptically about a “a scar on the land that will never heal,” gesturing wildly at the tomb entrance. Tell was quick to assert himself as a warden of nature to an Ent barring their passage, and even quicker to swear an oath to Silvanus that he would bring back the critters of the forest. Their disappearance coincided with the founding of a new city deeper in the wood; not a scar this time, but a festering wound.
Then, the party reached an inn at the center of an abrupt clearing filled with withered saplings.
Four cloaked bandits brooding at a corner table jumped the party as they approached the bar. As one charged, Tell misted them with his glowing warhammer, burning with the righteous fury building in him throughout the day. His companions blanched, the bandits fled, and the innkeeper screamed “I told you not to kill anybody!”
And that was never the intent. I thought it important that the innkeeper was begging us not to kill anyone as soon as we stepped foot in his inn. So I thought it keen to relay to the rest of the group how knocking someone out works: drop them to 0 hit points with a melee weapon and you’re good. But in my mind – clouded by tropes – equated their black cloaks to more hit points, 15 at least. I wagered a smite with a melee weapon would win me a one-hit knockout, but instead it caused instant death, the damage enough to kill the poor sap twice over. Tell knocked the spine and organs out of the bandit, leaving a sleeve of skin mounted on two thighs in mid-stride, which led to the reveal that turned our happy little world topsy-turvy.
Seriously, it was never my intent to kill anyone, but according to the dice, it was certainly Tell’s. All that guff about giving the goblins a proper burial and swearing up-and-down that his brutish companions wouldn’t even snap a twig under his watch, and here he is putting a undeserved end to some desperate thug. Quite the paladin he turned out to be. We’ll see what Silvanus has to say about this, and how many bloody coins Tell is about to put in this innkeeper’s coffers.
Edit: I realized just after writing this piece that I really didn’t talk about what made this session queer. But that’s just the thing: queer D&D doesn’t look that much different from normal D&D. The only difference is that when a player or the DM says “this character is nonbinary” or “this character is black,” the response is “okay,” rather than claiming that it’s unrealistic, or fishing for some justification for why the character is like that. Character’s don’t need a reason to not be white or straight or men, especially in a world of magic and whimsy. It was just so refreshing to not only have openly queer characters, but to be openly queer at the table without some sort of tension hanging in the air.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

[KINK] Mr. Leather Colorado 2017 Fundraiser Shirts

Superhorse is selling limited-edition t-shirts to raise money for the Mr. Leather Colorado travel fund! This fund not only enables me to represent Colorado at IML '18; it also allows future titleholders to represent Colorado at events across America!
The shirt was designed by James Newland, whose take on our community's iconography is cartoony, campy, and just plain fun! I felt his art best expressed who I was and how I approach Leather.
All proceeds will be collected by the Leather Colorado Foundation, which maintains the Mr. Leather Colorado travel fund.
If you’re interested in purchasing a shirt, click below to visit my Bonfire campaign! There are plenty of shirt styles and colors to choose from.
The campaign ends August 1st, after which these shirts will never be sold again! So get ‘em while they’re hot!

Click to purchase a t-shirt!



