Monthly Archives: April 2013

Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 3

Man, Mythos, Meta: Re-imagining Cthulhu, Part 3

I’ve spoken about my problems with Lovecraft and how I’d reconcile it with the trying to make games inspired and the Mythos.  Last time I talked about making the man himself part of the fiction.  My second idea is something I jokingly refer to as “The Indigenous Man’s Burden”. It was inspired by discussion with Chris Chinn, who is always into some smart stuff.

It’s typical in pulp fiction of all sorts that the intrepid Western Adventurers come to show some indigenous culture how their beliefs and ignorance are causing them some problems.  Inevitably the “natives” are educated by force or through persuasion how to do the “right” thing.  This is pretty prominent in HPL’s work as well. I feel his treatment of other cultures is where his xenophobia is most prominently on display. The theme seems to be that evil is associated with older, “primitive” cultures.

What if they were right though?  What if these older beliefs were ways that “primitive” cultures kept the Elder Gods at bay? As places around the world became colonized however, the artifacts and knowledge that kept them at bay became lost as well.  Under the influence of colonialism and the post-colonial corporatist era, the Elder Gods have broken their seals and are able to make their present more strongly felt.

The goal with this framework is not to advocate a “go back in time” mindset –what’s done is done — but rather to present a more nuanced view of the this preternatural evil.  The players not only investigate the phenomena, but to solve problems they need to understand the story of what happened or is happening in some place.  It has a bit of a social concious, but tries to get there implicitly.

Imagine that the statues that Western explorers thought were simple trinkets depicting Elder Gods were actually wards!  And now they are sitting in some rich collector’s cabinet somewhere.  Can you get them back or will you have to improvise  another solution?

This approach is something I would like to run with, as I think it is both broad and deep and capable of delivering some really strong adventure premises.

What adventure would you make based on this premise?

X-Cards are X-Cellent!

X-Cards are X-Cellent!

Look, I haven’t put up a post in over a month. Y’all are due some bad puns and a long post. Deal with it. 🙂

I don’t know about you, but my Twitter and G+ feeds are inundated daily with injustices and humanity’s inhumanity to humanity. It’s enough to make anyone – race, ethnicity, gender, whatever – want to burn something down, so when I see a chance to make some difference in my tiny little corner of this crazy universe, I gotta at least try.

One of these instances recently was PAX East 2013. I was going to be stationed at Indie Games on Demand running 13th Age, Dogs in the Vineyard and TechNoir (as it would turn out, mostly 13th Age). While one person can’t control the whole convention and what people say there,  sonuvagun MY table wasn’t going to put up with crap. I was going to have some kind of  sign or something to draw the line in the sand. I’d played maybe three convention games with strangers in my thirty years of life prior to PAX, none of which do I really remember, so I (probably with a bit too much gusto) went in expecting the worst.

During my investigations into tabletop tolerance tools, Quinn pointed me towards X-cards. You can read more about X-cards here and here but I’ll give you my short explanation as well. It’s a card with an X on it. That’s it. Done.  When everyone sits down to play, you hand out the cards and say (I’m abridging here) “if anyone says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, just hold up the card. No explanation necessary. We edit out the content and move forward, no big deal.” Why no explanation? Explanation reduces agency.

If agency and triggers and the like is old hat to you, go ahead and skip the next few italicized paragraphs. I write blogs as much for my own benefit as yours and I will come back and read this from time to time to refresh. 

I’m a scientist. In my day job, I have to justify and explain everything. I need a solid rationale to back what I do and be ready to defend my work when auditors, peer reviewers and QA come knocking.  My documentation has to be written according to standards I did not devise and in a manner such that someone without my knowledge or experience could repeat my work.  It’s bizarre to me to specifically not require justification or adherence to some authority or another.  My religious background fuels this also, but that’s a different story for another time.

However, at the table if  you feel you have to justify your emotions or reactions to me, they’re no longer yours. They’re effectively mine.  I’m attempting to take away or override your control. If I don’t agree that thing A is uncomfortable and you can’t easily explain why thing A IS uncomfortable, I can walk all over you. In all fairness, let’s give me the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume I’m asking because I’m legitimately concerned.  There are still the problems of:

  • You’re tired of having to explain yourself all the time
  • Maybe you’re not very eloquent or persuasive
  • You can’t tell whether I’m concerned or being a jerk
  • You don’t want to constantly be reminded of some painful experience
  • We’re wasting valuable game time

No explanations. Flash the card, we respect it even if we don’t understand it, and off we go. If I want to ask you why later maybe I will, but you still have every right to say no or tell me to go do some fricking research already.

