Thinking about changing dojos
Lately I've been having an existential crisis. It's like this: I'm thinking of dropping out of Aikido or else changing to a different dojo.
Well, actually, due to illness, houseguests, overtime work, and general unenthusiasm, I haven't been to aikido for like three weeks now. So maybe it's more like I've already dropped out and just have to make it official.
I still want to do Aikido, and I like the other students at my dojo, and I love the location; it's just the sensei who makes me want a change.
I've been attending this dojo since I came to the North Side, which was about a year ago. The sensei gave me bad vibes since the very first time I saw him. He has a very unfriendly attitude and perpetual scowl, and when he talks to the class he's very hard to hear, kind of mumbly like he's talking to himself. He is obviously extremely skilled and highly knowledgeable and well-respected in the Aikido community. But just because someone is good at doing something doesn't mean they're good at teaching something, which is a lesson I learned from experience in my Kamaishi days. This sensei's teaching style might work for some people, but it hasn't been working for me.
I figured I would just give it time. Every sensei I've had before in approximately seven years of aikido (and a couple years of kempo) had their own quirks but after a few months of training with a sensei and getting to know him or her I've always been able to establish a rapport and from then on training became much more enjoyable and productive.
But after a year of training under this guy, I've got no rapport at all and I'm still getting bad vibes. I don't even have any normal conversations with him outside of class because he seems so unapproachable. He has this way of glaring at me contemptuously whenever I'm doing something wrong (which is, of course, all the time; I have a clear enough idea of my own abilities to know which techniques I need help with, which is all of them). Sometimes he'll glare a little bit and then shake his head or sigh and then he'll walk away, as if to say that I'm obviously doing something wrong but it's not worth his trouble to correct it. Other times he'll snap at me for messing something up, or for not doing what he said (which is sometimes because I heard him wrong because he mumbles so bad). He always seems disappointed or disgusted with me.
I'm not sure if he actually is disgusted with me or if that's just how he acts towards everyone. But either way, I get very nervous whenever sensei is looking at me. And one can only do Aikido properly in a relaxed state. Alert and focused, but relaxed. Fear causes tension in the body which causes tangible changes to the balance and the working of the muscles, which makes techniques not work. This is one of the basic principles. Sometimes I'll be doing fine until sensei comes along and starts glaring at me, and then I get nervous and screw up, so he says something sarcastic, which just reinforces the anxiety next time he comes around. It's a vicious cycle.
Besides his weird personality, sensei's teaching style is also not working to well for me. It seems like since I've started here he's been moving into weirder and more esoteric forms of practice (the taking punches, the egg push-ups, the chains, the blindfolds and knives...). He's bored with basic technique (he's said as much). But I'm not bored with basic technique. I need a lot more practice with basic technique and weapon katas and randoori and reversals and suwariwaza and all that stuff. I'm not advanced enough yet to get much of value out of these weird lessons.
My attendance at this dojo has been very sporadic throughout this whole year. Sometimes I go 3 or 4 times a week for a couple weeks, then not at all for another couple of weeks. I think it would average out to 1-2 times per week for the year, which is pretty low. Part of this is just because of a hectic software-startup schedule: I'm often traveling and when I'm not traveling I'm often working late. My schedule is unpredictable so I haven't been able to settle into a groove of always going to Aikido on certain days; instead I find myself struggling to squeeze it in when I can. But my spotty attendance is not entirely to blame on work and travel; it's also because I haven't been enthusiastic about going. I tell people that I want to attend practice more often, but in reality I've been taking almost any excuse not to go. When I examine my motivations I find that I'm reluctant to go to the dojo because it means I have to face sensei and his glare of disgust. The only time this isn't the case is Wednesday evenings, when a different sensei is teaching.
So my ability level has been stagnating, both because of sporadic attendance, and because I'm when I am at the dojo I'm often not in a good mental state for practicing. I know more stuff in my mind than I did a year ago, but my ability to integrate any of that into my physical performance hasn't been improving, only fluctuating. It's been very frustrating.
So, for all of these reasons, I'm thinking of changing dojos. This is not an easy decision for me to make. It feels like breaking up with someone or quitting a job. I'm going to miss a lot of the other students at the dojo, who I really do like. (I'm going to keep running into these people at Trader Joe's and they'll ask me why they haven't seen me at the dojo lately. Gahhh!)
The obvious counterargument is that I shouldn't quit a dojo just because the sensei is giving me a hard time: facing that kind of challenge is the kind of thing that makes us improve, right? And martial arts are not just physical training, they are all about how to overcome your fear and handle yourself in difficult situations. So maybe the troubles I'm having with this sensei are just the kind of thing that I need to work through. If I can remain calm and focused under sensei's disgusted glare, I can remain calm and focused in any situation, right? Conquer my fears, that sort of thing?
But the counterargument to the counterargument is that life is too short to stay in a bad relationship hoping it will improve. O-sensei said "Aikido should always be practiced in a vibrant and joyful manner", and that ain't happening at my current dojo.
In many other towns there is only one dojo and if I did't like it I'd be stuck with it. But I'm very lucky: I know of two other aikido dojos in my immediate area. In fact I chose my current dojo over those two only because of familiarity, which is not a very good reason. I know the sensei from one of those other places and he's a totally awesome guy who I would love to train with. There's also the Tohkon Judo dojo, which is supposedly the biggest judo dojo east of the Mississippi, and boasts several internationally famous teachers. This dojo just randomly happens to be two blocks from my apartment. Why don't I try judo out for a while and see what that's like?
Beyond those possibilities, I have to think about how aikido, or any martial art, fits into my overall life goals and plans and so on. Some people dedicate their lives to it, and I respect that a lot. That's really the only way to do it properly, dedicating your life to it. But I'm probably never going to be one of those people. I have too many other goals in life: software, and science, and art, and writing. I want to put more time into working on my comic. I've felt frustrated this whole year about lack of time to make progress on my personal goals, such as the comic, and I've come to the conclusion that I really need to drop some hobbies in order to make room for others. Heck, there's other things I want to try out too: I want to learn to play the drums, I want to contribute to open-source software projects. Lately I've felt the urge to start doing some social volunteer work. Look up some group in Chicago that helps out poor people or fights to protect the environment, go to a meeting, see what I could do for them. Maybe I ought to spend some time away from the martial arts entirely, focus on these other goals, and see how that goes.
I'll write more when I make a more concrete decision. In the meantime I'd be interested to hear what anybody thinks about the issue.
