Monday, 3 October 2016

Hear! Hear! Player Agency; or Listening to a train wreck

The last two episodes of Campaign, a FFG Star Wars Edge of the Empire podcast, were pretty cringe worthy. As the GM, Kat Kuhl thought the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) canon so immutable, her attempts to prevent a player action figuratively reached into my ears to administer a chemical beat down to that part of my brain that made me cringe throughout episodes #72 and #73.

GMs, certainly in our current era, are developing greater and greater skills thanks to the internet. Blogs like Gnomestew, actual play podcasts, general topic outlets of similar content, even dare I say story mechanics, allow GMs of all stripes to hone the skill of running a game and master the craft with practice. And no greater technique can be mastered as the Rule of Yes, and...

Yes, and ... is generally considered an improvisational technique and at the gaming table is used to foster and increase player agency. Too often in the early days of the hobby, GMs, or DMs, might simply rule NO when the player wanted his or her character to reach for a beer stein and use it as a weapon. "What beer stein?" "The one I was drinking out of..." "Oh, you can't use that, you walked away from the table." "I use A stein on the table I was just thrown into..." "Oh, the table was just bussed."

Yes, and... proclaims "Do that thing!" However, a consequence may result. Though surrounded by Improvisors of Repute, Kuhl really struggled with a character's, Tryst Valentine, decision to blow up an established EU spacecraft, the Wild Karrde.

In Episode 72, Ms. Kuhl simply sounded as if she wasn't going to let it happen. John Patrick Cohen (JPC), Tryst Valentine's Player, with clear intent, pressed ahead as Kat's voice cracked with shock and even a, if paraphrased, "Please don't do this thing..."

It came to a close in Episode 73, when despite protests and even an in media res effort to steer JPC/Tryst from the course of action—unilaterally producing an NPC to disable the craft Tryst was using to destroy the Wild Karrde! JPC was not deterred and turned the tables on Kat, stunning the NPC and turning Kat's own story device on the Wild Karrde, destroying it.

At this point Kat broke, explaining JPC's/Tryst's error: CANON. JPC deftly countered: so the Wild Karrde everyone knows is really just "Wild Karrde II." BAM! This is Player Agency and the establishing of collaborative story fact. So what if the Wild Karrde is destroyed? Roll with it for the story. Roll with it because it's fun and it is a game. Damn, Darth Vader wasn't being killed. The whole scene had Yes, and ... oozing out of it. Talon Karrde certainly has a reason now to do the same to Tryst and everyone close to him. JPC created a deeper story and wrote Tryst into the alternate Star Wars canon of Campaign. Kat, in this writer's opinion, fought too hard to keep the status quo. Relenting only after JPC forced the hand.

These alternate canon storylines are why we play in settings of established Intellectual Property: To have characters affect and be affected by the settings and characters. My close friend Doug loves to recall his PC from the heady days of West End Games Star Wars, well before most of the EU: a Rebellion Pilot that later designed the A-Wing.

Player Agency gives us those moments around the table everyone wants to tell again and again. JPC ultimately got what he was after: something that would pit Talon Karrde against the characters, but didn't feel like "It's what my character would do." Kat clearly struggled with that, but came around in the end. But damn it was hard to listen to as it unfolded.

Posted by caffeinated at 5:10 PM in d10

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

blojsom is dead...long live blojsom

Today, I taught a class on Lean JEE. What? Let me explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. 

I believe that JEE as sold in the JEE Blueprint is pretty much bullshit. All web development is—as D. Pierce might put it—an HTTP transaction wrapping some form data going to a persistence store, physically or in-memory, and presenting a response about how that data was stored. After that—as I might say—a thin layer of HTTP session management provides and some UX solves for the synchronous, stateless, HTTP protocol.

Simple, established patterns should be enough for almost every application, even at scale.

This is not to discount the GoF, JEE Patterns, or basic Design Patterns, but judgment and application ultimately trumps a generic "blueprint." My position certainly does not absolve a developer from understanding or grokking the JEE API. One cannot intelligently build anything on any platform without a foundation. Be it PHP, Python, node, Java, or the new money language, COBOL.

And so it was today, applying form best practices such as Get-After-Post, also called Post-Redirect-Get (PRG) or Redirect-After-Side-Effect, and the proper HTTP Response status to such a pattern.

As a production user of blojsom for some ten years now, I consider myself something its "steward." I recently pushed a Mavenized repository to github and have started committing to the project again. Mostly to fix my production build of the web application.

For years, every April for example, I would write posts and Draft them periodically to save entries in progress. This would, if I was not careful, result in entries that would be various versions or states of the post, all drafted and waiting for me to publish them. This is finally fixed.

