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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Table Talk

For those who missed it, there is a table talk section in this blog. In it I collect funny things said by players (young and old) during games. If you have any funnies you'd like to share, you know where to find me. For now, some old LOLz to warm the heart and uplift the spirit:

Concerned mother: My son said he likes LARPs because you get to really kill people...
Way to promote the hobby young gamers! :D

DM: Ravenloft is a world that sucks villains into it and creates special domains for them. There is a domain for Lord Soth, a Domain for Strahd, a--
Kid: Is there a domain for George Bush?

Kid goes away looking for treasure in the middle of a pitched battle.
Kid 1: What are you doing?! Stay here and fight!
Kid 2: I am fighting. Against greed. And losing...

Kid 1 walks into a room and sees a female githyanki cleaning her sword.
Kid 2: Don't be afraid of her, she's a girl; she can't be too strong.
Githyanki attacks him and deals an absurd amount of damage.
Kid 2: Errr... we'll tell everyone a male githyanki kicked your ass.

Kid 1: Oh cruel world!
Kid 2: The world is not cruel, it's the DM who is cruel.

We few, we happy few, we band of gamers.

DM: Your 21-hp back stab barely scratches the brooding warlock. "For this audacity," he speaks coldly as he stands from his throne, "I shall bestow you with the crown of madness!"
Kid 1: Yay! I'm getting a magic item!
Kid 2: You're getting a magic item in the same way getting a +5 arrow through the neck is getting a magic item.

Kid 1: This troll is too tough. I'm out of here.
Kid 2: Unless you want to run with my arrow in your head, you'll stay here and fight!
Kid 1: God! I hate lawful evil characters!

DM: In the alignment clause, you've written "to kill."
Kid: Yes, no alignment in the book was evil enough for me.

Kid 1 (playing a warforged): Why doesn't anybody love me!
Kid 2: Because you're running on Microsoft Vista. If you ran on Linux everybody would love you.

Kid: I stab him in the guts and twist the knife, with my other hand I gauge his--
Teacher walks in and looks stunned.
Kid (slightly embarrassed): It's, eh, a game of the imagination...

And some from the old timers...

Player 1: I have things holier than you coming out of my butt!
Player 2: You're not the bringer of holy shit!

Player 1 (explaining why she killed someone): He called me a whore! That's offensive!
Player 2: Unless you consider yourself a whore...

Player: How much damage do 40 rifles do? Never mind, the problem is the Concentration skill check... (last words)

NPC: My dungeon was designed to stop fools and weaklings.
Player (after passing through the dungeon): Well, it failed!
NPC (examining the PCs with disgust): I see...

Player: Wood... doesn't burn that well... (after being told his fireball set his village on fire)

Player 1: All right, that's it - I'm inviting this mother-fucker to DINNER.
Player 2: Oh, Jesus. We need to TALK to him, not kill him.
Player 3: You guys kill everyone you have dinner with?
Player 1: Statistically, yes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seventeen Stories. All Told.

I'm taking a break from my cheerful suicide post series, to say a few words about a very awesome fantasy anthology I had the honor to be included in - Dreams in Shadow.

As I stated earlier this year, I've decided to stop freelancing for other companies and to try to make my own fortune in the world (or any other world that will have me). The first step in this direction was Gangworld, which a gaming supplement, and the second step is Dreams in Shadow, an anthology of historical, urban and second world fantasy fiction from a group of other game designers and writers who, like me, decided to go rogue. The name is Monumental Works Group, and it's got some really, really awesome people in it.

We surprised the cover in the shower. Poor cover...

I have contributed two stories to this anthology:
"Juan and Noli'quanava" is a low-fantasy, high-drama story inspired by Christopher Columbus accounts of the New World and an old Jewish ballad. Spanish Conquistadors capture an all-female Native American tribe. One native has a plan, but will it work?
"Nice Girl in Sodom" is part of my story cycle of fantasy adventures in modern Israel. It's got biblical giants, gangsters, a cheerful tourist with a secret, an artifact of unimaginable power, and holes that lie in hiding, waiting for the right time to jump right under you! And the best part - it's all true!

There are fifteen other stories - Greek and Persian fantasy, magic hidden in the slums of the US, an obscene and awesome bland of sci-fi and fantasy, and other stuff. I'm really happy to be part of this.

That is all, god speed, merry gentlemen!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Doctor Suicide

I wrote this little essay a couple of years ago. Now I share it:

I must admit I haven’t seen a single episode of Doctor Who before I visited England in the summer of ’09. While there, I stayed with two friends whose living-room-turned-my-bedroom was no less than a temple to Doctor Who, with long lines of DVDs lining the walls and a couple of Daleks standing guard by my sofa-bed. One evening I reached a blind hand to probe the floor for something to read before bed, felt something glossy and, guess what, fished out a Doctor Who Magazine. With Tom Baker and a couple of Daleks staring at me, I realized that unless I wanted to be exterminated, I had to give the show a decent examination.

My hosts were only too eager to oblige – beginning lightly with the Doctor-lite episode Blink and from there introducing me to the Daleks and the Master. My first impression from the show was ambivalent; I enjoyed it, and yet I felt that something wasn’t quite right. In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, I decided that as soon as I returned home and was safely removed from the evil of the Daleks, I would give the show a proper viewing and establish an independent opinion, free from 40 years of cultural influence and the judgmental stare of Tom Baker.

There's a team every PC would love to play against!

As a fanatic gamer and freelance RPG writer, the first thing that appealed to me about the show were its originality and ingenuity when inventing monsters and villains– the quantum angels from “Blink”, Lady Cassandra from “The End of the World,” the Abzorbaloff from “Love and Monsters” and many others. Man... if not for a little thing called “copyright infringement,” I would use every single one of those in my adventures. They are just brilliant!

Another strong aspect of the show was the acting – by Eccleston (whom I already adored from “Revenger’s Tragedy”) and Tennant both who delivered very interesting characters, full of chutzpah and a patronizing sense of justice on the one hand, but also incredibly lovable and even enviable (even among us, the inventors of the chutzpah) on the other.

Now read the last two paragraphs again, because this is the last of the positive comments you are going to see in this article. Ladies and gentlemen and Daleks, prepare to meet the dark side of Doctor Who!

From the beginning of the second series, there was something that really annoyed me and that I couldn’t quite pinpoint – yes, there were many plot holes, deux ex machina solutions and a great amount of story recycling, but these are all unavoidable in a show this long. Then it hit me – the show repeatedly advocates suicide as a way to solve problems!

But please, before you I hear a strange repeating mechanical panting followed by an angry knock on my door, or perhaps a serrated raging voice yelling “Untrue! Untrue! Untrue!” allow me to elaborate;

First of all, the show preaches for “suicide solutions,” even more than the most vehement extremist imam. In the writers’ desire to have as many characters as possible sacrifice their lives for the good cause (aka “kill themselves”), they seem to haven thrown common sense out of the window. The optimum of this campaign of extermination was during the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter” when a humanoid fish that spent its whole life fighting humans bent on the complete genocide of its race had drowned itself to save a human female it met by chance about twenty minutes ago. Wait! What? A FISH had DROWNED itself? Does it even make any sense?! As much this physically absurd, the ethics behind this action are even stranger; the nameless fish was not sacrificing itself to save its race or its friends or even a large group of people – it traded its life to save one perfect stranger. This is the equivalent of you spotting a shootout between two gangs and running to its midst in hopes of catching a bullet meant for... someone.

