Sunday, August 11, 2019

Pros and Cons of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Additionally: How to Prep, and the Game's Basic Tenets As I Know It, After 4 Year's Experience

  1. The game simply enables quick, deadly, and meaningful combat. This was the retroclone that did it for me and keeps on doing it.
  2. Character creation is brief.
  3. The rulebook is lightweight, full of good art, and generally easy to reference.
  4. 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.
  5. "Avoiding the roll" is innate to the tactics. The stats are imposing, and this encourages imagination over rote gameplay. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. The game's portrait of magic is "high risk, high price, high reward" which makes for good horror storytelling.
  10. The rulebook has many hidden power levers, the Summon spell is the most standout.
  11. A focus on horror is a focus on glorious and weird adult drama.
  1. Players should be warned/informed of a number of factors:
    1. Player Characters can easily die.
    2. Extreme content. You need to ask what everyone's comfortable with.
    3. The skill system is radically different than D&D's. Ditto for magic, XP, leveling up, classes/race, and diplomacy.
    4. Combat is super deadly, retreat is important to keep in mind.
    5. There are special combat options (charge does double dmg, press, parry, etc.)
    6. Alignments don't govern behavior.
  2. Being able to improvise well requires having a proper prep workflow (see section below).
  3. The encumbrance system works best if it's not thoroughly addressed.
  4. Fleeing from combat is somewhat under-written.*
  5. Rules for stealth, sneak attack, helplessness, and surprise are not collated.
  6. The system of saves is a pain to copy down or check against and seems overcomplicated.
  7. The skill system is often confusing for new players.
  8. 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):
  1. Success in adventure is not guaranteed.
  2. Moral behavior is not especially rewarded.
  3. If the players depart from the extent of the referee's prepared notes, the referee must improvise and follow their lead.
  4. Humans and their power structures are usually predictable and genuinely powerful in their own rights. 
  5. Monsters and magic are by nature horrifying, weird, and variously powerful.
  6. 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?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

border 2018 review

This movie at heart is about troll sex. The film is similar to the director's previous hit, "Let the Right One In". This guy is establishing his own cinematic universe-- modern day monsters in Sweden. 

The prosthetics glued to the actors do get in the way a little but they are pretty good. The sexual attraction between the trolls is the best. They are sniffing and it feels relatable and revealing. The actual sex is somewhat shocking. 

However the B plot which is about child pornography unfortunately feels folded in by coincidence with the A romance plot, and the movie's pacing struggles in the second half also. "Let The Right One In" had a more functional and compact story.

There's some amount of ironic gravitas surrounding trolls and baby-stealing which, like in "Let the Right One In", plays off the original emotions of the mythology. However as I said the conflict is a little less centered and therefore the protagonist's struggle at the climax fell flat for me.

Which do you exclusively choose: community with others of your kind or a sense of universal ethics? I don't think the film suggests a more interesting question.

"Prog rock" sexy.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hereditary & Midsommar

The films are mirror images of each other. There's an obsession with sacrifices made by fire. Cults and manipulation in the face of grief. There's a formula:
  1. Messy family trauma played realistically
  2. Loud crying scene
  3. Cult enters; first signs of cult
  4. Cult influence and horrid intentions become more obvious
  5. Total abandonment of reality as cult reigns supreme 
Like "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Wicker Man" pretty much but with family trauma and loud crying scene upfront. The contrast between grief and the supernatural is what "Hereditary" receives praise for. I think both films don't stick the ending.

"Hereditary" has a perceived resolution with the Mom hanging above her son (Peter) and cutting her own head off with piano wire.  Unlike my mom who would never do that. In "Midsommar" the main character watches her boyfriend burn alive in a bear suit.

I think it's about the cult in both cases-- in "Hereditary", the cult is mostly invisible, and therefore their web of power can be easily imagined. The supernatural flourishes in the dark. In "Midsommar", the cult is very visible.

"Midsommar"s visibility leads to a lot of beautiful and striking crowd scenes. It's all shot in a giant field which, by the end, feels claustrophobic. The utter presence of every building in every exterior shot is a notable accomplishment for the filmmakers.

However, the acts of violence that start piling up feel too extreme for the Swedes. By the end it's a horror movie bloodbath. What we deserved was a more nuanced and realistic tale.

It's a case where utter visibility defines, for me, stricter requirements for my belief.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports

Collected Silent Titans Play Reports, Spring/Summer 2019

Session 1:

Session 2:

Play report of 2nd session of SILENT TITANS.... folks wander around wir-heal.