One of the more recent commits was correcting the rich text editor (RTE) form to use PRG. That took some digging into the Administrative Plugin API and understanding how to short circuit the very procedural process method the EditBlogEntriesPlugin.

Initially, the well-managed session attributes—kudos to David Czarnecki—of the BaseAdminPlugin simply called response.sendRedirect(String). The application now properly does the same, but with a 303 See Other response. Moreover, the calling of super.process(request, response, blog, context, entries) returns from Publish with the 303 and presents the Manage Entries list. 

I'm looking forward to continue working in the code base and improving blojsom in the coming months. Especially before Blogging A-to-Z 2017!

Posted by caffeinated at 7:53 PM in 0xDECAF

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

TOEE 5E update

D&D 5E is amazing, to be frank. So much Old School, but with a subtle touch of modernity that is more than just "welcome."

With 5E's release I somehow convinced two 40-something neighbors—both with some 0E/1E experience in high school/college—to play. I started with the Pathfinder module Hollow's Last Hope (D0) from Paizo. The two players, an Elf Rogue and a Dwarf Fighter, cleared the old Dwarf monastery and left Falcon's Hollow, after making some shady friends.

They were soon hired by Spugnois, an ambitious wizard, in Hommlet. Spugnois was interested in exploring an old moathouse rumored to be the home of warlock defeated in the fight to end the Temple of Elemental Evil influence in the area years prior. 

The short story is they soon found themselves in the moathouse's old dungeons and face-to-face with a wizard that almost killed them both. In a battle of attrition, Spugnois and party decapitated Lareth and looted the body and his cache.

Nearly two months in real time passed before we could meet again.

I opened with Spugnois being found dead "several days ago," floating face down in the creek that crosses the main road at the "flooding ford." Rufus, of Rufus and Burne, immediately was sent to ask questions of Spugnois' "friends" that have been spending freely in town. The ornate staff (of striking) with vaguely evil carvings on it was the only thing missing. Rufus wanted to know where Spugnois got the staff. In the moathouse, along with other things not missing the heroes offered. They collected the rest of Spugnois possessions.

The heroes soon found themselves being watched by Gremag, that rude trader friend of Davl's at the trading post. After confronting the assassin in Inn of the Welcome Wench, they followed him back to the Trading Post, but snuck first into the stables. They found the "Man at Arms" and "Groom" tending the livery. After a bribe that started with the Man at Arms asking for his price suddenly doubled to cover the Groom, a quiet, young man of 18 summers or so, the heroes decided force was necessary.

The elf took the Man at Arms to his last breath, but not before taking a near mortal stab himself. The dwarf finished the Man at Arms with an axe blow, as the Elf tackled the Groom as he ran to warn Davl and Gremag. A bribe and slap from the flat side of a longsword sent the Groom to the north.

The heroes stood in the shadows of the stables looking at the trading post and planning their next move against the assassin Gremag and thieving trading post owner Davl, both agents of the TOEE.

Such a good game. And both players just left saying: "Best game ever!" Naturally, I'm riding a GM high.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:45 PM in d10

Monday, 9 May 2016

Blogging A to Z 2016 Retrospective

Much of what I wanted to say in this retrospective I summed in Z is for Zed, an epilogue.

However, I want to recap a little from my primer about Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, the regular game I referee, and a little bit about the what might be called a renaissance in table-top RPGs.

What is WFRP?

WFRP is short for Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. WFRP was introduced in the mid-80s as an extension for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle table-top wargame. 

When people think about roleplay they either go straight for the gutter ("It's a sex thing right? Doctor-Nurse? Nurse-Patient?") or "playing pretend." Tabletop Roleplay is more like the latter than the former, but the "playing pretend" alone belies the origins of the hobby. 

Jon Peterson probably has written the definitive book on the hobby, Playing at the World. The short story is that a hobby of re-enacting historical conflict in the mid- to late- 60s and 70s evolved into fantasy games of combat. To understand the wargames hobby in the 70s Edward Woodward, actor and wargamer, hosted a TV series on BBC called Battleground, available on YouTube (if you want to get a visual idea of the hobby). Peterson wrote an excellent article on his blog that probably captures the first wargame that gave rise to Dungeons & Dragons ("D&D"), the "world's greatest roleplaying game" and probably the title that most people immediately recognize. There are even YouTube channels featuring TV stars running campaigns like Titansgrave by Wil Wheaton playing Fantasy Age.

So WFRP is a roleplaying game set in a Germanic-Arthurian 16th century world beset on all sides by evil embodied by gods, orcs, goblins, ratmen and more. Elves and Dwarves are in decline as Humans are ascendant, yet Magic remains a powerful force.

