Cannonfire Concerto

promo480Cannonfire Concerto (Caleb Wilson) is a Choicescript fantasy piece about intrigue, music and war. It’s very good; if you’re mostly interested in the more writerly end of the Choicescript oeuvre, in courtly intrigue or in evocative worldbuilding fantasy, I thoroughly recommend it.

Its protagonist is a talented string player, engaged on a music tour through lightly-reskinned versions of eighteenth-century European states. Storm-clouds are gathering; a Napoleon analogue threatens to bring all analogue-Europe under his boot, a Russia analogue is his only serious opposition, and a lot of minor powers are jockeying for influence amid the turmoil. Courted by various factions, the player’s personal and professional life is inescapably tangled up with politics.

Certain people in this world are inhabited by Genius, a supernatural quality that involves a potential for great talent in some field. Genius is kind of like a psychic aura, recognising and interfering with the Genius of others, and slightly like a separate entity with its own wants and needs. Many, though not all, of the key players in politics have an apropos Genius: this isn’t quite as big a deal as in, say, the comic Girl Genius, where the strength of nations is primarily determined by the strength of their leader’s Spark, but this is definitely a world more driven by Great Man History than our own. Continue reading

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Apocalypse Fuel

Apocalypse World is a groundbreaking story RPG about a tropey, high-drama, fetish-masked, diesel-belching, psychic-maelstrom postapocalypse. It’s the founding work of the extensive Powered by the Apocalypse stable of storygames, which includes Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Night Witches, Sagas of the Icelanders, and an ever-expanding list of others. The second edition is in the process of coming out (at time of writing, you can buy the PDF but the print version’s not quite there yet). But I’ve had my hands on the Kickstarter-backer version of the PDF for a little while, and I am very excited about it.

So are other people! Cat Manning was planning for a campaign, and asked something like “does anybody know of a good system for building factions?” And I didn’t, but it seemed like an entirely too fun thing to do with procedural generation, so I made one.

altcoverApocalypse Fuel generates brief, sketched-out concepts for the basic social units of Apocalypse World: hardholds, Maestro D’ establishments, hocus cults, and assorted packs of violent bastards, as well as some basic character and drama hooks for you to build on. OK, it’s probably better if I just give you a example: the following is a basic gang.

the Axle Howlgirls are a faction within a larger hardhold. They are barely a gang – 5 or so no-account assholes. (The gang was nearly wiped out in a turf war, and they’re the last survivors.) They’re well armed, plus they’re all packing harpoons; and armored in sturdy work clothes, to which most members add a skirt. They are savage. They mostly care about conformity – they hate and fear anyone who’s not like them. They are under the brilliant leadership of Strong Marge. They’re planning a midnight raid on the encampment of Grave Hill, but someone within the gang is playing both sides against one another.

Notable members:
Digby: always horny
Hunter Shan Endocrine: unnaturally lust-transfixed on Horrid Blossom; has gotten drunk with everyone worth knowing in the waste
Stab Girl: loves their kid, to mutual destruction

The intended use is as an inspiration generator for MCs and players, a rough first draft for you to edit and build on; I don’t recommend that anyone use the results purely as-is. It’s designed to leave a lot of things that need fleshing out, to drop suggestive details and pose questions as much as it provides answers.

If you just need some quick post-apocalyptic names, it can do that. If you need stats for things in a hurry, there’s an option to turn them on (although that breaks up the text a bit, so the option is off by default). And if you don’t really know Apocalypse World but just want to giggle at silly procedurally-generated results, it does OK at that too.

It’s a thing that I intend to keep expanding, so suggestions, ideas and contributions are very much welcomed. The source code’s available if anybody wants to poke around in it. (Part of the design includes a way to add optional modules to the base content, in case you’re doing a campaign with a heavy focus on a particular biome or real-world region or theme, so if you’d like to contribute such a thing…)

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Assorted Cool Things about Dogs in the Vineyard

Dogs_in_the_Vineyard_cover_smallDogs can be something of a tough sell. It’s a bit mechanically heavy for storygames – lots of polyhedra, a fairly involved conflict-resolution sequence – but way too handwavy and narrative-oriented for people who prefer their RPGs to be mostly tactical combat.

