The Virtue Trap quiz

Yoinked from .

1. The biggest lack in my life is… willpower.
2. The greatest joy in my life is… my husband.
3. My largest time commitment is… work. If we mean personal time, then Emerald City Gamefest.
4. As I play more I work… differently, using tricks I got from leisure activities.
5. I feel guilty that I am… lazy.
6. I worry that… we won’t have enough to live on when I retire.
7. If my dreams come true, my family will be… together and secure.
8. I sabotage myself so people will… not think I’m too much of a know-it-all.
9. If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that I… get cornered into the role of nag.
10. One reason I get sad sometimes is… when is sad.

Pulp game thoughts, Part 3: Plot styles

I’ve been plotting and planning, and possibly scheming over a pulp-inspired play-by-email (PBeM) that will use the Spirit of the Century (SotC) system. (In case you care to follow this reflection, here are Part 1 and Part 2.)

Now I’m pondering the types of overarching stories one can tell in a pulp game that will rely on an ensemble cast. It seems to me some of the main ones include stories about exploring places, defending a group or cause, or accomplishing a complex task. (I’m making this up as I go along, although I’m certain many people have already established much better categories.)

Explorer Stories
This type of story is based on the travelogue and exploration of exotic locations, including the Lost Worlds I was discussing in my previous post. Although there are subplots, the bulk of the story revolves around finding and /or exploring a strange world (and sometimes ruling it). The story will involve overcoming natural and supernatural threats, visiting grandiose settings, encountering baffling customs, earning the friendship of enigmatic strangers, and of course fighting a local evil power. Good examples of explorers include Allan Quatermain, Axel Lidenbrock, Captain Hatteras, Professor Challenger, etc. Examples of stories include a large number of novels by Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Pierre Benoit, etc.

Defender Stories
In this type of story, the main characters are championing a cause, defending a group, or opposing a peril or enemy. The story will generally involve a good amount of fighting the enemy, of course, but also setting and evading traps, pursuits, and sometimes investigation. Good examples of this type of story include the adventures of Zorro, Batman (who was created in the pulp era), or the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Mission Stories
Although the other categories could be called subsets of this more generic type, I’m using this to describe a lot of stories that don’t fall in the other two types. The main characters have to accomplish a multi-step task in order to succeed in obtaining or creating something, or in evading or defeating an opposing force. Step A has to be completed before Step B can be accomplished, and so on; often in a race against an opposing force; most detective stories belong here. Scenes include investigation, traps, verbal confrontations, capture of the heroes, and fights. Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin series falls in this group, as would Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island and Tolkien’s The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings (though the latter aren’t considered pulp and also contain Defender elements).

Naturally, most series contain stories that mix these types. In Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories, Explorer and Defender overlap; the Scarlet Pimpernel adventures are often complex Missions as well as Defender stories; etc. It’s common to alternate themes from one story arc to another.


It’s fall the end of the harvest season, the beginning of the holiday season, and the time to remember our reasons to be grateful. In Canada, we had our own Thanksgiving a few weeks ago (there isn’t as much to feel grateful for in Canada in November — it’s cold, wet, biting and dark.) In the U.S., Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

First off, I’m grateful for getting back on my feet and finding a new rewarding job after losing my employment of nine years this summer. I’m grateful to my husband, family, and friends who gave support and encouragement when times were bad. I’m grateful I learned and grew through the experience. I’m grateful for my new colleagues and the warm welcome I’ve received.

I’m grateful my family pulled together in love and dignity when my father passed away in May. I’m grateful for the heritage of principles and good memories dad left us.

I’m grateful the U.S. voters moved away from the last eight dark years. I’m grateful the new team seems to have a clue.

I’m grateful Humboldt is still a place that feels humane and warm and genuine. I’m grateful it’s brimming with natural beauty and still somewhat protected.

Most of all, I’m grateful for my husband.

