Being Critical in a Small Community

Foamy the squirrel, critic extraordinaireGrant Howitt posts a marvellous article on his blog, called “Games can be bad, and it’s okay to say so.”  I applaud him, I agree entirely, and I would extend that to other works like books, comics, movies, shows, etc.  Today I’d like to talk about two other reasons that have stopped me from writing some critical reviews.  But first, let’s establish some basics.

What’s a Review?

I have written sixteen reviews on, probably the most extensive and highly viewed roleplaying game reviews I’ve posted anywhere.  (You can find them by searching on Forum User Name “Mechante_Anemone” in the lower right-hand of the search form.)  They are much longer and more detailed than the mini-reviews I post consumer sites like Amazon, DriveThruRPG/RPGNow (OneBookshelf), Goodreads, etc.  I usually remember to re-post them on the community site for my old gaming club Emerald City Gamefest in Seattle (scroll down the page), but it has very limited readership.

I’m proud that my reviews have won several awards in review contests for themed weeks (specifically, for Horror, Science Fiction, and Actual Play Weeks).  I’ve also been a judge on Fantasy Week (naturally, I was not a contestant) and read and evaluated 49 reviews according to uniform criteria.  All this to say, when I use the word “review”, I don’t just mean “my whim”, “my knee-jerk reaction”, “my zone of comfort”, or “some opinion I just pulled out of my @$$.”  I mean:

Review: A short essay that summarizes the work being discussed, critically examines its merits and flaws, and provides evidential support for a short analysis.

When I write a formal review for the general public, as opposed to giving quick impressions for my friends’ benefit, I want to be as objective as I can on strengths and weaknesses.  (Here’s my “template.”) I explain why I have certain preferences in order to help someone who is not me and doesn’t have amazing powers of mind-reading to figure out whether they would agree.  I give my best guess as too what and who this game is best suited for.

“Providing evidential support” does not mean I’m making an absolute judgement and I’m certain no one should disagree with me; it means I’m providing my rationale.

OK?  (If you want more thoughts about what should go in a review, I suggest Chris Richeson’s article on the subject.)

Failing to Criticise

Liking Stuff is More Fun!  So there really are three reasons I rarely post a review that tilts more on the negative side than the positive.  The first one is easily explained: if I’m going to spend that much effort, I’d rather it be for a game (or book, etc.)  I really enjoyed, because it’s more fun for me.  I think that’s true of most amateur reviewers; in fact, the No. 1 reason to review truly horrendous works is also fun: the humour value, from Darren MacLennan and Jason Sartin’s reviews of FATAL, Wraeththu, Synnibarr, etc., or or David Hines’ review of John Ringo’s forays into BDSM, Oh John Ringo, No! Otherwise, you don’t bother spending time on something merely tedious.

I Know These People.  I really hate to hurt people’s feelings, I do.  The gamer community, in particular, is relatively small and you don’t play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” for very long until you stumble onto somebody you talk to, play with, meet at conventions, and otherwise enjoy interacting with.  They sure don’t write games because of the vast amounts of money to be made in that market; they pour their heart into the games they write.  Do I want to say “Dude, that was a sucky game”?  Hell no.

And with modern levels of networking, it’s also true of book authors, comic book artists, even movie stars.  Congratulations, thanks to Twitter and so forth you can now get to personally hurt the feelings of just any celeb out there.  So yeah, I really hate saying negative things when I think they will hurt someone, some real person.  I don’t much care if Bank of America knows I think they are unethical jackals, but I don’t want that nice person on Facebook or Google+ to feel bad because I think that their latest book is poorly plotted.

I’m less tender-hearted where the fans are concerned; if you can’t stand the fact that I don’t like the design philosophy behind the Vampire: The Eternal Struggle card game, or that I think The Da Vinci Code is weakly written, derivative, and shoddy, bah. That’s OK, it may annoy you but it doesn’t hurt you.  (It doesn’t even hurt Dan Brown, or if it does, he’s crying all the way to the bank.)

flame_folderOn the other hand, it can be exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes downright threatening to deal with horde of angry fans who are furious that you didn’t like their darling.  I have a sort of catch-all folder I call “I Hate The Things You Love” in which I occasionally drop notes about pop culture icons I feel critical about, when I just don’t have the energy to deal with a shit storm of my own making.  Some day I’ll clean it up and post it, and set the Internet on fire.  In the mean time, I just shrug and move on.

