a long time ago I wrote, if absolutely obscurely, about the pittsburgh surrealist play scene as being a stand-in for the only solution in the post-trump reality. How to deal with the rise of facism? Suck on my butt!
If the solution here actually is, ultimately, a descent into madness that may or may not actually correspond to a real solution in the facist reality-- isn't that escapism?
The play ends with the respective members of society escaping from earth in total to the planet of spiders, helped along by the mother-ly (real baby literally attached) force of the wind.
Is it okay that this message corresponds to a giving up on earth entirely?
I think perhaps we must follow those lines of grief that come up on our faces, as a discussion of alternate realities at all is perhaps, the ultimate solution (excuse me) to Facism™.
But what is an alternate reality? We assume that those who beg to differ from the mainstream have a social debt they refuse to pay. Always some kind of retribution along the path to the grave, one, and two-- an escapism in our imaginations which, we must hope, is querulously "real".
I live a life of constant dread and sucidial thinking, interrupted occasionally, with the help of drugs and perhaps, art, by the FOMO-laden minefields exactly depicted in this production. Touching on a world better than myself, with those artists with their brazen sexuality and good work and better lives. The grass is always greener but I think the point is that the grass is greener because it is separate from us.
To deny the existence of our imaginations, even as they live out alternate lives, is to do ourselves a disservice. Haruki Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" shows that in each of us is a greater life than the one lived outside. We are all mendicant then to this stronger internal life even as the lights outside wink out one by one.
The game ends in a signature Kojima-annoying fashion; two hour cutscene including two separate credit rolls, the "crying president" scene, and a half-hour sequence where you're blue and can't move much. Arguably a lot of the digital acting is boring, and a lot of the dialogue is nihilistically bland.
The themes are somewhat good. Information is transmitted wirelessly using ultrasonic frequencies. Something something extinction; politicians give us hope but are also executioners.
The metaphysics/mechanics/fx make the themes better. Ghosts in this game fully bridge geography and transmission. The internet piggybacks on death; "The name of the bow is life but its work is death."-Heraclitus. You play almost all of the game while carrying a child which needs to be comforted. In a climactic boss fight, you are given only broken cargo to use.
Those kinds of inspired visual/mechanical fx are paired with occasionally poignant moments, or wackycreepy departures, from the digital actors. All of this rests on a bed of walking sim gameplay.
How Death Stranding innovates on the "walking simulator":
The essential action is carrying cargo. Everything the character picks up is represented by luggage which takes up space and is heavy. Generally, you want to carry as much cargo as you can manage.
The more cargo you carry, the easier it is to stumble and fall.Stumbling and falling can damage your cargo. You want your cargo to be undamaged.
Things that can make you stumble and fall: slopes, rocks, rivers, ghosts.
The essential action is to avoid stumbles (or crashes, if you're using your motorcycle). Carry enough cargo, and a rocky slope can be dangerous. So there is a real zoom-in on the importance of terrain. And there are many ways to manage terrain: powered skeletons, vehicles, ladders, climbing anchors, build-able bridges, even roads.
Gloriously, there is also military combat. I say gloriously because it is introduced relatively late into the game. Package delivery is more important and is introduced first. Most of any army is supply.
There are also dreamlike sequences where tactical warfaring becomes the focus. These are a unique and interesting departure, which self-consciously and with some critique, cater to the modern warfaring needs of today's gaming markets.
Death Stranding is innovative primarily because it refocuses a familiar world. Post-apocalypse, survivalism, supernatural forces tied to dubious technology-- but it's about packages. In many ways it is a playable version of David Birn's "The Postman".
And, alike Dark Souls, it has a very sturdy and efficient asynchronous multiplayer system, cooperative only. I hope they introduce a player versus player mode, even clumsily applied, it would seem fun.
-Adult, melancholy and complex emotional tone and gameplay.
-Kojima-signature interminable exposition.
-Save system is clumsily presented, main ops trigger game overs.
Death Stranding is a weird PS2-era artgame. We used to carve around the bad spots of these games, bc art that was actually good and mechanics that actually innovated were rare. I say that they're still rare, good art is always in short supply.
GH is a game which can take upwards of 10 minutes per turn to simulate 6 seconds of combat. I spent years of my life trying to get away from overcomplex rpgs. Pathfinder is a mess. Sleepovers spending 4 hours making characters and then whatever energy we have left trying to run the first combat.
The appeal of being a nerd is fiddling with minutiae. Conversations about parliamentary procedure, debates about art, Gloomhaven, all yammering obsessives trying to squeeze approval points out of each other by means of what ultimately comes down to aggression. I'll admit though that Gloomhaven handles this process, mass quarreling, gracefully, by encouraging competition between the mercenaries. Secret objectives, unlockables, perks, XP, all the rewards are best won via selfish actions like abandoning your teammates for gold. So there's something *fun* to argue about.
