Yesterday, I posted a little bit on my G+ about the book. I’ll build on that here, and tell you some stuff you’ll find inside:
- I put forth the question to my writing team: “Clearly, there are loads of player character-esque Progenitors in the Convention. Who are they?” And thus was born Applied Sciences: Biosphere Explorers, Deviancy Scene Investigators, Medicines Sans Superstition, Damage Control, and Ethical Compliance.
- Have you ever wanted a genegineered creature as a retainer? Or play one? The Progenitors have uplifted octopi, lizardmen, dinosaurs, and so on.
- The theme of this book is of the Convention’s (and the Union’s) sense of guilt, and of healing. They have some ambitious (and dangerous) plans to keep the Technocratic Union from fracturing.
- We touch on the other, little Methodologies in the Progenitors, the ones focused on veterinary medicine, psychiatry, ecology, and so on. And we talk about why even most Progenitors don’t know that these exist. (Spoiler: they don’t get a lot of funding.)
- Naturally, we add the Progenitors’ thoughts to the bigger picture that is the fracturing Union, and how the Dimensional Anomaly changed them.
- New gear, Procedures, etc., some of which is a bit creepy. And most of it key to the combat-oriented Progenitor amalgams.
- Memetic warfare.
- Progenitors not just in their own amalgams, but their roles in mixed-Convention amalgams.
- And more. I’m pretty goddamned happy with this book.
This book was also one of the harder books I’ve had to make, because the 1995 Progenitor book was written purely from a “lets write about the villains as unrepentantly evil! let’s twirl those mustaches!” (Though, Syndicate turned out to be even harder for that same reason.) And that was fine for that line, but the Revised line is all about them as heroes.
So how the fuck are the Progenitors heroes? That was a lengthy conference call, and the results are inside the book. :)
If you’re a Technocracy fan, I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!
 And I’m damned happy with the results.
Now, for Specimen – Glenfiddich 15:
[Note: I wanted to find an Arabic transliteration for the title, but I couldn't in 30 seconds, and I only have 15 minutes to work on these, so...]
This is the crown jewel in the Rightly Guided Stellar Caliphate’s. The twin gas giants orbit each other, but otherwise float freely in space rather than orbiting a star. The story tells that the ancestors of the RGSC left Earth so long ago, as the Geostorm — the massive set of geological events that were rapidly morphing the planet’s crust — consumed the ancient holy city of Mecca. They traveled, as did all the orphan’s of Earth, out to the stars. After three years of searching for a home, they came across these wayward planets.
Recognizing them as at least an energy source, they stopped to fuel up. The geothermal reactions were powerful, but at dangerous as a star’s fusion reactions, so much easier to tap for energy. The energy output put their own fusion reactions to shame, so a vote was taken, and they decided to set up space stations here.
Along with energy, the RGSC was able to harvest new metals from the planet, and built larger, permanent space stations. Over the next decade, these refugees became one of the most powerful post-Earth nations, as they held access to limitless energy and with that limitless trade and diplomatic options.
As this is what the generation prior had before the Geostorm, some took it as a sign of divine providence. Few people left the Sapphire Twins for long, and all always sought to return home. Other traders — and not just other Muslims — settled in the growing number of stations orbiting the Twins. Today, a century later, it is the second-largest post-Earth nation.
It took a generation to discover the side-effect of the blue light. What happened to the first generation to be born in the Twin’s gravity well and radiation influence?
The University is known as the finest education institution in human-colonized space, and populated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Lately, there have been some controversy. Tell me about that, and what’s happened as a result.
 Totally stolen from Kenneth Hite’s mind in GURPS Alternate Earths 2.
Now, for Balvenie Doublewood 101:
Station Anders is a scientific endeavor by the Academy of Extraoceanic Discoveries. AED is a high-profile group, dedicated to finding new sources of water capable of support Earth-like life.
Anders is on planet designated as PXJ115 — a newly discovered planet in the Inner Combine that the government has not yet named. The planet is almost entirely covered in water similar to the records of old Earth’s oceans. Much of the western hemisphere is peppered with enormous geothermal vents, making the water far warmer than humans would find comfortable. However, it is also the largest near-human-compatible water source the Inner Combine has found to date — most of the Combine’s water is created from hydration plants in the Omega Sector. So this is an important find.
The station is an Elkino 285, an omni-atmospheric station that can easily travel around the planet and reach both deep in marine trenches and high in orbit. As you might imagine, having a state of the art mobile science station can make a group confident, especially one that’s full of grad students and hyperfocused scientists trying to make names for themselves rather than, say, a team of seasoned cosmonauts. Anders may serve as a cautionary tale as to why you don’t have scientists leading such explorations.
The team entered orbit three months ago. Within a day, they discovered numerous species of life living in the ocean! As the science teams began writing papers and staking naming rights, the (much smaller) engineering noticed that their engines were attracting some of the creatures toward them.