The Campaign

In this world setting, I've been running a "campaign" with friends from all over the US over virtual table tops. The campaigns are now in their fourth year. The players have saved the world from an ancient weapon rediscovered and are currently sell-swords in an ephemeral princedom on the edge of the civilized world.

There is continuity in the story and setting. And the players shape the action as I introduce friction and story elements and dice shape the outcomes actions.

The Renaissance

In the 80s D&D was subjected to a "moral panic." It was branded a "geeky game" or "a gateway to Satan worship." The bookish types that enjoyed the game didn't play football, but ate chips and drank pop in the basement. We, well certainly myself and my friends, never played wearing cloaks and burning candles and so the stereotype is grossly incorrect. It was never like Mazes & Monsters. Did I or anyone know a Robbie Wheeling, as portrayed by Tom Hanks? No. I had a friend that attempted suicide, but it was not about the game.

Sure we were bookish. Steven Spielberg probably helped the hobby a bit by opening E.T. with a game of D&D. Unfortunately, the hobby receded into colleges and we all grew up. But we, the bookish geeks, grew up to dominate the emerging computing and internet industries. We married and had kids. And we wanted to capture that lightening in a bottle we had as kids and give back.

No MMORPG is without fealty to D&D and those of us that played and now play D&D again in our 40s. A new edition of D&D, the fifth, captures those elements of the first releases as do too many to count "retro-clones" that leverage the original rule sets we played with in the 70s and 80s.

And such is the 21st century. A renaissance of table-top roleplaying.

It is the impetus that drives my annual A-to-Z challenge. Each year it reenergizes my creativity for the game of WFRP and hones my mastery of the setting. I have made my closest friends in the hobby.

And if my A-to-Z challenge is anything of a siren call, let it be this: if you are a fantasy author and you're not playing an RPG yet, do it. Pick up D&D 5e and create! Take a look at the new systems like Numenra and The Strange or Fantasy Age. But play and create.

And never call it "pretend."

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Z is for Zed, an epilogue

An Epilogue for 2016

Five years ago, when James Maliszewski was still blogging regurlarly at Grognardia, I learned about Blogging A to Z. That first year marked the first year that the letter X would be forever some daemon or daemonic lure. I also won the Best of Fans Award from a prominent figure in the WFRP community Magnus Seter, writing under the nom de plumme Adolphus Altdorfer.

I worked with two international conspirators in 2012 where we cross posted to our blogs, sharing each letter. In 2013 I created more than 13 unique persons in the WFRP setting and in 2014 26 taverns, hostels, and dives on the Street of a Hundred Taverns in the city of Altdorf. Last year I borrowed heavily from my friend's characters at the table and their adventures in across great swaths of the Empire in a campaign to save the world.

Each year the comments start heavy, then trickle off. I'm don't follow the A to Z protocol of turning off comment moderation; I use to get far too much spam (a lot has dropped off with turning off trackbacks however).

My topic always gets the occasional comment that makes me wonder about the writer's impression of topic. This year there were a couple that took the magic angle a little to seriously, possibly not reading my primer on exactly what WFRP is and how the topic relates.

Can I do five more years? I think so. Maybe. There's a lot of creativity that goes into each entry. WFRP is a rich and dynamic setting and the my regular play lets me stretch that setting into each entry. However, WFRP is also closely guard IP. Fan work is mostly encouraged, but I could never publish the work as a collection. It can only existing on the blog (though I have collected the entries in the past as PDFs for download in the RSS feeds).

In all, A to Z is a strong creative outlet that focuses me for a month on this oft neglected blog. And for that I will continue in 2017. At the very least so that I can create another daemon's true name and make you cringe at all the apostrophes.

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Friday, 29 April 2016

Y is for Youth's Bane

From the Lore of Death and Spirits of the Shyish Order of Magick, the spell Youth's Bane is one of the most powerful. Only the most advanced Apprentices can master the spell and then only with reagents of ivy cut from the grave of a deceased Shyish magister and intense concentration. It is not uncommon for Apprentices to still fail.

Youth's Bane, cast in battle or in defense can be the edge in a fight, permanently drawing the strength and fitness from an opponent.. Muscles atrophy and joints can sieze as the target ages years in an instant.

The spell is one that is a favorite of rogue Shyish magisters in assassinations. Continuously aging a victim over short periods of time until either dying a premature death or so weak as unable to defend herself from a more physical death. Such tactics are easily discoverable if recognized (often a possibility in cities, but less likely in remote regions of the Empire). The magister discovered willing to employ the spell in such attacks is one that will, if found out, be likely assassinated by the Order's leadership. Leadership that has no tolerance for such evil acts.