The crime: solicitation of suicide

But let us return to our main point, which is the writers’ blatant disregard for human life. While the doctor values human life above all, an admirable quality in someone who is basically an alien naturalist visiting a new environment, everyone else seems to value it somewhat less than a morning muffin. Carrying out a suicide operation of one sort or the other seems to almost always be the first solution attempted. Because killing yourself is never the result of prolonged and painstaking deliberations, but simply an element of normal human interaction, the amount of suicides in the show is simply staggering.

Some episodes go so far as to cram in more than one suicide, making the Doctor’s journey feel more like a game of Lemmings than a sci-fi adventure. An especially guilty party in that regard was the Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned” that featured no less than three suicides, possibly due to the fact that a suicide occurs on average every twenty minutes in the Doctor’s life and the episode lasted for about an hour.

Of these suicides the first one is a classic – the grotesque red dwarf is nobly sacrificing his life to save the belle-de-jour he loves and his companions. Fair enough.

Then we have the fat woman suicide-killing the robotic angel who threatens the people who just minutes ago failed to save her beloved husband. One could argue that since she already has him bound and standing on a wracked bridge strewn with massive planks, it would have been equally effective to tie him to one of those planks and then push it down. But then, one could also argue that she was traumatized by the loss of her husband whose death really was just a tragic accident or that bending down to tie a rope to a piece of metal might have been too much trouble compared to simply jumping into a flaming inferno. O.K. We’ll let it pass too.

But then we have the lovely Astrid carrying out a suicide attack, more or less identical to the infamous Jerusalem bulldozer attack of July 2, 2008, against the episode’s villain. And that really pushed me over the edge!

While it may seem as a noble act of self-sacrifice done to save the Doctor and the population of the Earth, it is important to note that the Doctor, with his sonic screwdriver and superhuman intellect, seems to be more than capable of dealing with any mechanical threat... unless there is someone handy nearby to die for him. Examples are endless – the wood woman from “The End of the World,” the formerly villainous Lady Cassandra in “New Earth,” the again formerly villainous Luke Rattigan in “Poison Sky”, River Song in the “Forest of the Dead,” Sky in “Midnight,” Harriet Jones (you know who she is...) in “The Stolen Earth...” the writers of the show seem to employ more suicide-solvers than Osama Bin-Laden!

Even he...

The Doctor himself, no hypocrite he, repeatedly tries to sacrifice himself to solve various problems despite being a unique, 900 year old creature with no particular stake at any specific place or period. He never succeeds in it, however, because there is always someone nearby even more eager to die. Now honestly; how many of you are willing to sacrifice their lives after a proper volunteer has already been found, just so that he won’t have to? Seriously, it’s not a rhetoric question – how many? You can comment below - maybe I’m the only one around here who would rather drink a cup of hot chocolate than jump out of a fast moving train while hugging a monstrous alien?

Despite not conducting any serious scientific researchers on the issue, I will assume most viewers of the show don’t actually dream of being microwaved by the Daleks which begs the question: what is the lesson to be learned here? That we live only to kill ourselves in the right moment? That nothing works unless someone dies to make it work? That suicide is something everyone should aspire to? That the ideal man is a hybrid of Jesus Christ and a Kamikaze? I don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say the writers are preparing the ground for the first great English Jihad or maybe trying to raise the next cwack suicide squad...

Friday, December 9, 2011

The People vs. the Bullies and the Teachers

I watched tonight's Big Bang Theory episode about bullies (a shameful and disgusting affair) and this got me thinking, or rather, reminiscing, about bullying in schools. When I was in kindergarten, all the other kids picked on me because I was the only Russian there. One day, many kids encircled me and threw sand in my face. Blind with rage, I picked up a tube and smashed it with all my strength into the face of the first kid I saw. In the first grade, still the only Russian and also chubby now, I went up to an empty classroom on the second floor and threw chairs down at kids who were mean to me that day, didn’t hit any of the bastards but gave them a decent run for their money.

They asked me to go to a different school next year. In the second and third grades, there was another Russian in school and we got into fights with the Moroccan gang almost daily. It was war and we were an army of two - compensating small numbers with cunning. Eventually they learned - nerds or not - you don't fuck with Russians. Whenever I returned from school, my grandma would ask me, "Did you remember to kick? Your legs are your strongest weapon." And I kicked, oh how I kicked, and threw tables and choked and never shied from picking up a stick or playing some dirty trick with my friend and ally.

Bullies become bullies because the system and the other kids support them

By fourth grade, being Russian stopped being an unforgivable crime and the rest of my childhood was mostly peaceful.

Looking back, my early childhood looks like war. In war you can be either fighter or victim. There is no middle ground. And do you know why I could be a fighter? Because I had the moral support of my family, and of one true friend who wasn’t there just for the fun bits.

I think kids who're bullied are not weak or cowardly. They just don't have a strong back, betrayed by their family and the system, robbed of the tools a person needs to protect himself from those who don’t care and don’t fear. In a world where power and courage are outlawed, only outlaws have power. This mustn't be so.

Bullies stop being bullies, when victims stop being victims

One teacher told me once, "never use violence, if you're bullied come to us." I asked her, "and what will you do?" She said, "talk to them." I asked, "and if they ignore you?" She didn't have a good answer. They never do. Their hands are tied by a system that wants to castrate and debauch students, raise a generation of slaves, not fighters.

The average teacher doesn't care about justice or the kids' well-being; he cares about making his job easier. Siding with bullies is so much easier than siding with victims. The bully has nothing to lose from another black mark. The honor student has a lot to lose, thus, he’s the one who will live in fear, not the bully.

When the victim stops being afraid, it's the bully's turn to fear

The current system only exists to protect scum from good people (not only in schools btw), never the other way around. That's why a family should teach kids to defend their honor and know they're fighting two enemies - immoral bullies who only understand pain and fear and an indifferent system that would gladly sell them to grind more smoothly.

I will finish with a quote from The Crow:

We shall never forget and never forgive.
And never ever fear.
Fear is for the enemy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Marriage of Cruel Minds

Last weekend we started a Fading Suns campaign with a grand double-session opening (which explains the enormous length of this post). In the mornings we explored secret Templer tunnels under Acre and a Templer fortress in Yehiam and in the evenings we gamed like it’s 1099!

These are the PCs (may the Pancreator have mercy on their souls!):

What Yan scribbled on the back of his character sheet

Drake (Yan) is a perfectly introverted egoist whose narcissistic focus on the self gave him potent supernatural powers. He is of noble birth and godly education, but a terrible event in his past has forced him to flee his homeworld and find refuge in the Van Gelder court.