By the time anyone from engineering was able to get the attention of the captain, it was too late — the creatures swarmed engines 3 and 4. While they were killed, their dead flesh blocked the intake valves, causing the engines to seize.
Engineering shut down the other engines before further damage could be done. Anders began to sink, and only by firing the engines briefly was the station able to land. The internal reactor is still functioning, so they have life support for years to come. The sensors work throughout the ocean, but they cannot receive any signals from space — possibly a result of their depth, or of the ocean’s or surface’s composition.
All they know is that right now, they’re stranded. There’s not enough engine power to escape into orbit. They don’t know if their messages are transmitting out. Their only hope is that someone misses them and comes looking…and doesn’t make the same mistake they do.
Until then, they’ll continue cataloging. Just because they’re stranded doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.
- As the weeks went on, one of the teams discovered something utterly chilling, something that makes them sure they never want to return (if they ever get to leave in the first place). What did they all decide to delete from record and swear to never tell another soul?
- Yesterday, the rather small armory — really, a token placement of sidearms and ammo — was broken into and everything taken out. What happens tomorrow?
Over the weekend, I tweeted a couple thoughts about doing what you love:
Anyone telling you that doing what you love won’t feel like work is selling you a bunch of bullshit. But it *will* feel damned rewarding.
Also, what you love will change over time, as you grow exposed to new facets of what you’re doing and to totally different things.
Today, I’m doing what I love. I work on making games and making games better — at Paizo, for various other companies as a freelancer, and for myself. But here’s the thing: I know I won’t be doing this forever.
I know I won’t want to do this forever.
When I was in my early 20s, I got a job as a software developer. I was making web applications, and really happy that my life involved fucking around with the Internet as a living. As time went on, I loved that less — my interests changed, I stopped enjoying programming for its own sake, and I started getting my writing published.
To say I’m “lucky” enough to have done what I love twice in my life, however, misses the point. This is all still work:
- Yesterday, I came into the Paizo office for eight hours, then went home and did another couple hours or so on the Technocracy.
- On Saturday, I spent the day, from noon until around 10pm, working on one of the Technocracy books.
- Friday, worked several hours at the day job trying to push a document out to the next editing pass, and then going home to work on the Technocracy.
- Thursday, see Friday
- Wednesday, see Thursday
- and so on
The last time I worked less than eight hours in a day was maybe around four weeks ago (every day, not just weekdays). Yes, it’s doing what I love, but it still feels like work. I still feel my brain being toasted after a ten-hour day. I still want to curl up with some Mass Effect 3 DLC I haven’t gotten to play yet. So anyone telling you “it won’t feel like work” is a lying fuck who is just trying to sell you something. Or trying to convince themselves that that’s true.
And as time goes on, as you gain experiences in life, what you love will change. That’s cool! That’s a natural part of the process. Plus, your further experiences with doing what you love will show you parts of the business you hate, and depending on your personality type and what you’re dealing with, that might overwhelm your love in the first place.
So here’s the deal: things will still be work because it takes effort to achieve something awesome, and people will always have different ideas of what’s awesome than you. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to have to deal with people while doing what you love.) And you’ll grow and change as a person.
Embrace all that. It’s part of doing what you love.
Earlier this week, James Ernest invited me to guest lecture on RPGs to his class at DigiPen. He asked me to talk about what a RPG is, how this style of game came about, and the cliff notes on building one.
As you might imagine, “what an RPG is” is, well, a hell of a question. While we (at least in the American tradition) comes from Arneson and Gygax, we’ve moved to a place where games like Fiasco and A Penny for my Thoughts fills the same (or a very similar) space, even though they different wildly in execution.
I started with something typical:
A roleplaying game is something you play with your friends around a table…or you don’t. You describe going around and having adventures…or you don’t. When you want to do something, you roll dice to see if you succeed…or you don’t. One person takes on a special role of playing adversity and the world…or they don’t. And so on…
What we’re doing both as player and as characters is so varied that roleplaying games get to a point akin to pornography: you might not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it. (And hopefully it excites you.)
But I was to give this lecture, so that wasn’t going to be good enough. As I chewed around what makes up a RPG, I hit upon these four elements:
Language is the core medium of roleplaying games, not a table, or a board or grid, or character sheets, or even “pen and paper.” These games are about communicating and describing things that are going on in a fictional world, using rules and structure to focus that narrative — from D&D and Pathfinder focusing a narrative on competent and successful traveling adventurers to Fiasco’s narrative of characters with ambition and poor impulse control to Apocalypse World’s narrative of fighting to gain and keep a little corner or the world in order to make it the place you want it to be.
All of our rules can break down to the following: who gets to describe something, and what they get to describe in that moment. Even things that are solely about mechanics then feed back into the language, as that stuff (which we’ll get to shortly) impacts how we describe things — both to each other and to ourselves.
