Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Vogenheim and Elsebeth's Rest - an example setting for Dungeon Bitches

So one thing in the GM's section at the back of the Dungeon Bitches manuscript is a set of guides for rolling up a random town and nearby dungeon. It's pretty similar to the method EE uses, as shown in this blogpost, if tweaked somewhat.
Anyway, I'm gonna go through it and roll up a sample setting for a game.

Let's begin with the local town. The first step is to work out what the main players in the town are. For this, we're gonna put together a faction map; drop a few six-sided dice onto a sheet of paper to see what there is. Where each dice lands is a faction in the town. Doing so, I get this:
the start of a faction map
To read the dice, we look at two things here; the number on the side pointing up, and the number on the side pointing towards us.The first number on the map is the top side (marked in pink on the handy diagram below), the second is the front side (marked in green).
what to look at on the dice
Anyway. This lets each dice get 6 x 4 results, since for each 'top face' result, there's only 4 numbers that can be on the front; if you've got a 6 on top, that precludes getting a 6 or 1 on the front.
But, we can look these numbers up on a lil table to get a faction.
At this stage, we'll also include three constants that appear in every town: an Inn for travellers to stay in, a religious authority, and a ruling noble. For each, we can just drop a lil marker onto the map (I used three coins) and record where it lands. We can connect nearby factions with a little line, indicating an alliance.
Looking stuff up, and adding the inn, church, and noble, we get this for our map:
Now, already there's some interesting connections we can pull from this. For example, the church's only alliance is with a criminal gang; explaining that could probably produce something compelling. Likewise the relationship between the gaol and the assassin-cult.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, lets get a few extra details for the town. We can roll a few times on a random table for town quirks. For each, its a d66 roll, one dice as a tens, and the other as a units, for a result from 11 to 66. This is what we end up with:

1,2: A disproportionate number of poets.
2,3: A famous pilgrimage site.
6,4: Lots of lynchings.
 Already this suggests a few things: firstly, we can make the pilgrimage site be informal rather than sanctioned, under the control of local mafia types, explaining the church/crime alliance. Maybe its an unrecognised saint, a patron of thieves and gamblers. The vulnerable people our assassin cult picks off might well be pilgrims, then; they're strangers in town, so nobody will miss them. The lynchings, combined with the way the assassin cult works with the local gaol/executioner, suggests that these killings aren't sneaky; the cult works by whipping up mobs against outsiders they deem a corrupting influence.
...well, shit, this seems painfully relevant at the moment.
Anyway, we can use this to pin down the relationships between the factions. Normally, the connection between the criminals and the assassins would be an alliance, but here I think it makes more sense to make this a secret war between the two.
The end result looks like this:
So what is this place actually like?
Let's call it Veltenheim. It's a little town nestling between the mountains and the coast.
With a militia and a gaol, it's presumably got a superficially tight rule of law-and-order, and the inhabitants seem like a painfully judgemental and vindictive lot, what with all the lynchings.
There's an underground veneration of Saint Elsebeth - patron of thieves, gamblers, and those who have limbs severed - and various rogues make a pilgrimage here. The town's respectable front, of course, thoroughly disaproves of these ne'er do wells, and frequently mobs of citizens - stoked on by a shadowy cabal of murderers - do horrible things to those who transgress the town's strict social rules.
The town's ruler - Baron Von Velten - has little interest in these internal matters; he simply channels his wealth into ensuring law-and-order is brutaly enforced, while hypocritically indulging his own vices in one of the town's more prominant hidden brothels.
So we have the idea of public judgement, hypocracy, and a hidden underclass emerge from all this. The themes and feel of the town seem pretty clear.

Next up, let's roll a nearby dungeon, for our Dungeon Bitches to take refuge in.

The first step is to come up with a network of dungeon factions, much like in the town. I'll spare the full process, and just give the end result:


And then for the dungeon's layout, we can do a similar thing. Now, the dungeon isn't mapped room-by-room. What's important is individual encounters and set-pieces, and how the PCs respond to them, rather than room-by-room exploration. However, to get a rough feel for the place, we can divide the dungeon into a few themed sections. The method of generation is again the same; drop some dice, look at the front and top number, connect into a network. Each link on the network indicates one area is accessible from another.
Dropping some dice to get a rough layout of the dungeon, this is what we get:

To tie the dungeon together, there are four random tables: who built it, why it was built, what the overall aesthetic is like, and why its weird down there. Like with town quirks, its a d66 roll for each. Rolling, we get:
14: It was built by a forgotten saint.
33: It was built as a necropolis.
43: The architectura style is fluid, elegant, organic. Art nouveau.
26: Your dreams here are cruel, showing what your life could have been.
So we can tie this all together too. We can make the saint in question Saint Elsebeth, who built the place to house the bodies of persecuted martyrs during a religious civil war; these are the bodies in the pit. The nunnery makes sense too, if they're venerating Saint Elsebeth. These sisters are probably not traditionally nunny - their patron is a patron of rogues and ne'er do wells, after all - but sincere in their devotion none the less. I imagine this space forms a neat little safe-community for PC bitches to rest in.We can have the gardens be underground memorial gardens, with the fungal infection being cases where the natural underground ecosystem encroached into this garden.
Our other significant powers make sense in this context: Vull the Undying can be the abbes for our nunnery; since she's immortal, she knew Elsebeth in life, even if her state as a Wounded Daughter has warped her memory somewhat. The Marble Girls and Old Magda are probably more recent arrivals, setting up shop in the more secluded corners of the gardens; the Marble Girls have a pavilion they've filled with medical equipment and specimens, and Old Magda has an ornamental pond they lurk in.
Lastly, our dragon, I think, resides with Lobelia. Both were again companions of Elsebeth, although they fell out with Vull some time ago, and have strongly differing visions for the dungeon. The pair can be lovers.
We can call this dungeon something evocative: Elsebeth's Rest, perhaps.


So, the dungeon foms a nice contrast to the town on the surface. Where the surface town is judgemental and spiteful, concerned with appearances and punishing deviation, the dungeon is more melencholy. It's about remembrance, hidden beauty, things that might have been in a better world.
It's the creation of a saint who wanted something better than the war-torn nightmare that was her current reality, a little hidden paradise. And, while it's crumbling apart, infested with fungus, it remains as a monument to her vision. The bones of those she interred here remain, as do those companions from her lifetime who are no longer - or were never - mortal. 

It has some resonance to it, I think. I'd want to run a game in this setting.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Exciting Shonen Fight Scenes

OK so, a problem I have with a lot of the systems used to resolve violence in RPGs is that attrition is not particularly exciting. Often, each side has a pool of HP, and take it in turns to make attacks against the other, slowly wearing down that pool until one side or the other has none left, and loses.
I don't find this particularly exciting.
I'm taking inspiration from anime here, and how shonen fighting shows (or at least, the good ones) often handle fights. Essentially, each fight is a puzzle. Each side brings their own techniques and advantages, and the other side has to work out how to negate those methods to bring their own to bear. A fight tends to swing one way and then the other, as one side sets a challenge and the other has to find a solution or be defeated; once a solution is found, then the fight swings the other way until the losing side finds a solution of their own, until once side gains a decisive advantage that the other simple can't answer, and is forced into defeat.
Ultimately a fight is won by wits, creativity and adaptability; the ability to formulate a plan that your enemy can't find a counter to.
This is the dynamic I want to capture.

Here's a system to do that.
It doesn't care much about the numbers on your character sheet, and is instead driven by what's happening in the game-fiction. Negotiating and defining what's happening in the fiction is how you win.

Setup:
Determine the stakes of the fight. What will happen to each side if they lose; death, capture, humiliation, injury, whatever.

Determine the capabilities of each fighter. If you're bolting this onto an existing system, this might be easy. Looking at a system like D&D 5e or VtM, a character probably has some clues as to their capabilities and powers on their sheet; just pick out what the key elements are.
If you're not bolting this onto an existing game, you can instead determine your fighter's capabilities quite simply. You get to state three advantages they have. These might be:
-A weapon they use, and its quirks.
-A supernatural power they have.
-A wildly impractical stunt or maneuver they've learned, and can pull off reliably.
-A broad fighting-style they're skilled in.
They can get two more such advantages, but for each extra one you have to state a weakness they suffer from.

