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Recent Entries 
18th-Apr-2011 11:39 am - Tumblr
I've started a Tumblr. This is where all my gaming-related writing will reside from now on.

http://michaelgrasso.tumblr.com/

You can add it to your RSS aggregator, or read it from my Facebook.

feed://michaelgrasso.tumblr.com/rss

Not sure why the latest post isn't showing up there on the RSS feed, but whatever.
b.a.
15th-Mar-2011 07:47 am - Changeling: PvE
And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
And I still don't wanna stagger home
Then it's the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet


About four years ago, jesshartley came over to mebib and mjhockabout2's place in Waltham and we playtested Changeling: the Lost.

In a few months, that game will be ending.

It's funny how some chronicles end up being your players' favorites, while you as a Storyteller were never quite as big a fan. My concept for Changeling was very simple (some might say simplistic): club kids and hipsters in 2007 New York. I didn't really have more than that to start and I'm not sure if I ever did.

The key here was my players. They created multi-faceted characters with real motivations, fears, desires and plans for their lives as Changelings. They interacted with each other and the environment (physical, political, magical) in a realistic way for 5 young people in New York City. And yeah, as such the game really was very much a soap opera in a lot of ways. Which is not a pejorative. It just... got melodramatic sometimes. Which when you're dealing about a game that is essentially one big metaphor for abuse and lost childhoods and paths not taken? Is not very hard to have happen.

Now, sure, we did eventually uncover an overarching plot outside the character-motivated stuff. But for 40+ sessions, this game was essentially a character study. Maybe that's why my players loved it. They had a lot more agency than in a lot of my games and the stories were about them, not NPCs.

Do I have a problem with this kind of player-centric game? Maybe. I think to myself of the situations where I feel like I've gotten that balance between Storyteller-moved and player-moved action just right: Changeling: the Dreaming. Our six-session Dark Ages: Vampire game. Dark Ages: Fae. And to a certain extent Mage: the Awakening right now. And I see now what made those games shine is just what went on in Changeling: the Lost: players made memorable characters, I made memorable NPCs and plots, and the players' and Storyteller's moves interacted in cool and interesting and balanced ways.

Promethean, due to its rules, I think ended up being a game too dependent on environment and gave the players short shrift until the very end when their motivation (to become mortal in most cases) interacted with the environment in every storyline.

So what this has all made me realize is that I owe it to my players to wrap up the personal plots of the five of their characters in Changeling over the next few months, and let the environment simply be a backdrop and an occasional trigger for these character explorations. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the "18 Months Later" idea was such a colossal flop: it changed essential things about these fully-realized characters without the players' input. I think what I have encouraged in the last four sessions since the reboot is my players reverting their characters to their old selves emotionally (with the exception of mebib who is playing her Fetch of course) while having to deal with the radically-different environment.

In any event, I feel like this realization is going to make the next few sessions much better. This game is emphatically NOT about what happened to New York's Changelings in 1937. It is about whether Jacob and Simon will ever really understand each other. It's about whether Lady S is a princess or a pauper, a lady supreme or a lady sage. It's about whether Eden is becoming what he always dreamed or what he always feared. It's about what happened to Amber when she was a girl, before she got Taken, and whether she's better for having become Lost.

Keep this in mind, Mike, and the last few sessions will be as good for your players as the first forty.
b.a.
25th-Dec-2010 08:02 am - Promethean: Planning Notes
A little Christmas present here for my Promethean players and anyone else who wants to see what a campaign of mine looks like before it starts. I was doing an unrelated search for "dramaturgy" on my hard drive (I got on a Shakespeare kick this morning and wanted to find an old Suppressed Transmission), and up popped the Reply-to-Reply-to thread of the brainstorming I did for my Promethean game before it started.

One of the things I found really interesting: the amount of ideas I didn't use, either because they were too vague ("Civil War veteran Nepri") or too completely stereotypical and bad ("Family of hill folks immune to Disquiet," Mike? REALLY? *sigh*).

My Christmas-morning comment in italics.

Anyway, here it is and Merry Christmas.

Notes redacted for unrelated content, Reply-to information, etc.Collapse )
b.a.
7th-Oct-2010 02:20 pm - The Council of Trent in my Mage game
In several different places on the web over the past week, mostly genealogical sites, I've happened to come across the factoid (which I have yet to independently confirm; references to specific sessions and canons have led to dead ends) that the Council of Trent dictated that all Catholics had to have their names recorded at baptism in the records of the parish church, and that all Catholics had to have a first, baptismal, and last name.

The surname was something new, especially seeing as it was being enforced from above rather than growing organically from patronyms, locations or occupational names. That's a pretty big cultural shift, and it was meant to happen immediately or as soon as immediately in a pre-modern age.

And then of course I start thinking what this decree means in a metaphysical/magical sense for the purposes of my Mage game set 40 years after Trent. The Church was losing ground to Protestantism. In the real world, the Church went record-crazy because they wanted to regularize and quantify and count their loyal parishioners. But in the end this is all also an outgrowth of the need to seek control. And in the Mage universe, this is the sort of control the Seers of the Throne would love to have. This name in the parochial record is the closest thing to a truename that a Catholic has, and thanks to the absolute decree of the Council of Trent, they're now all in the book.

The Paternoster Ministry baptizes the young Catholic. The Panopticon uses these names and records so everyone can be observed if necessary, and the Hegemonic Ministry uses them to control all of Catholic Christendom. By 1600, the point of my game, most of those under 30 years of age born in a Catholic region likely has their name written down in a book somewhere in a Seers library. And I like that. :)
b.a.
One of the best things I ever did was start this D&D game with ultra_lilac. It enables me to do all that examination of American history and culture I've been wanting to do in a game for ages. And I still get to run D&D. :)

So in ultra_lilac's and my D&D game conceived halfway between Mason & Dixon and Lewis and Clark, we've already taken a look at Cavalier culture and Appalachian weirdness. This coming session was all ultra_lilac's baby: we're going to focus the session around a traveling medicine show. I've leaving plot details out of this post, but if you're curious of what we're going to do with the medicine show, contact me. :)



The reason I'm posting this entry is because we mostly think of patent medicines and medicine shows as primarily a Victorian thing, post-US-Civil War, but they're not! The patent medicine goes back to 17th century England as various chiurgeons and quacks marketed their own elixirs and there was not only a strong patent medicine business in colonial America but the beginnings of medicine shows as well.

