Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Table Talk

For those who missed it, there is a table talk section in this blog. In it I collect funny things said by players (young and old) during games. If you have any funnies you'd like to share, you know where to find me. For now, some old LOLz to warm the heart and uplift the spirit:

Concerned mother: My son said he likes LARPs because you get to really kill people...
Way to promote the hobby young gamers! :D

DM: Ravenloft is a world that sucks villains into it and creates special domains for them. There is a domain for Lord Soth, a Domain for Strahd, a--
Kid: Is there a domain for George Bush?

Kid goes away looking for treasure in the middle of a pitched battle.
Kid 1: What are you doing?! Stay here and fight!
Kid 2: I am fighting. Against greed. And losing...

Kid 1 walks into a room and sees a female githyanki cleaning her sword.
Kid 2: Don't be afraid of her, she's a girl; she can't be too strong.
Githyanki attacks him and deals an absurd amount of damage.
Kid 2: Errr... we'll tell everyone a male githyanki kicked your ass.

Kid 1: Oh cruel world!
Kid 2: The world is not cruel, it's the DM who is cruel.

We few, we happy few, we band of gamers.

DM: Your 21-hp back stab barely scratches the brooding warlock. "For this audacity," he speaks coldly as he stands from his throne, "I shall bestow you with the crown of madness!"
Kid 1: Yay! I'm getting a magic item!
Kid 2: You're getting a magic item in the same way getting a +5 arrow through the neck is getting a magic item.

Kid 1: This troll is too tough. I'm out of here.
Kid 2: Unless you want to run with my arrow in your head, you'll stay here and fight!
Kid 1: God! I hate lawful evil characters!

DM: In the alignment clause, you've written "to kill."
Kid: Yes, no alignment in the book was evil enough for me.

Kid 1 (playing a warforged): Why doesn't anybody love me!
Kid 2: Because you're running on Microsoft Vista. If you ran on Linux everybody would love you.

Kid: I stab him in the guts and twist the knife, with my other hand I gauge his--
Teacher walks in and looks stunned.
Kid (slightly embarrassed): It's, eh, a game of the imagination...

And some from the old timers...

Player 1: I have things holier than you coming out of my butt!
Player 2: You're not the bringer of holy shit!

Player 1 (explaining why she killed someone): He called me a whore! That's offensive!
Player 2: Unless you consider yourself a whore...

Player: How much damage do 40 rifles do? Never mind, the problem is the Concentration skill check... (last words)

NPC: My dungeon was designed to stop fools and weaklings.
Player (after passing through the dungeon): Well, it failed!
NPC (examining the PCs with disgust): I see...

Player: Wood... doesn't burn that well... (after being told his fireball set his village on fire)

Player 1: All right, that's it - I'm inviting this mother-fucker to DINNER.
Player 2: Oh, Jesus. We need to TALK to him, not kill him.
Player 3: You guys kill everyone you have dinner with?
Player 1: Statistically, yes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seventeen Stories. All Told.

I'm taking a break from my cheerful suicide post series, to say a few words about a very awesome fantasy anthology I had the honor to be included in - Dreams in Shadow.

As I stated earlier this year, I've decided to stop freelancing for other companies and to try to make my own fortune in the world (or any other world that will have me). The first step in this direction was Gangworld, which a gaming supplement, and the second step is Dreams in Shadow, an anthology of historical, urban and second world fantasy fiction from a group of other game designers and writers who, like me, decided to go rogue. The name is Monumental Works Group, and it's got some really, really awesome people in it.

We surprised the cover in the shower. Poor cover...

I have contributed two stories to this anthology:
"Juan and Noli'quanava" is a low-fantasy, high-drama story inspired by Christopher Columbus accounts of the New World and an old Jewish ballad. Spanish Conquistadors capture an all-female Native American tribe. One native has a plan, but will it work?
"Nice Girl in Sodom" is part of my story cycle of fantasy adventures in modern Israel. It's got biblical giants, gangsters, a cheerful tourist with a secret, an artifact of unimaginable power, and holes that lie in hiding, waiting for the right time to jump right under you! And the best part - it's all true!