Lovecraft and Gaming, part 3 of 3: Let me take a stab at this
I've had this idea tickling my brain for a couple of weeks, and it won't leave me alone. I think I've got an idea for how to make a Lovecraft-ish themed game that might actually be fun and interesting and fast-paced. I'm going to sketch out the skeleton of the game here; I think it could be ready for its first playtest after I flesh out a few more rules, assuming I can find a group of willing victims. I'm thinking the game will be something like a cross between a GM-less RPG, a card game, and a collaborative storytelling party game.
Takin out the trash
In order to make this game fun, I think we have to get rid of some long-standing assumptions. The first step is to stop treating the souce material with such reverence. Fans might find this hard to admit, but the Mythos stories are pretty silly. They're over-the-top and have atrocious writing. It's actually part of their charm, I think. There's some cool science-fictional ideas in there, loads of atmosphere, and occasionally a bit that's genuinely creepy, mixed in with all the purple prose and clunky exposition and personality-free protagonists. You can't really separate the good from the bad without ruining what makes the stories unique in the first place.
So let's accept that and run with it. I want this game to embrace the silliness -- but without turning into a parody. More like, let's let our imaginations run wild with ridiculous and horrible fates that can befall each other's protagonists. Let's try to narrate stuff using our best imitation of Lovecraft's unique writing style. We can try to creep each other out, or try to keep a straight face while we make each other laugh, or do a little of each.
Also, we need to get rid of the idea that the player should identify with the character. The world we're creating here is one that's absolutely horrid for the chracters; that shouldn't mean that it's horrid for the players, too! The players should get to have fun even as their characters go mad or die in horrible ways. Therefore, we actually want the players to think of their characters as disposable pawns, and to be able to switch characters several times during the course of the game. Even as I'm describing the details of my guy's decadent 1920s lifestyle and his investigations into forbidden middle-eastern occult tomes and whatnot, I want to be planning ahead to his inevitable demise and how it will result in important clues being revealed to some other, previously NPC, character who I will then take control of.
Next, I want this game to encourage a Lovecraftian narration style. Players will get to take take turns to narrate events in the game, the way a GM narrates events in a traditional RPG. But just as some RPGs mechanically reward you for good role-playing, or cool descriptions of your combat stunts, or whatever, I want this game to mechanically reward you for your ability to improvise ridiculously overblown descriptions about the "writhing palpitations of the unearthly, multi-suckered tentacles surrounding the ululating alien orifice of the sanity-destroying extra-dimensional abomination". Like that. I might even steal some ideas from word games, like Mad Libs or Balderdash or Taboo or something.
Finally, I want to be able to play the monster! This is really key. I want to play an indescribable eldritch horror from beyond space and time who is bent on domination of the earth and has no more concern for human beings than we have for single-celled plankton under a microscope. I want to be able to win the game by aligning the stars, rising from the deeps, and devouring all the works of man. Now THAT sounds like a fun time. (And yes, there will be winners and losers in this game).
View from 10,000 feet
I have this idea that all the players will start out playing investigators. The various attributes of the monster -- how it feeds, where it comes from, how it gets around, what it wants from humanity, and so on -- will be "discovered", one by one, by the characters as the game goes on. (I put "discovered" in quotes because of course they are really being invented, one by one, by the players.) As these attributes are discovered, the story moves closer to the point when the monster will reveal itself and have a final confrontation with the investigators. The thing is that any player can choose to "go to the dark side": sacrifice his investigator and take control over the monster instead; the first player to choose this action then gets to play the monster for the rest of the game. And if the monster achieves its unholy goals, then that player wins. Whereas if the monster is stopped, then in some sense all the investigator players are winners. (If it turns out that we need to have a single winner, then make it the investigator with the most sanity left.) In fact I'm thinking that you can only proceed to the final confrontation once a player has claimed the monster. So at some point, one player will betray the others. I want to make this a mechanically tempting option with some restrictions on it and some hidden information, so that you're never quite sure which of your fellow players might be about to turn on you. This ought to contribute to the atmosphere of paranoia and moral degeneration. Fun for the whole family!
So, with the general design goals established, here's the first draft of the basic play procedures.
1. Monster Cards
We've got a deck of monster cards. Each card is a single attribute, and there are six(?) "suits" of cards. Let's call the suits:
Unholy Desires (monster's victory condition)
Unearthly Origin (is it from the past? the future? the ocean abyss? etc)
Unwholsome Weaponry (how it kills people)
Uncanny Defenses (what stuff it's immune to)
Unsettling Mode of Locomotion (how the monster can get around)
Uncouth Servitors (its minions)
Put together one card of each suit, and you have a complete, unique monster. The idea is to have so many combinations that you'll have a new monster every game. We're not going to use any specific Mythos references; there's not going to be any "Cthulhu" card, but if the cards say your monster comes from a sunken city, is worshipped by cultists, flies on leathery wings, and grabs people with its tentacles, then you can go ahead and call your monster Cthulhu if you want. Or make up your own name. I don't care.
Each one of these cards has a bunch of flavor, some mechanical advantage for the monster, and also an associated weakness.
So e.g. an Unearthly Origin card could be that the monster Rules Beneath The Waves. That might give it the advantage that it can appear suddenly and ambush people in any scene that takes place near open water. And maybe it will be weakened if it dries out too much, I dunno, making up the specific cards is going to be a lot of work. Important point is that the pro and con of the card are logically connected.
The monster cards are going to be partly known and partly hidden. The monster player wants to keep the cards hidden as long as possible so the investigators don't know the weaknesses. But to use any of the positive abilities he has to play the card out into the open.
Mechanically, a character has a sanity pool, a stamina pool, and a few skills with various ratings. (Yes, this part is exactly like Arkham Horror. It's a perfectly servicable system so I'm going to steal it.) Characters also have relationships to other characters, and finally they have a name, background, personality, and perhaps a simple goal-in-life. The goal can be understood as "What would you be trying to do today, if malevolent entities beyond human understanding were not threatening all you hold dear?". Another way to look at it is, "What is it that motivates your character to get into situations where they can accidentally stumble upon the clues that get the story moving?"
3. Making characters
Characters should be very simple to create, because we're going to be burning through a lot of them. PCs and NPCs are created the same way (because, as I said, players can switch characters during the game, an NPC is just a PC that nobody is controlling at the moment). I'm thinking a modular system, similar to the monsters, or to the one used in "Capes". There could be two sets of "half-character-sheets" or archetypes. Match up one of each, come up with a name (or pick one off a list of suggestions), and you have a character. This way when you need a new NPC you can make one fast. Each half-sheet provides some skills, modifiers to the base stamina and sanity (which default to the same number for everyone), and suggestions for goals and relationships.
