Complete Exalted charm trees

I’ve been experimenting with using XSLT and XSL-FO for generating PDF character sheets for the characters in my Exalted campaign. As a side effect (and for some other reasons), I have created detailed XML representations of the charms from the game. Upon discovering graphviz, I realized that it would be trivial to turn this XML into a PDF with tree displays of all the charms.

The initial version of this document was released a while ago, but I just updated it to include Aspect Book: Water, The Fair Folk and the Book of Bone and Ebony. I also corrected a few mistakes. You can download this 170+ page beast from my Exalted page.

Living after the end of the world

Of the many role-playing games I played as a kid, Gamma World always held a special place in my heart. Maybe it was the goofy “get exposed to radiation, gain super powers” concept. Maybe I just liked death machines. Maybe it was because my friend PG created a six foot mutant chicken named Sal Manilla. Either way, playing it was a total hoot.

It gets resurrected every so often, with it’s current incarnation (the sixth!) released about a year ago. Unfortunately, this version uses the d20 Modern system. Actually, perhaps “abuses” is a better term. I don’t like d20 enough to say definatively, but several reviews suggest that new Gamma World was designed by someone who didn’t understand the d20 Modern system that well. Though I love the fact it uses an open content license, I’m not a big fan of the d20 system, so this new edition didn’t exactly blow my skirt up. Still, there is some stuff worth borrowing, which you can read about in my kleptoreview. Also, you can check it out yourself, since Drive Thru RPG is offering it for free download until 18 Apr 2005.

When reading this latest edition, I again was blown away at how neat the world can be. As before, I started to think about what a good MMORPG it would make. In the gaming press, you often see references to the need to refresh the genre. Given other games that deal with super-powers, it seems possible to build a game based around a bunch of post-apocalypse mutants. There are a few things unique to the Gamma World setting, particularly as envisioned in the latest revision, that could make it stand out, if handled properly:

  • Entropy. Everything in the game should wear and decay, especially buildings of the player’s community. It should require investment of the players to keep villages and towns operational.
  • Production. It should be possible (through massive effort of large groups of players) to build or discover and make operational, production facilities of various kinds. Gamma World is all about scratching out survival in a strange wilderness. Reclaiming lost technology is a big part of that, and a critical part of the game.
  • Variation. The terrain within the game should be completely different on each server, particularly the locations of dead factories. Exploring this terrain and how to exploit it would then be a big part of the game.
  • Mortality. Death is easy to understand, but most games don’t put much effort into explaining resurrection. It should have a cause in this game. For example, maybe pure strain humans have access to cloning banks. Perhaps a tribe of mutant animals surrounds some kind of blob where the dead can be fed and new (perhaps slightly altered) versions emerge.
  • Finality. On a few servers, death should be final. That is, you get one life and when you are killed, you have to start a new character. These servers should cost about a third of the normal subscription rate.
  • Linearity. Quests should not repeat, ever. Once the scouting party of mutant pig men is eliminated, they should stay eliminated until a new scouting party is sent. There should be somewhere from where they are sent, a vast hive of mutant pig men that can be eliminated if tons of players decide to try it. Naturally, there would need to be some quest “templates”, like “bring this {mcguffin} to {random guy} in {random location} in exchange for {reward}”.
  • Soup. The nanotech/genetech soup that pervades the atmosphere should be an ever present threat/boon, able to hurt, heal or mutate players given the right situation. Pure strain humans should start in extremely large, Zion-like enclaves where this soup is kept out. They start with much higher technology, but have a lot of difficulty being outside in the soup.
  • Impact. Players should be able to change the world, even so far as to expand towns, or even found their own. They should start by belonging to a tribe, and be able to found their own. Tribes should be able to form alliances and declare war. Members of warring tribes should be able to kill each other. Players should be able to climb the ranks to gain control of tribes.
  • Economics. Resources, even those from/to vendors, should be represented realistically. If a bunch of people gather moss and sell it to vendors, the price to buy and sell it should go down. I people start buying tons of it, the price should go up.
  • Armageddon. It should be possible for players, with ample warning to other players, to destroy the world. Again. If this happens, nearly everyone dies. Perhaps the server restarts, with new terrain.

Such a game would probably only attract really die-hard players, which means it probably wouldn’t do very well. It would be fun while it lasted, though.

Sisyphean volunteers

Imagine you rule hell. Long, long ago, you were asked (by, perhaps, another pantheon) to severely punish this Greek punk that betrayed the gods and captured the god of death. Since this punk, Sisyphus, was so industrious, you put him to work pushing a boulder up a steep hill. But just when the boulder approaches to the top, it rolls all the way back down the hill. You compel Sisyphus to always want to get the boulder to the top, making him labor for eternity.

While initially quite pleased with this punishment, eventually the novelty wears off and you spot some problems with it. For one thing, planting the compulsion to push the rock leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It seems… artificial somehow. For another, after a while you notice that Sisyphus seems to accept his fate. He makes peace with the fact he’s going to push the boulder forever and, to your shame, takes some comfort in that knowledge.

You forget about this until thousands of years later, when a more insidious punishment stikes you. It would still have the endless toil aspect (of which you are so fond), but with the following differences:

  • You would trick people into actually volunteering for the punishment by making it sound pleasant. Ideally, they would pay for the privilege.
  • The volunteers would seem to accomplish goals but, in fact, their actions would have no real consequence and, in most cases, would reset to be “accomplished” by the next volunteer. This prevents them from coming to grips with their punishments for much longer.
  • The illusion of accomplishment would be strengthened by allowing the volunteers to brag and “help” each other, but even en masse, volunteers would have no actual ability to change anything.
  • Failure (often accompanied by hideous, painful death) would be punished solely by the offer of resurrection, tricking the recently dead to volunteer again for the task, over and over if need be. Volunteers would not find this odd.
  • At some arbitrary point, cut off their advancement so that they no longer have the crutch of getting better when they “accomplish” something, but allow them to either continue anyway (perhaps by meddling with other volunteers), or start all over again in some other form.

The end result punishes the wicked in a far more insidious way. They register that they are being punished on only a subconscious level. Their ignorance brings them a certain amount of bliss but, deep down, realize that they are just as useless as Sisyphus. They are toys for your amusement.

They are, in short, characters in World of Warcraft.

What other explanation would your tauren shaman have for sleeping for days at a time, only to wake up to be killed over and over, then sleep again? How else can your troll warlock rationalize the centaur invasion that he just singlehandedly repelled coming back twenty minutes later like it never happened? Why else would the meager vein of tin your gnome picked bare disappear, only to reappear hours later? They’re all in hell, they just don’t know it.

This could be said of most video game characters, but the addictive nature of MMORPGs and the flimsy rationalizations of their players suggest a hell that has expanded to punish the living.

In any case, a MMORPG that actually embraced the idea that its characters are running the gerbil wheel of an afterlife, rather than just resurrect them continually without explanation, could be fascinating. You might even base it somewhat on the old Sierra game Afterlife, with its virtues and sins. Or perhaps theme it around a war between heaven and hell, where the players can be angels or demons. Maybe they can be (or, perhaps, must be) mortals until the first time they die, and their actions as mortals dictate on what side of the war they find themselves and how much power they start with.