Hyperspace Opera on a new site

Since my post on the “Hyperspace Opera” setting might be of interest to a different crowd, and potentially become quite numerous as time goes on, I set up a separate site for that setting.

Hyperspace Opera

I’ve not set up a proper url for it yet, as the name will surely change  and I don’t know yet if it will really be a big and longer thing, but I’m pretty sure I got it right that any possible links to the current address can easily be redirected to any future one.

Help me, WordPress users, how do I get an RSS link list?

I use WordPress because I hate google. That’s literally the only reason I didn’t went with blogspot like most people.

But one feature I really like on blogspot pages is the list of links, that displays the latest post on each site and sorts the pages according to which ones had a new post the most recently.

I want that too, but apparently, inexplicably, wordpress doesn’t have it by default. This is something that should be easy enough to do with a plugin, but all the plugins for RSS feed widgets are way too fancy, cluttering up the whole sidebar with completely unnecessary crap. Does anyone know of a plugin that lets you make a list of RSS feeds in the sidebar as on blogspot pages?

(To comment on this site, you can leave a comment without needing to leave any credentials or having to use a google account. I want to use this opportunity to one again voice my frustration that I would leave three or four times more comments on other peoples sites if I could do so without logging into a google account. Maybe I’m a luddite, marxist weirdo about this, but maybe consider that you could possibly get more comments if you let people comment without google accounts.)

But we have authentic contemporary depictions of it in art?

When it comes the the discussion of how medieval and ancient soldiers were actually equipped and fought in reality, something that comes up all the time is the mention of authentic artwork from the time that shows various weapons and how they are being used.

I admit those as evidence, but I dispute that they are proof.

Art is art. Not documentation. Sometimes art can be helpful in figuring out how certain things needed to be constructed to work, and held to be efficiently used. But in those cases you still have to try and replicate the depicted construction or handling and try them out to see if it actually solves problems people have encountered with modern recreations.

People have build plenty of ball and chain flails and studded leather armor over the recent years, but nobody has ever demonstrated that those can be of any use in a fight.

My favorite example of why authentic contemporary art can not be used as proof that people actually did things that way at the time is the 1987 movie Predator. In Predator, we see American soldiers fighting in a jungle, dual weilding MP5 sub-machine guns and carrying a hand-held minigun.

This artistic depiction of American soldiers was created by American artists in 1987, depicting scenes that take place in 1987. It can’t get more authentic and contemporary than that. There are countless historical records that show American soldiers actually saw action South America at that time, and in the archeological evidence we have thousands of surviving MP5s, and numerous still existing Miniguns that are extremely close to the one shown in the footage.

But should we take Predator as a reliable source for how American soldiers conducted jungle warfare in the 1980s? I’d be cautious about that.

And let’s also not forget that many pieces of medieval art were clearly drawn by people who clearly had never seen the things they were drawing.

Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert – 40 years and still going strong

It’s already two months late, but everyone else seems to have missed it too. The first printings of the Basic and Expert rules by Tom Moldvay and David Cook were done all the way back in January 1981.

And what a game they made!

After I started playing D&D when 3rd edition came out, I went for many years before I ever even heard of something that was occasionally mumbled about in the background called B/X or BECMI. And it completely stayed under my radar until six years ago when I took my first actual look at it, having it filed away as “that D&D light version where elf is a class”.

From the way that I remember it, the oldschool revival seemed to have started very much as an AD&D thing (though Basic Fantasy was actually the first retroclone) and that was a game I had tried getting into but bounced off very hard. But in the later years, when the return to older games morphed more into a forward evolution of those old concepts, B/X really seems to have established itself as the primary focus and reference point for oldschool roleplaying. Hard to say how things will be in another 40 years, but I am quite confident that this game will be staying with us for a long time to come.

The Sprawl

Well, silly me…

After I had my initial idea that Night City with its districts and gangs could be an interesting setting for an alternative Blades in the Dark game, I soon decided that I’d actually rather run something more along the lines of Apocalypse World. Blades’ system of fighting for turf really only makes sense if you want to play aspiring crime bosses, but doesn’t fit for parties who simply want to secure their neighborhood or megabuilding. Apocalypse World is in many ways based around the idea of the players establishing themselves as a powerful force in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, even though it doesn’t say so outright, which I think is a better approach for up and coming lowlifes in a cyberpunk city.

And after several days of fiddling around with Apocalypse World to replace the psychic powers with a hacking system, I discovered that someone else had already done something similar many years ago, and turned it into a full game and a proper book.

If you are familiar with Apocalypse World, then The Sprawl immediately shows that it’s a very close descendant. There are of course many different games that use the underlying dice mechanic and principles of Apocalypse World, but this game is much closer to the first game that started it all than for example Dungeon World or Blades in the Dark. The Sprawl is the first other game I’ve seen that retains most of the basic moves from Apocalypse World mostly as they are. The names have been changed to a style that (the author assumes) have a more cyberpunk feel, but you still have the Go Aggro and Seize by Force moves that make conflict scenes in Apocalypse World so unique. The playbooks for different character types are all completely different from those in Apocalypse World, and while I think the Hardholder and Chopper could have been really fun in a cyberpunk setting, the ten playbooks of The Sprawl really cover all the character archetypes you could ask for in a cyberpunk game very well.