There are fifteen other stories - Greek and Persian fantasy, magic hidden in the slums of the US, an obscene and awesome bland of sci-fi and fantasy, and other stuff. I'm really happy to be part of this.

That is all, god speed, merry gentlemen!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Doctor Suicide

I wrote this little essay a couple of years ago. Now I share it:

I must admit I haven’t seen a single episode of Doctor Who before I visited England in the summer of ’09. While there, I stayed with two friends whose living-room-turned-my-bedroom was no less than a temple to Doctor Who, with long lines of DVDs lining the walls and a couple of Daleks standing guard by my sofa-bed. One evening I reached a blind hand to probe the floor for something to read before bed, felt something glossy and, guess what, fished out a Doctor Who Magazine. With Tom Baker and a couple of Daleks staring at me, I realized that unless I wanted to be exterminated, I had to give the show a decent examination.

My hosts were only too eager to oblige – beginning lightly with the Doctor-lite episode Blink and from there introducing me to the Daleks and the Master. My first impression from the show was ambivalent; I enjoyed it, and yet I felt that something wasn’t quite right. In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, I decided that as soon as I returned home and was safely removed from the evil of the Daleks, I would give the show a proper viewing and establish an independent opinion, free from 40 years of cultural influence and the judgmental stare of Tom Baker.

There's a team every PC would love to play against!

As a fanatic gamer and freelance RPG writer, the first thing that appealed to me about the show were its originality and ingenuity when inventing monsters and villains– the quantum angels from “Blink”, Lady Cassandra from “The End of the World,” the Abzorbaloff from “Love and Monsters” and many others. Man... if not for a little thing called “copyright infringement,” I would use every single one of those in my adventures. They are just brilliant!

Another strong aspect of the show was the acting – by Eccleston (whom I already adored from “Revenger’s Tragedy”) and Tennant both who delivered very interesting characters, full of chutzpah and a patronizing sense of justice on the one hand, but also incredibly lovable and even enviable (even among us, the inventors of the chutzpah) on the other.

Now read the last two paragraphs again, because this is the last of the positive comments you are going to see in this article. Ladies and gentlemen and Daleks, prepare to meet the dark side of Doctor Who!

From the beginning of the second series, there was something that really annoyed me and that I couldn’t quite pinpoint – yes, there were many plot holes, deux ex machina solutions and a great amount of story recycling, but these are all unavoidable in a show this long. Then it hit me – the show repeatedly advocates suicide as a way to solve problems!

But please, before you I hear a strange repeating mechanical panting followed by an angry knock on my door, or perhaps a serrated raging voice yelling “Untrue! Untrue! Untrue!” allow me to elaborate;

First of all, the show preaches for “suicide solutions,” even more than the most vehement extremist imam. In the writers’ desire to have as many characters as possible sacrifice their lives for the good cause (aka “kill themselves”), they seem to haven thrown common sense out of the window. The optimum of this campaign of extermination was during the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” when a humanoid fish that spent its whole life fighting humans bent on the complete genocide of its race had drowned itself to save a human female it met by chance about twenty minutes ago. Wait! What? A FISH had DROWNED itself? Does it even make any sense?! As much this physically absurd, the ethics behind this action are even stranger; the nameless fish was not sacrificing itself to save its race or its friends or even a large group of people – it traded its life to save one perfect stranger. This is the equivalent of you spotting a shootout between two gangs and running to its midst in hopes of catching a bullet meant for... someone.

The crime: solicitation of suicide

But let us return to our main point, which is the writers’ blatant disregard for human life. While the doctor values human life above all, an admirable quality in someone who is basically an alien naturalist visiting a new environment, everyone else seems to value it somewhat less than a morning muffin. Carrying out a suicide operation of one sort or the other seems to almost always be the first solution attempted. Because killing yourself is never the result of prolonged and painstaking deliberations, but simply an element of normal human interaction, the amount of suicides in the show is simply staggering.

Some episodes go so far as to cram in more than one suicide, making the Doctor’s journey feel more like a game of Lemmings than a sci-fi adventure. An especially guilty party in that regard was the Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned” that featured no less than three suicides, possibly due to the fact that a suicide occurs on average every twenty minutes in the Doctor’s life and the episode lasted for about an hour.