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

[KINK] Seahorse

If you support me through Patreon or Ko-Fi, you can enter in the “Scene Raffle” to have me engage in a scene of your choice, complete with a writeup and photos! This post is an example of what that might look like. Needless to say, this post is gonna get really dirty.
“Fuck me, I’m trapped.”
That’s how a friend on Discord told me to start this post. A lot of people are telling me to do shit today. I have nobody but myself to blame. I’m a typical masochist: writing checks with my mouth that my body can’t cash. But that’s part of the fun isn’t it? Putting yourself in situations you can’t really get out of, being forced to experience new things and push your limits. I mean, I’ve got safewords, of course; I’m a stickler for safe play so that’s a given. But since my boyfriend lives in Maryland, we have to put a few systems in place to make sure I do exactly what I’m told.
I suggested to my boyfriend that I remain in my neoprene getup for as long as he desired. I laid out my gear for his approval; the thought that it’s currently the dead of Summer never really crossed my mind. Once geared up, I locked on my collar so that the hood and wetsuit couldn’t be removed, and gave the key to my roommate, who would only return it if I showed him a message from my boyfriend. The time I was allowed to cum was assigned using a random number generator, calling on value ranges that only my boyfriend knew. This meant that I could finish, but then be stuck – sweaty, exhausted, and totally over it – for hours.
We got more creative as the night passed. I finished a forced workout of 50 crunches because my boyfriend wanted to really hear my gas mask work. I could barely catch my breath through the filter. When I headed to dinner with the other roommates, all I was allowed to remove was my mask and my hood. A few sloppy joes and a half-hour of awkward staring and timid conversation later, and I returned to a hood and mask cold and slick with sweat.
Eventually I was allowed to finish and retrieve the key, but on one condition: I had to fill a shot glass. Of course I couldn’t (even though I filled a decent amount). Out of sheer desperation, I offered to drink it all down with rum, the only bargaining chip I had left. But I took the shot before my boyfriend clarified that all I’d get out of it was “protein.”
Needless to say, an ounce of Black Magic rum – my heretofore drink of choice – made it curdle. Fair is fair; he let me peel out of my gear after I subjected myself to that.
P.S. Throughout the night, I kept referring to myself as a “seahorse” because I found it extremely amusing. A close dragon friend of mine reminded me to mention that. He found it amusing.









Sunday, July 2, 2017

[CRIT] Savage Worlds House Rules

Last Updated 7/12/17
If you’ve spent more than a few minutes exploring Kinks & Crits, you’ve probably realized that I enjoy house ruling my games. My players have learned to accept that if a game doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do exactly how I want it to, then I will go to great lengths to modify it until it does. I refuse to run a system unless it fits me like a glove.
So then it follows that the less house rules I append a system with, the better I feel it accomplishes its purpose. Dungeon Crawl Classics, Burning Wheel, and Symbaroum have no house rules, for example; they execute their concepts perfectly in my opinion.
Savage Worlds is in the middle. I feel it requires a few house rules to better unify the system and to excise unnecessary fiddly bits, but otherwise I love the system as-is. I’m of a mind that the more specific the concept that a game is written for, the better the game; Savage Worlds may be billed as generic, but it captures a pulpy style of storytelling and beer-and-pretzels dice-slinging in a way no other system has.
My list of house rules for Savage Worlds is meager, but deliberate. I hope they better streamline your gaming experience!

Derived Traits

Parry

Parry is treated as a penalty to Fighting rolls. This penalty is equal to (Fighting / 2) − 2. Additionally, Fighting rolls are now made against TN 4.

Toughness

Toughness is treated as a penalty to damage rolls. This penalty is equal to (Vigor / 2) − 2. Additionally, damage rolls are now made against TN 4.

Equipment

Armor Damage

Each raise dealt against a character’s Toughness reduces the Toughness of the armor they are wearing by 1.
A successful Repair test restores 1 lost Toughness on a success, and 1 additional Toughness for each raise. Each attempt takes 10 minutes. Armor with 0 Toughness is not repairable, and a critical failure reduces an armor’s Toughness to 0.

Ammo Tracking

Do not track the ammunition or magazines you consume when you use a weapon with the Shooting skill. Instead, when you use a weapon with the Shooting skill, roll another die with a size equal to your Shooting skill. If that die comes up as a 1, you have to reload that weapon before it can be used again.
This roll can be modified by certain weapon properties:
  • Double Tap: Roll two dice and take the lowest.
  • Burst: -3 to the roll.
  • Autofire: Penalty equal to number of shots fired + 1.
Bennies can be spent to reroll an ammo roll.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

