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Month: December 2006

Inaccurate history

This is a holiday gift for Brant, who is long-suffering.

“You can’t trust the Ordo when it comes to the occult,” she said. “That’s not a proverb, but it should be. Here’s another one: ‘You’re smarter than the Ordo thinks you are.’ Put the two of those together and you have the sort of scenario that leads, inexorably, to something like the current state of Walt Disney World.”

She paused, looking up at her audience. “Sabado would tell it differently. Of course. But if you’re worth his investment, you’ll know that already.

“Very well. Here is why Walt Disney World is a separate fiefdom, not part of Orlando, and here is why I am Prince of Walt Disney World, and here is why Sabado is Prince of Orlando. Pay attention. The quiz on stories such as these always continues for the rest of your life.

“The then Prince of Orlando, Hegelsen, found the Wyrm’s Nest that lies beneath Cinderella’s Castle in 1961. I see by your expression that you do not know what a Wyrm’s Nest is. Ask around, children; for the purposes of this tale you need only know that it is a desirable source of power. More so to the Ordo. It became a matter of some urgency for him to extend his control over this portion of land, thusly.

“At the time, this was merely undeveloped farmland. Prince Hegelsen speculated that the Wyrm’s Nest was the source of the legends of the Fountain of Youth. I find this too convenient, but I was a publicist, not a magician. Or scientist. Perhaps he was right. In any case, he immediately began to scheme to extend his official influence over the Nest.

“Walt Disney, according to the official biographies, had begun to consider a Florida resort in 1960. Perhaps a year earlier; I never recall precisely. This was certainly a matter of coincidence, as I was present in many of the early discussions about a Disney Florida theme park. Yes, at the time I was alive and in Mr. Disney’s employ.

“By 1962, Hegelsen was aware of Mr. Disney’s intentions. This lever provided a convenient means for him to claim dominion over the land on which Walt Disney World would be built; accordingly, he took measures to ensure that Mr. Disney would select this area. It was not inordinately difficult, for all the official reasons. His part was mostly arranging for local city officials to grant the concessions Mr. Disney requested. They were quite considerable.

“Now, no secret lasts. In 1965, certain other influential vampires in the Orlando area became aware of Prince Hegelsen’s intentions regarding the Nest. At that time, I am told, Orlando was the most significant vampiric city in Florida. It has, perhaps, declined since then. But at that time, it was clear that should Prince Hegelsen succeed in pressing his new claim, his personal power would appreciate greatly, and there would be no feasible opposition to his regime until such a time as he happened to enter Torpor. This was considered unacceptable.

“Also by 1965, I had entered into my current condition. This was at Prince Hegelsen’s bidding, in order to gain insight into Mr. Disney’s plans. It was arranged by a certain Mr. Sabado, who had an eye both for his own future and for appropriate balances of power.

“I will confess, since it costs me nothing to do so, that I suspect Mr. Sabado was not as entirely an independent agent as he claimed to me. My suspicion is that Mr. Sabado and Prince Hegelsen had previously arranged to position the former of the pair as a peacemaker and compromise candidate for the throne if Prince Hegelsen’s bid for the Nest was unsuccessful. Whether or not that was the intent, that was precisely what occurred.

“I had been charmed by Mr. Sabado’s intellect and keen perceptions. He spent a great deal of time in 1966 and 1967 introducing me to vampiric society, going so far as to install me as the new Mistress of Elysium in Orlando by Christmas Eve of 1967. He carefully depicted me, in a manner quite Pygmalionesque, as an apolitical master of image. His efforts were successful.

“In 1969, with Mr. Sabado’s tacit assistance, Prince Hegelsen was murdered. You might not wish to discuss that matter in detail with Sheriff Steel. Mr. Sabado’s reward for his assistance was the Princeship of Orlando; he also arranged to have me installed as Prince of Walt Disney World. This was not seen as a reward for him on the part of his co-conspirators. However, he gained an ally on his border, whether or not they realized it.

“And no, I do not intend to speak of them. Mr. Parker could tell you more; I doubt that he will.

“Prince Sabado’s other reward, of course, is that Orlando remained in Ordo Dracul hands. He has no hope of attaining the Nest, albeit he would dearly like to do so. He also has a city much weakened from what it was in his predecessor’s heyday. I think that in the end, Prince Hegelsen would have been better off had he eschewed occult ambition… but then he would not have been a true member of the Ordo, would he have? It is almost Grecian.

“I must speak to other attendees now. Your reactions to my tale have been gratifying; I thank you. I trust you will enjoy the remainder of the evening.”


Secrets work like this, right now. This is subject to change.

Possession of a Secret grants arcane power. The more people who hold a Secret, the less power it grants. If we were playing a D20 game, then you could have up to +20 in your Secret skill if you were the only one who knew a Secret. If two people knew the Secret, the maximum would be +15. Ten people? +10. And so on.

A Secret must be significant.

