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Population: One

Noir City 2019 Streaming

For reference and for my friends who can’t make it to a Noir City showing this year. (San Francisco, Seattle, Hollywood, Austin, Boston, Chicago. Make it if you can.) I’m just listing movies with subscription/free streams here.

Subscription service info is mostly from Lettrboxed. One of the many cool features they have: you can click on a movie and find out where you can see it. You can also filter film lists by services, so if I wanna feel classy I pull up the list of TSPDT 21st Century Top 1000 Movies and find out what’s on Netflix.

One-Shots: Feng Shui

I’ve been accreting a Las Vegas Feng Shui setting since we lived in Austin, where I ran a couple of sessions of Feng Shui set there. The idea stuck and I really liked Jay Ackel, PI; the Chairman of the Board; and a few other NPCs. I also enjoyed working with a primary faction conflict consisting of two Ascended factions. California is home of the bears, right?

So it’s been slowly gaining mass since then. I have a Scrivener file that gets a little more weighty every time I open it up. That isn’t all that often, mind you. Regardless, if I’m gonna run a Feng Shui one-shot, it’ll be in my Las Vegas.

Rather than write up an adventure I decided I knew the setting well enough so that I could just write an oracle. It’d work as a skeleton for any city, although you’d have to replace a bunch of People and Locations entries, plus a couple of the McGuffins. If you’re interested, grab the PDF here.

Let’s do a quick test run:

The Widow’s Regalia

I just sent my Blades in the Dark players a summary of one PC’s research, since he finished up a long-term project clock during the latest downtime. Useful knowledge: Setarra is Dock’s chosen friend from character creation, and his long-term demonic patron. Last session, Dock performed a ritual which shows him the history of an item in order to break into a safe. As a perhaps fortunate consequence of the ritual, he learned that the a powerful set of demonic relics woven through the story to date was originally Setarra’s, and she wants them back.

On the regalia: actual possession of the belt is exactly the key you need to unlock the ciphers in Violette’s husband’s library. (Not a fun experience per se; this is a really dark set of tomes. Human sacrifice, techniques for raising the ambient level of misery in a neighborhood in order to encourage deals with demons, that kind of thing.)

The Regalia is made up of five items:

  • The Widow’s Collar (necklace)
  • The Widow’s Cuffs (bracelets)
  • The Widow’s Shackles (boots)
  • The Widow’s Leash (belt)
  • The Widow’s Shroud (dress)

The Hexhounds stole the Collar for the Attic. You heard on the streets that the Attic got their hands on the Shackles. Lisette the gambler lost her final tournament game, with some assistance on your part, and that put the Cuffs in Lord Scurlock’s hands. You currently have the Leash. The location of the Shroud is completely unknown.

Apparently Dock now knows some things about the origin that nobody else knows, so that’s exciting. Various scholars have assumed that the Widow was a demon of some sort, but nobody’s attached the name Setarra to the story. It’s widely thought that the paladin who fought the demon, Bran, is just a metaphor for the strength of humans in the face of temptation, because everyone knows paladins never existed. Dock knows his history; this would mean that the theft occurred well before the Cataclysm, which was a thousand years ago. Given his knowledge that the paladin really did exist, it’s pretty easy to piece together the next steps — once Bran got his hands on the Regalia, he carefully scattered it to the ends of what is now the Shattered Isles. The individual items used to live in monasteries, temples, churches, and so on. Since then, well, a thousand years of thievery and danger and murderous ghosts do a number on your ability to protect dangerous demonic artifacts.

It is definitely the case that letting a demon assemble all five of the items is a recipe for disaster. They are sort of thaumaturgical batteries when they’re apart; making a set of three or four is no big deal, it’s a linear addition; but getting all five together is potentially world-shaking. Setarra’s threats in the vision are not mere bluster. Perhaps she’s mellowed over the millennium? Also: useful for demons, overwhelming for humans. Trying to channel that much power through a mere human body is not a good idea. 