The Winning-O-Meter:
Who's winning is measured on the winning-o-meter, a sliding scale from -3 to +3. When it reaches +3, one side wins, when it reaches -3 the other side wins. It starts at 0. Over the course of the fight, the winning-o-meter will go up and down depending on who's dominating.
EG: Alice wins at -3, Bob wins at +3.

Control:
Control determines who's currently setting the stakes for the fight. The character with control is the one who has set up a situation that the other must find a solution to, or be defeated.
Which character begins with control is a judgement call. It will probably be the character who's overall stronger, attacking from an advantageous position, striking from surprise, and so on.
EG: Bob started the fight, so he begins in control.

The Exchange:
The fight is divided into Exchanges. When an Exchange begins, the player who's character is in Control gets to state a fact about the fight and why it gives them the advantage over their enemy. The character not in Control must attempt Gambles until they overcome this, which ends the Exchange.
EG: Bob might state "My spear easily out-reaches your sword, meaning you can't get close enough to hurt me while I can attack you with impunity".

The Gamble:
To make a Gamble, the player not in Control states what their character does, and how it will overcome their enemy's advantage.
EG: Alice might state "I'm going to feint to one side and dash past your spear-tip, so I'm in sword's-reach of you and too close to easily attack with your spear."
To resolve the gambit, roll a d10. The base chance of success is 5-in-10. Circumstances may modify that base chance, but it can't get worse than 1-in-10 or better than 9-in-10.
The chance is 1 better for each of the following:
-The  gamble is totally unexpected.
-The gamble takes advantage of the enemy's weaknesses.
-The gamble leverages one of the character's strengths.
-The gamble uses the environment to its advantage.
-The gamble turns the apparent strengths of the enemy's technique against them.
The chance is 1 worse for each of the following:
-The gamble was easily predictable.
-The enemy has taken counter-measures against this sort of attack.
-They've used a similar gamble already.
-The gamble is hindered by environmental factors.
-The gamble is unusually risky.
It's a judgement call which of these apply, of course.
If a gamble won't realistically be able to overcome the character in control's advantages, it can't be attempted at all.

If a Gamble Fails:
The exchange continues. The player in control gets to state another fact about the fight, and the subsequent gambles must overcome that advantage too. Further, the winning-o-meter shifts one point in favour of the player still in control.
EG: the gamble fails, so the winning-o-meter shifts from 0 to +1, and bob is 1 step closer to winning when it reaches +3. Bob then states a new fact: "not only do I have a reach advantage, but you've been knocked to the floor."

If a Gamble Succeeds:
That exchange ends. Control flips to the player whose gamble just succeeded, and the winning-o-meter shifts one point in their favour.
The facts established for the exchange so far are negated by the successful gamble, and the player newly in control starts a new exchange, stating a fact of their own and why it gives them the advantage.
EG: the gamble succeeds, so that Alice gains control, and the winning-o-meter shifts one point in her favour, from 0 to -1, bringing her one step closer to victory. A new exchange begins, and Alice states her advantage: "From my diving attack along the ground, I've cut your hamstring, hugely reducing your ability to maneuver or even stand properly".

Winning:
The fight is over when the winning-o-meter reaches +3 or -3.

Escaping:
The player in control can, rather than stating a fact about the fight to give them an advantage, state that they've safely withdrawn from the fight.

Adjusting the Winning-O-Meter.
You can make a fight shorter and more brutal by making the winning-o-meter range from -2 to +2. Likewise a fight can be made longer and more complex by extending it to perhaps -5 to +5 or even more.
A particularly one-sided fight, perhaps where one fighter is much stronger than the other, or an ambush, might be asymmetric. Perhaps it ranges from -2 to +4, giving one side far less room to fail and the other much more wiggle-room.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Class - Amazon Pairs

The Amazons are not quite a culture, and not quite a cult. It is perhaps more accurate to term them a social phenomenon. 


This is how it goes down:

Two women find one another. They form a bond, one they've never really felt before, and they realise the world has no place for them. That they will be torn apart by cruel and impersonal forces, forces that care more about preserving the social order than the happiness of anybody within it.
At this point, things can go one of two ways. Perhaps the see the writing on the wall, and go their separate ways. And this hurts, the deep soul-ache of having a part of yourself torn away. That pain never really leaves them, but they can go on to have reasonably normal, successful lives.
The other way, though, is to refuse such a fate. To fight back, rip down those forces that would keep them apart. The furious, stubborn struggle merely to be together takes its toll, of course. The descent into desperation, defiance and violence is a rapid one. By the time they've first killed, they've become Amazons. 

There is, of course, no place for such women in polite society. Many retreat into the wilderness, to the wild places of the world. And there, they are surprised to find others like them. Entire communities of similar women, the products of love and mayhem. Bandits, raiders and - at times - war-parties, plaguing the civilised world, exulting in wine, women, havoc and ruin.

They see the civilised world for what it is; a decaying, diseased hulk, a thing of filth and pain that traps those within in lives of toil, misery, and spite. They know, from bitter experience, that the world of men is ready to die, and deserves it. When it dies, they say, a new society will be reborn from the blood and ashes. It's birth might be painful, but - the Amazons say - the new world they usher in will be better than the current rotting carcass of a culture.

Their numbers are growing. They venture into civilised lands sometimes, as mercenaries or spies. They ally with the Corpse Dolls and the Wounded Daughters. Year upon year, they encroach on civilised lands more, draw more women to their cause, tear down more of the world that hurt them.


Mechanics:
Amazons always come in pairs; one Shield-Bearer and one Spear-Bearer. If you're going to play as Amazons, a player has to play one of each; you can't have only one or the other, they have to come as a pair. Work out who plays which.

XP: As a Magic-user.
Hit Dice: D6
To Hit: As a Fighter
Saves: As a Fighter
Alignment: If your game uses alignment, Amazons are always Chaotic.
Equipment: If your game has equipment restrictions, Amazons work like Fighters. The Shield-Bearer, however, can only use one-handed weapons and the Spear-Bearer cannot use a shield at all.

The Bond: 
An Amazon always instinctively knows roughly where her partner is in relation to her, the state of her health, her mood, and any supernatural effects on her.
An Amazon carrying her partner over her shoulder is not encumbered or weighed down at all by doing so.
When the pair fall asleep together, their pain is shared. They can transfer as many HP as they want from one to the other; one Amazon loses some HP, and her partner heals by that many. Any other time spent in close intimate contact - sex, hiding together in a tight spot, etc - is likewise a chance to transfer HP in this way.
An Amazon cannot heal lost HP at all if her partner is not present. Natural healing doesn't kick in, and healing magic does nothing. This is a bit of a problem if they're temporarily separated on an adventure, and really fucking sucks if one of them dies.

Vandalism:
An Amazon has a 3-in-6 chance to destroy anything built by the society of men, if she puts her mind to it. She might smash down doors, snap manacles, or even ruin magical items with her bare hands.
An Amazon takes no damage, ever, from a fire she or her partner set, although things like buildings collapsing on top of her might still be a problem.

Terror and Rage:
If an Amazon kills a member of civilised society, she can choose to make it brutal and gruesome, and make an example of her victim. If she does so, that victim's allies must make an immediate morale check, with a penalty equal to the Amazon's level. 

The Shield-Bearer in Combat: 
The Shield-Bearer gets an additional +1 AC if she's using a shield. This increases to +3 if she's fighting in front of her Spear-Bearer. If she chooses to forgo her attack for the round, concentrating on fighting defensively while her Spear-Bearer is present, this increases further to +5.
She can intercept attacks that would target her Spear-Bearer; it rolls to hit against her instead of against the Spear-bearer, and if it does, she takes the consequences. Each round, she can intercept as many attacks as her level.