Second-Guessing Myself.  The flip side of that nerd rage, however, is that nothing raises your viewings and replies like dissing a darling.  You remember those reviews?  They were generally positive but one got a below-average score in one category ( requires a score of 1 to 5 in each of two categories, Style and Substance; a 3 means “Average”).  Guess which one received the most reader comments?  That one, with 123 comments to be exact.

Now, want to guess the average number of comments on all my other reviews combined, including the prize-winning ones?  It’s 6.7, meaning that the only one that was not glowing attracted twenty times more comments.  The tools to retrieve numbers of page views are not easily available for older threads on but they show an even more lopsided count, with the non-glowing review (it was on Burning Empires, for the record) getting proportionally even more page clicks.

I had expected push-back, and I had written my review carefully; to this day, I think it’s probably my best-written review ever.  But that’s not why I was getting the high page view counts and the comments.  I got them because people were furious that I criticised.  You might think that would make me fearful of writing negative reviews again; and it does, but not the way you think.

I really don’t mind getting gamers riled up by saying a game has flaws.  But nowadays when I start writing a negative review, I feel compelled to second-guess myself: am I like the editors of those trashy magazines, trying to get readers’ attention by generating outrage?  Could I write something else that would be all positive and gung-ho and can-do instead?

Generally, I drop a little note in my “I Hate The Things You Love” folder (it’s really named for humour value, by the way, I don’t actually hate anything because someone else loves it) and I move on to write the nice upbeat can-do post.

So Is That A Problem?

So what, right?  Do we need criticism, especially from rank amateurs like me?  In fact, some people in the geek community hate all reviews so much, professional or otherwise, that they post rants on reviewers, frothing at the mouth at the audacity of such-and-such a critic for writing a piece.  And then they follow up with a post where they tell you all about a movie, or book, or game that they loved and why you should really give it a try.  I wish I was making this up.

We all exchange opinions, and it can be fun and valuable.  Positive reviews are rather obvious: I’ve loved many games, books, albums, and so forth which I tried only because of a friend’s recommendation.  In fact, word-of-mouth tends to be much more powerful to sway people into trying something than any form of publicity.  Second to that, for me, is reviews from people who over the years have shown tastes compatible with mine, even if I don’t know them personally.  (Third is, I guess, how attractive the jacket, poster or publicity is to me.)

burning moneyThere is value in critical reviews—as opposed to comical reviews—when they save you from getting a game, reading a book, etc., that you would definitely not like.  They save you time and money.  They also tell the authors where they can improve; and if you’re on the cusp for a particular game, they may even help you figure out how to house-rule it to work around some problems.

That latter reason decided me last year to write a series of post critiquing how some game conventions were organized; it was hard to write because I did know these people and no, I didn’t want to dismiss their efforts.  Some felt hurt, and I was sad for that.  But some made changes, and some told me these posts had provided helpful criticism.  And other convention organizers said it had helped them plan ahead.  Still, I don’t think I’ve tackled anything else so touchy all year.

So finally, back to Grant Howitt’s manifesto that “Games can be bad, and it’s okay to say so.”  He’s right.  There are a few popular games that I’ve been wanting to write critical reviews about—not to say “Your game is bad,” not to say “You’d have to be stupid to like this game,” but because it’s nagging at me that they could be so much better.  I look at them and I keep wanting to fix them the way I itch to straighten a picture frame hung slightly askew.  And I think that maybe if I make useful suggestions in a way that is not adversarial, the next edition could improve, or gamemasters could at least work fixes around these issues.

So in honour of Grant, when I have a little time I will try to post some of those critical reviews.  If they are about your game, chances are you and I have exchanged notes or met at a convention at some point; please know that the only reason I would make this effort is because I see something great in your game that is not allowed to shine the way it could.  (While I love to read a funny sarcastic review of a complete piece of trash as much as the next person, I just don’t want to spend that much effort on said trash myself, so no negative reviews unless I’m also being constructive.)