Even more tricky, it’s set in a theocratic society with strictly established social roles, including very tightly-enforced gender roles; all sin ultimately derives from someone not properly fulfilling their role, from injustice in the Platonic sense. Sin literally brings demonic influence into the world. And the player-characters are in charge of enforcing it, of fixing it when it breaks down. They cannot be radical activists against the system; they have a great deal of flexibility and autonomy to interpret the Law (“the King of Life is occasionally a realist”) but, at heart, they’re more committed to the system than anybody. For a lot of players, that’s more than they’re willing to cope with.

But I love DitV. It’s one of those games which doesn’t just have one cool thing, but a whole host of them. Here are some of the ones that make me very happy. Continue reading

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IF Comp ’16: Cactus Blue Motel

cactusblueCactus Blue Hotel (Astrid Dalmady, Twine) is a southwestern-surreal coming-of-age road trip story. Three high-school graduates are on a road trip across the Southwest; they stop at a motel, which turns out to be a magical wainscot or polder, and early on it’s unclear what exactly this represents – trap, refuge, portal, halfway house.

It’s got a very parser-y sensibility: a static map, setting-focused story, a bunch of NPCs who mostly hunker in the same place waiting for you to have conversations with them, which primarily involve asking them about one another. The reference points that spring to mind are all parser, too: The Trip and Sand-dancer for nocturnal Southwestern surreal, The Next Day for teen-limbo angst, probably a bit of Robb Sherwin night-journey and Blue Chairs as well. Continue reading

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IF Comp ’16: Fair.

fairFair (Hanon Ondricek, Inform) is a parser piece in which A.B. Astherton, a self-published science-fiction author, has been asked to judge an elementary-school science fair. A single playthrough is pretty short, but it really needs to be played through a few times to get it right.

If there’s a consistent feature of Hanon’s varied work, it’s that it tends to be less than immediately obvious what its deal is: it generally takes some digging to get to grips with their core experience, which often works to their disadvantage in the context of the comp. In the past, I’ve sometimes completely missed most of the game, or not really grokked the narrative approach. All this means that Ondricek games are pretty high on my list of Games I Should Not Take At First Impression. I usually get one or two games completely wrong in any given Comp year, and if you were taking bets, you could do a lot worse than sticking a few bob on Fair.

(Disclaimer: I am in the credits for this for ‘general Inform assistance’, which is very nice of Hanon given that I completely can’t remember what I did. I was not a tester and had not seen the game prior to the comp.)

(Other disclaimer: did I mention I was going to be doing Heavy Spoilers in these reviews? Probably not. It’s going to be Heavy Spoilers here, for sure.)

Continue reading

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IF Comp ’16: Labyrinth of Loci

Labyrinth of Loci (anbrewk, Unity) is a choice-based dungeon-crawl, with atmospheric music and art design. It appears to be incomplete or buggy: my first two playthroughs both ended after a pretty short time with a big white rectangle in the middle of the screen and no further options. I can’t tell if this is a bug that only I’m getting for some reason, or if it’s just that the author left a lot of unfinished branches; at a quick glance I’m not sure if anybody else has reviewed this yet. On a reluctant third attempt I made it to an ending.

lociAnyway. Despite the blurb, the game doesn’t clearly seem to be either memory palace or memory labyrinth; rather, it’s a genre fantasy piece minus the combat. You’re in an underground… dungeon is probably the better word, because a labyrinth must be navigated, and navigation isn’t important here. (It’s also not a labyrinth in the specialist labyrinth vs. maze sense, because that wouldn’t involve choices.) At each point, you have a choice of two doors leading to different rooms; there isn’t much to choose between them beyond aesthetics. Each leads to a room; on leaving the room, you get another two doors. Continue reading

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IF Comp ’16: The Queen’s Menagerie

queensmenagerieThe Queen’s Menagerie (Chandler Groover, Texture) is a shortish piece about feeding monsters. It’s highly Gothic; the closest comparison I can think of is Mervyn Peake, although the thematics are very much in the same general territory as With Those We Love Alive.

Menagerie is an exactly-used word, here. Museums used to be private collections of wonders kept by the wealthy for personal pleasure and to show off one’s cultured wealth to acquaintances; in the same way, before zoos open to the public were a thing, particularly affluent nobility kept menageries. Menageries were prestige projects with a side of worldly erudition: in an era where most people didn’t ever travel very far, but there was a huge amount of interest in far-off places, you could be all, guys, this is my pangolin. Like early zoos – and plenty of modern zoos, to be honest – these were generally places where animals lived in horrible conditions, cared for by people who didn’t understand them very well, until they died. Captive breeding was vanishingly rare, and conservation wasn’t something anybody vaguely thought about. Continue reading

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