Friday, May 25, 2018

Demon City Combat (using Tarot Cards)

(For Demon City. Help out here)

Action: The Short Version

In the next section, action in Demon City is explained in detail with a note about everything you might ever have to keep track even in the most complex combat, in the order it might come up and all the "What if?s answered. Also, the tarot cards used in Demon City have a variety of things about them that matter besides just the number on them, but for now, only the number is important.

Basically Demon City action boils down to:

1. Everyone announces their actions in reverse-order of agility and resolves any uncontested actions (ie, ones nobody is trying to interfere with).

2. Everybody involved in contested actions collects the cards they’ll throw face down, then flips all at once.

3. If the players get the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side. If the Host gets the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side.

Action: In Detail:


1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order

Remember how the Host was supposed to write down PC’s names in ascending order of Agility? Put in the bad guys (and anyone else involved in the Action) in that list, too. 

If there’s a tie, ties are decided randomly and usually stay in that order until the fight ends. The Host can also re-throw ties at their own discretion if some new enemy shows up, if someone is out of the action or the scene changes in some dramatic way.

2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do

Look at the top: Whatever entity involved in the round has the lowest Agility announces what they plan to do.

Everyone will notice this low-Agility slowpoke getting ready to do whatever they're going to do. Higher Agility characters will have their choice of action informed by what the slower one does.

-This can't be an “if-then” and they can’t wait to see what other people are doing, they gotta decide.

-Actions can normally only target one foe at a time--exceptions will be noted when we get around to specific abilities and weapons (like grenades and Waves of Mutilation). 

-You can also try to run up to 30 feet and perform an action, or perform an all-movement action moving you up to 60 feet. Though for the purpose of deciding the weapon throw (see below) against a target who is fighting back your range is the distance you started the round at. (ie You can’t go “I charge in 30 feet while he shoots so the range is now 6 inches and stab him with +1 throw because I have a knife and a knife beats a gun at 6 inches”. You can try to attack with your knife, but you making it through the 30 feet between you and them before getting shot is part of what the the coming throw will decide.)

-If a character is Out of the Fight or in a Panic (see below) at the beginning of the round and needs to throw to regain their Toughness or Calm, they throw before announcing their action. If they fail, they might not get an action this round—or ever again.

-If you successfully used an attack or used a defensive action (see below) to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling, etc) within 60 feet of your last position relative to the enemy, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want. 

3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get And Take Cards Face Down

Once you know how many cards you get, slide those cards face down in front of you—don’t look at them yet.

As with non-Action tasks, the players throw out of the Players' Deck which sits at the middle of the table (and includes their Significator cards), the Host throws out of the specially built Horror's Deck.)

Also like non-Action tasks, you start with one throw and gain (and then maybe lose) more based on what’s going on. These extra throws are a little different in Action than in normal contests:


If a character has a situational advantage (high ground, etc) over whoever they're directly facing off against they get an extra throw.

If the character has any other distinct situational advantages on top of the first one—like their target is both tripping and is handcuffed—you can get another extra throw for each advantage.

As in non-Action tasks, extra throws do not normally represent the scale of an advantage: each distinct advantage is worth one throw , it doesn’t matter if you have 10 feet of high ground or 20 feet of high ground, it’s still one throw .

Note on the extra throw : Combat in Demon City may involve a lot of players and Hosts discussing what does and does not constitute a situational advantage. This is good. This is what the players should be doing: talking about the fictional situation as if it were real so everyone is imagining the same events as much as possible and making interesting decisions about how to use what’s going on to their advantage. 

Weird edge case: in a situation where opponents on different sides have the same kind of advantage over their targets (probably because one of them has a different target) the one with the ultimate advantage gets one more of that kind of extra throw than the inferior foe. So Hiram has high ground advantage to attack Lois but if Max is even higher up the hill attacking Hiram, Max would get two extra throws for high ground on Hiram. This is relatively rare.

There are some common kinds of extra throws you should check for every time:

Higher Stat Throw 

If an enemy you target is targeting you back (they will say this on their turn after an action targeting them is announced), then whoever has the higher stat gets an extra throw. You also get it if the enemy is not targeting you back but your stat is higher than the stat they’d use to resist or avoid your attack. This is usually Agility, although in some cases (which’ll be noted) it’s Toughness and in the case of paranormal or magic attacks it could be any stat—the description of the Supernatural Ability (in the Library section) will say.

