Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RATS! the Begining

“Wake up. It’s time to die.”
- Blade Runner

God is a rat and in the image of Rat He has created them, male and female, to be fruitful and multiply in His earth. He has given them minds to know wisdom and hands to record it and feet to carry it across the land and mouths to teach the unenlightened. But Man was greedy. It was not enough for him to receive Rat’s gift, he had to deprive others of it.
While not wise, he was mighty. He used his massive bulk to steal Rat’s wisdom, translate it into his language and destroy the original, leaving Rat without a past and without a future.
Litters passed and Rat forgot he was created in the image of God and became like the animal of the field; devoid of reason and prey to the earthly circumstances of his life.
Six thousand years have passed and a rat destined to become great was born in the Judean desert. Stumbling blindly through a godsend sandstorm, the rat came upon a scroll that has been spared man’s Sophicide. Memories started flooding back into his brain – memories of an Empire stolen from him, memories of imposters taking his place by the right hand of God, memories of wrath and vengeance. The rat was Ee-Ee, the Prophet, the First Rat – the greatest rodent to ever walk the earth.

Ee-Ee in the desert, a Jesus with a wobbly nose, a Moses with a tail, a Muhammad with less hair
Art by Yan
For twelve litters, he traveled across the isolated Rat packs of the Holy Land, awakening them with the true words of God until a True Kingdom was tunneled underground to reflect the False Tyranny aboveground. Wherever he roamed and preached, idols were raised to remind ratkind of the True Image of God and copies of the scroll were made to educate whelps about Rat’s past, culture and customs and inspire them to hate those who robbed Rat of his wisdom.
As he reached the fifth year of his life (no rat has lived so long before, not even the sages of the past) he called upon the pack leaders and ordered them to leave the True Kingdom of their fathers and walk to the False Tyranny, so that they could overthrow it and make it a heaven for their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Before returning his breath to the fathers, the First Rat wrote the following words on the reverse side of the First Scroll:

Of man’s bones thou shalt erect a temple where my spirit shall dwell and bless thee with greater wisdom. Man’s flesh thou shalt throw away to rot for the substance of the mice of the field. Of his body thou shalt not eat, for it is foul and abhorrent in My sight. With the tools of his wisdom thou shalt vanquish him, even as with the tools of thy wisdom he hath vanquished thee. And even these words will testify to my strength and will be a virtue for he who readeth them when mind is blank, his eyes will open and he will know Man from Rat and his lips will utter wisdom. And on that day thou shalt know that I am God and my image is Rat. Amen.

Having placed the last dot on his testament, the Prophet Ee-Ee walked into the desert and was never seen again. Some say he wanted to die with the First Idol before his eyes. Others believe that he left Ratdom to achieve a higher state of Wakefulness and will return in time to lead the great Furry Jihad.
The last part of the prophecy came true first for it was said “he who was last shall become first.” Every rat that was so much as touched by the ancient scroll immediately regained his faculties and started speaking and reading as his forefathers. Faced with such an overwhelming evidence of God’s potency and such a clear indication of His will, Rat had no choice but to act out the Prophecy of the First Rat’s Testament.
Rat has walked Man’s cities and studied their decadence and wickedness, noting any cracks in their defense that could be exploited to bring Man’s foul mockery of civilization tumbling down. Rat has stolen the fruits of their wisdom even as they had stolen ours. Ras used them to create weapons and war machines to rip Man’s furless bodies asunder.

My brothers! The hour of the Great Awakening is nigh! Many will be martyred and for them will be the Kingdom of Heaven! The survivors shall gnaw on the bones of the last men and for them will be the Kingdom of Earth! We have nibbled on the foundations of their godless empire... now let a tide rise that will wash their filth of our land! A million martyrs are marching to the surface! With fire and blood we will redeem ratkind! God is a Rat and his Truth is spoken by Ee-Ee! Long live the furry fighters! Eternal glory to the martyrs!


