The Alexandrian

Ten Candles: The Dig – 1939

November 16th, 2016

Ten Candles

THE DIG: 1939

In 1868 Frederick August Klein discovered the Mesha Stelae at the site of ancient Dibon. One of the stelae told of the anger of Chemosh, god of Moab, who returned to his people in a time of trouble in order to overthrow the Israelites who had oppressed them. The other told of the bleak artifact which Chemosh – the squamous, aquatic destroyer who had raped the goddess Ishtar and pillaged Mesha Steleher flesh; who had feasted upon the flesh of children given as molk fire sacrifices in the valley of Topheth; whose blood flowed through the abominations of the children of Ammon – left behind to crush the Jews if they should ever threaten his people again.

When the Bani Hamida – the local Bedouin tribe – discovered that the stelae had been recovered they seized them. When the Ottomans ordered them to be turned over to the German consulate, they heated the stelae in a fire, threw cold water upon them, and broke them into pieces with boulders.

Fortunately, just before their destruction, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau – the noted French orientalist and archaeologist – had manged to obtain papier-mâché impressions of the stelae. So deeply disturbed was he by the content of the second stele, however, that he secreted it away, reporting only the existence of the first to the wider world in a paper written for the Revue de l’Instruction Publique. (He might not have done even so much if George Grove of the Palestine Exploration Fund had not announced the find in a letter to the The Times.)

The second stele was recovered by the Ahnenerbe in 1936. After it was translated in early 1937, Heinrich Himmler decreed that the recovery of the artifact it described was of the utmost importance. A number of subsequent investigations – following the clues contained in the ancient stele – were undertaken.

It is now the summer of 1939. As Nazi agents of the SS, you have been hand-chosen to lead an archaeological expedition into the Middle East and conduct a dig near the ancient city of D’Khesh where it is believed the artifact was interred. Upon arrival in the region, you obtained the necessary permits, organized a crew of native diggers (mongrel half-breeds and the like), established your site, and commenced work.

Initial results have been promising, but the telegrams coming from Berlin have grown increasingly urgent and demanding. It seems that there is some great undertaking afoot in Germany, and the bane of Chemosh would be of untold benefit to the ultimate undertaking of the Aryan race.

Areas of Note: Officers’ tents, native labor encampment, the latrine, vehicle pool, supply tent, the dig site, the acacia tree, the endless dunes of sand, the seal of black stone, the crypt beneath

Goal: Retrieve the bane of Chemosh

Special Note: The scenario starts normally, but when the vault of Chemosh is breached the Sun, Stars, and Moon are blotted out by the Dark. Shortly thereafter, They will arrive.

Thule Society

Go to Part 1

Battlestar Galactica - Starbuck

GM: Okay, you come up over the horizon of the station and you can see the trench up ahead. Three rebel fighters go roaring past.

Annie: I signal my co-pilots to follow my lead and drop in behind them.

GM: Sure. You fall into their 6 o’clock and hit the thrusters, zooming up behind them.

Annie: I target the lead rebel pilot and take my shot!

GM: He’s dancing around in the ray-trace of your targeting computer.

Annie: The Force is strong with this one. I pull the trigger!

GM: The walls of the canyon are really racing past you. All this amazing superstructure just whirring by in a blur.

Annie: Great. I take the shot.

GM: Suddenly that old YT freighter you’d planted the tracking device on earlier comes roaring out of deep space! It shoots! [rolls some dice] One of your co-pilots explodes!

Annie: What?!

GM: What do you do?

Annie: I… take my shot?

GM: Your other co-pilot, distracted by the appearance of the new enemy, loses control! They smash into your wing, careen wildly, smash into the wall of the canyon, and explode! Your own stabilizers have been damaged and you go hurtling out into deep space!

This kind of resolution dithering – where the players have declared their actions, but the GM isn’t allowing them to actually take and resolve those actions – is incredibly frustrating.

Sometimes the dither is caused by the GM prematurely asking the players what they want to do – after hearing the proposed action they realize that there’s additional information that they want or need to convey. (Or, if they’re improvising, details or cool ideas which popped into their head during the time that it took for the player to respond.)

Other times the dither occurs because the GM is waiting for someone to say the thing he wants them to do: Something cool is going to happen when someone tries to open the door, so any other action people propose will be put on pause until somebody in the group opens the door. (This also naturally leads to a narrower case in which only actions that would disrupt what the GM has planned are ignored – you can do anything unless it gets between them and that door.)

Another common form of dithering occurs when a GM responds to a declaration of action by discussing other options that are available. For example, I was playing in a cyberpunk game where I said I wanted to hack an electronic lock. The GM responded by pointing out that I could also kick the door down or just send my slither-bot under the door or physically pick the lock or…

Ultimately, when a player declares an action the GM needs to resolve that action and then describe the new situation: They need to move forward so that the next set of actions be cleanly declared. (The only exceptions are if the GM doesn’t feel they have enough information to resolve the action or if the declared action appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the current situation. In either case, the GM should still be seeking the necessary clarification as quickly as possible and then driving forward into the resolution.)

