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Thursday, 27 April 2017

No blog today, busy in a Masonic event. Go read yesterday's!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Shockingly Bad Behavior From an RPG Designer

So, the user known as Zweihander has been banned from theRPGsite for opening a sockpuppet account (RPGPundit2), which he used to post links to a website that exposed my name and other personal information about me. This website was made and spread by someone commenting on my blog for months now under the name "Daniel".  
This website also uses my name and the RPGpundit name in the website url. 

The "RPGPundit2" account was made with the same IP as Zweihander's, and using the same email name.

He didn't even try to hide what he was doing, or he was so monumentally stupid as to not realize how obvious it would be because Admins can see IP addresses and the email users sign up with. 

No one else but the selfsame "Daniel" who spent actual money and time making these doxxing links against me would give a shit to post this stuff, and he has been harassing me with it on my blog under a fake name for months now, ever since Trump won the election.  Those of you who read my blog (or rather, read the comments) regularly will recognize him as "Daniel". 
Note that "Daniel Fox" is the name of Zweihander's designer and the user of the Zweihander RPGsite account.

This is pretty much appalling behavior for someone who pretends to be a "game designer". Of course, his history of aggressively shilling his game including with misleading links shows that this is a recurring theme for Zweihander as a human being. 

I hope everyone in the hobby finds out about this piece of shit and what he considers appropriate behavior for a designer. 

I'll note that since I banned him on theRPGsite and made this public notice, Daniel Fox/Zweihander has since emailed me, feigning ignorance and trying to pretend that this is some kind of a mix-up, which is nonsensical. 
If "daniel" had been anyone other than him, and had been out to try to ruin Zweihander's reputation, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have laid in wait for nearly 6 months trolling my blog ceaselessly and making attack sites trying to doxx me, without even ONCE mentioning Zweihander. And you'd think "RPGPundit2" would have identified himself as Zweihander, if this was some kind of a carefully designed frame job.

So no, Zweihander (and I bet you're reading this because you've already shown your mentally ill obsession with me), no one is going to believe your bullshit. You were a moron and have now been caught dead to right as a months-long troll who engaged in doxxing and hideous behaviour. And I'm going to make sure everyone knows it.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Bend Billiard + Image Latakia

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Classic Rant: If You Want the RPG Hobby to Be More LGBT-Inclusive...

So we hear a lot these days, some from people who are really just desperately interested in having everyone see how activist they are, and some from those who actually give a fuck, about the question of LGBT-inclusivity in RPGs. Many people have been arguing in favor of LGBT-representation in game settings, and that's fine (within the boundaries of what's credible for a setting, obviously). But some have also pointed out that just having a few mentions of LGBT characters in a game setting is not really any great thing, and is not necessarily something that will make the hobby more welcoming to LGBT people as gamers.

Correct! The question is, what's the solution then? Some have talked about RPG mechanics, and how these should be changed somehow, or new RPGs/storygames made that address these. In one particularly productive G+ conversation I was involved in, one writer suggested the following as mechanical elements that they thought would appeal to LGBT players:

"character non-monogamy, subversive models of character agency, mechanics that interrogate themselves, fluid codification of characters, games without characters."

Now, here's the thing: none of those things appear in D&D, nor will they ever. And not because D&D is homophobic, but because they're just irrelevant to it. Those types of mechanics are as relevant to D&D in both system and style as they would be to baseball.

Other people in that same conversation (or maybe the same person, I forget) were also talking about the importance of panels at cons.

Now, here's the other thing: the types of mechanics described above are all well and good to appear in new games (most likely small-press indie games). Fine. Panels at cons, fine. But both of these amount to preaching to the choir, to people already operating inside the hobby. And note that by "choir" in this case, I do NOT mean LGBT-people, but rather that very tiny subset of the same that are really really interested in LGBT issues in Gaming, and actively participate in things like panels at cons, and play quirky story games.
Most RPG players don't even GO to cons. Most RPG players don't play storygames. And among that classification of "RPG Players", I include most LGBT players.

I will say it right here: I would be willing to bet my finest pipe that, in exactly the same way that the vast majority of RPG players only play D&D, the vast majority of LGBT people who play RPGs only play D&D. And there's no reason to suspect that the vast majority of LGBT people who become tabletop RPG players in the future won't also follow that same trend.