Colonial America had her mountebanks selling their wares, just as did Europe of the same day. They came to towns and villages especially at such times as fairs, when the native population was swollen by outsiders. They set up their platforms, performed their shows, delivered their harangues, sold their remedies, and went their ways. The tone of their entertainment sometimes offended ministers, and the quality of their medicines sometimes disturbed physicians. If the two groups could agree, as in Connecticut on the eve of the Revolution, restrictive legislation might be enacted. Medical declamations by mountebanks, the colonial assembly decided in 1773, as well as their "plays, tricks, juggling or unprofitable feats of uncommon dexterity and agility of body," had harmful social results. All this fostered "the corruption of manners, promoting of idleness, and the detriment of good order and religion," and also ensnared people into buying "unwholesome and oftentimes dangerous drugs." So mountebanks were outlawed.

- The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation, James Harvey Young
That book I linked above is available free online and was written in 1961, so it really covers the entire rich history of the patent medicine in all its silliness and capital-W weirdness if not from a contemporary perspective then at least a moderately modern one. Here's an intriguing tale of a female huckster: "One Charles Hamilton, for example, appeared in Chester, boasting of his excellent education and marvelous cures. Somehow the townspeople got suspicious and examined the pretender. Charles was found to be a woman, and Charlotte Hamilton was put in jail." Another early American female colonist, one "Sybila" or "Sybilla" Masters, applied for (through her husband) the first English patent for an "invencon" in the Colonies, for a millwheel that ground American corn so fine that it became a "rice" which "so refined is also an Excellent Medicine in Consumptions & other Distempers."

There's the standard Ben Franklin/Franz Antoine Mesmer/electrico-psychical Axis of Colonial Magi stuff in this same chapter of Young's book, stuff that's pretty old-hat for a lot of us gamer geeks, but Franklin shows up as an Amazing Randi for his time, debunking Mesmer's electro-medicinal claims while sleeping with duchesses and securing the Colonies' future at Louis's court. Busy guy.



America had her own Mesmer, though, who came around a decade later after Revolution's end. Elisha Perkins, a Connecticut doctor, took the happenstance of his moving his penknife along a patient's leg coinciding with the removal of her pain and extrapolated it into a cottage industry of electric "tractors" that would drag pain away and the fix the imbalance of electrical fluid. The description of these "tractors" sounds positively alchemical: "The new invention looked like nothing else under the sun. It was a pair of small metal instruments, each about three inches long and both of the same shape, flat on one side, rounded on the other, and tapering from a hemispherical head to a sharp point. One of the tractors was gold in color, the other silver. Perkins and his son averred that the former was an alloy of copper, zinc, and gold; the latter of iron, silver, and platinum."

Print advertising of patent medicines in the colonies started blandly but by the dawning of the 19th century the seeds were laid for the post-Civil War explosion in patent medicines and their outrageous claims in print and, eventually, in the face-to-face direct sales/entertainment extravaganza we know as the medicine show. But that's for Part 2.
b.a.
24th-Aug-2010 09:54 am - The Monastery of the Divine Fire
So! innocent_man made a game-summary post a couple of days ago that coincidentally had mentioned Promethean and monks next to each other. And that sort of fired one of my warped, twisted synapses and got me thinking:

A Promethean: the Created game, set in a medieval monastery where all the monks are Prometheans.

Okay, first things first, that Wasteland's going to SUCK, right? But we'll make the monastery a retreat, a hermitage far away from all but the most dedicated travelers. Makes sense: when you're a Promethean, you don't need 20 peasants to feed each monk; you can just go out into the woods and eat some bark if you're hungry.

The monastery's been there for ages, and they use the Rule of St. Benedict (plus maybe some other, fictional monastic Rule of some Promethean Saint) to help them on their Pilgrimage in getting closer to the Godhead. Yeah, sometimes that means they have put on their traveling robes and head into a town to interact with mortals and do "good deeds." Good deeds that inevitably have them getting chased out of town before too long. But they can always return to the Retreat.

Of course, enterprising occultists of whatever stripe (former monks, esoteric village witches) have heard rumors about this monastery of half-men, where the ground screams in pain and the air is thick with poisonous miasmas, and say their library is the richest in all of Christendom. So you could use this scenario from either side, the Prometheans or mortal seekers of knowledge.

Edit: Also fun in this setting? Making up a Salamander Lineage to replace the Frankenstein. :)
big ben... parliament


Follow-up to this post from a few months back.

On Monday we're getting together for our last Mage session for a while, and it's going to be primarily a "workshop" session where we talk about our chronicle's direction. The cool thing is we get to do this largely in-character, since the cabal has met a turning point where they need to politically, martially, and metaphysically shit or get off the pot. The PCs need to come up with their proposal to found an Academy outside of Prague and present it to the Emperor so that it does not fall into the hands of the Jesuits, who seem to have some mysterious rival Mages in their ranks.

So we need to talk about a formal foundation of a Sanctum for the Cabal at Benatky as well as the mortal academy of learning the PCs wish to found. In an effort to prove to me that nothing in an RPG can ever be stranger than actual history itself, the founding documents of the Accademia dei Lincei, one of the first pure scientific academies in Europe, show that the founding members (four young noblemen ages 18-24, who were basically starting a sekrit club) not only chose occult symbols to represent themselves but also Shadow Names. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Who. Needs. Fiction.

Nel testo si riportano il nome, l'emblema e il motto dell'Accademia, così come i nomi, gli stemmi, i motti e i relativi compiti di ciascuno dei quattro soci fondatori. Johannes van Heek, Illuminatus, assume il ruolo di lettore di filosofia platonica e metafisica, e sceglie come simbolo la Luna che riceve la luce dal sole con il motto A patre luminum; Federico Cesi, Coelivagus, è lettore di scienza dei vegetali e sceglie come simbolo l'aquila che guarda il Sole con il motto Utrumque; Francesco Stelluti, Tardigradus, si dedica alla matematica e alla geometria, scegliendo come stemma Saturno con il motto Quo serius eo citius; Anastasio de Filiis, Eclipsatus, esperto di storia, Segretario dei Lincei, sceglie come stemma una luna in eclissi e l'epigrafe Spero lucem.