Quick thoughts about pulp game, continued

In my most recent post, I was pondering a play-by-email game that would use the Spirit of the Century system. I was mostly talking about system, and I planned on talking about setting next. Alas, I’ve been doing more Website updates and other noodling for Emerald City Gamefest instead of working on my own game — which is precisely why I need to run a game. It’s time I got back to actually gaming rather than organizing games for other people.

So I have not worked much on setting, except to realize that one trope I really enjoy for ensemble cast pulp adventure is the quest for a Lost City or Lost World. I’m thinking of King Solomon’s Mines, the Lost World, Shangri-La, El Dorado, Atlantis, Lemuria, the Kingdom of Prester John, etc. (or the real world examples of Troy, Palenque, or Machu Picchu).

Of course, Hollow Earth Expedition would be a suitable example, but there are many more possibility. Another game that provides a good source of inspiration for style and scenes (though not for actual source material) is Eric J. Boyd’s Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, a very well-written game.

What I like about this type of story is that it provides for a lot of different scenes, a lot of danger and action that is not only combat, and a lot of opportunities for a variety of character archetypes. I also like the exploration theme, and it reminds me of the books I loved best when I was a kid, thrilling with images of mysterious, exotic locations and secrets to uncover. What do folks think? Is that a theme that resonates with potential players?

Pondering a Spirit of the Century play-by-email game

Since we moved away from our friends and our regular gaming circle, I’ve been pondering running a play-by-email (PBeM) game since we don’t have a local circle and the RPGs pool here is shallow. It would also potentially give me a chance to play with my online pals I can never play with in person because they are too far; I intend to limit this game to people who are on my friends list — no general fishing for players on I considered several systems and settings.

1. System
Some of the key criteria are that the system must be simple enough to withstand being played at the snail’s pace of PBeM games; it must be accessible to the players without asking them to buy new books; it must be contained in a single source, not strewn about multiple splat books; and duh, its mechanics must inspire me. I have considered many, and some of the forerunners included Atlas Games’ Over the Edge and Atomic Sock Monkey Press’ PDQ (either in its Truth & Justice or Zorcerer of Zo incarnations).

Why am I now leaning Evil Hat Productions’ Spirit of the Century (SotC)? After all, it is way more complex than either of the other forerunners I mentioned (though not that complex in absolute terms), and I have little experience playing it — and none running it. Here are some of my incentives:

  1. I’ve been interested in exploring this game further since I first heard about it.
  2. Because of its efforts to tie to its written sources, it seems to me to lend itself pretty well to a text format.
  3. The System Resource Document (SRD) providing the core rules is available online, free.
  4. I believe it lends itself to a number of different settings.
  5. It strikes an interesting balance between GM and player authority.
  6. It’s very customizable, hackable, and adjustable to personal and group preferences.
  7. It already has a built-in fan base, which may help me find players.
  8. I already own the full version in both PDF and print format, making it easy for me to refer to the rules.

2. Setting
SotC is a pulp-inspired game which barely has any setting at all, though it does have some hooks. Besides, I just mentioned that one of its advantages is adaptability; for example, has used SotC to run a game set in Korea but based on ‘s Temeraire series, a Napoleonic era adventure fantasy where dragons are used as war machines.

Exactly what kind of story do I want to run? Right now, that the question I’m bouncing around. “Pulp” is a genre, not a setting. It can be stretched to cover a multitude of sins! Obviously, I can make up a setting of whole cloth, but that would mean more work for me. In addition, I find that a common setting can help orient players and provide more building blocks to work from. There’s a fine balance, different for every group, between too much pre-existing background and too little.

One option would be to use a background provided in some other game I own; it would allow me to use existing background information, adventures, characters, etc. A natural fit would be Exile Game Studio’s Hollow Earth Expedition, which is a fine pulp setting in its own right (it also has a quite decent system, just not the one I’m interested in exploring at this particular time.) It’s well written, interesting, and the art is very evocative. On the down side, my players might not have access to it, and I really don’t want to make anyone buy anything.