Does this mean that there are no problems with inclusion? No, of course there are problems. What this means is, as long as the ownership of the discussion of what to do to bring more LGBT-people into the hobby and make the hobby a more welcoming and inclusive place belongs to people who like to talk about college-level identity politics theory in panels at cons and play storygames, as long as that particular (dare I say privileged?) group claims ownership over this issue, a huge disservice is likely being done to the majority of LGBT-gamers.

Why? Because as far as I can see, D&D (and its clones) will continue by far to be the largest RPG in the hobby, and the one that will keep successfully bringing in the most new people to the hobby.

So I think if the goal is to create inclusion, you're left with two choices:

a) Go to war with the entire hobby and try to destroy D&D, which is a fools' errand, though certainly some fools are trying.


b) talk more productively about those ways that can provide inclusivity within the structure and model that is unlikely to change, nor should it need to change.

"Queering" D&D is like "queering" basketball, or bridge. It either can't be done, or can only be done by making something so radically different from what is presently called 'basketball' or 'bridge' that it would no longer be recognizable as such.

So I would argue that D&D is the elephant in the room of the whole discussion as it currently stands. Are you doing all this to make yourself feel better and to be smug, and create a little pseudo-intellectual ghetto for yourselves while abandoning to the wolves any LGBT gamers who have no interest in spending their time talking about Queer Theory; or are you doing it because you actually want the very core hobby to be more inclusive and to be a place that is more open, welcoming and gives more centrality to LGBT people? 
If the latter, you need to recognize the reality that D&D is the hobby (in terms of what your goals would be), and that therefore it's pointless to talk about 'steps' that don't take D&D into account. There's not much reason to talk about changing things at the rules level (because you couldn't do that with D&D, aside from fluff rules). Instead, what you do need to talk about are the many many other levels in which you can focus yours efforts with D&D to achieve your goals.

No one's saying it's a bad idea to make a game that specifically appeals to the interests or identity of a minority (though I think that can often create either tokenism, or ghettoization, both of which have problems of their own); but the point is that D&D IS the RPG hobby for most gamers! You won't create an overall environment that's positive if you don't address how you can work with D&D. And furthermore, I think that D&D is the RPG hobby for most LGBT gamers! Sure, there are some that will really be hyper-aware of the 'bigger hobby', but it's likely that, just like 90% of all gamers don't play anything other than D&D, 90% of all LGBT gamers don't play anything other than D&D too. So you're doing those people a disservice by ignoring D&D.

I think that 5e D&D has done (and is on course to doing) great stuff with representation. I think that the places where D&D can work better for LGBT involve just about everything that surrounds the system (plus maybe a few secondary elements of system itself), and how they present settings/adventures; but I think its much more important to stop thinking about this in terms of the elements of the game, and start thinking more in terms of the elements of marketing, public relations, organized play, etc. Conventions are important, sure, but they aren't the "ground floor" of the hobby. Instead, you want to be promoting LGBT involvement in play through FLGSes, school clubs, community groups, etc, plus online play (if WotC can ever figure out how to do that last one right). 
The interesting thing is that this are ALSO precisely the areas that WoTC needs to be focusing on if they want to make the hobby grow in general; and they could do this at the same time as they make an effort to making D&D (and thus the biggest part of the hobby) more LGBT-friendly.

Hell, for years now gaming companies have from time to time engaged in or participated in programs to send RPG books to overseas military (which has, by the way, resulted in a disproportionate amount of U.S. RPG players being active or veteran military). Why not do the same to gay-straight alliance clubs in schools, or other kinds of youth groups?

That's the kind of thinking you need to be working on if the goal is really to reach out and welcome LGBT gamers; working from the assumption (no doubt distasteful to some, but a reality) that the vast majority of LGBT gamers are and will be just like all the other gamers and want to play D&D, so the answer to inclusiveness is getting more LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) trying out D&D.

As for the Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs outreach thing, remember, folks: you heard it from the RPGPundit first.


(originally posted November 19, 2014)

Monday, 24 April 2017

Break Monday: Bad-ass Soldier Edition

In today's Break article, I take a short biographical look through history of four legendary bad-ass fighter-guys, ranging from the 1st century until the 20th.

Why? Just because I dig history, and all four of these guys had interesting stories to tell.

So, check out Four Historical Warriors With Kill-Counts John Wick Could Respect.

And if you liked the article, please share it!


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Wild West Campaign:The Hinkley Gang

In this weekend's game, we had a trio of stories.