It doesn’t normally matter how many points you outclass them by, you still only get one Higher Stat throw .

Close combat actions (kicking, punching, knifing) rely on the attackers’ Toughness (or Hand To Hand skill if they have it—it’ll be higher)—and target the foe's Agility or, if they have it, the foe's Hand-to-Hand combat skill. (If you want your Agility to matter in hitting people, you need to get trained in Hand To Hand, which can be Agility-derived).

Shooting relies on Agility (or Firearms or Exotic Weapons if applicable) and the target’s Agility.

Distraction Throw 

If your target’s not focused on you, you get an extra throw. This can be given if your target is attacking someone else, if they are trying to activate a garage door while you attack, or if they are in any other way not set to defend or attack you back.

It doesn’t normally matter how distracted they are, you still only get one Distraction throw in a round.

Defense Throw 

If you are only actively defending in a round (dodging, running away, etc), you get an extra throw.

Remember: if you successfully use a defensive action to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling) within 60 feet of your last position, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want.

Weapon Throw 

If someone is attacking (or parrying) with a weapon that is better for the specific situation than the one their opponent is attacking back or parrying with, that is worth an extra throw. For example, if two characters are fighting under a twin bed, the combatant attacking with a knife or claws will get an extra throw against a target using a longsword (which needs more room to maneuver), but in most situations it'd be the other way around because the sword has better reach. This is the main way weapons are differentiated in Demon City (and in horror films)--by the situation in which they are most useful. An armed opponent will get a weapon throw over an unarmed one pretty much every time, unless the weapon is unusually cumbersome in that position (like a bow at a range of 3 inches).

For the purpose of deciding the weapon throw against a target who is fighting back, your range is the distance you started the round at.

If you need more details on which weapons are best in which situations, you can look in The Store section in the Library.

Supernatural Throw

If a mundane attack (a gun, a fist etc) is facing off against a supernatural ability (telekinesis, for instance, via magic or psychic ability) the supernatural weapon usually gains an extra throw. For edge cases (Do the claws of a werewolf count? What about the claws of a mutant wolf?) see the individual Horror’s entry later in the book.


If there are difficulties in the situation not otherwise accounted for (by, for example, someone directly opposed already having gained an extra throw) they can be accounted for by lost throws. The most common types of lost throw are the lost throw for a Called Shot (below) and the lost throw for Injury.

Lost throws do not normally represent the scale of a disadvantage: each distinct disadvantage is worth one throw, it doesn’t matter if you are kinda drunk or really drunk—it’s still one throw .

If you have only one throw you cannot lose any more—you always get a minimum of one throw.

Weird edge case: If you have only one throw and voluntarily choose a tricky maneuver which would lose you a throw —like shooting someone in the eye—then you throw two throws and pick the lowest. So, no, if you are bad at shooting you can’t game the system and do a called shot every round.

Lost Throw for a Called Shot

If you’re trying to hit a specific spot on a foe, that loses a throw. Exception:Trying to disarm a foe will not result in a lost card if you also elect to cause no damage or harm with the attack.

Lost Throw for Injury

If you’ve been knocked to negative Toughness during a fight and then successfully throw to recover, you’re hurt and you’ll lose a throw in action rounds until you gain at least one Toughness back.

Note this does not apply if you just get knocked from positive to 0 Toughness or if you started at 0—it only happens after you get hurt.


As in non-Action, if, in an opposed throw, a tactical asymmetry can be represented by giving extra throws to one party or taking lost throws from the other, default to giving the extra throws.

And, as in non-action, if one party in an opposed throw is at minimum throws (one throw ) and distinct disadvantages keep piling on, add extra throws to an opponent’s throw.

Again: be careful not to give and take throws to represent the same asymmetry. Like if Laura has the high ground and Bailey has a the low ground and they’re 10 feet apart, give Laura an extra throw, don’t also subtract one from Bailey.


Often after actually throwing and playing out a round, you’ll likely end up in a situation somewhat similar to the one you were just in—you were trying to burn a grimoire of unholy knowledge while dodging acid last round and you’re trying to do it again this round—so remember how many throws you’re throwing even after they hit the table. Leave the cards there so its clear how many you threw until it’s time to throw again. The next round, if you want to try the same action again you can re-throw the same number of throws without recalculating, or easily add or subtract one to represent a slightly changed situation.