Of these suicides the first one is a classic – the grotesque red dwarf is nobly sacrificing his life to save the belle-de-jour he loves and his companions. Fair enough.

Then we have the fat woman suicide-killing the robotic angel who threatens the people who just minutes ago failed to save her beloved husband. One could argue that since she already has him bound and standing on a wracked bridge strewn with massive planks, it would have been equally effective to tie him to one of those planks and then push it down. But then, one could also argue that she was traumatized by the loss of her husband whose death really was just a tragic accident or that bending down to tie a rope to a piece of metal might have been too much trouble compared to simply jumping into a flaming inferno. O.K. We’ll let it pass too.

But then we have the lovely Astrid carrying out a suicide attack, more or less identical to the infamous Jerusalem bulldozer attack of July 2, 2008, against the episode’s villain. And that really pushed me over the edge!

While it may seem as a noble act of self-sacrifice done to save the Doctor and the population of the Earth, it is important to note that the Doctor, with his sonic screwdriver and superhuman intellect, seems to be more than capable of dealing with any mechanical threat... unless there is someone handy nearby to die for him. Examples are endless – the wood woman from “The End of the World,” the formerly villainous Lady Cassandra in “New Earth,” the again formerly villainous Luke Rattigan in “Poison Sky”, River Song in the “Forest of the Dead,” Sky in “Midnight,” Harriet Jones (you know who she is...) in “The Stolen Earth...” the writers of the show seem to employ more suicide-solvers than Osama Bin-Laden!

Even he...

The Doctor himself, no hypocrite he, repeatedly tries to sacrifice himself to solve various problems despite being a unique, 900 year old creature with no particular stake at any specific place or period. He never succeeds in it, however, because there is always someone nearby even more eager to die. Now honestly; how many of you are willing to sacrifice their lives after a proper volunteer has already been found, just so that he won’t have to? Seriously, it’s not a rhetoric question – how many? You can comment below - maybe I’m the only one around here who would rather drink a cup of hot chocolate than jump out of a fast moving train while hugging a monstrous alien?

Despite not conducting any serious scientific researchers on the issue, I will assume most viewers of the show don’t actually dream of being microwaved by the Daleks which begs the question: what is the lesson to be learned here? That we live only to kill ourselves in the right moment? That nothing works unless someone dies to make it work? That suicide is something everyone should aspire to? That the ideal man is a hybrid of Jesus Christ and a Kamikaze? I don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say the writers are preparing the ground for the first great English Jihad or maybe trying to raise the next cwack suicide squad...

Friday, December 9, 2011

The People vs. the Bullies and the Teachers

I watched tonight's Big Bang Theory episode about bullies (a shameful and disgusting affair) and this got me thinking, or rather, reminiscing, about bullying in schools. When I was in kindergarten, all the other kids picked on me because I was the only Russian there. One day, many kids encircled me and threw sand in my face. Blind with rage, I picked up a tube and smashed it with all my strength into the face of the first kid I saw. In the first grade, still the only Russian and also chubby now, I went up to an empty classroom on the second floor and threw chairs down at kids who were mean to me that day, didn’t hit any of the bastards but gave them a decent run for their money.

They asked me to go to a different school next year. In the second and third grades, there was another Russian in school and we got into fights with the Moroccan gang almost daily. It was war and we were an army of two - compensating small numbers with cunning. Eventually they learned - nerds or not - you don't fuck with Russians. Whenever I returned from school, my grandma would ask me, "Did you remember to kick? Your legs are your strongest weapon." And I kicked, oh how I kicked, and threw tables and choked and never shied from picking up a stick or playing some dirty trick with my friend and ally.

Bullies become bullies because the system and the other kids support them

By fourth grade, being Russian stopped being an unforgivable crime and the rest of my childhood was mostly peaceful.

Looking back, my early childhood looks like war. In war you can be either fighter or victim. There is no middle ground. And do you know why I could be a fighter? Because I had the moral support of my family, and of one true friend who wasn’t there just for the fun bits.

