hand, piano


Hi everyone. I'm moving my blog to Wordpress. I tried to figure out how to make it automatically crosspost to here, but I couldn't, so you'll just have to update your bookmarks. Sorry. At least now there'll be an RSS feed, so that's good.

The Wizard Exploded Cookbook's new home is:

See you there!
hand, piano


I like Chrono Trigger. I don’t like Chrono Cross.

            For one, Chrono Trigger has a battle system that is just tactical enough to be interesting. See, Square games have a problem where the battle system is just a matter of portioning out your attacks in an efficient pattern, ‘cause nearly every monster will take 2 hits from your strong guys to kill, and 2 of your weak guys are more-or-less equivalent to one of your strong guys, so you just have them all target the enemies in such a way that you’ll finish in the minimum amount of time. You save the magic for the enemies that are annoying. Once you’ve got this pattern figured out, battles are just a chore.

            Chrono Trigger starts there, but adds some stuff onto the framework. There’s lots of exception-based abilities for monsters, which will force you to use other things – like specific magic, specific party configurations for a specific location, and occasionally specific equipment – if you want to win the battles as efficiently as possible. Also, the enemies move around on the field, which has an impact on the usage of your area-effect attacks. I only wish that your own characters could also move on the field. Combo attacks, unlocked as characters learn new techniques and you try new party configurations, also make time management important: the game uses Square’s famous Active Time Battle system, and all the characters involved in the combo have to be ready in order to perform the combo. The end result of all this is that the most efficient battle plan changes over and over through the course of the game – making it a continual exercise, not a constant chore from the first.

            (Also, boss battles don’t last three hours. I hate it when Square pulls that shit. In this game, if you do it right, boss fights take like five minutes, tops.)

            At first glance, Chrono Cross also has an interesting combat system. However, the stamina thing, effectively a set of action points whereby you can divide a character’s attacks between a set of weak but accurate, strong but inaccurate, and moderate attacks for varying point costs, didn’t really have that much impact on anything – in fact, it boiled down to that whole strong-guy, weak-guy thing I mentioned earlier, except each “attack” consisted of multiple strike commands. The elemental field system was neat for a while, but it was either way too easy to take command of the elemental field, or way too hard – and usually it was too easy in weenie monster fights (when I mostly use standard attacks) and too hard in boss fights (where tactics ought to be encouraged, not smacked down). The elements were just FF7’s materia all over again, which I hated in FF7 and hated in Chrono Cross because it made it feel like there weren’t any real differences in the character’s abilities, which makes effective team management a lot less engaging. Also, there weren’t any enemies that I thought were cool.

            I also kinda like the stories and characters in Chrono Trigger (except Ayla. I hate cavemen in these games for some reason). Sure, it’s another save-the-world quest, but you only find out that the world needs saving because you time-traveled in order to run away from the cops. And you only figured out how to time travel on accident. Plus, you get to mess with history and see how your actions have affected later eras, which is pretty cool. Particularly because you get to make things better.

            I also hated most of the characters in Chrono Cross (with the exception of Harle, because I have a thing for harlequins). They were too bizarre, and there were also way too many of them to keep track of. No, actually, the number of them wasn’t to blame, because Suikoden (which I’ll talk about at some point) must’ve boasted somewhere around 30 times as many characters as CC, and it never bothered me. Maybe it’s because in CC I have no reason to care about all these weirdos (I’m looking at you, Mexican wrestler who tends the graves*, bizarre plant/bulb thing, and cute squishy alien!).

            But here’s the real reason that I don’t like Chrono Cross. As I said, in Chrono Trigger, your actions make the world a better place. In Chrono Cross, it seems like no matter how hard you try to fix things, the world only gets more and more fucked up, and it’s all your fault. I mean, in CC, you wind up having to destroy an ecosystem. I tried to get around it, but there didn’t seem to be any other way. In CT, you get to save an ecosystem. You don’t have to, it’s not required, you get to do it just because you want to help. CT felt exciting and rewarding; CC just left me feeling cold and sorta ashamed.

            I never finished Chrono Cross, so, I dunno, maybe it got better. I lost interest somewhere in the third act or so, which is a problem I have with a lot of Square games. Chrono Trigger is, in fact, one of the few Square games that I’ve ever finished, so that’s pretty good.