4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions

If nobody wants to stop a character from doing what they announced and nothing they’ll announce can interfere with anyone else directly, assume it is happening during the round—flip over and evaluate any throws necessary then, as in the Basic Task Resolution section.

This takes place outside the coming Clash. So, for instance, if Alfred and Bebe are trying to stab one another while Ceelo is desperately trying to find the switch that opens the garage door so he can get away, he can throw a Perception throw to search right after announcing his action—his action’s not part of the Clash because nobody’s doing anything that would interfere with that.

Remember throwing your Significator and winning is a critical success and The Fool as your highest card is a critical failure (unless it's your Significator).

Some Horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions

Second-least Agile creature goes through steps 2-4 above, then the third-least Agile, etc. until all characters have announced and any uncontested actions (including just moving) are resolved. 

6. Throw For A Clash

Everyone performing a contested or overlapping action in the same Clash now flips over their cards. The Host can be like “Ready…throw” and make it dramatic.

If there are multiple confrontations that don’t overlap: it’s possible for a fight with characters squaring off against multiple opponents to be actually made up of multiple clashes, so long as none of the personnel could interfere with each other. So Alfred and Bebe could be kicking Ceelo and Didi and Eve could be punching Fifi and that would be two clashes you’d resolve separately. If, however, Fifi was trying to pickpocket Alfred it would then all be one big Clash because only one of these things will happen first. This is unusual but it can happen—either way you still throw all at once, just handle one Clash at a time.

If there are competing drivers/pilots in a chase there’s an exception— drivers always count as being in a separate Clash with each other, even though each driver's actions could theoretically influence everyone in either car/boat/plane etc. So: each round, unless there's a tie, one or the other driver gets to pull a maneuver each round. This is because your vehicle keeps moving forward even if a character in it acts first.

7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins

All tarot cards have a number on them. The winning side is whichever one flips over a card of the highest value.

If a tie for first occurs, then one of two things happens:

-If it's a tie between two characters on the same side (ie, two PCs who are getting along or two hostile NPCs with the same goal at the moment) then the players (if its PCs) or Host (if its NPCs) can decide who will act.

-If it's a tie between characters on opposing sides the situation stays mostly the same as it was before the Clash and the contest stays undecided, but the Host changes something in the situation that affects everyone in the Clash, like: the floor could begin to collapse from the weight of the combatants. Then move to the next Action Round.

8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens

The attack doesn’t have to be the highest throw on their side—their side just has to win. If Ann threw highest of all to dodge Bill and Cassie (on Ann’s team) wanted to shoot Bill, she could do that in the same Action Round if she threw higher than Bill’s Agility (her target).

“Successful” means they threw higher than a foe trying to avoid or attack them first.

Attacks include punches, kicks, shots, grabs, disarming attempts, psychic abilities, spells targeted at hostiles, etc.

If the highest-throwing attack on the winning side didn’t throw higher than their foe or target number, then it doesn’t happen—that’s a stalemate for now. They’re trading blocks or in pursuit still, etc.

If the successful attack involves damaging another character the attacker then throws damage (See DAMAGE below).

If something disturbing happens one or more characters may have to throw Calm checks (See CALM CHECKS below).

Only one attack can succeed per Clash—the highest-throwing attack on the winning side. This is true even if the allied attacks aren’t directly conflicting with each other. Demon City combat is chaotic and tense—the dominoes don’t all fall at once.

If, say, Ann successfully kicks Bill (her kick was the highest-throwing action in the clash) and Cassie just wants to dive out of the way of a cannibal ghoul and get her gun she can do that. However, if Cassie wanted to shoot Bill and didn’t throw higher than her friend Ann, she has to wait for the next Clash and try again even if she also threw higher than Bill’s Agility. 

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success. Likewise certain horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities

For example: an escape from a grapple on the winning side succeeds if it threw higher than the enemy.

Resolve any damage or Calm Checks as above.

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success—and some horrors get to do special things if they throw a certain card and are successful.

Unless The Fool is your significator, throwing The Fool as your highest card still means you critically failed--even if your side won.

10. Other Clashes Resolved

If the round involved multiple Clashes, resolve them as in 6-9

11. Start Over

Often only one thing happens per round. If characters are still involved in Action after all that, start over at 2 above.