Another possibility is to use some of the sources cited as inspiration in creating SotC. For example, Warren Ellis’ Planetary, a comic book that had a very clear influence of the game. But do I want to cut my list of potential players to those of my friends who like comic books in general, and this one in particular? Also, I don’t have the encyclopaedic knowledge of pulp and comics that seems necessary.

Besides, I’m not sure I want to limit myself to adventure pulp; science fiction pulp seems appealing. I’m not necessarily talking about Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, the epitomes of pulp-era sci-fi. The SotC system lends itself to a lot more than that; just about any type of space opera would be possible. For example, someone once said — was it Vincent Baker? — that any role-playing system will be used by fans at some point to re-create Star Wars, itself a very pulp-inspired movie. SotC could certainly do this, though that’s not my intention. It does meet the test of wide recognition and not forcing any players to buy new source materials, but it doesn’t appeal to me at the moment.

But what of other science fiction universes that are widely available? I considered the Fading Suns setting because I own almost every book ever published and love the setting, but not the native system; but I’m not convinced that it would be as available, accessible, and appealing to potential players; nor am I convinced that the tone would be a good match for the very optimistic pulp flavour of SotC.

Another of the sci-fi settings I really like is that of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. It definitely meets the accessibility criterion: all 14 television show episodes are available free on Warner Brothers and Hulu, and the background info is available on a number of fan sites. Again, however, SotC may be too optimistic in tone to really match the original.

The question of tone is not insurmountable. I mentioned that SotC is extremely adaptable; there are ways to adjust the opposition and the player characters’ default power level, for example, so that PCs are not so far superior to the average person on the streets of Byzantium Secundus or Persephone. Really, the question is more “What kind of stories do I feel like exploring right now?” (closely followed by “Will anyone else care?”) I would like something adventurous, and more on the sci-fi side, where player characters are heroic yet flawed, and players generate a lot of the material (ideas, setting, plots, characters, etc.) I’m still musing over the question.

I’m happy to entertain requests and suggestions.

Still pinching

Day 7 after the election: Still feeling the urge to squeal when I read the words “President Obama.” Vulnerable to cute Obamatrivia articles– not feeling like myself. Tendency to suddenly yelp things like “He likes comic books too!” and “He worked for a living!”

On the other hand, liable to yell “It never HAPPENED! Not listening! Lalalalalala…” when Prop. 8 is mentioned.


I was laid off from my previous job on Friday, May 2 at 4:30pm. I did not have a chance to get my things or, more crucially, my computer files; and I was asked to make an appointment to come and get them after hours.

It took until Friday, May 16 at 5pm until I was allowed to come in and get my personal effects; but even then, I was not able to get my computer files or copies of my personnel files. I received a few individual files on May 27, then after I insisted, on June 20. I also received a partial print copy of my personnel file, though I was never able to get my personnel evaluations. The computer files I received did not include my music files, so I kept asking about them. On Friday I just received 3 DVDs containing my music files.

The first contains about 1/4 to 1/3 of unreadable files. The second is at about 3/4. I have not tried the third yet.

You might be asking yourself, “What did she do to piss them off? She must have screwed up badly to get booted liked that.”

Interestingly, I didn’t, at least as far as was ever documented. Until last year, there was no formal performance evaluation process in place, but I did very well in the informal reviews. When I was used as a guinea pig as the company was establishing a new procedure, some points were identified for improvement, so I immediately tackled them and made objectively measurable, tangible changes and met al objectives. My formal performance evaluation was very good, and I was one of the few people to get a raise for 2008. (This is possibly why I have not been able to obtain a copy of the final signed review, just the draft review prior to my boss signing the report.)

The moral of the story? (1) Even if you think you’re working for saints, you can still be voted off the island without knowing why, so (2) you should keep everything in order as if you were going to be backstabbed tonight. That means keeping home copies of your resume, all your personnel evaluations, your contact database, and any tangible proof of performance such as praise from clients or bosses.