The Spear-Bearer in Combat: 
The Spear-Bearer gets an additional +1 to hit with a spear. This increases to +3 if she's fighting from behind her Shield-bearer, or +5 if she does so in a round where the Shield-Bearer forgoes attacking to fight defensively.
When her Shield-Bearer is attacked, she can make a free attack against whoever made that attack if they're within stabbing-range. Each round, she can make as many extra attacks like this as her level.

Wilderness Skills: 
If both Amazons search, each day they can scavenge up enough food to feed both of them while in the wilderness. Likewise, given time, they can construct a functional shelter for the pair of them in the wilderness, using their equipment and scavenged materials, without needing a bedroll or tent.


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

On bleed, pain and self-inserts


I'm going to start this ramble out with a bold statement: When I'm roleplaying, I want you to hurt me ooc.



All of the most rewarding and cathartic experiences I've had with RPGs (live and at the tabletop), have been painful. That's not a negative thing, it's an experience I actively seek out.
I think a lot of people tend to lean towards RPGs as light, unchallenging escapism, and try to avoid grappling with anything painful. That's fine if it's what you're into, don't get me wrong. There's a place for it, and if that's what your tastes align with, more power to you. It's an approach that's well catered towards. However, the ubiquity of this take makes its opposite - more difficult, personal games - less discussed and less understood.

When I'm roleplaying, I find it rewarding to engage with things that are personal to me, things that have hurt me in real life. Examples include abuse, mental illness, crises of faith, homophobia & transphobia, suicide, gaslighting, sexual uncertainty, poverty, bereavement & grief, toxic relationships, trauma, crime, sexual violence. That stuff is raw and real for me because, at some point in my life, I've had to deal with it. Maybe personally, maybe somebody I'm close to had it happen and I was there picking up the pieces. 
Engaging with it in the context of roleplaying games lets me explore it, probe at it and my reactions to it, re-experience it in a safe, controlled space. It's valuable. I've learned things about myself by exploring this stuff through the medium of roleplaying. I genuinely would not be the person I am today without those experiences.
The interactivity is important; it lets you probe at the stuff that's rewarding to you, avoid the stuff that's too much, control how you interact with it. It's empowering. And the fact that your PC is an avatar of yourself is likewise important; it makes it immediate and personal to you.


With this stuff, I find that I know exactly where my limit is, where the line is that, if we go there, it goes from dark and interesting to traumatising. And, in all honesty, I push up against that limit. I want to get as close to that line as I safely can, without tipping over it.
I don't think that's unusual, actually. I think a desire to see how close we can get to our emotional limits is pretty common. You see it in people who enjoy horror films. You certainly see it in people who enjoy kink, particularly on the more submissive/masochistic side. It's the same dynamic at play. Experiencing something in theory painful, in a way that's controlled and safe, is something a lot of people seek out.




When we make PCs - the ones that aren't merely throwaways who die five minutes into the dungeon at least - we invest a bit of ourselves into them. Their traits are our traits. 
Now, that isn't to say that each of them is a copy of us identically. We take a particular trait that we find interesting, or want to explore, and isolate it. Or a combination of a few. And maybe we heighten those traits beyond how they are in us naturally, or we distort them. 
Each of our characters is a shard of ourselves, pulled out and laid bare on the game table.
Why do you think it hurts us when they suffer and fail and die? Because that's us - a bit of us, anyway - merely seen through the lens of fiction. But we empathise with their fictional suffering, in a way that we don't when we watch TV or read a book or even play video games, because in a very real way, that's ourselves we're watching suffer.

The number of people I know who worked out they were trans because of RPGs, or who have - while that egg was still cracking and they were still in there, struggling to emerge - used RPGs to explore gender stuff in a safe, controlled medium before they were able to come out publicly. It's a lot of people. I was one of them, for a bit.


The boundary between our characters and ourselves is porous. What they feel, we feel, if perhaps half a step removed. When my PCs are frightened, I feel my heartrate rise.When my PCs fall in love, I feel the same warm glow inside me, just muted slightly. We share in their elation and their despair. 
This is, to me at least, something I'm really looking for in RPGs. Experiences that push those buttons and make me feel things. Good things, maybe, but not necessarily. Pain can be as rewarding as fun. Indeed, I find the intensity of painful experiences hard to replicate with more positive ones. (This is, perhaps, mirrored in my desire to get dommed in the bedroom; pain is just as desirable as pleasure in that context, too.)

This is what Bleed is; when the barrier between ourselves and our characters becomes particularly thin, and we feel what our characters feel almost directly. This gets spoken about in larp circles, often in the context of more negative emotions, particularly in terms of how to mitigate it and counteract it. However, I love bleed. I love being made to feel alive. I want to ride as close to my limit as I can.

All of this stuff about pain and trauma and fragments of ourselves isn't necessarily conscious. Often, it's only in hindsight that I'll realise just how reflective of my own mental state a given PC was, and how events reflected issues I was dealing with. But we all do it, to a greater or lesser extent.



This stuff is difficult on a practical level. It requires a lot of trust with the people you're roleplaying with. I've got a lot of friends I RP with, and a much smaller subset that I feel comfortable diving into this stuff with. Often, these things are very intimate one-on-one scenes. I had a twitter thread here that was kind of an actual-play of one such one-on-one scene.
And, it should go with out saying, if you're doing this stuff, you need to be communicating with the other participants, you need to have safety tools in play so everybody knows where the limit is and can correct course if things are gonna actually go past it.
But if you can get those ducks in a row, there's nothing like it.
RPGs as a medium can do some truly amazing things. They can let us explore ourselves, learn about ourselves, revisit past traumas in an empowered space. I love this medium, and what it can create, and what it can do for people.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Haunt / Hearts - A Mini RPG


Here's a little game that's been on the back of my mind, that I'm going to try to put into writing. It's about ghosts, queerness and loneliness. It's one of my first forays into a more experimental, diceless style of play; perhaps you might even call it a storygame. This is a first draft; I might tidy it up and publish it.
Loosely inspired by these comics.




Art by sarah carapace who is excellent





Our mortal protagonist, Jenny, has moved into a new flat in east London. Little does she know the flat was not empty when she moved in; the other resident is the little ghost Agatha, the painful remnant of a former resident who died in unfortunate circumstances. Can our protagonists learn to live with one another? Can they resolve the ghost's issues? Can a deeper relationship develop? Maybe even... romance? Play to find out.



The main cast:
There are two players. Decide between you who plays Jenny and who plays Agetha.



Jenny
Aged 24, having just left university with a bachelors in history. Currently working stacking shelves at the local supermarket. She's working on a manuscript for a book about queer life in the years leading up to the second world war, although finishing it, let alone publishing it, is a pipe-dream. She doesn't really have many friends locally, and only a few online. Her days are a blur, with little meaning to them. She's lonely.
Health problems - a congenital heart condition - have forced her to take less hours at work, meaning she gets paid less, meaning she's had to find a cheaper place to live. That's why she went for this flat; it's far cheaper than you'd expect. Apparently all the previous tennants have moved out in a hurry, citing all manner of reasons that have (apparently) had little basis in truth. 
Her health is getting slowly worse over time. She's hoping it will level out soon, she needs her independence. She can't afford a carer, and while her family can pay for one (or just look after her), re-initiating contact with them means getting constantly misgendered by people who never really accepted her in the first place, so it's hardly an option. 



Agatha
Agatha is dead. She's been dead since 1940, and she's stayed here the whole while.
She died aged 23. Her older brother caught her engaged in 'inappropriate' activity with another girl, confronted her about it when she got home. The confrontation turned into an argument, she shoved him, he shoved back, she toppled down the stairs and when she landed, her neck was bent at an angle it shouldn't be, and she wasn't moving.
Her brother stashed her body in the space between ceiling and attic-boards, and left her there to desiccate and crumble. Told the family she never came home, and it was, eventually, assumed she'd died in an air-raid.
In life, Agatha was a timid, shy thing, scared to open up to others, scared to be truly recognised. Since her death, her fear has given way to loneliness and bitterness. She's furious at the world, furious at herself, needing a connection to somebody, anybody, but unable to achieve it without driving people away.
For now, she's a lingering presence in the building, able to observe freely but struggling to manifest herself. Unlike the previous people to move into her haunt, she likes Jenny.





