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1  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: Convince me to not buy Starfinder on: May 29, 2017, 11:34:24 PM
I think sparkletwist's comments are spot-on. I probably won't get it, but if you were looking for reasons for/against I'd say get it if the following are true:

- You like the Pathfinder system (warts and all), but want more ready-to-use rules for science fiction elements.

- You want to run a science fantasy/space opera game similar to Mass Effect, Star Wars, or Guardians of the Galaxy, as opposed to something stranger or more specific - like Dune or Vance's Gaean Reach - or more hard SF.

- You aren't looking for innovative rules or an innovative setting, you're looking for something familiar adapted for science fiction that you can use as a base for your own SF game.
2  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 14, 2017, 04:09:14 PM


If you are going for a globe trotting, continental based adventure, you should keep things vague, so that you can handle the decisions that your players make. You can't control where they decide to go, how they decide to go there, and how they decide to deal with challenges. Why bog yourself down with every little possibility, when you can just come up with it on the spot.

That's interesting... do you take a dim view of the hexcrawl model of wilderness adventure then?
3  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: Help? -Oddly specific problem(s) on: May 14, 2017, 04:07:55 PM
It's a novel and mathematically interesting mechanic, but I gotta say, it seems a little complicated, like using a precision surgical laser to slice a piece of bread. Admittedly, though, this is my reaction to a lot of different mechanical systems/subsystems, so take my comment with a gigantic grain of salt.
4  The Works / The Crossroads / Re: Congrats to Dr. Steerpike! on: May 14, 2017, 12:13:41 AM
Hey thanks LD! Glad I could introduce you to Schelling. He's often really hard to follow but he has his moments. Much of his natural philosophy is totally refuted by modern science but he nonetheless has some interesting concepts of nature. In some ways I think of him as sort of mashing up Kant and Spinoza.
5  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 12, 2017, 08:37:05 PM
That's interesting LoA... might be derailing a bit but what do you mean by local and individualistic details? Do you mean, like, detailing a setting at the level of towns and individual NPCs? Cultural customs, religions, fashion, architecture, those sorts of details? Local landscapes and events? Dungeons and other adventure locations? Are you saying you find it better to just make this stuff up during play, or leave it vague?
6  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 12, 2017, 11:41:29 AM
Yeah I definitely don't agree with the "12 hours" rule - I've poured probably hundreds of hours at this point into my current setting, my setting bible alone is 30,000 words and then my more specific notes for adventures and locations and NPCs have cleared 100,000 words, much of it descriptions of individual streets, buildings, people, etc. I think the key is just to envision the setting as living and changing and not as static.


I will say that while I'm all for the PCs succeeding even when I don't expect them to, "firing off a Hold Person" and the villain failing a single roll leading to their demise is pretty lame, but I think that stems from issues more related to the system than anything else tongue. I would say the same if one of my players died that way as well.

I mean you're right, that's not ideal, and usually I'm have ways around it (minions, high saves, the villain taking action beforehand).

One memorable time in a previous campaign my players bumped into the villain, who was an angelic serial killer in Sigil slaying everyone with fiend-blood to purify the city. He had a powerful fiend-killing knife that even Balors and Pit Fiends feared, and he was extremely hard to catch since he had various incapacitation spells and was very slippery. The druid managed to squirm into a position to cast Mad Monkeys who stole the knife with a good roll. It was a completely ridiculous and in some ways anti-climactic confrontation, but my players were so happy when I didn't bullshit my way out of it, and it's one of my favourite memories of that game.

Elven Doritos

Edited to add: And for the main topic - a good villain should be COOL.  Sweet armor, distinctive weapon, badass name - you get the idea.

This is a super good point.
7  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 11, 2017, 06:41:16 PM
I think the "villain as DMPC" issue relates to a larger issue with DMing, which is DMs getting precious with their settings and characters and plots - being overly protective of them or trying to insulate them from the PCs wrecking/derailing them. Like, I spent a long time mapping and detailing various districts of the main city in my game, but if the PCs unleash a catastrophic conflagration, it's going to burn down (at least parts of it). Ditto with villains escaping - it's fine if they can credibly escape, but if the PCs fire off Hold Person and the save is failed and the bad guy gets offed, the PCs deserve the victory.

Speaking of good roleplaying game villains, there is a spectacularly good villain in Kyle Chenier's Blood in the Chocolate for Lamentations of the Flame Princess - Lucia de Castillo, a sort of "Willy Wonka meets Cortez" character except also a half Dutch, half Incan decadent.
8  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 10, 2017, 11:39:57 PM
That's true. I can see some players might not enjoy difficult moral choices. It feels like it maximizes character agency to go for a "pick-your-villain" strategy - but character agency doesn't always need to be maximized.