First, Deputy Jeff Young went off to the countryside to look for Dirty Dave Rudabaugh. He didn't actually know if Dirty Dave had committed any crimes, but assumed he was, and hoped it would be a great opportunity to get himself some more arrests by catching Dirty Dave and his inevitable selling out of his partners.

He found out someone had been robbing stagecoaches out of Hays city, and headed that way to investigate. He learned the name of one of the robbers, and then took a guess as to where they might have headed, hoping he'd find Dirty Dave at the end of it. In the town of Gove he discovered that it was indeed Dirty Dave and his new gang, and after charming a local barmaid, she revealed to him that Dirty Dave was apparently avoiding Cimarron on account that he'd learned in Hays that Clay Allison, one of the most feared gunfighters and gang-leaders of the age, had a beef against certain people in Dodge city (on account of Wyatt Earp having shot dead one of his best men, George Hoyt). And she believed Dave's gang were headed to Elkader instead.

Second, Kid Taylor had run off with Judge Wright's daughter Frances (having secretly gotten full permission to do so by the Judge). He was going to marry her in Elkader. They arrived without incident, but the preacher, suspecting that they'd run off without the girl's father's permission, insisted that they take until the afternoon to think long and hard about the seriousness of marriage. If they were still sure to go through with it, then rather than their living in sin he would marry them after lunchtime.

They planned to go eat at the only dining hall in town, when they heard someone calling for Kid from nearby. It turned out to be Dirty Dave Rudabaugh!

He had been arrested by the town's new hardass sheriff as soon as he'd rode in. Now he was pleading for Kid Taylor to get him out. Kid decided to spring Dave, and as a first step invited both the jailor and sheriff to his wedding.  Then he sat down for lunch with his bride-to-be and she asked him why the hell he was planning to risk their wedding for Dave.  Kid thought about it, and had admit to her that Dave wasn't even that close a friend, just more of an acquaintance, and that it really didn't make any sense, it was just his first outlaw instinct. But for her, he decided, he'd decline to spring Dave.

Unfortunately, as soon as they left the diner, they ran into the Sheriff, who immediately arrested Kid Taylor. He was suspecting that Kid was part of Dave's gang, and when he learned of the name of Kid's betrothed, he realized that she was the daughter of Judge Wright. He assumed that Kid had fled with her, probably defiled her, and was now seeking to marry her without parental permission. It didn't help that Kid had lied to the jailor and claimed (in a bit of 'man talk') that he'd already deflowered her, which wasn't true.

Kid tried to convince the sheriff that in fact he had Judge Wright's full blessing (which was true) and that Wright had his own reasons for them eloping (he didn't want the rest of the Dodge City Gang to know that Kid Taylor was now working for him and the "Better People"), but the story seemed so amazing that the Sheriff assumed it to be a lie. He threw kid into the jail with Dirty Dave (who assumed Kid had been arrested for trying to spring him).  Dave had some hope his real gang would spring him but they never showed, and he soon realized they'd abandoned him and taken all his ill-gotten gains with them.

The next day, Deputy Young came into town after Dave. He found Dave and Kid in the Sheriff's custody, and wanted to get Dave to give his usual confession in exchange for immunity, to hunt down Dave's gang and recover the lost Wells-Fargo money. But the local hardass Sheriff insisted on trying to violently beat Dave to elicit a confession. Young was too inexperience in law to think to defy the Sheriff, but it was actually Rudabaugh (who had gotten quite good at interpreting the law due to his many close-shaves with prison) who pointed out in mid-beating that since his crimes were all done OUTSIDE Elkader, he should be Young's prisoner and not the Sheriff's. The Sheriff was forced very reluctantly to stop savagely assaulting Dave, and release him into Young's custody. Young couldn't really help kid, and disbelieved the story the Sheriff relayed to him about Kid having permission to marry Frances Wright. So he left Kid to stew.
Fortunately for kid, a few hours later the Sheriff got a response to his telegram to Dodge City where he'd informed the Judge that he'd "rescued" Frances from her kidnapper; Judge Wright backed Kid's story and the Sheriff was obliged to free Kid and allow Kid and Frances to marry.

Third: In Dodge itself, in the Palace Saloon, Bill Miller (the security guard) ended up in a confrontation with a drunken rustic named Jed Hinkley, after Jed shot the poker dealer dead (claiming he was being cheated). Bill walked right up to the man exchanging fire, taking a couple of flesh wounds, before pistol whipping him twice into unconsciousness. His astounding (reckless, some would say) display of bravado quickly becomes news throughout the town.