Supporting cast:
Nobody plays these characters exclusively as their main character. Normally, Jenny's player will take suggestions from Agatha's player and decide based off that what the supporting characters do. Agatha's player can, however, control them instead, particularly in scenes where Agatha isn't active or present. Who controls a supporting character is fluid and flexible, varying from scene to scene and moment to moment as you each have ideas for them.

Dennis
Jenny's father. He's an asshole. He thinks that no deal Brexit is what the people voted for, that this gender nonsense has gone too far, and that his kids should shut the hell up and respect him. Owns a carpet store, which he hasn't set foot in in twenty years. An upstanding member of society, allegedly.

Francine
Francine's a doctor at the local clinic. Overworked, underpaid, stressed. Frustrated by the lack of time to give things the attention and detail they deserve. Jenny is one of her more regular patients, both for blood tests and her recently-emerging heart problems. She's good at endochrinology, bad at mental health stuff.

Kyle
Jenny's landlord. Doesn't really give a shit anymore; he manages thirty properties, and this is the only one with any persistent problems. His response is to ignore it, accept the place is a bad asset, and rent it out cheaply to whoever will have it for however long they'll put up with it. He's used to fast-talking his way out of conflicts, and not having real problems. He's doing alright for himself.

Joanne
Jenny's boss at work. Mid thirties. Hates her dead-end middle-management job, her stagnant life, her useless employees. Drinks more than she should. Has been drinking far more than she should since separating from her girlfriend six weeks ago. Cares less than she should. Used to be a good person, maybe she could be again. 

Harriet
Harriet is 95, living in a nearby retirement home. Her lover died in the blitz, and in the years following that, she settled down, got married, had a family. Her husband was an asshole, but he's dead now. Her kids don't visit her. She often thinks back to her first love in 1940, and wonders what could have been.

Arthur
Agatha's brother. He died in the blitz not long after Agatha did. He regrets what happened, but not enough to admit it to anybody. He died guilty, and now haunts the place of his death, which has subsequently become a grotty petrol station; it would probably be less grotty if it wasn't haunted.

Other Supporting Characters
Feel free to introduce other characters to your game, whoever might be relevant to the story. Work out who they are, how they related to the main characters, what drives them, what the possible conflicts are.





The Flat
What was once Agatha's house has been divided into three flats; Jenny has moved into the top floor, the one Agatha herself pays most attention to. There's a shared stairwell between the flats - the same stairs Agatha was pushed down - and a shared hallway with letter-boxes, and electricity and gas meters.
The flat itself is seemingly clean and neat when Jenny moves in. A bedroom and a living room. A well-equipped kitchen with an old gas cooker and a modern (and slightly shit) fridge, washing machine, freezer, dishwasher. A bathroom with an old bathtub, newly installed shower over it, a medicine cabinet where Jenny stores her titty skittles. It came unfurnished, and Jenny doesn't own much furniture, so for now she's making do with a camp-bed in her bedroom, and a cheap desk and swivel-chair with her computer on it. A few items from her time at university are scattered about, but absolutely nothing from her childhood. Most of her minimalist possessions are still in boxes in the living-room, unpacked until she needs them.

Jenny's bedroom used to be Agatha's bedroom. On the skirting-board, there's a little carving of Agatha's name that she made as a teenager, under a loose floor-board there's a handful of scandalous pulp lesbian romance novels Agatha stashed there, which nobody has since found.
There's an area five feet long and a foot wide in the kitchen, where black mold seems to form regardless of what measures are taken. Everybody scrubs it away before it gets too bad, but if left to develop, it will form the silhouette of a woman's body, curled in the fetal position, stashed between the ceiling and floorboards above.

In the public stairwell, there's a hatch leading to the attic above. It's not even locked shut. The landlord has stored some leftover lino and wallpaper here, but really nobody goes up here; the place gives people the creeps.



Game Mechanics

The game is divided into scenes. In each scene, Jenny's player begins by describing what she's doing, narrating her actions and what's going on around her. Agatha's player doesn't get to control the narration here, but she can ask questions, offer prompts and suggestions. She serves, initially, as a sounding board for Jenny's player to narrate the scene.
Agatha is, diegetically, present and observing. Although she cannot normally communicate with Jenny, her player can still offer Agatha's thoughts and observations as a running commentary. She can, however, manifest herself if she wishes, and expends the effort to do so, as detailed below.
Whilst normally Agatha's player doesn't control the narration, she can - if Agatha isn't really around - take control of a supporting character for the scene. 
Likewise, it's possible to have scenes which Jenny isn't around for, but Agatha is; here, Jenny's player would control any supporting characters, and Agatha can respond as normal.


Agatha's player has a pool of Emotion Points; in games in person, you can represent these with physical tokens, online keep track of them in a text chat.
There are five emotions Agatha has access to:
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Love
  • Pain
  • Loneliness 
Agatha begins with one point each of Pain and Loneliness.
When Jenny openly expresses one of these emotions - either to herself, to Agatha, or to some other supporting character - then Agatha gets a point of the relevant emotion. It's Jenny's player's responsibility to keep track of when this happens, and dole out Emotion Points as appropriate, although, of course, she should listen to Agetha's Player's input.


Agatha's player can use her Emotion Points to Manifest.

When she Manifests, pick an Emotion she's manifesting and spend a Point of it. Direct supernatural events occur exactly as Agatha wishes, totally under her control. Agatha's player can narrate these how she likes. However, the supernatural events in question must reflect the emotion being manifested; Agatha cannot spend Loneliness to smash a picture-frame of somebody she's mad at, or spend Anger to make Jenny feel the sensation of being held affectionately. 
Possible Manifestations include strange noises, alterations to what the TV is showing, physical sensations, glimpsed images, objects moving by themselves, electrical items malfunctioning or functioning oddly, and other poltergeisty activity.

Once Agatha has spend an Emotion Point to Manifest, she can continue to Manifest that emotion for the rest of the scene; if she spends a Point of a different Emotion, she shifts to manifesting that one instead.
In order to speak audible words without a source, she must spend two points of a relevant emotion, not one. In order to show her visual appearance, she must spend three points of a relevant emotion, not one. In order to create a brief physical body out of nothing, she must spend five points of a relevant emotion, not one.



Framing scenes
In each scene, discuss between you what you want out of it, what you want to explore. Ask yourself where the conflict is: is it between Jenny and Agatha? Between Jenny and the external world, and the supporting characters in it? Between Jenny and her own weaknesses and traumas? Between Agatha and her own weaknesses and traumas?
Once this is decided, work out the specifics. Where and when it takes place, what Jenny is doing, who else (if anybody) is present, either in person, or on the phone or internet. Once the scene is set, Jenny's player can begin narrating, bouncing off the suggestions and questions offered by Agatha's player, until Agatha has sufficient Emotion Points, and the desire, to interact with the scene more directly.


Scenes can be influenced by previous ones, drawing from their events and outcomes to create new conflicts. After one scene ends, take a little breather, discuss between you both how it went, and then work out what you'd like to play through next.
There's no set point where the game ends. You can play through as many scenes as you want - maybe in a single session, maybe spread out over time - until the emergent story reaches a natural conclusion. That conclusion will vary from game to game; maybe Jenny doesn't cope with being haunted, and moves out. Maybe Jenny's heart problems get too serious, and she dies - and maybe, if she does, her ghost lingers with Agatha's. Maybe Agatha gets a proper funeral and can finally rest. Maybe the two protagonists fall in love, and settle down together. When the game ends, and if you consider that ending happy or sad, is down to you.