Once nobody is desperately trying to do anything before anyone else present, Action Rounds are over.



1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order
2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do
3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get
4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions
5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions
6. Throw For A Clash
7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins
8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens
9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities
10. Other Clashes Resolved
11. Repeat 2-13 Until It’s Over

Extra Throws
1 Throw to start

Extra Throws, including:

-Higher Stat Throw 
-Distraction Throw 
-Defense Throw 
-Weapon Throw 
-Supernatural Throw

Lost Throws including:

-Lost Throw for a Called Shot
-Lost Throw for Injury

…if you can act at all, you always get a minimum of 1 Throw.

If you’re an experienced game master you’ll notice some quirks of this system that make it different than other systems:

-Ties are common: this gives the Host a ready-made opportunity to hike up the tension and add atmosphere.

-Only one big thing happens at a time: this makes action work more like a horror movie or thriller—rather than a flurry of blows, we see one move, then some tension, then another.

-Teaming up is good: If the PCs all use weak attacks that get one card each while the monster has three cards, there’s still a good chance the PCs win the round and one of them get their attack in—the game is meant to make cooperation a pretty good idea—although getting in a monster’s face is always risky.

-Weak attacks can interfere with strong ones: If you’re trying to kick a monster (standard damage) and an ally is trying to drop a vat of lava on them (massive damage), you risk the kick throwing higher than the lava and being the only attack that succeeds that round. Again this is on purpose: if you’re ally is doing something big—get out of the way!…

-…or, better, throw to dodge. Dodging or blocking an enemy’s attack gives you a throw (a chance to throw higher than the bad guy) but doesn’t get in the way of a friend attacking. So distracting an enemy sets them up for your friends’ attack.

-Most attacks do the same initial damage: The tough guy’s punch is more likely to land than the skinny guy’s, but both are equally likely to put you out of the fight they land—as likely as a gunshot. If there’s action in Demon City, it’s always high stakes. However…

-People get knocked down a lot, but when we get to damage you'll see the intensity of the attack has an impact on whether they get up again and how fast. So the tough guy’s punch may keep you down longer. If you’ll notice, in horror movies people are constantly getting put out of the fight, crawling off, getting themselves together, and getting up again.

-Some things don’t matter sometimes, you have to make them matter: If I’m 10 feet away and have a sword and all you have is a knife I get an extra throw. If, at the same distance, I have a sword and all you have is your bare hands, I still only get one extra throw. At least for that round, it doesn’t matter if you have a knife or not—but, in the next round if you block me and you get in close with the knife, it suddenly will—successful blocks allow you to move in wherever you want the next round. Demon City rewards you for thinking of ways to make the assets you have count.

-It’s kinda realistic and it kind of isn’t: Demon City is organized so that tactical decisions and creative thinking matter, but also so that things are frenzied and chaotic. The rules are the way they are so that both of these priorities can be met while not being too hard to learn or run. If that’s how it feels once you’ve tried it a few times, then it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Glistening Chamber Codex (or The Nyctythatic Text)

The earliest fragments containing any element of the text appear in Chalcolithic-era Sumeria in cuneiform script. It has been convincingly argued that they are not Sumerian in origin, showing a certain rigidity of grammar suggesting metaphors too-literally translated from older sources.  Even in this earliest incarnation the text references the “narrow tower banded in red higher than all the city” (alu) under the domed roof of whose “highest room” (itima) sits the “glistening” heresiarch by whom the text was commissioned, as well as calculations and (accurate) astronomical observations relevant to the system of “chambers” which forms the text’s core. In some versions the author describes their work as both “counting the city” and in others as “counting the gods”.

Later Assyrian sources are extremely similar, as are Babylonian fragments—though the latter describe the work as “counting the roads” and “counting the prisoners”. There is some evidence of the Babylonian text having been politicized. A version found in Beth Nuhadra refers to the work being commissioned by “a lord in a chamber” with “eyes that speak and this mouth is light”.

A Chinese oracular text of the Spring and Autumn Period (ruthlessly suppressed by the Zhou dynasty) known as the “Court of the Red Marquess” or “Palace of Folding Rooms” is mathematically similar to all of these versions in many respects, though some of the astronomical data appears to contain bodies not yet identified.