A bit later, news gets out that millionaire brat Spike Kenedy is back in town. A couple of weeks ago he'd tried to assassinate the mayor of Dodge, Dog Kelly, out of jealousy at Kelly being romantically involved with the beautiful singer, Miss Dora Hand (who Spike was infatuated with). Now he'd snuck back into town, and tried to buy another gun, but no one would sell it to him; so he walked up in front of the Alhambra Saloon and challenged the old man to a fist-fight. In spite of being more than two decades older than Spike, "Dog" beats him to a bloody pulp, and Marshall Bassett takes him away for the second time.

Later on, the PCs find out that Jeb Hinkley's mother, "Ma" Hinkley, is actually a well-known gang-leader, and she's come into town with her other two sons, Bull and Zeb. Ma is incensed, not so much that Jeb was arrested as that he let himself be taken alive and was going to be hung for murder, an act that she feels will bring dishonor to the whole family.  It's assumed she's planning to free her son, and maybe kill Bill Miller. Bill and his boss, John Miller (no relation) head over to the Marshall's office to offer their assistance. Just then, the news arrives that Doc Holliday (who had been acting more erratically these last few days) had shot the owner of the Gillie bar in the head!

The Marshall runs off to try to deal with the matter, while the Millers keep watch over the Marshall's office.

They find the Hinkleys sneaking into the alley beside the jail, and realize that one of them is carrying a box of dynamite!  Heading over there quickly, the Hinkleys realize they've been spotted. A firefight begins, but not all goes as expected. While Bull shoots at the Millers, Ma turns her shotgun on her imprisoned son, choosing to kill him rather than let him stay in captivity. Zeb, meanwhile, lights a stick of dynamite, planning to throw it at the Millers. One of the Millers manages to shoot Zeb's hand, causing him to drop the stick right onto the box of dynamite. The Hinkleys try to flee while the Millers dive for cover. The huge explosion that follows injures Bill Miller and kills Ma and Zeb; Bull survives with serious injuries. Half the Marshall's office is blown to bits; but Spike Kennedy (who was inside) survives mostly uninjured.

It turns out that Doc Holliday didn't actually kill the owner of the Gillie bar, he survived his head wound. But Doc and Big Nose Kate THOUGHT the barman was dead, so they fled town.  The lawmen decide it's best not to bother pursuing.

Kid Taylor and his new bride Frances take the scenic route back to Dodge, honeymooning in various small towns.  When Kid gets back, his sister Lily warmly greets her new sister-in-law, but Kid discovers a pair of men's underpants that aren't his, and he realizes that while he was away, his sister had been up to no good with her beau, Jim Masterson.
But the consequences of that will be a story for another session.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Bayou Evening

Saturday, 22 April 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: The Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate

This is a review of the RPG "The Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate", published by Bedrock Games, written by Brendan Davis, William Butler, and Dan Orcutt. As always, the review is of the print edition, which is a softcover volume of impressive size, quite close to 500 pages.

The cover is full-color and features an impressive comic-style illustration of two wuxia warriors fighting against some eastern-style ogres. The interior is black and white, adequately illustrated with a number of similarly-styled drawings.

I will note for the sake of disclosure that Bedrock are the publishers of my Arrows of Indra RPG. I don't think that will affect my ability to review the product, but I thought I'd explicitly mention it so the reader is aware of the fact.

Ogre Gate sets itself up as a game of "Gravity-defying martial artists inspired by wuxia film and drama series".  Its setting is said to be inspired by Song Dynasty China.  That happens to be my very favorite dynasty; we'll have to see how it measures up.

The book is so large it's a bit intimidating; but a lot of it is about long lists of martial art techniques and qi powers.  Frankly, that's a size that I could expect from a really complete and self-contained wuxia RPG, as there's a lot of ground to cover. The question is more about whether the size is used effectively.  Let's find out!

The book's preface certainly leaves it clear that Davis is well-acquainted with Wuxia classic films and series (something that anyone who follows him on G+ would already be well aware of). It also clarifies that the setting is not a fantasized version of Song China (in the sense that Dark Albion is a fantasized England, for example), but rather that it is a totally different fantasy world whose culture, government and belief systems are inspired by and quite loosely based on Song China. OK then, that's fine as long as it's clear; though the setting better be good.

