Saint-Sebastian #12

This issue is dedicated mostly to matters electrical, mostly in the form of computers and their relations to roleplaying.

Sutoria Delimus

I was immensely relieved that Paul didn't have time to produce a copy of Fluxus last month as it gave me the chance to instead spend my evenings slack-jawed and forcing bleary eyes to focus on the form of Dungeon Siege. DS is a recently released computer hack and slash RPG for the PC that a player in my group recommended it to me after I had dismissed it, on the basis of the press reviews, as a 3D Diablo.

It is in fact a 3D Diablo, which means heavy on the slaughter, light on the plot and no real NPC interaction worth noting. The background is also very strange being based on one of the game designer's RPG settings. An RPG setting that he created in his teens with all the implications that follow from that.

The game is highly linear: there is a road; you follow the road; until you encounter enemies; which you kill; and then continue on the road. So basically I have spent the almost every week evening and night playing a 15 year old's hack and slash campaign - sometimes even to the detriment of minor activities such as washing or even eating. It is not exactly a recipe for self-respect or anything that is going to make anyone who is waiting for any productive work from me happy.

Dungeon Siege has none of the happy properties of roleplaying except one. A certain moreishness that means you are always curious as to what is going to happen next. Who you are going to meet (and admittedly slaughter), what magic items and spells you are going to find, what abilities you are going to unlock in your characters or how your characters are going to develop.

In this respect the game is some kind of monstrous masterpiece having been finely honed to a free time killing edge. Every time I think of leaving I think: "I'll just play until the next map section, or until that character can use the Mighty +11 Sword of Slaying or until that character goes up a point". The critical point is of course that it is always possible to find a logic stopping point, and the next and the next… until the birds start singing in the trees.

I have only once roleplayed all-night unintentionally. For a start it is rare than an entire group can both have no pressing engagements the next day and lose track of time completely. It is I suppose a compliment to the GM at the end of the day. Secondly the importance of communication in roleplaying is such that in general most sessions will be abandoned in the face of the fatigued gibberish being spouted by both GM and players. That is one advantage that computers have over the human GM. Only the player's ability to participate in the game is diminished, not the "GM" or game world.

The limitations of DS though reveal that traditional roleplaying still has an awful lot over their computer incarnations if you can get a group together. First of all there is a terrible and literal linearity part of the appeal of the conventional RPG is that there is an incredible amount freedom to explore whatever aspect of the game world you want to. DS and its ilk are confined to key areas, you can either fight or talk to NPCs never both. Secondly while DS does look stunning and very atmospheric at times the fact is that it is still far easier for a potential GM to say "you are in a vast desert over which lizards dart, weaving for the oasis" rather than to get into a computer modelling system and start creating that desert piece by piece. Graphics down well are astounding but they can leave little to the imagination and where a player might fill in the gaps in a "word picture" the literal graphic can simply reveal the flaws.

I sing the A&E Electric

The last time the postage rates went up I elected to receive A&E via e-mail. I must admit that the offer came not a moment too soon as each issue of A&E takes up a hideous amount of shelf space and I had been thinking of whether I should be putting them into the recycling instead. Trouble was I felt somewhat guilty having these blocks of paper transported halfway across the world just for me to effectively bin it. By way of a contrast the electronic version of A&E is not only far more compact but makes pruning out pieces that you know you are never going to read again far easier.

Taking the Electronic A&E (EAE) has also introduced a new way of reading A&E. After scanning through the downloaded files for my own name (I am at least being honest here) I then read a certain set of the zines that I frequently enjoy. So far the same then, however I usually start reading the earlier zines that are mentioned in the comments of these "regular" zines before attempting to read anything else from the issue. This means the other contributors have effectively become my guide to the APA itself. If a piece is mentioned more than once in the regular zines I can expect that it was either good or at least interesting. I then go back and read the commented on article. I may then read the rest of the issue it was in, or read the current issue of the zine or perhaps I'll leap back to my regular zines and re-read their comments. The whole experience, while bizarre in many respects - akin to reading backwards, has actually made things more interesting. It has been both liberating and has given a point to commenting beyond that better served in a conventional letters column.

