Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blazing Spear: Rulaani Clayborn Interview

Wrote this up to illustrate one of the major cultural perspectives in Blazing Spear- that of the Rulaani Empire, which has rapidly expanded in the last century.

I have encountered Peltan upon the road to Strongbranch. She is employed as a traveling sorceror's guard, and was ordered to answer my questions in exchange for information on current political events to the south.

Peltan is a tall clayborn warrior-witch, with brown skin and black hair that is shaven along both sides. She seems well accustomed to the weight of her armor. Her left arm and spear bear marks of power, a strange kind of Rulaani rasayana which I am ill-equipped to study. We converse in fluent crow tongue.

"Who are you?"
My name is Peltan il-Orphan Daughter, ar-Butcher's Ward, ar-Infantry Sergeant, Sellspear. I am called Peltan the Cold-Eyed.

"You have many titles."
Peltan Sellspear is my name, not a title. A Rulaani is defined by her labors. If was to I trade my spear for a plow and join a harvest guild, then my name would become Peltan Farmer.

"Where are you from and what is that place like?"
I was raised in the dawnside markets of the great city of Rulaan. It stands amid seas of grain, in the Heartland where the Titans once ruled over our predecessors. It is a place of great bounty, which all Rulaani will lay down their lives to protect.

"In my travels, I've heard many say that your empire has armies of witches. Is this true?"
I'd never heard that word, before I left my homeland. A witch seems to be any woman who wields strange and dangerous magic, who can do terrible harm in unexpected ways. So I will say it is half true. All our soldiers have the warlocks' marks and know how to use them; but only half are women.

"So your armies are comprised of both sexes."
Yes, and also those like the Alseid, who grow from their Heratrees and bear no children. All provinces of our empire must contribute to our armies, and those born in conquered territories can join our ranks to earn full citizenship. All who dedicate their lives to Rulaan may earn the right to be Rulaani.

"What does it mean to be a woman in Rulaan?"
It is a difficult thing for a foreigner to understand. In Rulaan there is no longer a woman's place and a man's place, woman's work and men's work. There is a woman's strengths and a man's strengths, but we teach them to each other. Our men are tempered- they learn discipline and foresight. In battle they fight in formation and hold ranks as well as any woman. And in turn, we learn from their fire- it is the men who show us how to inspire the masses, to sing with passion, to love our children. We make each other strong.

"To whom do you pray?"
No one. I am a sworn to the flame, like all true Rulaani. It is our most powerful oath and cannot be undone.

"Tell me about this oath."
It is sworn in the light of a true flame, the fires in which the first Rulaani burned the gods who created them. It means I have forsaken providence; the gods will not answer my pleas, and my fate has been unwritten. If I had some grand destiny, the world has now forgotten it; perhaps I will die tomorrow. But today I am alive.

"Why would you swear such a thing?"
To be Rulaani. To be a part of something more. Words can only say so much. Whatever my life, I know that no master has chosen it for me.

"What will become of your soul after death?"
Our lives are as fuel for the flame; my existence will end with my death. All that remains is the mark I have left on the world. As for my soul, who can say? I am clayborn, the favored titanspawn, sculpted in my long-dead creator's image. Perhaps I never had such a thing to begin with.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Denver: Summary

New Denver is a near-future cyberpunk settings, another "paratopian" concept (i.e. speculative fiction that is neither utopian nor dystopian). Wrote this condensed summary up for /tg/, realized I have zero excuse not to post it here.

Yellowstone starts erupting in 2017, majority of 500k displaced survivors fleeing multi-state "Grey Zone" are housed outside Denver. Federal legislation approves massive subsidies and deregulation for region, spurring massive corporate investment. By 2025 "New Denver" has officially absorbed "Old Denver" and become a hub of everything high-tech, is the only place where human augmentations can be tested without FDA approval.

Meanwhile, Yellowstone continues to belch out toxic gases & clouds of ash, and federal government intends to maintain the controversially-large Grey Zone indefinitely. Thousands have refused to evacuate, including survivalist militias with serious military hardware. Region has also become hotbed for cartel operations. All of the above threatens to destabilize the city.