I think kids who're bullied are not weak or cowardly. They just don't have a strong back, betrayed by their family and the system, robbed of the tools a person needs to protect himself from those who don’t care and don’t fear. In a world where power and courage are outlawed, only outlaws have power. This mustn't be so.

Bullies stop being bullies, when victims stop being victims

One teacher told me once, "never use violence, if you're bullied come to us." I asked her, "and what will you do?" She said, "talk to them." I asked, "and if they ignore you?" She didn't have a good answer. They never do. Their hands are tied by a system that wants to castrate and debauch students, raise a generation of slaves, not fighters.

The average teacher doesn't care about justice or the kids' well-being; he cares about making his job easier. Siding with bullies is so much easier than siding with victims. The bully has nothing to lose from another black mark. The honor student has a lot to lose, thus, he’s the one who will live in fear, not the bully.

When the victim stops being afraid, it's the bully's turn to fear

The current system only exists to protect scum from good people (not only in schools btw), never the other way around. That's why a family should teach kids to defend their honor and know they're fighting two enemies - immoral bullies who only understand pain and fear and an indifferent system that would gladly sell them to grind more smoothly.

I will finish with a quote from The Crow:

We shall never forget and never forgive.
And never ever fear.
Fear is for the enemy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Marriage of Cruel Minds

Last weekend we started a Fading Suns campaign with a grand double-session opening (which explains the enormous length of this post). In the mornings we explored secret Templer tunnels under Acre and a Templer fortress in Yehiam and in the evenings we gamed like it’s 1099!

These are the PCs (may the Pancreator have mercy on their souls!):

What Yan scribbled on the back of his character sheet

Drake (Yan) is a perfectly introverted egoist whose narcissistic focus on the self gave him potent supernatural powers. He is of noble birth and godly education, but a terrible event in his past has forced him to flee his homeworld and find refuge in the Van Gelder court.

Baron Dovis Lax (Vadim) is a barrister and an intellectual in the service of Lord Primus Van Gelder. He is a man of coins of and words, not steel and laser. When Dovias words fail to convince, his warlike retainer Dov continues the negotiations to the bitter end.

Flint (Sasha) is warrior monk trained in theurgy. God is his shepherd, but just in case he also packs a mean laser pistol and consecrated sword. Proud and self-centered, he’s on a path to hubris and damnation, unless he attains salvation through godly and charitable deeds.

Op-Lya (Olja) is the scandalous bastard daughter of Lord Primus van Gelder. Denied a formal title, she became an infamous figure in the seedier locales of Kun Lun. She often gets disturbing visions of the past.

Sir Tron (Nik) is a child raised by aliens and adopted by Op-Lya (whose player is his mother in real life). Despite his tender age, Tron is a master of telekensis and a bold spaceman if ever there was one! Nik is the creative force behind this escapade.

All PCs are loyal retainers of Lord Primus Van Gelder, a minor nobleman with major ambitions. Presently, they’re tasked with escorting his teenager son Quintus to Leminkainen, where a dying, heirless King is holding a fancy banquet to find a suitable husband for his daughter and successor to his reign. The PCs are to insure Quintus leaves the affair with a ring... via any means necessary.

While the planet isn’t worth what a pig would spit, and the Kingdom in question is one of the poorer and less sympathetic on the planet, the nearby jumpgate is worth killing for. And killing there will be – a plenty!