So for example, I can put together the "university professor" profession, which gives me +1 starting sanity and a bunch of research and science skills, with the "spoiled, overly sheltered kid from a rich family" background, which gives me -1 starting stamina and the "always have enough money" and "boss people around" skills. A suggested relationship might be "rival professor" and a suggested goal might be "Outdo my rival professor". Those are just suggestions, though; the actual facts are decided by group brainstorming.
There would also be a more detailed system for creating a character from scratch, for those who prefer to do so and don't mind spending the time.
4. Relationship map
When starting out the game, everybody makes one PC that they will start out playing. Then (or, "meanwhile"), the group has to make up enough NPC relations to complete a relationship graph which connects all of the PCs to each other. For instance: my university professor has a relationship with his rival, his prize student, and his sickly, ailing sister. Another player is playing a dabbler in the occult, and one of his relationships is with his occultist mentor; we agree that your occultist mentor and my rival professor are the same person, so our characters have one degree of separation between them. My sister is the best friend of the wife of a third player, so there's two degrees of separation between us, and now we have 3 PCs and 3 NPCs. It should be pretty easy to flesh this graph out until there's consensus that it's good enough. The idea is to set up a situation where our PCs all know each other at least vaguely, and when Something Horrible happens to one of the NPCs, we all have a reason to care.
5. Card swapping
5. Each player starts with some cards. Let's say four, so there's no chance of having a complete monster in your starting hand. In order to do various things in the game you will need to swap cards with other players, so these cards will be circulating around the table, and occasionally new ones will get drawn. These cards have nothing to do with your character, and have no status in the Shared Imagined Space until they're actually played. When they're still in a player's hand, they are simply an abstract resource belonging to that player.
6. Scene framing
We're going to take turns framing scenes. If it's my turn, then I start a scene by describing a location, the situation, and what my guy is attempting to do there. If I'm starting out the first turn of the game, I should describe a scene where my character is trying to pursue one of his personal goals. E.g. "My guy, Professor Albert Hilbert, is on an archaeological expedition in Antarctica, attempting to find evidence for his theory that a pre-historic civilization once existed there, so he can take it back to the university and rub it in the face of that insufferable Dr. Munchenloaf." As an incentive, achieving your personal goals nets you a mechanical bonus, like a permanent +1 die improvement to one of your skills for each time you hit the goal, maybe some other ones I haven't thought of yet.
If you want to, you can start a scene starring someone else's character instead of your own. You might want to do this in order to erode that player's investigator while preserving your own (because scenes tend to lead to decline in stamina and sanity, which can't be regained). Or just because you have a cool idea for a scene. To do this, you must pass a card of your choice to the player owning that character. Also you must narrate the reason the character is there, which must be something to do with that character's personal goal. (So the setup implies that they will have a chance to achieve the goal in the scene).
Example: "Your newspaper reporter is researching a story about a series of grisly murders in a remote, backwater town in New Hampshire and he's interviewing some creepy inbred hicks. Here's a card for you." Like that. So the goal you choose is like a leash which allows other players to jerk you around. The reporter in this example has the goal "get the scoop on an exciting story". Which, if you think about it, is a goal that can be used to put the reporter in just about any horrible situation you can imagine. Hooray! It means this character is going to get to be in a lot of scenes and draw a lot of cards.
With the scene set, other players have a chance to either add their characters in ("Yes, my guy is of course also part of the expedition to Antarctica!") or else to hold them back in order to start a different plot thread when it gets to be their turn to start a scene.
7. Antagonism, and trading cards around for narration rights
Then, players have a chance to introduce antagonism to your scene. Antagonism can take many forms, but basically means something that is going to require the protagonist of the scene to make some skill rolls in order to make progress towards the goal and/or to avoid a Horrible Fate. Exactly how the skill rolls work will be described later.
The player whose framed the scene this turn (call him the protagonist) has established a location and a goal: "My guy goes to the occult section of the library to look for some clues about how to beat the monster". Then, a player (call him the antagonist) introduces some antagonism into the scene. It starts at the lowest level of antagonism: a simple unfriendly NPC. "The librarian won't let you into the occult section. It's been closed off to the general public, thanks to all those rumors about cultists going around. You need special clearance from the university." So far, that's pretty boring -- it's either a stone wall or a fetch quest, and neither one of those is interesting. We need to establish consequences for failure! So the rule is that antagonism needs to threaten the character. I can think of three ways to threaten: either it threatens health (physical danger), or it threatens sanity (mental danger) or it threatens somebody the character cares about (danger to an NPC). The antagonist gets to choose which one it is. Let's say that the antagonist says it's danger to an NPC. "You know, Sarah is alone and defenseless in that big empty house, and the cultists are still roaming around the town looking for sacrifices. You'd better get that clue and get back before something happens to her." Note that the librarian has nothing to do with the danger to the NPC, and the character has no way of knowing how much danger Sarah is in at the moment, but that doesn't matter: by the rules, the stakes of the skill roll are now established. If I succeed in my goal, I get the clue that I'm looking for. If I fail to prevent the threat, something horrible (the antagonist's whim!) will happen to Sarah.
Cards are traded around for certain narration rights. For example, maybe in order to have a Horrible Thing to happen to another player character (or to an NPC that the PC cares about), you have to give a card from your hand to that player. (A Horrible Thing is allowed to simply kill an NPC outright, but a PC must be allowed a skill roll to avoid it. Maybe a rule like that.) Anyway, the idea is that the cards should move around the table a lot. Because of this, every player should have partial information about what cards the other players are likely to be holding.
This is the part of the game design that needs a lot more work before it's ready to playtest. Gotta think about what things cost you a card vs. what things reward you by letting you draw a card. We want some sort of challenges or antagonism in every scene so they're not boring, so we want to encourage people to volunteer stuff. Maybe the rule is that you draw a card when you create a minor antagonism, but then you (or another player) can escalate it to something more dangerous (introducing a second threat, third threat, etc) at the cost of giving one of your cards to the player whose character is threatened. All this stuff needs more thought.
8. Discovering Clues
When, in the story, an investigator succeeds in finding a clue about the monster (this could be one result of a successful skill roll vs. antagonism), that player (or another player? not sure) gets to play one of the monster cards from his or her hand, face-up, to the center of the table. It must be a monster card in a suit that is not already there. The cards in the center area represent what is known, established information about the monster.
