August 10, 2021
Take a black, wide-nibbed marker. Destroy all references to character levels and XP. Copy out the below into the margins of your rulebook.
A Character who makes a Boast of Heroic Proportions either gains 1HD or +1 Attack Bonus in addition to any wager or reward offered by others.
If they are found to shirk their Boast, they lose the HD or Attack Bonus and may never again Boast.
Those failing the Boast lose the HD or Attack Bonus, but may try again or make another Boast.
Only one Boast can be pending at a time.
July 30, 2021
Parallax RPG Review
c.w. violence, torture, state repression.
If anyone is able to provide me with a physical copy of the Parallax RPG I’m willing to pay up to £100 for it. As far as I can tell there was a physical printing but I can’t find one for sale.
This review is based on reading a PDF which appears to be a low-quality scan of the book. This leads to some doubt around items such as the lack of art etc.
Parallax (2004) is not a game I think I would ever play. The theme - the characters being members of a secret police agency in an unspecified country - is beyond intense. The lack of art means we don’t have large “cool” spreads of civil liberties being broken - whether this is deliberate or not is harder to parse. The text only refers to player characters as such - no terms such as adventurers, agents, ‘employees’ are used out of in-universe context.
Characters are made of a few different elements - Attributes, Skills and Psychology. The usual attribute array is quickly interrupted: Strength, Agility, Authority, Paranoia and ▓▓▓▓▓▓. That’s not me being cute - the attribute is literally redacted in the book. This looks to be someone having actually physically done this rather than a graphic design element, but the nature of the scan makes this difficult to be certain of.
Each of these is calculated with 3d10 - the attributes being added to Skills as part of the resolution system. This messiness is expected in older games - there’s no provided character sheet which might have reduced the cognitive overload of doing this. That said, there seems to be no advancement or levelling up system - so potentially these values only need to be calculated once.
The Skills are one of the first direct mentions of the unpleasantness of the game - the lack of “rpg fiction” and art leaves the text low on detail so far. Here we begin to see listings detailing torture techniques, the ability to gather incriminating material - but also skills in ‘Hiding Paper Trails’, ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Prison Tattoos’. The ‘camera’ of gameplay zooms in and out wildly here - some of these are very specific, very detailed actions you’d expect in a blow-by-blow game, whilst others sit much further back - high level skills such as ‘Investigation’ and ‘Family Life’. The mystery of ▓▓▓▓▓▓ deepens - it’s linked to a strange grab-bag of skills: the aforementioned ‘Family Life’, ‘Long-Distance Running’ and ‘Humiliation’ to name a few. At first I thought these mapped onto a D&D framework but this quickly falls apart. The number of skills is baffling - and the meagre amount of points allotted means characters are likely to have to specialise. I think this is the intention - given the number of skills related to pulling on state resources, the characters will often need to rely upon external support to achieve their goals. It’s worth pointing out beyond an introduction - “Characters are employed as part of the Secret Police agency.” - we have no idea as to what characters do yet.
Psychology feels like a section from a different game entirely. A map is given of the characters brain, and each area of this map has a slot. Characters begin with all of these empty - we are told that we may, during play, be given Idea Cards which sit within each of these slots. Some small detail is provided, but no details as how cards are gained.
Frontal lobe - personality, branching paths, output.
Parietal lobe - identification, relation, input.
Occipital lobe - perception, filter.
Temporal lobe - support, ancillary.
Spinal Cord - unthinking thought, reaction.
In the scan I have access to, there are no included cards. The Controller (GM) section talks about encountering Ideas as part of the normal process of play, or as a result of failed Skill tests. Without access to these cards, it’s hard to guess what normal play items might cause exposure to Ideas - although the failure of Skill checks causing Ideas gives some interesting hints - rather than a glorification of secret police, it might be telling they start with heads empty - and the failure of their duties introduces them to thought? This gives a flip-side on the Skills previously mentioned - if you’re operating against the state, many become tantalising options.
The Controller section is a mish-mash of generators with minimal structure or framing outside of some loose advice for building and running dissident thinkers. Many of the generators relate to byzantine rankings and bureaucratic red-tape - much of which is explicitly mentioned as not applying to members of the Secret Police. Others give ideas of low-level criminality, types of state-deviance and benign activity in various locales - habitation block, collective farm, army barracks. Using these tables, the Controller is expected to generate the fictional country themselves - something mostly out of favour in 2004.
There are no rules or guidelines for adjugating the use of Skills - leaving their application wide open, or assumed knowledge on the part of the playgroup.