Of course some sad zines end up never being read except when you wonder why you have never read a particular zine. Unfortunately that curiosity usual ends up being rewarded with the anticipated response of: "There was a reason you never read that.".

There is also the excellent opportunity to, for those who send their zines in an editable format, completely reorganise and rearrange things. I now never print my zines so tiny text and columns are out in favour of the wide page format with comfortable reading text. The annoying little hyphen marks between words? Out! Clip art? Out! Filler material? Out! Letter paper size? Non! Irregular margins? Forget about them!

In terms of a presentation medium who could ask for more? Well zipping the files instead of receiving massive amounts of attachments perhaps but I would still recommend that everyone get EAE.

The Future of APA

Of course there is always trouble in paradise. The trouble in this case is why pay for this? People email their zines, the zines are then emailed out again. Surely it is better to run one of the free email lists and simply have each zine editor mail the new issue of their zine to the list for automatic distribution?

There are always people who want paper and prefer the paper edition of anything if available but EAE seems to indicate that the future might lie elsewhere. The APA has always been a rambling institution. Without a strong editor co-ordinating things essentially all it becomes is a centrally distributed wrapper. Using a machine to do the distribution seems to be the final decentralising conclusion.

With falling production costs for both paper and electronic format fanzines the fate of APAs has always been uncertain. One of the key appeals that has remained, for me at least, is the idea that you might see something in an APA that you would otherwise never have encountered. The switch to electrics though has revealed this feature is related not so much to the format of an APA, its schedule or anything else. The central features are a group of writers willing to share work on a regular basis. The only thing that seems to separate a mailing list from an APA is that writers are constrained by the deadline and are forced to package together their thought into a semi-coherent bundle rather than a utterly incoherent stream of reactionary messages.


Why do I always deal with future rather than the current Issue Topic?

Well because we care about you. We don't want you to have to wade through one tedious essay about the Topic only to have to read yet another that perhaps simply reheats the argument you have just read. If I write about a future Topic it ensures that not only is an individual issue varied but that ideas do not have to be reiterated needlessly.

Spike Jones, Mermecolion At A Picnic, Issue #191

Also, as demonstrated in the OnTE Omni League, one can play with that same sealed deck more than once; the key is that he can't buy boosters and add cards to it (a rule enforced by the honour system).

So if you buy a deck (and perhaps some boosters) and never change in what way is that not what I described as a Non-Collectable Card Game? The perhaps more interesting point I made was that some games are better for this purpose than others and for some particular games there is a compelling case for not playing them in any other way. Anyway I am glad we have established that the NCCG is a valid form. Perhaps I just print another article on them beyond the one piece that has already caused so much rumbling discontent.

And even if one did have to buy a new deck each game, and they had to be purchased at full price, this still could come in at less total cost than the average CCG player's buying of thousands of boosters in hopes of getting the one rare card that still eludes him.

There is so much madness in this one sentence! First of all it seems that you seem to have forgotten that part of the point of the NCCG was that I was playing with people who could not afford the cost of buying a deck over and over again. It is simply not economical, take a group of four people. The cost of say, renting a DVD is £3, the cost of playing a CCG in the conventional fashion of sealed deck is approximately £24. The only way that money can be justified is if the card game can be played over and over again.

The argument that some people pay a lot for an item, indeed that perhaps they pay an uneconomic price for it, is hardly an argument that everyone should pay that much as well. For example I paid £230 for a graphics card recently. Does that mean that everyone should buy the most expensive graphics card available?

Perhaps I am being unfair to your argument. A more charitable interpretation is that for people who are very involved in CCGs certain costs and game styles are actually acceptable. To which obviously I must concede only to ponder why that is relevant to the idea I was actually advancing. Namely games that can be played with old card sets for which no new cards are available (I would like to see the doyennes of consumerism build a case for the necessity of buying new cards in this circumstance). Games that can be played in a financial fixed manner that accounts for the financial means of all the participants. Games that allow the use of all cards purchased rather than having "useless" cards that have been purchased solely to acquire "rare" or otherwise limited cards.