  • it became obvious that is hard to leave wir-heal, due to the travelling mechanic. There's only two spots to get to the "southern border" which you have to roll randomly. In addition tracking your own location can be difficult.
  • Court of wapentake happened, went pretty well, fairly disheartening for the convicted player who was sentenced to the gibbet for killing a pig child
  • Near end of session: court of wassail overturned this conviction, freeing the player character (after the player had already made a new character)
  • Players got separated within wir-heal, to avoid too much b.s. gonna start off new session "you all found your way back to legion's fort"
  • They were on a quest from the Cathedral of the Duck to check on the other two churches, they will be rewarded 5 shillings on return to Legion's Fort

Session 3:

 SESSION SUMMARIZATION: They go into R8-BY in search of lost memories after speaking to NPCs about titan-lore. There they find the Wraeca, a scrambled ghost of one PC... after some trouble with the Court of Wapentake this Wraeca is sentenced to "crawl" on all fours for a year.

The Wraeca leads the party to R8-BY's Titan Mouth. Within the titan/dungeon they defeat a giant screaming owl and some associated ghosts... The environment: flooded libraries and stained-glass angel doors.

It takes them a while to understand, but they learn they can open the dungeon's doors with eyes stolen from cephalopod monsters. Wandering further in the Titan, they feed milky fluid to some ghosts and listen to lore-fragments from a giant damaged android. They climb to a central room full of damaged cephalopods. Striking battle there to claim more cephalopod eyes, they win, but are damaged. They choose to retreat from the dungeon.

On the way out they are harassed by ghosts and sadly a PC is lost. They head back to legion's fort, numbering one less...

  • they are learning how to navigate Wir-Heal surprisingly fast, and I think the navigation system is reliably providing strange picaresque elements as well as a melancholy doom.
  • the R8-BY titan went very well, considering the bizarre elements. I really thought the tone came across, and the descriptions went well! Christian Kessler's layout was generally helpful, I just read from the specific notes when they wanted more information. ((should take more time to analyze this later)). Flipping back forth to the monster stats was an issue although a minor one.
  • players were appropriately confused by R8-BY's eternally flooding room, not by first encounter but by their second.
  • I didn't realize until later, but I was misusing the table with the talking damaged android. I was summing all the d8+mods and reading one entry/turn instead of using each d8+mod to read one entry for a total of 3 entries per turn.
  •  I used the R8By map, printed out full color, with unexplored segments of the map covered with scrap paper. It worked really well, particularly bc the more straightforward elements like the hallways and doors are very clear and simple. (there's a picture below)

(I used scraps of an extra copy of the ravens dungeon map to cover the unexplored parts of the R8-By map)
  • I think I'm good at running npcs now as a dm. I should also commend the text. The Wraeca seemed like a challenge to run when I first read it, but I found that the loose and shallow amount of information provided encouraged me to rp the character as glitchy and confused, which is exactly how it should be.
  • the combat; one player (who's pc died) complained that they don't know if they really like it. We had some ambiguity about Critical Damage. I'm generally very generous with initative. Lots of ghosts wrestling each other in this session.
  • overall this game is going very well. The mechanical elements flow smoothly, nothing takes too long as far as I'm concerned. Both wir-heal and the Titan function well, and the Titan in particular is exploding with bizarre detail. I'm having much less trouble describing this detail than I initally feared.

xxxxxxxxAs for difficulty: Into the Odd combat seems to lead to escalating stakes as PCs start taking Critical Damage. IF the last PC is knocked out, everyone dies, but if they kill the monster first, everyone recovers quickly. There was at least one time where one die roll would decide whether everyone died or everyone was fine. I consider one PC death after a dungeon delve to be pretty good result in terms of player demoralization, not too bad.

Silent Titans Session 4:

ok we dropped silent titans gonna do a veins of the earth campaign instead

:/ basically we concluded that the wir-heal navigation system + random encounters was bullshit having to repeat dense adjective-laden prose on a random, frustratin basis, and then encounter one of two wandering Courts, was kinda bullshit like. it just got tiresome after they figured it out, and involved a lot of guessing and for me, stumbling though a lot of dense prose :/

Sunday, June 16, 2019

how my silent titans game crashed and burned

"I stopped paying attention because every time I looked up you were struggling with a series of adjectives"- my friend

The overland exploration part of the Silent Titan is pretty busted. You get to choose between two random paths; the paths themselves are described via complex pieces of prose:

Some examples.

Some of these are a little hard for me to visualize, let alone describe. "Escher-maze of cracked concrete steps."

And the courts kept showing up-- Court of Wapentake, Court of Wassail. 2 primary entries on the random encounter table. Good the first time but stopped being weird and started being repetitive. Not much was happening between iterations of mock trials, parades, and Ouzel visits.

It feels like a failure of with the system. Wir-Heal can be weird to navigate but it shouldn't be onerous and repetitive.

It would also be better if the paths you could take were more succinctly described as paths and not just landscapes. "Do you head over towards the gogmagogic buildings or the dense maquis?" Along with the vocabulary and diction it's a clear case of style over function.

The paths they took would often lead right back to where they started, which grew frustrating. It felt like a slot machine where most results were boring, creating boring gameplay.