Statistics for the ‘opposition’ are interesting, framed primarily in story terms - Dissidence and Appeal. There is a loose procedure for using Dissidence to track how obvious they are - their Signature - and how many they convert, using their Appeal. Chillingly, the only reward structure is for total people convicted - there is no mention of guilt. If the players begin to condemn too many within some of the various ‘State Apparatus’, they can expect consequences but also alliances from power brokers within those various groups - all of this being mediated and tracked with a Relationship Score and ‘Reaction Counters.’ Notably, the statistics of Dissidence and Appeal are used to describe all NPCs, not just those marked as dissidents for player characters.
The Combat section is one page detailing how to shoot or strike. Those who are hit either die immediately or are too injured to fight further, possibly dying later on.
The next section is two pages of redactions. I can’t decide if I love this or hate it - if it was done to the scan or is an intended part of the experience.
There is no starter adventure nor index. The book closes out with a list of Inspirations - a mix of historical reference works and spy fiction with two notable exceptions. The first is A Perfect Vacuum - Stanisław Lem. I’m not sure how this relates, having yet to read it. The second exception throws much into doubt. History Will Absolve Me - Billy Woods is an album released in 2012. The entire Inspiration section may be a post-hoc addition - the font changes suddenly, becoming something akin to Courier. I’ve seen such dramatic shifts in other older RPG books, but this feels starker.
Since reading it, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this strange game. I’ve yet to find any other awareness of it. Despite being something I wouldn’t run (outside of a very small group of trusted players who were in for “bad vibes gaming” ) I think it’s worth reading.
a4 pages, 104 pages, two-column layout with little whitespace. The prose reads sometimes ultraminimal, other times weirdly detail orientated - I suspect multiple authors were involved. There doesn’t seem to have been any editing. There are no credits, thanks or anything else.
July 23, 2021
15. Dominion Reap
A thick gold band set with pearls, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Between them, elephants, leopards and bears in silver cavort. Compels others to speak in the wearer’s language - even if they do not know it, tongues twitch to form alien words.
July 22, 2021
Types of encounters found on an encounter table, assuming the standard “encounter check” procedure.
n.b. a single encounter will fulfil many of these. Boundaries are fuzzy.
- Dangerous Encounters - provide ‘cost’ or ‘risk’ to taking your time in the dungeon. Drives riskier decision making.
- Information Delivery - inform the characters about something. “The lower levels are flooded b/c these skeletons are wet.” “The orcs are running away from something.” “Megasnakes hunt in pairs.”
- Consequences - the encounter table shows the results of character actions somehow. This can be achieved through absence - e.g. there are no more goblins left.
- Immersion - increasing the “thickness” of the atmosphere of a place, area. Reiterating the vibe, adding texture.
- Resource Drain - contentious, and not one I like - but those who use encounter checks to manage light and food might consider this a type.
- This can also include encounters which are trivial if you have the right item, like planks to cross a pit. In the case that you don’t, they do something else:
- Blockers - force players to re-evaluate choices. The way is blocked, the street is closed, the unkillable monster is lurking over there. Sometimes can be mitigated, becoming more of a Resource Drain.
Something I’ve been doing with encounters is combining them into a single roll, rather then check-and-then-roll. The advantage of this is one less roll, although you then have less ability to modify the encounter chance which might be pertinent to you (e.g. stinky food doubles encounters) - although this can be achieved by halving the check interim.
Dungeons usually have a 1-in-6 or a 2-in-6 chance - so just have a d100 table with 17+ as No Encounter (or add a bunch of “pure Immersion” encounters without reducing your chances of a more interactive encounter).
In cities, you’re more likely to want a big table of stuff that mostly avoids the Dangerous Encounters since time pressure is (usually) less of a thing.
June 29, 2021
magic items odnd
2. Child of Stone
Within the earth things grow. The earth does not love all of them equally. Some are banished.
Upon the lava plains they can be found - an armful of stone, egg-shaped, the rejected child of stone. Without the warm embrace of the earth, they dream, hoping to escape their isolation.
Bathed in molten lead, they awaken, and can be queried. They can act as tutors and sages - but all their knowledge is bitter.
Difficulty 1. Spells: Animate Dead, Baleful Polymorph, Curse, Circle of Protection(The Elements), Cloudkill, Fireball, Move Earth, Stone to Flesh.
Magical grimoires reward repeated study. Each has a difficulty score. This is how many weeks of study it requires before a spell is wrested from the grimoire. If your game is slower, this is weeks of intensive study. Pulpier games may allow study at camp to count.