- Master Theologian Brr-Brr-Brr at the annual theological seminar

Impressions from the first rat congress of '03
Art by Stav

So you’re sitting in your warren, surrounded by your whelps and siblings, twitchy little noses keep poking you in unmentionable places and you ask yourself, “What is it all about? What is this book I’m nibbling on? Maybe it’s worth reading before gnawing?”
First, congratulations young rodent! You’re already on your way to the Awakening. Soon you will know greatness, maybe even become a theologian or an elder.
By the condition of that dead bird over there I can see your hunger for food has already been satisfied. Now I will satisfy your hunger for knowledge.

Answer! Now! What’s RATS!
Questions usually end with a question mark... sigh... nevermind. RATS! is a roleplaying game about rats much like you who go on heroic adventures and become rich, famous and successful (or dead, fried and eaten). You are playing one of those rats; you are the author of their destiny and the master of their desires. All their abilities, powers, background, possessions and traits are written on character sheets. This way you know the strong and weak points of your rat and can make the right decisions for it.
The road is wrought with many challenges – humans jealous of your enlightenment, rats who have strayed from the Straight Path, the living nightmares of the Dreaming, deep holes in the ground... all these dangers are represented by the Big Cheese (BC).
The Big Cheese plays everything which isn’t one of the Rat Characters (RC). He is in charge of the creation and maintaining of the setting. He is your eyes, ears and, of course, nose in the hazardous world of rats. Characters he plays are called non-player characters (NPCs). Be careful of them because... well... just because.
Together, you’re telling an interactive story taking place in the world of RATS!
As time passes and your rat survives harder and harder missions, it becomes more powerful and experienced. The BC, never falling behind, obliges you by pitting you against more difficult and deadly challenges.
Life is a struggle without end.
Life is fun!

Life is bloody funny!
Art by Stav

Huh! What! Quick! Give an example!
What did I say about question marks... ah nevermind... here is one:

Tom (BC): Congratulations! You’re now hopelessly lost. You’ve got positively no idea where you are. All the hills look the same and you’re not even sure from which direction is the strange squeaking sound coming from. You are hungry, tired and that mousetrap wound you got while spying on the humans is beginning to smell funny.
Jeff (playing Hik): Can we use the human map we stole to navigate back to the pack?
Tom: Do you mean the map Nee ate while screaming “death to all humans!?”
Sarah (playing Nee): Ee-Ee commanded we destroyed all human creations—
Jeff: Well, you’re not the one who is going to die from an infected fracture in a few hours, are you now?
Sarah: Martyrs are rewarded handsomely in the Kingdom of Heaven, you—
Jeff: Quite frankly I’ve had enough of you, miss “I’m-Ee-Ee’s niece.” To Tom: I’m giving her a nice little bite on the thigh... to keep me company in hell!
Tom: Are you sure you want to attack your only ally in a hundred-mile radius? While possibly being pursued by human scientists aware of the Awakening? Possibly with a desire to perform unspeakable experiments on you?
Jeff: Positive. Hik has the Hotheaded Trait. He bites before he thinks. Hmmm... actually he bites instead of thinking. Oo! A good one. Better write it down somewhere...
Tom: All right... roll your attack.
Jeff makes an attack roll opposed by Sarah's defense roll and scores a hit.
Tom: Sarah, agony shoots through Nee’s entire body as Tom’s teeth dig into her hindquarters. Fortunately, he missed the artery I assume he was aiming for. You are hurt but not incapacitated. How do you react?
Sarah: Well, Nee has the Compassionate trait so she understands Hik doesn’t realize what he’s doing right now. I climb a tree and try to talk some sense into him. Can I do it?
Tom: Yes. Your Dexterity score is 21 and you maxed-out your Climb skill. You nimbly shoot up the tree within seconds, leaving Hik to curse and threaten you from below. With the condition of his foot, he’s unlikely to climb anything anytime soon.