Evil Hat launches its Street Team

Evil Hat Street Team logoA lot of game companies offer programs in which you can run events featuring their games, and they reward you with swag (for example, I know Atlas Games, Privateer Press, Paizo Games, and Steve Jackson Games do, and many more I’m just not thinking of right now.)  Because I like so many different games and split my time between them, I’ve never joined any particular publisher’s program.

However, Evil Hat Productions just came out with something I had not seen elsewhere: rewards for things you’re already doing, including online and in-person activities.  Go check out their Street Team program, you might qualify for goodies for things you have already done!  It’s hard to get easier than that, so to speak.

You can register any activities you have completed using the Rafflecopter app at the bottom of the post; you have the choice between registering using your name and email address or your Facebook profile.  You can keep entering qualifying activities every day until the end of November.  (I imagine after that Evil Hat will come up with new ways to use the Street Team program.)

Splendid Television

I read voraciously but not in all categories; in fiction, I go for action-filled wish-fulfilment fantasy genres like science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, occult thrillers, and historical fantasy; and in non-fiction, I like science, history, political analysis, and folklore.  I don’t often read “realistic” fiction, slice-of-life stories, or even magical realism.

I am even more selective with television shows; I mostly watch science fiction, paranormal thrillers, and police procedurals, and I’m very critical (sorry, fans!)  So it’s amazing to me that the three shows in current American television which I find to be head, shoulders and pretty much down to kneecaps above everything else that is released by Hollywood to be completely non-SF, non-magical, and modelled closely on reality, or at least on very real issues.

It’s no coincidence that each of these passes the Bechdel Test within minutes, not only in their respective pilot episode but in just about any episode.  All three also make a good faith effort at diversity, though I would like to see much more.

The Good Wife

The Good WifeCreated by Robert and Michelle King; airs on CBS since 2009 and currently in its fifth season.  The title is its worst feature since it tells you nothing about the actual show, but the writing, casting, acting, directing and editing are superb.

The premise: When Peter Florrick, state attorney for Cook County, goes to jail for corruption, his wife Alicia Florrick must rebuild her life and provide for her children, so she joins the Chicago law firm of Stern, Lockhart & Gardner.  The show blends legal procedural, long-term political plots, and lots of cases inspired by today’s headlines, societal changes, and advances in technology.  Every single bit character has a personality, no one is just a cardboard cut-out.

Casting draws not only from well-known faces in American television (and real-life celebs) but also from British television, giving us some of the most kick-ass female characters on television including Juliana Margolies as the title character of Alicia Florrick, Archie Panjabi as the magnificent Kalinda Sharma, the firm’s investigator, and Christine Baranski as senior partner Diane Lockhart.  Among the men, my favourites are Alan Cumming as wily political consultant Eli Gold, Zack Grenier as the arrogant, smug divorce lawyer David Lee, and Michael J. Fox as the recurring Machiavellian rival attorney Louis Canning.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the show is delightful, this is television that treats the viewer like an intelligent person.

(Wikipedia entry for The Good Wife.)

The Newsroom

The NewsroomCreated by Aaron Sorkin; airs on HBO during the summer season, recently finished its second season.  Like Sorkin’s previous show The West Wing, this show digests a lot of important contemporary issues and explains them clearly, providing context.

I enjoyed the first season more than the second, but it was still damn fine television.  The characters are interesting, though less well fleshed-out than on the other two titles here. This is a great show for both news junkies and people who don’t see why the news media are important.

My favourite characters are Neelamani “Neal” Sampat the blog writer (Dev Patel), ACN news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), and ACN owner and CEO Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda).  There’s good casting and lots of zingy dialogue.

(Wikipedia entry for The Newsroom.)

Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex folder icon by efestCreated by Michelle Ashford; airs on Showtime, currently in its first season.  You know how we often have to give a show, movie or book points for trying , for at least tackling some delicate issue without necessarily covering the whole range, how being a pioneer means you can’t be expected to be all things to all people?  This is the show that does its darned best to do it all.