Baron Dovis Lax (Vadim) is a barrister and an intellectual in the service of Lord Primus Van Gelder. He is a man of coins of and words, not steel and laser. When Dovias words fail to convince, his warlike retainer Dov continues the negotiations to the bitter end.

Flint (Sasha) is warrior monk trained in theurgy. God is his shepherd, but just in case he also packs a mean laser pistol and consecrated sword. Proud and self-centered, he’s on a path to hubris and damnation, unless he attains salvation through godly and charitable deeds.

Op-Lya (Olja) is the scandalous bastard daughter of Lord Primus van Gelder. Denied a formal title, she became an infamous figure in the seedier locales of Kun Lun. She often gets disturbing visions of the past.

Sir Tron (Nik) is a child raised by aliens and adopted by Op-Lya (whose player is his mother in real life). Despite his tender age, Tron is a master of telekensis and a bold spaceman if ever there was one! Nik is the creative force behind this escapade.

All PCs are loyal retainers of Lord Primus Van Gelder, a minor nobleman with major ambitions. Presently, they’re tasked with escorting his teenager son Quintus to Leminkainen, where a dying, heirless King is holding a fancy banquet to find a suitable husband for his daughter and successor to his reign. The PCs are to insure Quintus leaves the affair with a ring... via any means necessary.

While the planet isn’t worth what a pig would spit, and the Kingdom in question is one of the poorer and less sympathetic on the planet, the nearby jumpgate is worth killing for. And killing there will be – a plenty!

Screaming in Space
Soon after entering Lemikainan space, the PCs find out the Kurgan Khanate and House Hazat are no longer vying for the princess' hand on account of no longer being. Their flotillas had crossed paths in space and managed to destroy each other within seconds. Nevertheless, the PCs' scanners reported some signs of life on the Kurgan vessel and the PCs chose to explore it. Inside they found madness and horror – the dead rise, a dark entity possesses Flint and the ship begins to deform, cutting Olja and Tron from the rest of the crew.
A spiritual and physical battle ensues and the PCs soon learn that the dark entity on-board lusts, but at the same time is repelled, by a holy book carried on board as a gift for the king. They encountered other survivors – a Kurgan soldier, three clueless inquisitors and an antinominist (space Satanist) who called for the evil entity to save him, only to be torn apart by the possessed Flint when no longer useful.
At the same time, the PCs who didn't board started cutting the damaged vessel with their lasers to release their friends trapped onboard. Op-Lya hacked the vessel’s computer and after a lengthy battle with the dark entity in cyberspace (hacking for the Prophet!), defeated it and gained control of the ship’s computer – enabling her allies to safely reclaim the holy book. Meanwhile, Tron, the only PC who speaks Kurgan, helped the PCs communicate with the Kurgan though radio communication. He was also the first to discover the dark entity’s weakness – it cannot control a possessed body that has a sheet from the holy book stuffed in its mouth (indeed, it was the original form in which they found a sheet from the book). However, in his enthusiasm to assist his friends, Tron had attempted to board the vessel before the sliced metal cooled, damaging his spacesuit and nearly dying in the process.
Despite sustaining numerous injuries and having their faith shaken by the Devil, the crew survived this test of their faith and mettle and safely made it to Lemikainan. The internal battle with the dark entity had placed a small seed of hubris in Flint’s heart. Only time will tell if he will shrug it off or succumb to blasphemy...

Very bad in space. This is how it looks like.

Meet the Royal Bastards
Victorious and possessed of a valuable relic, the PCs arrive on Lemikainan and head to Sardan - a fancy hotel where the banquet is to take place. The PCs freshen up, preparing for the evening’s festivities and intrigues. Meanwhile, Sir Tron, mortally injured by decompression, wakes up in the hospital with the Kurgan, Ali Alan Al-Uzbek, sitting by his bed.
Dinner starts and the King (Alexi Isadorvich, Tsar of Isador Island) announces the guests of honor:

  • Na-Lord Quintus Van Gelder, the PCs' charge
  • Lord Arthur of Hawkwood, a moralist widower
  • Na-Count Dmitri Decados, a self-mutilating degenerate
  • Na-Duke Shaquille Yamamoto of house Dexrite, a polite enigma
  • Professor Philips Kodak, an outstanding engineer
  • Warchief Thurium Ukrops m'Valdalla, a half-man, half-machine space viking
  • Bishop Ignatius of the Orthodox Sect, a humble (but very rich) servant of the lord
  • Lady Captain Rene Gooddale Hawkwood, a renegade rumored to be a pirate
  • Soradir Qur'a'tin Cha'bulgar Ya, an alien atheist thinker
As soon as the King finished introducing the noble guests, a scary looking knight from the Decados entourage, rises up and rudely challenges Quintus to a duel. Quintus, pale as a ghost, said that he has no idea who that man is... why, the young Van Gelder never saw this Decados in his life! It’s quite obvious the boy has no chance to defeat the older and bigger knight. But refusing a duel would ruin all chances to prove that he’s noble enough to marry the princess.

What to do, oh what to do...?

WELCOME TO THE PARTY!!!
Art by Tom Berry

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The All Too Bearable Lightness of Being

I’m running a game which uses Gamma World rules, but takes place on a colossal generation ship where each floor is occupied by a different culture. Now the players, following a string of unfortunate events which included persecution by fascist bunnies, a battle with a malfunctioning robot and a nasty encounter with a swarm of memory-erasing insects, have found themselves penniless, shirtless and questless.
Today, they explored yet another level, a medieval fantasy forest, and were given a quest by the elves – to reclaim a huge chunk of adamantine from an evil porker baron. The players soon arrived to the Baron’s town and found it poor and oppressed, but in working order.
Fascist bunnies. Scarier than they sound...
Since they were so poor that they actually started getting penalty to their rolls due to hunger, they decided to raise some money before their assault – one player found a job as a waiter in the tavern, two others improvised a show with flowers that blossom to music, and the other three went panhandling. Eventually, they managed to scrape enough silver pieces to rent a room and get a decent meal.
Then, they decided this life wasn’t that terrible. Like the youngest kid said, “We have warm food and a roof over our head – what else do we need?”
I asked sarcastically if they would like to marry and raise children as well. To which another kid replied, “can you do that?! It sounds like a great idea! What do I roll to marry?”

Sigh.

I’m not sure if I this session indicates my failure as a game designer, my success as game master, or both...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RATS! the Begining

“Wake up. It’s time to die.”
- Blade Runner

God is a rat and in the image of Rat He has created them, male and female, to be fruitful and multiply in His earth. He has given them minds to know wisdom and hands to record it and feet to carry it across the land and mouths to teach the unenlightened. But Man was greedy. It was not enough for him to receive Rat’s gift, he had to deprive others of it.
While not wise, he was mighty. He used his massive bulk to steal Rat’s wisdom, translate it into his language and destroy the original, leaving Rat without a past and without a future.
Litters passed and Rat forgot he was created in the image of God and became like the animal of the field; devoid of reason and prey to the earthly circumstances of his life.
Six thousand years have passed and a rat destined to become great was born in the Judean desert. Stumbling blindly through a godsend sandstorm, the rat came upon a scroll that has been spared man’s Sophicide. Memories started flooding back into his brain – memories of an Empire stolen from him, memories of imposters taking his place by the right hand of God, memories of wrath and vengeance. The rat was Ee-Ee, the Prophet, the First Rat – the greatest rodent to ever walk the earth.