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Thursday, 28 April 2016

X is for Xij'tier, Lesser Daemon of Tzeentch

The very Winds of Magick are the stuff of Chaos and change. Tzeentch, the Chaos god of Change, is said to drink from flagons overflowing with liquid magick. Moreover, it told by magisters of all colleges—and certainly put forth by the Witch Hunters as proof of the corruption of all magic users—that Tzeentch curses all magic users that improperly handle the winds in casting, elf or human alike. Mutation Tzeentch's "blessing." But Tzeentch has daemon heralds as well.

His lesser daemon Xij'tier is one such harbinger. An ethereal daemon, Xij'tier seeks change in natural forms for Tzeentch's glory.

Xij'tier typically takes the forms of beasts that have no likeness in the Old World and can only be described as creatures from the Tzeentch's own menagerie of the unusual. He rarely appears without immense tusks that have are carved with everchanging scenes of Tzeentch's basest desires and capped with a color changing metal formed into flesh piercing points.

Xij'tier takes a certain enjoyment in touching the war beasts of Tzeentch's champions in the Old World. The mutations are always terrifying and often quite deadly in the field.

It is said that Xij'tier will stand at the head of a charging warband, man and beast fighting to charge through his ethereal form to be "blessed" with change and mutation in that instant before colliding in battle with the enemy.

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

W is for Witchsight

No respected magister of the eight Colleges of Magic uses the term Witchsight, as these same magic users would never consider themselves "witches or warlocks." The term existed long before the Articles of Imperial Magic were codified and it has become a more common term among the superstitious public where the Colleges would prefer the use of Spiritsight or Magical Sense.

Mastering Witchsight is a lifelong task that starts with apprenticeship. It represents the "Seventh Sense" with Intuition and Aethyric Attunement being the "Sixth Sense" and first recognizable ability of any potential magic user.

How Witchsight is honed and mastered and thus appears to a magister is difficult to say, but many describe as looking through novelty glasses, but with an astonishing clarity of the manifestations of the Winds of Magic. Ghyran is said to be like a summer rain, Ulgu as a think fog, literally affecting a bystander passing through this unseen cloud and forgetting why he left the house. Shyish lingers as a dark tendrils in grave yards and around oubliettes. 

Yet these manifestations are invisible to anyone without Witchsight, and more still may manifest themselves to magisters very differently. An Azyr magister might see the past action in place or the future movement of chess piece on a board.

Witchsight is a both a blessing and a curse. The latter the most often considered. It has driven many magisters insane as they age and their mastery of it grows. For as the power to use Witchsight strengthens so does the clarity of the Winds of Magic.

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

V is for Vitaellum

Vitaellum is the powerstone of the magisters of Ghyran, the Green Wind of Magic.

Typically appearing as an flawless emerald with an internal light, the stone can also present itself as living branch despite having been separated from the plant. As all powerstones, the Jade magisters create Vitaellum as a reagent to the most powerful spells of their lore, whether martial or peaceable.

The three most powerful spells of Agrological Thaumaturgy are Flesh of Clay, Winter's Frost, and Cure Blight. A hero upon which Flesh of Clay is cast is a formidable foe on the battlefield. His skin turns to harden clay becoming immune to sword and shaft, but himself a weapon wading through enemy lines. 

Winter's Frost can kill or gravely wound a score of men in a single casting. The thick ice chilling to the bone in an instant and turning a charge into a chaotic dance of slips and tumbles.

Cure Blight is as much a ritual as the most powerful spell and tool for the well-being of the Empire. Crops, and even plague, can be cured of a blight or disease by infusing the stricken with the life restoring energies of Ghyran.

Posted by caffeinated at 7:00 AM in d10

Monday, 25 April 2016

U is for Ulgu, Cryptoclastic Thaumaturgy

The Grey Order and their Lore of Shadows are the masters of deception and confusion. They are the Shadowmancers and wielders of the Grey Wind of Magic, Ulgu.

Ostensibly, the Grey Order in battle is a force multiplier. Being masters of illusion, Shadowmancers aid generals by confusing a charge, "altering" the size of force on the field: too small, too big, too weak? A force too small can be made to appear large. And yet the Shadowmancers would not consider service to the Emperor even a top priority. 

Shadowmancers darker side is that of a near global network of spies, diplomats, and assassins. The Grey Order is also one of the most disciplined of orders with the strictest enforcement of its ideals and rules with pacification or death not uncommon.

The mastery of the wind makes Shadowmancers spies capable of the deepest assignments and the cleverest of assassins. The Ulgu spells of deception, concealment, and confusion are particularly powerful in the aforementioned roles, and the spells of persuasion make them excellent diplomats.

The Order is rather focused too on rooting out Chaos and the influence of the Ruinous Power throughout the Empire, often quietly assisting the Templars of Sigmar, the Witch Hunters, even when they, as magic users, are not often welcome.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:58 PM in d10