Of course, it has to be worked into the narration. You don't just say "Oh I play Parasitic Spawn Brood (Uncouth Servitors). Your turn." Instead, the card is going to be a source of inspiration for the next twist that happens in the ongoing scene. So, like, maybe it's already been established in a previous narration that all your characters are exploring a decaying colonial mansion in Poughkeepsie, looking for some distraught townie girl's missing dork of a fiancee or whatever. And you've got this "Parasitic Spawn Brood" card in your hand that you want to play. So, thinking of how this can fit in, you narrate how your investigator hears faint horrible screams coming from a door to the basement, forces it open, and the fiancee guy staggers out screaming and clutching himself just before his body splits open and out comes the swarm of hideous purple alien larva which have been gestating inside him for the past month. (Since you're killing an NPC, you must give another card from your hand to the PC who has a relationship to that NPC, if any) We check off the NPC as dead, everybody has to roll to resist sanity loss for witnissing this, and it's been established that the monster has a Parasitic Span Brood for its Uncouth Servitors, so that card is placed in the center of the table.
Why did I choose that particular card to want to play? Well, it's got a weakness on it in addition to the ability. Maybe that weakness is something that my investigator would be good at handling (weaknesses should perhaps be angled towards specific skills... for instance, some weaknesses imply attacking the monster physically, others by using magic, others by using Science.) So maybe I want to get that clue established and on the table before anybody can become the Monster.
Clues should always involve some sanity loss for somebody. Even if you just find the clue in the library (in an ancient, crumbling tome translated from a Arabic which quotes from an even older, fourth-century occult work... of course) it's going to push your guy closer to the brink. Not sure yet how the sanity loss is going to fit in with the other mechanics.
I don't think sanity or stamina should be regainable, ever. It goes against the desired atmosphere. There should be a theme of inevitable degeneration and decay. Also, you want charaters to get eliminated, because of:
9. Death and Insanity
When your character dies or goes insane, you're allowed to take over control of one of the NPCs that your PC has previously established a relationship with. This is an encouragement to role-play scenes where you meet new NPCs and befriend them. (Players can of course narrate new NPCs into existence, too... but do they get cards for doing this, or pay cards? Not sure.)
This raises the question: can I attack my own character on purpose, because I want him to die/go insane, in order to take over a different character I like better? I'm thinking that the answer should be yes, since destroying your own character in a creative way is going to contribute to the atmosphere of the game. I don't think you should be able to just walk off a cliff, unless you fail a Sanity roll first. So only characters who had lost of a lot of sanity would be comitting suicide -- that fits pretty well. In fact, if low sanity meant you were stuck with a crummy character and sanity couldn't be recharged, then suicide would be a tactic you might choose to get a new character. Fun! Or if you don't like suicide, then maybe you can create antagonism for your own guy in order to draw a card, and then escalate it for free (you're giving cards to yourself) to a level where you can't handle it, and hope you fail your roll to survive.
10. Become a Monster!
Here's the best part, now. If your character has just been eliminated, and there are face-up monster cards on the board, then you have the option to take control of the monster, but only if you have at least one monster card of each suit available. "Available" means either in your hand or on the table in front of you. So if there is an "Uncouth Servitors" (the parasitic spawn) and an "Unwholesome Weaponry" on the board, and I have an "Unholy Desires", "Uncanny Defenses", "Unearthly Origin", and "Unsettling Mode of Locomotion" in my hand, then I have one of each suit and therefore a complete monster. I discard any extra cards in my hand until I have just one of each suit. I move the face-up cards in front of me.
For the sake of style, I should make my character's demise and the revelation of the monster connected somehow in my narration. The character has really been the monster (mimicing human form) the entire time, and now it laughs maniacally as it reveals its true form! Or, the character, losing his last sanity point, finally gives in to the monster's mental commands and performs the last step of the ritual needed to summon the monster to Earth. Or something dramatic like that.
Note that the other players know some things about the monster, but not others. In the above example, they know how I kill people and what kind of servitors I have (since these have both been seen in play already). But they don't know my goals or how I get around or the weaknesses on those cards. However, because of the way the cards circulate, everybody who is paying attention has some partial knowledge of what cards the other players might be holding, since they have seen some of those cards before. So the other players can try to figure out the monster's weaknesses and goals and so on using a little bit of deduction and process-of-elimination. (Yes, it's a bit like "Clue". The non-monster players will want to show each other their cards to help the elimination to guess what cards the monster player has... but maybe this is restricted, like you're not allowed to show the cards you're holding unless all of the investigators have gathered in the same scene and have some in-game downtime for a pow-wow.)
From this point on, scenes work a little differently -- every scene until the end of the game is going to be about trying to escape the monster or stop it from doing what it's trying to do. There will still be skill rolls which work on the same mechanic as before, but no more passing cards around to establish antagonism; every scene has the monster as an antagonist!
Clues also work differently after the monster is revealed: The conditions for earning a clue are the same (whatever they are) but instead of letting you play a card to become part of the monster, earning a clue now lets you peek at one of the cards in the monster's hand at random. Maybe something like that.
11. Skill Rolls, aka "finally, the crunchy bits"
I'm not sure at all how this part ought to work; and honestly I'm not that concerned. The part I really want to get right is the tricky stuff about when you exchange cards and how that relates to narratoin rights, as this is the part that's going to be fairly unique about this game. If I can get all that stuff working, then I think the resolution mechanics will be pretty easy to figure out; they'll probably be the easiest part to playtest, anyway (famous last words).
Let's say some antagonism has been introduced to the scene. Going back to that unfriendly-librarian-in-my-way example. As the protagonist, I get to choose which skill I'm using. Several come to mind that would be applicable -- Stealth, to sneak into the occult section, or Bluffing, to convince the librarian I have access. Or, if I'm a real bastard, Fighting, to knock out/tie up/incapacitate the librarian and just go waltzing in. It's up to me, but I must be able to explain in some logical way how the skill is applicable. Note that the antagonist can choose to narrate the antagonism as something which he thinks the protagonist won't have the skills to face (what a jerk!) -- this is perfectly legal, but the protagonist just has to be creative to get around it.
So, now we actually roll the dice. Let's say that we use d6s exclusively, and I get to have one die for each point I have in the skill that I'm using. So maybe I've got three dice in Bluff and so I'm going to use that. Bluff is a mental action, so the target number I'm trying to get on these dice is based on my current Sanity. Say that the average person's sanity starts at 4, which means that a 4 or less on a die is a success, or in other words, each die has a 2/3 chance of being a success. But as your sanity goes down, your odds of succeeding drop dramatically, even if you have a lot of dice in the skill. Similarly, a physical skill (sneaking, fighting) uses Stamina for the target number, which also starts at 4 for normal people, and goes down when you take physical harm.
One more rule: if my action is something really CRAZY, I can call on my madness to give me strength, which means that a success is anything ABOVE my sanity number on a die. Bluffing or sneaking past the librarian is not a crazy action, but knocking her out and tying her up might be. So if my sanity was down to 1 or 2, doing crazy stuff like this would be my best bet. This encourages characters with low sanity to actually do crazy things, instead of just acting like normal people with lousy skill rolls. (I'm thinking maybe you have to give away a card in order to call on the power of madness; otherwise it might be happening so often that it gets boring. Playtesting will tell.)