Fortunately for me, even though I was taken completely by surprise, I did indeed have copies of my resume, my contact database, the drafts of my performance evaluation, and some (but not all) of the kudos I’d received. But it’s been over six months and I still don’t have all my shit back. I’m not happy.

Edit: Most of disc #3 copied without too much trouble, so I guess I’m only missing about 1/3 of my music files. And several brain cells, the ones that were in charge of the patience circuits.

Running a Con Game

First published on

Running a game at a convention can be quite different from your weekly episode in an on-going campaign. The first time you try it, you might wonder how to adjust; here are some thoughts and tips. First, here is a really good post on this topic. The rest of the thread is pretty good too, but this post was excellent. I will now add my own thoughts below, collected from several old posts on the topic.


System Choice: If you want to reach more people, consider using a very well known or very simple system. Alternately, if you want to use a less popular and more complex system, market it to the hard-core fans and make sure to advertise on specialized forums.

Game Description and Title: Think of a game concept that people will grokk easily but won’t see multiple examples of at the same convention. For example, you can latch onto popular culture and what’s currently hot in books, comics, movies and television; a “Heroes” or “Perdido Street” game would probably be very catchy right now. On the other hand, advertising a dungeon-crawl in a generic fantasy setting may not get a whole lot of interest by itself. (Other factors play in, I’ll get back to that in a bit.)

Other concepts that are easy to grasp and attract interest include genre or setting collisions (e.g., noir + Roman Empire, wuxia + Aztecs, post-apocalypse + superheroes, western + sci-fi, etc.) At the other end of the spectrum, boring or discouraging game description are the ones that don’t give a good idea of what is special and interesting about this particular game and setting.

Describe the game in a couple of clear sentences, and leave the reader hanging with some sort of a surprise, mystery, peril, or question. Make it short and punchy, and give it a catchy or intriguing title. Don’t hesitate to browse old pulp magazines to get ideas of lurid — and intriguing — titles.

Pre-Generated Characters: Unless you have a really simple 5-minute character creation system, it’s best to go with pre-gens for convention games. Not only does it save time, it guarantees that the party will hang together reasonably well. If you really want to save a space for your S.O. or best friend, have one or two extra pre-gen characters beyond the number of game spots you advertised (e.g., have 7 or 8 characters if you advertised 6 seats).

Try to cover a range of skill sets, give niche protection, and think carefully about whether some of your characters are inherently more fun to play than others. Stay the hell away from having a favourite character in the bunch — it’s an invitation to favouritism (or resentment when a player plays your favourite “wrong”.) Also note whether any characters are essential to the story and must be included for the game to work.

Also, be warned that if you ever, ever put an assassin or sniper character in the bunch, the one player who is an asshole will immediately zoom in on it and snatch it. It doesn’t matter that your assassin has 36 excellent reasons to cooperate with the party; the one asshole player will see it as a walking engine of destruction that must kill every single NPC and half the PCs in your game. For this guy, sniper character = playing a Doom LARP.

Simplify! It’s extremely tempting to have too much material because (1) we’re all afraid of having too little to fill our allotted period, and (2) we’re used to our well-seasoned, more smoothly functioning regular gaming groups. However, at conventions you have half-a-dozen strangers who don’t know each other styles nor, very often, the system. Investigations and minor encounters can bog a game down to the point where you get barely a third of your adventure completed in time.

Go Modular: If you can, prepare a bunch of optional scenes that you can throw in depending on your players’ in-game decisions. Modular scenes give you the flexibility to respond to PCs’ actions so that the game does not feel like a railroad but you’re not left floundering for what to do next. This is much more feasible if you opted for a very simple system; it’s a lot easier to prep a bunch of small scenes and stat the necessary NPCs, vehicles and critters in some systems than in others.

Something for Everyone: At this point, consider whether you have enough scenes to give every character some shining moments. YOU built those pre-gen characters, you know what they can do, so give them chances to do it. The players won’t forgive you if you hand them characters then deny them opportunities to do cool stuff.