I do tend to have some truly black-hearted, unambiguously evil characters in my games too, usually more as "street-level" villains - so far in this particular game, a crazy death-worshipper slowly metamorphosing into a gigantic maggot, a necromancer who specializes in augmenting and reprogramming zombies (the city has a big undead workforce), a child-eating sewer witch, and a narcissistic, bloodthirsty fairy lord. In some ways these "cartoon evil" characters are more fun for me to play, especially as monster-of-the-week bad guys. Amazingly none of these characters has actually been killed, but have ended up in various prisons, or else have vanished back into the shadows, meaning they are becoming a proper rogues' gallery; I'm tempted to do a league of villains thing with them.
9  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 10, 2017, 08:18:08 PM
In some ways I think the ideal gaming villain might be a character chosen by the players as the antagonist - in the sense that instead of having characters the GM envisions as villains or benefactors, the GM instead has characters with conflicting goals and agendas, and it's then up to the PCs which goals and agendas to support and which to oppose.

I've been trying to do something like this in my 5th edition game. Right now the players are engaged in a multi-part "rod of seven parts" style quest to retrieve thirteen volumes of magical lore which together make up a unified theory of magic as known to the elder civilization atop whose ruined metropolis the main city of the setting is built. Right now I've introduced at least two factions who want the books:

- Master Melchior, an ancient archmage who has become a brain in a jar, and who believes he can use the books to usher in a magical utopia. He's headmaster of the city's greatest magical university.

- The Velvet Shadow, a spy/assassin's guild of shadowy information brokers and manipulators, who claim that Melchior is meddling with powers beyond his ken, and who want to keep the books secret & safe.

Melchior may initially seem like the good guy and the Velvet Shadow the bad guys, but I'm trying to build them up to show that Melchior has made past mistakes in his long tenure as the city's most powerful mage, while the Shadow, although assassins, seem to actually have the city's interests at heart and want to try and forestall some sort of magical apocalypse. Who to collaborate with is up the the characters.

I'm planning on introducing several additional factions with interests in the books, including some vampires from a nearby metropolis who, though bloodsuckers, are also incredibly competent leaders with centuries of experience, effectively enlightened absolutists who've had many lifetimes to perfect the "enlightened" part of that equation (think Catherine the Great only 500 years old).
10  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 10, 2017, 05:30:21 PM


Interesting choice of a character to name yourself (or at least your forum persona) after, Steerpike.

I've got a real soft spot for this sort of character - Milton's Satan, Frank Underwood, Tyrion Lannister, Edmund from Lear. In a lot of cases these characters are treated unjustly for some reason, be it due to their class, their legitimacy, their physical body, etcetera. I think they make good villains precisely because they call into question the moral foundations of the society they exist in, pointing out its hypocrisies and undermining the legitimacy of its rulers. This is sort of the opposite of how things work in texts like The Lord of the Rings or Narnia, where the bad guys, even when they seem nice, are unambiguously bad, while the good guys are rightful kings or leonine deities or whatever, and killing the bad guys solves the problem and restores everything to how it should be. Steerpike is a murderer and a liar and a manipulator, but he also exposes the cruelty and absurdity of Gormenghast, the way its power structures are arbitrary and oppressive and its traditions just a means of preserving those structures. Milton's intentions aside, this is also how Satan operates in Paradise Lost, as the Romantic poets observed - calling out God as a tyrant, insisting that he created nothing, only falsely claims to be the creator. These sorts of villains can be evil or amoral, but they often ask us to look at our own society and institutions with a more critical eye rather than assuming the status quo is morally defensible.
11  Campaign Creation / Meta / Re: What are the hallmarks of a good villain? on: May 10, 2017, 02:31:25 PM
Three of my favourite villains, in no particular order, from various media.


Obivously: Steerpike, from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.

Mervyn Peake

If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing - flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it. High-shouldered to a degree little short of malformation, slender and adroit of limb and frame, his eyes close-set and the colour of dried blood, he is climbing the spiral staircase of the soul of Gormenghast, bound for some pinnacle of the itching fancy - some wild, invulnerable eyrie best known to himself; where he can watch the world spread out below him, and shake exultantly his clotted wings.

Limb by limb, it appeared that he was sound enough, but the sum of these several members accrued to an unexpectedly twisted total. His face was pale like clay and save for his eyes, mask-like. These eyes were set very close together, and were small, dark red, and of startling concentration.

Steerpike begins the novels as an abused kitchen boy, and hovers between an anti-hero and a villain. He's a Machiavellian schemer and a rapacious social climber - elegant, dastardly, incredibly clever, and utterly ruthless. He simultaneously resents and exploits the baroque traditions and hierarchical power structures of Gormenghast. He is an arch-manipulator and duplicitous snake, somewhere between an anarchist and an authoritarian. There's something of Milton's Satan to him - he's a horrible, amoral, even sadistic megalomaniac, but he's wonderfully charismatic, and we share his frustrations with an oppressive society. Even while it's hard to deny he's evil - or, at least, sociopathic - his individualism and intelligence and sheer will are also admirable.


Probably my favourite videogame villain ever – GLaDOS from Valve’s Portal and Portal 2.


“Don't let that ‘horrible person’ thing discourage you. It’s just a data point. If it makes you feel any better, science has now validated your birth mother's decision to abandon you on a doorstep.”