The Sprawl seems to be particularly well suited for a game set in Night City and I’ve seen people even describe it as an unofficial PtbA version of Cyberpunk 2020. The names are different, but it does have playbooks to play a Ripperdock, Media, or even Rockerboy. I looked at the new Cyberpunk Red once and was immediately “yeah, no thanks”. Even though I find the setting quite compelling (as genetic cyberpunk as it is), I really am way past the point where I want to deal with a four page flowchart to get all my little +1s here and +2s there. Those things don’t help getting invested in the story and spontaneous going with the flow of a chaotic action scene. They do the opposite. PtbA rules really are the way to go for the kinds of games that I actually have an interest to run.

Unfortunately, The Sprawl suffers from the same problem that almost all PtbA games seem to have. The bad example set by Apocalypse World that has been slavishly copied by anyone else. The game attempts to make the rules filled with style by using elaborate slang everywhere it can when a normal, self-explaining word would have done the job. I don’t know why the mechanic for hoping that an ambulance reaches you before you die is called “Acquire Agricultural Property”. Apparently it’s a joke on “Buying the Farm”, but I am a German fluent in English. I don’t know what that expressions means either, or what it has to do with dying. How am I supposed to explain this rules to players who are just as clueless? It’s only the most annoying example, but the issue is persistent throughout the whole book. Which, when you are trying to explain a very unconventional game system that is completely different from mainstream games, is bad!

One thing that I’ve seen people criticize rightfully is that The Sprawl presents a system for doing jobs for hire and does it in a way that implies that all the game will ever be is “Mister Johnson of the Week”. Get a job, prepare for the job, do the job, get paid for the job. And repeat until everyone gets too bored to continue. That seems like a good system for a couple of casual one-shots, but not for an ongoing campaign. But the mechanics as written actually work for a much wider scope than this. Since the real currency in The Sprawl is not money but reputation, there’s nothing stopping the PCs from giving them “jobs” themselves, or doing something for others for free. And almost all roleplaying adventures in any genres consist of an initial investigation followed by an infiltration. Looking for a friend who’s been having trouble with a gang really is no different from being hired to look for someone else’s friend who’s been having trouble with a gang. The PCs still pull of the same heroic and leave behind the same chaos in their wake, so their street cred should be affected the same way too. Calling the first and last phases of the cycle “get the job” and “get paid” creates the false illusion that it’s really about the exchange of currency. Which it is not. I think that The Sprawl is actually much more versatile than it Mission Structure falsely implies. Because as I said, even in a sandbox campaign, you always have the same cycle of establishing what the PCs want to do, preparing for it, doing it, and then raking in the spoils. To run The Sprawl as an open-world sandbox, one does not really need to make any changes to the rules. All it takes is a more open approach of what fiction the mechanics can represent. It only happens rarely, but The Sprawl is one of the very few games that I read and want to run as they written, without immediately having a number of house rules in mind before I’ve reached the end.

Comment as: Google Account

Well, this is a bit akward. But it has been bothering me for quite a while.

I was just browsing through Old School RPG Planet (which is a great thing to have again) and ended up at Beyond Google Plus, and Fixing the Internet, which Melan wrote back in october when the Google Plus shutdown was announced. Good points are being made, and I fully share the distaste for Google and Facebook (and also Apple) permanently trying to monopolize internet communication for the sole purpose of making money by tracing as much of our activities as possible.

I would have liked to just give that old post a simple “Yeah, you’re right!” to give my appreciation, but I ran into my old bane again that has constantly been getting in my way for the last half year or so. When you click on “Select profile…”, there is only one option to pick from:

Google Account.

No! If my only choices are to use a Google Account or don’t comment, then I don’t comment. I think in this day and age, I don’t even have to explain why. We all know very well what Google wants and Google does. It didn’t used to be that way, with Google Account just being one options among many on almost all sites. But at some point, I believe last year, the majority of blogspot sites seemed to have all other options removed at the same time. I kind of suspect that Google made that change quietly for all users and you now have to opt-in to allow people to comment in any other ways.

I think comments are a very neat feature and a great thing to have, since we are really interested in sharing ideas and not just shouting into the void. But there is only so much I am willing to give to Google by choice, and somewhere you have to draw the line. And I think I am not the only one who does. So if you are using blogspot, please check if your comments are restricted to Google Accounts and consider whether you want to enable other options. If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, but given that this changed happened so suddenly everywhere at once, I believe that most people don’t even know the settings were changed without their knowledge.

How Oldschool is Oldschool?

Years ago there where two sites that listed all the recent posts of private RPG websites. Both have disappeared a while back, as far as I know, but Alex Schroeder has now created a new one, in reaction to Google Plus closing.