Attempting to use magic, by the way, is always a "crazy" action.
Once I roll the dice, I count up my number of successes. Each success allows me to achieve one goal or to prevent one threat from coming to pass. In this example, there is one goal (get a clue) and one threat (harm to Sarah). If I get two successes, I can both achieve the goal and prevent the threat. If I get only one success, I have to choose whether to abandon the clue and protect Sarah, or abandon Sarah and get the clue. If I get no successes, then I get no clue and I can't protect Sarah.
If I get more successes than I need, then maybe I can use the extras to establish facts about what happens after the conflict, or in the next scene, at the cost of one success per fact. Maybe there's actually a specific list of things that you can get for a spare success, and they're always available: like "find a useful item, get a clue about the monster, meet a new friendly NPC, draw a card..."
Other PCs in the scene can help me out. They can add one die to my pool, but any threat which I fail to prevent happens to them as well -- we'll both lose 1 stamina, or both lose 1 sanity, or a horrible fate will befall two NPCs (one relationship for each of us). That's one thing that can affect skill rolls.
The antagonist, or any third-party player who isn't helping me out, can pass a card to me (or to one of my allies in the scene, if I have one) in order to escalate the conflict by introducing a new threat. That's another thing that can affect skill rolls.
But the main thing that modifies skill rolls is a:
12. Lovecraftian narration fight!
Here I must define a concept called the "Lovecraft number" of a sentence. For now, I'm going to say that the Lovecraft number of a sentence is the number of adjectives and adverbs of three or more syllables in that sentence. So for instance, this lovely passage, from the story "Out of the Eons", describing the monster Ghatanothoa:
Nothing I could say could even adumbrate the loathsome, unholy, non-human, extra-galactic horror and hatefulness and unutterable evil of that forbidden spawn of black chaos and illimitable night.
has an impressive Lovecraftiness number of six: "unholy", "non-human", "extra-galactic", "unutterable", "forbidden", "illimitable". The precise definition of the Lovecraft number needs tweaking (because as currently written, "loathsome" doesn't count, and it seems like it should count.)
The way to use this in the game is that when the protagonist desperately needs another success, he can speak one sentence, in his best Lovecraft impression, elaborating on the situation. This can contribute minutiae to the scene or it can just be for atmosphere. The antagonist can then try to top it by speaking a further sentence, with a higher Lovecraft number than the first sentence. You go back and forth in this way until one player is no longer able to top the previous sentence. It is a foul to repeat any adjective or adverb that's already been used (the onlookers to the narration-fight need to keep track of this), and it's also a foul to speak a sentence which is judged by onlookers to be totally incomprehensible or a non-sequitur with no relation to the situation. Each new sentence must build on the narration.
Also I'm thinking there should be a special rule with respect to the use of words like "indescribable" and "unfathomable" or anything else that means "so horrible that I'm not going to tell you about it". This was H.P.Lovecraft's Favorite Cop-Out, so it needs some recognition. I'm just not sure whether you should be rewarded or punished for using these words.
Oh yeah, there's a game mechanics reason for all this! If the protagonist wins the Lovecraftian narration fight, he gets one free success. If the antagonist wins the fight, he gets to introduce one extra threat.
13. Loose Ends
So, that's the basic idea. There's a lot of loose ends to tie up obviously, especially in the area of exactly how cards get passed around for narration rights,but I think I'm close to being able to make up a stack of monster cards and a lits of player skills and then playtesting this.
What are your thoughts?
Lovecraft and Gaming, part 2 of 3: Arkham Horror is Not Fun
It was not a coincidence that when I reneged on the Call of Cthulhu RPG session, our fallback game was Arkham Horror. This is a lavishly produced Fantasy Flight Games boardgame, with loverly artwork and hundreds upon hundreds of little cardboard bits. It seems a noble attempt at translating an RPG experience into a board game with concrete rules. (Much like Hero Quest, my favorite board game in high school).
Arkham Horror is cooperative: the players work as a team to try to defeat the game itself. Either you beat the game and everybody wins, or the Great Old One wakes up and devours the world and everybody loses. So the players are kind of like a typical RPG party, but there's no GM. Instead, there's lots of random event cards and random encounter cards and precise rules for how each monster will behave and so on, so the enemies sort of play themselves.
Arkham Horror is not fun.
Well, that's my humble opinion anyway. I wanted to like it, since it's got great atmosphere and theme, cool pieces, and some neat game mechanics. The gaming group I hang out with lately (Mike, Jason, Brian, et al) seem to really like it. And it's quite highly rated on BGG. So I guess a lot of people do enjoy it, and more power to them, but it's not my cup of tea. It's an extremely complex game, with lots of rules and lots of options, lots of variant character abilities and power-up cards, lots of turn phases and locations and skill roles, and consequently it takes a really long time to play. But for all the procedural complexity, there's doesn't seem to be any depth to it.
I've played three games of it now (not that I finished any of them; we've always run out of time -- Arkham Horror takes almost as long as Twilight Imperium, no joke). I've tried taking an "immersive" approach to playing Arkham Horror -- make decisions based on "what would my character do?" or "Where would be interesting to explore next"? This approach leads to having lots of random encounters, which mean having disconnected and pointless story fragments read to me off a random encounter card and then rolling some skill dice. This approach occasionally nets some worthless prize, but generally just produces a gradual decline in health and sanity until it's time to head back to the hospital or asylum to get recharged. Repeat until the Big Bad finally emerges and kills everyone, or until I get too sleepy to keep playing.
Or, there's the "strategic" approach: come on guys, let's all put our heads together and figure out the best way to beat the Great Old One! Unfortunately, the winning strategy is pretty simple to figure out -- hang around the few locations where you can pick up Elder Signs, give all your clue tokens to one person who uses them to close gates, and give the best weapons to another person who goes monster-hunting. There will be some discussion of round-to-round tactics and who should do what, but inevitably the person who owns the game (Mike) knows the most about it, and as an inexperienced player I am always better-off taking his advice. Which means that this is, quite literally, a game where my optimum strategy is "Do whatever Mike tells me to do". It's like playing solitaire as a team. Even if our strategy is perfect, it's still five hours of dice-rolling and card-drawing before we find out whether we win; we could still lose as the result of dumb luck. We're certainly not going to face any intelligent opposition. We're not even facing a computer AI that could at least react in some rudimentary way to our actions and attempt to find a way to beat us. No, we're pitting our combined wits against a paper flowchart and some dice.