And Speaking of Preparation… Have a list of named NPCs, locations that may be encountered, possible scene elements and things that can happen in the scene, etc. You don’t have to stat every NPC, but having a list of names ready will save you from every character encountered being named Bob or Frank. The list of possible scene elements will help think on your feet when the PCs do something unexpected, or on the contrary, get stalled. For examples of such lists, check out the Fortress of Shadows’ Feng Shui fight scene locations, with their lists of “cool things that could happen.”

At the Convention

Attitude: Be welcoming and cheerful. Make sure to get enough sleep the night before so that you won’t be exhausted and crabby at your own game. Even though you may be nervous, try to act as a gracious, confident host — and start the game as quickly and smoothly as you can. At the end of the game, don’t forget to thank your players; they had a lot of other things they could do and they chose your game, that’s pretty important.

Opening Scene: It’s best to open with a scene that is vivid, clear, and forces the PCs to make a strong decision. The worst thing you can do is probably to leave the players confused, floating, and ask: “So, what do you guys want to do?”

For example: opening with your PCs witnessing two cops with weapons out, pursuing a ten-year old. Do they catch the kid and give him to the cops, hide the kid, follow the cops, take photos, etc.? That scene forces the character to act in some way (unless they’re jackasses who just want to go “roll to see if I’m getting drunk!” — then you know you should have no mercy on them!)

On the other hand, opening with a scene where the characters are looking for the Corsican Hawk (a macguffin), telling them their spaceship has just landed on Rigil Kentaurus, and asking “So, where do you want to go?” is weak and vague, at least for a convention game. Focus!

Props & Extras: It’s always fun to get little extras. Don’t spend more time on the bells and whistles than on the important parts of the adventure (plot threads, scenes, characters) but if you have time, consider making a few handouts or props that you can pass to the players. System cheat sheets, character pictures, maps, letters, etc. are fun for the players and can help everyone remember the details of the adventure (“What was the name of that guy we were working for? What are we trying to do?”)

End with a Bang or a Flourish: It’s like herding cats when the clock is ticking and you’re trying to get your game to a good stopping point. But do try to get to a satisfying finish, even if you have to insert one of your movable or modular scenes instead of the closing scene you had originally planned for. It’s often a big fight, but it can also be a big rescue, a big escape, a big revelation, etc. Something that provides excitement, partial or complete closure, and a denouement. It’s important that it be a starring moment for the PCs, not the NPCs. Make them sweat and strain for it but make them look good, and the players will leave satisfied.


Victory Lap

American friends, don’t be mad at me — I love you as individuals, but I’ve always despised your country. By that I mean the political entity, the structure, the big machine that is the United States of America. For years I’ve heard about the American Dream, how anyone can succeed, how it’s a government of the People for the People, but I’ve never seen it.

Until tonight.

This is the first time I’ve seen this thing I have read and heard about, instead of a bought-and-paid country owned by corporations and managed for the benefit of the richest. I thank you for voting for change; you were voting for yourselves and your loved ones, but you ended up voting for the whole planet. For the first time we non-Americans around the world can believe in United States that can be a leader and a force for good, not a bully. There’s no denying that the planet needs the U.S. in order to save itself, but I didn’t believe anything could change anymore.

By the way, my mom called from Quebec and she thanks you too; all my family and friends do.

I’m delighted that this was a landslide, that several reprehensible individuals lost their races, that we may yet get a filibuster-proof senate (with judicious bipartisan appointments), and that California Prop. 4 looks like it will be defeated. I am however very sad that California Proposition 8 seems to be on its way to passing. I want all my friends to be able to celebrate together. It’s probable that the initiative will be thrown out by the courts, but it’s just plain wrong to drag people through this pointless battle.


As I headed out to work and headed out to vote (I’m not an American citizen, so I pay plenty of taxes but I can’t vote), we saw a huge rainbow in the sky, spelling its support for Obama. 🙂

Edit: Here is a picture took. I had a slightly different view.