Ee-Ee in the desert, a Jesus with a wobbly nose, a Moses with a tail, a Muhammad with less hair
Art by Yan
For twelve litters, he traveled across the isolated Rat packs of the Holy Land, awakening them with the true words of God until a True Kingdom was tunneled underground to reflect the False Tyranny aboveground. Wherever he roamed and preached, idols were raised to remind ratkind of the True Image of God and copies of the scroll were made to educate whelps about Rat’s past, culture and customs and inspire them to hate those who robbed Rat of his wisdom.
As he reached the fifth year of his life (no rat has lived so long before, not even the sages of the past) he called upon the pack leaders and ordered them to leave the True Kingdom of their fathers and walk to the False Tyranny, so that they could overthrow it and make it a heaven for their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Before returning his breath to the fathers, the First Rat wrote the following words on the reverse side of the First Scroll:

Of man’s bones thou shalt erect a temple where my spirit shall dwell and bless thee with greater wisdom. Man’s flesh thou shalt throw away to rot for the substance of the mice of the field. Of his body thou shalt not eat, for it is foul and abhorrent in My sight. With the tools of his wisdom thou shalt vanquish him, even as with the tools of thy wisdom he hath vanquished thee. And even these words will testify to my strength and will be a virtue for he who readeth them when mind is blank, his eyes will open and he will know Man from Rat and his lips will utter wisdom. And on that day thou shalt know that I am God and my image is Rat. Amen.

Having placed the last dot on his testament, the Prophet Ee-Ee walked into the desert and was never seen again. Some say he wanted to die with the First Idol before his eyes. Others believe that he left Ratdom to achieve a higher state of Wakefulness and will return in time to lead the great Furry Jihad.
The last part of the prophecy came true first for it was said “he who was last shall become first.” Every rat that was so much as touched by the ancient scroll immediately regained his faculties and started speaking and reading as his forefathers. Faced with such an overwhelming evidence of God’s potency and such a clear indication of His will, Rat had no choice but to act out the Prophecy of the First Rat’s Testament.
Rat has walked Man’s cities and studied their decadence and wickedness, noting any cracks in their defense that could be exploited to bring Man’s foul mockery of civilization tumbling down. Rat has stolen the fruits of their wisdom even as they had stolen ours. Ras used them to create weapons and war machines to rip Man’s furless bodies asunder.

My brothers! The hour of the Great Awakening is nigh! Many will be martyred and for them will be the Kingdom of Heaven! The survivors shall gnaw on the bones of the last men and for them will be the Kingdom of Earth! We have nibbled on the foundations of their godless empire... now let a tide rise that will wash their filth of our land! A million martyrs are marching to the surface! With fire and blood we will redeem ratkind! God is a Rat and his Truth is spoken by Ee-Ee! Long live the furry fighters! Eternal glory to the martyrs!

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

- Master Theologian Brr-Brr-Brr at the annual theological seminar

Impressions from the first rat congress of '03
Art by Stav

So you’re sitting in your warren, surrounded by your whelps and siblings, twitchy little noses keep poking you in unmentionable places and you ask yourself, “What is it all about? What is this book I’m nibbling on? Maybe it’s worth reading before gnawing?”
First, congratulations young rodent! You’re already on your way to the Awakening. Soon you will know greatness, maybe even become a theologian or an elder.
By the condition of that dead bird over there I can see your hunger for food has already been satisfied. Now I will satisfy your hunger for knowledge.

Answer! Now! What’s RATS!
Questions usually end with a question mark... sigh... nevermind. RATS! is a roleplaying game about rats much like you who go on heroic adventures and become rich, famous and successful (or dead, fried and eaten). You are playing one of those rats; you are the author of their destiny and the master of their desires. All their abilities, powers, background, possessions and traits are written on character sheets. This way you know the strong and weak points of your rat and can make the right decisions for it.
The road is wrought with many challenges – humans jealous of your enlightenment, rats who have strayed from the Straight Path, the living nightmares of the Dreaming, deep holes in the ground... all these dangers are represented by the Big Cheese (BC).
The Big Cheese plays everything which isn’t one of the Rat Characters (RC). He is in charge of the creation and maintaining of the setting. He is your eyes, ears and, of course, nose in the hazardous world of rats. Characters he plays are called non-player characters (NPCs). Be careful of them because... well... just because.
Together, you’re telling an interactive story taking place in the world of RATS!
As time passes and your rat survives harder and harder missions, it becomes more powerful and experienced. The BC, never falling behind, obliges you by pitting you against more difficult and deadly challenges.
Life is a struggle without end.
Life is fun!

Life is bloody funny!
Art by Stav



Huh! What! Quick! Give an example!
What did I say about question marks... ah nevermind... here is one:

Tom (BC): Congratulations! You’re now hopelessly lost. You’ve got positively no idea where you are. All the hills look the same and you’re not even sure from which direction is the strange squeaking sound coming from. You are hungry, tired and that mousetrap wound you got while spying on the humans is beginning to smell funny.
Jeff (playing Hik): Can we use the human map we stole to navigate back to the pack?
Tom: Do you mean the map Nee ate while screaming “death to all humans!?”
Sarah (playing Nee): Ee-Ee commanded we destroyed all human creations—
Jeff: Well, you’re not the one who is going to die from an infected fracture in a few hours, are you now?
Sarah: Martyrs are rewarded handsomely in the Kingdom of Heaven, you—
Jeff: Quite frankly I’ve had enough of you, miss “I’m-Ee-Ee’s niece.” To Tom: I’m giving her a nice little bite on the thigh... to keep me company in hell!
Tom: Are you sure you want to attack your only ally in a hundred-mile radius? While possibly being pursued by human scientists aware of the Awakening? Possibly with a desire to perform unspeakable experiments on you?
Jeff: Positive. Hik has the Hotheaded Trait. He bites before he thinks. Hmmm... actually he bites instead of thinking. Oo! A good one. Better write it down somewhere...
Tom: All right... roll your attack.
Jeff makes an attack roll opposed by Sarah's defense roll and scores a hit.
Tom: Sarah, agony shoots through Nee’s entire body as Tom’s teeth dig into her hindquarters. Fortunately, he missed the artery I assume he was aiming for. You are hurt but not incapacitated. How do you react?
Sarah: Well, Nee has the Compassionate trait so she understands Hik doesn’t realize what he’s doing right now. I climb a tree and try to talk some sense into him. Can I do it?
Tom: Yes. Your Dexterity score is 21 and you maxed-out your Climb skill. You nimbly shoot up the tree within seconds, leaving Hik to curse and threaten you from below. With the condition of his foot, he’s unlikely to climb anything anytime soon.

