Plausible Implausibilities

Plausible Implausibilites

Deviating a little from my usual gaming focus to discuss media… Warning! Spoilers for Game Of Thrones Season 7 Episode 6!

In an interview w/Variety, the producers of AGOT note that there’s a “…thing called plausible impossibilities,”

No, a “plausible implausibility” would be a dragon flight that should take 6 days taking 5… not one that should take 6 days taking a few hours.

Or maybe any ONE of several implausibilities: Gendry, who had never been north of King’s Landing, finding his way to the wall without being lost, frozen, and killed, OR, a raven somehow breaking all speed records to get the message to Daenerys, OR, Daenerys finding the characters in the vast wasteland beyond the wall despite having no knowledge of the terrain or experience with aerial reconnaissance.

All of them together, no, sorry. That it was amazing spectacle and fun to watch and set up a great cliffhanger doesn’t excuse that the writers basically decided on a series of great scenes and didn’t give a damn towards justifying them.

No, I’m not ragequitting the show or anything else. The problems of time and distance have been endemic since the series began; they just keep getting worse as the necessities of TV, vs. books, requires them to keep the cast small. (In the books, GRRM can create new characters at a whim to perform a needed role in the story; the series prefers to recycle characters, so it’s Bronn, not.. uh… some other guy.. who teaches Jamie to fight with his off hand, it’s Sansa, not some random walk-on, who is sold to Bolton, etc. And this season has just ramped it up, from Euron’s perfectly-timed fleet ambush to Jon basically teleporting from Dragonstone to the Wall and vice-versa.

“But there’s DRAGONS! So anything is possible!”

The argument that any supernatural/unrealistic/etc elements in a story means everything is on the table is not only an excuse for poor writing, it’s contemptuous of F/SF… it plays into the cliche that anything that’s not (haughty sniff) LITERATURE is just a bunch of gibberish where all the rules of both physics and characterization can be ignored.

“There’s dragons, so armies don’t need food.”
“Why? Do the dragons catch food for them? Or something?”
“No, it’s just… there’s DRAGONS! Given that, why would you assume people still need to EAT?”

Building on established precedent, extending from what’s been demonstrated, is good writing. Pulling an endless series of miracles out of your ass is not.

Good: Having established the White Walkers can animate humans, we accept they can animate bears. Having been shown they can animate bears, we accept they can animate dragons.

Bad: Having established the White Walkers can animate humans, we don’t accept this means they can evidently summon hundreds of feet of giant chains.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 16

August Sixteenth

(Starting To Maybe Catch Up A Little?)

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Using As Is?

Hm. See previous comment. I tend to muck with anything I’m running… and the crunchier it is, the more things I find I want to tinker with. The question implies, but doesn’t explicitly state, that it’s referring to games you play/run regularly… in which case, I can’t really answer. But if I can pick games I’ve only run a few times, but would run again, and don’t see a real need to tamper with… I’ll go with Toon. Sure, there’s barely any rules to speak of, but they perfectly serve the game’s focus of short, wacky, adventures with little to no continuity. (The Tooniversal Tour Guide offered campaign play options… but if I’d run something using those suggestions and guidelines, I’d probably end up fiddling with things.)

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RPG A Day 2017 August 15

August Fifteenth

(Very Slightly Less Belated Than The Last Two)

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Enjoy Adapting The Most?

Well, almost any game I play, I’m going to compulsively create mechanics for. It’s what I do. I build worlds, and I build the rules that define worlds. (Plots, meh, not so much. I’m more George Lucas than J. Michael Straczynski. Just sit back and enjoy the show, folks, and try not to think too hard about it.)

So, again, a tough question, in that it’s a fairly even spread. So I’ll go with Fringeworthy by the late, truly great, and sadly underappreciated Richard Tucholka. The original rules are… uhm… well, they’re… you see… look, it was a different era, OK? Back then, we thought figuring out the density of muscle tissue and bone and organs using a hit location system that resolved down to a few square inches (yes, really) was oodles of fun!

There was a D20 version, because, what wasn’t there a D20 version of, back in the early 2000s, but it… uhm… it was like… erm… look, D20 is more complex to design for than people thought! There’s a lot of implied rules that were never made explicit in the SRD! And hey, he was getting on in years!

