Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let's Go Down The Rabbit Hole, Part I

I don't know if this is pathetic, sad, funny or all three. Pathetisad might work, but it leaves out the funny (which might be more accurate). For the most part, I've been ignoring a lot of Mykal Lakim's activities aside from a snarky G+ post here or there. But he's hit my threshold of, "Wow, I really have words and things to say about this." Having that happen twice in one month isn't necessarily something I'm proud of, either. So I've wrapped multiple digital pontifications of his, plus a couple other choice tidbits, into a couple of posts.

Mr. Lakim, of Dark Phoenix Publishing (in case you didn't know already), was prodded into a flurry of activity over this past weekend. Part of it appears to be due to these three reviews/critiques that appeared on GeekParty. Being questioned mercilessly by +Ryan Good and +Nathaniel Hull seems to be another part of it - most of it in response to his whinge about Werewolf that I posted about last week.

Most people who have fallen need LifeAlert. For the rest of us, there's Mykal Lakim.

There's a lot going on here with this wave of Wikia entries and his other responses, so in this post I'll tackle the Wikia entries and save the other commentary for Part II. As an aside, I suspect he decided to go with Wikia because Wikipedia spurned him. Besides, Wikia has multiple auto-playing video ads per page. That'll show Wikipedia how they're a tool of those big-city folks.

Most of the Wikia entries are supporting fluff for his setting, but there's a few things that stand out. Both posts are predictably condescending. See, we've "fallen short of understanding" and need our hands held by having character creation explained in a different format that's just the same thing that was in the book. He's just a really helpful guy like that!
Because, you know, if the book wasn't clear...
Those aren't as interesting as the list of Dark Phoenix Publishing's books. For the most part it reads off as a production schedule that puts entirely new meaning to the saying, "You can get it fast, cheap, or good - pick two". If HBO could get GRRM to work this fast, the old guy would probably have a heart attack. For certain, Lakim's [ctr], [c], and [v] keys are going to be worn out by the time this thing is done. You know there's some good stuff going on here, because I was able to squeeze in three jokes one right after another. And the best thing is, the Shapeshifter game that he was whinging about having ideas stolen from isn't even on the list.

Prince would be proud
But take a look at the "Playtest Year" column. Every single one of them says 1999 as the original date.Which got me to thinking...where had I read before about the humble beginnings of Dark Phoenix Publishing's game lines? That's right...their Tumblr! That paints quite a different picture of the shake-out of these dates. Vampire: Undeath didn't even exist until 2005 - not 1999.
The Internet never forgets. Even if you do.

Of course, fleshing out an entire Wiki in the span of a day to make it look like stuff and things are happening is a complex task. Any discrepancies are just oversights - with so many balls in the air, it's hard to keep a few from hitting you in the face. He just totes needs to finish updating everything, and then proof that his games arose out of the primordial ooze without any White Wolf influence will be rock-solid. If a detail changes here or there, it's not like wikis have some kind of change history or anything...

I'm pretty sure some of this is going on too
Stay tuned for Part II - I'll delve even further down the rabbit hole and have a bit to say about Lakim's other commentary, as well as try to patch together a history of how his highly original games came to be so sought after by "other companies" that they had to steal from him.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Doom. Doom. Doom.

During this week's Tribe 8 game we're going to (most likely) be embarking on a proper session zero with some actual play, which I'm both excited and a little anxious about -- mostly because of the learning curve with using Roll20.

I've been wrangling for the past week or so on the concepts of the Doom and Salvation tracks, mostly looking into other games that seem to use them. The Arkham Horror and Runebound boardgames are the only ones I can find that specifically feature them. I've not played either game, but the general idea seems to be about what I am looking for: when the track fills up, bad stuff starts happening. What I need to figure out is how the stress/Consequences model will be applied, and whether there's a need for two tracks at all, especially given that I'm using plot stress.

Runebound Doom Track
The players either bet against the oncoming doom to advance their agendas, or make sacrifices to try to make things right. I think the expectation is that, at least initially, there's going to be a lot of doom flying around. At some point either the PCs are going to figure out, stumble upon, or completely ignore what needs to be done to return balance to the cosmos. The way I'm envisioning it right now is that the Doom Track is set up like so:
[ ] [ ] Condition #1
[ ] [ ] Condition #2
[ ] [ ] Condition #3
[ ] [ ] [etc...]
These work basically like Conditions from the Fate System Toolkit. The boxes are standard 1-stress/2-stress boxes. Once they're checked off, the Condition comes into play. What the Condition is remains hidden until it' revealed. We can assume that from a Tribe 8 perspective, the foundational ways the world is fucked up  - you know, the bit about human civilization collapsing, the closing of the Fold, the Z'bri herding the survivors into the Camps, that stuff - are "below" this track. The universe is at a tipping point, and the things that wrack up the Consequences on this track are just accelerating the freefall.