The first reference to the necessity of “dividing” or “disordering the chambers” appears in the works of an unnamed Ionian geometer of the 5th century BCE. Modern scholarship is unsure whether the suggestion that dividing the chapters of the “concentric text” one from the next into an “anti-text” is a serious philosophical suggestion or ironic in the manner of Xenophanes’ satires of Pythagoras around the same time.

A papyrus with related formulae distributed around the late first century in a mixture of Coptic and Demotic Egyptian refers to “Sixty Devices and Twelve Plagues Yet Unnamed” (Thirteen in one version). Like many texts of this period it is alleged to be a copy or fragment of the so-called “Book of Thoth”. Some scholars have claimed the Library of Alexandria was burned specifically to destroy it.

The actual Glistening Chamber Codex appears in the historical record thereafter: 12.5 inches tall, 8.4 inches wide, bound in an unidentified leather and written on goat(?)skin parchment, purporting to be a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a text discovered in “The script of Canaanites” (probably Hebrew). By all accounts it was, despite clear evidence of handling and travel, a textually undamaged and continuous mathematical and philosophical treatise describing a system of occult knowledge based on the concept of a series of 78 (“sixty and then six and six and six again”) “essential chambers” in which certain archetypal events and persons occur and, properly manipulated, can be expected to “swallow themselves” and reveal other “chambers of another city”. The most intriguing fact about the Codex was not appreciated until the 19th century, when the logosyllabic cuneiform of the aforementioned Sumerian fragments was translated and the texts were found to be nearly identical to the Codex.

The book was first found in the library of the astronomer and gambler Nyctythasis, condemned to death by dismemberment after the synod of Zaragoza in 380 as an addendum to the condemnation of Priscillianism. Sources within the church thereafter refer to the book (inevitably in hushed tones and only in private commnications) as “The Nyctythatic Text”.

Efforts to destroy the codex and the philosophy it espoused (or was alleged to espouse) had decidedly mixed success—throughout the esoteric writings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, even in Christian texts, there are allusions to “a locus concentrycal”, “a chambred laborynth”, “chambres that go glisnynge a midde towres” and “blacker sterres incased wythyn the brycht sterres visyble” and 15th century grimoires such as the Synapothanumenon are considerably more explicit.

Certain temples in Uttar Pradesh constructed during India’s Pala period seem to be mathematically inconceivable without access to the Glistening Chamber formulae.

The book itself does not reappear in any records until the late 1400s when the Italian-suited Tarot de Marseille had become popular as a gaming deck, likely originating across the Mediterranean. At this point the Codex fell into the hands of the Augsburg merchant, occultist and manuscript collector Claus Spaun who immediately recognized the congruity of imagery and numerology between the system described in the Codex and the then-current version of the tarot playing-card deck, especially considering Classical commentary that the chambers should be “disordered” and “divided”. The Tarot was simply an attempt to place the Chambers in their proper order. Rather than publish his discoveries, Spaun elected to continue his researches in secret and the book itself passed into rumor for the next 500 years. Word of the conjunctions Spaun had found within esoteric circles eventually lead Antoine Court de Gébelin to publish his own theories of the occult meaning of the Tarot in 1781, although there is no evidence Gébelin ever had access to the Codex.

The original Codex was last seen in the hands of British linguist and architect Frederick Chester-Harping (a protege of Sir John Soane and Joseph Michael Gandy) who suffocated to death in 1873 while attempting to construct a building replicating the principles of the Codex in an unknown location. However, handmade copies have allegedly been found in the archives of industrialist and art collector J Paul Getty and in a public library in the abandoned coal-fire town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.

From Demon City, which you can support here.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gigacrawler Playtests

James Hutchings from over on the Teleleli blog:
I'm writing a game based on Zak's Gigacrawler setting.
It's a choose-your-own-adventure-style game for one player--similar in format to my free online game Age of Fable.
I've completed a draft of about 75,000 words, and I'm looking for around ten playtesters.
I'd prefer playtesters who have a blog, YouTube channel or similar outlet, where they can talk about the game.
I'll mail the playtesters a printed copy of the draft and the board.The feedback form will be online.
If you're interested in being a playtester, please say so in a comment on this post.
Since I'm in Australia, and most playtesters probably won't be, it'll cost me a bit to mail the drafts. So please don't ask to be a playtester unless you can commit to playing it at least a couple of times, and filling in the feedback form.
You can find more information about the setting, and previous playtests (which I did myself) here.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Dice.