I like Gloomhaven enough to emulate it using Tabletop Simulator. For a game that is very much alike emulating a video game, I am emulating it using a video game. I felt embarrassed talking to my babe about this, the shuffling and parsing of minutiae, dragging digital cards around, muttering to myself and sitting hours in a simulation. My partner was like, why are you ashamed? "This seems totally normal to me."
"Shut Up & Sit Down" has a good review which covers the benefits and frustrations of Gloomhaven, and the reviewer summarizes his affection as a feeling of "warmth" when extracting or putting away the complex innards of the box. Very much the nerdy management of minutiae, but let's also give credit to the game for creating continuous iterations of interesting puzzle-combat.
I had a rush of energy and wrote down my own little version of dnd, like one does. Someday I may playtest it... but for now I'd just to like to curate the good or interesting ideas I had.
SUMMARY OF THE "GOOD IDEAS" IN MY DND-LIKE I JOTTED DOWN:
Three stats, between which you can distribute 2 points at character creation:
Strength, Magic, Cunning.
Strength: 1 point of strength = +3 hp, +2 bab, and +1 ac. Also helps some skills.
Magic: 1 point of magic lets you cast one 1st level spell per day, 2 points of magic lets you cast as many 1st level spells as you want. 3 points of magic lets you cast 1 2nd level spell per day (and as many 1st level spells as you want), 4 points lets you cast as many 1st or 2nd level spells as you want etc. etc.
many spells have their own restrictions about how often they can be used to limit the power involved.
cunning: 1 point of cunning gets you 1 free action before initiative is rolled. So if you have 2 cunning you get two actions before everyone else goes.
if multiple participants have cunning, these free actions happen in random order.
skills, from which you get to assign 2 points at character creation:
hunting- str OR cun +hunting vs. prey. can also be used to track
healing- d4 hp per patient per day, per point
climbing- str and cun + climbing vs. DC
thievery-- includes sleight of hand and all stealth. vs. prey's cunning, or
no social skills at all.
you can improve skills by fulfilling conditions like "practice this skill for a year" or "achieve great wealth using this skill".
improving stats, however, happens mostly on the basis of patronage, that is, service to divine figures in exchange for power.
this is essentially a substitute for classes.
examples of patronage:
you get rewards for building churches, burning heretics, bringing righteous justice, leading a flock, converting nonbelievers and so on.
rewards include the ability to channel divinity, stat bonuses, "taking communion"=full heal by going to church, holy weapons.
however you are required to follow a strict moral code and receive
forgiveness from powerful priests if you misstep.
serving the devil:
can directly trade your soul for money or stat bonuses, and greater amts for a more pious soul.
Also you're destined for hell.
Also the devil then can speak to you whenever it wishes, and will try to tempt you with, like, better positions in hell. or other stuff.
serving the chaos god
directly trades stats bonuses for people killed, e.g. +1 at 10, +1 at 100, +1 at 500, +1 at 1,000...
You can improve your magic score by finding eldritch texts, building a library, communing with other wizards, and practicing the art; essentially the study of esoteric knowledge is its own "patron".
Patronages can usually be advanced to some extent by spending money. Churches built, monuments to satan, etc.
Failing patronage requirements usually doesn't take away the stats, but rather imposes other penalties: wizards who get their libraries burned get mishap chances when they cast, for example.
REFLECTING ON THE "GOOD IDEAS":
Cunning awards actions before initiative is rolled, essentially free surprise rounds. Thus, the more often you can trigger initiative being rolled, the more often you get your free actions. So to some extent, paying attention to when initiative is rolled will be necessary for the design to prevent abuse.
Free actions like Cunning gives might be very overpowered.
Potentially complex and/or bad interactions with how chases work.
Making initiative more complicated might not be good.
This seems like a unique take on initiative, and I'm proud of it. Going first has always been a huge advantage and often underlooked by design, so I'm happy to place it as a primary feature of the character mechanics.
Also seems like a good way to keep tactics fresh. Goblins have 0 strength but 1 cunning so they're weak but they get to do something surprising.
Not sure how much benefit there is to constructing a very simple framework for characters, especially since so much of the appeal of DND-like games comes from specialization. With 2 points to distribute between three stats, every character will be shades of each other.
On the other hand, there is a lot of variety presented by a party composition such as this:
guy with 2 magic
guy with 2 strength
guy with 2 cunning and stealth.
the essential idea is that instead of XP you have class-specific goals. Improvement happens in a wider context, such as a hero's rise in a church or a deepening debt to the Devil.
This lends more drama than just becoming more powerful by defeating monsters.
Asking players to pay more attention to their advancement seems like it might turn people off or split the party more.
No social skills at all
LOTFP gets away with just using reaction rolls, and for a while I've insisted that players offer good deals if they want NPCs to do stuff. I don't like "roll to convince" so I'm fine taking it off the table. However, there will probably be unforseen consequences.