Secrets are defined by five elements: the secret; that which the Secret’s holder can control; that to which the Secret’s holder is vulnerable; that which the Secret’s holder can perceive; and that to which the Secret’s holder is blind. This is most often drawn as a compass rose. In the South, the element of control is at the north; the element of vulnerability is at the south; the element of vision is at the east; and the element of blindness is at the west. The North is precisely reversed. In the South, they say that Northern occultists are fools, because surely the element of vision should be positioned ahead of the Secret’s holder. In the North, they say that Southern occultists are idiots, because how can the element of control not be positioned beneath the Secret’s holder?

The Aratain Church’s Secret, which is held by all ordained Church members, is that the Church’s founder was the son of a courtesan. Aratainians thus control virtues; they have the ability to, in very small degree, inflame them and encourage them. In theory they might also dampen them. The ability is limited, since tens of thousands hold that Secret. Likewise, Aratainians are slightly vulnerable to those who exchange sex for money. The vulnerability is again limited, but nonetheless it is the practice for the cathedrals of the faith to employ non-believers as a line of defense.

Aratainians perceive money. At a touch, an Aratainian faithful can discern a small degree of the emotional content pertaining to a given piece of currency: if it was most recently part of a violent transaction, for example, the Aratainian touching it might feel some measure of that anger. Aratainians are blind to bedrooms. Their perceptions are slightly obscured in bedrooms; no bedroom, no matter how well lit, will ever seem completely clear to them.

The Mayor of Vain’s Rest holds a Secret which will not be revealed. He is the only holder of this Secret. He has control over the undead; he can call them up, or dismiss them, as he sees fit. This is balanced by his vulnerability to those of Geoffery Vain’s lineage. It is no wonder that he allows a representative of the Banegard to recruit in his town. His perceptions extend out over the entirety of Vain’s Rest, but he is nearly blind once he leaves the gates.

The darker side

Conversely, the PC software for the Sony Reader absolutely sucks. It looks remarkably like someone was hired to clone iTunes, and did so without ever understanding the ways in which iTunes is good and bad.

You can’t drag content directly onto the Reader; you have to copy it into the Library, then copy it from there to the Reader. The interface is custom and non-standard — the menus don’t look like Windows menus, and the dialog boxes aren’t Windows dialog boxes. The Preferences dialog box has one option: “Check for updates automatically”. If you sort a list of books by author, it’s sorted by first name rather than last name. The Status window doesn’t tell you the titles of the books which are being converted/added. You can’t create new collections (playlists) directly on the Reader; you have to create them in the Library and move them over.

The Store is its own category of awful. The front page doesn’t give you a link to new releases. When you do get to the New Releases page, there are no dates next to the titles. There’s no RSS feed for new books, either. You can’t use the mouse wheel to scroll through lists of titles. The Browse Categories page has a list of categories and subcategories; in most cases, there are no actual books in the main categories. You have to go to the subcategories to see books… but you can’t click through to the subcategories from the Browse Categories page. You have to click to the category page, then to the subcategory page. There’s no way to indicate your interest in a book you’d like to see in the store.

I could go on. But it’s a pretty grotesque interface. Fortunately I still love the Reader a lot.

Drunken Magistrate

The Drunken Magistrate is one of many taverns in Vain’s Rest. There is nothing unusual about it. There’s a common room where people drink and eat, and perhaps six bedrooms up above. One can sleep in the common room, too, but one’d best count on being woken up early. The stable is not particularly good, and there is no dedicated stable boy. There’s a musician or two most nights.

Ba Juerun owns the place; his daughter Nuru waits tables, and his wife Audu cooks. His son, Chanc, does whatever needs doing.

Every neighborhood tavern has regulars, and one would expect a subgroup of those regulars to become the unofficial arbiters of the tavern: those looked to in a bar fight, for example. You (yes, you) are the people who use the Drunken Magistrate as a place of business, a place to pass judgment, and a home away from home.

Banegard Tower

The Banegard was founded by Jacob Sloth, some two generations after the Maiden Broke. His purpose was to provide a bulwark against evil in the world, one not dependent on the politics of Oratain or the religious strictures of any church. His departure from the Army of the West was not entirely amicable, but since he was perhaps the best general of the age and since he brought much of his support staff with him, Oratain chose not to obstruct his passage.

Banegard Tower was shaped as an educational institution as much as it was as a fortress. Marcus Greary, Jacob Sloth’s academician, designed the Tower as a source of knowledge. He believed that by giving freely to the nations and states of the North, Sloth’s new army would gain the gifts of manpower and support in return. As such, he spared no expense in hiring academicians and military experts, and opened the Military School at no cost other than five years of post-education service or the equivalent.

The cost to Sloth’s personal fortune was immense for several years. However, after the youthful Banegard defeated a significant force of otherkin at Travin’s Gulch, mere hours from the borders of Main Gauvin, Queen Pomfray of Oratain made peace between her reign and Jacob Sloth. From then on, despite occasional grumbles from some noble families, Banegard Tower has been a fixture of the North and well-regarded for its efforts both public and private to maintain the safety of the entire region.