[CRIT] NWoD 1e Merits

Last Updated 6/19/17
My biggest pet peeve about World of Darkness is how the rules and the fluff are inseparable. And I don’t mean that in the “I want to be able to make my own setting” sense, I mean that in the “I can’t tell where the fluff ends and the rules start” sense. Chronicles of Darkness has done a much better job putting their rules in one place and their fluff in another, but it’s still not perfect. The biggest culprit is the Merits.
I get that fluff text helps paint a picture of what a Merit looks like, but any competent Storyteller can come up with something. Merits are basically Feats, and I don’t see Pathfinder (shudder) waxing poetic about Cleave. Once you learn the setting in World of Darkness, all you really need is the rules, and they should be concise entries arranged in easily referenced columns.
So that’s what I did! I boiled down the Merits from Chronicles of Darkness and Hurt Locker that I liked, made sure they were compatible with New World of Darkness 1e, adapted them to my house rules, and then rewrote and reformatted them from the ground up.
The biggest change I made that I’m most proud of is how I categorized Merits. Instead of Mental, Physical, and Social, I use Background, Trait, and Combat:
  • Background: Merits that represent advantages tied directly into the narrative. The Storyteller can bestow or revoke them at will.
  • Trait: Merits that represent qualities inherent to your character, and skills that have been honed into instinct.
  • Combat: Merits that represent your character’s preferred methods of inflicting violence.
Another change I’m proud of is getting rid of Style Merits. The writers of Chronicles of Darkness claimed to have excised all “empty” dots from the Merits, but they only shifted those dead dots into an emphasis on Style Merits. There’s a lot of duplicate maneuvers, and maneuvers nobody wants; it’s why they moved away from 1 to 5 supernatural powers starting with Demon: the Descent and Changeling: the Lost 2nd Edition.
I hope you appreciate how tightly written and formatted these Merits are. Expect updates as I start playtesting them with my group, as we embark on the second chapter of the most memorable Chronicle I’ve ever run!
Download a PDF containing overhauled Merits here.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

[KINK] BDSM 101

I was invited by my Alma Mater to teach a BDSM 101 class, which meant figuring out what I consider to be “essential” BDSM information, and condensing that into an hour-long presentation. A daunting task, to say the least; everything I’ve learned over these past 3 years – even things I’m still learning as a titleholder – could be considered “essential!”

So instead of trying to go all “process of elimination” on it, I started developing the class with the assumption that everyone in attendance had learned about BDSM through sensationalized mediums, and that they were going to start beating each other for the first time that night. I had to teach a class that made me comfortable with that; really, I was liable for their safety during that first hypothetical scene.
That narrowed down what I needed to convey pretty damn fast!
I included the speaker’s notes for this presentation below. I won’t do this for every class I post, but BDSM 101 is such an important topic I want as many people to have access to the information as possible.
Download the Google Slides for BDSM 101 here.

Speaker’s Notes

Each bullet point below corresponds to a bullet point in a slide. For example, the fourth bullet in the first section of the speaker’s notes elaborates upon the fourth bullet on the slide with the same title. “N/A” indicates that I don’t have any speaker’s notes for that bullet.

Who is Superhorse?

  • I present as a submissive 90% of the time, but the other 10% I’m a dominant. Technically, I’m what’s called a switch. I’m also very much into pony play, which means being treated and trained as closely to a real horse as possible.
  • Leather titles are basically Miss America pageants with hot, sexy leatherfolk. Titleholders are the “face” of the community; we support our communities by creating resources, organizing events, and promoting causes.
  • Voodoo Leatherworks is the BDSM dungeon in Colorado Springs, and as a member of its core leadership group I attend just about every party, class, discussion group, and social night that we have.
  • The Marquis Lifestyle Center seeks to demystify BDSM by providing education to law enforcement, health, and mental health professionals, who have a long history of stigmatizing us.
  • I blog about BDSM and Dungeons & Dragons, both of which involve hitting things in dungeons!

Purpose

  • I give this class as if you were going to go home right afterwards and try BDSM for the first time. That isn’t optimal, but if you listened to this presentation first, my mind would be a little more at ease.
  • I find that a lot of people have a working knowledge about what BDSM is, but there is a lot of misconceptions surrounding it. There’s no way I could clear them all up, so I’m just going to clear up yours.
  • I have my toys here! I encourage you to come up and touch them, wear them, ask questions about them, and so on. It’s way less intimidating than walking into a sex store!