 * Which, on paper, is AWESOME. How they went wrong on that I’ll never know.

hand, piano

CRPG Musings: The Elder Scrolls

This is the first in what I hope is a weekly series of musings on CRPGs. They're part critique, part analysis, part gushing, part bitching, and all musing. First up is the Elder Scrolls series. Future topics include Chrono Trigger, Baroque, and the Breath of Fire series. So I don't run out of topics, I'd like readers to suggest other games for me to cover; I'll do my best to get a hold of them and play them, then write about them.


I acquired The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for the XBox a few years ago. I found it very painful, and only played it for a few days. The enormous list of skills broken down very minutely, the variable weapon stats for different strokes (slash, thrust, etc.), piecemeal armor system, a character system that pretends to be class-based but really is skill-based and nothing else, and other such things were very familiar to me -- after all, they were prominent features in earlier versions of the game that eventually mutated into The Rustbelt. That doesn't make them any less painful, though. Other detrimental factors included the voice acting, which, while somewhat rare, was bad, and the fact that all the appearance options for characters looked UGLY. Also, I'm so tired of "generate a character by answering questions," because the questions are always stupid.

All the little details about the setting, with the implication that learning about the setting was rewarding, left me cold. Yeah, yeah, the Dark Elves call themselves "Dunmer" and the Wood Elves "Bosmer" and so on, and I'm supposed to care why? I would have much preferred that "Dark Elf" be totally and unilaterally replaced with "Dunmer." As you know by now if you keep up with my blog, I am SO TIRED of elfy-dwarfy settings, and "adjective elves" in particular; if you can give them a different name and at least pretend that they're not something you think you stole from Tolkien but actually stole from D&D, I can at least swallow it. At least there's no dwarves in this game -- OH WAIT there's dwarven armor. Geez. How about some reflection and critical perspective on the genre, huh?

And MAN do you start out as a weenie! I got my ass handed to me by a mudcrab the first time I played. Yes, being ineffectual is FUN! Except, wait, no it's not.

And the dungeons? Dead boring. Navigation is simple. The vocabulary is limited: doors (with locks and or traps), containers, tunnels, rooms, water, darkness.

One shining light was the advancement system. You mean I don't get EXP from killing monsters, but from increasing my major skills? That's pretty darn cool. (But read on...)

What I saw in general was a design built by detailed-simulation-minded (small "s" on simulation) people without concerns for its actual impact on gameplay. I can empathize with the mistake, but that doesn't stop it from being a mistake. I don't know how anyone managed to slog through the low levels in this game, during which you can only do things like boring-assed courier-type quests without getting smacked down (you can't even explore without getting killed all the time), in order to get to the point where you get to do fun stuff. This hunk of junk got Game of the Year? Wha'?

Then I got to try the fourth game of the series, Oblivion, on the XBox 360. Character generation turned out to be far more fun -- I can make my guy actually look kinda cool! Whoa, and it assigns a default class based on the approach I used up to this point! That's far more interesting and far more fun than answering questions -- for one thing, you're actually doing something. I was pleased to see that the skill list was pared down significantly; it made me happy that admire, coerce, etc. were a single skill, for instance.

As for starting effectiveness? I got out of the tutorial, entered a dungeon, and killed a bandit with one shot from my bow. Finally! I can DO stuff!

The majority of dungeons suffered the same limitations as in part III. (I should mention, however, that traps now became actual things, with actual physical presence; tripwires, pressure plates, holy crap that is way cooler than just some spell effect hitting you when you try to open something). I do rather enjoy the Ayleid ruins, however. Their system of hidden doors, deadlier traps, switch-activated stairways, and other such things made them far more fun. I felt like I was solving problems and learning things that increased my effectiveness, which is what dungeoneering needs. A stand-out feature: in one ruined fort, I discovered two locked portcullises right at the get go, with no switches in sight. There were, however, two statues, with two silver arrows laid on an altar before them. After a more thorough investigation, I noticed that the statues had little jewels in their foreheads, which was different from other statues that I had seen. I tried hitting them with magic, shooting them with my steel arrows; no effect. Finally I tried shooting them with the silver arrows, and it opened the gates. THAT IS TOTALLY FUCKING COOL. The game needs more stuff like that.

There were, however, some things that I missed from part III. The setting in part IV is so white-bread fantasy -- castles, forts, caves, blah. I miss the giant mushroom forests, and bizarre creatures like the nix hound and vetch. I'd like to see Morrowind revamped with Oblivion's mechanics and graphics.