In this text it is recorded the name, the emblem, and the motto of the Academy, as well as the names, the mottos, and the related tasks of each of the four society founders. Johannes van Heek, Illuminatus (the Illuminated), assumes the role of studying Platonic philosophy and metaphysics, and chose as his symbol the moon receiving light from the sun with the motto "A patre luminum" ("from the light of the Father"). Federico Cesi, Coelivagus (the Heaven-Wanderer), has the role of studying the science of plants and chose as his symbol the eagle facing the sun with the motto "Utrumque" ("either-or"). Francesco Stelluti, Tardigradus (the Slow-Mover), is dedicated to mathematics and geometry, and has chosen Saturn as his symbol with the motto "Quo serius eo citius ("I go slower that I might go faster").  Anastasio de Filiis, Eclipsatus (the Eclipsed), expert on history and secretary of the Academy, chose as his symbol the moon in eclipse with the motto "Spero lucem" ("I hope for light").

They then made sure their horoscopes were all in good standing, and then scattered geographically so they wouldn't get burned at the stake like their idol Giordano Bruno. Luckily, our PCs are protected by Emperor Rudolf and by true magic. :)
vertumnus
A reconstruction and expansion of the post I lost yesterday:



So there's another very specific time/place/subculture that's intrigued me, if not as a gaming setting possibility then just a very interesting one to explore personally: the world of late 70s working-class British metal fans/gamers and where they might have intersected.

Run... to the hills!Collapse )
did you see me?
4th-Jul-2010 08:24 am - Return to Mia's
As part of my rotating D&D one-shot Saturdays, I think the next game I run will involve the Further Adventures of the habitués and employees of Mia's Extraplanar Infusions and Confections.

A little backstory:

I came up with Mia's for GenCon in 2004. It was a Planescape scenario, inspired half by the movie Amélie and half by my love of fine coffee, tea, and pastries. :) The plot hook was that a special, once-a-year coffee varietal had gone missing and the owner, employees and coffee-mad regulars of Mia's traveled to the Prime world where the coffee was grown to investigate what happened to it.

It was a huge hit at GenCon and then again when I ran it for my friends after moving back home to Massachusetts. In fact, I was so appreciative to my friends for playing this game with me and helping me forget all the bad stuff that had just happened to me, it was like a little bit of a rebirth for me.

Of course any sequel would likely more deeply involve Mia's coffee shop and Sigil itself and be a more city-based adventure.

I'd run it in 4th edition, of course. I already have converted a few of the pre-generated PCs to 4th edition and I will tell you, I kind of want to play a couple of these PCs on a regular basis they turned out so good. :)

Anyway, here's Mia's menu, which just makes me smile so much because I really put a lot into it (while more than a little ripping off Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog).

And now I am off to see if Linda's Donuts in Belmont is open on the 4th of July. :)
big ben... parliament
Last night, I went to a game of occult conspiracy and a soap opera broke out.

Okay, that's not quite fair really. I'm never one to denigrate the enjoyment I get out of "talky" RPG sessions. We've had many, many sessions where no one ever picks up a die and I'm generally good with that, as long as people are having fun. What I didn't expect when I put together my prep for last night's Mage game was such an intense session of character interactions. I've talked before about "sweet spots," where a campaign really starts to tell you what it's going to be about. I think last night was one of those moments where I began to realize that all the occult coolness of the era, all the set dressing of Rudolf's Prague, these are all going to act as important catalysts but not the reason for our playing. The reason for playing are the characters.

So, short story long: a few sessions ago we introduced ultra_lilac's secondary character, Yamna. She was a chambermaid at the castle of Elizabeth Bathory and had knowledge if not of Bathory's peculiar ablutions then of her occult researches. When badlydrawnjeff's and editswlonghair's characters Ernst and Lóránt arrived back at Bathory's castle to confront her, she was of course missing, but Yamna led them to Bathory's demonological library. Lóránt stole some of her books but then the PCs left, taking Yamna with them and thus saving her from the fate of most of Bathory's chambermaids.

In last night's session, we followed up on a strange encounter in the city's Jewish quarter. Lóránt and Yamna were there a few weeks ago and came across a strange man who knew Lóránt well and was trying to get him to stop taking Vitae from vampires. I may have forgotten to mention that Lóránt met a 2,000-year-old vampire and took his ancient blood and began to learn the magics of the vampires. This young man, or more accurately demon, who called himself Samuel, made it clear that Lóránt, the protector of the Jewish Quarter from the Abyssal entity known as Ketev Meriri, was meant for better things than a slide into addiction to Vitae.

And with Yamna now receiving messages from the demons of Pandemonium, who are openly grooming Lóránt for an Awakening, the long-suffering Sleepwalker Lóránt was presented with a choice by the Mages of his cabal. With Yamna basically breaking the ice on what the demons had been telling him, his cabal realized that his awakening, like Ernst's before him, was close at hand. But editswlonghair hit it out of the ballpark with his roleplaying. The suave, smooth, connected courtier Lóránt was jealous. Envious of the power he'd seen Mages wield in the years he'd been a proximi. Envious especially of Ernst, the no-nonsense former soldier, hardly an occultist, who'd received powers from the Primal Wild he didn't really even understand yet. And so, when a being of ancient knowledge offered him a fast track to enlightenment and magical facility, he took it.

Surprisingly, not all members of the cabal took this badly. ioianthe's character Matthieu, ever the empiricist, just wanted to know if this involve any danger of double loyalties; he really didn't have a problem with Lóránt being a ghoul or a vampire. rayan4d2's character Salih had done enough research on Banishers to know that it was important only that Lóránt make a choice one way or the other: Mage or Vampire. If Lóránt put off or evaded his Awakening, it might go wrong and leave him insane and a Banisher himself. Ernst needed a little guidance on whether the demons of Pandemonium were more or less evil than the vampires... either path to power seemed a bit dodgy to him.

