Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gaming In the Enchanted Isles of Avalon Hill's Wizards (Part 1)

Avalon Hill put out the board-game Wizards in 1982, which would have been a year or two after I started gaming.  I have no idea how my Mom decided to get it for me as a Christmas present, but it was probably one of the best she ever got.  After RISK, Wizards is surely my most-played board-game (with The Awful Green Things from Outer Space and the mini-game Saga coming somewhere after).  Wizards was the first board-game I had ever played that had both cooperative and competitive play: everybody is trying to get the MacGuffin and drive off the Bad Guy, but everybody wants to be the one who does it.  

But more explanatory of it's appeal to me at the time was the flavour of the game.  That link above to BoardGameGeek has a pdf of the rules booklet; if you've never seen it, check it out and see what I mean.  The setting is a sort of combination of Tolkien Middle-Earth, Le Guin's Earthsea, and...something.  The Designer's Notes make it clear that they (a husband and wife, maybe?) thought of the game as some kind of magic, poetic ritual in-itself, which, whatever you think of that, gives the game part of it's unique charm.  It also means that the game is full of detail and colour that is absolutely unnecessary to playing it as a board game, but which tend to make the wheels in the head of a role-player start turning.

For example, the game board is composed of eighteen hex-tiles (6x6) that are randomly placed at the beginning of play.  Six of these are Common (i.e. human), six are Elven, and six are Magic.  You really don't need to know anything about these territories, by and large, and yet each one gets a paragraph write-up in the booklet, such as:

Elven Territory VI - Woodland
Here dwells the the Elflord Finrel, wisest of all Elves, with his Elflady Vawn, the Spice of the Islands.  Together, they sustain the Richness and Fertility of the land. The Wise Woman Hamdrel, who favours all woodland dwellers, keeps close ties with these Elves and encourages their Life-giving Magic.

Aside from obvious Tolkien riffs, note also that those portentous capitalizations (Richness, Magic) are as written.  Also, remember that nothing in there matters one little bit for purposes of playing the game as written.  Even the incredibly boring human places (so boring that they are officially termed "Common Territories", rather than "Human Territories", get little details:

Common Territory II - Woodswall
When these Men began to mistrust the woods, where the Elves tended to dwell, they built walls between the woods and their towns.  Due to these walls, the Men of Woodswall have been forced to look outward to the sea.  They have become great fishermen, knowing much of the waterways.

Those three sentences have a lot of compressed back-story in there that could be mined for ideas if one wanted to do something other than just play the board game.  Why did Men begin to distrust the woods?  Are there Elves in the woods near Woodswall now?  Were there then? What's the state of relations between the two today?  

Another example.  There are seven High Wizards in the game, who are definitely of the Tolkienian angelic variety and, Saruman-like, one has become evil, or, as the game terms it, a False Wizard.  I love that term, by the way; although you could take it to mean simply that he is false i.e. untruthful, I prefer to think it means that a real Wizard is, by definition, a servant of the Good Power and that the traitor has made himself a fake.  I think JRRT would approve of that. Anyway, in game-play, the High Wizards are just encounters that can do stuff for you and it really doesn't matter whether you meet Ishkatar, Aevarex, or Elekov (except in the end game it matters if you meet the False Wizard).  Yet, each High Wizard gets a unique staff design (check out the box cover above for two of them) and an evocative description in the book.  I mentioned three of them above, so here are their write-ups:

Ishkatar - Wise Lord of the High Wizards, possessor of Knowledge and Understanding, seeing and hearing hidden things, Ishkatar is the greatest of all beings who inhabit the Enchanted Isles. 
Aevarex - Righteousness, Truth, and Purity are the source of the wisdom of Aevarex, fairest of the High Wizards, Healer of Harms. 
Elekov - Elekov the Mighty.  He is unsurpassed in the wise use of magical powers and honours the strength of even the humblest objects.

Finally, I have to mention the amazing art, all by one of game's designers, which the Designer's Notes say isn't just intended as illustration, but as window into the world (pretentious, perhaps, but not inaccurate).  I don't have the useful software these days to clip out pictures from the book, but go check out that link and look at Sorcerer's Spell (p13), the Doug Henningesque Wizard in Telepthy (p15), or The Elflord's Revenge by the Power's of Finrel, Hispan, and Havor (p17).  Like the style or not (I largely do), it does, in fact, give you a window into the setting.  I love, for instance, that skull-cap on the sorcerer.

