I’ve been a fan of Castle Falkenstein since 1994 when I grabbed a copy of the newly released role-playing game. I have run it straight at the table and online, I’ve adapted it for alternate systems such as Theatrix, PDQ, and Fate Core (though I’m still unenthusiastic about the spellcasting rules in the latter, need to think more about them). For many old gamers like me, R. Talsorian Games‘ Castle Falkenstein represented a sea change at the time, no longer concentrating on dice rolling and stat values as much as the fiction created around the player characters.
Although the original Castle Falkenstein books are long out of print, they were eventually scanned and released as PDF versions on DriveThruRPG. But until recently, the latest supplement released by RTG had been, if memory serves, The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie in 1998; and a GURPS Castle Falkenstein supplement, The Ottoman Empire, had been released by Steve Jackson Games under license circa 2000.
J Gray is also a great person — and a great GM. Along with my husband, I’ve had the chance to play in J’s current online game. We’re alpha-playtesting a series of new alternate mechanic options that will allow customization of the Castle Falkenstein system for GMs who like to tinker. J has been recording the the episodes so far and releasing them as a podcast. You can see the campaign site on Obsidian Portal, and listen to the episodes on Fat Goblin GamesPresents. That will give you a preview of some of the rules we’re testing so you can try them too!
Thrilling news for me: A couple of weeks ago I received the green light from Evil Hat Productions to be creative director and primary author for a new Fate Toolkit focusing on espionage, heists, and confidence jobs. For now we’re referring to it as the Fate Infiltration Toolkit, but the name may well change along the way.
Not so thrilling: A week ago I got a terse note from my employer informing me of termination. Later that week I learned that other people had been let go as well, I’m not sure whether the entire office is closing. It was a miserable job for a short-sighted company, but it was a safety net — if a flimsy one. I had already been sending resumes around but I have to step up the job search.
Thrilling again: In the same batch of emails, I received one from Vigilance Press offering me a chance to write the next Tianxia book! It’s going to be a rules compendium that will present the Fate Core rules (based on the SRD) for people who are new to both Fate and Tianxia, along with game-master advice, optional rules, and so forth. We don’t have an official title yet for that one either, so I’ve been referring to it as the Tianxia Rules Companion.
One thing I was not really aware of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over thirteen months ago was the phenomenon patients call “chemo brain.” Even if I had been, I probably would not have put it very high on the list to worry about, compared to other symptoms and side effects. But it turned out to be a protracted, annoyingly lingering effect even after the end of chemotherapy.
It was, of course, at its peak during that treatment. The strangest thing was that I completely lost my sense of elapsed time. I am normally pretty good at estimating how much time has passed in a given subjective period, whether it’s on the scale of minutes or months. But during chemotherapy, I completely lost this ability; the feeling of time simply vanished. Everything was compressed into yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Things gradually returned to normal on this front in the months after I was done with chemo, but other symptoms continued: poor concentration, memory lapses, short attention span, inability to accomplish more than one task at a time, and this only by focusing hard. Given that I normally revel in efficiency and method, this was quite frustrating.
For the last six weeks or so, however, my powers of concentration, my mental acuity and energy have improved dramatically. I’m not back to peak performance yet, but it’s a sharp contrast with the mental sluggishness of previous months. Today I had jotted down twenty tasks on my to-do list and I have accomplished sixteen of them! Just a couple of months ago, it was a big deal to get one thing done in a day. This feels so much better, so encouraging!
That’s my mouse, running away from three giant spiders and dragging the bad guy with me.
The Mouse patrol defeats the weasel.
As requested by a fan of Evil Hat Productions, here is some information on running a Mouse Guard game using the Fate system. TL;DR: My thinking process, followed by lots of useful links at the bottom of the post.
When I was in the final stages of writing War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus for Evil Hat Productions, I wanted to test the rules we had grafted onto Fate Accelerated to support the use of miniatures. I wanted to check whether they would play well when used in another setting and handled by a game-master who wasn’t part of the development team. My friend Kit was nice enough to run it for us using the setting from the Mouse Guard RPG (Archaia Studio/Burning Wheel Games) and the episode was a success. I later ran it a few times at conventions and it was great fun.