Currently, Banegard Tower is a recognized ally of every significant entity in the North excepting the Warlock Cities. While the Cities are not, of course, overrun by inimical forces, many assume that their safety is due to dark pacts; the Banegard might well otherwise be necessary. The Tower is governed by Arren Sloth, a direct descendant of Jacob. Jacob’s line has remained strong.

Vain's Rest

Vain’s Rest is located at the border between the North and the South; it’s a border delineated by nature, not by man. To the north, green hills and white mountains rise to the horizon, and farmers trade stories of children stolen by the southern barbarians. To the south, the desert rolls in dunes as far as the eye can see, and the cultured gentlemen of the jeweled cities discuss the ways in which the northern barbarians can be cozened.

Vain’s Rest is a city of exiles. The Broken Maiden lies too close, and if nothing else cemented Vain’s Rest as a place where few live by choice, that would. But even before the Maiden Broke, Geoffery Vain’s last resting place was a dangerous town full of those who respect no borders, not even those laid down by the gods. It is where you come to do business with the other realm that cannot be conducted by embassy or official means. It is a place where law does not stretch, just as Vain intended centuries ago.

There are several powers and perhaps Powers in Vain’s Rest. The office of Mayor has been passed from competent man to competent man for some time, and until the Mayoral Secret is lost, that seems likely to continue. The Vainites know Geoffery Vain’s resting place, which may or may not hold power, but their temporal power alone is significant in any case. There are other cults and religions, more by the year. A recruiting officer for the Banegard lives in the center of town, and does not interfere with anyone often. There are always rumors of Kingsmen and perhaps Calanian envoys, but that’s true of almost every town in the world.

Ten thousand people. Regrettably, too many of them are exceptional for comfort.


  • Vain’s Rest
    • Vainites
    • Geoffery Vain
    • Drunken Magistrate
  • Broken Maiden
    • Untamed Lands
    • The Untamed
  • The North
    • Order of Hermetics
    • Banegard Tower
    • Oratain
      • Kingsmen
  • The South
    • Trader’s League
    • The Yuanya Emirate
    • The Camel Tribes
    • Free City of Calain

Bits of bits

The MacHeist thingiemabob is coming to an end. In this case, thingiemabob is defined as “a big publicity/marketing event for small Mac developers.” The salient information is that you can get a bundle of nine applications for $49.

Of the apps in the bundle, I find Delicious Library and Newsfire to be fairly significant; that’s DVD/book/game cataloging and a very good RSS newsreader. There’s also a personal information manager, an OS level skinning application, a game of your choice, an HTML authoring program, etc. Check out the list for yourself.

I am being fairly self-interested about this; if they raise $100K for charity, TextMate will be unlocked, and I like text editors. 25% of the purchase price is going to charity, and they’re just over $50K right now, so another four thousand purchases would do the trick.

Stylistic rediscoveries

I’m gonna count Orlando Trash as a successful campaign at this point, which means I’ve run two successful campaigns. Maybe three if we count the Iowa City Vampire campaign; it’s vanished in the mists of time for me, but I think we didn’t go more than five or so sessions. Regardless, everyone’s enjoying Orlando Trash and I still get compliments on Huey Long’s Men of Action, so definitely successes.

Okay. Two is not enough for a trend analysis if I was being a scientist, but I’m being a GM.

I get into running games with larger than life PCs. I like running for PCs who can affect the world; I tend to want them to be close to very important NPCs, without a lot of layers of bureaucracy between them and the authorities.

In both games, the PCs have wound up as operatives of the ruling powers, while still maintaining a strong degree of independence. I’m not sure if this is an inherent tendency or if it’s just a convenient frame. That’s something I’d like to play around with in my next game. Hm; if I’d ever done Whitey Bulger’s Men of Action, it would have fit that formula. Of course, Men of Action games kinda fit that by definition, don’t they?

I tend to mix action and talk. I’ll happily run a session that’s almost purely action, but I won’t run two of them in a row.

I like dumping problems on PCs. I do it for the emotional rush that I believe the players get when they resolve the problems. My goal — this is pretty much stolen from Carl Rigney — is to ratchet up the pressure on the PCs to the maximum possible before they shatter into a million pieces.

Sometimes those problems come in the form of mysteries or puzzles or conspiracies. My players seem to enjoy getting to the bottom of those. Discovery is a big emotional payoff, in my experience.

I like strong, broad archetypes. I don’t reuse ‘em over and over again; Prince Sabado is pretty much completely unlike Huey Long. There was no Sheriff Steel equivalent in Men of Action.

Some of my players read this. What else do I do a lot?

Once I chew on all this some more I’ll talk about my next game, which’ll be fantasy, and which is preliminarily named Tarnished Brass. I think.