The last point is an important one for me for another reason. Namely that throwing away excess cards seems wasteful, yet storing them is unjustifiable unless they are going to be used. For me NCCG seem a way to restore the viability of certain common cards. Their value is restored by the unavailability of the "optimal" card. The gamer's sense of tactical manoeuvring is restored as "sub-optimal" card combinations have to be played.


In another reference or references I cannot find a number of people commented that Postmodernism is suspiciously self-referential. Well perhaps, after all it is often synomous with self-reference but perhaps it is better to say that if the Marxist dialectic ran:

Thesis & Anti-thesis = Synthesis


Modernism & Postmodernism = Modern Culture

Defining things in terms of what they are not is always fraught but is also valid, not just in philosophy but even in things like set theory. The risk of simply self-referring into oblivion is a risk but hardly a reason to reject the possibility out of hand.

San Duess Theresa

Our group does not regularly argue player versus player as regards to the rules of the game. The big exception is with the Stunning Rules for the Star Wars d20 game. The controversy rumbled over three or four sessions and took up far too many emails on our group email list.

The key seemed to be that everyone "knew" how stunning worked in Star Wars we had all seen it in the films after. The rules however made stunning quite powerful against weaker characters. Why kill someone if you can knock them out with one or two shots?

These are the points when you wish a game designer made their assumptions and ideas transparent. What were the guiding ideas behind the Stunning rules? We cannot judge whether they are misjudged or simply in error.

I felt (a minority of one) that in fact most of the Star Wars d20 rules were actually pretty good and accurate for the film. However they were often obscure and relied on odd little relationships between different rules to give the correct final result. In the Stun Rules case a Stun can be resisted with a Fortitude save which is essentially related to the Constitution attribute and the character's level. Therefore for 1st level characters stuns are a lot easier to achieve but the effectiveness of the stun technique rapidly diminishes as the characters and their opponents advance in level.

This seems to mirror the film, Leia is stunned at the start of the first film and that's about it. It also means that firefights can be common right from the outset without the risk of killing characters needlessly.

This are of course my assumptions but I assume that the game designer did this deliberately. In most game worlds of course the "way of the world" is determined by the rules not vice versa. If we had never seen a Star Wars film we probably would have accepted that stunning is common without the attendant controversy.

This is the same issue as the one the Paul rails about in AD&D novels where the characters seem to know about character classes and levels. The rules end up defining the game and no-one argues with the rules because there is no other yardstick. The same issue seems to have given Glorantha an inappropriate magic system. Runequest defined magic in Glorantha not the setting leading to the massive revision in the Hero Wars/Heroquest system. The only answer is to either clearly separate background and rules system so that one can be compared to the other or for the game designer to clearly state their design objectives clearly so the players can determine whether they have succeeded or not.

Immaneus Delcu Provorio

One of my regrets in having less time to write Saint Sebastian is that there is not the time to properly research articles in the way that I can in my regular zine. Or perhaps I mean "procrastinate" rather than "research". Either way the most significant baby experience I have had as a GM has not been the presence of a baby but rather the absence of one.

It followed the idea I have that when a player does not detail an aspect of their character's background the GM is entitled to fill in any blanks if they become relevant or appropriate. Hazel's character Bryony was an amnesiac, not remembering anything before a suicide attempt that forcibly awoke her character's magical ability. Heroin addiction and a shadowy boyfriend had been established as elements of the back story. During an examination by someone skilled in Life magics I decided that perhaps there was more to the story. I suddenly decided and announced that the magician had discovered that Bryony was infertile possible as the result of a botched, back-street or even forcible abortion. It was one of those brief moments of inspiration, if the magician gave her a clean bill of health that was setting the nebulous background one way. A non-fatal venereal disease would have taken us somewhere else, a disease such as AIDS or Hepatitis C would have put too much pressure on the character. I felt my decision muddied the waters without making anything too definite.

Hazel though seemed to develop a sudden interest though and I wish I could confirm that that is correct and whether the fact that she was a woman rather a man playing a female character added anything to the interest. I will have to ask the next we meet (which is not very often these days). Either way this impromptu detail led to a lot roleplaying and not "fact finding" either. Bryony needed to discuss this with people not uncover the "ultimate truth". It added a valuable emotion aspect to the game.