Things I should have done to save the game:

  • Not just read the prose describing the paths, but rather use the prose to inspire some simpler options. (In retrospect, I did this: "Tarmac paths or concrete steps"- but it was too late?)
  • Fudge the results on the random encounter table to achieve more interesting results.
  • Completely substitute the navigation system as soon as it stopped working. 
  • The players were trying to ask locals for directions, which I resisted giving. 
 I also think the players could have been more inspired to find the titan's mouths. That might have ameliorated the aimless frustration. 

How it crashed and burned: the end of the 4th session I realized all the business with the tables and rolling options and being marble-mouthed at the prose wasn't working out, and we the gaming group decided to play something else... another Veins of the Earth campaign.

Ironically I'm having similar overworld journey struggles with the exploration rules in Veins, the setting thereof being a giant series of underground caverns.
My new overworld map for Veins.

Navigation in strange environments probably a continuing difficulty for roleplaying game's mechanics... blogosphere dead, unable to sort it out... Nonetheless I'm applying best principles and dropping a massive amount of preparation which has shown itself as unworkable.

I used to get heartbreak over this kind of thing, reading a big beautiful rpg book, preparing for weeks, and then not getting to use most of it... Difficulties in the rpgtext forbidding an ultimate experience. Well I've been through enough to not be too troubled. Maybe it will work out next time.

Friday, May 24, 2019


"Silent Titans" is kind of like if Joyce's "Ulyssess" was a rpg, same islander's speculative take, a lot of wandering through shitty beaches. Have not covered an actual Titan proper in my game, outside of the first one, Chronos, where the book has you start.

Properly speaking, it's worth your $50, because the book is a3, (a4?), and has good art in it, and has good writing. That's all it takes being worth as much.

The game itself: I haven't gotten to the dungeons/titans yet. I wrote Chris Kessler, the layout designer, a bunch of questions as I read it for the first time. The room labelled #1 is where the PC's start off in. The tubes in Hilb are hallways. Sometimes a bullet point is in the wrong place. I got all mad about the overmap but it's working great as a play-aid.

I printed out all the maps using my work printer, in color, the players loves them. Character creation is lovely. The gang is wandering around Wir-Heal and one got captured by the Court of Wapentake.

Big weird-o's are the combat, which is quick, area weapons are crazy good. Does the keyword "fast" mean they get to act twice? What about "slow"? This is not a book which, as a design choice, makes sure to define every little thing. The navigation system inside Wir-Heal is quite strange and provokes some dictionary lookups.

The navigation system essentially has you experience what I imagine, quaintly enough, Patrick experiences wandering around the post-industrial landscape of his homeworld, kicking trash and occasionally encountering bombastic threats. A lot of loneliness, and then you stumble into another animal-man village, while you're slowly turning into a Woodwose. It's surprisingly somber experience...

...As the rest of the book is, when you get into it, it tells a story which is quite fatalistic, the implicit tale of the Knight of the Pentangle. I originally wrote Dirk Detweiler Leichty that I hoped the game would be kinda board-game-like, considering his art looking like Jumanji/Chutes and Ladders. I definitely do have a board game experience when I print out the maps and slide around my friend's 3d-printed miniatures on them.

There is the added benefit that Dirk's escherian/arcane linework can be displayed to the players without giving away too much; and once explained it becomes clear.

Guess what the below map-segment illustrates...

.... it's a library filling up up water... "Ink-black water sheets down the shelves and falls from the sky in an eternal pounding rain." Obviously the verbal description is needed to make this clear, but once done so the image becomes a shorthand. No visual spoilers by displaying the whole map.

The above is hypothetical as I haven't run most of the game yet, although a few illustrations like:
have already served me at the table basically as I've described.


I am worried, or rather, more aware that within my group there will be a lot of character-chucking into the abyss, horribly random occurrences may prevent any dungeons from being explored, or maybe they'll visit just one. What is the larger narrative to be had here; PIGPIP, the players will fall and be consumed by the raging time-lords.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

endgame's spoilers

  • meal scenes
    • jokes
  • void
    • dialogue

  • pretty good action sequences
  • mark ruffalo slowly enunciates

Overall this is a comic book movie in a way I can't be mad about. How could I be mad. What is madness, the state of being mad. Is it that there is something we are watching and we feel bored and irritated? I felt that way a lot. The outer-space sequences especially. 

It is cool that there is so much scale in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The space stuff is important like the Los Angeles stuff (there is no L.A. stuff -ed). There are a lot of meal scenes.

This is the basis for fun that comic book superfans extoll. The interconnectedness of all places, and people. Will this freeform fun extend to the machinations of larger studios? Well, the movie is three hours long, and it features Fat Thor.

As the Red Letter Media guys said, the powers-that-be realized that Chris Hemsworth is an excellent comedian. Wisely, they continue to countenance immortality with humour. The project, large scale, could be said to be thus.

