Thematic Music – Last of the Wilds

Thursday, 30. September 2010

Last of the Wilds
Dark Passion Play
Nightwish

One of Nightwish’s pure instrumental pieces. There is a lot of variance in this particular piece.

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Katanas, Myth and Reality

Wednesday, 29. September 2010

A lot has been made of the famed Japanese sword - the katana.  I think a lot of it is in conjunction with ninjas; hyping the weapon up from the mere improbable into the impossible.  As we all know from movies the sword is unbreakable, can cut through nearly anything and periodically enable the user to fly or other oddities.  This is of course pure hogwash.

Drawing – The katana itself is efficient shaped for a speedy draw.  The weapons curvature enables some of the length to wrap around the body and to use the bodies natural arcs to draw.  Typically carried edge up, with considerable training the draw is extremely quick and can be used to deliver an effective cut.  Along with this worth noting that this cut likely won’t cleaving anyone in half, as it lacks the mechanical leverage to do so.  Despite this, the weapon is still more than capable of removing the operators hand on the draw, or inflicting other serious injury on sheathing (noto) the weapon.  Also worth noting is that with the proper draw most westerners can use a considerably longer weapon than the standard lengths.. training with this is obviously required due to the above mention.

Cutting ability – Katanas have a fantastic cleaving ability through tissue and most softer materials.  This is again, because of the blades geometry.  The natural movement of the arms combined with the blades curve provide and extremely efficient cutting method easily capable of cleaving bodies in half provided that proper leverage is used, 2 hands.  The blades tip is quite sturdy and can also deliver an effective thrust.  Proper training enables the usage of this to penetrate armor gaps and enter softer targets within the body.  

Blade Breakage – Far from being impervious katanas in traditional literature break frequently.  The result of this is usually the death of the user in question.  This is due to the teardrop shaped blade geometry, it is a minimalist design that is specialized in cleaving.  Striking harder materials such as plated armor and other metal objects (swords in particular) remain a significant impediment and can result in blade breakage even in the case that the object is penetrated.  The blades are still quite tough in the proper hands and it is worth noting that older blades consist of a more teardrop shape resulting in less overall sharpness but considerably increased resilience over the nice flat modern blades, which are shaped to cut tissue and mats.  Some of the more modern complaints about the weapon are due to this.

Overall the weapon is an effecient design that is well matched to the Kenjitsu style of swordsmanship.  The blade sacrifices some integrity for weight versus european swords as well as maintains a considerably different balance.

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Soap Opera Elements

Monday, 27. September 2010

Any ongoing campaign is going to have a bit of transience in it’s players or possibly storyteller depending upon it’s setup.  Likewise, we want all of our campaigns to have outside appeal to the casual listener if we are to be able to spread the trade so to speak.  In this regard, we need to have both short term and long term appeal of story elements.  Something the casual listener can sink into in a short time, yet details that longer term listeners (players in this case.) hang on for.

In order to do this, I believe we can take a few good lessons from soap operas.  Not in the “as the stomach turns” sort of way unless thats the sort of game you’re running, but rather in the ability to create short and long term hook for players and listeners.  Soaps do this through a few methods and I think they are all easily adapted to most game campaigns, long term and short. There are 2 in particular that I want to touch on.

The idea of running several concurrent story lines is one that soaps use frequently.  Minor or major, elements are introduced continually and constantly shifting in importance depending on the characters perceived goals.   At least one of the  story lines needs to be short term resolution, developed or solved within a few sessions.  This is as I said, your hook for anyone listening short term, and makes for good “water cooler” conversation if you’re one who frequently discusses games.   One of them should also be very long term, running over the course of the campaign before transitioning into yet another story element.   Story points with this come slowly, and make for a long term hook into the game, as well as a good direction of overarching goals.

The other useful concept is that of gradualism.  The major plotline is typically slow to progress, and can linger in the face of other more important, but temporary subgoals. Taking time to make sure all elements are well developed can be very useful.  Even as players goals are reached, the next major drama is built into the storyline at a slow pace, until it becomes the next major issues they’re dealing with.

Some of the other more nauseating elements in my mind are unchanging characters, suddenly struck up conversations,  last minute rescues, betrayal and all that goes with it.  Things that make soap operas soaps.  I think a lot of the times our players expect the unchanging characters, lessons that aren’t learned from the last time and the constant morality of the character.  They tend to be either evil or good, and any deviation from the usual pattern is a trick.  There are a lot of elements listed are useful, but if overused produce the same “as the stomach turns” feeling that comes with not being productive and watching TV in the afternoon. (I haven’t done this in a while, mind you!)

Love them or hate them soaps produce a lot of plot elements that can be judiciously applied to RPG’s for a good overall result.  The trick is to not overuse elements, to apply them gradually and to run them concurrently.

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Consumeables in RPG’s

Friday, 24. September 2010

Adventuring parties in any day and age tend to drag along a substantial amount of equipment. (Hikers just might be the modern day adventuring party now, hah!) The majority of all of this is easily taken care of with a list, carried, worn, stuck into a backpack and drug along. All of this weight is tallied up and if it’s not too much, they player in question can still move.