So it wasn't so much an intervention ("we're here to talk to you about your Vitae addiction") as an attempt to have Lóránt consider making a decision on his final path to power. It was more an intervention for someone with a Hamlet complex. :) To act, or not to act, that is the question before Lóránt now.

Oh, and some enemy Mage knows Salih's name and thus might be able to work magic at a distance that could destroy the cabal. But that apparently took a backseat to all the character development last night. :)

As I said in the middle of the session last night, my players are awesome. Without them and their consistent portrayals of their characters, none of this depth and intrigue could ever be possible. So, blame them for this tl;dr you had to endure this morning. :)
vertumnus
27th-May-2010 11:17 am - Lost, my first retrospective
My final Lost season and episode rankings (spoilers if you have never seen the show):

SeasonsCollapse )

Top 10 EpisodesCollapse )
big ben... parliament
24th-May-2010 07:59 am - Apologia
Something I think it's important to state as a followup to last night's kneejerk angry reaction to the finale:

I loved this show. Nothing that could happen in the last 15 minutes could ever dilute that love. There was so much good about it, and it taught me as a storyteller a heck of a lot. There was the worldbuilding, which I know a lot of people found wanting, but for me was enough of a frame that filling in the puzzle pieces they left out became a lovely diversion.

There were the characters: not as three-dimensional as the characters in some prestige TV series, granted, but still a good effort for network TV, and on the same note there were the actors and the process of watching some of the newbies learn and perfect their craft while other veterans blew us away from Day 1.

There was the storytelling itself, which used devices pretty common in literature and TV series to great effect. The flashback structure a la Lost is something I've stolen pretty shamelessly for my own games and it's always enriched the experience.

There was the compendium-ness (if that's a word) of the show's influences: science fiction and fantasy and classic literature and philosophy... just a lovely, inclusive grab-bag of both name-dropping and serious integration into the narrative that made for, again, entertaining Easter-egg hunting.

To be blunt, without Lost my games over the past 5+ years wouldn't have been nearly as successful, as rich, and as multi-faceted as they have been. At least as I hope they have been. So I owe Lost a personal debt as well as the thanks of a loyal viewer.

Is it my Top TV Show Evar? Probably, for now. Warts and all, it's come closer to my ideal of a serialized narrative than anything I've ever seen on TV. Some folks will trot out their Babylon 5s or their Sopranos or their Wires (which to be honest I haven't watched all of yet), but for me at a crucial point in my life as a creative person, Lost was my Constant.

(Okay, cheesy, I know, but I had to. :D)
big ben... parliament
23rd-May-2010 11:44 pm - Lost. The End.
All right. So.

The EndCollapse )
big ben... parliament
Kids, today's venture into Renaissance occult weirdness leads us into trying to discover the origins of the Rosicrucians. There's a tangled web of influences and thinkers that eventually led to the publishing of the Fama and Confessio in 1614-5 and The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreuz in 1616. But one of the more interesting threads was a group of teachers and students in the 1580s-90s, led by an eccentric historian and proto-archeologist named Simon Studion.

I won't reiterate the entire history of Studion's life except to note that one of his most personal projects was an unpublished manuscript called Naometria ("temple measure"). In this work Studion prophesied an end to history and to the religious conflict brewing between Catholics and Protestants based on the measurements of Solomon's Temple (sound familiar?). In turn of course this sort of theo-political eschatology was influenced by several medieval heretic movements, like the Joachimites, who believed in a heaven on Earth after the Papacy had been replaced by a brotherhood of man.

Studion's Naometria explicitly namechecked Joachim; so did Johann Valentinus Andreae. Studion's prophecy of a Europe triumphantly Protestant and rid of the Papacy forever was called a "general reformation," just like the Rosicrucian pamphlets that appeared 15 years later. Studion also uses rose/cross imagery in his dream of a Protestant knighthood that would aid in the defeat of the Pope. Andreae and/or the other authors of the Rosicrucian manifestos are generally accepted to have utilized the Naometria as one of their primary influences.

Anyway, a loose Societas Naometrica was founded that included some leading thinkers of the latter half of the 16th century, including one of Studion's classmates from Tübingen, an astronomer named Michael Maestlin. Notably, one of Maestlin's students at the time of his correspondence with Studion was a frail, weak, but genius astronomer named... Johannes Kepler.

---

Just when I think I've run into a dead-end for my Mage game, a series of connections like this one pops up and reminds me I have picked probably the best period of human history and the best geographic area in which to run a game of occult conspiracies. :)
vertumnus
So in an email to my Mage players I just outlined the plotlines, both major and minor, that are currently in play. Do you think perhaps I've loaded them up with too much stuff to do? :)
  • Tycho leaving Benatky and the Jesuits looking to take it over (whole cabal, but primarily Salih and Lóránt)
  • the upcoming public dissection (Matthieu)
  • the upcoming departure of the Caleuche for New Guinea (Santiago)
  • decrypting the mysterious rosewood tablet (Lóránt and Santiago)
  • Ernst's joining the Consilium, learning of Mage culture and choosing an Order (Ernst)
  • Kepler's vision of the Moon (Salih and Lóránt)
  • Veles as the power source for the Hallow (Matthieu and Santiago)
  • the upcoming visit of Prince Michael to Prague (Ernst and Lóránt)
  • how Zsuzsanna's presence and the Order of the Dragon will be dealt with both prior to and during the state visit (Matthieu, Santiago, Lóránt)
  • Elizabeth Bathory and what to do about her (Ernst, Lóránt, and Yamna)
  • Father Wilhelm's documents, his posting to Graz, and the clockwork guild (Salih)
  • Ernst taking his job back from Ludovic (Ernst)
  • Ernst and Lóránt seeing the Salamander (Ernst, Lóránt, Matthieu)
I love taking stock of my game plotlines like this. It makes me smile unabashedly. :)
vertumnus
8th-Apr-2010 03:08 pm - Weird California: Idea List
"If you're going have a cult you might as well come where the weather's nice."

- Dr. John Hochman, cult expert, UCLA, in the aftermath of the Heaven's Gate suicide

Aspects of California culture I would explore in the Weird California game. Apparently MK Ultra looms large. Also? I realize now that this game would pretty much have to include all of California now... there was so much going on in the Bay Area in the time period that falls under the Weird umbrella.