I don't know when I'll give it all a playtest. Sharing on my blog because its where my creative mind is rn.
a superfight is an exercise where you run a fictional tournament between some fictional combatants. today's fighters are: kirby mahatma ghandi (2nd time participant) mewtwo morrissey a lamp me president bill clinton circa 1994 horse (returning champion)
kirby v me I am able to grievously wound wound kirby. however the kinetic force of his "suck" power is able to carom me off a wall or piece of furniture, dislocating my spine. Match: kirby. president bill clinton v. horse bill clinton: not in shape, however has been photographed riding a horse (see above). Tame a wild horse? Unlikely. Victor: HORSE mahatma ghandi v. a lamp ghandi cinches this? Dude can break a lamp. mewtwo v. morrissey mewtwo uses confusion and flips morrissey into the ocean. the battlefield for this superfight is on a beach. winner: m2
mahatma ghandi v. a horse
mahatma could swing this. however, he wisely chooses not to ride the horse, as it poses a health risk.
match: mahatma. he is able to calm the horse down or simply outwait it until it sleeps.
mewtwo v. kirby
the actual fight we've been waiting for. obviously kirby copies mewtwo off of the bat. from then on we have a classic shadow ball match. kirby however does not have a reflective ability and I think that means mewtwo has the upper hand. perhaps the wound sustained in kirby's fight with me earlier makes an unfortunate reprisal.
mewtwo v. mahatma ghandi
mewtwo is curious about philosophy enough to stay its psychic powers. Can the mahatma sway mewtwo to the the path of pacificism? my gut instinct says no. ghandi is obliterated via psystrike
THE PROS OF A GAME OF LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS:
The game simply enables quick, deadly, and meaningful combat. This was the retroclone that did it for me and keeps on doing it.
Character creation is brief.
The rulebook is lightweight, full of good art, and generally easy to reference.
The skill system is versatile and lightweight and simple. It also encourages "avoiding the roll": the player is encouraged to use inventive techniques to avoid the often difficult skill checks.
"Avoiding the roll" is innate to the tactics. The stats are imposing, and this encourages imagination over rote gameplay.
The GM does not know how the PCs can win or even if they will win, so the story is that much more uncontrolled and up to the player's wits.
Diplomacy is not a roll, instead it's up to the referee's rulings. In my games the players have to offer good reasons for NPCs to do what they want.
Heavily balancing the odds against the players means there's no reason to flinch when the PCs acquire some kind of heavily overpowered item/spell/demon.
The game's portrait of magic is "high risk, high price, high reward" which makes for good horror storytelling.
The rulebook has many hidden power levers, the Summon spell is the most standout.
A focus on horror is a focus on glorious and weird adult drama.
Players should be warned/informed of a number of factors:
Player Characters can easily die.
Extreme content. You need to ask what everyone's comfortable with.
The skill system is radically different than D&D's. Ditto for magic, XP, leveling up, classes/race, and diplomacy.
Combat is super deadly, retreat is important to keep in mind.
There are special combat options (charge does double dmg, press, parry, etc.)
Alignments don't govern behavior.
Being able to improvise well requires having a proper prep workflow (see section below).
The encumbrance system works best if it's not thoroughly addressed.
Fleeing from combat is somewhat under-written.*
Rules for stealth, sneak attack, helplessness, and surprise are not collated.
The system of saves is a pain to copy down or check against and seems overcomplicated.
The skill system is often confusing for new players.
High player character death volume can be demoralizing and hard to explain in the fiction.
"Young Girl Eating a Bird" Rene Magritte,1927
How to prep for LOTFP well:
Make a large map which has loosely sketched locations on it.
Have a handful of modules or adventure locations which you bought, read, or wrote, and have (agonizingly) sat on for years. Put some of these on the map.
If the PCs go beyond your prep, you need to be able to improvise until the end of the session, and then spend the interim week catching up. This is the core of the workflow-- bringing something to the table, and if necessary, catching up between weeks.
Be able to, at a moment's whim, discard hours worth of prep. This is crucial! if the PCs leave your adventure zone, you need to be able to keep up! Don't dawdle!
As a gm, your role is imagining and writing stuff which may not ever be played, and the more gleefully you can embrace that, the more efficiently you'll prep, and the more fun you'll have. Plus you can and should save unplayed prep for later campaigns, even for years later in your life.
Basic Core Tenets of Lotfp (as I know it):
Success in adventure is not guaranteed.
Moral behavior is not especially rewarded.
If the players depart from the extent of the referee's prepared notes, the referee must improvise and follow their lead.
Humans and their power structures are usually predictable and genuinely powerful in their own rights.
Monsters and magic are by nature horrifying, weird, and variously powerful.
If a participant in the game is not content with how the game is played they should address the group's agreements on how the game is played.
The end result should be a game about planning and taking risks against desperate and weird circumstances, with unexpected results. It should spit out weird horror and invite unique contemplation.
* It comes down to a fairly random roll off (1d20 + speed/10) with a few additions-- monsters have to pass a morale check if you drop food or treasure. Rules on how failed escapes work would be appreciated-- are the players are able to flee again after being caught?