During scenes
When deciding what happens in a scene, there are a few priorities to consider. Does the new element reveal something about the main characters? Does it reflect or symbolise the conflict for the scene? Does it reflect or symbolise the deeper feelings and motivations of the characters? Does it create or advance a conflict that will be interesting (IE uncertain and rewarding) to resolve? All of these factors are positives. It is also worth trying to keep your actions consistent with your characters as established so far, both in their briefs and in previous scenes, and making changes and developments to their personalities flow naturally from what they've experienced.
Where the outcome of a conflict between characters is in doubt, ask yourselves what the most interesting outcome would be, what the most likely outcome would be, and what the most desirable outcome would be. Weigh these factors up, and decide by mutual agreement what ends up happening.




What Jenny Initially Wants:
  • To feel safe.
  • To be free from her past and her family.
  • To be accepted.
  • To be loved.

What Agatha Initially Wants:
  • To have people know what happened to her.
  • To have a proper funeral.
  • To be accepted.
  • To be loved.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Sex in TTRPGs

SEX
Now that I've got your attention...

...nah. This actually is about sex. Here's some thoughts on how I've handled sex in RPGs, and how GMs have handled it, and why it's fun. This is all based on my own experiences, maybe yours are very different.


First up: What the fuck? 
"Cavegirl," I hear you ask, "isn't putting sex into RPGs really weird and awkward and a bit creepy?"
To which I reply, no. Not unless you make it weird, awkward or creepy. If everybody's on the same page and wants to engage with it as a topic, it needn't be any of those things.
Obviously, this is gonna vary by group. A lot of groups aren't gonna want to go down this route, and if they don't, that's fine!
It's something that comes up a decent amount in games I run and play, and by and large people that are new to the idea, and sometimes even a little nervous about getting into this sort of thing, tend to get into the swing of it really easily once they're confident nobody else in the game is going to make it weird. There's a lot of judgement and unfortunate stereotypes around sex in RPGs, and once you've demonstrated that that stuff isn't a factor in your own game, those hangups melt away.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


So. With that done: Why? What's the appeal?

Look. I read a lot of romance fiction, and a lot of fiction that sits right on that border between romance and erotica. I like love stories, and... I mean, lots of love stories have people fuck. That's a thing people do when they're in love (or, like, bored or horny or insecure or...). I don't think it's a big deal; I'm an adult, you know?
It's really easy to limit RPGs to a fairly small set of stories; ones that are about danger and fighting and action. But that doesn't need to be the case, I've used RPGs to explore all sort of themes; I have a habit of building very religious characters and RPing through crisis-es of faith, for example.

RPGs are, by their nature, an immersive experience. I like using them to explore characters, which means digging into a PCs emotions and personality, working out what makes them tick and how they respond to different situations. I like putting my PCs in difficult situations, roleplaying intense emotions, doing angst.
So, romance falls into that. How two characters relate to one another in a romantic context can unlock all sorts of big dramatic emotional states, cause all sorts of trauma and euphoria and heartbreak. Plus, like, I'm a sucker for love stories in general, and I like playing through love stories in character. Sometimes they're heartwarming. Sometimes they're fucked up and toxic. Sometimes, they're just tragic. Sometimes, they're all three.
Sex scenes are kinda just a natural culmination of that. 
To take it further, I think sex scenes can be uniquely good for exploring some stuff. Sex is, by its nature, disarmingly intimate. You make yourself vulnerable and expose yourself to your partner. So, in the context of RPGs, that vulnerability (coupled with the fact that its a pretty intense experience) lets you expose aspects of a character that might be hidden or flying under the radar the rest of the time.

Let me use an example. In a recent game, I'm playing Saint Anna, a dead martyr who's corpse miraculously stood back up again and carried right on preaching. She's a sweet, sincere, self-sacrificing sort of girl. She's also worried that, because she's undead now, she's going to end up as a cannibalistic monster like the ones she's heard about. That worry is being mostly repressed, and its emerging as guilty urges. She wants to bite into people, to tear flesh out with her teeth, to taste blood and viscera. And the more she tries to ignore those urges, the stronger it gets.
So, recently, she hooks up with a friend. Ends up fucking, like you do. And it's odd, because a lot of the biological processes of 'being horny' don't really work for a zombie-girl, but on an emotional level she still wants that intimacy. So this gets mixed up with those hungry-zombie urges above, and she gets this overwhelming desire to bite her partner, to wrap her lips around her, sink her teeth into sensitive skin.
She's hungry and it comes through in how they kiss, and what comes next. So they fuck, and it's a bit bitey before Anna goes down on her partner, and kind of works through those hungers, channels it into a desire to taste her. And the human connection helps - for a while, at least - to assuage those fears that she's a monster, and accept that she's still the same person she always was.
She comes out the other end much more secure and stable, better able to cope with her new undead state. It's kinda heartwarming if you ignore the necrophilia.

Could I have explored this stuff outside of the context of sex? Sure. But sex provided a good catalyst for it, let me probe angles that I wouldn't have been able to outside of that context. And the other PC had her own stuff going on that came through in the scene, resulting in a wonderful complex entanglement of feelings. It was a good scene.

I dunno. I enjoy this stuff. It feels kind of stupid that I have to justify putting it in RPGs. We put violence and gore and horror in RPGs, and nobody feels like they have to justify including fight scenes. And, personally, I find playing through a sex scene far more interesting than another interminable fight.



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Next up: How?
Like, how does this actually play out at the table, how can you do this healthily? 

The social demographics of the group matter a lot, I think. I have found that all of the following factors tend to make a group more comfortable engaging with sexuality in games:
  • People who are happy being very open about sexuality ooc.
  • People who know one another fairly well.
You probably need one or both of those. I wouldn't get my rpg slut on with total strangers, nor with people who were significantly less open about this stuff than me. Personally, I've found that the higher the proportion of queer people in the group, the better for this sort of thing, although I'm not sure why. Maybe the cishets are having wonderful smutty fun in their own games and I'm just not invited.

On that note, you want to be really fucking careful with the OOC power dynamics at play. 
I shouldn't need to say it, but there are plenty of shitty predatory men who'll use this sort of situation to harass or manipulate women, using the game as an excuse. Work out if any of your potential players are like that, and kick them out. Do this even in games not involving sex, because you don't want to be around people like that. 
But even when there's not a deliberate predator in the mix, power dynamics can get icky. Where one of the players involved is a guy, and the other a girl... look, we live in a sexist society with expectations for men to be sexually pushy and women not to give a firm no. The dynamic can be perfectly healthy, but keep an eye on it just in case. The same goes for other differentials in social power and privilege. Older & younger players, experienced with this stuff & new to it, GM & player, whatever. Be mindful of the situation, check in, make sure everybody's OK and nobody's being pressured into stuff they'd not be comfortable with.

Seriously. Sexuality is messy and intense and personal. Fucking check in with people before and after (and during, if it's not brief). Your fellow players' emotional wellbeing is more important than 'not interrupting the scene'.
In one of the games I'm in, we've got into the habit of using traffic lights to check in sporadically through the scene (not just sex, but anything that gets dark or intense). Just a quick "Everything green?" "Yeah, all green, let's get nasty." It doesn't really interrupt the roleplay, anymore than pausing for a moment to roll dice and apply the result does.  

By and large, the further detached the medium is, the more comfortable people will be delving into sexual stuff. People will do stuff in a tabletop game they won't do in a larp. They might do stuff in a game over voice-chat that they would get embarrassed about in face-to-face games. And, believe me, they can sometimes go all-in in text-based/play-by-post games.
Seriously. Absolutely filthy. It's great! Here's a post of mine quoted from a text-based game I'm in:
Ash leans in, kisses Hina, and then... ah, the pressure, the feeling of being so close and tightly held is enough to push her over the edge, and as she lets the climax claim her her moans turn to breathless gasping 
"Oh... oh fuck... ah... please more, Ab-"
No. She catches herself in time, corrects it before she blurts out the wrong name. Focuses on her flesh-and-blood partner.
"Hina, don't stop, please... ohh..."
And then unintelligible noises as the sensation washes over her.
So, yeah. Pretty fucking explicit. That scene in particular was really fun to roleplay through, there's some more discussion about it here. And it was little moments like that, such as Ash nearly calling out the wrong name at the crucial moment, that really made it worth it. Stuff that you might only get if you play through the sex scene frame-by-frame.