Here's a brief breakdown of the setting: the world (Qi Xien) was once a kind of paradise created by a benevolent deity, but then something went wrong. An evil sorcerer named Yao-Feng crossed through into the world with an army of ogre demons, took over and became the Demon Emperor. A pair of heroic wuxia learned how to use the Qi power that Yao-Feng had brought with him, and used Kung Fu to take down the Demon Emperor and lock him in a place called the Ogre Gate, sacrificing their lives to seal that gate and guard it. The world would never be at peace again, but things gradually improved.

Eventually there was a great and benign ruler called the Righteous Emperor. When he died (about 100 years ago), his son (who called himself the Glorious Emperor) became tyrannical and plunged the world into oppression. The martial artists of the various schools who had descended from the ancient heroes who once defeated Yao-feng tried to fight him, but the Glorious Emperor used dark magic to turn many of them to his side.

Now, all the provinces but one are under the Glorious Emperor's control. Meanwhile, the rebellious martial artists retreated to a wilderness area called the Banyan region. They continued to resist the Emperor's tyranny, but have also developed bitter feuds between each school of kung-fu and spend much time fighting amongst each other.

The system for Ogre Gate is the "network system" which is a variant of the same system found in Bedrock's Sertorious RPG. In spite of the huge size of the book, the core system itself is very simple.  In the first place, there are no ability scores. There's only skills. Characters make skill rolls of a number of d10, but only keep the highest result; the rolls are based on the ranks they have in a skill, which range from 0-3 (if you have 0 ranks, you roll 2d10 but keep the lower result).  Success happens if you beat a difficulty number (rolling a 10 is a total success, which is sometimes special). Those are the basics, but the rules for mechanics, and especially combat, provide a lot of extra situations, conditions and details.

In combat, characters roll to hit, opposed by the other character's defensive value. These values are purchased the same way as other skills, but they are not rolled; rather added to set values to represent the difficulty number anyone attacking them needs to beat.  The character's level of Qi also contributes to his defensive values.
If they hit, they roll for damage against a character's "hardiness" skill. If they succeed, they do 1 wound (2 wounds if they rolled a 10). Starting characters usually have 3 wounds, so it doesn't take too many hits to be dropped, but of course, there's a lot of other stuff that can factor into the mix aside from the basics (for example, kung-fu techniques that help you defend against attacks).

All characters also have "Martial discipline ranks", which have four types: Wuxia (kung-fu), Qinggong (described as "lightness kung fu"), Neigong (internal kung fu), and Dianxue (pressure points).
They have Qi ranks (1 qi at character creation) and these are related to the "kung fu techniques" characters will have. Starting characters begin with six kung fu techniques. New techniques can be gained later, in play, but cannot be bought just by xp spending; they require the PC roleplay finding teachers or manuals they can learn these from.
One important detail is the "imbalance rating". It's equal to the highest ranking you have in Martial disciplines. So if you put one point in each discipline, your imbalance rating is 1. But if you put 3 points into a single discipline, your imbalance rating is 3.  This rating determines the difficulty for meditation techniques to avoid Qi spirit possession, and it determines the number of "imbalance" points if you use a Kung Fu technique "cathartically".  If you get too many imbalance points, you can end up being possessed by a Qi Spirit.

Skills are selected from "skill groups". There are six skill groups: defenses, combat, specialist, physical, knowledge and mental. Characters will choose two primary and four secondary groups.  Each group has a variety of skills associated with it, and characters get points to buy skills (twice as many for each primary group than for their secondary groups).  Many skills will have sub-skills which may have to be chosen and bought separately.
Also, many skills have various "expertises", which are specializations that, when purchased, give you an extra d10 under certain circumstances of using the skill (for example, the skill 'medium melee weapon' can have an expertise in one individual type of melee weapon).

It is recommended that PCs be human, and there are various cultural groups of humans available for play (wisely, with lists of names for each culture). However, if a GM wants to allow players to play non-humans, there are some to choose from. The Hechi are goat-like humanoids with a single unicorn-style horn; they can detect truths.  The Juren are four-armed giants who aren't very bright.  The Ouyan are people with three eyes who can sense emotions.  And the Kithiri are human-looking but have six different consciousnesses with six separate personalities.