“Remember before when I was talking about smelly garbage standing around being useless? That was a metaphor. I was actually talking about you. And I’m sorry. You didn’t react at the time, so I was worried it sailed right over your head. Which would have made this apology seem insane. That’s why I had to call you garbage a second time just now.”

What makes GLaDOS great, I think, isn’t her malice alone, but the way she expresses it – with sarcasm, passive aggression, and, above all, black humour. No villain has ever made me laugh so hard or so consistently. Despite her boundless hate, she’s also tragic – a prisoner as surely as the protagonist, both of the Aperture Science Laboratory and of her own programming. I think she’s especially close to a lot of roleplaying game villains since she’s essentially an evil wizard running a maniacal deathtrap dungeon.

I think a good lesson to learn from GLaDOS is that evil and levity can go together really well. GLaDOS is really, really satisfying to take down because she taunts and belittles you so mercilessly.

The Xenomorph

The xenomorph from Alien is one of the best movie monsters of all time. I include here the creature in all of its forms, including the egg, facehugger, chestburster, etc.


“Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.”

“You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility… A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

What makes the xenomorph great? Its utter inhumanity is definitely part of it: this thing doesn’t think like us, can’t be reasoned with, can’t be fully fathomed. It’s very smart, but it exists to breed and sees people as disposable food-sources and reproductive vessels. It’s a good monster because it’s so liminal, so between-things – is it crustacean, insect, reptile? It suggests both the monstrous feminine and abject – associated with birth, reproduction, eggs, womb-like spaces, envelopment – as well as a predatory hyper-masculinity – the phallic, juddering mouthparts, the facehugger’s ovipositor. It confounds the binaries and categorical schema we’re familiar with, disorienting us with its otherness, its refusal to participate in systems of meaning. It is utterly impure, not just terrifying but contaminating. It also brings out the worst in us, spawns sub-villains, reflects back our own “inhumanity” – the Weyland-Yutani’s boundless corporate avarice, its exploitation of its own employees, its reduction of everything to profit margins, to consumer and consumed. In this sense the fact that it blends in so well with the Nostromo – the mechanical and the biological blurring – seems particularly apt.

The xenomorph is satisfying to defeat not just because it’s so seemingly unkillable for much of the (first) film but also because killing it is both a kind of purity ritual – restoring a sense of human agency and order – and a political act, a way of sticking it to the company and the rapacious capitalist greed it represents.

The film is also a master-class in how to reveal a monster to make it scary, and I think a lot of the lessons of good filmmaking can be taken up by roleplaying games as well, particularly of the horror persuasion. The most important thing here is pacing – you need to slowly build up a sense of suspense and dread, teasing the monster’s presence, before revealing it, and ideally, you want the thing to appear multiple times in short encounters rather than in a single confrontation.
12  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: ALPTRAUM on: May 09, 2017, 08:55:52 PM
I'll definitely run at least one follow up session once sparkletwist has given it a shot!
13  Campaign Creation / Homebrews / Re: ALPTRAUM on: May 09, 2017, 03:07:32 PM
Working again on this. I should have the adventure ready to go in the not-too-distant future. sparkletwist, I'll let you know when it's ready to go.

I've been running some very Alptraum-esque 5th edition D&D sessions as well, getting into the nightmare-world mindset. I incorporated some narrativist-type mechanics and set pieces to help ease into Fate  grin.
14  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: Will you help me brainstorm for a Fantasy Western setting? on: May 08, 2017, 12:02:55 AM
I really like fantasy/SF author N.K. Jemisin's essay on cultural appropriation and why it's essentially unavoidable, but thus also something that needs to be thought through carefully.

As Jemisin puts it:

N.K. Jemisin

Here’s one big problem with insisting that it’s never OK to appropriate: the result is segregation. And here’s another: it’s a cop-out. The anti-appropriation argument applies a simplistic solution to a complex and nuanced problem — doing a good job of depicting The Other in fictional representation. It can be done, but it requires hard work. Research, self-examination, strategy. Rather than come up with this strategy, however, the anti-appropriation argument is a punt. Let the PoC handle PoC, while the white people stick to white people. Problem solved, the Jim Crow way.

...I think we need to get away from the simplistic question of whether to appropriate, and get back to the nuances of when and how to appropriate correctly. Because it can be done. We’re doing it already. We just need to do it better.
15  Campaign Creation / Campaign Elements and Design / Re: Will you help me brainstorm for a Fantasy Western setting? on: May 07, 2017, 10:16:58 PM
I don't think it's a problem to make a band of skinwalker-inspired people - shapechanging pranksters, or whatever. That seems sufficiently detached from the specifics of Navajo culture to avoid any difficulties. I think it only becomes an issue if the created characters are caricatures of Navajo people and/or if the correspondence/borrowing/appropriation is more explicit. I raised the issue in part because some of your earlier comments suggested you wanted to try and be especially sensitive with aspects of the history of the American western frontier (i.e. avoiding the "orc noble savage" trope, for example); this seems like part of that.
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