So after years of wishing to run a Fringeworthy game, I finally got around to doing it in GURPS… which was a perfect system for it, as it handled the baseline of moderately-gritty semi-realistic alternate history and made it easy to add in all manner of magic, high-tech, psionics, and superpowers.

(Towards the end of his career, Rich started producing rules-free setting books, full of wild imagination, astounding creativity, truly personal and idiosyncratic venues, and a smegload of typographical and layout errors. Much as with Arduin, the sheer force of the creative endeavor overwhelmed weaknesses in mechanics and production values.)

 

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RPG A Day 2017 August 14

August Fourteenth (As Incredibly Belated As The Last One)

Maybe I Can Do Two Or Three Today And Start Catching Up

Yeah, Right. That’ll Happen.

Prompt: Which RPG Do You Prefer For Open-Ended Play?

In terms of actual play I’ve done a lot lately, Pathfinder. The sheer bulk of official material and the gigatons of third party material means it’s damn near impossible to run out of new aspects to explore. While the core experience is still heavily shaped by D&D 3.5, which in turn was shaped by the particular interests and preferences of Gary Gygax, the rules have proven flexible enough to be refocused on different sub-genres and flavors.

Outside of what I can actually play, GURPS or Hero System. While neither has quite as much support as Pathfinder, they have more robust central engines designed around being able to model a huge range of power levels, themes, and settings. Both contain many “dials” and “switches” in the rules which affect lethality, character power, complexity, and so on. This allows for easy fine-tuning to make the game mechanics reflect the genre and tone you desire.

 

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RPG A Day 2017 August 13

RPG A Day, 2017

August Thirteenth (Incredibly Belated)

Prompt: Describe A Game Experience That Changed How You Play

I hate questions like this, because they always make me realize how shallow I am. I am not a being of great epiphanies and world-changing moments. I am never going to write a 5,000 word article for Atlantic or Salon entitled “How Playing a Half-orc Made Me Confront My White Privilege”, or, for that matter, an article for Breitbart entitled “How Can I Be A Racist When I Once Played A Black Character?”

I’ve mostly had decent groups, as decent as one can expect from a hobby that disproportionately attracts social misfits and demands they participate in a social activity. Most of my gaming groups for the past 30 odd (and boy, have they been) years have been of mixed genders, ethnicity, and orientations, so I don’t have a good “When We Added A Woman To Our Group Everything Changed” story. (Esp. since, in my experience, women are every bit as bloodthirsty as men when it comes to gaming… the “women want to roleplay, men want to kill” stereotype is bullshit. But I digress.) Nor do I have any “After The Unfortunate Incident With The Halfling And The Potato Peeler, I Do Not Allow Evil Parties” stories.

The best I can offer is a number of incidents which helped cement my personal preference (which is mine, subjective and wholly based on my tastes and interests, not a law of the universe or an objective measure of superiority) for robust, well-defined systems over free-form, “rules light” ones. (A game can have simple but still complete rules; BESM 2e and D6 are both simple systems that do not have huge gaps where genre-appropriate actions have no mechanical support.) Spending 4-6 hours in a game with no game – just a constant migraine of trying to second-guess what the GM is going to let you do at any moment, with or without some basically arbitrary die rolling – is not any fun for me. The flip side – trying to run a game for players who think the way to proceed is to constantly avoid the rules – is even worse. (I have termed this Zork Syndrome: The belief that you advance in the adventure by picking up the ham sandwich in room one, then giving it to the walrus in room three, which causes him to roll over happily, showing you the brass candlestick he was sitting on, which you then use to hold the candle from room seven, which you light by giving the dragon in room twelve the sneezing powder you found in room six, which you give to the kobold so he’ll stop blocking the door… as opposed to, you know, hitting the damn kobold with your sword because that’s why you’ve got a sword and why the kobold has hit points and an armor class, dammit!)

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RPG A Day 2017 August 12

RPG A Day, 2017

August Twelfth (On time… how did that happen?)

Prompt: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

So, once more, spoiled for choice. Seriously, do the people writing these questions have any idea how many freakin’ RPGs there are? That I own?