Of course, they fail, for the most part. "I get the sense that comic book movie's main struggle is over sentimentality". I said this in a blog review of into the spiderverse and I repeated it for my friends when we rewatched "Spiderverse" last week. There are 3-4 father figures in that movie.

At the end of the day, wringing emotion out of supercharacters becomes a crapshoot based on who the audience actually knows about, the confluence of writing, the "needs of  plot", the acting, and ultimately the editing which has to assemble. No wonder the movie is three hours.

Monday, April 22, 2019

jordan peele's us

“Us” is at its core an experiment in acting, wherein the principals are asked to play alternate horror-versions of their characters. I assume that each actor was worked with individually to come up with this character; I might be wrong who knows. 

Anyway that experiement in acting can be judged either to the good or to the not-so-good, that’s probably why this movie is divisive. The other reason it is divisive is due to the gaping blatant holes in the plot and logic. You can really chalk this up to the shitty writing. I tried to find  a sort of neo-camp disregard for plot or logic but nah.

Also J.P. is still not that great of a filmmaker, things were really boring and slow a lot of the time, and the momentum of the film stutters a lot. There are some pretty cool images and scenarios, though.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

delivarance 1972: reviewed

a fruity pebbles rice krispies treat… left in a small green plastic bag. It sat on my living room end table for a week. I had run out of money for groceries... no dessert.

I ate the rice krispies treat. Yeah, it was an edible. I was watching “Deliverance” and getting really happy. I eventually understood that I had been poisoned. The best part of the movie is the end, where the author of the book interrogates his own characters. James Dickey played the sheriff who has final call over our protagonist’s fates.

The movie does an admirable job of interrogating american/southern masculinity. “Deliverance”, the title, refers to the process by which the four southern middleclass men scramble their way out of deep deep trouble. Most stories would end with the death of the villain and handwave the police; this one instead sees the entire process through.

And as such this movie has: a dinnertime breakdown in tears, hurried grave-digging, that scene with the sherriff/author, and a very good shot looking at the man who was a victim of assault, back lit by gold walking away saying he’d “rather keep this under wraps”. 

“Deliverance” implying a burden, the relieving of a burden. That scene with the sheriff is very good. James Dickey has thin little teeth. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Lester burnham in "American Beauty": an instadeath:nights

Lester Burnham, as played by Mr. Kevin Spacey, lately accused of sexual assault
american beauty joins crash grand canyon donnie darko has a very donnie darko style character you know you all know the brightness on my tv cant be adjusted but but! there is that scene that attraction that lester burnham played by kevin spacey has, sure in retrospect even creepier than otherwise, to his daughter's teenage friend, which resolves itself apace to Magnolia, by paul thomas anderson, a pretty sad stupid movie, all of these movies with their positive-tone endings are pretty bad, even the ones that end with the death of the main character, i.e. this one and donnie darko

they are all bad because they take as a given a certain love is inherent, proceeds apace of death and confusion, when in reality the love that kevin spacey would find came out of something problematic and to its problematic grave it should follow: essentially the body of that teenage friend, not to the family photo which is where his brains end up splattering.

To be honest, if we are being honest, and letting ourselves conclude that the things we find are essentially problematic, not cancelled, but problematic, I guess to that end I find that our virtue comes and goes in problematic places. Sure, in that body of a teenage daughter's friend, and it ends up leaving through the same path it came in. Or it doesn't; it spreads like a bullet a gooey mass of blood all over the wall. Sure, that's destiny.

There's something about this movie innit tempts a certain amiable viewership with me, a critic. Yeah they take the time to circle around a moral point. But is it ruined bc it's all white people? Would the inclusion of a few people-of-color help? Probably probably, yes.

I have this intense fear of being exposed as someone, just like the other white shitlords out there, being traced on the internet and my crimes revealed. Like being a troll. Anything can be spun up and whipped; and there's this gunning in the air...

That is to say though, Georges Baulldiare quote, "art which avoids evil rapidly becomes boring" (paraphrased). Shittalking, happening behind closed doors... No chance to respond. You know, social anomie. It's all linked, and Lester Burnham had his chance to, but at the moment, he realized that he was something boring. The same pathway towards the soul leads out rather than in, the things that touch us have a habit of spinning us and bringing us to a vile end.

Georges Bataille. With my apologies.

marvel studios movies ranked

marvel studios movies ranked

  1. sama raimi spider man trilogy
  2. daredevil good villain
  3. the avengers 2012
  4. black panther 2018
  5. iron man 2008
  6. ant man
  7. doctor strange 2016
  8. captain america winter soldier
  9. camptain america civil war
  10. incredible hulk 2008 ruffalo honerary inclusion
  11. g of the galxy 2017 #2 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

games roundup: bloodborne, hyperlight drifter, uhhhhh Paratopic, Binding of Isaac, more


Have been waiting a long long time to play this. It's super violent, you get covered in blood the longer its been since you've saved, which is nice. Also it treats violence the way Bioshock does, with you questioning your role in the ecosystem by putting you up against evocative enemies: priests, mobs with torches, werewolf ppl, etc.