I love the writing, the casting, the editing, the directing, and once again the attention to detail.  It’s filled with deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humour and starkly realistic drama.  All the characters are richly written as real, multi-faceted people, and there is a plethora of interesting, strong female characters even when they fully embrace the social mores of the era, which  is no mean feat.  It has everything good that Mad Men is horrible at, and it’s as delightfully exact as a period piece.

Crucially for me, it shines a light on the intersection of feminism, morality, social justice, and mental health for women and men.  Lizzy Caplan is wonderful as researcher and single mother Virginia Johnson, Martin Sheen gives rich depth to the character of Dr. William Masters, and I have to give special marks to Annaleigh Ashford as Betty DiMello, no-nonsense prostitute and survivor.

It’s amusing for me that gratuitous sex in television shows usually annoys me to no end, but when sex is the topic—and is well portrayed, of course—I find it a delight.

(Wikipedia entry for Masters of Sex.)

War of Ashes RPG: List of Ingredients

Jaarl Uniforms

Continuing with notes as I work on the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions: in my previous post I gave an overview of the land of Agaptus and now I’d like to give you an idea of what I have done with it.

Of course there is a general overview in the introductory chapter, along with a summary of the Fate Accelerated rules, followed by three chapters detailing each of the factions that are available a priori to player characters.  I say a priori because in the gamemaster section, I will try to address the inevitable question, “What if one of my players wants to play some other kind of character?”

The bulk of the material consists of overviews of sample locations along with plot seeds like the one I posted last week. Each plot seeds consists of an Aspect and a short description. If there is a type of topic you’d look for in such a book and I didn’t think of it, please suggest it!

Right now, the outline of the setting portions of the book looks like this:

The Noble Elvorix

  • Elvorix Society
    • Overview
    • Religion
    • You’re in the Army, Now, Bucko: Elvorix Ranks
  • People
    • Brief description of the regional or ethnic groups
    • Names
    • Individuals of Note
    • Discretion as the Better Part of Valor? Some thoughts on Elvorix society.
  • Places
    • In the Cities
      • Elvora Bibulus Academy
      • Temple of Agaptus
    • Out in the Country
      • Small Town
      • Frontier Village
      • Ylark Farm
      • Rural Shrine

The Savage Vidaar

  • Vidaar Society
    • Overview
    • Religion
    • We Want You As A New Recruit: Vidaar Ranks
  • People
    • Brief description of the regional or ethnic groups
    • Names
    • Individuals of Note
  • Places
    • Cities
      • Hall of the Warrior King
    • Rural Settlements
      • Shyldhal
      • Forge
      • Kogg Brewery
      • Shrine of Akka-Maas
      • War Camp
      • Nhilde Troll Breeding Grounds
      • Ancestral Ship

The Disciplined Jaarl

  • Jaarl Society
    • Overview
    • Religion—of Sorts
    • We Are Legion: Jaarl Ranks
  • People
    • Brief description of the regional or ethnic groups
    • Names
    • Individuals of Note
  • Places
    • City of Gailus
    • Captured Vidaar Village
    • Military Outpost
    • Prisoner Work Camp
    • War Galley

Antagonists and Monsters

  • The War of Ashes: Current political and strategic positions.
  • Mindless Enemy: The Kuld, Nhilde Trolls, Marhn Trolls
  • Beasts of Agaptus: Bestiary

The Big Picture

  • Suggested over-arching plots.

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

War of Ashes RPG: The Land of Agaptus

As promised in a recent post, I’ve been working on setting material for the War of Ashes RPG I have been commissioned to write for Evil Hat Productions.

Of the four factions used in the miniatures game in Shieldwall, three are “player character” factions: the civilized but hidebound Elvorix, the savage and impulsive Vidaar, and the disciplined but severely outnumbered Jaarl.  They vye for control of the last few productive lands in Agaptus. Looming over all of them are three great themes: first, the marvels left behind by the Ancients, comparable to the wonder of the Egyptian, Roman and Mayan Empires of Antiquity, or even Atlantis; second, the meddling of the Gods, powerful but inept and dangerous; and third, an incipient ice age, which may make the eventual winning of the wars a moot point.

Today, let me give you an overview of the factions (all of this is drawn from War of Ashes: Shieldwall, published by ZombieSmith).  In a subsequent post, I’ll tell you about what I have done with this so far.