I haven't even discussed the Task Cards yet, which give a lot more information on the setting, but I think the point is clear enough: Wizards oozes a certain flavour which would go well with role-playing (the chocolate to rpging's peanut butter, perhaps).  That's certainly how it felt to me back then and is surely one of the reasons I played the game so often, because the game-as-board-game has some serious defects.  

Most notoriously, it has a very draggy end-game in which the characters, who have spent the whole game to the this point sailing all around the Isles, performing Tasks, suddenly stop moving and just pick cards and/or roll dice to try and get the MacGuffin together, then do the same to try and take the MacGuffin home.  I can recall getting very frustrated many times by having my character stuck outside the Sacred Circle, trying to roll the number I needed to get in and hand the damn WMD to the High Druid, who supposedly wanted it, but can't be bother to get off his arse and step outside to get the thing.

A less obvious deficiency, and maybe one that wouldn't exist for pure board gamers, is that the abundance of flavour is tied to mechanics which don't support it.  All that cool stuff I spoke about above, which is nifty but doesn't impact play, doesn't even work in play sometimes.  The one that always irritated me were the three Magical Orders.  Early game-play involves the characters trying to be initiated into one of the three Orders, each of which is given a very distinct origin and spin: the Wizards  learn from the angelic High Wizards and seek Knowledge; the Sorcerers learn elemental Arts originally taught by the evil Dragons and seek Power; and the Druids seek to recreate the magic of the Druidic race, a virtually extinct people born of Humans, Elves, and High Wizards who sought Perception (incidentally, this implies the High Wizards of the Enchanted Isles are not the essentially-sexless manikins of Tolkien).  

Now all that is cool, except that whatever Order you join, you still learn the same damn magics. There are three Movement spells (Boat Summoning, Swiftness, and Transporting i.e. Teleportation) and four Encounter spells (Animal Summoning, Demon Dispelling, Dragon Taming, and Escaping, which last is surely the less used spell in the game, doing nothing much of interest).  True, each Order does get one Special spell at Rank Four (the highest Rank and the beginning of the end-game), but both the Wizard's Telepathy and the Sorcerer's Gem Summoning do pretty much the same thing (give the player a chance to get a piece of the MacGuffin).  While Wizards, Sorcerers, and Druids get a little variety in when they acquire the spells and at what strength (Druids can Demon Dispel sooner, while Sorcerers get more range on Boat Summoning), it's not much and by Rank Four there isn't any real distinction left.

So, what is a poor gamer to do in such a situation?  Well, let's talk about that in our next, enthralling installment.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Blood of Belshazzar as a Sword & Sorcery RPG Premise

Sword & Sorcery is experiencing a bit of a comeback in rpging these days.  I've mentioned two very excellent games previously: Barbarians of Lemuria and Jaws of the Six Serpents.  Thulsa has done some amazing Hyborian Age conversions of classic adventures, such as Shrine of the Kuo-Toa and Vault of the Drow, as well as some well-regarded original works, such as The Spider-God's Bride and Song of the Beast-Gods (neither of which I have, but intend to rectify that soonishly).  And that's just the tip of the sword, not including the mood among the OSR that now leans toward S&S scoundrels and highjinks and away from the Epic Fantasy heroes and grand destinies.

But S&S as a literary genre does present some problems for gaming.  I'm speaking here of what might be called "the high end" of the S&S protagonist spectrum; that is, those stories that are about powerful, capable Heroes (in the original, Hellenic sense of the word).  This is as opposed to those protagonists who congregate about "the low end" of the spectrum; that motley assortment of ne'er-do-wells and crooks who populate the thieves' quarters of the imagination and who, one might say, descend from Clark Ashton Smith's Satampra Zeiros (spiritual father to D&D adventurers everywhere), rather than Robert E. Howard's King Kull of Valusia.  

It's relatively easy to find a gaming premise for this second sort and, indeed, most of the OSR has rediscovered it: a bunch of desperate chaps face magic and monsters in pursuit of loot.  The former group is trickier.  Imagine trying to play a game where you have King Conan, Elric of Melnibone, and Kane the Killer as your party.  Fascinating, yes, but what the hell do they do together?  Whatever they decide to do, they do not meet in a tavern and decide to bash the local dungeon for profit.

One solution is to drop the idea of "the party" as the part of the protagonist in the literature is more usually a one- or two-man show.  Conan never called for a cleric and Fafhrd and the Mouser are pretty-much a three's-a-crowd act (except Oort the Mingol, I guess).  That's fine but pretty much requires losing most of your players (assuming you have a regularly-sized group). And it still doesn't actually give you a premise.