This game has "punishing and rewarding" combat which relies heavily on timing. Sadly it also relies on a drip-feed of healing potions which are sometimes sparse, sometimes plentiful, and because they drop randomly from enemies, it makes me feel like often my deaths are from a lack of grinding.

There's more to be said about the potions plenty/scarcity; sometimes you have to play survival horror, sometimes you can bloodily tank + massacre everyone. But there's no grease on the ropes here, to buy xtra potions you have to sit through 2 loading screens.

It's the loading screens which are the issue I guess.

Limbo & Inside

"Inside" is miles ahead of "Limbo", for being a playable cutscene. Streaming this for my buds Angus and Corey was really fun bc they were so pulled in.

"Inside" manages to achieve a lot with landscapes, and also with NPCs, and also sometimes with puzzles and also sometimes with hazards. The evocative mystery elements are pretty good. Maybe there's something lacking; but both "Limbo" and "Inside" aren't really into being complete messages as much as impressionistic depictions.


Hyperlight Drifter

Made more sense to me, felt that more poignant, when I heard the creator has a degenerative (?) heart condition which the story in this game is broadly a metaphor for. Otherwise it just seems like stock imagery, narrative wise, a black goo monster/sickness.

I played to the simple end, but uhh... it's an appealing game with great combat, and it should have all the appeal of the mystery of its ruins-filled world, but something's missing for me... genuine inspired elements like decayed frozen titan hanging off side of zelda mountain, these seems underused... deeper story about genetic modification kinda ends up being about generic monsters in tanks.

What's really cool, tho, is the ambiguity provided by the HUD elements. Due to the diegetic cnxns between the avatar and the data presented to the player, mostly routed thru a little floating homonculus, it seems as if yr player character may actually be in a virtual reality themselves. This is supported by the dataish way segments of the floor keep popping in and out; but I really like that homonculus...


A short walking-simulatorish game which has 1-3 cool bizarre moments and one very cool facial rendering technique. This is a good case to ask whether or not a short, surrealist, and boring game does enough. In my experience it was a pretty intriguing setup with a very small payoff.

Rain World

This seems like one of the first Adult Swim game releases not based on an TV show. The cute illustrations on the package do not match the brutal and alien gameplay visuals. This is a lot like Knytt, if you've ever played Knytt, but it has many more surprises, incl. very cool weapons.

You run around and eat/be eaten, with a lot of depth resting in an organic balance between predators, prey animals, spears, plants, etc. which deeply rewards experimentation and improvisation.

I am not sure if I am crazy about the save/death system. You need to survive a certain number of saves (meaning: trips between save points) for certain doors to unlock. It seems to encourage an organic form of exploration: you need to survive to explore more. Dark Souls however had a tighter sense of rhthym, more arcade-y, this is a little loose and wobbly. That being said it's stylish and I need more time to analyze its effects, I have no idea how big this game is.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

May have been innovative in ps2 days, this game is the quintessence of a "beat up homeless" simulator. It doesn't shy away, in the enemy design at least, from realism tho, so there's something to be said for the horror therein.

I stopped playing when I got to the bit where you meet up with your radio contact, who turns out to be a horrifically reskinned version of the player model, who is an anxious timid italian man (the player is an italian man, the radio contact is a middle aged black women with glasses).

Baba is you

Certain level of unwritten rules in this game, like "text can't overlap with other text". The whole game is based on writing rules to solve sokoban puzzles, so occasionally the unwritten rules throw a wrench in the gears.

That being said this is such a perfect puzzle game, if so because it takes very little for granted, all objects have only pictoral value and are assigned meaning via on-screen puzzle pieces. The arrangement of the non-negotiable rules-pieces can make aesthetic flourishes, like a good layout in a magazine:

The rules outside the walls cannot be changed, but they are pretty.

The Enigma Machine

Fun to chat with this thing, albeit its cyber horror leanings are too archetypal.

Binding of Isaac
The music is actually quality, drops and serious beats, and the visual aesthetics are original... The whole theme is child abuse. Like horror/comedy.

Gameplay after years of playing still holds up. =randomly and slowly lvling a more and more fucked over kid, with v. serious and lovely endgame aspirations. A warm and generous skinner flash classic.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"In the Woods" Review'd

Once you get all the papers settled you'll have a good time with In the Woods. I have it on authority that Pearce Shea pretty much put this together in a fever state, which is saying a lot for Pearce's fevers....

Let's go ahead and say what happened: 3 players went to the woods, and they saw some shit. They got out after two-and-a-half hours. It was pretty good~! It drew people in, it really did.

"In the Woods" is a fairly large document that was pretty easy to run. Even the navigation, given the lack of a map, wasn't that bad. This is a puff piece.