I cannot emphasize enough:

I spent the entire day today thinking about this, and this is maybe 10% of what's out there. This is just a series of seeds from which the actual game narrative would grow. Also, this list does not include literature, film, television, or music that would be used as thematic inspiration. There are a LOT of those.

1968-1973
RFK Assassination
Operation Midnight Climax
Stargate Project
Stanford Research Institute
Owsley Stanley
Anton LaVey/Church of Satan
Process Church
Manson Family
Zodiac Killer
Church of Scientology
Altamont/Hells Angels
Phreaking/Blue Box
Bohemian Grove
Mt. Shasta

1973-1978
Children of God
Peoples Temple
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Potential_Movement
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Puthoff
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Targ
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganzfeld_experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Earth_Battalion
est
Xerox PARC
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Philip K. Dick
Salton Sea
Homebrew Computer Club
Z-Boys
Hillside Strangler
Night Stalker
Street Gangs
Golden Age of Porn

1978-1984
Gold Base/Death of Hubbard
Origin of AIDS
Southern California hardcore punk
1984 Summer Olympics

I need suggestions. Especially for the 80s portion, which I feel I can represent well, but where the Weirdness falls flat. Maybe that's the story: hippies-to-yuppies, magic dying, the evil prince from the First Act elevated to king, the dream ends.
big ben... parliament
The psychiatrist in charge of treating him for his lunacy had ratified it. Now Fat would never depart from faith in his encounter with God. Dr. Stone had nailed it down.

- VALIS, Philip K. Dick

This got too long for a tweet. So you all are going to have to listen to me work out another campaign idea in this ol' journal, now. :)

My mind still bubbling from last night's episode of Lost and its Gnostic implications, I have gotten sucked into reading Philip K. Dick's Valis again. And the idea of spicing up my existing idea of an occulty 60s-80s Southern California game inspired by Ellroy and Pynchon with liberal lashings of Dick (oh, that was kind of a little too much double entendre, wasn't it?) seems too good to be true. That troika of Hard-Boiled, Pop Culture, and Sci-Fi Hallucination is the perfect mix of themes for my long-percolating Occult L.A. game.1

(Here's a link to the original game idea (actually more like Iteration 3 or 4 of "Occult L.A."): http://mgrasso.livejournal.com/1680061.html)

So the key here would be adding just enough hallucinatory Dickian Gnosticism to make the game slightly off-kilter. Alternate histories and sideways realities accessible by large doses of LSD-25 are indicated. No, I am not consciously robbing from either J.J. Abrams or H.J. Thompson or indeed R. MacDougall and B. Durrell, but if you're going to rob someone blind on stuff like this...

Mage seems to be the logical choice for a system for something like this, although making the Underworld and lands of the dead into a literal alternate timeline and thus rendering the game a Mage/Geist crossover game with a largely Lostian rather than WoDian cosmology (remember what Charlie told Hurley at Santa Rosa? "I am dead. But I'm also here.") is attractive as well.2

I'm a bit hyper right now. *sigh* But like Horselover Fat, I had to "write" these ideas down before I lost them.

1It occurs to me that with the injection of a fourth "Love Story/Soap Opera" theme would accurately sum up why Lost appeals to me so much.

2Examining of this long vein of hallucinatory reality-bending L.A. literature makes me wonder if making Lost's secondary setting (aside from the Island) Los Angeles was intentional on the writers' part, for more reasons than it's easier to make Honolulu look like L.A. than New York or Boston.
big ben... parliament


I love the old days. Back when you didn't need academic sourcing to write a seemingly-authoritative academic treatise.

So one of the "sources" I've been using for the Mage game set in Rudolf's Prague is a weird little book titled The Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolph II (1576-1612). It was written by Henry Carrington Bolton and published by the "Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Co." of Milwaukee in 1904. That should be your first clue as to the historical veracity of this book.

Yeah, it's written in that classic Victorian style of "historical travelogue," where the author gives you the impression of having really been there at Rudolf's court, but the level of detail Bolton provides is frankly ridiculous. It'd be like someone using the notes from my game to reconstruct events at Rudolf's court historically. He surmises entire conversations out of whole cloth, meetings which aren't even certain to have happened, let alone had their contents recorded for posterity (among these is the famous meeting between Rabbi Loew and the Emperor, which turns into a long alchemical and occult dialogue).

It's the kind of absurd that you have to just embrace and not worry about too much. It's lousy for historical verisimilitude, but AWESOME for set decoration and flavor. Try this on for size: Bolton's entirely imaginary idea of what Rudolf's alchemical laboratory looks like, which I am using verbatim in tonight's session. :)

purplest of purple prose beneath cut, also longCollapse )

It's the level of unncessary detail that kills me. "Oh boy, those pots were sadly in need of a good scrub." I'm reminded of that bit in Infinite Jest where Struck is reading Geoffrey Day's paper on the Wheelchair Assassins and he remarks how much it sounds like Day was writing while on a Valium-and-red wine bender, which is precisely how he actually wrote the paper. Maybe Mr. Bolton was imbibing some of his own pharmaceuticals while he wrote this madness? It doesn't matter; a hundred years later and it's going in my game pretty much as is. Thanks, Mr. Bolton. Your absinthe-and-laudanum daydreams are now my incidental room description. :)
vertumnus
12th-Dec-2009 01:23 pm - Alternate history maps
io9 posted a link to the forums of alternatehistory.com where they're doing a thread on alternate history maps, some of which have a fantastical bent. (The article's not quite right on what the thread is about). Of course, io9 focuses on the zombie outbreak maps. Zombies, right? Big fat yawn.

But there were some gems, some maps that were not only interesting to me as alternate histories but also very graphically attractive, so I've included links to them here:

This is probably my favorite: Magical Potential in the British Isles, c. 1870. That's a campaign, right there. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, two generations later? Oh man. :)

The Great Golem Uprising, 1848/49. This is I, Robot meets the Risorgimento meets my Mage game. :)

The Isidorian Order and Relics, 1200 AD. Wow, just dozens and dozens of adventure seeds here. Could be good for an Aegis Kai Doru game.