Notable tech advances:

-Commonplace adoption of wearable computing, with "optics" (spiritual successors to tech like google glass) as affordable and commonplace as smartphones circa 2010.
--Standard feature of latest generation of optics is"Projected" Augmented Reality capability, i.e. virtual objects that appear to exist within physical environment. Vast majority of models are only capable of rendering vector-based AR graphics.
-Civilian drones far outnumber government ones. New Denver has an "open matternet" with officially approved air traffic lanes and open-source software. Anyone can buy a multirotor with approved specs, install standardized firmware and then immediately register it to start taking delivery jobs.
-Exo-frames are seeing use by military as well as in construction & medical care.
-3D printing has become widespread, with "vending machines" becoming a competitive market.
-IAs a la "Siri" have become increasingly robust at understanding & implementing complex spoken or subvocalized instructions.
-RNI Labs, a private research institute, has been producing an increasingly complex series of androids with synthetic brains and nervous systems, which can learn and develop in a similar fashion to humans. The two most well known are Persica and Ari, who have respectively been leased to a marketing agency and the New Denver Police Department.
As for cybernetics:
-Advances in "neural bridge" tech mean that cyborg limbs can now be controlled with 1:1 accuracy. "Milspec" limbs that can perform at max human potential or beyond officially require special licenses not available to the general public.
-Artificial implants can replace impaired sight, hearing, smell and even taste.
-Emotional regulation implants have been developed to assist people suffering from PTSD and other mental disorders. The implants have also proven effective at mitigating the impact of subsequent traumatic events, leading to ongoing discussion on the possibility of their preemptive use by military personnel. Pop culture portrays the implants as allowing one to keep their cool within combat situations, and some PMCs explicitly advertise their augmented contractors as such.

Concerns have been developing over the potential for "neural bridge hijacks", a method of remotely manipulating someone's augmentations by spoofing (falsely impersonating) the signals being sent by the target's flesh-and-blood nervous system. The technique has been repeatedly demonstrated under lab conditions.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mass Effect: Playtest Reports!

Holy crap, the first trial run of the Mass Effect Tabletop game rocked something FIERCE. I have the best playtesters.

Check out the full gallery; it's got screenshots from throughout the session & an explanation for how you can run a web game like this yourself!


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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mass Effect Tabletop: Combat Rules (Beta)

Check it out!

Hell, test them out, just remember to tell me the results. I’ve been putting alot of work into this design for the past couple weeks, need to playtest this foundation before I start nailing down the specific details of the next stage.

If you’re in Portland, Oregon and would be up for meeting to playtest this coming weekend (or even weekday mornings), send me a message!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Blazing Spear: Cultural exchange

The man with no remarkable skills whatsoever!

"Bob" is a joke character I've used in our internal discussions. His purpose is to demonstrate how an "average joe" in Blazing Spear's central culture, the Rulaani Empire, can still be someone extraordinary in the eyes of other cultures. The following is the first anecdote he appeared in, from a chat last september; ideas have progressed since then, but the cultural differences remain in effect.

4:55 PM
me: Rulaani tourist in the mountain kingdoms hears about the legendary Swooping Hawk sword style, whose incredible secrets (the source of much speculation) are taught only at a secluded dojo on a nearby mountain.
4:57 PM
So he decides to go down there on tuesday, knocks on their door and says "Hey, this the place where they teach those 'Swooshing Hawk' moves? I want to see how work."
4:58 PM
Michel: Complete with bad grammar in his non native tongue. Alright, what happens next?
5:01 PM
me: Well, imagine if some guy walks into the most important building in Apple'sheadquarters and says with a bit of an accent "Hello, is this the place where they present the new prototypes to Steve Jobs? Ok, and which room? I am here to observe."
5:02 PM
Almost certainly alot of "Um, wait, who are you?" Because it would be ridiculous to think that someone would just walk in and want to see this super-secret mysterious stuff because of idle curiosity.