There is a map, but it's supposed to be secret. There's a lot of unspecified elements of play, the text written specifically to include lacunae as is the wont of indie rpg games. The DM makes up a bunch anyway. Although its worth it to note that In the Woods intentionally includes game-design-lacunae as a means to engender a creepiness.

That being said, the non-lacunae are surprisingly solid. You bounce up and down on the floors of this thing and it holds! It's not that surprising. There's a solid construction:

  1. character creation
  2. rules
  3. introduction
  4. hex map
  5. hex map key
  6. bestiary
There's mysterious elements, not given much explanation. There's some factions in the hex map. There's a serviceable lightweight combat system.

Benefit of horror often is to keep you guessing at the elements. RPGs tell a similar story, bcuz players elaborate on an archaeology. You won't discover all of the elements; but you can, maybe construct an explanation; but I, the narrator, am waiting, there to stick a thumb in your eye...

to purchase:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Michael Raston's "Angel's Burial Ground" Review'd

Overall Michael Raston's "The Angel's Burial Ground" suffers from a lack of glamour. There's something here, some things beautiful and interesting, but it's stuck behind (A) the lack of an illustrator and (B) some occasionally mediocre prose.

(A) The lack of an illustrator
1. The cover is ugly.

2. That which is entirely new and interesting within the text can only be visually suggested by the public domain art collages.

3. The angels, in particular, seem begging for illustration, they're colorful as fuck:

for example.

4. It's simply a less-appealing book without beautiful or interesting illustrations.

(B) this book has a smattering of humor and self-aware charm but, for the opening at least, it relies on straightforward description of fantasy elements, which, ultimately, in the scope of other ARTPUNK products, seems mediocre.

1. I think a good introduction is actually quite important to the rpg books that I like. think about Deep Carbon Observatory's introduction... minimalist. A widely loved part of AR&PL's opening:

The many zany intros of James Raggi. A good introduction is a good indication that the writer intends to do away with what's normally dry and boring.


1.The space described is claustrophobic and wonderful and detail-rich, unique and scary:

another example.

2. The lore of the scale-men particularly appealed to me.


This text seems reasonable, although not particularly convenient, to use as a reference text. I'd print out the map page and refer to it, etc.

But: I've mostly stopped using resources that don't fit entirely on one page.


about half of what drew me into TRPGS again was texts which were self-conscious departures from the fantasy norms for prose. Not just departures from fantasy norms, but departures from prose norms.-- Surprisingly presented texts...

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

the odd joys of CULTIST SIMULATOR

I can't figure out the Stag's Riddle but I've got the right ritual to turn my depression into demons. And I'm just raiding the hell out of various international sites. I start killing all the detectives sent after me. And yeah, I'm eating their bodies.

But eventually some kind of Constatine mfer gets sent after me and he knows how to kill my demons... not good....

also I figure out i need to have 36 grail points that beat the game. So I need to like get 10th level Grail tools, rituals, and like a lvl 10 grail influence. and by this time my hunger for bodies is generating a lot of notoriety and the Constantine guy has killed like 6 demons so I'm getting nervous.

For the entire duration of playing this game I've had an issue with my ergonomics so clikin and draggin little cards was kind of a strain. This game does not do the best to make clickin and draggin those little cards super easy. It's pretty simple and functional though.

Cultist simulator is also self-care simulator with the addendum that the eventual goal is to develop greater and greater viscious cycles. You have to take your mental and physical health seriously, with the addendum that to pursue your spiritual goals you will put these things at risk. And more significantly, the lives of others, which may or may not trip up your own little cycles of self-care and renewal.

I have found Cultist Simulator broadly as a potent metaphor for the creative process in a life, the cycles of care and funding buffeting a spiritual journey which is poisonous. The slow accumulation of the supernatural that the fictive elements in CULTIST SIM provides helps create this sense of a gathering magic which is parcel to my best experiences with creativity.

Moreover, the us-vs-them experience, being hunted by the results of your mischief, underlines my desire to see artistic exploration as an antagonistic exercise. You can make enemies in the art world or in the artistic discourse, there is always a time to fight, those duties are represented in the game.

Deeper tragedy, too. An artist can use participation in a tragedy is a way to get some juice.

And of course, the possibilities of manipulating your emotions via your (artistic/occultist) work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

drug lord generator for Tzop Secret

drug lords template:
1 machine gun kelly
2 pharmacorp head
3 mac os name e.g. "snow lion"
4 irish grandma
5 the godfather
6 roll on dunkey's supervillain generator (

the drug lord retaliates:
1 bombing attempt (ballisitics 40)
2 2d6 gangsters (30 skill) attack
3 pc resource destroyed (skill 50)
4 pc resource subverted (skill 50)
5 poisoning (skill 50)
6 come up with something more bizarre

their resources:
as a base:
>judges and politicians
>50 base skill

extras: (they get 1/d4/d6/d8 of these)
1 WEB affiliation (may call on one favor from WEB)
2 +25 skill in one skill
3 1 luck point
4 science + piece of advanced tech
5 xtra capable bodyguard (combat skills 70)
6 come up with something more bizarre

Thursday, February 14, 2019

larceny 1870 kentucky review

larceny 1870 kentucky straight bourbon whiskey $26.99 as I bought it

tastes kinda like soda. but also whiskey

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Obra Dinn review'd

"Obra Dinn" is like "Papers, Please" in that Lucas Pope's ambitions to create a different kind of gameplay are realized. All critics everywhere noted that "Papers" made literal paper-pushing fun. The same is true of "Obra Dinn's" insurance adjustment.