I was greatly disappointed to discover that, by the time I could acquire high-class gear like glass armor, everyone and their dog also had glass armor. I would have much preferred that advanced gear remain rare throughout the game, such that by the time you're high level you've found some, and only high level enemies will have it. Not bandits. You can increase the bandits' level relative to mine, fine, but can we keep them in bandit-appropriate fur, leather, and iron please?

The enchantment system also disappointed me when I discovered that I'd only be able to put one effect and use only one soul gem on each item. I put in a lot of work to get these black soul gems! I want to make cool gear that has multiple effects, like some of the items I've found! Instead I have to make and schlep an assortment of rings, shoes, etc. in order to have at hand all the effects I want available.

Extended play revealed something horrible: the advancement system is badly broken. As I started to pick up on the math of the game, I realized that if you choose your major skills based on what you want your character to be good at, you end up borked at the higher levels. Your attribute gains per level are based on how much you advanced skills in general -- and if your major skills are the ones you like to use, you level up too fast and receive pathetic attribute gains, leaving you weak in comparison to the power curve of the enemies. So if you want to be effective 50 hours into the game, you need to pick major skills that you don't use often. Which means that, in the areas you want to be good at, you have to start out as a weenie and work your way up. Grrr. Figuring that I could enjoy a bit of challenge at the higher levels, I went halfway with it and picked a few of my preferred skills as major. I'm advancing half as quickly as my first character, but I've already accomplished five times as much stuff by level 10.

Oblivion features a great number of design decisions aimed at improving gameplay. But right at the heart of it is another simulation-minded decision that detracts at worst, contributes nothing at the best. On the whole, I rather enjoy Oblivion and am still currently playing it, but I'm getting bored with a lot of its features.

But you know what my biggest gripe is, with both of these games? I WANT A FUCKING HAT. Pretty please?

hand, piano

MADCorp Employee Handbooks: the Sawbones & Snake Eater

Sometimes you need more than a little adhesive bandage and a kiss from your mama to make your boo-boos better. Actually, pretty damn often, in this line of work. This guy may not have a fancy med school degree (and he probably doesn’t), but he does handles a bone saw better than your mama (probably). He can keep you alive when you oughtta be dead – whether you like it or not.

Class Group: Specialists

Sawboneses are either wiry, scrawny, or fat. Roll a d10 to determine which: 1-2 wiry, 3-6 scrawny, 7-10 fat.

Field medicine.
If you have appropriate materials, make a THINK check to do one of the following on yourself or someone else:

*            Treat Crippling or Grievous damage.

*            Amputate a limb: patient doesn’t have to ENDURE against bleeding to death unless you bust your THINK check.

*            Stabilize someone who has gone critical.

You can instruct a partner how to do one of these if you’re in no shape to, but you both have to make a THINK check. If either one of you busts, it doesn’t work.
            Except for stabilizing, these take an extended time, but you can do them hastily (in moderate time) at -1, or double hastily (in quick time) at -2. Stabilizing takes a quick time.

Using up 1 point of materials from your doctor’s kit and making a THINK check, you can practice more advanced medicine to treat Mangling, Amputating, or Severe damage on yourself or someone else. Using up 5 materials and making a THINK check, you can reattach severed limbs. You can also perform any other operations that may become necessary in the course of dungeoneering; the Ref judges the material cost.
            You can instruct a partner how to do one of these if you’re in no shape to, but you both have to make a THINK check. If either one of you busts, it doesn’t work.
            Surgery normally takes an extended time, but you can do it hastily (in moderate time) at -1, or carefully (in double-extended time) at +1.

 Administer anesthetic.
You can administer anesthetic to your patients without a check (assuming you have anesthetic left). Performing surgery or amputation on non-anaesthetized patients is a Harrowing experience for them.
            You can also deliver an involuntary spinal tap to unsuspecting enemies (i.e. enemies that you snuck up on, or hid and lay in wait for, or surprised) with a HIT check. If successful, they go down.

 Administer antibiotics.
With a THINK check, you can administer antibiotics to cure infection. If you bust, it’s merely ineffective, but if you totally fuck up then the patient has an allergic reaction that works like poison. This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1.

With your transfusion kit (or appropriate improvised materials), you can save someone who has gone critical from physical injuries. You need someone to donate the blood; the donor takes a Minor wound and suffers exhaustion. If this is the first time this donor’s blood is used on this patient, you must make a THINK check; if you bust, it’s the wrong blood type and the patient dies. Otherwise, the patient is stabilized and will recover from the incapacitation (rather than having to wait for his Severe wounds to recover like usual).
            Performing a transfusion takes an extended time.