Elvorix warrior with two-handed sword
Elvorix warrior

The greater area called Agaptus includes the three main islands of Sentia, Iradon, and Matriga, plus lots of smaller islands.  Outside of those, dozens and probably hundreds of other islands are known to exist, but Agaptus is the focal point of the game.  A few thousand years ago, a people built a prosperous and advanced civilization there, born on the island of Sentia and expanding to neighboring lands.  Alas, three things precipitated chaos: the Kuld invasions, internal strife, and the whims of the Gods.

Kuld Augurst

The Kuld are a species of blubberous, voracious creatures able to eat and digest almost anything but rocks.  They originally seemed harmless, but they were driven to the lands of Agaptus by droughts and famines, and discovered their own power of destruction.  War raged for years until the Sentians were able to repel the Kuld—and the victors, General Vidaarus and his warriors, promptly seized power over all of Agaptus.  Mistrustful of the scholars who had ruled until then, he immediately destroyed all the archives that could be rounded up, beginning a reign of brute force and ignorance that would last hundreds of years under his dynasty.

At last, a wily scheme cooked up by the scholar Elvora Bibulus convinced King Vidaarus the Thirty-First to seek the fabled island of Garigla and its untold riches; most of his warrior caste—by then rather decadent—left with him.  As soon as they were gone, Elvora Bibulus re-established the ruling council and scholar-kings of old, and founded the Elvorix Kingdom.  The Elvorix started restoring as much as they could of the knowledge of old, but much was lost forever.

Vidaar Dowodik

Those who had left with Vidaarus the Thirty-First wandered the oceans for hundreds of years, now a nation of sea warriors and pillagers.  At long last, they landed back on the island of Iradon and recognized it—and knew they had been fooled.   They seized a beachhead and started settling their own kingdom, calling themselves the Vidaar people.  War between the Vidaar and the Elvorix raged for about a century, until…

All through the Sentians’ history, the Gods had been a problem.  The simple truth is, the Gods are just not very good at what they do.  But they wield considerable power and must be contended with, so much of Agaptan religion consists of appeasing the goods just enough that they won’t pay too much attention.  Unfortunately, a spectacularly botched ceremony about 86 years ago attracted unprecedented divine anger.  This was called the Great Catastrophe, and marked the beginning of an ice age.

Jaarl Valani

Soon after, the Kuld reappeared from the lands in the north, driven by hunger as the climate cooled off; then another people, the Jaarl, reached the coasts of Iradon and Sentia with clear intention to conquer.  Their own homeland had been destroyed by a gigantic volcanic eruption at about the time of the Great Catastrophe, and the survivors were in search of a new home.  For a while, Elvorix and Vidaar made a pact to fight off the Jaarl together and it looked like they were winning, but three years ago, a combination of Jaarl ruse and Elvorix and Vidaar stupidity led to the dissolution of this alliance.

Now the war rages on more desperately than ever for the lands that are still temperate enough to produce food, but even those grow colder every day.

Map of Agaptus with boundaries

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

FATE of Aldis Part II: Game Creation

Edmund continues his series on marrying the Blue Rose RPG (Green Ronin Publishing) and Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions), with some reflections about how to portray the themes in a more immediate way through characters.

Ed Plays Games


(This article is based on Chapter 2 of Fate Core – Game Creation.)

FATE Core has a lot of good ideas or setting creation, and many helpful hints about the sort of characters that it is good at producing, and the sorts of games that it is good at facilitating.  Lets look at a few of the details

What Makes a Good Fate Game?

There are several characteristics of a good Fate game.  These include Proactivity, Competence, and Drama, All of these characteristics map well to Blue Rose – characters in Blue Rose are often proactive, being dispatched on missions with wide-ranging authority to handle things in the name of the Sovereign or some other powerful faction.  They are not just grunts who follow orders, but leaders who are expected to use their own ingenuity to assess problems and solve them.  PCs are also considered to be quite competent which…

View original post 1,141 more words

FATE of Aldis Part 1: The Big Picture

Woo-HOO! After he ran such a wonderful “Fate of Aldis” game in the Blue Rose RPG setting, I convinced my husband to write about the conversion and how to marry the spirit of Green Ronin’s Blue Rose RPG with that of Evil Hat’s Fate Core.