Characters can also take 'flaws' which are disadvantages that in turn grant you an extra skill point.  I don't care for any system where players select disadvantages and get stuff in exchange, because it always tends to create a situation of hedging bets where players will try to get the flaw that they think will bother them the least in exchange for the most return; at least in this case there is a limit to how many you can get at character creation, and the value of the flaws are all uniform, which slightly reduces the min-maxing tendency of buying disadvantages.
I should note that at least the idea of randomly rolling flaws is included as an optional rule; it would be one that I'd obviously recommend.

There's one flaw in particular that stands out, because it doesn't count against your total, and if you take it gives you two skill points rather than one. This is the "Fated" flaw; it means that your character is destined for something; the GM will determine what they're destined for via a random roll, and the player won't know their fate (at least not at the start of the game).  At least, this particular flaw is both interesting and not entirely under the player's control, so it's an interesting touch.  Especially since the concept of "fate" is quite important to the setting.

Combat techniques can be selected at character creation, one of them, and more can be bought later on in the game for xp.  They are special moves, connected to offensive skills. Examples include "fists of steel", "blind swordsman", "drunken fighter", "from the shadows", "hefty crush", etc.

Another interesting detail in character creation is "reputation".  Every character has two descriptive terms for their reputation; the first is how people who admire and respect the PC see them, and the other is how enemies see them. There are situations where almost any reputation quality could be theoretically positive or negative in terms of the impressions it makes on NPCs. A character's repeated actions could end up changing their reputation; so for example a character who had a 'truthful' reputation and proceeds to break their word publicly several times might lose that in place of something like 'untrustworthy'.  There's one particular reputation, "poisoner" that if acquired will supplant both their reputation tags; using poison means friends and foes alike primarily think of you as a poisoner (feared, but highly dishonorable).

The GM section explains more details on Qi and Kung Fu techniques. This includes guidelines for the creation of new techniques. It also explains that Qi level can only be increased by gaining a certain level of experience and also by defeating an opponent of a higher qi level than your own. Characters skilled in Neigong can engage in "Qi duels" of fighting directly with Qi against each other.

XP is gained in the game by fulfilling certain conditions in each game session. If you beat a powerful foe in the session, you gain 1xp. If you advanced your reputation in the session, you gain 1xp. If you perform a great deed that in some way affects the setting, you gain 1xp.
Advancements are purchased through xp; you can get new techniques, new rituals, increase skills, or gain new combat techniques. The costs are variable depending on what you're buying and at what level.  My impression is that advancement is relatively slow, which is good for a long-term campaign.

The GM section also introduces a new mechanic: Karma. In the game, characters gain 'good' Karma from acts of altruism, filial piety, propriety, rite, wisdom and justice (the Confucian virtues, essentially).  The GM tracks PCs' karma, and it affects their relationship to higher beings, as well as their future rebirths.  In higher level "Profound Master and Immortal" play characters start to know their own karma scores because they are now aware of them.

Speaking of the latter, characters are normal heroes until up to Qi level 6. Some GMs may only wish to play up to that level, but beyond that there are the levels of Profound Master (Qi level 7-13) and Immortal (Qi level 13+).  These levels open you up to new super-wuxia techniques and abilities. Immortal level characters stop aging and if killed will quickly be reborn and age into adulthood, and can use celestial weapons.

Other material in the GM's section includes stuff on travel times, encounters, poison and disease (with lots of examples), army-scale battles, and even cricket-fights (for gambling purposes).

The chapter on Kung-fu Techniques is 64 pages long, and has literally hundreds of techniques (I lost count). They encompass pretty much any wuxia stunt or power you could ever imagine in any wuxia movie.
The list includes techniques for the four martial disciplines, plus special techniques, evil techniques, profound techniques and immortal techniques.  Each describes what the technique does, what skill is rolled to use it, what the special effects are when used cathartically, and the minimum Qi rank to use it.
I should clarify there are no "Qi points" or something like that. The Qi Rank tells you the minimum value you must have in Qi to be able to obtain the technique, but once you have it you can use it without having to keep track of any special resource, which I think is a good thing. Using a technique 'cathartically' makes it more powerful, but opens you up to the risk of imbalance and Qi Spirit possession. Some techniques are common, while some are secret and can only be obtained by certain means. The designers even put in a sidebar that notes explicitly that some techniques are more powerful than others of the same level, because this is emulative of the Wuxia genre.
All this does mean that if a player has the book and reads through it he'll find shitloads of ways to min-max and powergame. There's so many techniques that I can't say for sure whether some of them might not be to some extent game-breaking but it does seem that whatever techniques a character has, someone else could theoretically have ones that would be a counter to it.  Regardless, the whole thing puts a big onus on the GM to be careful not to make it too easy for a player to take undue advantage by knowing the mechanics out of character. The fact that you have to go find a way to learn the techniques, and can't just spend xp and declare you  have it, is at least a mitigating force.  If the GM really doesn't want to have a certain technique, he could just make it impossible to be found.  He should also presume that not all techniques would actually be known by the PCs, so he should shoot down players who are clearly acting from OOC knowledge (ie. looking at the rules to judge how good or bad a technique is and then going 'shopping' for it).