So far so good. The Conditions are setting aspects that make the world a less happy place to live in. For anyone who knows anything about the Tribe 8 metaplot, somewhere around the last of the unpublished cycles things is where the last of the Conditions are filled in. The world is about to be Taken Out unless something is done to start clearing the Conditions up. The Conditions themselves would line up roughly with the large events from each arc of the metaplot (there are about five of them). Of course, they don't have to be statically yoked to the Cycles. If the PCs convince the Keepers to resurrect some nukes and turn Hl'kar into a parking lot, and then turn around and unleash steampunk mecha to wipe out the Tribes, obviously the Doom track can fill up pretty quick

And when that happens, this is exactly what I will be doing

Now knowing what the Conditions are ahead of time is part of the "betting" against the Doom. On top of that, others' actions can obviously inflict stress on the track as well. So when the players are eyeing the two empty stress boxes on the Doom track as they try to channel the River of Dream through some Keeper device, they don't know a bunch of renegade Melanis Z'bri are also mucking around with the Sea of the Lost - and that both of them together are going to inflict enough stress to incur a new Condition. Getting a free invocation on that new Condition will probably feel like a consolation prize when they find out it's The Dead Have Risen and now they have a zombie outbreak to contend with.

Of course, in the early parts of the camp practically everything the PCs need to do in order to to help the Fallen survive are likely to be Doom-stress inducing events. Attacks on the Tribes, hunting Z'bri, messing around with things that they shouldn't, etc. aren't exactly things that would avert the impending collapse of reality. It's also not likely the outcasts are going to become a bunch of pacifistic saints and start acting for the good of all. For one, there's no way they'd survive a single winter if they did and two, it would be really boring.

Finally, we come to the "salvation" part. If the Doom track is like the universe taking a beating, then salvation  means healing it. From a Fate Fractal perspective, this makes for a fun option: when the players do certain things, they get a chance to make a recovery roll for one of the Doom track's Consequences, or to clear some stress. Smaller actions would clear stress, while bigger sacrifices would rename and eventually clear Conditions. By the time the campaign is at the point where this is happening, the PCs are likely to be in a position to actively prevent others from re-incurring the Conditions.

Below is a rough version of the image I'll be using for the Doom Track in Roll20. The stress boxes are paired, with the white rectangle for the condition to be filled in. I'm trying to figure out what else to do with the real estate...I might create some spaces that can be used for other aspects and whatnot.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Truly, Mykal Lakim Has Gone Bizarro World

Yep, apparently after a long hiatus the crazy was just too much to not let out, and Mr. Mikal Lakym had to open the floodgates.

In a Google+ post, he lamented about Onyx Path was using the term "wolf-blooded" and maybe some other vague concepts that he thought up all by his lonesome in their new Werewolf book.

It starts as a half-assed, passive-aggressive swipe against Onyx Path, turns into a full on accusation against one of the developers, panic-moonwalks into vague legal gesticulating, then veers into whinging about biased commenters and reviews.

The self-reinforcing loop that these conversations always follow looks something like this:
  1. Complain about how unfair everyone is/accuse someone from Onyx Path of stealing his ideas
  2. Refuse to corroborate complaint with evidence/become more obtuse as the conversation continues
  3. Try to set up (what he thinks are) clever verbal traps that have the complexity of "Homo say what?" jokes
  4. Get upset when people fail to fall for it/say, "Ha! You said homo!"
  5. Accuse people of not being professional
  6. Resort to grumbling about it in a followup post
Because, you know, he never copied anything werewolf related. All original here!
If I thought that this would actually go anywhere, I'd order a shipping container of popcorn as long as someone else started the bonfire. But it won't. There's not a shred of evidence, whatsoever, that White Wolf or Onyx Path has ever "stolen" any of his "ideas". Not to mention, when he gets called out on demonstrably using someone else's stuff, it's totes different because he changed the spelling, but when he thinks someone else has done it it's the end of the fucking world and time to unleash the lawyers.  I mean, "wolfblood" is used in a handful of other properties ranging from Elfquest to an actual 2012 television series of that name. And, of course, there's the question as to why a company with a metric fuckton of creative talent working for it would resort to stealing ideas from a two-bit, self-delusional hack like Lakim. I mean, if he were that good they'd probably just hire him and be done with it.