Thus I was struck the other day as I read, for the first time, REH's The Blood of Belshazzar, originally published in 1931, but which I read in the excellent Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventures Stories of the Old Orient.  I consider myself a Howard fan, and have read all the Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane stories, but I had never read any of his Oriental Adventures tales; a situation which I have gladly changed.  The Blood of Belshazzar is actually one of the weaker stories in the collection; a not-too gripping murder mystery which does not even have the advantage of The God in the Bowl's giant snake.  Which may show, once again, that literary merit is not identical with gaming merit, because it seems to me a wonderful premise for a "high end" S&S game.  

Without going into too much detail, the story is set within the lair of a notorious bandit chief, who has collected together the worst of the worst as his lieutenants.  None of them trust one another, but all try to retain the good graces of the chief for one reason: the lust after the fabulous gem he owns.  Howard writes:

"How do you hold supremacy over these wolves?" asked Cormac bluntly. 
Skol laughed and drank once more. 
"I have something each wishes. They hate each other; I play them against one another. I hold the key to the plot. They do not trust each other enough to move against me. I am Skol Abdhur! Men are puppets to dance on my strings. And women"--a vagrant and curious glint stole into his eyes--"women are food for the gods," he said strangely.
The story of the gem is perhaps the high-light of the tale and the thing is described in terms startlingly reminiscent of the One Ring in Tolkien:
"Then Belshazzar's lords entreated him to throw the gem back into the sea, for it was evident that it was the treasure of the djinn of the sea, but the king was as one mad, gazing into the crimson deeps of the ruby, and he shook his head. 
"And lo, soon evil came upon him, for the Persians broke his kingdom, and Cyrus, looting the dying monarch, wrested from his bosom the great ruby which seemed so gory in the light of the burning palace that the soldiers shouted: 'Lo, it is the heart's blood of Belshazzar!' And so men came to call the gem the Blood of Belshazzar. 
"Blood followed its course. When Cyrus fell on the Jaxartes, Queen Tomyris seized the jewel and for a time it gleamed on the naked bosom of the Scythian queen. But she was despoiled of it by a rebel general; in a battle against the Persians he fell and it went into the hands of Cambyses, who carried it with him into Egypt, where a priest of Bast stole it. A Numidian mercenary murdered him for it, and by devious ways it came back to Persia once more. It gleamed on Xerxes' crown when he watched his army destroyed at Salamis. 
"Alexander took it from the corpse of Darius and on the Macedonian's corselet its gleams lighted the road to India. A chance sword blow struck it from his breastplate in a battle on the Indus and for centuries the Blood of Belshazzar was lost to sight. Somewhere far to the east, we know, its gleams shone on a road of blood and rapine, and men slew men and dishonored women for it. For it, as of old, women gave up their virtue, men their lives and kings their crowns. 
"But at last its road turned to the west once more, and I took it from the body of a Turkoman chief I slew in a raid far to the east. How he came by it, I do not know. But now it is mine!" 
Skol was drunk; his eyes blazed with inhuman passion; more and more he seemed like some foul bird of prey.
It is my balance of power! Men come to me from palace and hovel, each hoping to have the Blood of Belshazzar for his own. I play them against each other. If one should slay me for it, the others would instantly cut him to pieces to gain it. They distrust each other too much to combine against me. And who would share the gem with another?
The plot kicks into gear as our protagonist enters as a new lieutenant, the bandit chief is killed, the gem disappears, and all hell breaks lose.  

I think that this would make a fantastic starting point for a game, providing a shape of what stories could be told, but giving the players fairly free reign to take that story wherever they wish.  Do they team-up and try to keep the gang together, perhaps establishing themselves as true political powers in the region?  Do they play the other villains (including, potentially, the other PC's) off one another?  Or do they bring the whole situation crashing down in blood and fire and ride off, laughing, into the night?  And, as each PC would have his or her own reasons for being there in the first place, the players and GM both would have this great stew of motivations, both complementary and conflicting, with which to play.

You needn't be restrained by the device of the gem - anything could serve as The Most Fabulous Thing in the World.  I'd be tempted to do more with foul rituals hinted at by Skol in his likening of women to food for the gods (if this had been a Conan tale, I'm pretty sure that Howard would have done so too).  Maybe the Thing is occult knowledge and what the PC's learn might set the stage for the next phase of the campaign.