Distribution of Races in the Republic of Upershina, with and surrounding nations. This is a Prussia full of warring vampires and werewolves. :)
big ben... parliament
Out in the desert in the last light of day
We searched for the footprints of Bobby Beausoleil
And there in the desert past the LA county line
Bobby buried the canister in the middle of the night


- "Scorpio Rising," John Vanderslice

So lately I've been listening to the John Darnielle/John Vanderslice EP Moon Colony Bloodbath on repeat. It's the old tale of boy goes to Moon to guard secret clone organ banks, boy comes back to Earth and is sequestered in a luxury chalet in Colorado until he returns to the Moon, boy goes crazy on the moon and starts eating the clones. You know, you've heard it a million times before.

But this post is not about the album's high concept. It's about a verse, reproduced above, that got me thinking about one of my own high-concept and now indefinitely defunct games: my contribution to the "Nexus Hat Trick," three intertwined World of Darkness games that rayan4d2 (Werewolf), ioianthe (Vampire) and me (Mage) were running, set in the present day. None of us ever got to finish our parts of the Nexus Hat Trick, but if I had, it would go something like this:

Spoiler space for those of you who don't want to know how Mises et Metteurs would have endedCollapse )

Obviously, one of the big inspirations for this game was Flicker, which contains a very thinly veiled stand-in for Kenneth Anger, and I think at some early point in the prep work for the game I noted the proximity of Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil, and Charles Manson in L.A. in the 60s and took note of it for The Devil session.

Anyway, to see more of my game planning notes, this entry has the early workshopping. Also spoiler-heavy:

http://mgrasso.livejournal.com/1299084.html
b.a.
So here we are at Part 5, Troubleshooting. What to do when a game goes wrong, or goes off the rails, or just isn't working?

Here's a recap of the first four parts:

Part 1: Inspiration
Part 2: Conception
Part 3: Session Zero
Part 4: Running the Game

Part 5: TroubleshootingCollapse )

Well, I'd be glad to cover other troubleshooting issues or anything from this week now. It's been fun to write these and educational for me to look at the way I do things and see where I can chart some improvements. Thanks for being patient this week, everyone! I'll try to get to yesterday's questions soon, too.
hunter
I've spent the last three days talking about campaign prep: about inspiration for a campaign, about conceiving the principles behind it, and about getting the players involved and ready. Now I'm going to talk about the game itself. I'm going to use arielstarshadow's specific question on game prep and execution as a prompt, because I realized in putting this post together that I could never ever cover every single aspect of what I do for running games in a timely or easy-to-read fashion.

I'll be using my Changeling game for examples this time around, since it's the most consistently successful game I've run in the past couple of years.

Part 4: Running the GameCollapse )

I would really like to answer more questions about running games here, though, as I've been limited in what I've covered here. So ask away, people!
big ben... parliament
Monday was Inspiration, Tuesday was Conception and today I will detail the first interactive part of any role-playing game, the point where the players begin to help shape the narrative: character generation, "Session Zero," and Preludes.

Part 3: Character Generation, Session Zero, and PreludesCollapse )

Oh, I added a new tag for this series: "my process."
vertumnus
22nd-Sep-2009 06:54 am - RPGs: My process. Part 2: Conception
Yesterday I talked about getting the initial inspiration for an RPG campaign. (I also went off on a couple of tangents, I realize now, but not on anything I would've saved for a future installment.) This time I'm going to talk about conceiving the campaign itself; proposing it to my players, constructing themes and moods, thinking about basic interactions between PC and NPC, and preparing for direct player input.

Part 2: ConceptionCollapse )
big ben... parliament
21st-Sep-2009 10:32 am - RPGs: My process. Part 1: Inspiration
A month or so ago arielstarshadow asked me for a series of posts on my creative process vis-à-vis my role-playing games. Seeing as how at the time our dog was ready to keel over, I tabled the plans to do this. But I thought that this week would be a good time for me to finally do a series of posts on that topic. Taking a cue from arielstarshadow's questions, I'm basically going to take you through the process, from initial inspiration, to conception and prospectus, to gathering the players/Session Zeroing, to running the game, and finally to troubleshooting. Today's installment is probably my favorite part of the process, the initial inspiration.

arielstarshadow asked "Where do you start when you're creating a new campaign? I see you do all kinds of cool research - is it that something pings in your head and you then just start websurfing?"

And I answer below.

Part 1: InspirationCollapse )
la pucelle
10th-Aug-2009 09:09 am - metapost
You know what I just realized?

Remember about two years ago, a meme would go through LJ like wildfire and everyone on your flist would take it?

Yeah, Facebook has leached that particular contaminant from LJ's system.

Seriously, I just took a Myers-Briggs test for the first time in years, on Facebook. (Still ISTJ, naturally). And then I realized all the memes I see/react to are... on Facebook. Which means more "real content" on LJ! I think. Does it?
big ben... parliament


The Gabriel Hounds
Foundry
1971
Quatrain Records

Hailing from the Black Country of northern England, Foundry were a late 60s English back-to-basics folk act that followed the cues of other hippie-folk acts of that time (Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Genesis) and slowly morphed into a progressive rock outfit with liberal lashings of the nascent genre of heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple). Stuck between the green georgic pre-Christian hills of Britain and the thudding industrial echoes of the Industrial Revolution, Foundry plotted a fusion of the two, making them a quintessentially British act.

The Gabriel Hounds was their third album, a concept album dedicated to an old Black Country legend of spectral hounds who would howl in the night and carry away the unbaptized. The cover art, an engraving of a huge iron foundry furnace, was taken from a museum in the band's own native Black Country, which during the Industrial Revolution was the home for glass factories, huge ceramics makers, and of course, foundries.

That heavy metal emerges in the dark, thudding solos of lead guitarist and vocalist Richard Bagnall, who plays the role of the archangel Gabriel on the opening song, "Tumulus," which evokes the feeling of the Hounds crossing over into this world through one of the titular burial mounds. Erin O'Malley (vocals and mandolin) plays the counterpoint to this, a bereaved mother with the whiff of the pagan about her, who sings to the gods of grain and fire in "Brigid's Keening" and "The Night Whistle."