Authenticity as a Service

Geek joke.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing some awesome things with live-streaming. Beto O’Rourke is embarrassing himself by live-streaming his dental appointment (except he didn’t). Justin Amash is pretty blunt on Twitter.

2020 is going to be a good exercise in decoupling authenticity from our political preferences. Beto’s rambling blog posts are political; I don’t see how he couldn’t be aware of the pressure to run, the magnitude of the decision, and the pros and cons of his choices. He’s auditioning. So is AOC. So is Amash.

I think getting into the habit of being open is a good thing for all of them. The recent Washington Post interview with Beto was amazing and if you’re not applauding his decision to be frank, you’re nuts. His responses made me less likely to vote for him in the primaries, and he has to know many people would react like that, but he was still willing to admit his uncertainties.

Separating my warm feelings about authenticity from my feelings about what that transparency reveals is a 2020 goal for me.

One-Shots: Beyond the Wall

My folder for Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is complete. This is an OSR D&D-like game aimed at super-quick pickup and play. The concept is that the PCs are all friends who grew up together in a small village, and the cool character generation twist is that you work through a four-page story path playbook to figure out your history and your stats.

For example, in the Self-Taught Mage playbook, you get to a bit where you find a tome of magic. Let’s say you roll a 2 on 1d6: the book was written by a famous bard who travelled far and wide. You get +3 Charisma, and add Survival to your skill list. You then roll 1d6 to find out what kind of mage the bard was, and you get a 3 — the bard was a summoner of dark spirits. This means you get +2 Intelligence, and you learned a specific selection of spells.

I love this. It means every characters has a story grounding their stats, and it means you’ve got that random oracle goodness which sparks so much creativity. It also explicitly generates connections between the characters and, in several places, generates the details of the village in which the characters live.

The scenario packs are similar, with the additional twist that you fill out blank spaces on the random tables with details generated while the players are rolling up their backgrounds.

Thus, it was easy to prep this one. I printed out the playbooks and scenario that came with the base game, indulged my materialism by buying a stapler, stapled stuff together, and voila: done.

Building a One-Shot Book

I literally spent half an hour trying to make the phrase “commonplace book” fit this, but I couldn’t, so maybe stop procrastinating and go? Yes.

One of the tabletop gaming things I want to do this year: build a binder full of one-shot games that can be run with minimal prep. In some cases this means building pre-gens and scenarios. Some games make it easy enough to create characters so that you can just pick it up and go. Add in scenario seeds, with the same caveats, maybe system cheat sheets as necessary, and I’ll have a gaming pack.

In the interests of accountability, here’s my initial game list.

I also need something pulpy in here but I’m not sure what yet. Maybe one of the Triple Ace Ubiquity games, or maybe something Savage Worlds-ish. I’ve always wanted to run The Day After Ragnarok.

Happy Public Domain Day

As explained by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, today is Public Domain Day! Since the copyright term was extended in 1998, old works haven’t been entering the public domain regularly, but we just reached the end of the extension period. Much text, art, and music has been freed.

I cheerfully recommend Carl Sandburg’s charming stories for kids, collected in Rootabaga Pigeons, and P. G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves “novel,” The Inimitable Jeeves. The latter is comprised of previously published stories but is delightful even if you’ve seen them before.

Wheels & Walls

You have Walls and you have Wheels. It was ALWAYS that way and it will ALWAYS be that way!”

Donald Trump

Who am I to gainsay our President? And I’ve seen worse creative prompts. Thus, I present a one–page RPG: Wheels & Walls. The good mechanics and GMing advice in this game are lifted directly from Lasers & Feelings, a one-page tabletop RPG by John Harper. Everything else I wrote in a few hours before getting back to the business of celebrating the New Year.

This game wears its political opinion on its sleeve.

If you like it, you can find a long list of other Lasers & Feelings hacks here.