Anyway, this is the sort of thing I think could work wonderfully well for games that aren't trying to do Ye Auld Game.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Part of an Idea for a d20 Mechanic

I really, really like Greg Stafford's core mechanic for King Arthur Pendragon.  It is both a universal d20 mechanic long before such became desirable and also a brilliant simplification of his own percentile system from Runequest.  As logically intuitive as percentile is, it's also way too fiddly for me: I can't believe that I need a game system to differentitate between a 52% chance to do something and a 53% chance.  KAP's system breaks it all down into 5% which is just right for me.

There is only one drawback to going from d100 to d20, which are the neat tricks you can play with criticals and fumbles in a percentile system.  Again, the native BRP idea isn't for me; it's intensely displeasing to my aesthetic to have a mechanic where you want to roll either high or low.  But there are other, niftier methods; my favourite is Unknown Armies' one of calling doubles that roll under as crits and doubles that roll over as fumbles (I have blogged about this before).

Obviously, you can't do this with a d20.  I think KAP's native system is that you crit when you roll your score exactly (my games are all still packed away from the move, so I can't check).  That is nice in one sense, since it maintains the blackjack mechanic of wanting to roll high, but, as a flat 5% loses any distinction between someone who is barely adequate scoring a crit and one who is highly-skilled.  I was thinking of how to change the odds a bit and, to do so, found myself putting all skill ratings into one of five broad bands:

  • Poor = 1-5
  • Not Good = 6-10
  • Good = 11-15
  • Great = 16-20
  • Super-human = 21+

The ways to get a critical success would be:

  • Poor = no crits (you stink; just try not to die).
  • Not Good = crit when you roll your rank.
  • Good = same
  • Great = crit when you roll your rank-1or your rank.
  • Super-human = same (but recall that you add the amount by which your rank exceeds 20 to all rolls).

Now the crit thing is nothing earth-shaking in of itself.  But coming up with the five types sort of seems clever to me as it addresses my number one problem with Runequest, KAP, and most other skill-based games: long stat blocks.  At the sacrifice of some detail, you could actually drop the base stats and just use the average for each type, plus the actual median, like so:

  • Poor = 3
  • Not Good = 8
  • Average = 10 (or 11; both are slightly wrong so just pick one)
  • Good = 13
  • Great = 18
  • Super-human = 23

Notice two things here. First, the averages map quite nicely onto the stats for BRP or, indeed, Ye Auld Game.  3 is piss-poor and 18 is the best you can hope for as a human.  Second, and less obviously, I think what I just did was translate the Moldvay/Cook unified modifier scheme from YAG to KAP.

When writing a stat-block, you could therefore assume that any ability is at Average and only mention the others.  Getting you something like this:
Ogre (STR 18, CON 13, INT 3, Claws 13)
That's still more involved that YAG (who's simple stat-blocks remain an almost Platonic ideal), but it's a helluva lot better than you usually see.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thoughts on MY Star Wars

Like most of my fellows, I'm a Star Wars kid.  I was 5 years old when the only movie which is actually called Star Wars came out and it was a life-changing event.  Star Wars (not just the movie but the concept) was a definite First Love.  But, as is often the case with First Love, things changed.  We both grew older and began to get into different things.  Star Wars (the franchise, not the movie (of which there is just the one)) began to get into Ewoks and wuxia and Luke and Lei being siblings and I was getting into The Dark Knight and Elric and not kissing siblings.  Twenty-plus years later, we met again and - I'll admit - I was pretty excited at the prospect of getting back together.  But she had changed.  She was like some big video game with cool graphics and no soul.  Ah well; I'm sure you know the story just as well as I.

And now, my son turns 5 and, unintentionally,  I started showing Her to Him.  And seeing it through his eyes rekindles things.  I was reminded of a wonderful thought-experiment in which I took part on last year: Using Ep. IV as the only Canon.  I had some ideas which I still really like about characters and the setting, but here's the one I'm thinking of today:

No one can really say what they Force is, but we know how it manifests in Ep. IV: hypnosis (“these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”; arguably Kenobi making himself unnoticed as he sneaks around the Death Star), spatial awareness (“close your eyes, Luke”), and some kind of telepathic/empathic connection to the universe (“I feel a disturbance in the Force”).  Notice that there ain’t no telekinesis here.  Arguably, Vader’s Force Choke is TK, but, at the time, I thought that it was Vader telepathically controlling the guy’s autonomic nervous system - essentially hypnotizing the guy into not being able to breathe.  If you buy that, then we have the Force as a very subtle, though still quite powerful thing.