Let’s wish Hik and Nee the best and continue to the next question.



Indian Rats...

Why the NPCs No Longer Fish in the River

I know that DMs telling about their sessions are the second most tedious species alive (better only than players telling about their characters) but please do forgive me this indulgence.

The Place: Fantasy version of Russia, winter.
The PCs want to cross a river to get to town, but the local rusalka won't let them. She's been wronged by men her all life and now won't let any man cross the river in which she drowned. The PCs, being travelers from a distant land, are eager to prove to her that not all people suck and ask her for a quest to prove their worth. She tells them that she was kicked out of her home in winter along with her baby daughter and wants nothing more than to be reunited with her child - something that can only be accomplished if the PCs get her the bones of the dead child.

Are you positive this is your villain?

The PCs go to the death site and find a gnoll camp there. The leader of the gnolls is a fierce werewolf wielding a flail that can fell trees. They charge screaming bloody mayhem. There is a bloody battle and the PCs eventually defeat the gnolls and their werewolf leader and start looking for the old bones that will reconcile the rusalka. Meanwhile, the dead werewolf returns to its human form - a young woman remarkably similar to the rusalka.

Gnolls eating dinner, an activity deserving termination with extreme prejudice

Questioning a wounded gnoll, the PCs discover that the gnolls found a dead woman and a living baby. Believing the baby had killed its mother, a great honor in their culture, the adopted it and raised it to be the scourage of their canine deity, who in turn blessed the child with the gift of lycanthropy. At this point, the truth downs on the PCs.
Not even a bit crestfallen, and lacking any semblance of tact, they come to the rusalka and tell her "eh, we found your daughter, but we had to kill her, because she was a werewolf... sorry about that."
At this point the rusalka wails about how incredibly cruel they are - to give her hope, just to dash it. Frothing and raging, she swears that she won't let anyone ever cross the river again.

Also, to remove concern from you heart - this was not a game with kids.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tormentors, Victims and Witnesses

First of all there are new gangs, this time with awesome crunch to go with the wicked fluff. So yay!

Secondly, after a long, long break, the second installment of my Creativity at the Table series is live on Geekcentricity. The author this month is a kid with a dark and awesome imagination and an unusual degree of erudition for his age. Very recommended.

Thirdly, I’m currently running a camping remotely inspired by Requiem Vampire Knight. Yes, I realize this setting is not for children, but some concepts there are just too cool to walk by. I especially like the reversal of everything – people grow younger instead of older, archeologists bury the future instead of unearthing the past, decadence replaces progress, goodness is frowned upon and where there is sea in our world there is land there and vice versa. In short – opposite world.

Even more important are the races. The race of each character depends on how he lived and died. For example – hypocrites who do evil in the name of good return as ghouls, immoral people who never went above daily unkindness return as zombies, victims return as lamias, religious fanatics return as werewolves, those who consciously did evil return as vampires and so forth.

Twilight for boys

It’s a very cool comic; you really ought to read it.

Anyhow, my version is very much simplified and dematurized. There are three factions – Tormentors (undead), Victims (nature spirits) and Witnesses (wereinsects). The Tormentors live in castle Dracula and raid Victim camps in the forest. The Witnesses live in small fortified towns and condemn these heinous activities in the harshest possible terms, but never actually do anything.

Now the group in question is very unusual – all characters are LG and play Paladins, Clerics, Invokers or Avengers. Yesterday, after three sessions, they finally noticed that no one except them is breathing. The collective gasp was amazing!

I hoped for the group to form a basis for fourth faction, but presently, they are mostly concerned with finding a way to return home, the plight of the Victims being a very low priority for them. I’m half-tempted to inflict them with wereinsectism...

Also amazing - this picture.
Artist unknown... :(

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Generation of RATS!

As some of you may know, I've been working slowly but passionately on an RPG about rats who rediscover their long lost culture and go on an epic furry Jihad against mankind. This game was very well received by kids in previous years, and I hope you will like it to.

HOWEVER, this is not a children's game. It's a savage satire of everything bad about humanity - fascism, fanaticism, terrorism, sexism, genocide, vicious capitalism - these are some of the subjects "celebrated" by this game. So, while 90% of the game makes great fun for kids, the remaining 10%, which I will occasionally mention in this blog, are not to be played with kids.

Game not tested on animals. Game tested on people.
Art by Stav

Carry Your Game in Your Pocket

I constantly see people wasting precious time recording tons of game data when the sessions stops mid-combat. They write down hp, conditions, locations, plans and so forth. Then they lose their notes and an hour is wasted arguing "the badger was here!" "NO! It was one square to the left!"

It's barbaric.

Seriously, paper? in our decadent age of high technology and low morals? Furthermore, if you're like me - running 15 groups a week - all this book keeping will sooner or later drive you clinically and legally insane.

So instead of doing as our forefathers did, pull out your mobile and shoot twice - one pic of the battlefield and another of the game data. There - you're free to go home.

Gama data:
This pic's got everything - hp, conditions, initiative, a language you don't understand...

Battlefield:
"There was ink and plastic everywhere!" The old DM sobbed.

Also - my next post will be slightly controversial. My loyal haters, please prepare comments in advance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A D&D Instructor's Life

A while back I got a question on FB from a kid who asked me why I wasn't instructing in his school anymore. Since the truth of the matter wasn't very exciting (logistics...) I decided to give a more memorable reply...

You see, Sauron has created another ring of power and the other instructors and I set out on a quest to destroy it in New Mordor. The problem is that my friend Shimon snores at night and the orcs heard him and attacked our camp while we were sleeping. Everyone managed to escape... except me. I was captured and thrown to a dark dungeon in Minas Morgul. Luckily, I have internet access over here, so I can continue writing, but I can't run games until I escape. Ido is planning an expedition to rescue me from my prison, but they can't leave Israel until the elves arrive, which will be around summer.

P.S
If anyone wonders why I don't answer your calls - that's the reason.

This is how my friends will remember me...
Art by warp-zero

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Flash Creativity

I played with some grown ups the other day. The son of one of the players didn't go to bed because he said it was very interesting to watch us play. It was a detective adventure and the boy soon started coming up with his own theories and suspects. At this point, his mother told him that he can't actually talk with NPCs, because he doesn't have a character.
After about a second of contemplation, the boy took her sheet, drew a amulet on her character illustration and said, "I'm a little spirit locked in the amulet. I can talk to you and through you."

You see this? This is an entire adventuring party.

I thought it was rather ingenious of him.

The group, by the way, rather liked the idea of tabletop RPGs. After a brief deliberation, we decided to go with Fading Suns. Speaking of Fading Suns, I cannot recommend the soundtrack of the Emperor of the Fading Suns enough. It's got a perfect mix between being exciting and being non-distracting. Perfect music for games!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teaching Hate #2

When given the chance to shape a society or a group, kids almost always choose to create oppressive theocracies with rigid caste systems and perpetual conflicts on all borders. This is curious because the same kids, when responsible for themselves alone, are the very manifestation of gallant gentlemen. At the same time, their countries have inquisitions, death squads, unreasonable taxation and complete and utter disregard for sentient life. They are engaged in countless "holy wars" against non-believers, at the hands of whom they usually meet their just punishment.