What is BDSM?

  • This means that kinks can be expressed without necessarily being BDSM. A foot fetishist licking their partner’s feet would be kink, but a foot fetishist being forced to lick their partner’s feet would be BDSM. BDSM is kinky, but not all kink is BDSM.
  • N/A
    • N/A
    • N/A
      • Sadomasochism is receiving pleasure from the fact that your partner is receiving pleasure from you hurting them, or from them hurting you. It’s what keeps just about every scene going!

Why Do We Do BDSM?

  • Power dynamics are the main source of pleasure in BDSM. The intensity of taking complete control of someone – or of giving up that control – is where the arousal comes from. The arousal also comes from the inherent danger or intensity of the actions being performed.
    • Typically, submissives have a lot of control over their lives they want to relinquish, while dominants are those who want to express that control. As with every binary, though, we know it isn’t totally true.
    • The identifier on the left of the slash is the “top,” while the one on the right is the “bottom.” Thus we have Dom/sub, Trainer/pony, Master/slave, etc.
  • BDSM is pleasurable because of the sheer amount of endorphins that get pumped into your system during a scene. Endorphins affect everyone differently.
    • Sometimes, endorphins help you go that extra mile during particularly intense scenes. For example, since I’m into receiving pain, endorphins allow me to take amounts and types of pain I couldn’t take otherwise.
  • A lot of fetishes and roleplayed fantasies can only be fulfilled through BDSM. Common scenarios include kidnapping, imprisonment, and enforced servitude.

What is “RACK?”

There are multiple approaches to consent in BDSM.
  • N/A
    • BDSM isn’t safe, and it isn’t sane. Once you so much as slap on a pair of handcuffs, you and your partner are assuming a level of risk. Risk can be managed, but the idea that BDSM is “safe” is not true.
  • N/A
    • The idea is that you are responsible for whatever you get yourself into during a scene. While this is true, this mentality can enable victim blaming; “it’s your fault for having a scene with a predatory dominant!”
  • N/A
    • When you discuss having a scene with someone, you should script everything that’s going to happen during a scene, and overview all potential risks. Air out all concerns that you have, and establish as many boundaries as necessary.
    • BDSM is very much consent based. Consent needs to be specific – “I consent to this action” – enthusiastic, and continuous throughout the scene. We take consent violations very seriously in the BDSM community, and you should too. A good way to prevent a consent violation is to stick to the script!

How Do I Build a Scene?

  1. As mentioned earlier, if you do not hear a specific, enthusiastic “yes, I want to play with you,” then the scene shouldn’t happen. That goes for both parties; don’t get involved in a scene you don’t consent to!
  2. When scripting your scene – called “negotiating” – ask questions conducive to the activities you’re performing. What do you want to do? What don’t you want to do? Do they have circulation issues? Are you allergic to certain toys? Are your teeth strong enough to allow for a gag? Are there any triggers I should be aware of?
    1. For a first-timer, it’s hard to negotiate because they haven’t tried anything. So don’t use safewords - stop at “stop” and “no” - and lightly try a lot of things to zero in on what they like. This is called a “tasting;” most dungeons have nights dedicated to tastings.
  3. Your first few scenes and plenty of your later scenes are going to be very giggly and clumsy. But that’s part of the fun! Don’t try to force the mood.
  4. At the same time, the mood of a scene is something that has to be actively maintained, and both parties are responsible for maintaining it. Don’t have dead fish syndrome! Squirming and struggling tells the dominant that you are enjoying it. The top should throw in some dirty talk and intimate whispers. Both of you should really ham it up!
  5. The dominant should be checking up constantly. You can mask questions like “you doing okay?” with “you really want this, don’t you boy?” If you demand that your submissive answers “Yes Sir,” any response other than that will catch your full attention.
  6. For some people, catharsis is orgasm, crying, even being silent and unable to move. This is the peak of endorphins, and you can tell when you reach it through a shift in the scene’s energy. This means it’s time to either wind down or stop, depending on how your partner deals with catharsis.
  7. Those endorphins are gone now, and it’s a huge valley after a huge peak. Eat some sugar/protein, cuddle, drink water. Check in the next day, even over the next week. It feels like depression, guilt, or even total apathy, and it’s totally okay.