Most storytellers like to keep track of the essential items as well as major consumables. Damaged gear is always kept track of, as well as ammunition, and most of the time food and water. (At least it should be, starvation and dehydration makes for an interesting if not persistent enemy.) Of particular concern however is spell components, where a variety of weird items are used. Some of them are very mundane, going to the very rare.

I try to keep track of anything thats uncommon or reasonably expensive to the players in question. Likewise it’s generally carried in a pouch or some sort, so losing that can be just as damaging in the short term as losing a book.

What is your threshold and method for keeping track of these?

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Thematic Music – Rider of the Astral Fire

Wednesday, 22. September 2010

Rider of the Astral Fire
Prophet of the Last Eclipse
Luca Turilli

I’ve always liked epic metal. Turilli and Rhapsody usually fill the bill quite easily. I don’t think this one is too particularly headbangish.

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Distancing and Reactionary Gap

Tuesday, 21. September 2010

One of the most important practices of martial engagement is that of distancing, or “Ma ai” in Japanese.  Anything used in an engagement has an optimal distance to be used from ranging from Grappling, Knees and Elbows (Extremely close to close), Hands and feet (Close to mid ranged), and varying weaponry (Anywhere from close to long ranged.)   

Typically the ideal spacing is the one that the tool can be used to strike effectively and still retain as much distance as possible.  Too far away and the attack will miss entirely, leaving the attacker very vulnerable to a counter.  Too close and you are failing to utilize the characteristics of whatever tool you intend to use, the tools reach.  Being able to strike your opponent due to reach and have them unable to counter without some serious movement is an ideal situation to be in.

Beyond striking with the ideal surfaces of the body or weapon, there is another practical reason to maintain proper distancing.  The human body can only respond to external stimulus so quickly (an incoming punch, kick or weapon.)  This is know as the “reactionary gap” and for most people is somewhere around .25 to .30 seconds.  This gap will preserve you or get you killed as quickly as anything.

In the case of a percussive engagement, striking and checking (Blocking) is going to most likely occur at the same time.  This is a necessary trade off due to the length of limbs.. and due to the reactionary gap, you are most likely going to get hit unless you can end an engagement as soon as it starts.  Getting hit with fists and feet is OK though (a necessary evil perhaps,) they are mostly survive-able as long as one doesn’t take too much of a beating.

When a weapon is brought into play however; the game changes dramatically.  One well placed strike is either lethal or debilitating enough to lead to one’s demise.  Even a poorly placed strike can have similar effects depending on pain tolerance and the strikes location.  In this case maintaining the proper distance means you’ll ideally be able to connect with minimal exposure to yourself (The attacker has the same gap as the defender) or be able respond and counter, ending the engagement in your favor.

Mae is something that some people are far better at than others (I’m probably in the middle of the group.) but fortunately it is a refine-able talent with practice.  Knowing your distances will definitely save you some pain, and it might just save your life.

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Sounds & Noise in RPG’s

Monday, 20. September 2010

I got to spend some time out in the woods this weekend away from everything. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually got to do this, so it brought back a few details that I already knew but were quite important for gaming in wilderness environments. This can be taken and used to an extent in cities as well, but you really don’t understand how much ambient background noise there is until you get away from it.

For starters, sound travels a long way. Small actions such as leaves being crunched or sticks breaking are essentially a horn for anything approaching. Even quieter sounds such as a bird flapping its wings can be heard from a fair distance in some cases. Without a little bit of noise discipline, you won’t see anything that doesn’t want to be heard. Likewise it’s fairly easy to track via sound in a quiet environment… you’re far more likely to hear something long before you see it, particularly since most critters blend into the background. In describing things in most cases sounds from far off are likely to be heard or the scents.

In addition do that, unnatural sounds travel even further and are very recognizable. Noisy metal such as clips, hasps and other adornments can easily be heard from across a field if its truly quiet out. Likewise for those of us who prefer modern fabrics… most of them are extremely noisy if rubbed against each other. On top of that, the sound doesn’t fit in at all (likewise with the metal.) It’s very easy to write off the occasional stick breaking or brush moving because there is a lot of life out there. Anyone that’s not prepared to attempt to be silent is going to make a lot of noise simply because they’re not used to it.

Just a little bit of background noise mutes quieter sounds immediately. As soon as the wind starts blowing a little it becomes an entirely different ballgame. All of the movement of the trees and grasses become a dull roar, in addition to the wind further scattering the sound. This is still considerably quieter than a city might be, but it’s enough to break your long distance hearing entirely. This can be used for characters sneaking easily, but can also be a major problem for those who are used to hearing their opponents.

Lastly, there is a lot out there that makes noise. Birds, insects, rodents and all are a lot noisier than you might think. Sounds of movement in trees and brush is really sporadic, and as long as your noises are limited to bursts resumed by silence it’s pretty easy to pass off as something that’s supposed to be there. This means sneaking up on anything (say a campfire to see whats going on.) takes a lot longer than you might think. Any movement has to be slow and deliberate, and try to avoid any major give aways that something is out there.