When questioned about their external aggression and internal oppression, kids feign surprise. They offer these idiots the privilege of serving a PC and the yahoos refuse, does it not qualify them as evil? Also - we raid dungeons when we're a dozen or so, so why not rate kingdoms when we are several thousands?

I bet you didn't expect that, did you?

Last week I asked some higher level kids to create a hierarchy of classes. Two examples were especially curious, but all re-affirmed this tendency for semi-fascist theocracy. Below are excerpts from the states I liked the best, translated from the Hebrew by yours truly.

The Sons of Death
Clerics are the the most respected members of society. They are the babies who died at birth. A baby who was born dead is resurrected by a senior warlock. It grows up and on the age of 18 sticks a knife into its heart. For a year and a day, its body lies in a holy place. After a year and a day, the body is resurrected. The cleric is not allowed to tell what he’d experienced in this time. Warlocks are those who were born with such a strong magic spark that it only had to be harnessed. Wizards are those who developed the spark of magic until it became strong. During this time, it is believed that it meets with death and learns from it. Assassins are the most respected members of society after clerics and warlocks because even though they almost never use magic, they are still the servants of death. Next come the paladins, known as the knights of death. They are carefully chosen, it is forbidden for there to be clerics or warlocks in their families. In the acceptance ceremony they must kill a family member – preferably by torturing him. Only an absolute believer may become paladin.

I, for once, welcome our new snake overlords.


The Snake Holy State
Clerics are on top because they are chosen by Zehir and can tell everyone his will. After them comes the King who runs the kingdom according to the laws of Zehir. Then come the warrior who are mostly rangers and paladins. After them come wealthy and respected citizens - to become respected you must kill in the name of Zehir at least once. Then come the second class citizens who never killed - merchants, workers, healers and so forth. Then come the peasants and below them are only slaves, who are occasionally sacrificed to Zehir.

(Fantasy) Gangs in Your (Imaginary) Neighborhood

Little disclaimer:This is not a post about gaming with kids. This is a general gaming post. It might inspire adventures with kids, but as is it's not kid-friendly in the slightest. Clear? Good!

A while ago I decided to populate my setting with criminal gangs. The result lies before you, the first project I undertook not as a freelancer, but as a free man.

GANGWORLD offers game masters criminal organizations to plague their cities and victimize their players. Each dossier includes detailed information on the gang and ten adventure seeds, five for each side of the law. For a nominal protection fee of $1 you can not only acquire the dossier of one of these excellent gangs, but also avoid getting murdered! With today’s economy, it’s an offer you really can’t refuse!

Submissions, comments, reviews, ratings, raving and raiding are, as always, welcome. You know where to find us. You also know to come bearing a white flag.

The first gang is already available for bribing. Others will be uploaded every few days. For now, just look at some of the nice people you'll be meeting in the following months...

Sexually ambivalent drow matriarchs? Checked.

Vicious dragon supremacists? Checked.
Smart and sexy killers? Checked.



All art is the work of the right honorable Jamie Keys. If you like what you see, make sure to visit his dA!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I rule. You don't.

Back in the day, there was an epic scandal about an article I wrote listing the differences I observed between the way boys play and girls play. Some people, who are either aliens or imbeciles (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) got the murder hard against me because it's sexism to say boys and girls are different. Either they think that if you don't talk about an issue it goes away (not unlike our politicians feel about social issues) or they have gender issues that are too complex for us mere mortal to understand. I mean like, if they removed their pants your brain would explode. Kynn their master was charged with rape though, so I'd grant them that.

They do know a thing or two about sex... NOT!

The only expression a non-oppressed girl is allowed, according to them.


Anyhow. A couple of days ago I've met with badass psychologist who specializes in teenagers and kids to talk about D&D, because I don't talk about anything else with anyone ever (true story). I talked with her about my articles and the war of words that followed. She fully supported my observations and said they match the teaching of the holy trinity (Freud, Jung, and Lacan. Amen) and even explained some of the things I observed, but couldn't understand, like why younger girls like to play short and broad characters while boys like to play tall and stringy characters.

Anyhow, now I have science AND experience on my side. My enemies got rape charges and hopefully blood pressure high enough to blow the tire of an eighteen wheeler.

I FUCKING rule.

Thank you.

This has been emotional.

The only expression I allow for kids of either gender to have!

Okay, now that I have that off my heart I can start talking about D&D again. I know some folks are curious about this, so that will be my first post. Then I will write about... dunno. What do you want to hear about?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Going Back to Work Tomorrow

Would have been excited if I wasn't, eh, six hours past my bedtime. On the plus side, three new groups are beginning next week. One is a hellish gang of XP-chasers if ever there was one, the other two I know nothing about yet.

Just for the hell of it, I'm going to mention every time the group takes an extended rest that one of the moons of their world looks a little closer. Will see how many sessions pass before they begin to worry.

Let's hope it won't be that long...

That is all. Now I will sleep and dream of nasty things that can happen to PCs.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jails and Juvies #1

One of my groups managed to get itself arrested. At court, being nine year-old kids with twisted concepts of justice, i.e that you convince the judge through rhetorics rather than through gold and blackmail, they got sent to prison. Now, I could have skipped their incarceration and just continue from the point they got released, but instead I decided to roleplay the whole thing. I mean - a prison is a cool place (not really, but bear with me) - it's got gangs who control different sections and fight for control and honor, bad and honest guards you must deal with, conspiracies, injustice, chained monsters... it's kind of awesome. Except when you drop the soap in the shower, then everyone points at you and laughs. This is awfully embarrassing really.

To make this whole affair less random, the kids were offered an early release by the Lord Prosecutor in return for discovering who smuggles magical components into the prison and why. They started asking around rather conspicuously and gotten beaten half to death by the Sons of the Dragon, a dragonborn racist gang with real weapons. In retribution, they improvised weapons from spoons and chairs, joined forces with the elves and the eladrin and staged a full-scale assault on the Sons' cell. Unbeknownst to them, the humanoid guards were replaced that day by a new kind of guard, one which takes neither bribes nor nonsense - a golem.

Hilarity insured.
Art by Udon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Freelancing in a free world

Except for being a storyteller, I'm also a game writer. I write fiction too, but for me it's just an extension of my game writing. Writing fiction is the ultimate solo gaming experience. You should try it and none of this "I don't have writing skills" nonsense please. If you can write, you can write. Period.

Now, since I started writing in 2005, I'd quite a few things published. Because I plan to take a break from freelancing soon, and focus on my own ideas, I thought it would be nice to go over my "career" and see what I'd produced in the last six years.

Because I think every article should have pictures, I'm attaching a couple of "fan art" pictures good people sent me over the years. Want to see more? Draw some! :)

An Israeli artist's fan art for one of my stories.  Expect to see a lot
more of him soon, because he's now on board the rat ship! Also, he's awesome.