What Does a Safe Scene Look Like?

  • Be careful with tying hands above the head for too long. Be careful not to latch a cuff or collar too tight. Be careful with anything on joints, and watch for locked knees if your partner is standing. Tell your dominant if you feel tingling or numbness. Watch for swelling and discoloration. Take a class on choking before trying it.
  • Do not hit kidneys with heavy blows. Do not strike downwards on breasts. Do not aim directly at the spine, especially with canes. Do not hit the ribcage. If you’re doing ball stuff, beware of torsion.
  • Communication includes checking hand temperature (cold), pupil dilation (dilated), coherence (slurred), and checking expressions (bad pain, horror). If you see any of those, it’s time to slow down or stop! Never go out of eyeshot with a secured bottom; undo them first, even if it’s just a hand!
  • Universal safewords are green (I’m good), yellow (slow up or do something else), red (stop now and end the scene). If they cannot speak, put a hanky in their hand for them to drop, or pick a song to hum (“Mary Had a Little Lamb”).
  • Have shears if playing with rope, bolt-cutters for chain, panic snaps for both (secure ropes and chain to carabiners). Locks and bondage are sexy, but not if something happens to the dominant. There’s a Stephen King novel about that (Gerlad’s Game)!
  • Keep some rubbing alcohol around for possible cuts, and envirocide for fluid-bonded toys. Stop impact if there’s bleeding, so blood doesn’t fly everywhere!
  • Like cops get pepper sprayed, try something before it gets done to you. If you’re going to do anything riskier than normal like needles, fire, knives, breathplay, get mentored on it first.

How Do I Get Into the Community?

  • Munches allow you to meet people outside the dungeon, and sometimes dungeons use it for gatekeeping. It’s called a munch because you typically eat something while you’re at it! You can also attend classes, discussion groups, and social nights to ease in; they are typically free to members, and low cost to non-members.
  • Outing other people is shitty! Some people can’t be associated with kink due to jobs, family, even stalkers. Things you learn in the dungeon stay in the dungeon. If you see kinksters in public, don’t approach or acknowledge them unless they told you it’s okay beforehand. A number of kinksters use scene names and don’t upload any pictures or personally identifiable information; do this if you feel the need.
  • The law says you cannot consent to being assaulted. Law enforcement does not consider BDSM consent violations rape. Law enforcement can consider consensual BDSM to be domestic abuse. Keep these things in mind when engaging in BDSM practice, and prepare accordingly.
  • At private parties and scenes, you might not find the same accountability you have at public dungeons. Good spaces have dungeon monitors, in-depth orientations, and waivers. Have a buddy, set a safe call. Ask people you trust in the community where is okay and where isn’t.
  • Each dungeon is like its own little family. They have to warm up to you! You may not get to have a scene with someone or find a mentor for a while. But if you keep showing up, we’ll know that you’re serious, and before you know it, three years pass and you’re getting carpet tacks spanked into your ass!

[CRIT] NWoD 1e Character Sheet

I designed a character sheet to go with my New World of Darkness (1e) house rules, which should be in their final iteration. This character sheet takes up one side of an 8.5” x 11” page.
A few notes about the character sheet’s design that may not be obvious at first glance:
  • There are lines above the last six boxes in the Health track. Write your wound penalties above those lines. For example, if you have eight dots of Health, you would write “-1” above the line over the sixth box, “-2” above the line over the seventh, and “-3” over the eighth.
  • The triangle below the Morality track indicates the 7th dot, which is where most characters start.
If you want an edited version of this sheet, hit me up at nogoodverybadhorse@gmail.com.
Last Updated 6/22/17
Click the image to expand it! Download the PDF here!