So, there is my RPG application from my little trip. Hopefully this is something useful to think about in any sort of quiet area versus the standard background noise that most of us think is “quiet” (but isn’t) in cities.

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Thematic Music – Beethoven Virus

Friday, 17. September 2010

Beethoven Virus
By: Banya

Technically a remix of a remix from my understanding.

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Basic life skills

Thursday, 16. September 2010

You might think I’m talking about gaming skills here, but you’d be wrong.  In my travels it seems that more and more of us who have been educated publicly are done so in spite of the system, not because of it.  Just the other day for instance I handed someone a little extra change to get a full dollar back after the register was open.  The person in question froze, as if in a panic… their computer couldn’t save them now!  Fortunately, I was able to tell them they owed me a dollar change, and my day continued rather than having to call for management.  We’re not talking rocket science here.  If we are this deficient in common education, where else as we?

I realize for some of us, that this is simply a case of whats worth more.  Is your money, or your time?  I think in a lot of cases most of us would say the latter, and simply pay whatever dues is necessary.  Done repeatedly though, it leaves us high and dry on basic life skills we might one day actually need it for some reason or another some of our systems don’t work.  I’m just picking these up as the come to mind, so no order in particular.  This list is hardly complete as well.

1) Basic Artithmetic & Reading - Not an issue for my readers I’m certain, but it still needs to be the first thing on the list.  It is virtually impossible to avoid getting screwed in some fashion or another without having at least nominal skills here.

2) Simple Auto Repair - Oil and Fluids, Tire Changing, Light Bulbs, Fuses and the like.  More is obviously better, but most cars can be a real bastard to work on now unless you’ve got some time or talent.

3) Simple Household repair - Light switches, Outlet replacement, Doorknobs, hinges, Toilets, and faucets.  There are innumerable other skills that go in here that are easy to pickup and won’t burn the house down if you manage to botch the job.

4) Situational Awareness – Most of us have this, but just refuse to pay attention to it because it’s inconvenient.  Knowing when a situation is about to go bad or has turned bad and how to get out of there quickly is invaluable. 

5) Basic Self Defense - A rough understanding of movement, striking, grappling and how to use any weapon you might get into your hands on (They all function basically the same) is good in case the above skill fails.  Doesn’t take too long to learn, although it may take a lifetime of refinement.  

6) Navigation /w Maps & Compass – Basic navigation in case you get yourself lost makes it much simpler to avoid, or get out of entirely.

7) Food preparation and Cooking – Very important to know how to make at least a few simple dishes.  Equally important to know how to prepare them without poisoning yourself.

8) Fire starting and building – Takes a little practice, and is invaluable if you’re in any place cold, or plan on doing a little cooking.

9) How to find drinkable water – The body quits very quickly without this.  Drinking dosen’t help out for long if you immediately poison or infect yourself with it.

10) Computer skills – Useful for keeping yours working, and more importantly a tremendous source of information if you apply common sense with how to confirm what does and doesn’t work.

What else am I missing?  Not trying to get too specialized here.

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Brutal Legend

Wednesday, 15. September 2010

I avoided this one initially because the reviews suggested that it was primarily an RTS, and that was something I really didn’t feel like struggling with at the time. As it turns out the RTS portions are only portions of the game, and are the multi player element. That and the fact that EA released it didn’t help much either. So at around $20 I figured it was safe to pickup for the collection. Wow, was I ever wrong in waiting as long as I did.

If you can merely tolerate any sort of heavy metal; this game is utterly amazing. If you really like the music it is all the better. Brutal Legend is really a full fledged tribute to the entire genre. The music is great and the entire world looks like it was ripped off of an album cover (And technically, it was.) The color, background and environmental effects are simply beautiful, as well as all the character models and animation.

Well technically not an RPG in purest sense of the word, Brutal contains a lot of upgradable elements for your main character and a good way of powering up. The majority of the main story takes place in between being on foot, and driving (Aka, the deuce or the “Druid plow”) with the occasional major battle located to break that up. The story is compelling and well played, easily making this a game where you can look over at the clock and several hours have gone by. There is a large variety of side missions available as well to break things up and are a very good opportunity to see all that the game really has to offer in terms of landscape. The main storyline of the game runs around 30 hours probably, a little on the short side if you’re not putting time into some side quests.

When you’re not running around in the main storyline, you’re directing your army’s against the enemy trying to tear down their stage before they get the better of yours. There is a wide variety of troops amongst the 3 armies of the game.. corresponding to classic metal, death metal and twisted metal appropriately. Your commander is fully able to get into the action and has a good variety of musical solos they they can use to direct the battle. Facemelter for instance, does exactly what it sounds like. The strategic depth is actually better that what I would’ve expected from a console game.

Brutal Legend is well put together and will leave you crying for more. Lets hope they either spend a lot of time to put together a very compelling sequel, or just let it stand alone in it’s glory. Anything less would be simply defacing all the hard work that made this game so excellent.

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