As someone who never used Google Plus (because I try to limit my interactions with tech megacorps to the bare minimum of Youtube and Android), I’m actually quite happy to see that people have started posting a lot more in recent weeks.

The new aggregator is called Old School RPG Planet, and I am not in it. Yet. The description says that “The Old School RPG Planet is for Old School Renaissance (OSR) or Do It Yourself (DIY) bloggers.” I feel that I am sufficiently do it yourself to qualify and it does say “OSR or DIY”, so after some consideration I send Alex a mail to add me.

But I still hesitated because it says “Old School RPG”. Am I sufficently oldschool to qualify as oldschool? One the one hand, I recently started to appreciate D&D 5th edition and am right now working very energetically on setting up a campaign. I think, by definition, WotC games can not be oldschool games. But on the other hand, my style is all about unscripted wilderness adventures, random encounters, resource management, and interactivity, and I am hugely into both 30s and 80s Sword & Sorcery. And isn’t that what oldschool has always been really about? Before the Gygaxian orthodoxy?

Oh, no! I am writing about that thing nobody wants to hear anymore.

Yes, that thing. Or “thing”. OSR.

I was just peeking in again at Dragonsfoot, and unexpectedly, though it really shouldn’t have surprised me, I almost immediately came upon onother recent discussion of “What is OSR?” And my first reaction was “probably better not click at it, it’s almost certainly just more bickering and doom mongering about the state of western society”. This is the point where we are now. Where I think we’ve been for quite a while now. And I very much doubt that I am in a small minority of people having this reaction. I did end up looking into that thread and yes it was primarily about bitching about the collapse of western society. I didn’t read very far, but there were some intitial points raised that made me come to a conclusion about the various feelings I’ve had on the subject.

OSR has been over for a couple of years now. It’s not dead, it’s been concluded.

From how I experienced it, that thing that later became known as OSR began in the mid 2000s when the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons kept bloating and bloating until it was eventually discontinued and the plans for the new 4th Edition were increasingly looking like a drastic departure from all that had come before. And for a lot of people, that was the point where they said “I’m no longer wishing to keep up with current developments. I’m just going back to play the game the way I had enjoyed the most and stick with that.” OSRIC had actually been out since 2006, two years before 4th Edition. But I think the end of 3rd Edition really was the point where a lot of people paused to reflect about whether they wanted to hop onto this new thing or stick with their current thing, or perhaps even go back to an older thing.

And I think it is this reflection that really was this thing that went on to become known as OSR. Old School Reflections? It wasn’t just people thiking to themselves with which game edtion they had the most fun, but engaging in a wider conversation on why they feel they had more fun through the medium of blogspot sites. It was a period in which people dug into old rulebooks to critically analyze the mechanics and advice given in them, and exchange their experience with other GMs who were  doing the same. Many things that had been discarded and dismissed as silly where quite literally rediscovered, and with the great wealth of experiences that had been gathered over the decades could now actually be much better understood. Old School Research?

The thing with research of this kind is that you often make lots of easy big discoveries early on, some more difficult discoveries later, and after that only very rarely minor and obscure discoveries of little impact to the bigger  field. And I think this is exactly what we’ve been seeing here. All the really big and exciting stuff in OSR happened between about 2008 and 2010. Then the ocasional neat new idea up to maybe 2014, but since then I don’t think anyone has been making any new major contributions to the field. The Rennaisance had reached its end, it’s work been done.

It’s not like all of it went up in smoke and feded into the wind. I would argue the opposite. Of course, it seems quite ridiculous to say that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is an OSR game. It really isn’t. But it is also very hard to deny that during the creation of this new game, the creators did draw significantly from this knowledge reintroduced into the sphere of fantasy adventure games by the old school revivalists. Not everything has been widely embraced, some things remain the domain of fringe enthusiasts. But the creative and intelectual space of roleplaying games today is fully suffused by ideas that came out of this period of reflections about what made early RPGs tick. If the term Old School Rennaisance makes any sense, then this is what it’s really about.

This does leave us with this somewhat strange position in which we are finding us today. Today, when something gets labled as OSR, it really is an “Old School Roleplaying Game”, which is “D&D Editions released by TSR”. It is a group of games, one among many other options that groups can chose from. But I think many people are fondly remembering the creative movement from a decade ago and are still somewhat under the impression that the two are still the same thing. And when there is nothing really left to discover or create, the only thing left to “the movement” is an endless cycle of self-reflection. Which is a conversation lots of people see little appeal in, which in turn provides much more space and attention for people who relish bickering. There probably has always been bickering, but with the intelectual and creative conversation having been concluded, that little bickering is now the only thing that is still going on.

Looking at my archive of posts, I stoppded using the OSR tag in mid 2017, almost two years ago now. It’s not that I no longer care about reaction rolls and morale checks, random encounters, encumbrance, noncombat-XP, and monsters that are safer to circumnavigate then to fight. I still love  them, and I discovered their value from the great ongoing conversation about older RPGs. But all the things I am doing and writing now don’t feel to me like contributions to this discussion. A discussion that has concluded.