This remains, to me, a much more interesting Force than that the one that evolved into guys flying around and knocking over platoons of soldiers with a wave.  Jedi aren't super-heroes in my SW; they are mystical warriors.  Perhaps more importantly, this strikes me as a kind of Force that is much more playable in a game with mostly non-Jedi (like in the one and only movie Star Wars).  You can't pick up rocks and crush the big robot or absorb blaster-fire or make enemy ships smash into each other.

The Force in my SW is still a potent weapon, but it's one that requires thought and subtlety; once things goes past subtlety, it's time to draw light-sabres (e.g. Obi-Wan on the Death-Star).  Of course, the Force still helps there, since the Jedi's ESP (isn't that a great, old-fashioned-sounding term now?) is a huge boon when fighting; he knows what his opponent is doing as he is doing it.  The Jedi Knight feels his enemy's anger preparing to strike and his years of self-mastery allow him to control his own movements to an exceptional degree.  Not super-human, mind you, but think of what a true martial arts master can do with his body and you'll know that you don't need super-powers to be awesome.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Needs No Telekinesis To Be Bad-Ass!
Those hypothetical readers who are old enough might recall that great issue of the Marvel Comics version of Star Wars, which told a story of Obi-Wan in his prime (but still old enough to be gray-haired, which is part of why it's awesome).  Extra-canonical though it is, this issue is a good example of how I think a Jedi should be played: a cunning warrior with mysterious powers, but not a super-man.

Ironically, thinking in this direction led me to a nice rationale for the Droid troops we see in those movies I don't even want to name: many of the Jedi's tricks become useless against machine-foes.  A Droid's thoughts can neither be read nor controlled.  And thus a Battle-Droid becomes a much more credible threat to a Jedi, whose combat training is based, in part, on knowing his foe's mind; even more so since these Jedi can't just wave their hands and send the whole army flying away.  Indeed, a War-Robot could be something of an Anti-Jedi Device, theoretically more dangerous to him than to the regular joes in his party.  An equivalent to the various Wizard-Slayers in Ye Auld Game.

Finally, my vanity requires me to post a bit of fun from the old thread:

Yes, Emperor

PALPATINE: Vader, how is it possible that the most potent weapon in the galaxy was destroyed by a farm-boy with a defective astromech droid?

VADER: Well, Emperor, that is, of course, a most perspicacious question and, may I say, one that fully deserves to be answered in complete and unambiguous terms, with no qualifications, cover-ups, or tentativity.

PALPATINE: [Pause] Yes?  And?

VADER: [Startled] Oh, you mean you wanted an answer now?  Unfortunately, Emperor, as much as I should like to approach the entire issue with alacrity and celerity, you must understand that the Force is mysterious and not, tractable.  That is, I must align myself with the energy field that connects and binds us all together; there are also forms to fill out.  I suggest we convene a Sith Committee to really get at the heart of the matter; study it from all angles and so on.  Once we convoke that assemblage, I should think a few years of investigation and debate...

EMPEROR: A few years?!  Vader, I want answers now!  I have a Rebellion to crush.

VADER: Ah...but you don't want answers now. 

EMPEROR: No...I don't want answers now.

VADER: You want to convene a committee to fully explore the matter.

EMPEROR: You know Vader, on second-thought, I think that I want to convene a committee to fully explore the matter.

VADER: On your way, Dark Lord of the Sith.

EMPEROR: Well, on your way Dark Lord of the Sith.

VADER: Of course, Emperor.  Sound decision.

EMPEROR: [shaking his head slowly as Vader leaves the room] Curse your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader!

VADER: Yes, Emperor.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On Attributes in Game Design

Of late, my gaming thoughts (such as they are) have been turning to my old Sword & Sorcery game, Swords of Fortune.  I started working on this game an Epoch or two ago; I'm not precisely sure when, but the last play-test draft I have up is dated October 21, 2008, which, if I can still do basic arithmetic, is like 30 years ago (that draft, incidentally, can still be found here).  I was really hot on this game for some while and S&S remains one of my favourite things in the cosmos.  I abandoned it because I felt that there were at least two better S&S games that came out between my beginning work and October 2008: Simon Washbourne's Barbarians of Lemuria and Tim Gray's Jaws of the Six Serpents.  Both are excellent, excellent games that do a fantastic job at delivering the S&S experience.