So for a while I've been trying to figure out exactly how to get the tarot card further down into the guts of Demon City than it was. It just seemed like more and more the big question was why can't the game be all tarot cards instead of dice? Why make people use two randomizers if one goes along with the game and the other is basically just the most common option?

There are a lot of design pitfalls though:

-The cards can generate numbers very much like dice, BUT you don't just want the tarot-ness to be a cosmetic gimmick. Wands and swords should matter and The Devil should not just mean "15".

-Onnn the other hand if the cards are always throwing their symbolic weight around then you risk having a resolution system where someone's trying to do a simple RPG crime-horror task like try to recognize a mugshot and the cards are suddenly like HAHA! THE EMPRESS! and then you have to deal with multiple layers of interpretation just to get through natural gameplay scenarios.

-The whole thing of the tarot is that it tells you what's going to happen, RPGs (at least the kind I make) you aren't ever going to be able to completely predict what'll happen.

-You don't want to create a situation where the system is suddenly less flexible and less convenient than dice but basically doing the same things. Like I don't want anyone cheated out of a fun game just because I want some precious themes stuck in there.

-You don't want to make it a deck-building game. Distracting players from clever things their players are doing in the game with card-management tasks would be bad. Especially because this is not a game where most players throw magic around (except the occasional lone psychic or vampire character).

-I already have a gajillion d100 tables in Demon City, I'm not gonna knock them all back to d78 tables just for aesthetic consistency, that's some serious form-over-function.

-So: the cards need to be as intuitive and frictionless as dice, while still taking advantage of the special qualities and associations that tarot cards have.

And....I cracked it. There are no dice in Demon City now.

(Ok, actually I am building in a "dice option" that covers the same bases in case you're like at a con or game store and suddenly decide to play but there are no cards. But the default uses cards.)

Here's how cards work, basically. These aren't how the official rules in the book work but its a quick rundown of what you'll see in the current draft:

Part of the Hosts job is to take the full tarot deck and make mini-decks out of it to play with.

The first and simplest is the Character Deck, which just randomizes number for character gen. This solved a problem I was having before: I want numbers from 0 to 5 but I wanted extremes to be rare and I wanted the math to be simple. The character deck has 4 Aces, 4 twos, 4 threes, 3 fours and 1 five (of any suit) and The Fool (0). So then you just shuffle and pick your 7 attributes from the deck. Easy peasy. Hack-happy Hosts can even adjust the odds as they like manually to make more-instabadass or more-bathetic characters. This part actually makes dice-for-character-gen seem kinda like a kludge in comparison.

Real gameplay sees the deck used in more interesting ways:

The Host the makes a "Players' Deck" and a "Horror's Deck".

At the beginning, the Players' Deck just has 3 of each number (3 aces, 3 twos etc up to 10).

The Horror's Deck has one of each number Ace-10 plus any cards associated with the scenario and the specific Horror for that day, also the specific Ace through ten chosen will be the most thematically appropriate ones for the scenario. Advice on how to do that is laid out.

The Player's Deck sits in the middle of the table face down. Instead of taking set numbers of dice and--when its time to roll the Clash--everyone rolls dice and takes the highest, you take set numbers of cards off the top unseen and, when its time to resolve the Clash, flip them over and take the highest. The math is the same other than certain numbers slowly get depleted until you run out of cards and reshuffle.

The Horror's Deck is just used by the Host the same way. The Host, at least in the beginning, will have a few unbeatable cards (over 10) because hey it's a horror game. But they will pop up randomly rather than when the Host wants them to.

When a Big Bad is taken down, the Host fans out the Horror's Deck face down and each player gets to take one card.

This card is that PC's Significator (old tarot lingo). It gets put into the Players' Deck for next time. When you pop your own significator it's a crit for you, but each one also has a specific reward related to the card's occult meaning that can be called in at any time, which "burns" the significator and takes it out of the deck. You have to trade in your old Sig for a new one when you defeat the next menace anyway. While there's now several in the deck, each player only has one that applies to them at a time, so it doesn't become a whole thing of keeping track of cards.

The Fool also gets mixed in to the decks to act as a fumble (and yes, there's a rule for if the Fool is your Significator).

d100 rolls can be made from just taking 2 cards from the Players' deck (the Horrors' deck makes it harder to get repeated numbers like 44), one for each digit, 10=0 as usual.