That being said, "Obra Dinn" represents a deeper success than "Papers, Please", because the game's deepest gameplay offerings are deeper. Comprehending the identities and stringing together the evidence represents a puzzle which requires a lot of thinking and deduction often along non-lateral means. You'll need to write stuff down probably and the true nature of events is ultimately somewhat unclear. "Papers, Please" was comprised of mostly simpler memory and reflexes challenges, although it did have some legit moral surprises.

The thought-immersion required for "Obra" matches with the historical immersion, of which there are several layers:
--the graphical f/x of the game which reflect early computer games, i.e. an alternate history of vgs
--1800's military ship life, the essential knowledge thereof being vital for completing the game's challenge
--the role of the protagonist matching shapely up to the role of the player; there's the unassuming task which you and your character are identically given.
--the again unassuming and historical conception of death: your job is to remember and re-experience over and over again the deaths of 81 people. How that affects you is entirely up to you.

The result is a game which presents an "honest" challenge. "Honest" in the classical sense: there's a legitimate issue, realistic and well-laid, that you have to solve using comprehensible means. And it's challenging because of the genuine nature of the realism. And the moral conclusions you draw from playing it are your own. And it looks like one of those old timey video games from when there were less preconceptions of what was and wasn't possible.

* * *

The big L here is the music. People praise it but it's often quite hackneyed, sort of b-rate Pirates of the Caribbean stuff. I can't get too much into musical analysis, but there is a gameplay loop which is particularly bad:

Finding new memories:
1. intro to new variation on musical theme (ok)
2. strings of excited discovery as you enter the new information into your book (ok, but gets repetitive)
3. tension of low strings and low ringing bell as you discover a new body within the memory (tense and creepy and I like that part)
4. long and drawn out melancholy strings as the "spirit" of the body leaves a slow winding trail as it climbs around the ship like its donnie darko (pisses me off, you have to follow it slowly)

the above issues are totally ameliorated upon repeat viewings of the memories. it's the classic "unskippable cutscene" problem pretty much, being able to skip cutscenes you've already seen (or just want to skip) is what all gamers want, you kinda can't do that for a lot of this game, yadda yadda...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

reviews of some switch games and poetry


I keep on thinking "SJW"s "SJW"s in my head playing this game. How coked am I to use the phrase "SJW"? A lotta 4chan lingo seems to beat the path around the political spectrum, you can't feel too bad... anytway... game is very positive... with a diverse cast of characters and some gender-ish commentary, discusses helpful/non-helpful relationships, the main character has panic attacks, the living embodiment of the panic attacks is the main antagonist.

All and all, the story kinda sucks bc of the preponderance on healthy relationships (with the self mostly) leads to dialogue which is boring feelings-exposition. "I had a lot of time to think, climbing out of this cave [...] That Part of Me was right, I can't do this." Not a bad theme but one that is too literally realized, and cliched, to be interesting.

The art in video games is usually entirely tied to the gameplay and Celeste has enough precision in its movement and fast enough load times to make the glittering, cutesy, sometimes kinda threatening pixel art fit. There's no argument that the gameplay is not excellent and the art not well drawn; but there's not a lot of surprises (in the art). There's one horror bit but it's mostly sparkly colorful stuff which doesn't do much for my desire for mystery. (why not? the core struggle of the game might not be what i'm looking for. yeah there's the weird beasts floating around sometimes, what are they doing there, the mountain has some complexity, even some horror... hollow knight also at its most central concerns was missing something, I think, that for comparison blue velvet has. I might just default to say skin on the table; blue velvet's concerns are human and ironic, pessimistic and strange. hollow knight's concerns are mostly, ancient for the sake of being ancient, or really, about the life cycle, celeste's concerns are psycholgical and personal and wholly optimistic. I'm not up for an optimistic story of personal/psychological achievement when it's not that well written and adorned with sparkly colorful imagery.

BUT the gameplay is good, punishing and rewarding, and makes some genuine innovations: most of the gameplay rewards, the strawberries, are entirely optional and, self-consciously, do nothing. But you will likely pursue them anyway and be frustrated doing it... also while almost all of the levels feel like tests of reflex, many of them are actually intellectual platforming puzzles well-laid. The sense of achievement u get beating this game, adjusted to fit yr own level of achievement via optionalness, is real video gamey storystuff.