Screaming in Space
Soon after entering Lemikainan space, the PCs find out the Kurgan Khanate and House Hazat are no longer vying for the princess' hand on account of no longer being. Their flotillas had crossed paths in space and managed to destroy each other within seconds. Nevertheless, the PCs' scanners reported some signs of life on the Kurgan vessel and the PCs chose to explore it. Inside they found madness and horror – the dead rise, a dark entity possesses Flint and the ship begins to deform, cutting Olja and Tron from the rest of the crew.
A spiritual and physical battle ensues and the PCs soon learn that the dark entity on-board lusts, but at the same time is repelled, by a holy book carried on board as a gift for the king. They encountered other survivors – a Kurgan soldier, three clueless inquisitors and an antinominist (space Satanist) who called for the evil entity to save him, only to be torn apart by the possessed Flint when no longer useful.
At the same time, the PCs who didn't board started cutting the damaged vessel with their lasers to release their friends trapped onboard. Op-Lya hacked the vessel’s computer and after a lengthy battle with the dark entity in cyberspace (hacking for the Prophet!), defeated it and gained control of the ship’s computer – enabling her allies to safely reclaim the holy book. Meanwhile, Tron, the only PC who speaks Kurgan, helped the PCs communicate with the Kurgan though radio communication. He was also the first to discover the dark entity’s weakness – it cannot control a possessed body that has a sheet from the holy book stuffed in its mouth (indeed, it was the original form in which they found a sheet from the book). However, in his enthusiasm to assist his friends, Tron had attempted to board the vessel before the sliced metal cooled, damaging his spacesuit and nearly dying in the process.
Despite sustaining numerous injuries and having their faith shaken by the Devil, the crew survived this test of their faith and mettle and safely made it to Lemikainan. The internal battle with the dark entity had placed a small seed of hubris in Flint’s heart. Only time will tell if he will shrug it off or succumb to blasphemy...

Very bad in space. This is how it looks like.

Meet the Royal Bastards
Victorious and possessed of a valuable relic, the PCs arrive on Lemikainan and head to Sardan - a fancy hotel where the banquet is to take place. The PCs freshen up, preparing for the evening’s festivities and intrigues. Meanwhile, Sir Tron, mortally injured by decompression, wakes up in the hospital with the Kurgan, Ali Alan Al-Uzbek, sitting by his bed.
Dinner starts and the King (Alexi Isadorvich, Tsar of Isador Island) announces the guests of honor:

  • Na-Lord Quintus Van Gelder, the PCs' charge
  • Lord Arthur of Hawkwood, a moralist widower
  • Na-Count Dmitri Decados, a self-mutilating degenerate
  • Na-Duke Shaquille Yamamoto of house Dexrite, a polite enigma
  • Professor Philips Kodak, an outstanding engineer
  • Warchief Thurium Ukrops m'Valdalla, a half-man, half-machine space viking
  • Bishop Ignatius of the Orthodox Sect, a humble (but very rich) servant of the lord
  • Lady Captain Rene Gooddale Hawkwood, a renegade rumored to be a pirate
  • Soradir Qur'a'tin Cha'bulgar Ya, an alien atheist thinker
As soon as the King finished introducing the noble guests, a scary looking knight from the Decados entourage, rises up and rudely challenges Quintus to a duel. Quintus, pale as a ghost, said that he has no idea who that man is... why, the young Van Gelder never saw this Decados in his life! It’s quite obvious the boy has no chance to defeat the older and bigger knight. But refusing a duel would ruin all chances to prove that he’s noble enough to marry the princess.

What to do, oh what to do...?

Art by Tom Berry

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The All Too Bearable Lightness of Being

I’m running a game which uses Gamma World rules, but takes place on a colossal generation ship where each floor is occupied by a different culture. Now the players, following a string of unfortunate events which included persecution by fascist bunnies, a battle with a malfunctioning robot and a nasty encounter with a swarm of memory-erasing insects, have found themselves penniless, shirtless and questless.
Today, they explored yet another level, a medieval fantasy forest, and were given a quest by the elves – to reclaim a huge chunk of adamantine from an evil porker baron. The players soon arrived to the Baron’s town and found it poor and oppressed, but in working order.
Fascist bunnies. Scarier than they sound...
Since they were so poor that they actually started getting penalty to their rolls due to hunger, they decided to raise some money before their assault – one player found a job as a waiter in the tavern, two others improvised a show with flowers that blossom to music, and the other three went panhandling. Eventually, they managed to scrape enough silver pieces to rent a room and get a decent meal.
Then, they decided this life wasn’t that terrible. Like the youngest kid said, “We have warm food and a roof over our head – what else do we need?”
I asked sarcastically if they would like to marry and raise children as well. To which another kid replied, “can you do that?! It sounds like a great idea! What do I roll to marry?”


I’m not sure if I this session indicates my failure as a game designer, my success as game master, or both...