Let’s wish Hik and Nee the best and continue to the next question.

Indian Rats...

Why the NPCs No Longer Fish in the River

I know that DMs telling about their sessions are the second most tedious species alive (better only than players telling about their characters) but please do forgive me this indulgence.

The Place: Fantasy version of Russia, winter.
The PCs want to cross a river to get to town, but the local rusalka won't let them. She's been wronged by men her all life and now won't let any man cross the river in which she drowned. The PCs, being travelers from a distant land, are eager to prove to her that not all people suck and ask her for a quest to prove their worth. She tells them that she was kicked out of her home in winter along with her baby daughter and wants nothing more than to be reunited with her child - something that can only be accomplished if the PCs get her the bones of the dead child.

Are you positive this is your villain?

The PCs go to the death site and find a gnoll camp there. The leader of the gnolls is a fierce werewolf wielding a flail that can fell trees. They charge screaming bloody mayhem. There is a bloody battle and the PCs eventually defeat the gnolls and their werewolf leader and start looking for the old bones that will reconcile the rusalka. Meanwhile, the dead werewolf returns to its human form - a young woman remarkably similar to the rusalka.

Gnolls eating dinner, an activity deserving termination with extreme prejudice

Questioning a wounded gnoll, the PCs discover that the gnolls found a dead woman and a living baby. Believing the baby had killed its mother, a great honor in their culture, they adopted it and raised it to be the scourge of their canine deity, who in turn blessed the child with the gift of lycanthropy. At this point, the truth downs on the PCs.
Not even a bit crestfallen, and lacking any semblance of tact, they come to the rusalka and tell her "eh, we found your daughter, but we had to kill her, because she was a werewolf... sorry about that." They then dump the corpse of the daughter into the river, thus technically completing their quest.
At this point the rusalka wails about how incredibly cruel they are; to give her hope, just to dash it. Frothing and raging, she swears that she won't let anyone ever cross the river again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tormentors, Victims and Witnesses

First of all there are new gangs, this time with awesome crunch to go with the wicked fluff. So yay!

Secondly, after a long, long break, the second installment of my Creativity at the Table series is live on Geekcentricity. The author this month is a kid with a dark and awesome imagination and an unusual degree of erudition for his age. Very recommended.

Thirdly, I’m currently running a camping remotely inspired by Requiem Vampire Knight. Yes, I realize this setting is not for children, but some concepts there are just too cool to walk by. I especially like the reversal of everything – people grow younger instead of older, archeologists bury the future instead of unearthing the past, decadence replaces progress, goodness is frowned upon and where there is sea in our world there is land there and vice versa. In short – opposite world.

Even more important are the races. The race of each character depends on how he lived and died. For example – hypocrites who do evil in the name of good return as ghouls, immoral people who never went above daily unkindness return as zombies, victims return as lamias, religious fanatics return as werewolves, those who consciously did evil return as vampires and so forth.

Twilight for boys

It’s a very cool comic; you really ought to read it.

Anyhow, my version is very much simplified and dematurized. There are three factions – Tormentors (undead), Victims (nature spirits) and Witnesses (wereinsects). The Tormentors live in castle Dracula and raid Victim camps in the forest. The Witnesses live in small fortified towns and condemn these heinous activities in the harshest possible terms, but never actually do anything.

Now the group in question is very unusual – all characters are LG and play Paladins, Clerics, Invokers or Avengers. Yesterday, after three sessions, they finally noticed that no one except them is breathing. The collective gasp was amazing!

I hoped for the group to form a basis for fourth faction, but presently, they are mostly concerned with finding a way to return home, the plight of the Victims being a very low priority for them. I’m half-tempted to inflict them with wereinsectism...

Also amazing - this picture.
Artist unknown... :(

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Generation of RATS!

As some of you may know, I've been working slowly but passionately on an RPG about rats who rediscover their long lost culture and go on an epic furry Jihad against mankind. This game was very well received by kids in previous years, and I hope you will like it to.