I took my X-cards to PAX and used them a few times. Many of the groups I ran demos for all knew each other, so I didn’t pull the cards out in those cases. Should I have? In hindsight, maybe. You never know what future issues you will never see might be averted by creating awareness in an already safe situation. I don’t feel bad about it, but if today were the Friday of PAX, I’d do it differently. Two points where they did matter worth talking about:

  • The only time an X-card was ever pulled, I did it.  Jon Stavropoulos suggests the GM flash the card at least once to show that it’s OK, but I felt weird doing it frivolously.  (Ryven at 19 was the kind of guy who’d figure out he could use the x-card to censor queer content, for example. While I wasn’t afraid to have him sit down at my table, you better believe I was at least thinking about it.) As it turned out, I got my chance during a Dogs In the Vineyard game when one of my players kept throwing around the word ‘heathen.’ Correct for the setting? You betcha. Done without specific malicious intent? Also check. It really irritated me, though, and almost without thinking I flipped the card. The table was totally on board, we changed something and kept on going.  It was seamless. Would I ever have said anything on my own without the card? Never. I’m not that guy. I don’t fight for my own comfort. However, if a straight white guy like me can flip the card on a minor irritation that arguably doesn’t even really apply to him and feel empowered, I can only imagine what it would do for someone who has..  legitimate(?)(not the right word as its still authority-centered, but it’s all I’ve got) gripes with society.
  • I had a 14-year old girl sit down at my table to play 13th Age with a bunch of men who all had at least 10 years on her, if not more. Her mother was going to remain at a nearby table. While she carefully selected the half-orc barbarian, I pulled mom aside and explained x-cards to her. “I don’t expect to run into anything problematic for a 14-year old. To show you that I’m thinking about it, though, here’s a card. I’ll keep you in sight as well and if anything gets weird, just flash it.” She never did, but was clearly grateful that I had some way to keep her in on the experience discreetly.

I don’t hit many conventions. I do PAX East and the Escapist Expo. I might make it to ColossalCon up in Sandusky in June this year maybe. When I go, my X-cards will go with me. They can go with you as well. There are PDFs below for X-card and O-card templates. (O-cards are “This is important to me. Can we explore more?”) There’s also a foldover sign with a script for explaining X-cards. (Art by *iara-art of deviantART) Take them and do good.




[AP] Dog Eat Dog: Zemmiland

[AP] Dog Eat Dog: Zemmiland

We got a chance to play the brilliant Dog Eat Dog from Liam Burke.  Dog Eat Dog is a game about colonialism.  It is a game about the compromises and lack of compromises that happens when one civilization install itself on another.  It is about fiat and runnin amok.  It is about resistance and assimilation.  It is simple, powerful, and elegant.  It’s a game that, if you’ve read it, looks like one thing, but if you’ve played it is another animal entirely. Dog Eat Dog is a game that demands to be played, so please play it when you have a chance.

Four of us (Me, Dev, De Ana, and Kennedy) played over a G+ Hangout. using Dicestream and a shared google doc.

The Natives were the Zemmies in the country of Zemmiland, occupied by the Elucidar Republic, who Dev controlled.

The Natives (Zemmies)
(Quinn) Ra Jamison, an oracle
(Kennedy) Nam Deta, Ambassador
(De Ana) Theia Lok, Witchdoctor

The Occupation (Elucidar Republic)
Governor Airith
Academician Zissera
Chief Inspector Hiversith
Tila Deta (scholar and daughter to Nam Deta)
Ambassador Crael




Occupation (“Elucidar Republic”)

Are environmentally conscious.

Profit driven / strip-mining mentality

Narrow view of technology/medicine/religion (holistic/magic)

Naively democratic


Narrow view of technology/medicine/religion (“advanced”)

They are loud and noisy.

Written words are polite; spoken words are obscene or “familiar”.



The Zemmies had a lot of magical traditions and powers, none of which the Elucidar believed in.  To slowly squeeze out the magic, they decided to force the magic men/women to get licensed, which required them to get tested.  The Elucidar’s academicians knew nothing about magic, so their tests held no relevance to magic…so everyone failed.

Most of the play revolved around the Zemmies clan ambassador (played by Kennedy) and prominent witch doctor (De Ana) and oracle (me) trying to get The Elucidar to come up with better tests or at least less stringent controls over magic, while a plague ravaged the land. The plague mostly hit the Elucidar, but was now hitting the Zemmies.  Later, we determined that the plague was magically created by the Zemmies to drive off the Elucidar, but the plague had since mutated to also attack Zemmies.

Eventually in the end, the Elucidar learned to fear our magic.  All three natives ended up running amok. I was the first. I had walked away from negotiations after promising the plague would destroy all the Elucidar.Unwilling to wait for my prophecies, I gathered a rebel force and sought to drive a big rig with a large container of plague into the heart of the biggest Elucidar-populated city.  The Chief Inspector enlisted  De Ana’s Witch doctor to try to stop me at the bridge.  In the first actual display of magic all game, she paralyzed me as I drove. I seized up and went off the side of the bridge.

The Elucidar then realized magic was real, and flipped out on the witch doctor.  A dozen dead soldiers later, they finally took out the witch doctor with a bullet to the head.

The ambassador, who was becoming increasingly radicalized, went to use his powers and enter the fight. His daughter, who inherited his powers and was already assimilated after studying abroad for many years, stopped him dead in his tracks with her more potent power.

The Elucidar?  Without announcing to the public what happened, they slowly began to encourage people to move back to their homeland, while still keeping an economic and military foothold in the area.  Zemmiland was no longer hailed as the chief vacation spot of Elucidar’s colonies…

Lastly, our rules:

  • The Zemmies are inferior to the Elucidar Republic people.
  • The Elucidar Republic likes to negotiate.
  • The Elucidar Republic will never understand magic
  • The Elucidar Republicwant the Zemmies to forsake their traditions.
  • The Zemmies cannot get in the way of the Elucidarian profit margin
  • Give the Elucidar Republic what they want or they will take what they need.

I’ll discuss what I like about Dog Eat Dog in another post.