Next we have a chapter on rituals. These are divided into two types: rites and magic. Rites are more basic practices of the sort that in the real world you'd see in the Confucian/Taoist concepts. They might be done by everyone (and in some cases, must be performed as a question of duty, for example with Ancestor Worship). While magic rituals are more powerful ceremonies tapping into significant magical forces. These have a bigger result and bigger risks: if a character fails significantly when performing a magic ritual, they can gain a mental affliction. Magic rituals have a wide variety of uses, with many dealing with summoning spirit-beings or creating talismans.  There are also Qi Rituals, which are very powerful but will temporarily lower your Qi Rank when you perform them.

The equipment section has material on coinage, weapons, armor, mounts and transport, food and drink, general goods, everyday items, and alchemical material.
The listing of weapons is quite large and has pretty much every fancy kung-fu weapon you've ever seen in a movie, certainly including some that were probably more mythical than historical (like the "flying guillotine"). There's nice illustration pages that help you visualize them. The other sections are short but fairly complete. Some effort has been made to be accurate to the historical dynasty the setting is meant to be based on, for example in the book's approach to tea.

Next we get into a chapter on the world of the martial heroes, and the "Jianghu" (literally the land of rivers and lakes). I'll mention that this is a real term from Chinese culture, a term that originated from the times that Confucian scholars were sent out into exile from court, to the distant hinterlands of the Empire. It is a term that's significant in ancient Chinese poetry.  But in the context of Wuxia, it refers to the more ephemeral 'borderland world' of martial artists, outlaws, and other marginalized people of dubious stature.
The chapter details the established sects of the setting, which are split into the orthodox (you could say 'respectable') sects, and the unorthodox (less respectable or legitimate) sects. Sects are detailed by their leadership, allies, enemies, general number of members, history, beliefs, reputation, and the techniques they train people in. Illustrations also show the outfits worn by members of different sects. The sects are each quite different from each other, and quite inspired both by history and by martial arts stories. A special section is devoted to 'strange cults and secret sects', which are I guess even more unorthodox than the unorthodox sects.

The next section after that is on the larger world of Qi Xien itself. We get a nice series of maps of the setting in different eras, and sections on the historical eras of the setting. Then we have a section on the religions and cosmology of the setting. These are not precisely like the belief systems of China but each are similar to them: Confucianism, Taoism, the Kuan Yin sect, and Buddhism. We also get an overview of core philosophical/cosmological concepts like the Mandate of Heaven, the different spiritual realms, the "five dragons and five phoenixes" (which are somewhat based on the real-life Chinese concept of the Wuxing, established by the School of Yin and Yang), a list of the important spirits and immortals, and some foreign deities.
We also get a description of some of the core moral values of the culture, cribbed right from traditional Chinese culture; and of the concept of Fate, and the wuxia code. Also a variety of details on customs and traditions. There's lots more: the calendar and zodiac, information on the imperial bureaucracy and military, city life, clans, prostitution, restaurants, agriculture, clothing, architecture, taxes, weddings and funerals, laws, and punishment. In short, just about anything you'd need to make the setting come alive in an authentic-seeming way.
There are some parts that aren't taken right from the Song, but rather are anachronisms of things that either wouldn't be a big part of the culture until later, or that were from earlier periods in Chinese history. But this is basically a historian's nitpicking.

This is followed up by a geographical overview of the world as it exists in the present-day of the setting. This section is accompanied by a modern map of the setting, done in hex-map style (a nice touch!), plus regional maps, city maps, and some floorplan/dungeon-style-plans.