A few options:

Pathfinder: People can give Paizo grief for a lot of things (cough grappling rules cough) but the art is consistently top-notch, evocative, and tells you a lot about the game expectations. Everyone is covered with stuff, doo-dads, and decorations, and the level of detail is astounding. Nothing seems like it’s generic stock art, and the characters all radiate distinct personalities through their clothing, body language, and expressions.

Spycraft 2e: A game I’d love to play in, but is just a smidgen too complex for me to feel comfortable running. (See? I have limits!) The art tone, which is more “comic book” than “John le Carre”, speaks of high action, technothrillers, and a global scope, evoking a setting that is just one step beyond the bleeding edge of realism, dancing with mysticism, ancient conspiracies, and the technology of the day just after tomorrow.

The original Arduin Trilogy, as I have gone on about at great length.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 11

RPG A Day, 2017

August Eleventh (Belated)

Prompt: Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?

That is not dead which can eternal lie…

So, again, way too many choices…

Arduin: In 2010, Emperor’s Choice finally published Arduin Eternal, a massive hardcover tome that contains what seems, from reading, to be a very comprehensive and playable system with tons of room for character customization and a crunchy but not insane combat system. Since then… very little. I think there was maybe a monster book? But it needed to be supported with a steady line of cool stuff, and it wasn’t, and trust me, the EmpCho guys won’t be OGLing it soon, which is a shame.

STAR ROVERS!!!! Nuff said.

Toon! The market is more likely to embrace an ultra-light, ultra-generic system for cartoon simulation now than it was when Toon was first published, and, at the time, Toon produced several big, fat supplements full of the lightest crunch imaginable. It was like… popcorn. Kind of crunchy, a little, but mostly light and fluffy, which worked for the genre.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 10

RPG A Day, 2017

August Tenth (Belated)

Prompt: Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Hm.

I don’t.

I used to go to RPG.net, but I’ve pretty much forgotten it was there to check. Since my current buying habits for RPGs are…

  • 361 days of the year: I pick up any new Pathfinder hardcovers that are filled with Crunchy Bitz and little to no setting material, and that’s it. (Oh, and occasionally back a kickstarter if it manages to grab my attention, then, forget about it until a link to DriveThruRPG shows up in my inbox a year later.)
  • 4 days of the year: I go to GenCon and buy anything that’s not nailed down in an orgy of consumerist frenzy, without really caring what it is, as long as it’s not on my database of games I already have.

…it’s not like reviews do me any good.

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RPG A Day 2017 August 9

RPG A Day, 2017

August Ninth (On time as I start writing)

Prompt: What is a good RPG to play for about ten sessions?

Hmm. To some extent, the answer is “any”, in that the session length isn’t specified and you can do a lot in a 10 session campaign. Narrowing it down, I’d say “One that is not driven by the ‘zero to hero’ paradigm common to a lot of games, so you can experience a lot of the potential of the game in a single long adventure.”

If I have to pick one good example, it would be Call of Cthulhu. While you can hypothetically play a series of adventures, and characters certainly can improve in skills as they go slowly insane, it doesn’t rely on the dangling carrot of gaining more/better k3wl p0w3rz as you progress. (Lest anyone think I’m only discussing D&D-inspired class/level games, let me gesture melodramatically to a huge stack of White Wolf products, where one of the first things you notice is that the core books are full of awesome 5-dot abilities and you’re usually lucky to have a single two-dot power when you start out.)

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RPG A Day 2017 August 8

RPG A Day, 2017

August Eighth(Belated)

Prompt: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of two hours or less?

“None I’d probably like” is the first answer that comes to mind, as my disdain for the hyperfocused “indie” games that are designed to begin and end in a single highly-scripted session is well known. But failing that, something with very light rules and no expectation of a continuing campaign and a rich background… or at least, with a sufficiently well designed “assumed background” that a quick scenario is possible. Again, for me, this goes back to humor games like Teenagers From Outer Space or Toon. Toon is probably better because TFAS relies on implicit genre assumptions that a relatively small subset of players will know well, while Toon’s assumptions have a much broader base.

I’d have a hard time with a serious or semi-serious RPG that was designed to run in two hours. (I’m not considering longer scenarios where you can only play two hours at a stretch; the answer to that is ‘any game, really’. I’m assuming, from the question, that they mean ‘a complete scenario in two hours’.)

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