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

[CRIT] Peach Blossom Dogs


My longest-running gaming group just finished Out of the Abyss after 84 sessions over the course of almost 2 years. It marked a bittersweet farewell to the world of the Forgotten Realms; we took a long moment to remember all the beloved PCs and NPCs that were lost to the Demon Lord incursion. It’s the first Dungeons & Dragons campaign any of us have seen through to completion; most of us still can’t really believe that it’s over.
Nothing else I could run in Dungeons & Dragons 5e would compare to the massive feat we just accomplished, so we decided to switch gears. The end of Out of the Abyss became a slog, a 12-session climax to the campaign that had the players duke it out with one Demon Lord per session. They all craved a system that actively encouraged roleplay and character development, rather than D&D in which both of those things are more or less optional. Burning Wheel was the first system to jump to mind.
Ever since my Torchbearer game went on hiatus and I received my fourth copy of the Burning Wheel core rulebook (as well as a copy of the Burning Codex that I’ve been pouring through), I have been aching to run my first Burning Wheel campaign. I consider Luke Crane to be a peerless game designer, and Burning Wheel to be his “Swiss watch:” chock full of imperceptible moving parts that – once you finally get a grasp on how the hell they work – run more efficiently than any other watch on the market.
But the first session of Burning Wheel doesn’t include any play; rather, the “play” is burning up the setting and the characters that inhabit it. My group tossed ideas back and forth for hours and held a couple nail-biting votes until we decided on Peach Blossom Dogs.

Inspiration

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms

I have had an obsession with Three Kingdoms-era China since I started playing Dynasty Warriors at a young age. Thanks to Three Kingdoms bloggers like The Archlich, I cultivated a deep appreciation for the intricate politics, rich histories, and prominent figures of the era. After reading Luo Guanzhong’s Sanguo Yanyi and shedding many tears over the course of Gao Xixi’s Three Kingdoms TV series, I also came to better understand the themes of the drama.
One of the most prominent themes of the Romance is one it shares with Burning Wheel: Fighting for what you believe in. From Cao Cao’s pure, ruthless ambition, to Liu Bei’s unfailing commitment to the Han Dynasty (or a bandit’s lust for power, depending on who you ask), and Sun Quan’s filial loyalty and preservationism, every main player in the Romance was driven by their beliefs and died by their beliefs. In the wake of the collapse of the Han dynasty, everyone had one shot to claim the piece of the pie they’ve always wanted – even if that piece was the whole goddamn pie – resulting in one of the most bloody and heavily romanticised conflicts in human history.
This source of inspiration led to Peach Blossom Dogs becoming a facsimile of Three Kingdoms-era China: fierce, sweeping battles between various charismatic (or caricatured) warlords; beliefs so passionate they altered the laws of reality; poetic conveyance of everything from the Asiatic landscapes to the myths and men that shed their blood upon them.
Poetic is the operating word here. Myth matters. Myth is tangible. Everything must be embellished during play, from the way actions are described to the way the characters speak. Did Zhang Fei’s battle cry at the Battle of Changban scare off Cao Cao’s army of one million? All that matters is that you believe he did, and it is the player’s job to make everyone else at the table believe it.

Pirates of the Caribbean

But as if that wasn’t enough, the players were also fixated on some seafearing and swashbuckling, adventures of a sort that only existed during the golden age of piracy. This fit into the setting as established thus far quite nicely: fearsome pirate captains acted the roles of ancient Chinese warlords; epic conflicts were tinged with the brine of the sea and sizzle of gunpowder; their thirst for independence and efforts to claim mastery over the one frontier unclaimed by men defined an era.
From this source, an immediate conflict emerged: pirates versus government, which we complicated further by framing it as pirates (Freehearts) versus privateers (Loyalists). What would Freehearts think of those had sold out to the very power structure they were trying to escape? Is that an expression of freedom, or a squandering of it? Which led us to posit the big question that Peach Blossom Dogs was invented to explore:

Is There Freedom in Order?