Again we must ask: Is there something about Lovecraft's ideas which make them sweet, deadly poison for game designers?
I guess I'm drinking that poison, because tomorrow I'm going to post part 3 and describe my own idea for a Lovecraft-based game.
Lovecraft and Gaming, part 1: Call of Cthulhu is Not Fun
Gather round and I will tell you a cautionary tale about how not to run, and also perhaps about how not to design, an RPG.
This happened way back in May, when I foolishly agreed to be the GM (sorry, the "Keeper") for a bunch of my friends who wanted to play Call of Cthulhu. We were on a camping trip, see. Actually, a combination camping trip and outdoor Warhammer 40k tournament, held in the woods near Kenosha, Wisconsin.
There were a lot of ticks there. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that I wasn't really inspired to run the game, but I didn't want to disappoint my friends, who seemed really excited about it and had put a lot of work into their characters. I had been stressing out for a couple of days about this, trying to write a suitable adventure. Lately I have been playing lots of indie RPGs which stress improvisation and shared control over the story, and finding this style of gaming much more to my liking. But CoC is very traditional, in that it's entirely driven by GM fiat (and the will of the dice gods), and requires lots and lots of design up front. "It's all about the puzzles", is what I've heard from people who enjoy CoC. OK. I can get that. I like puzzles. I can try to make up a puzzle-driven adventure.
I tried. I tried to think of a backstory for the adventure which was suitably Lovecraftian and which would have a logical reason to draw in each of the player characters, and result in a suitably creepy climax. I thought I had something fairly decent. But when we were all sitting around the picnic table in the lantern-light, and it hit me that there were five players with five unrelated PCs, each of whom needed to be dragged into the adventure somehow, I started to get cold feet.
Problem 1: What's your guy's name again?
I was already half-screwed because I had allowed the players to do chargen over a message board, resulting in PCs who had nothing to do with each other. The original plan was that everybody was former students of some professor dude who had just come back from some expedition so all the PCs were back in town for his presentation. I had thought that would be enough of a connection -- I was wrong. It was too weak and left too much leeway for each player to take his character concept off in an unrelated dirction. Five guys with detailed backstories but who have no reason to be in the same room with each other, much less go on an adventure together, oh joy. Never start a game this way. That's my new mantra for any game: Never let players create characters in isolation!
The reason gamers often do chargen in isolation from each other is because they want to get it done before the game session, because it takes so freakin long. Especially in a game like CoC where the chargen rules are layered like the tax code and you're supposed to spend hours figuring out how many years of school your guy had and what his shoe-size is and how good-looking (numerically!) he is and many points to put in the Geology skill. Once you've done all this paperwork your sheet will be filled in with hundreds of numbers, only two or three of which will ever be used in actual gameplay.
Game designers seem to be obsessed with chargen rules; there's something sexy about them. If you look at mainstream RPGs from the first version of D&D until now, you'll see a steady increase in the complexity of chargen rules, the number of chargen options, and the time it takes to create a character. I posit that this trend has done a lot of harm to the hobby, indirectly, by tacitly encouraging chargen to be done in isolation, resulting in disjoint PC groups, little player interaction, and forced
If you do play CoC, I recommend playing diceless. Your stats and skills are fairly irrelevant anyway (see below), so you might as well make your character as a simple qualitative description of name, background, personality, profession, interests, etc. This saves a lot of time and you can do it as a group. Then you can feed off each other's ideas, and make characters who have connections, relationships, who know each other, who are integrated with the setting, who have built-in reasons to appear in an adventure together.
Problem 2: Dead on arrival
To continue my camping trip story: I started narrating an introductory scene for one of the characters, but I didn't feel like it was engaging the player at all.
The situation was that a police officer was asking around about the disappearance of some guy who lived in that area, and insinuating that the P.C. was suspected. I had intended this situation to be a "bang" (a situation the player can't ignore and which has multiple valid responses), but as soon as it was out of my mouth I realized it wasn't a bang at all. My situation has just one obvious response: the PC tells the policeman that he doesn't know anything (true) until the policeman goes away. Then what? No conflict has been introduced, no stakes set; nothing is going to happen unless the PC chooses to go investigate the disappeared dude on his own.
Of course, this is exactly what I was hoping he would do... but what if he didn't? And I still had four other players waiting for their first scenes.
Suddenly the distance between the place we were at and the place where anything fun could happen seemed vast and overwhelming. Was I just going to have to continue throwing out clues until finally one of the players decided to act on one? I looked at what I had prepared as far as NPCs and backstory and possible events, and I realized that I could very rapidly use it all up and run out of material and still not have my adventure even get off the ground -- there's no guarantee that any of my clues or scenes would catch the players' interest and get them involved.
What to do? I didn't know how to make a plot hook to grab any of my PCs, and none of the players seemed eager to initiate anything of their own initiative -- their comments to me and each other before the game made it pretty clear that they were depending on me to drag their characters into something. My adventure was dead on arrival.
Thinking about it now, I think should have framed much more aggressively and simply started the game out with everybody standing around the body of the monster's first victim, but I didn't think of that at the time.
Problem 3: Give me one good reason to go in there!
The footprints lead to a door with rusty hinges and a dark stain leaking out from underneath. Do you open it? There's a strange buzzing sound coming from that corpse over there. Do you examine it? There's an incantation spelled out in the tome of forbidden lore. Do you read it out loud?
Saying "yes" to any of these questions is likely to lead to Bad Things, as you might guess if you had an ounce of common sense. In Call of Cthulhu, Bad Things means encounters with creatures so horrible that you can go insane just by looking at them. Their attacks so deadly that you shouldn't bother rolling damage, unless you want to know how much of you is left to bury.
But if you don't open the door, examine the corpse, or read the incantation, then very little of interest is ever going to happen in the game.
It seems to me that Call of Cthulhu has a huge motivation problem. What motivates you to go on adventures?
If you're thinking tactically (sometimes called "being a munchkin"), then you shouldn't open the door. This isn't D&D. It's not like facing danger is going to earn you treasure and XP. Your charcters start out as powerful as they're ever going to get, and you'll lose sanity and hit points a lot faster than you can ever recover them. Not only should you not open the door, you shouldn't even look at the door too closely, in case it's covered with evil runes that cost sanity points to look at. If anything, you should nail the door shut, get as far away as possible, and preferrably nuke the planet from orbit.