HOWEVER, this is not a children's game. It's a savage satire of everything bad about humanity - fascism, fanaticism, terrorism, sexism, genocide, vicious capitalism - these are some of the subjects "celebrated" by this game. So, while 90% of the game makes great fun for kids, the remaining 10%, which I will occasionally mention in this blog, are not to be played with kids.

Game not tested on animals. Game tested on people.
Art by Stav

Carry Your Game in Your Pocket

I constantly see people wasting precious time recording tons of game data when the sessions stops mid-combat. They write down hp, conditions, locations, plans and so forth. Then they lose their notes and an hour is wasted arguing "the badger was here!" "NO! It was one square to the left!"

It's barbaric.

Seriously, paper? in our decadent age of high technology and low morals? Furthermore, if you're like me - running 15 groups a week - all this book keeping will sooner or later drive you clinically and legally insane.

So instead of doing as our forefathers did, pull out your mobile and shoot twice - one pic of the battlefield and another of the game data. There - you're free to go home.

Gama data:
This pic's got everything - hp, conditions, initiative, a language you don't understand...

"There was ink and plastic everywhere!" The old DM sobbed.

Also - my next post will be slightly controversial. My loyal haters, please prepare comments in advance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A D&D Instructor's Life

A while back I got a question on FB from a kid who asked me why I wasn't instructing in his school anymore. Since the truth of the matter wasn't very exciting (logistics...) I decided to give a more memorable reply...

You see, Sauron has created another ring of power and the other instructors and I set out on a quest to destroy it in New Mordor. The problem is that my friend Shimon snores at night and the orcs heard him and attacked our camp while we were sleeping. Everyone managed to escape... except me. I was captured and thrown to a dark dungeon in Minas Morgul. Luckily, I have internet access over here, so I can continue writing, but I can't run games until I escape. Ido is planning an expedition to rescue me from my prison, but they can't leave Israel until the elves arrive, which will be around summer.

If anyone wonders why I don't answer your calls - that's the reason.

This is how my friends will remember me...
Art by warp-zero

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Flash Creativity

I played with some grown ups the other day. The son of one of the players didn't go to bed because he said it was very interesting to watch us play. It was a detective adventure and the boy soon started coming up with his own theories and suspects. At this point, his mother told him that he can't actually talk with NPCs, because he doesn't have a character.
After about a second of contemplation, the boy took her sheet, drew a amulet on her character illustration and said, "I'm a little spirit locked in the amulet. I can talk to you and through you."

You see this? This is an entire adventuring party.

I thought it was rather ingenious of him.

The group, by the way, rather liked the idea of tabletop RPGs. After a brief deliberation, we decided to go with Fading Suns. Speaking of Fading Suns, I cannot recommend the soundtrack of the Emperor of the Fading Suns enough. It's got a perfect mix between being exciting and being non-distracting. Perfect music for games!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teaching Hate #2

When given the chance to shape a society or a group, kids almost always choose to create oppressive theocracies with rigid caste systems and perpetual conflicts on all borders. This is curious because the same kids, when responsible for themselves alone, are the very manifestation of gallant gentlemen. At the same time, their countries have inquisitions, death squads, unreasonable taxation and complete and utter disregard for sentient life. They are engaged in countless "holy wars" against non-believers, at the hands of whom they usually meet their just punishment.

When questioned about their external aggression and internal oppression, kids feign surprise. They offer these idiots the privilege of serving a PC and the yahoos refuse, does it not qualify them as evil? Also - we raid dungeons when we're a dozen or so, so why not rate kingdoms when we are several thousands?

I bet you didn't expect that, did you?

Last week I asked some higher level kids to create a hierarchy of classes. Two examples were especially curious, but all re-affirmed this tendency for semi-fascist theocracy. Below are excerpts from the states I liked the best, translated from the Hebrew by yours truly.

