Monday, November 13, 2017

[CRIT] The Practice Hack

The wound system in Burning Wheel is no joke. I’m running a short 16-session campaign, and if the plot didn’t just so happen to be able to facilitate a year-long timeskip, we would have had two of the characters waylaid for most of that. Even then, they were still really messed up; those wounds were felt in a way no other roleplaying system could simulate.
In the meantime, the rest of the parties had about a year of downtime to spend. The two subsystems that come into play when skipping over large chunks of time are resources and practice, the only subsystems that utilize the cycle as a unit of time. As far as I can tell, cycles denote the “cooldown” period between tests made within the context of a cyclical subsystem. A cycle can range anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the nature of the world’s economy and the type of skill being practiced.
Resources maintenance cycles are easy enough: after one maintenance cycle (ours was set at 6 months), you make a Resources test against an obstacle based on the lifestyle you’ve been living and the assets you’ve maintained, the outcome of which represents your general financial health.
Practice is a different beast entirely. First, in order to earn a test, you have to be practicing a skill for a total amount of time equal to the cycle of the category it belongs to. Second, the level of test you want to earn requires you to practice a certain number of consecutive hours in a day before those hours count towards the cycle. Third, the number of hours you can practice in a day is limited to 3 x your Will exponent (to a maximum of 20 hours per day).
What this boils down to is a shitload of math. The practice system is useful for extended periods of downtime and allowing flavorful but inessential activities to have some mechanical bearing, but not when the entire game grinds to a halt. By design, Burning Wheel falls flat on its face unless it’s focusing on actions that don’t provide momentum.
It’s called a time skip for a reason, and this quick-and-dirty hack of the practice subsystem lets you press fast-forward, instead of alternating between play and pause. Follow along using pages 47 and 48 in the Burning Wheel Gold Edition rulebook.

Determining the Price of a Test

Instead of earning tests, you purchase tests. For a given skill category, multiply the cycle length (in days) by the hours of practice per day required to earn that test. That is the number of hours you must “spend” from your practice budget in order to earn that test. You can invest hours towards earning a test instead of purchasing it outright.
You can spend hours from your practice budget to satisfy the time requirements to learn from another. If you are learning from another player, that player must spend an equal number of hours from their practice budget.

Converting Cycle Lengths into Days

No matter the system I’m running, I standardize the number of days in each month. Hence:
  • One month is 30 days
  • Two months is 60 days
  • Three months is 90 days
  • Six months is 180 days
  • One year is 360 days

Calculating a Practice Budget

The GM should tell you how many days of downtime you have. To determine your practice budget, use the formula below. The result is your practice budget, in hours. You lose any unused hours leftover after the designated period of downtime has passed.
  • # of days x [ 3 x your Will exponent (max 20) ]

New Table: Test Prices

Skill Category
Routine
Difficult
Challenging
Academic
360
720
1,440
Artisan
1,440
2,880
4,320
Artist
540
1,080
2,160
Craftsman
1,080
2,880
4,320
Forester
540
1,080
2,160
Martial
60
120
240
Medicinal
1,440
2,880
4,320
Military
360
720
1,440
Musical
60
120
240
Peasant
90
360
1,080
Physical
60
120
240
School of Thought
540
1,080
2,160
Seafearing
180
360
720
Social
60
120
240
Sorecerous
1,800
3,600
5,400
Misc
270
540
1,080
Stat/Attribute



Will
1,440
2,880
5,760
Perception
540
1,080
2,160
Agility
180
360
720
Speed
270
540
810
Power
60
120
240
Forte
240
480
960
Faith
1,800
3,600
7,200
Steel
60
180
540

Down-and-Dirty Practice

Sometimes, I don’t even want to deal with players spending their practice budgets at the table. I let them keep their practice budgets after the allotted downtime period and spend them to earn tests during play.
The only stipulation is that each purchase has to make sense retroactively; just because it makes sense to open Jewelry now doesn’t mean you had the convenient inspiration to study jewelry six months ago.
I consider this method to be kinda naughty, and would recommend that you devote time to spend practice budgets at the table before resuming play.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

[KINK] On Cruising (1980)

I’ve been seething over some really bad takes on the movie Cruising (1980). Both professional reviewers and casual commenters claim that the movie is homophobic, that it demonizes gays, that it doesn’t fit their idea of acceptable gay lifestyles.
If William Friedkin wanted to gaybash for 102 straight minutes, he certainly could have found an easier way to do it; he didn’t have to film at actual leather clubs and befriend actual Leathermen before hiring them as extras, didn’t have to portray obscure aspects of Leather culture, didn’t have to emphasize every sweat droplet and leather creak and smoky voice, didn’t have to make every single sex scene so real and intense, didn’t have to be the first Oscar-nominated director to bring uncensored gay culture to the big screen, didn’t have to take on the risky burden of directing one of the first and only films of its type, didn’t have to highlight the police brutality our community has always been plagued by. Hell, Friedkin doesn’t even know who the murderer is. Cruising required a lot of undue passion for an alleged homophobe.
I happen to be a really big fan of Cruising, and the biggest reason is what I interpret the film to be about: our society’s rigid definitions of sexuality and the serious tensions they create. In fact, I think that the direction of the film was tailored to reflect its own thesis. What Cruising does is turn on people like me, turn off people who aren’t like me, and maybe flip the switches on a few people who didn’t know they were like me. The movie’s infamous dancing scene (fuck you if you don’t think Pacino’s moves are the shit) is one big celebration of this metamorphosis through self-discovery; turns out sexuality is slipperier than society would lead you to believe. The biggest tension that Cruising and Leathermen at large examines is at the intersection of homosexuality and masculinity; many straight people and gay men alike are still contending with the existence of that intersection.
The gays who say Cruising demonizes gays are the same gays who say that the Leathermen don’t deserve to have a place in Pride. They’re proving the film’s point. The notion that Leathermen are some shameful secret that needs to be hidden from the general public lest we reflect poorly on the gay community is fucking disgusting. I read one commenter say: “This had to have helped Reagan and the Moral Majority get elected. Did gay men actually do this shit in 1980?” We did this then, we still do this today, and you’re the reason why the Moral Majority got elected, and why Trump got elected. It parallels what Friedkin said about the real-life murders that Cruising is based on: "people questioned their own sexuality and found a lot of question marks and took it out on gay people."