Avatars are part of what makes a roleplaying game hit on a personal level. It’s on one hand a fancy work for “character” — in most RPGs, you play a character. The word “avatar” is about interaction within the fiction environment we’re describing. We talk about characters doing things or having things done to them, and what that means in the game world. Unlike in, say, war games, we’re focused in on individual characters with characterizations and other, personal elements. Unlike in board games, we’re also interested in the expression of these avatars — how they personally react both internally and externally. A meeple in Carcassonne isn’t an avatar for the player (including the GM) any more than a tank or army is an avatar for the player in a war game
(This gets to the “you can make Monopoly an RPG by having your pawn talk in a silly voice” bullshit argument. The game isn’t engineered around that pawn being an avatar, so “avatarism” is incidental there.)
Consequence & Persistence are the twin elements that have two effects: they make a RPG not just an improv game or a game of Cops and Robbers, and they make a RPG a game. (Or further the gaminess of one.) Consequence is about actions taken in the game world having effects that we adhere to as being true and lasting, at least until some other action or narrative component modifies that effect. The “bang, I shot you!” “no you didn’t!” “yes I did!” of Cops and Robbers is the antithesis of consequence.
When I (and because we’re talking about avatars, we’ll often conflate “me” and “my character” in our language — see how things tie back to language?) attempt to shoot an orc in the face with my arrow, a number of consequences happen that we implicitly promise to adhere to. I might fail, result in the consequences is my time spent, an arrow spent, possibly some other detrimental bit like being open to someone else’s attack or my bow breaking (if the result of engaging the mechanics says something’s that bad). Or I might succeed, in which case the consequences are the orc being hurt or killed, an arrow spent, and side elements like being open to a counterattack or effect triggered by the orc taking damage.
We promise to adhere to consequences. The game pushes us toward different consequences, either generating them directly (such as with attack and damage rolls) or suggesting directions for them (such as Fiasco’s “a scene goes good or bad for the character” resolution mechanic).
Not all consequences are about damage and whatnot. Actions that are about gaining or expending resources involve consequences. Attempts to charm a security guard into letting you pass without a badge involves consequences, either positive or negative. And high-level elements of games, like gaining experience points and leveling up, are consequences of actions. (We could say “results” instead of “consequences,” but the connotation is slightly different there.)
Sometimes consequences are meta, about what you can talk about in the game world rather than more “physical” elements like having hit points reduced or other ways in which your avatar is directly affected. I’ve played games where the consequences were about who gets to describe the aftermath of the event, without prescribing what they aftermath was. I’ve played in games where there were effectively two different sets of consequences: what happens as a result of the aftermath and which player gets to bring that narrative forward. When it comes to meta mechanics, they’re often around language authority.
To then examine in brief: consequences are either about affecting the avatar or affecting the player dynamic. Either way, those affect the language used.
Persistence relates to consequence, in that what happens in a game world is true and lasting, so long as some other consequence doesn’t change that. You cannot just say “oh, that thing didn’t happen” unless you do some action in the game world to undo a consequence. The classic being raising the recently dead — in which case the person still died, and that effect in the game world persisted until someone else did the action to restore the previous state of the character.
Persistence exists in the short and long form. In the short form, from scene to scene in a given RPG session, elements of your character persist until something — an action or event — changes that. In the long form, that’s extended to count over multiple session, covering weeks, months, or even years of game play. And while there are plenty of games explicitly designed for one-session play, if you were to split that time up or extend it for whatever reason, the principle of persistence applies.
These last two elements aren’t just key to the game part of roleplaying games, but also to the story part. They’re what give moments of action teeth — consequence means risk and reward, it means having agency and possibly fighting to keep agency. Persistence means building a narrative that has some form of consistent internal logic. Thus they affect how our avatars experience the game world. Thus they affect how we describe, communicate, and imagine the game.
Some things are kept track of on character sheets — that’s one place where persistence lives. But all moments of play involve some level of persistence, or they’re forgotten.
If you look at 99% of RPGs, you can find what the games:
- Want you to talk about how how to talk about it
- Push you into working with you avatar (including aspects of the game world, not just player-characters)
- Tell you what consequences you should care about and will engage with
- Tell you what’s important to keep in mind as persistent
There are games that will bend these rules. There are moments of play that will break these rules — like everyone at the table hating the direction a story just went, and retcon that, thus disregarding persistence in that moment. But in my view, this holds true nearly all the time and is a useful tool to see how different games execute creating the narrative space.
In other words: how different games get us to engage emotionally with roleplaying.
I naturally accept criticism against this model. That’s why it’s called a “working model.” What games do you think ignore one of these components, and why? Or take a favorite game and tell me how you think it fits these concepts in novel or unusual ways.
P.S. I’ll finish up the New Worlds post next week!
 This is not the forum for your identity politics, if you want to talk about how something I say is a RPG isn’t. That’s called “Twitter.”