 Adrenaline shot.
You can administer a shot of adrenaline to a critical patient to make him immediately recover from his critical state and incapacitation.

Immediately after someone fails to ENDURE critical condition, you can try to revive them with your portable defibrillator or another suitably large source of electric current using a THINK check. If you succeed, they are still alive for the moment, but also still in critical condition. If you bust, you can’t try again; he’s dead, Jim.

 Connection for medical supplies.
You have a connection to score medical supplies on your own time. Between jobs, your surgical materials, anesthesia, antibiotics, and adrenaline refill to the starting values below for free.

 Appraise medical gadgets.
With a THINK check, you can appraise the worth (in cash) of medical gadgets and apparati. If it’s oldTech, you get -2. If you succeed on a 1-4, the Ref skews the real value by up to 100%. If you succeed on a 5-10, the Ref skews the real value by up to 50%. If you succeed on an 11 or higher, the Ref tells you the exact value of the item.
            This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1.

 Desensitized to blood ‘n guts.
You never suffer mental trauma from blood, gore, or mutilation. Unless a monster does it.

Hard drinker.
You can recover from mental trauma using booze without getting shitfaced.

Weapons: scalpels, bone saws, surgical drills, defibrillators, and other medical implements.
Armor: none.
Holsters: 1

Combat medic: +1 to perform field medicine
Grizzled: +1 when checking to see if you hesitate, panic, or suffer an ASD from mental trauma.
Rocket surgeon: +1 to perform medicine with complicated, high-tech gadgets.

When You Crack
Let’s face it, this guy’s only a few notches short of a mad scientist as it is. When he cracks it, he sneaks off, collects all the corpses he can find, and stitches them together into a horrible Frankenstein-esque abomination that’s bound to make an appearance when you least desire it. If there aren’t any corpses (or enough of them) for his purposes, he’ll do his damnedest to make some.

Starting CRAP

*            Casual clothes

*            doctor’s bag (heavy), including:

o       surgical materials, such as sutures, staples, iodine, saline drips, etc., x10

o       anesthesia x10

o       antibiotics x5

o       field medicine materials, such as bandages, alcohol swabs, medical tape, etc. x25

o       scalpel (edged shortest pocket)

o       electric bone saw (edged short nasty battery:20)

o       surgical shears

o       transfusion kit

o       plenty of sharps

o       portable defibrillator (electric shortest battery:20)

o       an adrenaline shot

o       an indefinite amount of disposable surgical masks and gloves

o       stethescope

 Buddy Score Mods
To anyone who practices medicine and isn’t a Sawbones or Croaker, add -1. To other Sawboneses and Croakers, add +1.


 Class Group: Specialists

Snake Eaters are either beefy or wiry. It’s a 50-50 shot, so roll even/odd to determine which.

With a THINK check and 1 point of materials from your camouflage kit, you can camouflage yourself or others. Being camouflaged makes you +1 to be sneaky or hidden, and allows you to hide in plain sight.

With a SEE check, you can find signs of people and animals having been nearby, and can follow their trail. You can even get some idea of what they were doing by asking the Ref questions: one question if you succeed on a 1-4, two on a 5-10, and three on an 11 or better.
            This normally takes an extended time, but you can do it hastily (in moderate time) at -1, or carefully (in double-extended time) at +1.


Foraging and food safety.
Outdoors, you can make a SEE check to forage for food. This takes an extended time.
            You can also clean and gut animals, and cook their meat for food. This takes an extended time.
           When you find food in a dungeon, you can make a THINK check to find out if it’s safe to eat. This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1 or hastily (in quick time) at -1.

Build a fire.
With something suitable for firewood and kindling, you can make a fire without matches or a lighter. This takes an extended time. 

Make a torch.
With a stick, a rag, and some oil, you can make a torch. This takes a moderate time. 

Maintain your guns.
Using your gun maintenance kit, you can keep guns in shape and remove all Wear from them. Spend 1 material from your kit per Wear box unchecked. This takes an extended time. 

Get your bearings.
While outdoors, make a THINK check to get your bearings. On a success, you can peek at the Ref’s map for a number of seconds equal to your margin.