But this is one extreme of the sliding-scale of graphic-ness. At the other end, you've just got "...and then they fuck, right?" "Right." "Cool, moving on..." and if that's all you're into, that's fine.

Mostly, though, I find it's somewhere between the two. You'll discuss the broad details of how it goes down, who's taking what role, what the general dynamic is like. 
A (paraphrased) example from a Dungeon Bitches game I ran recently:
"So, I figure she'd push Mags up against a tree, right? As much to prop her up as kinda a domme thing. And because Margaret is kinda delicate, she's going to be really gentle at first, at least until she knows what's OK."
"Yeah, that makes sense. But I think as she gets into it Margaret is going to be getting rougher, like her body's working on its own. Her sex-move says its a bit rough and intense, so I think she'll get really into it and kind of move like she's not actually ill." 
"Oh, that makes sense. My sex move basically just says I'm good at it, lol." 
"Right, so. They fuck. And then once they're done, Mags is gonna fall asleep without bothering to get dressed again."
 Like you skip over the graphic details, but get a general picture of what happened.

Really, the key is to work out what your group are comfortable with before you go in, and then once you're engaged with this stuff keep an OOC dialogue going so everybody's on the same page wrt things like graphicness, nastiness, ooc intimacy, all of that stuff.
You need to communicate well. You need to treat the topic maturely. But if you do, it's well worth it, in my experience.












Sunday, 26 April 2020

Dungeon Bitches Playtesting!

OK so. I ran a playtest. There were some issues but it mostly worked.
(content notes for miscarriage, violence against women, sex while drunk, homophobia, body horror, mental illness, vomit... look just assume that it's gonna get nasty, OK?)
Also I was a little bit drunk while running this, and it was a couple of days ago, so my recollections might be slightly innacurate. It still gives an accurate impression, though, I think.
First, have some more of Sarah's concept art: the first is our Banshee for the session, the second a fairly typical Spider.




So, who were our PCs for the session? We have:


"Daughter", a Wounded Daughter. A kidnapping-victim of the town's fucked up burgomeister, who likes taking girl's teeth out with pliars (and also killing them). Escaped, and tore off her own skin to assume a new identity. Has been sleeping rough for a few months since, went kinda feral, has forgotten how 'people's names' work (hence being called "daughter").
Bellamy, an Amazon. Given as an indentured servant, along with her sister, to the local Viscount (who was a total shitbag). Her sister was a serving-girl, Bellamy a guard. Shit went south, the Viscount got handsy with the sister and sent Bellamy to die a soldier's death fighting monsters when she objected to her sister being concubined. Bellamy, however, survived (sans an arm and some sanity, and with more scars and weapons), was rescued by St Margaret (see below), and returned - now thoroughly pissed off - with the intent of rescuing her sister from unwanted marriage. Her sister, not recognising Bell and thinking the monstrous-looking bitch who busted through the window was a dangerous intruder, bit off her tongue in fear, and Bell was driven off. She doesn't know what's happened to her sister, and is on the run. A big brutal big-sister.
Cecelia, a Lantern Girl. A good, pious girl who used to work around the church. Fell in love with her best friend, and - upon confessing to her - got brutally outed and thoroughly shunned by everybody in her life. Was living with her parents, who were slowly gearing up to go full conversion therepy/exorcism on their 'gay failure of a daughter', before she met some other bitches and ran away with them in the night, stealing anything useful she could from her parents home on the way out. Young, naive, virginal and scared of fucking everything.
Deidre, a Lilim. (We hacked the Spider class back to being more demonic, to avoid arachnophobia issues). Got summoned by the Viscount's sorcery-practicing spymaster, and nearly enslaved. Rescued through sheer coincidence by St Margeret accidentally summoning her. Posh, likes the finer things in life, the only one taking care of her appearance.
And  St Margaret, a Banshee. Originally offered as a sacrifice to the lich The Decayed Mother (who dwells in a dungeon outside town), she was somehow not suitable as a sacrifice, and the she-lich gave St Margaret back to the cult, to raise as their own kid. It went... better than expected. Something was clearly wrong, though. She left home, got married and tried to have a kid. The kid was stillborn. In her grief, her locked-away supernatural power ignited properly, and she burned her home down (killing her husband) in a moment of emotional anguish. Since then, her supernatural power has been slowly consuming her, she's been getting steadily less healthy as time goes by, and steadily less rational.


So.
The session begins with our girls camped in a little cave outside town. They realise winter is coming, they're low on supplies, and they need cash. A plan is hatched: sneak into town, steal some dungeoneering supplies, and then hit up a local dungeon - The Thirteen Chambers Of Castigation - for loot.
St Margaret suggests that she has a contact in town, an urchin named Corkscrew who's part of a street-gang, who might be able to help. So the gang sneak into town, and find Corkscrew, and a few of her gang, drinking under a bridge together. While Daughter and Bellamy stand guard a little way away, Cecelia and St Margaret (and soon Deidre) have a little chat with the girl-gang about getting supplies. Corkscrew is convinced they're all gonna die, but suggests that they should talk to her boss, who can sort them out with what they need. 
To work out what they want, St Margret attempts to Commune With Strange Powers, which she does by vomiting up blood and interpreting how the blood-puddle lands. She is effectively doing haruspexy on herself. What she sees is a jumbled mess of imagery; human-animal hybrids, lots of corpses, and looming behind it all, The Decayed Mother - an ancient she-lich who seems to be the biggest power of the dungeon.
So, across town they go. At the back of the local inn, they're met by The Old Boss, an elderly woman running the criminal underworld in town, who invites them in to discuss business. 
First order of business is absinthe, as a mark of mutual trust. Some of our PCs totally fail the proper etiquette and preparation, but everybody becomes mildly tipsy and negotiations begin. The Old Boss listens to their plan, and says she can get them a couple of crates of dungeon-exploring kit, no problem. But, she has a Price. 
The town's spymaster is proving a problem. The Old Boss wants him dead. Unfortunately, the hit-men she's sent have failed; the boss is protected by bound devils, who render him impervious to mortal weapons. The Old Boss wants the party to recover some sort of magic weapon that can kill the spymaster, and either hand it over, or use it to kill him. If they don't, she politely reminds them that the Bitches are not immune to mortal weapons, and she has a lot of spies and a lot of hitmen. Anyway, their stuff will be ready in a few hours.

So, they go back under the bridge to drink more heavily. One of the urchins begins flirting with Cecelia, which escalates to a fumbling first kiss for the lantern girl, which then triggers her 'sixth sense' move, since she's this is moving pretty fast for her. She gets a snapshot vision of the future: the urchin isn't in fact trying to seduce and rob her, and is merely horny, and her fellow bitches are all basically hanging back and being encouraging. So, whilst the rest of the team head off to collect the goods, Cecelia stays behind, and gets laid for the first time. It's weirdly heartwarming for anonymous drunken outdoors-sex. (Only later did Cecelia realise that this was a "you are probably going to die and it wouldn't do to let you die a virgin" fuck).

The group are returning home with their goods, when they attract the attention of the town guards, manning the walls against intruders in the night. As a distraction, Deidre wanders over and plays up the 'poor lost waif all alone late at night' thing, and rolls to Flirt with them. It works, and the guards decide that it would be much better to get this waif to a warm inn (and then go drinking) than to stand around in the cold all night; as a happy coincidence, neither of them are assholes, and their intentions are in fact entirely pure! So Deidre goes drinking with the guards, and as they drink, learns that one of them has a child who's gone missing, and is distraught about it. The other guard is convinced it's our asshole burgermeister (the same one who kidnapped "Daughter") responsible, but is powerless to do anything against a politically powerful citizen. Deidre commiserates, and then sneaks off to rejoin her buddies back at camp.

