ars ludi

if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Fleeing From Goblins, West Marches-style

In Ben’s original West Marches campaign, he arranged the adventure-filled regions of his wilderness in order of challenge, more or less. The further you were from town, the more likely you were to be in an extremely dangerous place…

Ben tells an anecdote about his players fleeing from goblins for days, ultimately having to run so far they fled into a vermin-filled swamp. He also talks about the barrow wights in the otherwise pleasant Wil Wood – dangerous, but easily avoided, an in fact not that easy to find.

These got me thinking about non-mechanical difficulty levels for monstrous threats in general.

Some very cool ideas from Michael Prescott about determining a monster’s challenge by its behaviors, like how much they’ll pursue, how organized they are, etc. I think it has a ton of potential. Check it out.

Watch the Unwatchable Foreign Film

Jackson Tegu has been working on a hack of Microscope called Kaleidoscope:

Gather 3-5 players, set aside 2 hours, and make up an unwatchable “foreign” film using a pile of index cards and your crazy brains!

Use this step-by-step guide to guffaw your group through non-chronologically remembering a wildly bizarre movie that you apparently just watched together! On each player’s turn they write a part or moment into the movie (oh, I mean remember a part or moment of the movie they saw, pardon me) and insert it anywhere into the timeline you’re collaboratively creating!

Kaleidoscope, a thorough stand-alone hack of Ben Robbin’s celebrated Microscope: a fractal role-playing game of epic histories, has been simmering on my back-burner for a couple of years, and I want to share the laughs!

You can buy it right now.

Aaron Allston

A long, long time ago, Aaron Allston sent me my very first rejection letter. He did me a huge favor.

Rest In Peace.

A Battle of Men Against Men

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace…

The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien

Pretty much what you’d expect, right? Now look at the lines right before that:

Then suddenly straight over the rim of the sheltering back, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corset of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword.

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men…

That’s the first appearance of a black person in Lord of the Rings. Does Sam say “holy shit, look at that guy’s skin?!?” No. He doesn’t even bat an eye. He thinks of him as just another person caught in this war and wonders if he would have been happier at home.

That Old Idea of “Game”

To call D&D an innovative game is a bit like calling the Wright Brothers’ vehicle an innovative car. The definition of game has expanded to include D&D, but there is really no reason that a neutral outside observer would categorize it that way. A definition for game would previously have been something like: A contest between two or more players or sides, constrained by rules that are understood by all players, which ends in a ranking — of winners and losers, or perhaps a score or exchange of money. Oh, and it is engaged with for entertainment. Now, along comes D&D, and what do we have? We may have no winners or losers, the rules may be unknown to the players (only the game master needs to know them) and are often somewhat flexible, and there may be no end to the game. There aren’t even clear sides; there are players and the game master, but the players are not exactly on the same side as their fellow players and the game master is neither antagonistic not usually entirely neutral. The only unambiguous constant with that old idea of game is that D&D is engaged with for entertainment.

– Richard Garfield, Hobby Games: The 100 Best

“The definition of game has expanded to included D&D”. Exactly.

Eowyn

“Shall I always be chosen?” she said bitterly. “Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?”

“A time may come soon” said he, “when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”

And she answered: “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”

The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien

If you have a discussion about women’s roles in Tolkien and no one brings up this exchange between Aragorn and Eowyn, hang your head in shame.