Recently someone (Tim R.) wrote to Evil Hat to ask how we made these adaptions. I never posted any notes before because in truth, this was not a full-fledged conversion. However, the Fate Accelerated engine is excellent for conversions-on-the-fly! And I think the miniatures rules we came up with work very well with otther settings, especially fantasy settings. Continue reading “Fate of the Mouse Guard: Here you go!”→
The premise: it’s the 19th century and unnatural storms forced your vessel to seek refuge in a poor, troubled little coastal town. Expect intrigue, desperation, betrayal, and supernatural mysteries. The game system is a mean, unforgiving, stripped-down Powered by the Apocalypse.
Another successful Kickstarter baby, a card/board game created by Travis and Holly Hancock at Facade Games.
The premise: two pirate ships, one Spanish galleon, and Tortuga Island between them. Treasure, mutineers, and divided loyalties. Up to nine players vie for the gold amid shifting alliances and tides in this social deduction game.
Another social deduction card game from Travis and Holly Hancock at Facade Games.
Because the Tortuga 1667 Kickstarter campaign was so successful, Facade games was able to launch a new printing of this game that has already been a success in the last couple of years. Up to 12 people play witch hunters and inhabitants of Salem, Massachusetts, who must find the witches before being accused themselves! Much fun, paranoia, and religious extremism will be had by all.
To the Temple of Doom! To Defeat the Ancient Evil!
A no-prep, mini-roleplaying game by Hayley Gordon and Veronica Hendro at Storybrewers Roleplaying, which they offer free for download.
I submitted this as part of the line-up I want to offer at Games on Demand. Participating game-masters each offer a choice of two or more games for walk-in players, typically run in two-hour time blocks.
The premise: play archaeologists portrayed in the vein of action movies like the Indiana Jones series, The Mummy, etc. An ancient evil stirs, waking deep within the bowels of an untouched temple. An evil that will end the world as we know it. Only you and your fellow archeologists can examine the clues, unravel the mysteries, and uncover the method to subdue this terrible threat. It’s reportedly very rare to finish a game without a few characters dead or at least cursed…
Loose Threads: A Fate World of Adventure
A lovely adventure for Fate Core by Tara Zuber, published by Evil Hat Productions. I was lucky enough to try it when Tara playtested it and I greatly enjoyed it. Now I’m offering it for Games on Demand.
The premise: you play a secondary character from a fairy tale, one that was forgotten by the heroes of the tale but has since managed to make a life for themselves helping others avoid being the collateral damage of a happy ending. You and the rest of your Company break curses, retrieve stolen keepsakes and lost children, and chase ogres away.
I also listed half a dozen other games I could offer at Games on Demand, including Cat (Wicked Dead Games), Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions), octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks), PDQ in its various incarnations (Atomic Sock Monkey Games), Urchin (Clint Krause), etc.
I spent my discretionary time this weekend working on prep for this year’s edition of Big Bad Con. We had our official launch a few says ago, and we’re very excited!
It will be our second year at the new venue, the Marriott Walnut Creek, and we are planning to make better use of the excellent space. (I was bold and already booked a room.) We received a lot of useful (and mostly heart-warming) feedback on last year’s event, which prompted some changes. Notable items include:
A new board game track with a game library
An expanded program of panels and workshops
More games for teens
Better access to parking and food at the hotel
Quieter space for Games On Demand
An all-digital system for on-site game signups
And probably more stuff I’m forgetting. The con have fantastic staff handling all these projects.
Immediately after Thursday’s announcement, we received many game submissions. I spent much time this weekend approving games and communicating with game-masters. And thinking about what games I want to run…
We also received submissions for panels, seminars, and workshops but we’re holding those in draft form until we have our official guest list finalized. This must wait until after the Kickstarter campaign that will run through May. Still, if you have ideas of panel topics you would like to see on the program, send them in!
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The rate at which proposed regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.
A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.
Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:
“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “
“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “
It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”
[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:
Patriarchy and kyriarchy
Rise of religious fundamentalism
Feminist reactions to pornography
“Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
Right to take one’s own life
Surveillance and information technology
Sexual orientation and choice
Access to education, knowledge as power
Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
Televangelists and the Christian media industry
And I bet I missed some.]
Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.
Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.
Part of my entertainment last weekend when I was in the hospital was to watch SS-Gruppenführer Milo Yiannopoulos lose traction. First, there were Larry Wilmore and Malcolm Nance telling him what’s what on “Overtime With Bill Maher.” Heads-up: you need to wade through the opening bullshit before you get to the good stuff. Then there was NAMBLA(1) Chair Yiannopoulos’ own recent words finally being acknowledged for once, and finally Laurie Penny’s post-mortem.
But amusing as it was, there was a background to this that infuriated me throughout: the continued treatment of Yiannopoulos and his droogs, and the validation of his odiousness as just what everyone is really thinking. It peeked through in Penny’s reluctant tenderness for “Peter Pan” and the “Lost Boys,” but it was shoved front and centre in Bill Maher’s handling of him.
Milo Y constantly spouts racist, misogynist, ableist, transphobic shit, but the (alt-)Right only flinched when he sounded too much like their idea of gayness. They don’t give a shit about protecting children but they do have a knee-jerk reaction for the Gay Man Preying On Their Sons. BFD, nothing new in the Log Cabin’s closets; but we, the liberals, #TheResistance, we should not normalize any of this. I was appalled to hear Maher join in the denigration and mockery of trans persons rather than tell Milo he’s not edgy — just a narcissist piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be humoured. Thank you, Larry Wilmore, for taking the burden on yourself.
Meanwhile, the rest of us have to come to grips with the Maher type of liberal, spouting old garbage like it’s 1974 or something. Look at them in the face or in the mirror: the privileged, gated community, comfy, bougie liberals; the not-my-backyard, not-my-problem liberals; the All-Lives-Matter liberals; the white women who voted for trump; the TERFs and the SWERFs; the “race realists”; the I-got-mine-Jack liberals.
Let’s not BE them. Let’s not be this clueless, let’s not insulate ourselves in our little corner of privilege like a bit of blanket allowed by those hogging all the riches and power. Let’s respect human beings as we want to be respected. Let’s fight to protect the rights of women, persons of colour, refugees, children, DREAMers, disabled people, trans persons, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ, and any number of artificial divisions I’m forgetting right now.
Trans persons are not confused: they want to be treated like full human beings, be protected from assault, and have their bodily autonomy respected.
Black people and persons of colour are not reverse-racists: they want to be able to get decent education, employment and housing, their children to have the same chance of surviving a police encounter as if they were white, and a shot at the famed American Dream every once in a goddamn while.
People advocating for marriage equality are not asking for new rights: they just want to form a family on their own terms with the same protections heterosexuals receive under the law, including some simple peace of mind.
Refugees are not terrorists: they’re fleeing terrorism, state-sponsored violence, persecution, famine and other calamities, and they get extensively vetted before they are even allowed a visa.
Immigrants are not rapists and murderers: they’re hard-working people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in a country that shows them little but contempt but is all too happy to exploit them for cheap labour.
Muslim beliefs are not any more threatening than Catholic, or Baptist, or Latter-Day Saint ones: the Quran speaks words that are dang similar to those of the Bible or the Book of Mormon.
People with disabilities are not a burden, nor are they inspirational: they’re us(2), needing to marshal our strength and use life hacks when it’s not a hip Buzzfeed article.
And cis women do not need need to be protected by the law from trans women — they need to be protected from cis men. Their rights, their autonomy, their safety, their health care, their paycheck need to be protected from greedy old cis men in Congress and in the White House.
What part of this is hard to understand?
(1) National American Milo-Boy Love Association. Return.
(2) I woke up at 2am, remembering this sentence and hating it. It sounds like I’m comparing living with a disability to having a bad day; that’s not what I intended. What I mean is that people with disabilities are ordinary folks like us us, not strange others, and that many of us will deal with disabilities in our own lives at some point; moreover, much of the help required — for example, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) — is very modest, not the insurmountable barrier some people imagine. Return.