Chinese philosophy has always been grounded in order. Concepts like filial piety, the importance of ritual, ancestor worship, and strict utilitarianism have been present throughout Chinese philosophical development, typically favoring the collective over the individual. Can an individual be truly free in that philosophical frame?
That’s a complicated question. Freedom as a Freeheart means constantly being on the run from the government, or banding together into larger Freeheart communities to eke out an existence. That doesn’t sound like absolute freedom to me. Nor does serving your government as a Loyalist that guarantees you and your crew salaries, legitimacy, and a clear mission in life sound like absolute order. The thing is, freedom and order are sliding scales. Recursive. Yin Yang.
But our characters don’t think so. They believe that you either have one or the other. And watching them fight to try and justify their black-and-white beliefs and the world’s subversion of them are the main source of grist for the Wheel.

The Wheel Manifest

One of the design choices I love most about Burning Wheel is its commitment to the “wheel” metaphor. Not only is the ruleset is divided into the rim, the spokes, and the hub, but the “Wheel” itself is often used throughout the book to refer to the ever-progressing state of the game world. Really, a burning wheel is the best image to represent how the game plays. So why not take that metaphor one step further and make the Wheel an integral element to the game world?
“Lannister, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell, they’re all just spokes on a wheel.  This one’s on top and that one’s on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. We’re not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
– Daenerys I Targaryen
This quote kept ringing in my head while we burned the setting. Yes, in this world there is a Wheel. It grows with each generation, the will of the ancestors propelling it violently forward. During tumultuous times it is said that “the Wheel is turning,” implying that change is on the wind, the type of change that causes dynasties to rise and fall in a fortnight. No dynasty – no matter how grand – lasts forever.
What makes matters even worse is that Men don’t control the Wheel.

Elfinkind

“A fisherman floated on, enjoying Spring.
The shores, he found, were covered in Peach Blossom.
Watched reddening trees, uncertain where he was.
Seeing no one reached green water springs.
There a way led through the hill.
Twisting, turning to a vast plain.
Distant trees rose to the clouds.
Houses stretched among bamboo and flowers.
Woodmen had names from times of Chou,
Clothes they wore were those of Ch’in,
Once had lived near Wu-ling River,
Now they lived outside the world.
Bright moon in pines. By their doors peace.
Sunrise. From clouds the wild birds call.
Amazed, they want to see this stranger,
Invite him; ask questions of his country.
At first light they sweep flowers from the gate.
At dusk fishermen, woodmen ride the stream.
They had sought refuge there from the world,
Became Immortals, never returned.