And if you're trying to role-play realistically or immersively? All the character creation rules are aimed at simulating believable, unexceptional people from the time period: librarians, poets, artists, retired businessmen, once in a while an actual detective, but never anybody who has the slightest chance of fighting back against the monsters. If you're playing your character realistically and you have an IQ stat greater than 3, then realistically you will stay the hell away from anything remotely resembling an adventure. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose from getting involved in the Mythos. There's a very good reason most RPGs cast the players as heroes: because heroes do stuff. Your librarian, on the other hand, is realistically going to stay in the library all day ( making sure to burn any copies of any blasphemous texts by any mad Arabs ) and, if mysteriuos figures come lurking about, will call the police before going back to librarian business.
(It's an odd game where immersionist thinking and gamist thinking lead to exactly the same behavior. Too bad that behavior is to "turtle up". It makes the game go nowhere.)
The character creation rules of the game are just trying to mimic protagonists of Lovecraft stories, who are usually mild-mannered protagonists from polite society. But the stories don't have the motivation problem, because they're stories. The author needs the character to do certain things for the sake of the plot, so he comes up with a reason for the character to do that. It doesn't work when the characters are controlled by other players with minds of their own.
Solutions? The PCs could just suspend their disbelief, ignore their common sense and their character's personality, and volunteer to play Curious George. ("Ooh! A distorted, blood-stained pentagram! I think I'll put my tongue on it!") Unless you're a masochist, this is only fun for so long.
A typical solution, but not a very good one, is the GM-created plot hook. He thinks up reasons why the PCs should investigate things, tries to make them plausible, and hopes the players will agree. Every published CoC scenario I've ever seen has relied on extremely contrived plot hooks, such as the "Death of a relative you never heard of" hook:
"Bill, your uncle just died."
"What, another one? How many uncles do I have?"
"Um, this was your uncle Thaddeus who lived in Britain. He left you something in his will. It's a hideous statue that glows with evil! Your uncle also left you a warning to never poke the statue in the eye with a stick."
If the players don't feel like taking that bait, the GM must often resort to pleading, arm-twisting, threatening family members, and throwing arbitrary walls in the players' path when they try to walk away from the situation.
As a GM, I hate doing this stuff!! I hate it when I have to create both the goal for the players, and the obstacles in the way of that goal. It feels like playing a chess game against myself while the players look on, bored. It feels like forcing rats through a maze. Except the rats are my friends, so I feel bad about it, and they're not even interested in the cheese at the end, they're just humoring me. Besides, the rats are often smarter than me, and so I have to keep moving the walls around in the maze to keep them from getting to the cheese too quickly, and that's just frustrating for everyone.
I think the best solution to the motivation problem would be to make up police/detective/FBI characters and play it like the X-Files. "This time you're on your way to Maine. Here's what you know about the case so far..." This approach does run completely contrary to the spirit of Lovecraft's writings, but at least it would let you skip over the motivation problems and get straight to the good stuff.
Problem 3: What's this game made out of?
Hmmm. Straight to the "good stuff", eh? Here's my other problem with the CoC: I don't know what the bulk of play is supposed to consist of. What decisions do players make? What challenges do they face? What goes into the adventure to take up the space between the plot hook and the climax? What do PCs do?
I recall that most of Lovecraft's stories were low on action and dialogue, high on exposition. The protagonist is typically very passive. He doesn't fight monsters (he can't), he doesn't interact with other people much (Lovecraft was antisocial, so are his characters), he doesn't solve problems (that would imply a happy ending) and he doesn't make important decisions (how could any decision be important when humans are so insignificant?). Mostly he's just a viewpoint through which Lovecraft transmits exposition to the reader. This is one of the many reasons why Lovecraft is considered a pretty bad writer. But the contents of the exposition are often cool, interesting, original, and/or creepy, and that's what's saved Lovecraft from total obscurity.
This formula of passive, linear exposition is a terrible model for a game scenario. Game scenarios must, above all, present the player with interesting and difficult choices. Yet, all the published scenarios I've ever read for CoC stick closely to the broken Lovecraft story model. The four sample adventures in the back of the book are written like linear stories, start to finish, with occasional mentions of skill rolls and sanity losses. These stories have "the investigators" (as a singular, faceless block) playing unimportant bit parts, sometimes more like observers than investigators, while the plot happens between NPCs. This will never do.
What is gameplay made out of in other games? In traditional D&D you make decisions about which way to go when exploring the dungeon; about whether to fight, run, or negotiate when you meet a creature; about when and how to use your spells and items; about how far to push your luck and when to head back to town. The basic game mechanics are well-suited to these types of decisions and challenges.
Lately I've been greatly enjoying narrative, indie games like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Shadow of Yesterday; these games still have a traditional GM roles, but the core of a typical adventure is a relationship map: here are these people, related to each other like this and that, they each have their own problems and motivations, and so they'll have differences of opinion and start various conflicts with each other. It's all very much driven by human drama. The PCs are powerful and motivated, so they're at the center of the storm. Their characters have a stake in how things turn out, and they are empowered by the game mechanics to be able to change things. The mechanics are appropriate for resolving the kinds of conflicts that arise and they're inherently fun to play out. The GM doesn't even try to plan out events or steer the adventure towards a certain outcome, he just plays the NPCs and adjucates things and improvises. These games are easy to set up and run, fun to play, and fun to GM. Honestly I think they might have kind of spoiled me.
Back to CoC: Fighting is pretty much deadly, so we can immediately rule out using fight scenes as a way of pacing the gameplay. Mythos entities are so utterly beyond our comprehension that there's no chance of reasoning with them or talking your way past them, either. An adventure about human drama, interpersonal conflict, moral dilemmas, etc., is lots of fun in indie games, but to do it in CoC would not at all fit the spirit of Lovecraft (by his own admission, he thought stories about ordinary human affairs were booooooring.) I don't know how interpersonal conflict would be supposed to fit in the same adventure with Indescribable Horrors from Beyond Space And Time. When the latter are chasing you the former kind of shrink into insignificance.
So if we can't fight anything and there's no meaningful interpersonal drama... that narrows it down quite a bit, doesn't it? That means about the only class of problems left to focus on is puzzle/mystery stuff. So let's talk about how that works.
The basic game mechanic in CoC is a percentile skill roll. There are a lot of skills, but almost all of them (Spot Hidden, Library Use, History, Listen, Photography...) are used mainly to get clues. That is, if you succeed on an appropriate roll, the GM tells you about one of the clues he's presumably thought up ahead of time and hidden in this scene. Problem: If the clue is at all important to making progress in the story, then if you fail the skill roll, you are simply stuck. Many people have pointed this out as a fundamental flaw in the very idea of making skill rolls to investigate stuff. If some object is vital to the plot, the player must be able to find it, so those skill rolls have to fudged or ignored or retried or something. I think it's better to throw away the dice entirely and simply say that if a player asks the right question, the GM will spill the clue. Of course this means that all those skills on your sheet are meaningless; aren't you happy you spent hours allocating skill points?