Michel: I can just imagine the monocles falling off.
5:04 PM
me: In fact, let's say he actually gets to the grandmaster, and that the real reason he does is because he acts like he has a reason to be there.
5:05 PM
(And does it well, because it's not an act.)
5:06 PM
Now, bear in mind that in my head Rulaan basically has spears as the classic weapon where western culture has swords. They refer to freelance warriors (mercenaries) as "sellspears" or "spears for hire".
5:08 PM
So let's say this guy has one of those on him.
5:09 PM
Michel: brb keep typing.

wanna read this.
9 minutes
5:18 PM
me: The master, with a nervous low-ranking student helping translate, basically is all "So. . .you are a Rulaani of common birth, who has spent four years as a member of your village militia." (Camera cuts to a muddy guy in rags shivering in the cold and using a rusty sword to try and hack dead limbs off some trees. A caption at the borrom reads MOUNTAIN KINGDOM EQUIVALENT. His comrade says "Maybe you should sharpen that thing." "Oh yeah. How do you do that?" "I think you need a rock?" Cut back to the dojo.) "Yep," says the Rulaani.
5:21 PM
Michel: lol
5:23 PM
me: "And word has reached you of our great and much-feared sword school, where the secret sword techniques of Master Li Peng have been passed onto a chosen few for four generations." "Some guys in the village down the hill were talking about it."

(Translator: ". . .He says yes.")
5:27 PM
Michel: keep going
5:32 PM
me: "And you have decided to make a day trip to our dojo, where you expect we will show you these secrets only because you asked." "Oh! No no no, I'm sorry, this must have seemed so impolite, I didn't mean it like that." "Ah, that is good." "Yes, I would never ask to learn your techniques without also sharing my own martial knowledge in return."

(Awkward silence)
6 minutes
5:39 PM
Michel: Well, don't stop there.
5:40 PM
me: The master massages his temple. "Very well, tell him we will accept." Translator does a double take. "M. . .master?" "I now foresee a need to gut the Rulaani in large numbers at some point in the future. It is prudent to observe how they fight."
5:44 PM
So they go to the 2nd-years dojo room and he tells the teacher to indulge this guy by serving as his mock opponent. Guy acts out some basic spear strikes in slow motion, functional but utterly crude in their eyes (spear masters are no sword masters, but they at least have some poetry).
6 minutes
5:51 PM
me: Then his opponent asks if they can try the scenario in a brief actual spar. They face off, and the teacher contempously slaps the spear aside with his wooden sword at the right point in the attack pattern to throw his enemy off balance. The Rulaani barely dodges the follow-up sword swing, but the teacher simply continues his rotation and launches a roundhouse kick to the gut.
5:53 PM
Michel: And?

me: Rulaani is bent double, gasping, dropped his spear. The audience is cackling appreciatively. The master smiles, but his eyes frown for a second. ("Damn, that was pretty good," says the Rulaani between gasps.")
5:54 PM
"Wait, do that one more time," says the master. A similar repeat perfomance ensues.
5:56 PM
The audience is quiet now, still grinning exultantly. But the master is now completely focused. "Do that thing again, with your feet." The Rulaani got his ass handed to him, but it shouldn't have taken three moves. Not with this guy's utter lack of real skill.
6:00 PM
Over the next two hours the master grills the visitor extensively on the training drills he's recieved regarding stance, footwork and movement. Once satisfied, he nods and spends the afternoon patiently coaching the Rulaani on a few useful basic techniques that should be viable for a spear wielder.
6:02 PM
Michel: Continue?
6:03 PM
me: Over the next several years the master implements the most radical series of changes to the Swooping Hawk style since it was created by Master Li Peng almost a century ago.
6:05 PM
Master Li Peng was an absolute master prodigy of a warrior. He invented some amazing things. But he was one man working in isolation, with only very basic practices as a shared starting point- ones he did his best to unlearn, since they tended to be very flawed.