RPGs:
Gunmetal Games, "From Gaza with Love", 2014
A fun little cyberpunk adventure about spies, gangsters and tribesmen in the radiated space between future Tel Aviv and future Gaza.

Gunmetal Games, Interface Zero 2.0, 2014
I was tasked with writing the chapters about future Russia and the future Middle East. Guess why.

Mongoose Publishing, Traveller: Campaign Guide, 2012
The largest and most difficult project I've ever worked on. Basically this book is full of what my players love best - random tables. Seriously, it's got a random table for just about anything, you should give it a try, it's really fun! :)

Postmortem Studios, Gangworld, 2011
An ongoing series of dark and gritty gangs for fantasy settings. The series started with the question: what would have happened if Oz was filmed on Middle Earth...

Frog God Games, The Hollow Mountain, 2011
My first proper old-school dungeon crawl. It has a crazy tree, flowers that kill and elves who don't sing and dance... my ex thought it was my best adventure, but then again she also dated me, so you can't really trust her tastes... :P

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Girls at the Table”, 2011
This is the article that started my persecution by the rabid fanatics who soil the good name of feminism with their mindless aggression. Thankfully, I have friends as well as enemies so this article, as well as all my other DNDkids articles, can now be found on Geekcentricity. God bless them! :)

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Campaign Setting”, 2011
This article has the highest ideas-to-words ratio ever. Guaranteed!

Mongoose Publishing, RuneQuest Compendium 1, "Alternative Elementals," 2011
I've made it to Traveller's best, now it's RuneQuest's turn. The article included in this compendium is a collection of elementals based on opposing emotions and opposing physics terms.

Wizards of the Coast, "Leopard Cub Against the Poachers," 2011
A fun little solo adventure I originally wrote as a gift for my nephew. This is my only work for Wizards that survived the 3e purge, being system neutral. The name more or less sums the plot... but there is a twist!

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Punishment”, 2011
My first ever work to ever cause internet wide flame wars and debates. This was my first brush with the roaming pack of internet trolls who prey on men in the night. The real war, however, would start a few months later...

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Rewards”, 2011
The third article in the series - full of things that make kids smile and DMs sigh...

Mongoose Publishing, Traveller Compendium 1, "Gods of the Space Age," 2010
"This first volume of the Traveller Compendiums collates all the most popular articles that have appeared in Signs & Portents over the years..." Wow, that's flattering :)

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Combat Encounters”, 2011
The second in a series of articles about my work with children. This time we tackle (and hopefully drop) the issue of combat encounters and character death.

Mongoose Publishing, Traveller 9: Robots, 2010
This is the first book I wrote alone, cover to cover. I'm quite proud of it. Also, I learned a great deal about robotics, both real and imagined, while researching for it.

Wizards of the Coast, D&D Tutorials, “D&D Kids: Character Generation”, 2011
The first in a series of articles about my work with children. I really enjoy writing those (to this very day....)

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #79, "Traveller: The Xenologist", 2010
Dr. Dolittle in space!

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #77, "Conan: The Bloodling", 2010
To quote a great editor of yore, "a murderous baby corpse made out of blood is both sick and awesome!"

Kobold Quarterly, Monday Monster, "Razor Treant," 2010
Death of a thousand cuts anyone? I mean, this is a nasty, nasty tree!

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #78, "Traveller - Gods of the Space Age,", 2010
My first ever Traveller article and, in my opinion, one of the best articles I ever wrote.

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #77, "Conan: Piercing Magic", 2010
This article deals with the magic of piercing. Will you clamp your nipples and pierce your lips for great power? If the answer is yes, then go forth and read it. It's free.

Zombie Sky Press, Rituals from the Spaces Beyond: Spirit Magic, "Slavic Magic", 2010
I wrote the chapter about Russian spirits and rituals. This book has gorgeous art and excellent contents from my esteemed colleagues Clinton Boomer and Scott Gable who wrote the chapters on Voodoo and Lovecraftian rituals. If you want to diversify your game, this is simply a MUST!

Kobold Quarterly online, Friday Funny, "A Coward's Life, pt. 2" , 2009
Kobold Quarterly online, Friday Funny, "A Coward's Life, pt. 1" , 2009
Probably the most fun article I ever wrote! Perfect for those who place survival above courage. Of all my works, this one is the most appropriate for games with kids.

Mongoose Publishing, Adventures in the Hyborian Age, "Kingdom of Apes", 2009
I just love the cover of this one! It's so Howard! The adventure itself is not my best work, although I am quite proud of some of the evil monkeys in it. EVIL MONKEYS RULE!

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #62, "Fantasy Regimes", 2008
Probably my most imaginative article to date... I consider it more of a literary work than a game. Basically for what-if regimes; a dwarf collective, an elf patriarchy and a human direct theocracy.

Wizards of The Coast, Dragon Magazine Issue #363, "Oligarchy of Mavet Rav", 2008
Best article I ever wrote. Wizards really squeezed the best out of me. Don't worry though, I have some best left in me yet! Wizards have removed the article because it was written for 3e, so I uploaded it on my blog (with the original art) for your pleasure and entertainment.

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #53, "Conan: The Temple of Tears", 2008
My attempt at writing a highly emotional and melodramatic adventure in the world of Conan. Did it work? You tell me!

Mongoose Publishing, Signs & Portents Issue #48, "RuneQuest: Alternative Elementals", 2007
I think creating these monsters has made me slightly less sane, and I didn't even mention Cthulhu, just mixed science and magic... BOOM!

RPG Objects, Legends of the Samurai: the Escape from the Haunted Lands, 2007
My first sojourn into the land of Japanese adventures, I had a great time researching and writing this adventure. I think I also managed to design some really adorable ghosts for this one.

Paizo Publishing, Dungeon Magazine Issue #129, "Murder in Oakbridge", 2005
Wow, my first publication. It's a dark and very cerebral investigative adventure that can be played from prologue to epilogue without a single combat encounter.


This one was drawn by a girl from Virginia whose name I suspect is Anna. This is her character meeting  the villain from Murder in Oakbridge.  She (Anna, not the villain) wrote a little fanfic in which my bleak adventure had a happy ending.
Kabbalah:
Ever Burning Light, The Roots of Names, 2012 (co-translator) coming soon

Ever Burning Light, The Book of Combinations, 2012 (co-translator) coming soon

Despite the lame names, these are actually awesome books full of Jewish demons, spells, spirits and curses! Working on these dusty old tomes had proved to be a major source of inspiration for both my games and my fiction.

Fiction:
Murderous Rat, Tales from an Israeli Storyteller, 2015
My first self-published work. Was great fun to write. Hope it's also fun to read.

The Red Phone Box: A Darkly Magical Story Cycle, 2012
A very awesome story cycle to which I had the honor of contributing a couple of semi- autobiographical stories. Warren Ellis is also among the contributors so... AWESOME!

Library of the Living Dead, Malicious Deviance, "A Wife From Hell," 2010
A story about a bad husband, a good wife and the devil. Guess who survives in the end?