And some monsters have a special mechanic for when one of the cards associated with them pops up.

Aaand other occult mechanics can be bolted on around predicting cards, seeing cards, which suits pop up, etc.

Help out with the Demon City patreon here

Monday, May 7, 2018


Shawn Cheng sent in some more designs. Click to enlarge...

Just a prototype, we gotta get it so the moons line up with the paragraphs
Support the Demon City Patreon here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Flat Earth Paradox

(or: How Right-Wing Culture Takes Over Nerd Spaces Even Though Nerds Aren't Especially Right Wing)


I wrote earlier about how the category "nerd"--from the 1950s--is largely something industrial culture did to the STEM-educated people it needed to run its machines. But what about the self-identification as "nerd"? Someone who calls themself a nerd or a geek or whatever is saying some mix of these things in different proportions, and saying them about their core identity:

1. "I'm smart or at least well-educated"
2. "I'm enthusiastic in detail about some subject"
3. "I'm a social outcast"
4. "3 is because of 1 and 2 and is possibly a necessary corollary of them" (see: that Simpsons episode where Homer gets smart and suddenly has no friends)

Right-wing culture gets a foothold in nerd spaces especially when the self-proclaimed nerd's confidence in 1 is low and their confidence in 3 is high.

Step One

Everyone online sees this all the time: 

You're discussing something nerd-coded (comics or games or whatever) and someone is bad at it. That happens: a person fails to be smart or well-educated on the subject. Or: they make some nerdy thing isn't that good. Like when people try to tell you it's octopi.

This is to be expected because its Sturgeon's Law that 95% of people are terrible at whatever they're doing including discussing to what degree David Micheline vs Jim Shooter were responsible for Venom or whether Fortnite is better than PUBG.

Well think of this in terms of the self-identified nerd. Somebody who believes that's what makes them them. Some fraction of them are going to have some sliver of self-awareness, at least enough to know, ok: I'm not, on the scale I'm looking at, actually that smart or well-educated. Yet I'm still a social outcast.

Soooo not fair right? The one thing that is supposed to redeem their lack of social skills (and the many social dividends that accompany them) turns out to not be a thing. They somehow got all the bad luck and none of the technocrat-hauter.

The internet allows people to connect like never before and so it also allows people to find out they suck like never before. Ever thought up a really good pun then googled it to see if anyone else..... fuck.

These failed but self-aware nerds definitely exist, the primary modes are the (1) self-mocking nerd forum comedian who openly talks about how unoriginal their ideas are as a way of inviting friends to think well maybe they're not only modest but hilariously self-aware and (2) the confessional mode where it's like guysI'mNotsmartIcan'trememberthingsIhaven'twatchedasmuchofInfinityWarasIthinkIshouldandIdon'tUnderstandTwinPeaksandtodayatworkIcalledapicklea'packle'andcriedinthebathroomfor10minutespleaseIneedinternethugsself-careself-care.

So, you have these Extremely Online self-aware nerds who are also in the 95% of people who are bad at what they do.

Despite being self-IDed nerds and identifying heavily with their own intelligence as their major asset, they can't build community or a support system on the things they make or say since they aren't actually brighter than anyone else in their sphere. Their predictions don't pan out, the things they build aren't original or shiny. But, like everyone: they need the things social intercourse brings or encourages--friends, emotional support, people to fuck, jobs, shelter.

And, since they're self-IDed nerds and Extremely Online they don't have a lot of offline support. They need people. Where to get people?

The Flat Earth Paradox

Do you think the earth is round or flat?

You think: round. True but what it gets you, socially, is fuck-all 

You're not gonna put that you think the Earth is round on your Tinder profile. It's a popular position, yes, but its very popularity is why it says nothing special about you. Nobody's gonna swipe right just because of that.

If you think the Earth is flat, though? There's a whole group of people ready to receive you. With no other requirements.


Now you may object that this is like any fan interest--I like Peggle you like Peggle, we can be friends, but there's an important difference: people are not often called upon, in moments of high emotion, to defend Peggle. 

A Flat Earth Position though?