The confrontation between the Christian male force and pagan female power culminates in the four-track cycle "Hounds of the Night," on side two, with some of the most furious and creative jamming heard on an early 70s prog-rock work.

Foundry released two more albums after The Gabriel Hounds, but their appeal never made the break or enjoyed the longevity of other similar groups like Fairport Convention. All accounts are that after 1974's Yochanan, the group split up and faded into obscurity in their native Black Country. Still, it's a wonder that O'Malley didn't end up as celebrated as contemporaries like Sandy Denny, and that Bagnall's wit and raw musical talent didn't make him a second Richard Thompson. Their music has also never been re-released on digital media, making the finding of a Foundry LP on this side of the pond a regular holy grail for prog-folk fans. You're better off going over to the UK and trying to find one in a car boot sale.

- Pylon, online music magazine, March 4 2009
voynich sun
18th-Mar-2009 07:27 pm - [Hunter: the Vigil] The Becoming
There were signs up in the sky
When we gathered by the garden wall
Everybody on his best behavior
Listening for the altar call

- “New Zion,” The Mountain Goats


The social upheaval of the late 1960s led to a long and destructive aftermath. The peace and love and anti-war movements led to a slow disintegration of the nuclear family. For the young people of this generation, religious devotion and communal living sometimes filled the void.

In the 1970s, America harbored a number of these so-called “cults.” Some political in motivation, some spiritual, some merely vehicles for the selfish desires of the cult leader. The Manson Family. The Weathermen. The Unification Church. The Symbionese Liberation Army. The Raelians. The Church of Scientology. The Process Church. The Children of God. The Peoples Temple. est. They preyed on the weak, the lost, the hurt, those left behind after the maelstrom blew through the West.

Dear Melvin
This is the Zodiac speaking I wish you a happy Christmass. The one thing I ask of you is this, please help me. I cannot reach out because of this thing in me won't let me. I am finding it extreamly dificult to keep in check I am afraid I will loose control again and take my nineth + posibly tenth victom. Please help me I am drownding... Please help me I can not remain in control for much longer.

- received by Melvin Belli, December 20, 1969


A parallel and in some cases joint cultural development in the 1970s was the rise of the serial murderer in the United States. Often themselves obsessed with the occult or the religious, these individuals were the asocial counterpart to the cult leader, but their will was focused inward, to the satisfaction of their own dark, murderous urges. The serial killer is the dark reflection of the American will to power, the ultimate hunter, pioneer, sovereign. They too were unleashed after the social disintegration of the 1970s, and their legacy stretches into past... and future.

Dr Clark: The techniques that are being used for this are now partly based upon available knowledge and available tools -- tape recordings that go on all day, all night; loudspeakers all through the camps; music that can be invented and put into electronic form extremely rapidly; repetition of things; printing of things; propagandizing; things that did not happen a long time ago.

Cong. Giaimo: Do you believe that this subject of mind control that you are talking about is a legitimate area of congressional inquiry?

Dr. Clark: Entirely.

John G. Clark M.D., assistant clinical professor, Harvard Medical School, before the Joint Congressional Proceedings on the Cult Phenomenon in the United States, 1979

Law enforcement in many areas has been slow to react and adjust to these realities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's mandate has historically included kidnapping, and in high-profile cases like Patricia Hearst, their efforts were noted. But in reacting to the rapidly-multiplying series of social changes that produced the fertile landscape for cults and serial killers to flourish, there has not been a more professional and highly-advanced group than the FBI Boston Field Office's Joint Task Force on Cult Action and Kidnapping.

The FBI Joint Task Force on Cult Action and Kidnapping was founded in the Boston Field Office in 1973 as a joint action between the Bureau, Secret Service, Massachusetts State Police, and various Boston-area police agencies. Even after the Foley Case was closed in 1974, the Task Force remained, and grew, taking in experts from the Boston area and elsewhere, lending its expertise to the FBI headquarters in Washington and to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and worldwide.

It is now 1983, and the office is “celebrating” its decennial. It is working a number of cases in parallel inside New England and still is valued by the FBI and its new National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Provided by President Reagan with its mandate to “identify and track repeat killers,” it also monitors and infiltrates cult groups who may be breaking interstate trafficking, kidnapping, or false imprisonment laws.

“Last two like this we had, you caught.”
“That was three years ago. And by doing the same things you and the rest of them at the lab are doing.”
“That's not entirely true, Will. It's the way you think.”
“I think there has been a lot of bullshit about the way I think.”

- Manhunter


The PCs are members of or adjuncts to the Joint Task Force. They can be either civilians (crime lab personnel, civilian profilers, academic criminologists) or law enforcement (local PD, state police or federal agents of various agencies). They have some minimal experience in their chosen fields, but should not be veterans. The PCs will be standard Hunter characters built with 35 XP at a nominal Tier One level.
b.a.
21st-Nov-2008 10:31 pm - I am Happy Storyteller
Dear My Changeling Players:

I really thought that the Goblin Fruit bearing the grimacing face of mebib's character would be the thing to creep you out. I never dreamed instead that the slowly-approaching sound of a distant schoolbell over the Hedge and then the loud slamming sound flattening the Thorns would instead be the thing to unnerve you in that session.

I am pleased that it is often the subtle, not the gross-out, that tweaks you all.

Love,

mgrasso

P.S. It is a horror RPG, as is every World of Darkness game.

P.P.S. Project VALKYRIE for the muthafuckin' win.

Edit: Hah! They did it AGAIN!

big ben... parliament
Okay. It's just a proposal, but man, everyone wants to play D&D. This is what I would do if a) people were interested and b) I had the time.

"When the dawn comes to greet you, you'll rise with clothes on
And advance with the others, singing old songs
Of cattle and maidens and withered old queens.
Let the music carry you on."


- The Tain, The Decemberists

Pangs that tear at our backs like thistledownCollapse )
big ben... parliament
Let me ask you a question. Have you, in any of your RPGs, ever led a group of angry villagers and pushed Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff into a burning wicker man?

Well, if not, you have not lived, my friends. I present, for your enjoyment, Lost Film #2 of Mises et Metteurs, our Mage game.