Resolution dithering often becomes obfuscated when the GM can jump between multiple PCs, leading to a muddle where the GM can get an action declaration from one PC, not fully resolve it, move onto the next PC, get another action they don’t fully resolve, and then repeat cyclically – kind of bouncing around the group without ever moving the action forward. This seems particularly prevalent with neophyte GMs (possibly because their lack of confidence manifests as an unwillingness to make the sort of definitive declarations required of action resolution), and the resulting quagmire can be difficult to diagnose.

GM DON’T #3.1: THE REVERSE RESOLUTION RING

What I refer to as the reverse resolution ring is a kissing cousin with resolution dithering and, for me, is even more frustrating to experience as a player.

For example, I was playing in a game of The One Ring. The GM would describe a situation – like a guard dog growling as the party drew near – and I would say something like, “Okay, I’m going to grab some of the fresh venison from the deer we killed this morning and I’ll toss it to the dog to distract it.” The GM takes note of that, but then proceeds around the table collecting action declarations from the other players.

So far, this is probably fine: Getting a collective understanding of what everyone is doing before figuring out how it would all play out together can actually be a really good technique for a GM to learn.

But where the reverse resolution ring kicks in is when a form of recency bias causes the GM to resolve the proposed actions in the opposite order from which they were declared (starting with the last person they talked to and then working their way backwards to the person who actually kicked things off). This is a problem because, at some point during those declarations, the other players will often say something like:

“Oh! That sounds good! I’ll dig some meat out of my pack, too!”

Or:

“I shoot the dog with my crossbow.”

The latter negates the original declaration by solving the problem in an alternative way. The former ends up basically stealing the original idea (even when the player saying it was just trying to support what they saw as a good solution to the problem) – the copycat gets to be the one to actually do the cool idea.

In either case, the GM is essentially stealing spotlight time. They’re punishing the player who took initiative, which is directly problematic because that’s demoralizing and unfair to the player affected, and indirectly problematic because it will eventually have a corrosive effect on the willingness of the entire table to step up. Even if it’s just a subconscious reaction, eventually you’ll end up with something that could easily be misidentified as analysis paralysis, but is actually just a hesitation to pull the trigger when it’s just as likely to end up shooting you in the head.

(It actually reminds me of something that crops up in live theatre: One actor will come up with a funny bit of business or line reading. Other actors will see it and think, “That’s hilarious!” And then they’ll end up duplicating the bit in their own scene, which can often happen earlier in the play than the original actor’s bit. These derivative bits are often not as funny and only serve to sap the riotous humor of the original – which is often built on the straight takes which are supposed to precede it. It’s the director’s responsibility to make sure that this sort of undercutting does not happen. But I digress.)

The reverse resolution ring can get truly cancerous when it turns into an endless ring: The GM goes through the ring once asking declarations, goes backwards through the ring resolving actions, and then – since they’re back at the beginning of the ring – they ask that last player, “So, what do you want to do next?” … only to then go forwards through the ring again getting everyone else’s declarations. The GM can even convince themselves that they’re “balancing” things – this guy went last, so let’s find out what he wants to do first. But that player is now systemically screwed, doomed to forever get upstaged by the rest of the group until something disrupts the current pattern.

In closing, however, I will mention the exception which proves the rule: A reverse resolution ring can be an effective technique when it’s used to model initiative. In other words, when the GM asks those with the lowest initiatives to declare their actions first and then resolves from highest initiative down. The “punishment” is now modeling the poor initiative result, and grants a strong benefit to those with a high initiative result.

Ten Candles: Apocalypse Dark

November 7th, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

APOCALYPSE DARK

The world ended awhile ago. At least, the world as you knew it: Famine and drought created desperation. Governments crumbled. Cities turned into wastelands. Marauders roamed the countryside.

But you survived. And you weren’t alone. You and a small group of others formed a compound. You secured it. You rebuilt your own little corner of civilization and for the first time in a long time each year was a little better than the last.

Then the darkness came. Those on watch that night said that the stars swam before their eyes. The moon winked out. The sun never rose. The scavenged solar panels became worthless silicate, of course. It was decided that the gas for the generators would be conserved, but that changed when They came.

Your friends. Your family. Those you saved and those who have saved you. One by one they’ve been taken by something out there in the dark. Now only a handful of you remain. The walls haven’t kept your safe, but they’re the only defense you have. Can they be reinforced? Or would it be better to abandon them and hole up in one of the buildings? You’ll figure it out. After all, if the Apocalypse couldn’t kill you, then you can find a way to survive this, too.

Areas of Note: Ramparts, the locked armory, barracks, the cornfields, the solarium

Goal: Hold the fort

Fortifications

I try to limit the number of non-content posts here at the Alexandrian, but it can be useful to occasionally take stock. And we haven’t had one of these updates in nearly a year, so you’ll have to bear with me. I’ve also been getting asked a lot of the same questions lately, and this would be a good opportunity to kind of bring people up to speed.