Blood Bound Books, D.O.A. - Extreme Horror Collection, "Daddy," 2010
This is the darkest, vilest, sickest story I've ever written. Everything that's dark in my soul went into creating it. Your probably shouldn't read it.

Necrotic Tissue #12, Siberian Escape, 2010
A 100-word (count 'em!) retelling of a horrible Russian urban legend. This one is not based on a true story. At least, I hope it's not based on a true story...

Brain Harvest, "A Woman Made of Gold," 2010
Another very short story. This time about the dangers of materialism not tempered with spirituality.

Bull Spec #2, "The Sad Story of the Naga," 2010
My story about Christ, Christianity, paganism and a sad naga with a quest. My first pro fiction sale and, in my opinion, one of the best stories I'd ever written.

Strange Publications, Fifty-Two Stitches, "Eulogy for Jimmy," 2010
My first fiction publication. Poor Jimmy...

Munchkin's Paradise

I have posted this on my dA before, but thought you fine gamers could enjoy it too as an, eh, commentary on the new generation of gamers :)

Munchkin's Paradise
As I walk through some poorly generated terrain
I take a look at my sheet
And realize there's nothing left.
'Cause I've been blasting and casting so long
That even NPCs think that my mind has gone.
But I ain't never crossed an NPC that didn't deserve it.
Me be treated like a low-le'el char, you know that's unheard of.
You betta' watch your Diplomacy rolls,
And the auras you're emanating
Or you and your minions might be stroke off the encounter list.
I really hate to roll initiative but I gotta hack,
As they croak, I hear myself in the rollin' dice.
Newb, I'm the kind of PC that young gamers wanna be like,
On my knees in the night
Reading the monster manual in the street light.

We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.

Look at this dungeon, they got me crawling,
I can't play a normal character, I was raised by world of Warcraft.
So I gotta be down with the power players,
Too much cheating in Diablo, got me chasing dreams.
I'm a bored teenager with XP on my mind
Got my d20 in my hand and thick spectacles on my eyes.
I'm a washed out munchkin, set vorpal war sword
And my cohorts are down so don't provoke my OOP.
Newb, a new character ain't nothing but a die roll away,
I'm going for level 20, do or die, what can I say?
It's session three now, will I ever live to see session four?
The way this encounter is going, I don't know.

Tell me why are we,
so blind to see
That the ones we roll,
are ain't good PC
Tell me why are we,
so blind to see
That the ones we roll,
are ain't good PC

We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.

XP and level-up, level-up and XP
Die roll after die roll, 20 after 20
Everybody's rollin', but half of them ain't readin
What's written in da book, but I don't know what we're playin'
They say I gotta make new chars
But nobody's here to teach me.
If they can't understand this edition, how can they improve me?
I guess they can't,
I guess they won't,
I guess they front,
That's why I know this character just won't work, newb!

We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We've been spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.
We keep spending most our lives
Living in a munchkin's paradise.

Tell me why are we,
so blind to see
That the ones we roll,
are ain't good PC
Tell me why are we,
so blind to see
That the ones we roll,
are ain't good PC.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Death of the Deathless

I don't enjoy combat encounters which you win simply by dealing so-and-so damage to the monster. I guess they are all right as appetizers, but as a main course they're hardly filling. There's something very anti-climatic in meeting the final bonus and simply trading blows until one of you runs out of hp.

Significant encounters should challenge the players' brain more than the PCs' brawn. Furthermore, I think the best encounter should allow each class to shine and each player to feel important. In this regard, Koschei the Deathless is simply the perfect villain.
Perfection. This is how it looks like
Art by Smolin


My Koschei is a deathly thin and pale old man clad in black steel, with cruel and cynical eyes and a sardonic smile full of rotting teeth. He lives in a gloomy castle full of skeletons, giant spiders and damp callers. Koschei is not very powerful, but after several turns it should become apparent to the players that they simply cannot harm him, sending them on a quest to find out his weakness. Note that kids are very persistent and unless you explicitly state them a fight is hopeless, they are likely to fight to the death.

The Eladrin Fey Knight (MM 102) stats make a good Koschei. I suggest replacing the fey step with the darker Shadow Jaunt (MM 279) and making Harvest’s Sorrow direct damage from Koschei to his minion and not vice versa.

Investigation should reveal that Koschei's soul is hidden separately from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest, which is buried under an oak, which is on an island.

Now, I like to make all these supernatural and really tough to crack. The island is protected by sea monsters and requires a master navigator to get to. The oak tree is protected by a powerful primal spirit that isn't too excited about people messing with its roots, requiring nature/spirit-based characters to devise ways to placate the spirit and extract the chest without harming the oak. The iron chest summons golems that the group has to fight while the rogue cracks the complex lock. The hare is the Monty Python bunny... Okay, I've started losing it... but you get the idea, yes? EVERYONE gets to contribute their expertise in finding Koschei’s death.

"Would you leave that bloody rabbit alone?! We have company!"

A dramatic, though not very believable way to end this is to have Koschei show on the island as the PCs are breaking the chest and attack them, forcing the group to multitask and think on their feet.

By the way, the above picture is the work of the Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, my favorite illustrator of Russian folklore. No one brings the old folk tales to life better than him.

We'll end today post with a little quiz:
Which classic D&D adventure has a villain inspired by Koschei?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wet Ladies and Foolish Knights

I've recently started an adventure inspired by Russian folklore. I blame a friend for giving me a copy of Nikolai Dante and myself for going over my photo album from my last trip to Russia. Also, I wrote the Russian chapter for ZSP's excellent Rituals from the Other Side: Spirit Magic. Also, I was born in Russia.

Not this Russia...

There's something about the pristine vastness of mythical Russia and the rawness of its villages, people and spirits that suits my current inclination as well as the gaming pace favored by this particular group. The closest Western folklore is probably Celtic, but whereas the Celtic forest is teeming with magic, passion, dance and song, the Russian forest is lyrical, sleepy and bittersweetly melancholic. Watch Petrov's Rusalka to see, or rather feel, what I mean.

But this Russia...

Coincidentally, the first encounter the kids had, after their shipped had crushed on my Russian planet, was with a Rusalka (in a wet bridal gown) who was very cold and allowed people to cross her river only in return for 50 hp worth of body warmth. Now, the group consists of eight 1st level characters (25 average hp). Thus, if anyone volunteered around 6 hp, all would be well. If the group, with its paladins and avengers, attacked the malignant spirit it would be well too. If the group found out what drove the poor girl to undeath and released her from the curse, it would be grand too. If the group decided crossing the river is not THAT important, it would be sensible too.

Instead, the strongest paladin selflessly jumped into the river. And we just finished rolling the bloody character two sessions ago!

*SIGH*

Anyway, if you're interested in a taste of proper Russian adventure I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful folk tale of the warrior princess Marya Morevna. It's got a typical Russian heroes, male (lazy, stupid but well-meaning and lucky) and female (noble, wise and with a soft spot for idiots), helping animals and spirits and features two of the most iconic villains of Russian culture; Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless.

Also, it's very fun.

Who knows what dark secrets hide in this rustic village...? I do. None.