A nerd recently proposed on Twitter that the solution to sexcreeps like Savage Rifts author Sean Patrick Fannon at RPG conventions is that RPG pros practice celibacy at all conventions. This is a contender for literally the most conservative fear-first policy ever proposed in the RPG space but...100 Likes, 25 ReTweets. Those people can start a conversation, those people can grouse together about how gross it is that people have sex and those people can talk and form a clique. They can honestly claim to be surrounded and embattled by other tweeters suggesting that maybe repressive 13th century social mores aren't the best answer to sexual harassment (Like this is the exact same logic as Mike Pence's "Men should never be alone in a room with any woman they're not married to".). They will soon be in an online fight and, thereafter, war buddies--bonded by their scrape with the vicious sexhavers.

(Ironically Fannon himself got nerds to help him harass and dogpile people online well before being caught by using exactly the same dynamic.)

Another example: Flat Earth post. (140 likes) Round Earth post. (14 likes)

If you reshare an idea that 13,000 other people also reshared you get nothing. If you reshare an idea that only 25 other people have? Maybe you just made some friends.

This is the Flat Earth Paradox: Irrational ideas online result in networks of connected people who are more loyal, closely-knit, and active than rational ones. And the participants will be stupider--they, after all, chose this path to friends partially because they couldn't find another--which means more prone to use tactics that go past reasonable.

We have the numbers but they have, in effect, the guns.

The origin of the paradox is that people who have their own things going on have a way higher bar for who they interact with than people who have nothing going on.

What does it take to get noticed in DIY RPG circles? Well: you have to write some interesting game content, basically. That's how everyone else did it. Then, on top of that, depending which part of it you want to get accepted by, you have to pass a barrage of political purity tests (of which I approve) and online-interaction gates. Like, to hang out here you can't be racist or sexist or homophobic and you can't dodge questions or make personal attacks: that's a lot of requirements. 

Regardless of how many of my games you buy or how nice you are to me, if you can't defend every single word off your keyboard you ever type I will personally ban you from this page.

But preying on isolated people online by offering a community with a much lower bar for entry is a conscious strategy among right-wing groups. Somebody who'd been through it started a much-RTed thread worth looking at:
In addition to being disproportionately white, old, male, married, religious, parents, and less likely to actually play games, RPG harassers are more likely to be suffering mentally illness.

All you have to do to part of a conservative gamer clique is believe one insane idea. Or not even believe it: just white knight for someone who believes it.

The number of people with fairly reasonable personal takes on sex in games who will still defend people who make wildly flailing right-wing attacks on sex in games is remarkable, and the number of gamers who are ok with their friends making pro-Trump remarks despite claiming not to believe them is just weird.

The reasonable positions aren't getting attacked, though, so they doen't generate community around them. Only the bad ideas do that:
Just defend one insane idea and you'll have friends:

You're ok with saying RPGs aren't really games unless there are no rulings, ever? Gaming Den people will be your friend.

If you think it's ok that a guy once said Vampire causes brain damage? There was the Forge.

If you think elfgames are inherently dangerous and are responsible for the world's social ills? There's RPGnet.

You think the appropriate response to that idea is to vote for Donald Trump? theRPGsite.

If you think that chainmail bikini cosplayers will destroy humanity? There's Something Awful.

If you think the best way to support diversity in games is to never offend anyone and underpay everyone? There's Evil Hat.

And, similarly, this creates paradoxical irrationalist cause-celebres: the more indefensible someone's stance, the more defending them becomes a secret handshake--a mark of exclusivity. The irrationalist martyr's flaws are, to these nerds, their features. The stupider someone is the better they are: they're going to attract more and more shit and you can get more and more brownie points for defending them.

And if someone accidentally gets some splash damage by tanking for the martyr? Even more attention:

Whereas here your game will only get discussed if I actually read it (tall order) and like it (taller order) conservative game cliques are fiercely loyal to anyone who makes the right noises. If anyone gets a chance to write a Top 10 Games That Are About (your thing) you'll be on it.

This is how, for example, somebody can start a blog called "How Not To Run a Game Business" antagonizing people with snarky takes on how shitty the RPG industry is, then run their own Kickstarter, steal thousands of dollars from their friends on Something Awful, and still have their ideas defended by those same friends. Or how someone can make art for a game about rape while decrying games that include rape and be defended by their friends for their bold stand on rape.

The Flat Earth Paradox is how bad ideas are primed to outcompete good ones, at least until the good idea results in some big thing people can buy or download something the bad ones have to acknowledge.

Anybody who read Origins of Totalitarianism will see a familiar pattern and see how this ends. But the cure simple: demand accountability and be totally unforgiving of bullshit.