Back at camp, "Daughter" is horribly drunk, and has decided to make 'art' on the cave wall by scratching it in with her fingernails. She doesn't really seem to feel pain anymore, and doesn't notice - or possibly doesn't care - that her fingers are bleeding. Bellamy tries to talk her out of this, (since "Daughter" has already wracked up some hurt by drinking until she's sick, and now her fingertips are being ripped to shreds), which turns into a bickering argument until "Daughter" is finally physically pulled away from the cave wall.


Meanwhile, Deidre and St Margaret have a little chat about the spymaster. They conclude that the bound devils are the same sort of being as Deidre is, and if they can summon said devils, they can be removed from the spymaster's service, thereby rendering him vulnerable again. A plan is hatched; St Margaret will Commune With Strange Powers to learn the names of the devils in question, and would fail the roll, but she uses her move Burn to take Hurt for plusses to the roll, and another bitch (I believe Deidre but my memory is hazy) spends a bond to support her, tipping her over to success. Her consciousness snaps out of her body, and she finds herself - as if in a dream - viewing the Decayed Mother from above. The she-lich is compiling a list of enemy assets that need to be removed, writing down the true names of devils in the spy-master's service. St Margaret reads out what she's seeing, and Deidre records her gibbering, realising she is - successfully - compiling a list of True Names.
It is at this point that "Daughter" sees how badly hurt St Margaret is. "Daughter" knows she can take away St Margaret's hurt through physical intimacy, letting her take that pain on herself. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain this are kinda incoherent, both because she's absolutely wasted, and because even sober she's kind of bad at acting like a human. Her offer is made badly, an argument breaks out, and her frustration triggers St Margaret's 'Blight' move, causing dangerous supernatural weirdness to plague the target of her anger. Daughter takes some Hurt from a minor cave-in. Worse, though, is the side-effect, scrambling all the writing nearby to be illegible. Which includes the True Names of those devils that Deidre just wrote down. I'm slightly merciful, and have it shift to being in a script nobody present can read, so the information is inaccessible until they can find a translator, but not completely lost.
They go to sleep.

The next morning, they head to The Thirteen Chambers Of Castigation - the dungeon they intend to hit up - which is an hour or so from their camp, hidden in the mountains. The approach is a narrow gorge, getting progressively deeper and more shadow-filled, until they reach the gorge's end, where the dungeon's entrance looms. The archway, hewn from the living rock, is carved with the heraldry of St Cyprian, that can also be seen in the cathedral back in town.
Cecelia rolls to Reveal Truths, learning that the ancient saint supposedly built this place to lure in the sinful, and then punish them with suffering and then death. St Margaret attempts to Commune again. Belamy spends a Bond to give her a plus, holding her hair back as she vomits, and St Margaret responds by anointing Bellamy with her vomited-up blood, Simba-style. It's all a bit odd, but kinda hot. Anyway, she gets a direct vision of the Decayed Mother saying she is looking forward to meeting with St Margaret. It emerges that St Margaret was given to the she-lich to be turned into a weaponised monster as part of some greater struggle, but the girl's will to live broke partway into the process, so the lich rejected her and sent her back to mortal society. Hearing this, "Daughter" attempts to commune directly with her patron, the Wounded Mother, to see if this lich is one of her patron's children, and if she's a threat. The result is a direct message from the Wounded Mother; the Decayed Mother is one of her children, and - while she doesn't know who "Daughter" is, she would consider her an ally. 

The party ventures within. There's some room-by-room dungeon exploration, which grinds things to a halt a little and doesn't really affect the emotional stakes much. I'm gonna skip over the details. I'm looking at ways to fix this, thinking of using a Ynn-style depth-crawl rather than mapping the place room by room. The main point is the huge amount of flirt rolls that happen, building up a stock of 
But.
The party ends up in a room scattered with the bones of thousands of long-dead people, filled with a susserus of whispering voices. Some research is conducted, and the players learn that this is where the Decayed Mother dumps the corpses of her creations after they fall in battle. They also conclude that, whatever the Decayed Mother is making these monsters to fight, it's clearly much worse than the lich herself. Anyway, she lacks the ability to lay their souls safely to rest, believing that they'll be caught  further in in the sadistic punishment intended by the dungeon's creator, so she's just taken one room as her designated mass-grave and left the souls there, where they can be at least relatively safe from eternal damnation.
Cecelia considers this, and asks if - if she prays really hard - she can lay the souls to proper rest here. I figure sure, it's a Commune With Strange Powers roll, and rather than getting to ask questions on a success, she'll be able to do... something. So she rolls. Gets something fucking stupid like a 12.
I tell her she can feel two separate forces, both willing to answer the prayer. She has to pick between Punishment and Love. She picks Love. A number of souls - not all of them, but still hundreds - pass on to some sort of peaceful afterlife.
Cecelia realises that she's abandonned the last vestiges of her faith in the church, rejecting her god and his ideas of judgement and vengeance, and embracing something else and it's message of unconditional, if painful, love. She is, by any measure, considered the most horrible sort of heretic by mainstream society, the sort that gets burnt at the stake when she gets found out. This sounds, to "Daughter" at least, a lot like the Wounded Mother. Discussion and flirting happens. 
(Quote of the session goes to: "everyone's flirting in the bone room")
The group hears something large approaching from behind them, and flee deeper into the dungeon, arriving at an elaborate metal door that they bust through.

On the other side, there is the opulent sanctum of the Decayed Mother, who rises from her seat to greet them, including greeting St Margaret by name. St Margaret falls to the floor in shock. 
The Decayed Mother instructs St Margaret to stand up properly. St Margaret does so. The lich asks her how she's been finding the outside world, St Margeret responds - on the verge of tears and/or a full-on debilitating trauma flashback - that it has been shit. The lich informs her  - quite fondly - that she's going to 'fix' Margaret, and instructs her to approach so the lich can begin the process.
This is too much for her, and Margaret has to roll to Endure Pain to cope. She rolls, and the result is shit. But she spends a bond on the lich to bump her roll up, and then Bellamy takes her hand, holding it securely, and spends like 3 more Bonds, bumping the roll up to a success.
She keeps it together, for now. Tells the Decayed Mother "No, I'm fine like this". The lich responds "I see. Your friends have already fixed you. Good. Anyway, I suppose you've all been sent here to try to kill me, which is a shame."
The party explains that, no, they just need money for food, and possibly some sort of magic knife to kill a devil-enslaving bastard back in town. The lich nods, clicks her skeletal fingers, and a meal appears. Takes a moment to remove a few of her (fucking ancient) rings, and hands them to the party, suggesting that they can sell them for quite a lot of cash. Then asks about the sort of man they're going to kill. On hearing about him, decides on an appropriate end.
To test the party's resolve, she settles on Cecelia (the most normal and least murderous looking of the group), and instructs her to fetch a pet rabbit from a box on the other side of the room, on which the lich will demonstrate the weapon she intends to give them. Cecelia is doubtful, expecting a trap, and rolls to Reveal Truths by scrutinising the lich's body language. The result she gets is that the Decayed Mother is using them as pawns in a greater conflict, but has no particular ill-will towards them. So the rabbit is fetched. 
The lich takes a vial of smoking liquid, and drops a little onto the rabbit's face; the rabbit rapidly, painfully mutates into a rabbit-sized tetsuo-style mass of cancerous flesh, totally helpless. She suggests that if they splash the poison onto their victim, he'll suffer the same fate.
Lastly, she selects Deidre for some scrutiny, and asks her who she considers the most beautiful person present; Deidre promptly answers that it's Margaret (prompting a bunch more flirt rolls as the Bitches process that - I'm predicting a bellamy-margaret-deidre love triangle forming and it's great). The lich nods, and begins ripping off her own face, re-sculpting herself to resemble her broken protege. Instructs the party that they should leave.

And that's where we ended the session.

Overall impressions? There's some stuff I wanna tweak. Make XP more available. Let Commune With Strange Powers give those who hear the result XP and/or hurt the inquirer, to give it a little more oomf and distinguish it from Reveal Truths. And I think I want to make Broken a temporary, rather than permanent, condition, so players are a little less cautious about getting Hurt.
I'm also gonna totally re-do the dungeon stuff, making it a depth-crawl rather than room-by-room, so mere navigation uses up less time, and there's more focus on the actual emotional ramifications.
But, it's getting there.