Ed Plays Games


In converting any previously published setting to another system, the first question that I  ask myself is “What makes this setting attractive or interesting ?”  I purposefully left out “to me” in that statement because while making the world interesting for yourself is important, making the world interesting to your players is equally important.  If the setting is not interesting to you then you will soon tire of running it, and if the setting is not interesting to your players then they will soon tire of playing in it.  In addition, having the setting be interesting in multiple ways will give you more handles to build plot lines on, which will result in a game less set on rails and more fun for everyone concerned. Blue Rose is designed to cover a certain genre of literature – Romantic Fantasy.  The first thing I want to ask myself when beginning a…

View original post 1,391 more words

Spam or Feng Shui Game?

Suitcase full of moneyEvery once in a while, a piece of spam is so surreally stupid that I think it needs to become a game scenario.  Today I found this beauty as I was clearing my spam filter, from a highly credible Hotmail address.  Suitcase full of money?  Yeah!  I must be mine, I hadn’t noticed until now but I did indeed lose one.  I’ll e-mail you my personal information right away!  Seriously, this needs to be a game of Fiasco, Leverage, Feng Shui, Over The Edge, or the upcoming Shadow of the Century.

6000 North Terminal Parkway
Suite 4000
Atlanta, GA 30320
Call: 209- XXX-XXXX

Attn: Consignee,

An abandoned Suitcase from Air Cargo Services West Africa was brought to our facility today and when scanned it revealed 450Bundles of $100Dollars Bills which is $4.5Million Dollar. The consignment was abandoned because the Content was not properly declared by the consignee as money rather personal effect to avoid diversion by the delivery Agent.

The details of the consignment are tagged on the Trunk box.

Reconfirm your;

1. Your Name.
2. Home phone & Cell Phone
3. Home delivery address
4. Occupation.
5. Email Address.
6. Any form of Identification either Drivers license or International Passport.

Or disregard.

Send the required details to me through Fax: or send through this email.

This is the nature of the suitcase.

Wheels: 4 wheels
Handles: Trolley handle with top & side handles
Dimensions: Height: 70cm, Width: 50cm, Depth: 30cm
Weight: 8.1KG.

It is required that you contact us so that l will direct you on the Procedure of normalization and finally the deployment of Transguard to deliver to your doorstep.
They are specialists in this field and very much geared to provide the security it needs to your doorstep home or abroad.

Best regards,
Mr. Peter
(ARP) Atlanta International Airport

War of Ashes RPG: Seeding the Plots

Vidaar with morningstarContinuing the brainstorming sessions as I work on the War of Ashes RPG, to be powered by Fate Accelerated: I want to look at how to present setting material.

The detailed outline for the book has been approved by ZombieSmith and Evil Hat Productions earlier this week, so I’ve transitioned to generating setting material. I’m using the Golden Rule of Fate—”Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it.”  That means that for now, all rules considerations will take a back seat; I jot down ideas as I go, but I won’t refine them until we have solid agreement on the team about the world these rules extras will support.

One of the purposes of the book is to be of use as a source of setting information for players of all the War of Ashes games, including the existing miniatures combat game War of Ashes: Shieldwall, the upcoming skirmish game War of Ashes: Shieldbash (expected May 2014), or the upcoming electronic app.  So obviously I don’t want to double up on what can be found in these games, except just enough to provide context; for example, Shieldwall contains a fairly detailed timeline of the world of Agaptus, so we should only give a thumbnail here.  People don’t want to be buying two-thirds of the same book over and over again!

At the same time, this has to be a standalone roleplaying game.  It should provide everything you need in order to run a fun campaign and you should only have to go to the other books because you want extra goodies, just like players of Shieldwall don’t need this new sourcebook to play the miniatures game.  And in RPGs, it’s nice to have the setting info delivered in bite size and not treatises.  Here is my manifesto:

The purpose of game fiction is to provide the reader with the desire and building blocks to create her or his own fiction at the game table.