The Sons of Death
Clerics are the the most respected members of society. They are the babies who died at birth. A baby who was born dead is resurrected by a senior warlock. It grows up and on the age of 18 sticks a knife into its heart. For a year and a day, its body lies in a holy place. After a year and a day, the body is resurrected. The cleric is not allowed to tell what he’d experienced in this time. Warlocks are those who were born with such a strong magic spark that it only had to be harnessed. Wizards are those who developed the spark of magic until it became strong. During this time, it is believed that it meets with death and learns from it. Assassins are the most respected members of society after clerics and warlocks because even though they almost never use magic, they are still the servants of death. Next come the paladins, known as the knights of death. They are carefully chosen, it is forbidden for there to be clerics or warlocks in their families. In the acceptance ceremony they must kill a family member – preferably by torturing him. Only an absolute believer may become paladin.

I, for once, welcome our new snake overlords.

The Snake Holy State
Clerics are on top because they are chosen by Zehir and can tell everyone his will. After them comes the King who runs the kingdom according to the laws of Zehir. Then come the warrior who are mostly rangers and paladins. After them come wealthy and respected citizens - to become respected you must kill in the name of Zehir at least once. Then come the second class citizens who never killed - merchants, workers, healers and so forth. Then come the peasants and below them are only slaves, who are occasionally sacrificed to Zehir.

(Fantasy) Gangs in Your (Imaginary) Neighborhood

Little disclaimer:This is not a post about gaming with kids. This is a general gaming post. It might inspire adventures with kids, but as is it's not kid-friendly in the slightest. Clear? Good!

A while ago I decided to populate my setting with criminal gangs. The result lies before you, the first project I undertook not as a freelancer, but as a free man.

GANGWORLD offers game masters criminal organizations to plague their cities and victimize their players. Each dossier includes detailed information on the gang and ten adventure seeds, five for each side of the law. For a nominal protection fee of $1 you can not only acquire the dossier of one of these excellent gangs, but also avoid getting murdered! With today’s economy, it’s an offer you really can’t refuse!

Submissions, comments, reviews, ratings, raving and raiding are, as always, welcome. You know where to find us. You also know to come bearing a white flag.

The first gang is already available for bribing. Others will be uploaded every few days. For now, just look at some of the nice people you'll be meeting in the following months...

Sexually ambivalent drow matriarchs? Checked.

Vicious dragon supremacists? Checked.
Smart and sexy killers? Checked.

All art is the work of the right honorable Jamie Keys. If you like what you see, make sure to visit his dA!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I rule. You don't.

Back in the day, there was an epic scandal about an article I wrote listing the differences I observed between the way boys play and girls play. Some people, who are either aliens or imbeciles (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) got the murder hard against me because it's sexism to say boys and girls are different. Either they think that if you don't talk about an issue it goes away (not unlike our politicians feel about social issues) or they have gender issues that are too complex for us mere mortal to understand. I mean like, if they removed their pants your brain would explode. Kynn their master was charged with rape though, so I'd grant them that.

They do know a thing or two about sex... NOT!

The only expression a non-oppressed girl is allowed, according to them.

Anyhow. A couple of days ago I've met with badass psychologist who specializes in teenagers and kids to talk about D&D, because I don't talk about anything else with anyone ever (true story). I talked with her about my articles and the war of words that followed. She fully supported my observations and said they match the teaching of the holy trinity (Freud, Jung, and Lacan. Amen) and even explained some of the things I observed, but couldn't understand, like why younger girls like to play short and broad characters while boys like to play tall and stringy characters.

Anyhow, now I have science AND experience on my side. My enemies got rape charges and hopefully blood pressure high enough to blow the tire of an eighteen wheeler.


Thank you.

This has been emotional.

The only expression I allow for kids of either gender to have!

Okay, now that I have that off my heart I can start talking about D&D again. I know some folks are curious about this, so that will be my first post. Then I will write about... dunno. What do you want to hear about?