And yet, here I am thinking about Swords of Fortune again.  Tentatively, to be sure, yet I think I may still have something a bit distinct to add to the ludic pot.  As time goes on, I find that my Misfortune mechanic remains interesting to me and stresses things that neither of the other games does by default.  Also, I think my discussion of the literary genre has some value.  So, I'm playing with taking up the old gauntlet again.

Yet, if some mechanics seem to retain value, others don't.  And the one that just doesn't sit well with my anymore is Attributes.  As it stood three years ago, every Hero had six Attributes: Sword, Shield, Tome, Tower, Crown and Cloak.  The first of each alliterative pair is an active attribute (physical, mental, social), while the second is reactive.  Thus, one would use the Sword attribute to attack people or lift heavy objects (active physical) and the Shield attribute to avoid getting hit or withstand the effects of drugged wine (reactive physical).  I used to think that this set-up was the bees-knees - logical, symmetrical, full of kallos -  but it no longer sits so well with me.  

Which brings me to the actual subject of the post, that is, the nature of attributes in game design. One of the oppositions in attribute-design is between Standardized and Free-Form.  The first is by far the most common and dates back to Ye Auld Game.  I'm not sure when the latter debuted (although it might have been Robin Laws' Over the Edge from 1992).  The strength of Standardized atts is that you can always compare character's relative abilities and know who is stronger, faster, or whatever.  And, in theory anyway, you know what things are important to the game: if Social Status is an att, then presumably social status is important to this game.  The strengths of Free-From atts are less easy to explain; they allow the player to create a character that more precisely meets their idea and avoid the abstraction that inevitably occurs with Standardized stats by letting you say exactly what you mean.  Practically, they seem to encourage a lot of creativity in players.

The drawbacks are the inverse of the benefits.  Standardized atts cannot measure anything that falls outside their parameters; in YAG, for example, you can measure strength and dexterity, but there is no way to measure your hatred for the Six-Fingered Man.  Free-Form atts excel at that, but it can be impossible to compare relative abilities (how do you know how strong someone is if they don't have an attribute called "strength"?).  Also, they can create a kind of paralyzation if the player doesn't have a strong idea of the character in mind from the get-go.

I think a less obvious distinction, but one of equal importance, is between what I will call Denotative and Connotative atts.  Yeah, I just made those names up because I've never seen anyone address this idea.  Denotative atts have a kind of one-to-one correspondence with the world: Strength measures active physical force which can be brought to bear, for example.  Denotative atts are suggestive: one could find all kind of uses for an att called "Tough Old Merc". Another way to look at this is that Denotative atts are statically defined by what they measure (cause), while Connotative atts are defined by what they could do and that definition is an evolving one (effect).  "Tough Old Merc" might measure professional experience, physical state, weapon's training, social status, and on and on; indeed, the nature of Connotative atts is that you keep finding new uses for them (it frequently becomes a game within the game).

Most games with Free-Form atts allow - in fact, encourage - Connotative atts.  They suggest that "Strong as a Bull" is preferable to "Strong", but "Bull of a Man" is preferable to either.  And most games with Standardized atts assume that they are Connotative; even if they allow for a relatively broad use for any att, they assume that there are some clear uses for the att and that's that. Charisma in YAG may be the poster-child for this latter case; no one has ever been sure what exactly it measures, but whatever it represents, it helps with reactions, hiring retainers, and morale.

This second distinction is thus usually lost within the first, but it need not be.  Returning to old Swords of Fortune, you might see that the atts were clearly standardized, but they seemed to drift a bit between being Denotative and Connotative.  And maybe that's were I'm finding them less satisfactory now than I did some years ago.  Or maybe it's just that no one ever put any points into the Cloak att because I could never really say what it was good for.  Either way, I feel that I might be able to add something meaningful in this area.

Does the Fiend Still Live?

Good question.  Looks like about four months since the last post (which wasn't much of a post in any sense beyond the technical).  Hmn.  So, life is still totally up in the air, I still don't have a gaming group, and my mind has been pathetically unfocused.

That's no good.

So, I'm taking the wolf by the ears (as the old Romans used to say), and deciding that I will begin posting something at least once a week for the rest of the year.  It may be gaming thoughts, some fiction, or some absolute bloody junk, but it will be my junk, and maybe I can get my brain back into some vaguely functional state again.

Oh, and this post doesn't count.  Cheers.