Although we had planned to spend Presidents Day weekend at DunDraCon, I was concerned about a cold that was leaving me severely short of breath and occasionally dizzy last week. I saw my general practitioner because I had been told to watch out for symptoms like shortness of breath. She gave me antibiotics to avoid the cold turning into bronchopneumonia. But although the cough rapidly got better, the breathing and dizziness didn’t — I was panting from merely getting up and walking to another room. So on Friday morning when my doctor called to check back, she said I should go directly to the Emergency Room.
A few hours later I had had an electrocardiogram, a CAT scan, an echocardiogram, ultrasound of the legs, and multiple examinations, as well as being hooked up with an intravenous heparin drip for blood thinning, electrodes to monitor my heart, a pulse oxymeter, three catheters in my arms, a sphygnomanometer cuff for frequent blood pressure monitoring, and a nasal cannula for oxygen.
Doctors said the CAT scan showed “multiple, extensive” pulmonary embolisms, and the echocardiogram indicated that my heart was enlarged on the right side from overwork to pump blood through the obstructed alveoli. On the plus side, my physical strength, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and even oxygenation were generally good, no clots were found in my legs, and I had no chest pains at any point.
I was at one of these tipping points when the benefits and risks of two different treatments seem to exactly even out.
In a moderate case, the treatment would consist of administering heparin to prevent further clots, then allow the clots to dissolve gradually, transitioning me to another blood thinner like warfarin for long-term maintenance. The risks in this are primarily associated with clots starting to move before they’re small enough and causing cardiac problems.
In a severe case (i.e., when things are dire and you can’t really f– them up much more), the treatment would be the administration of a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), often referred to as a clot-buster. The risk then is to cause catastrophic internal bleeding, particularly in the brain — such as a stroke.
In the end the primary doctor, a pulmonologist, was very cautious. She sent me to the Intensive Care Unit instead of a regular room because clot-buster treatment can only be administered in the ICU due to the risks. I was monitored at all times with a heparin drip, but the tBA treatment was not immediately administered. It was crazy busy in the ICU with some acute cases (fortunately, I was in the quieter wing) so it was only in the evening that the doctor was able to come back and talk to me. Since my vital signs were strong and I had even eaten dinner (I was SO hungry by then, having left home without even breakfast), she decided to keep me on heparin but supervised in the ICU for the moment.
Thus ended Friday night, with me sleeping in the ICU, nurses watching me and blood samples being drawn every few hours. Despite the severity of the case, I was by far the “healthiest” looking patient in ICU. Two things that made the nurses chuckle: I asked for a sleeping mask, and I was the only one well enough to eat an actual breakfast on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon I was allowed to get up, take a few steps around the room, sit up in a chair for a couple of hours. I spoke to the doctor a few times throughout the day. In the evening I was well enough that she transferred me to the Transitional Care Unit (TCU); she just wasn’t willing to risk a stroke if she gave me the tBA.
So I got to TCU in time for the night shift. Because the ratio of nurse to patients is much lower there, the doctor told me with some insistence that I was not to wait at all if I needed even the slightest help, but immediately use the call button to summon a nurse. So I did. In fact, I try to be the most obedient and courteous patient around, but when I need help, I ask firmly. I had to, because there were a lot of distractions during my stay in TCU!
When I was wheeled there, the room across the corridor from mine was already the site of a commotion. The patient there was a woman who appeared to be suffering from dementia, along with whatever other problems were being treated. She was having hallucinations at times, she would not comply with the personnel’s instructions, she would not let them take her stool-stained garments, she yelled, etc. Several nurses and aides were tied up with her case at all times. Their patience and gentleness was truly amazing, but they were clearly very tired.
In addition to the noisy neighbour, other rooms had multiple visitors, and I could hear everyone’s televisions. Possibly because of the number of elderly patients, the wing was kept much warmer than the ICU so I was sweating like a pig. Nevertheless, I was grateful that the nurses told me they would trust me to call for any help I needed and allowed me to keep the door to my room closed for the night. And yes, I could hear the agitated patient and her cohort of personnel throughout the entire night. I was grateful I had my iPhone and earbuds to have some soothing sounds covering most of this. After my 3AM blood draw, instead of going back to sleep immediately, I spent a couple of hours making a music mix on Spotify!