Monday, November 6, 2017

[CRIT] How I Learned to Hate Capitalism and Love the God-Machine

Ever since the release of The God-Machine Chronicle, that titular entity has popped up in my games, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but always noticeable enough that my players started to rib me on how often it reared its head. I never understood the nature of my subconscious fascination with the God-Machine until now.
There is a phenomenon I dare not name lest my blog be stolen into some arcane algorithm. But James Bridle dared name it in his article “Something is wrong on the internet.” My friends and I had stumbled upon it around the same time big content creators started to, but we interpreted it in a “masked men in unmarked vans” sense that scared us from theorizing further. Not until Bridle dropped this sick quote did I recognize the institutional implications of this phenomenon:
“What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects.”
By “infrastructural violence,” Bridle means the cycle of automated exploitation that humans are increasingly being unable to comprehend, let alone fight off. “The structures we have built to sustain ourselves are being used against us,” but by whom? Nobody. It’s like our infrastructure has developed a mind of its own, but that “mind” is just a series of layered processes of which we no longer remember the ends or means. Humanity has painted itself into a corner, nail by nail building their own heinous prison.
That’s why I appreciate the God-Machine as a more refined take on cosmic horror than that which Lovecraft dispensed. The only thing more existentially dreadful than unknowable beings that could obliterate humanity with an errant breath is knowing that your species built those heinous beings, and that they are no longer knowable. My interpretation of the God-Machine parallels that which Harlan Ellison pitches in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: eternal punishment for our hubris, chained to a rock in the Caucasus, subjected to “a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives.”
The best part about the God-Machine is that there’s so many ways to iterate it, so many systems and institutions that can be used to evoke real personal horror, the kind World of Darkness has been evoking since its inception by defiantly integrating current issues and real places. I can’t think of a metaphor more poignant or deserving of inheriting the punk legacy of the World of Darkness than the God-Machine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

[CRIT] Trackmarks: Inspiring Media

Movies

My family always had the TV on, tuned to a channel that was streaming movies back-to-back (HBO, Syfy, AMC, Hallmark, etc.). We didn’t so much watch it as passively absorb it; there’s hundreds of films I’ve stitched together in pieces, others I don’t even remember watching. Most of my tastes came from absorbing films, so it’s natural for me to define something by pointing at films. I’m fluent in “oh kinda like that one film!”
  • Blade Runner 2049. An aesthetic encyclopedia. When I run Trackmarks minds-eye, I tell my players to watch this so we’re on the same page.
  • Bright. They basically stole my idea. Also, before you say “but what about Shadowrun:” I don’t do cyberpunk, guy.
  • Ocean’s Eleven. All adventures in Trackmarks are structured like heists, and this movie is the quintessential guidebook to heists.
  • Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. I couldn’t point to any specific examples, but this movie defined my tastes in fantasy. I’m sure there’s traces in here somewhere.

Music

Whenever I run a game, I curate a playlist that I cycle through while writing for each session. I’m a big believer in building an environment to write in that evokes the tones and themes of your subject matter; I’ve yet to find a more convenient or effective method than blasting some tunes. Trackmarks is my most ambitious project yet, so it follows that the playlist is growing by the week.
If you want to really get Trackmarks, listen to this playlist. Either look up the songs below, or check out the playlist on Google Play. Hit shuffle.
  • 50 Cent – Many Men (Wish Death)
  • Ab-Soul – Trouble (feat. Aloe Blacc)
  • A$AP Ferg – Plain Jane
  • Alicia Keys – A Woman’s Worth
  • BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Six Degrees (feat. Danny Brown)
  • Belly – Come Down is Real
  • Belly – Dealer Plated
  • Belly – Make a Toast
  • Belly – Might Not (feat. The Weeknd)
  • Belly – No Option
  • Belly – Poltergeist
  • Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – Shotz to tha Double Glock
  • Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise (feat. L.V.)
  • Danny Brown – 25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring)
  • Drake – 6 Man
  • Frank Ocean – Pink + White
  • Future – Mask Off (Remix) (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
  • Geto Boys – First Light of the Day
  • Geto Boys – The World is a Ghetto
  • J Dilla – Fight Club (feat. Nottz & Boogie)
  • Kendrick Lamar – DNA.
  • Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)
  • King Avriel – 20s 50s 100s (feat. A$AP Ferg)
  • Mobb Deep – Survival of the Fittest
  • Nas – If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)
  • Nas – Street Dreams
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – Hypnotize
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – Somebody’s Gotta Die
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – Ten Crack Commandments
  • Residente – Dagombas en Tamale
  • Subenstein (My Sub IV) – Big K.R.I.T.
  • Vybz Kartel – Fast Life
  • Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.
  • Yaeji – Drink I’m Sippin On