I picture relatively short sections on specific setting aspects, loaded lots of contact points with the fiction you‘ll create ate the table, a.k.a. plot hooks or plot seeds.  Hopefully, these seeds can also be used by miniatures gamers.  I’d like to float a sample here and get feedback from readers: is this useful to you as gamers?  Does it ask the right questions?  Does it generate ideas?  What else would you like to see in such an entry?

Here goes; note that this is sample material not yet approved by anyone except my cats, just provided for discussion.

Vidaar Shyldhal

Vidaar Shyldhal

The Vidaar are no great architects and builders, so when they settle somewhere they reserve their best for the important buildings.  No, not the kogg brewery—well, yes, that, but also the Shyldhal where the spear-bearing Fyrdee warriors will be garrisoned.  It’s got all a warrior needs: armoury, watch tower, nice quarters for their captain, the Styrsik; a forge nearby to take care of the weapons, armour and shields, and yeah, a kogg brewery just around the corner.

The whole building thing is tedious, though, and all the best spots seem to be occupied.  A smart Styrsik founding a nice new Vidaar settlement will go for efficiency, using any not-too-ruined Elvorix stone buildings left after conquering a village that’s in the right spot, maybe even using some conscripted Elvorix labour.  The add-ons are typically built of wood, mud and thatch, because rocks are heavy and so annoyingly hard to nail or stick together.  A good paint job will spruce it all up, though.

What you can find there:

  • Vidaar warriors training, sleeping, resting, playing games of chance, and arguing.  The Shyldhal might be garrisoned with 10-20 Bondee (ordinary infantry), 10-20 Fyrdee (spear fighters), 6-10 Lunghshyld, 2-6 Ceordee (ornery scouts).
  • The administrative quarters for the Styrsik’s ill-used war staff: a Totember (standard-bearer), a Tromik (piper), and a Bondee or two as the Styrsik’s personal assistants.
  • The Udvlag (shaman) may be reporting, but probably has separate quarters in a ramshackle temple nearby.
  • The Styrsik’s quarters, tended by a Bondee as punishment for dereliction of duty or maybe by Elvorix prisoners.
  • Armoury supplied with axes, spears, swords, shields, armour, etc.
  • Bondees doing laundry as punishment detail.
  • On-going repairs for leaky thatched roofs and damaged walls.

Things that can happen:

  • It’s a Trap!  The bulk of the garrison is out, meeting an attack by the enemy, but now a second army is in sight!  The useless cowards who were left behind must defend the settlement or answer to the Starsyk…
  • Put Your Money Where Your Big Fat Mouth Is.  A group of ill-disciplined warriors get into a stupid bet about whose unit is the best, and must now sneak out to settle their differences properly.
  • Revenge!  The conquered Elvorix, who seemed so thoroughly broken, infiltrate the Shyldhal in an effort to seize the armoury and recapture the town.
  • Basement Treasure.  Unbeknownst to the Vidaar conquerors, the Elvorix had built a nice cache under the building.  Maybe it contains precious books filled with ancient lore preserved at great risk; food supplies for emergencies which a clever Bondee might trade bit by bit on the black market; or a half-finished invention of the local quirky genius, which Elvorix authorities would have disapproved of as way too likely to attract divine attention.
  • Don’t Trouble Yourself on My Account.  A Dowodik (general) moving his six banners to go open new frontier areas decides to stop by and temporarily take over the Shyldhal.  He runs everyone ragged with demands, commandeers the Styrsik’s quarters, garrison his best troops here, and billet other units with Elvorix peasants—ruining the comfy routine which the locals had settled in.  Will the visiting troops notice how friendly the garrison has become with the Elvorix villagers?
  • Stinky War Games.  The garrison must train with live ammunitions when the Udvlag talks the Styrsik into conducting cheese artillery training.

Credits: Art © ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

One A.M. Ideas: Fiasco — The IT Crowd

The IT CrowdYeah, I keep doing that.  when I can’t get back to sleep in the dark of night, I come up with great ideas for wasting more time I don’t get paid for.  This time, it’s a playset for Jason Morningstar’s game Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games), using the setting of the British comedy “The IT Crowd.”

Naturally, I’d want to use the “soft tilt” table from The Fiasco Companion, since there are relatively few deaths on this show.

Yeah, another great idea for next year’s Big Bad Con!