In the course of 56 pages, you get a breakdown of the structure and political powers of the Empire, the other states, key areas, cities, etc.  Also you get a larger breakdown of the Banyan region (the borderland hotbed of the martial artists and their sects), with important areas.  Some temples, secret headquarters, tombs, and such are detailed with floorplans and area descriptions. Some NPCs are detailed with statistics. It's very thorough.
The subsequent NPC section details a large number of the important NPCs of the setting. Likewise, "Threats and monsters" contains a variety of statblocks for different human foes, from ordinary guards to sect masters, wild animals, monsters, and a colorful variety of demons.

The magic items section has a variety of swords, other weapons, secret manuals, talismans, and other objects of power. Each comes with a descriptive detail and mechanical effects. There's a decent selection of 38 objects.

The Gamemaster section goes on to provide guidance to the GM on a variety of topics. For starters, on the nature of Wuxia as a genre. In the text, whoever wrote it (Brendan Davis, I'm presuming) demonstrates a very advanced knowledge of Wuxia and the Chinese concepts that inform it. He's able to correctly assert that a lot of the impressive feats from Wuxia films aren't just invented for cinematic impact, but rather are based on traditional ideas from folk tales and mythology about Qi powers from advanced masters. He gives a good explanation of Qinggong (lightness kung fu) and Neigong (internal kung fu that works with Qi directly). He also gives short but good descriptions of some of the key genre elements of Wuxia stories. The section includes a large bibliography of history books and sources, as well as a huge list of Kung Fu movies and TV shows for inspiration.

Then the section moves to revealing some of the hidden truths of the setting, stuff that the GM should know but the player characters would not know at the beginning. In it, he explains what Ogre Gate is about, why the setting's ultimate deity is female (when in Chinese culture it was always male), how the current (evil) emperor has been alive for so long, and other secrets.  There's also information about gender roles in the setting. Then we get into the section on Fate; this includes a random table for characters who took the "fated" flaw, as well as the fate of a whole PC party.  There's also a section on the importance of Luck, which is just as significant in the setting (and Chinese culture) as Fate, and how these two seemingly contradictory forces interact.
Then it moves on to more pedestrian material, like travel and encounters (including encounter tables), and guidlines to managing play and designing adventures (again, there are some very  helpful random tables for adventure inspiration). There's even a very decent section on how to make a "Wuxia dungeon", that fits the dungeon scheme but adds a Kung-fu movie style to it. Longer-term campaign play is also covered, including random tables for future events, and rules for managing different NPCs and NPC power groups.

The last actual chapter of the book, covering about 20 pages, is an adventure (titled "Ghosts From the Ashes"). Meant for a starting or low-level party, that will be good for introducing new players to the nature of the setting and game, the adventure deals with the PC group being offered a contract by a "Lady Tao" from the "Emerald Security Company" to investigate the death of an engineer and his daughter.  Investigation leads to the revelation that the news of their deaths may just be premature, and leads them to a sect called the Golden Grotto Academy.  I won't go into more detail than that so as not to produce any spoilers. I do think that the adventure as a whole will end up certainly getting the PCs thoroughly familiarized with adventuring in the game.

The appendices include quick reference tables for Kung-fu techniques, a glossary of important titles and offices and list of current rulers of the different regions, a guide to using Kung-fu techniques in the related Sertorius RPG, and a description of the different realms.

The closing pages include character sheets, NPC sheets, and a complete set of worksheets for a lunar calendar to keep track of campaign time.

So what to say about Ogre Gate? It's frankly magnificent. It's easily the most complete and authentic Chinese-setting fantasy RPG I've ever seen, probably rivaled only by Qin, which is more historical but has less variety and detail at the "wuxia genre" level.  You can really tell the spectacular level of knowledge the designers had with both Chinese culture/history and with (especially) Wuxia themed literature and film.
The system, while having a few details that are not my own personal preferences in RPG mechanics, is easy to learn and handle, and (mostly) avoids the pitfalls you sometimes see with things like dice-pool systems or the type of character-generation mechanics you see here.

If you're looking for a martial-arts-action RPG, you pretty much have to pick up Ogre Gate. It takes the genre to a whole other level.


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Virginia

Friday, 21 April 2017

Break Friday: Pepe the Frog!

Today on Break, everything you always wanted to know about Pepe the Frog, but were too afraid of being called a racist to ask!

Is Pepe really a White Power racist symbol?

Is he just good fun?

Or is Pepe actually an ancient god re-awakened by the processing power and chaos-magic randomness of the internet? 

Plus, why Pepe helped Donald Trump win the election. 

As always, if you liked the article please share it!


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Canadian + Image Latakia