Appropriately enough, today's apparently Lesbian Visibility Day. All you gay girls reading this, consider your self seen and appreciated.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Dungeon Bitches Continues Development

So it's been about three weeks since I started Dungeon Bitches as a project, and I have been writing furiously. The rough skeleton of the game can be seen in the previous two posts here and here but I've expanded it out a lot from there. I'm anticipating the book having maybe 100 pages of a4.

So, what's in those pages?
The game starts out with a brief introduction. The overall concept for the game, a rough picture of how you play PbtA games,  set of up-front content warnings.Then after that, into the base mechanics. Stats, rolling for moves, hurt, bonds, experience and what the basic moves actually are. Then how to make a character, and the ten classes.
Compared to the blogposts, classes have been expanded on somewhat. There's an extra section in character gen, in which you define a relationship with another PC (tying the party together) and with an NPC in the world (tying the party into the setting). Fairly freeform, again designed to prompt you into considering who your PC is and how she relates to people, much like the Three Questions. Each class has been bumped from a choice of 4 moves, to 6, meaning you can spend all of your advances purely on your own class's moves, getting all of them and not needing to branch out.
One concern I got a lot with the initial notes was that the selection of classes skewed strongly towards the supernatural, with four of the six being non-mundane, resulting in a game where all the PCs were kinda weird. So, additional classes were added to compensate for that. You know have 10 classes; 5 mundane, 5 supernatural. The new classes are:

  • The Firebrand. An angry bitch with strong views, a rabble-rouser, saboteur and activist. Hard/Soft. Her mechanics mostly revolve around self-sacrifice. She can spend her own XP to benefit her party members, or take Hurt so they don't have to. Some damage-mitigation stuff in there, and an option to get XP when you do something self-sacrificing out of principle. And then, her last significant move lets her do proper large-scale rabble-rousing, which can potentially have some big effects on the game world.
  • The Lantern Girl. New to adventuring, out of her depth, paranoid about danger, still working a lot of stuff out. Soft/Queer. Well suited to a 'coming out of the closet' sort of narrative. Has a 'lamp turned on/lamp turned off' dichotomy going, getting benefits to information gathering and perhaps supporting her allies in its light, but being able to slip away into the darkness when it's turned off. Super efficient information-gathering capabilities, and some mechanics that reward you for working out who you are and who you want to be. Totally not a self-insert.
  • The Disgraced Princess. Used to be a member of the upper nobility or royalty, due to be married off for political purposes. Rampant gayness resulted in her either being kicked out of her noble house, or fleeing it, so now she's one of the Bitches. Subtle/Queer. An absolute social powerhouse. Has money, gets bonds on people, can issue direct orders, and the best PC for using the Flirt move if she has time to prep. Also gets some stuff encouraging her to shy away from real nastiness, and rewarding other PCs for sheltering her.
  • The Spider. (Look, I like spiders, OK?) A shapeshifting humanoid spider living secretly among, and preying on, mankind. Hard/Subtle. Gets a lot of very sexualised moves that let her lure and ambush people. Can reveal her horrible true form to inflict various psychological effects on victims, heal up by draining blood, heal others by feeding them her blood. Her Sex Move lets her shift her appearance to look like whoever she last fucked (and she gets temporary a bonus to a stat to reflect it!). Lastly, her bite contains a euphoric venom, which can be used to knock out victims. Or, she can bite during sex, and the euphoric effects of her venom mean her partner's sex-move triggers *twice*. She's very much a sexualised predator, keying into a lot of tropes from things like Carmilla.
The Spider in particular went through a few revisions. The initial version was called the Lilim, and tied into some IRL mythology around Lilith and her descendants. This got chucked out because it tied the game to a real-world setting a little too hard. There were also, like, some issues with the moves where she went over the line from 'sexy and predatory' to 'kinda rapey', so they got altered. And, like, the class can absolutely still be played that way if you want to, but it's much less overt.

The next big section is on safety tools. This is honestly the most I've ever written about them. This section's not prescriptive, I don't say 'you should use this tool and it will make your game safe' because that's not how it works. Different groups will find different tools work for them. Rather, the point of this section is to be up-front about the need for something and to discuss what I've found works well. Really, the three main points are:
  • communication is important
  • consent is important
  • feeling in control is important
And the specific tools you use will follow from that.
Normally, I'd make this section pretty short, spending a few paragraphs talking about why traumatising your players is bad and a quick 101 on how not to do that, but here I've gone into a more depth. Really, though, this project is a giant pile of potential triggers, so I kinda had to give it some weight.

Following this, there's some advice on how the game is intended to be played. It begins with some general tips on how to be a good player (be proactive! treat the world like it's real! embrace emergent narratives!) and some advice on things like how emergent narrative works, the relation between fiction & moves, etc. Then some more specific sub-sections dealing with different areas of the game; Queer Stuff, Sex & Romance, Violence, Trauma, Dungeon Exploration, Safe Places & Downtime, and Going Back To Town. Each gives a rough overview of how the game is expected to work. Rather than hard mechanics, there's a discussion of things like the expected dynamics, good 'probing questions' to ask in these scenes, when to apply (or not apply) a given move, where different types of scene fall into the general structure of the game. It's about setting expectations, rather than laying down concrete rules.

The last major section is GM stuff. You get some general pointers on being a GM, and then on handling things like logistics, wandering monsters, etc. Lastly a set of tools to roll up a random dungeon (with tables for treasure, room/body searching, etc), and to roll up a random town (with tables for who the main factions are, shitty injustices to witness about town, rumours, etc).


It's a very rough first draft. There's a bunch of other stuff I wanna put in (how to set up session 1, some essays on the assumed setting and what, like, a dungeon is, guidelines to running longer-term plotlines, that sorta thing). That, combined with some full-page art, proper indexing, etc... I'm expecting expand the book out to 100+ pages.

Tonally, I've been using a very casual, conversational voice to write it. Sentence structure is loose, there's swearing, there's slang. I think the precise, technical, textbook-style tone of voice commonly seen in RPGs is quite a masculine coded thing. I want to push away from that. Using a more informal tone pushes the intent of the game quite well, puts you in the right headspace. Similarly, I'm not shying away from putting social justice stuff in the text. If I think shitty patriarchal bullshit is relevant to whatever I'm discussing, I'll just call it 'shitty patriarchal bullshit', because honestly if you're not on board with that worldview already why the fuck are you playing this particular game?

I'm gonna be running the first round of playtesting soon. I'm excited for it.
One thing I've been finding is that the more rpg work I put out, the more personal the stuff I put into it. Esoteric Enterprises explored my experiences with poverty and life on the fringes of society, for example. The islands module - under the working title And The Sea Gave Up The Dead Who Were In It - is exploring a lot of different thoughts I have around religion, death, faith, rebirth, and the failings of those principles. Dungeon Bitches is the most I've pushed this for something I intend to publish, though. It's meant to be raw and messy and personal. I'm drawing on a lot of my experiences with being poor, disowned by my family, gay, trans, homeless, all that stuff. There's a lot of stuff in there where I'm reflecting on and channelling nasty shit I've dealt with; the Wounded Daughter, Lantern Girl, Corpse Doll and Runaway Nun are all kinda self-inserts. 

In some ways, it's not been an easy text to write. I'm pulling on stuff that was painful at the time, maybe continues to be painful. In other ways, it's been incredibly easy; I stick some music on, have a beer, and the words just sort of flow out. I'm not restricting myself and holding back on anything, it's kind of a brutally honest piece of self expression.

I've been working closely with an artist for this project. Sarah Carapace is super talented, really gets what I'm going for, and has had a lot of useful suggestions for game stuff and visual stuff. Plus there's a lovely rough softness to her work that really clicks with what I want from the game. Art takes time, obviously, so it's gonna be a while before the full book is ready, but when it's done, it's gonna be fucking stunning
Anyway, I'll leave you with some concept art from her, and some test layout work we've tried.