Michel: I get what you're getting at.
7 minutes
6:13 PM
me: The Rulaani was an utterly unremarkable warrior, who had baredly grasped the fundamentals of the martial techniques he was trained in- techniques and lessons based on the work of half a dozen different genius master warriors, each with decent access to their predecessor's ruminations.
6:14 PM
Michel: By extension, this principle makes Rulaan a natural source of PCs

since the kind of knowledge that is useful for making heroes

(alchemical lore, combat techniques, espionage savvy, technological expertise)
6:15 PM
would be more widely shared than in other cultures.

me: Master Li Peng never really thought much about footwork- his stances were ideal for ensuring a strong and versatile attack made from a standing position.
6:18 PM
The school had traditionally assumed that someone who is forced to move backwards in a duel has essentially lost the fight. But if this Rulaani had even a few years worth of real combat experience (and had been in better shape), he would have been able to wipe the floor with his sparring opponent.
6:21 PM
The master could see the potential of the moves enough to realize there was a whole branch of techniques that the school had previously thought to be infeasible.

Michel: Cool
6:24 PM
me: If someone had suggested to a swooping hawk student that this would come to pass, it would mean a duel to the death- someone daring to suggest that their master's knowledge would be lacking? No loyal member of the school would let such disrespect stand.
6:25 PM
Not unlike how every kid thinks their mom and dad truly know everything.
6:26 PM
Michel: ahhh

(until they're thirteen, in which case the exact opposite effect is the case)
6:27 PM
me: (Which is what the majority of masters are like- they clearly know everything. This one was a little wiser than the norm.)
6:28 PM
But to the Rulaani, this guy doesn't represent the absolute pinnacle of knowledge- just a guy who knows a bunch of stuff.
6:29 PM
Michel: I see
6:30 PM
It sounds like our setting is one where travel and exposure count for a lot

And going places and seeing things makes for powerful adventurers

because they'll grasp insights unavailable to the guy who stays in his place.

Am I on target?
6 minutes
6:37 PM
me: Could be, could be. Making a character who's been exposed to a variety of cultures might be how you make a more "multiclass" character- at least in terms of overcoming hurdles in pursuit of an optimal rounded-out build.
6:39 PM
Reeling things way on back to the original point, I expect I was also thinking of things like minimizing raw number increases for high-level characters.
6:40 PM
A level 12 character (well, his equivalent in this system) shouldn't feel "safe" when facing a group of 10 level 1s.
6:43 PM
Not until he does a display of fighting skill that scares the remaining 7 into backing down. Or navigates the fight into a narrow alley where they can't come at him with more than 2 at a time. Or otherwise avoids a "fair fight" in favor of a situation where he has the advantage.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Introducing: Blazing Spear

High time to pull back the curtain, I think.

Blazing Spear is the tentative name for an original bronze age weird fantasy setting I and two others have been working on since early 2011. There are numerous influences (from 300 to Fringe), but a particular handful best capture the kind of stories we'd like our world to help tell. Fullmetal Alchemist. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Matthew Woodring Stover's bronze age fantasy trilogy. Girl Genius. A relatively obscure new comic called Black Fire. And above all else, Princess Mononoke.

These are stories of badass individuals caught up in the physical & ideological confrontations of different cultures, and in the goals of colorful power players whose means far exceed those available to "mere mortals."

These are stories in a world that is changing and evolving, where there is no option to maintain a “status quo”.

These are stories where numerous other characters are just as badass, just as competent- and not just among those fighting on both sides of the conflict, but also those "underfoot" who are just trying to get by. The crucial factor that distinguishes the player characters isn't superior strength, or even necessarily virtue; it's their role as individuals, as people who involve themselves in the conflict without cleaving to any the goals of any one faction that's involved.

I'm as busy as ever, but I'll do my best to share more about this world we've made (and perhaps some original game mechanics to go with it). My goal is to update on at least a weekly basis; I'm terrible as I've always been at posting into a vacuum, so any honest feedback & commentary you can offer will be a huge help. Have I gotten your attention so far?

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oh man, this is fantastic.

Tom Francis, game journalist extraordinaire and fledgling indie game dev, has been working on Gunpoint for a while now; I've had a chance to play the beta, it's definitely something special. He already put out a call for artist volunteers, and got some amazing results (as you can see).

A couple days back he put out a similar query for any interested composers, including a gameplay video people could pair their tentative soundtracks too. And once again, he's getting a pile of great responses- check out the comments on this page and hear it for yourself.

I'm just floored by how much good ambient music enhances this game's atmosphere. It's really something.

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