Who in those hills can know the world of men,
Who, gazing out, sees only clouds and hills?
He forgot Paradise is hard to find.
His spirit turned again to his own home.
Leaving those hidden streams and mountains,
Thought he could return when he wished,
Knew the way. How could he go wrong?
Who can know how hills and valleys alter?
He only knew the deep ways he wandered.
How many green streams in those cloudy woods?
When Spring comes a myriad Peach-filled rivers,
Who knows which one might lead to Paradise?”
— Wang Wei, “Peach Blossom Springs” (699-759 AD)
That poem serves as the Elven creation myth for the world of Peach Blossom Dogs: Men who long ago abandoned the world to live in long-forgotten hills where the Fusang tree blooms, an ethereal realm they call “The Garden.” The peaches of the Fusang tree sprout once every 3,000 years, but once consumed, they grant immortality. The Men of the Garden have been isolated for generations, until they were Men no longer.
The Elves sometimes return to the realm of Men, but only via riverways laden with peach blossoms, always appearing from just around the bend in canoes of white silver. Men call them “dogs” to distinguish them from Mannish stock. This term was used to single Elves out as mutts and as cowards, but no longer carries a negative connotation, unlike “siren,” which colors the Elves’ songs – reducing oral histories and heartfelt lamentations to “sirensongs” and “beguilements” – as inherently manipulative (indeed, a seaborne conclave of Dark Elves cast out from the Garden used spellsongs in this manner, birthing a myth and giving credence to the term).
There is an Elf for every 100,000 Men, and those Elves tend to live as hermits or wanderers, never letting their roots grow too deep lest they feel the bite of grief; their hearts are ill-suited to this land where time is in motion. And yet they are still enticed by the excitement in Mannish lands, a rush that they will regret as they are crushed ‘neath the Wheel.
There are also Dark Elves who let their grief sour into spite; change is the problem. Ironically, by the time they reach that conclusion, they will find that those blossom-strewn riverways no longer show them the way home. Their very natures have been tainted by change, and the Garden – a realm where nothing changes – cannot allow their presence. Dark Elves crave any self-destructive rush to bury their memories, which froth into a potent jealously. About half of the Elves in the realms of Men are Dark Elves.
The most obvious difference between Men and Elves is that Elves are sensitive to processed metals. Their ancestral weapons — swords, bows, and arrows alike — are carved from the hale wood of the Fusang tree; their armors are woven from pink Fusang blossoms hardened with its own sap and lined with its papery yet impenetrable bark. When Elves wield Mannish swords or guns, they often request them to be made as crudely as possible, or wrap their pommels in leaves lest the cold iron sear their skin. Since they have been banished from the Garden and lost their access to Fusang wood as a result, the Dark Elves circumvent their processed iron sensitivity with Morlin, a jet-black metal of their own creation.

Packs of Dogs

“The next day in the peach garden, they prepared a black ox, white horse, and other sacrifices. The three men burned incense, worshipped again, and took their oath, saying: "We, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, although of different surnames, now bind ourselves as brothers, that we may with one heart and united strength, resolve each other's difficulties, support each other in danger, protect the state above and defend the common people below; we ask not the same year, month and day of birth, but wish to die on the same year, month, and day. May the Heavenly Emperor and the Earthly Consort inspect our hearts; and if we ignore righteousness or forget kindness, may Heaven and man both strike us down."
– Luo Guanzhong, Sanguo Yanyi
Elves are particularly sensitive to the revolutions of the Wheel, and as the sun sets on each generation they are compelled by fate to gather into conclaves to usher in the next golden age.
Men call a conclave of Elves a “pack,” and even among Elves the name stuck. An equal number of Elves and Dark Elves are compelled by Heaven to gather at one location for a common cause. Once this happens, the Elves are obligated by tradition to take an oath in a peach garden (even if that garden is a single withered sapling). This oath is meaningless now – the Elves and Dark Elves glare at each other with ill intent as they recite it in unison – but it is taken nonetheless, and looks an awful lot like the quote from the Sanguo Yanyi above.
Let’s get a little meta here: packs of Dogs are not agents of the Wheel, they are the Wheel. The world keeps on turning because of the motion of this hypothetical Wheel everyone has bought into, but the Wheel’s motion is only spurred by the conflicts within Elven conclaves, which blossom from tussles over local affairs to conflicts of kingdom-shaping magnitudes. Elves are demigods among Men; they take it upon themselves to execute Heaven’s Mandate, but each Elf thinks that their Mandate is legitimate.

City of Planks

Going back to that conflict between freedom and order, a juicy complication is that Freehearts often chain their ships together into floating city-states to offer protection from the Loyalists (and seaborne threats like typhoons and whirlpools), chart out claims with the support of a central council, and set up avenues of trade that they as pirates have no access to. Plank-States, as they’re called, are giant floating hypocrisies, making them the perfect locale to explore this burning central question.
Districts in Plank-States are drawn by who owns which clusters of ships. Seats on a Plank-State’s council are given to the Freeheart captains who owned the formative ships, which wind up sun-bleached and scuttled at the center of the mass. The seats are passed on to first-mates or descendants, and are never reassigned by democratic means. The first captains to lay their chains in a Plank-State relinquish their statuses as captain under an oath leveraging their honor, so that their avarice cannot dismantle such precious infrastructure.