I finally slept again for a few hours, until I was awakened on Sunday morning for more monitoring, sampling, and the sounds of Jesus TV coming from neighbours’ rooms (soon to be replaced by super-violent-movie sounds!) But happily, once the lab results came back I was switched from the heparin drip to Lovenox injections every 12 hours and warfarin tablets in the evenings, much less cumbersome. I was also allowed to do without the oxygen cannula for most of the day, so I had fewer pieces of equipment interfering with comfort.
Edmund was actually with me for much of the time, unexciting as it is to sit in a hospital chair. Since we live only a few minutes away, he was able to come and go for meals, errands, and checking on the cats. He brought me dark chocolate-covered pretzels and raisins, fresh blueberries, and flowers. Throughout the weekend he kept up this shtick with live reports from the “game convention” which made me laugh.
Since I could hear everyone’s televisions, I played music and sang along when I was alone — as confirmed by the pulse oxymeter readings, this actually helped me get nice, long, regular breaths. The nurses chuckled again and encouraged me to continue (I told you they’re dedicated!)
On Sunday afternoon I was allowed to take a couple of closely supervised walks up and down the corridor; it was nice to stretch my legs. I spent a second night in TCU, a little quieter noise-wise though the agitated patient started again on Monday morning.
But after breakfast and a couple more walks, the doctor came to talk to me. Because I had someone at home with me and because I showed good comprehension of, and compliance with, medical instructions, she said she would let me go home but sternly admonished me to treat this as if I was still in the hospital: bed rest or sitting quiet, no activity until my blood prothrombin time (coagulation rate) is in the right range and the clots are dissolved. And by early afternoon on Monday, I was home. Hurray!
It was so nice to be home, without wires and catheters, and buried instead under a pile of purring cats! Valentine, in particular, has been keeping a close eye on me. It’s been a luxury to sleep in my own bed and be able to take a shower at last!
I’m in contact with the anti-coagulation clinic pharmacist for dosage adjustments. I must report any unusual symptoms, of course, and come in to the lab for blood sampling every couple of days. The best guess right now is that the tamoxifen I started taking in late January to prevent cancer recurrence is what precipitated the problem (pun intended). I have follow-up appointments scheduled with my general practitioner and my oncologist.
I want to say thank you to all my friends for their encouragements and kindness. I know some of you wanted to come visit me in the hospital, but I just wanted to rest most of the time. The care I received was stellar, but I still wouldn’t call it a fun place to hang out at! And thank you to all the ER, ICU, and TCU nurses and doctors, who were so kind, respectful, and competent (and in some cases, funny!)
TL;DR: Play materials for a Fate hack of Dark Heresy. Enjoy.
A year ago, I was planning on running demo games at conventions featuring the Open Content from War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. The Advanced Conflict rules, which are now also available from Randy Oest’s awesome Fate SRD website, are intended to support miniatures as an integral part of of Fate. Since we have approximately 30,000 points’ worth of miniatures in the house — you think I’m kidding, but I’m not — it seemed like the grim, gothic future of the 41st millennium, as seen in the Warhammer 40,000 miniatures combat game and the Dark Heresy role-playing game, was a perfect match.
Of course, health issues soon forced me to cancel my convention plans, but now that I am recovering and convention season is upon us, I decided to go back to packaging the game for quick-start.
First, the pitch:
Fate of the Inquisitor
Inquisitor Lucanus has led you, his retinue, to the Hive World of Corundum IV amidst an ongoing Genestealer invasion to retrieve a priceless relic from the foul xenos. Now the Inquisitor has disappeared during a brutal firefight and the ensuing cave-in, and you are chased by a Genestealer cult. Will you find your master again? Complete his mission? Call for help? Or die bravely but pointlessly?
I made templates for nine types of player characters, using a playbook format like the one used in games Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA). The rules are pure Fate SRD, but I hope the playbooks make character creation quick and easy for time-constrained one-off games.Each comes with a choice of names, looks, customizable aspects, and stunts. The playbooks include:
Sister of Battle
I also modified the appearance of the blank character sheet from War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. Then I made a cheat sheet of the Advanced Conflict rules I am using, and a table sign. All of these are available on Google Drive.
I have not yet put any effort into creating well-formatted single-page folding sheets because I expect mistakes may be pointed out and it’s easiest to update text prior to layout. Also, not a big priority right now.