Of course, that won't happen because he's already said he won't "work with" anybody who has anything to do with Onyx Path. Which apparently includes people who just talk about their games. Or have worked for Onyx Path/White Wolf, or have had anything to do with anything either one has touched. This rules out pretty much everyone, except maybe some old OSR grognards that stopped buying roleplaying products in 1988. I wonder if he has to screen people before he deals with them.

It probably looks something like this, just replace "shop" with "work" and add Onyx Path to the list
Unless he means he'll "never work with" certain people in a perjorative sense, as in being stubbornly obtuse and unwilling to actually engage anyone in useful conversation. In that light, it makes perfect sense.

Just imagine though, for a minute, if he actually would work with us in being truly mockworthy. Honestly, lately he's been offering up pretty half-assed fare like sock-puppet reviews and deigning to pass along "I heard from a girlfriend that you had a boyfriend that looked like a girlfriend I had in February of last year"-style praise for his games. I mean, actual lawsuit, a full-on rageflip blowout, a campaign to try to take on the gaming industry and set the record straight. It would be pure comedy gold. It's not likely to happen though - all I think we can bank on is more denunciations that people are biased, unprofessional, a troll, or smell funny.

But, of course, we're all just haters and we're jealous. An entire industry aligned against him, because his ideas are just that good. So, before I close this post out I'll just address one more thing he seems to have missed the telegram on, regarding his comment that the RPG.Net review was written only to mercilessly mock Vampire: Undeath:
Finally, I have screencapped the conversation (so far) in case it gets memory-holed. It is everything you hoped it could be.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oh, Hai There!

I've been kind of quiet lately. I was a little burned out, a lot of it having to do with my old job that was sucking a lot of motivation out of me. So I got a new, better paying, database engineer position. But the end result is that I'm not blogging from work - a habit I don't wish to get back into, since I actually want to work at work. And I've been making some changes at home to include some healthier behaviors (not physically, per se, just trying to eliminate some bad habits). I only blog when I really feel it, and the short version is that lately I haven't felt like it.

Now that I'm feeling a little more energized, I've started to tackle some concepts for  My Tribe 8 Fate Core game. I finally launched on Roll20 week before last, and while we're off to a slow start it's giving me time to think about the bigger picture.

Tribe 8 has both a strongly defined setting and an established metaplot. The strongly defined setting part isn't too hard to integrate into Fate Core (make the game about the characters and their personal struggles) but a tightly bound metaplot is hard to reconcile. There's just not as much room for players to drive the game in the direction they want if one is intent on following a metaplot, and that player direction is something that Fate Core thrives on. The obvious answer is to leave the metaplot bloody in a ditch somewhere, but that's not what I want to do. It's a pretty big part of the game for me, and how tightly DP9 bound the setting to the metaplot was one of the stand-out elements of the game. What it didn't have was for a way to engage the players in the same manner that one can using Fate Core. In light of this, I'd like to find a happy medium between the two.

There was a great thread on Story-Games about Tribe 8, and in it +Brand Robins suggests Doom/Salvation tracks. In order for the players to improve the world and move it toward salvation, they need to sacrifice things that are important to their PCs. This may mean they get nothing (in the end) in return, and their sacrifice may be in vain. Or, they can tempt the impending doom to try to get a "win" (such as taking the fight to the Fatimas or trying to exterminate the Z'bri). In the end, it may benefit the PCs or their side, but it moves the setting toward it's inexorable doom. In addition to some great thoughts about community vs. individualism, there's a lot to chew on in that thread.

Next, comes two posts from the Fate Core crew. Invoking at a cost, which +Fred Hicks suggested here, dovetails extremely well with the Doom/Salvation concept. It completely plays to both the question, "What are you willing to pay to succeed?" and the idea that "winning" often means tempting things that are beyond your control. Next, this post by +Rob Donoghue discusses a novel way of handling secrets in the campaign. The Tribe 8 world is full about secrets. And now knowing which of those secrets is true, and either trying to use that information to advance your agenda or trying to use it to try to bring about salvation could lead down a path of failure, death, or even worse.

Finally, to wrap things up are +Josh Roby and co's Destiny Deck, which I would kill to actually become a thing (even if it was just a virtual thing). I have a really strong feeling that the deck is a way to tie these elements together - secrets, doom vs. salvation, costs of success - in a thematic and cool way. So much so that I want to try to cobble together some images to use as cards, and figure out a system for doling them out.

So, that's what my brain is churning over as the gaming sectors come revving back to life. Oh, I also am going to have some Dark Phoenix Publishing fun soon.