The Wicker Man
b/w, sound, 68 min. Dir. Albert Granger, w/Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, [TEXT BLURRED]
United Kingdom, 1937
Mysterious Lord Dunwoody (Bela Lugosi) and local barman Philip (Boris Karloff) menace an American investigato [TEXT BLURRED] arances in a sleepy English village. Notable for its Hitchcockian turns and frank exploration of pa [TEXT BLURRED] osi's character, believed modeled on Aleister Crowley, is the leader of a sect that provides blood sacrifice to t[REST OF TEXT ILLEGIBLE].

*grin*
big ben... parliament
1st-Jul-2007 08:41 pm - Session 37
Cripes, that was a good session of Dark Ages: Fae.

I dunno... my players feel all victimized and like I keep throwing horrible things at them just to do it. "Actions have consequences" is what I try to convey, and I think I do a decent job of that.

Also, you know, narratives have to have conflicts, naturally. Without that, you don't really have stories.

But I was talking about what I like about the campaign tonight, and what came out was that our characters evolve and change and their plot arcs also change and most importantly end. Marie has seen two husbands die and her shawl returned to her. Hauviette has lost both her parents (and found one again) and committed an act of mass murder. Beata has solved the riddle of her own existence and the mysterious mission she's been pursuing ever since she was "born."

It's a great campaign. It's just the fact that I've created so much that I'm constantly overwhelmed by it all. Dozens of NPCs, 37 game sessions, many many plots and subplots... it's too much for me sometimes.

Edit: Oh, COME ON.


la pucelle
14th-Apr-2007 09:08 am - [no mage filter] Lucifer's Memoirs
Let me finish, Miss Charm. An hour ago, Love Story was even money to end up in the shredder. You win, I lose. Got it? Stop being Miss Inverse Snob, will ya? It doesn't wear well. Don't turn your nose down to success. If anything goes wrong with you and Blondie between now and post time, I'm seven digits away.
- Robert Evans to Ali MacGraw, 1970

Four years ago I had a stroke, I was declared dead and I'm writing a sequel to my book. It's going to be called "The Fat Lady Sang". I heard the fat lady sing and I saw the white light. I woke up in the hospital, then a month ago I put my foot into cement at the Mann's Chinese Theatre.
- Robert Evans, 2002
'Noah,' an antagonist for Mises et Metteurs (warning: FRIGHTENING picture of a leathery, demonic Robert Evans in bed under cut)Collapse )

I have to be honest... I kind of want to just make him a Magistos and be done with it. But it just seemed too obvious, you know? I still might. Switch up Space and Forces and give him commensurately more Space rotes... Anyway, thoughts, comments, and references to Patton Oswalt's Robert Evans ESPN routine are welcome.
big ben... parliament
All right, so, Mage: the Movie Game. The first thing I need is a bloody NAME for this thing. Any thoughts?

Here's a recapitulation of the game concept, which honestly hasn't changed much since I proposed it a couple of weekends ago.

The CampaignCollapse )

The MoviesCollapse )

AntagonistsCollapse )

Comments? Questions?
big ben... parliament
25th-Mar-2007 12:54 pm - Lost Film 1: Das Orakel
robotnik, you were right. Flicker is a slice of fried gold. I'm about a quarter of the way through and I plan on finishing it today. It also helped me finally get my first idea for a "lost film" for my Mage game. I still need a bloody name for that game! Anyway, here it is; the film that the PCs are going to try to heist and then "eat" during the first session. It is entirely a product of my imagination, as all seven of the films will be.




Das Orakel (1929?)
b/w, silent, 102 min. Dir. "Antonio Rodnitz," w/ Louise Brooks, Theodor Loos, Fritz Kortner, Fritz Alberti.

Believed shot in 1929 during her German period, Louise Brooks stars in this long-believed-lost film, directed by unknown director Antonio Rodnitz (whom some believe to be a pseudonym for Brooks collaborator G. W. Pabst, while others assert this film was made on the sly by Fritz Lang during the shooting and editing of Metropolis). Brooks plays Johanna, a financial wunderkind who is discovered working as a secretary in a Berlin financial firm. After the partners find her predictions to be completely accurate, she is elevated to the role of chair of the firm. Soon she finds herself pursued by forces beyond her control to take advantage of her oracular abilities. Reminiscent of Lang's Metropolis for its strong female role and M for the darkened Berlin streets of its claustrophobic second half, it has been undiscovered for over 70 years, all copies believed destroyed by the Nazi regime's cultural censors.

This version is believed to be a much-redacted cut made at the demand of Universum Film AG, who eventually refused to show the finished version due to "cultural concerns" (this, in the libertine time of the Weimar Republic!) Das Orakel was never released to the public according to records, and the last known copy was believed lost in Paris during the Nazi occupation. The provenance of this copy is unknown and its donor prefers to remain anonymous.

(Due to the film's fragility, this will be its only showing in North America and its first public showing anywhere.)

Provided to Emory's Department of Film Studies by a Friend of the University.
big ben... parliament
Two decades, separated by 300 years. Both marked by profound societal change after a traumatic war. Restoration 1660s London, its recently-fire-razed streets filled with the liberty and libertinage of a grand Restoration. Mod 1960s London, home to fashion, art, finance, celebrity, and swinging nightlife!

It'd be fun to tackle a game that took place simultaneously in both time periods, so you could explore their marked cultural similarities. Depending on the way you went, you could play characters related to each other in the different time periods, or perhaps even the same characters (Vampire, anyone?). I'm picturing something similar in theme to the issues of The Invisibles where King Mob goes back in time to visit the 1920s Invisibles. This would also help me satisfy my urge to play/run a Restoration game AND my thoughts about a 1960s filmmakers game that was inspired by the movie CQ.

Hmm. :)
big ben... parliament


Before I lose momentum on this idea, I want to get some ideas/images/concepts out of my head.

It's about a townCollapse )

System and charactersCollapse )

MusicCollapse )

Concerns right off the topCollapse )

If you are interested, comment here. We are looking to start late next month, and scheduling is somewhat open. Thursdays and Fridays are the only days that are completely out. Once I have an idea of who's interested, I will send an email around with more details. Again, we're doing casting of a wide net so we can get 3-5 players.
big ben... parliament
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