Into the Breach

UNLESS there's some mystery inner-story I forgot to unlock then the NIHILISM OF TIME TRAVEL expressed within Into the Breach FAILS TO BE FULLY EXPRESSED. "FTL", the studio's previous game had some, like, optional hidden mysteries within the mechanics, like, you could have a subquest involving a cyborg-infecting virus. Not so with ITTB...

ITTB has bits and pieces of intense cynicism in its expanded-mobile-game length which normally means a secret is there somewhere; Hollow Knight had its share of secrets. ITTB tho doesn't include any hidden content.

The result is a game which uses cynicism to construct a mood rather than a solveable mystery. Bits and pieces will flow out through sentence-length dialogue... minimalism which feels mobile...

Captain Toad: Treasure Trackers

What's notable and IMPORTANT to note is that CT:TT does get hard, and pretty quick. Nintendo games kinda like Pixar often good at presenting simultaneous kid-and-adult experiences. But the thing about all modern Mario games is that hard levels are presented as demonic puzzle cubes and nothing more, as Toad slips deeper and deeper into the bounds of hell.

DOOM (2016 ps 2018 switch)

Released for the switch, DOOM 2018 has the best possible character protagonist; self-conscious and nonplussed. Doomguy is an immortal player who seeks to kill demons, so the game is not ambitious beyond its schedule, SCHEDULE: KILL KILL KILL KILL.

Overall tho the game is just that much uglier for bowing to 3d modern shooter requirements; ammo pickups cynically burst out of enemies and are cynically vacuumed up into your suit, bc the developers knew they had to create interesting gameplay and here's our bandaged-on solution: chainsaw gives ammo, execution mode gives health. The language of this is flickering orange or blue overlays, whereas previous DOOM games afaik didnt stray from steel or demonflesh, so DOOM 2016/8 loses some on visual tone I guess.

Douglas Oliver's "Androissements"

Only notable thing is the book-length poem "Video Hall of Fame" which is Oliver's notable and COMPLETELY SUCCESSFUL, AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT with video-game poetry. The dude was 2 years from old age death when he wrote it in 1998, (book published in 2003, Oliver died in 2000, unknown [unresearched ] when he wrote it -ed)  but the interaction with video game concepts is as varied, clear, and familiar and poetic as it can be. There's a fuckton of it too, and what Oliver does really well is draw out commonalities in level design (industrial zones, damsels in distress, stereotypes, class distinctions, etc.) and considers the subconscious areas these cliches provide.

Pay attention, you druggies,
seekers of the mystic:
when inanition or when
manifold indignities
wreck or minds, the gates
to your temples, though broken,
are guarded by demons.

One thing I really deeply need with video game critical thinking is a deep consideration of games from the experience of playing them, as some of my favorite internet artists do, often to consider the ritual of gaming to be an intense and nihilistic commitment of time, fer example. Douglas Oliver however did it as a member of a generation who didnt grow up with vggames (I think). D.O.'s "video hall of fame" gets the peter webb seal of approval for most considerate and well-formed work of vg-pop-culture poetry known to peter, all of the artists trying to do the same should read this work

commentary on:

Into the Breach's  mechanics and everythin correctly transmit a vision of the world wherein u are constantly on the knife's edge of the End Of The World, better than probably any other game does: a single uncorrected mistake in the game will lead to a complete game over, 1, and 2, every game over is correctly and definitively surmised by the time traveler theme to be an actual end-of-the-world, in one particular timeline, at least.

Time travel and video games have shared that commonality for a while, the idea of retrying a bunch of times as a source of patient horror, as the most common video game story is of a time traveller finally getting it right after thousands of dead timelines like the bodies in hotline miami.

Into the Breach, taking the extra care to make this timedeath story a central theme, and then also not commenting on it too much, ends up not being cliche, a success. Yet like I said some kind of ultra-horrible middle note, a deeper mystery within, would have bit me out.

But. Anyway. I don't feel the anxiety of timelines less travelled, although I acknowledge that creating timelines where things did go right is ultimately futile, probably, although I can see how an organization such as the Rift Walkers could exist where they're doing this. Like maybe the successful timelines become partners in a timelines-spanning organization. Tachyons, baby!

BONUS CONTENT: Stephen's Sausage Roll as well didn't commit to internal memory, a secret, just as Yume Nikki may or may not have an actual coherent secret left to find. You think there might be one, waiting somewhere in the code, but the gamers cry, there is none, there is none... No challenge, no internal meaning, just a yearning for "the email which will close the laptop of my [living]."

Possibility threatens a co-extant, co-strangling sense of pain, red lines, flickering into view. Shuttered memories of past gameplay conversations, definite misses, con visits: all these equate into a nothingness, water in the tank. Shattered memories of expectations, as a young kid, that the gameplay would prove something more, the first tastes of aesthetic.

The way the mind reels around a certain prerender, texture, the sense of a brain spinning, content. That this embodies an internal meaning, sure, circumspect.