RATE OF UPDATES: Many of you have noticed the obvious, which is that the rate of updates at the Alexandrian has dropped again over the last six months or so. The primary reason for this is that the Infinity RPG has been chewing up a lot of my creative time. We’re hoping that the core rulebook will be getting delivered soon (although, to be honest, we’ve been hoping that for a long while now). Once that happens, things should loosen up a bit and I’ll be able to dedicate a bit more time to the Alexandrian.

(There’s also another project — this one still top secret — which I’m hoping I’ll be able to make some announcements about shortly. But that’s also been pending for awhile now, so… it’ll happen when it happens.)

You may recall that, when I launched the Patreon for the site back in December 2014, I mentioned setting up the patron options to be for a paid-per-post format for exactly this reason: The Alexandrian won’t always update regularly (although the patrons make it possible to update it a lot more than it would be otherwise), and I don’t want anybody paying for content unless that content actually exists.

As a reminder, this really offers the best of both worlds: If you’d really prefer to make a monthly contribution, set your contribution level to the amount you want to contribute and set your maximum contribution to the same amount. As long as I post something each month, you’ll make the monthly contribution you want to. (When pledging without a maximum contribution level, however, remember that the ideal update schedule for the Alexandrian is Monday-Wednesday-Friday each week, plus bonus content. So if you backed for $0.10 per post, you’d be spending $1.20 or $1.30 per month to support the Alexandrian.)

GOAL LEVELS: Since my last update, you may have noticed that some of the funding levels for the Patreon goals have changed. There’s a couple of reasons for this.

First, because of people setting maximum pledges the amount of money Patreon reports me earning per post is not really accurate. For example, if it says I’m making $50 per post then that’s how much I make for the first post each month. Subsequent posts then drop if people have reached their maximum contributions. In practice, by the end of a full month of updates I’m making a little over one-third the amount per post Patreon is claiming. Goal levels were shifted up slightly to reflect the reality of what I’m getting paid (in large part because the higher funding goals were set with the expectation that I’d be able to pay for graphics, maps, and other elements which are part of them.)

Second, Patreon changed the way that they calculate the amount of money paid per post. Or, rather, they’ve changed the amount they publicly claim is being earned per post. When I first set up the Alexandrian Patreon, they reported the total amount pledged for the first post. They now run that number through some sort of weird, black box algorithm (which they don’t share with anybody as far as I can tell) and then spit out a number which is supposedly a more “accurate” reflection of how much I’m actually earning (supposedly based on how many pledges were declined when they attempted to charge credit cards in previous months, but the math on that doesn’t actually add up). When this happened, goal levels were then shifted down a bit to reflect the fact that Patreon was now routinely under-reporting how much my patrons were actually pledging.

PATRONS OF THE ALEXANDRIAN: When new patrons sign up to support the Alexandrian they receive a message asking them for specific permission to list them on the Patrons of the Alexandrian page. I would love to recognize everybody who helps to make the awesome content here possible! But some people miss the message and then later e-mail me to ask why they haven’t been added to the list. I’m guessing others miss the message and never e-mail me, so this is just a quick reminder for all my patrons: If you want to be recognized as the wonderful people that you are, please send me an e-mail and give me permission to do so!

 

$0.10? $0.25? $1.00?

Patreon for the Alexandrian

… even the smallest of pledges can add up to wondrous things.

Ten Candles: Aurora Australis

October 31st, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

Earlier this year I reviewed Stephen Dewey’s Ten Candles. Since then, it has easily become my most-played and most-demanded game of 2016. Everyone who experiences it falls in love with it. I want to help keep boosting the signal for this wonderful game, so as a special Halloween treat I’m offering a new module for the game. (For those unfamiliar with the game, each module offers a unique initial scenario. The game comes with 25 modules included, most of which can easily be used over and over again with radically different results each time.)

AURORA AUSTRALIS

Aurora Borealis

Dr. McMannus had said that there was something wrong with the aurora australis. That’s why he’d come down to Antarctica – to study fluctuations in the electromagnetic field of the planet. He’d taken a snowcat out onto the ice when the Dark came. You haven’t seen him since.

Your satellite uplinks went down when the Sun went out, but you were able to hear the world fall apart through the scratchy audio of your shortwave radios. There’s been some sort of interference (and it’s been getting worse), and when you’re trying to stay positive you can mostly convince yourself that’s why you’ve lost contact with everyone else, their signals vanishing into the night one by one.

All that’s left now is the harsh glare of the camp’s spotlights and the endless, icy expanse which surrounds you in every direction. Here, at least, the Darkness is not absolute: From time to time, the spectral arcs of the aurora still dance green and crimson across the sky above, casting their strange hues across the scintillating snows below.

Someone has activated a navigational beacon at Paradise Harbor. It might be that evacuation ship they kept promising to send. But this morning you also picked up a second signal, this one from Dr. McMannus’ snowcat. What you’re hearing doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s possible he’s still alive out there.

Areas of Note: pod habitats, prefab storage containers, snowcat hanger, radio tower, science lab, the endless fields of ice

Goal: Cross the ice and investigate the radio signals

Antarctica Snowcat

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