So, by process of elimination, here's the only model of CoC play I can think of that has even a slight chance of being functional: run it like a computer adventure game. There's a set list of locations, and certain people and objects in each one which will react in certain ways to a certain set of actions. Nothing happens until the players go poke at something. The players ask questions of the GM about what they can observe, discuss ideas with each other, and try to figure out what action will result in advancement of the plot. The pacing of the adventure is however long it takes the PCs to figure stuff out. The wrong actions result in horrible grisly death; the right actions result in a chance of a "happy ending" where some PCs and NPCs are able to survive and escape.
I guess I can see this maybe being sorta fun in the right circumstances, but it all depends on the adventure being exactly right. It takes massive, massive amounts of prep time to write an adventure like that, as all the locations and NPCs ("talking, movable props") and clues have to be arranged just so in order for the PCs to be able to connect the dots. They must be neither too hard nor to easy as there is little or no room for the GM to correct things during the game by improvisation. Maybe I just suck at making up puzzles, but it seems like every time I give a puzzle to my players they either find it unfair and impossible to solve, or else they instantly spot an obvious solution that I didn't even think of.
(It's very hard to make mystery plots and the supernatural work together. A proper mystery must be solvable by logical deduction, but if the supernatural is involved then logic goes out the window. The murderer could have teleported into and out of the locked room, etc.)
Finally, even if I did have a perfectly designed mystery adventure all set up on graph paper in front of me, most "puzzles" boil down to "Guess what the GM wants us to do next!", and I don't enjoy that activity anymore. Especially not when I have to be the GM.
I am not proud of this. At that picnic table in the woods at night, with five players looking at me expectantly, I choked. I made a lame excuse about needing more time to prepare and went back to the tent with my notes and pencils. Alone in the tent, I made a few attempts to salvage my adventure by fleshing it out into a full step-by-step connect-the-dots puzzle for the PCs to muddle through. But my heart wasn't in it anymore, as I knew it would take many more hours of prep time to do this properly, and I would have to resort to railroading techniques to keep it from falling apart. That's when I realized the real nature of the problem: I have no idea how to make Call of Cthulhu remotely fun. Either for the players or for myself. That's what it is. Finally I apologized to my friends and said I don't really have the energy to do this right now, sorry everybody, let's play something else.
The same thing happened the only other time I ever tried to run CoC. I got about two and half sentences into the intro narration before my one player said "This is dumb. Let's play something else." I agred with him.
Is this gamable?
"All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large". That's what Lovecraft said. That exact quote is even in the Call of Cthulhu book. Does this maybe sound like a clue that his work is maybe not the best basis for a role-playing game? Asking to play Call of Cthulhu is like saying, "Hey GM, please put me in a situation where my character's decisions and beliefs are completely irrelevant!" Does that sound fun to you? I don't really enjoy playing a game where I have no chance to affect the outcome. Why not just give up the pretense of interactivity and ask the GM to read us a story?
Yet there's something about Lovecraft's world which seems to have an irrestible draw to gamers and game designers. There have been a multitude of board games, RPGs, CCGs, and so on based on the Cthulhu Mythos, whether loosely or directly. And then there's the parodies and spinoffs (Munchkin Cthulhu!) -- It seems like there's a meme in gamer culture which WILL NOT DIE that "anything cute + Cthulhu = instant comedy gold!" It's even more played-out than that stupid "pirate vs. ninja" meme. (Seriously, people, it's not funny anymore. Can we move on?)
IT'S A COMIC
It's a comic. Posting it has made me late for work, so I gotta go now.
I cut a ping-pong ball in half, drew pupils on each side with a marker, and put them over my eyes. It looks like this:
Darwin ga kita!
Back in May, as you may recall, was when the 17-year cicadas emerged from the ground in Illinois to metamorphose, buzz around, mate, lay eggs, and die. My parents' neighborhood in LaGrange was the epicenter of the Brood 13 emergence. A while ago I linked to a picture of me eating a couple of larval cicadas that I had roasted on the barbecue.
Well, the whole time this was going on, there was a film crew from NHK (Japanese national television) camped out in my parents' yard and in the yard of the neighbors across the street, getting footage for a nature program.
Just this last weekend, I finally got to see the finished program, as they had sent a copy of the episode to my family on DVD. It's a family-oriented nature show called "Darwin ga kita: Ikimono no Shindensetsu" or "Here Comes Darwin: New Legend of Living Things". I really want to rip this video and put the whole thing on YouTube, because the show is suprisingly well done. It is both informative and entertaining. And it's not everyday your family and neighbors get to appear in a video alongside 100,000s of cicadas and -- this being an NHK show -- an oyaji-speaking CGI furball character who draws haiku on the screen. Also I am highly amused to hear people I know dubbed over with the voices of Japanese interpreters.
Anyway, until I get a chance to rip the DVD, you can take a look at the Here Comes Darwin web page about the episode, from which I grabbed the following cute picture:
Yuki's Electric Dreamtime Hackstravaganza, guest-starring Billie Holiday and the flying toasters
Say, remember that comic I used to do? That I haven't updated since, like, April? And now it's September?
Here it is: the comic that I started five months ago and finished tonight.
Some things I learned about getting a comic done in a reasonable amount of time: First, stick to a fixed layout of a small number of panels. If an idea is too big to go in the panels, cut something. Don't add more panels whenever you think of more dialog. Also don't try to do some crazy Scott McCloud inspired infinite-canvas layout.
Do it in black-and-white. If you must do it in color, at least color it using art materials you're already familiar with, and don't try to teach yourself new painting and shading techniques.
Keep the backgrounds simple. If you can't keep the background simple, at least only show the complicated background once, and don't repeat it eight times from slightly different angles.
Only draw characters you already know how to draw; don't try to create new character designs on the fly and certainly don't try to draw a recognizable likeness of a real-life person.
Keep the dialog short and to the point. Don't include things that you're going to have to research. If you do, don't research them so much that you end up throwing out all of your original dialog and rewriting it all. If you must rewrite all the dialog, do it before you draw the speech bubbles so you don't have to try to squeeze new words into old bubbles.
I broke every single one of these rules. And that's why this comic took five months.
Warning 1: It is about seven megabytes. You will want to have it loading in a background tab while you do something else.
Warning 2: There's a sex scene at the end of it, so, I guess, don't read it if you're under 18 or terminally prudish. AbsolutSauron: ask your sister if you can read it. ;-)
Warning 3: Horizontal scrolling required.
Yuki's Electric Dreamtime Full-Color Hackstravaganza of Sex and Death