 Silent movement.
You normally make no noise when you move. If you’re armored, burdened, or running like hell, you can still be silent if you make a MOVE check. If more than one of those applies, you get -1 for each one after the first (so, if you’re armored and burdened and running like hell, you’ll be checking MOVE -2).

Make a THINK check to predict upcoming weather. On a success, ask the Ref questions about the weather and receive accurate answers: one question if you succeed on a 1-4, two on a 5-10, and three on an 11 or better. 

Hardened by the elements.
You are immune to any detrimental effects of rain, fog, cold, and heat. 

Field medicine.
If you have appropriate materials, make a THINK check to do one of the following on yourself or someone else:

*            Treat Crippling or Grievous damage.

*            Amputate a limb: patient doesn’t have to ENDURE against bleeding to death unless you bust your THINK check.

*            Stabilize someone who has gone critical.

You can instruct a partner how to do one of these if you’re in no shape to, but you both have to make a THINK check. If either one of you busts, it doesn’t work.
            Except for stabilizing, these take an extended time, but you can do them hastily (in moderate time) at -1, or double hastily (in quick time) at -2. Stabilizing takes a quick time. 

Draw poison.
With a THINK check, you can draw poison from a wound. If you’re the one who’s poisoned, you’ll need to instruct someone else how to do it: both of you have to make a THINK check, and if either busts, it doesn’t work. 

Set a snare.
With appropriate materials and a THINK check, you can set a snare trap that might immobilize the first thing that walks into it. Its RELIABLE is equal to your margin. I suggest making it that kind that hangs people up-side down. Those are fun. 

Hard drinker.
You can cope with mental trauma using booze without getting shitfaced. 

High threshold of pain.
You automatically ignore one source of pain; it takes two sources for you to suffer the pain penalty. Sources of pain include grievous, crippling, or worse wounds, as well as poison and headaches. 

Weapons: rifles, shotguns, handguns, crossbows, knives, axes, machetes.
Armor: none.
Holsters: 3.

Resourceful: +1 when looking for a hiding place or finding something to use as a weapon
Alert: +1 to notice hidden or sneaking people, or traps.
Double top of the food chain: +2 to all rolls against animals.
Sneaky bastard: +1 to hide or sneak up on someone.
Hunter: +1 to shoot guns and crossbows.
Grizzled: +1 when checking to see if you hesitate, panic, or suffer an ASD from mental trauma.

When You Crack 

Starting CRAP

*            Rugged clothes

*            Two of the following:

o       a shotgun (gun medium big nasty ammo:1) and a box of shells (reload x10)

o       a deer rifle (gun long big ammo:3) and three extra clips

o       an automatic clip pistol (gun short ammo:3) and an extra clip

o       a hunting crossbow (piercing medium ammo:1) and 10 extra bolts

*            One of the following:

o       a wood ax (edged medium)

o       a machete (edged medium)

o       a hatchet (edged short)

*            a jackknife (edged shortest pocket)

*            camouflage kit (materials:10 refill:5cash)

*            gun maintenance kit (materials:10 refill:5cash)

*            flask of booze (booze:5)

 Buddy Score Mods
+1 with others in rugged clothes. +1 with whoever you think is best suited to survival in the wilderness.

hand, piano


I wrote this because I'm writing a fantasy story. When I write, I have to set ground rules for myself, otherwise I second-guess myself, revise things that don't need revising, or just plain don't commit to putting words on the page. I thought I'd share these rules. Maybe we can argue about them.

  1. Fantasy is inherently an adolescent thing. This isn’t bad or wrong. It just means that fantasy appeals to the adolescent in people. We all still have an adolescent inside of us. This is normal. Without it, we’d be kinda boring.
  2. Fantasy is born of the friction between intense, often irrational desire, and the utter disappointments and frustrations presented by the real world. Whatever disappoints you, depresses you, pisses you off about the real world and what you have to do to get by in it, deal with it in your fantasy. Fix it, or, better yet, create environments that allow you to punch it in the face, or, even better, create protagonists who will punch it in the face even in environments that discourage such punching.
  3. Why are Tolkien’s protagonists majestic, perseverant, discerning, and/or unconditionally loyal (except when they’re not, but that’s only so they can become so)? Because Tolkien thought those were qualities that people ought to have.
  4. Why are Howard’s protagonists unapologetic butt-kickers who don’t take any shit, who are always ready to act even when gravely unprepared, and who take beatings occasionally but bounce right back? Because Howard wanted to be that kind of person.
  5. Why are Stan Lee’s protagonists powerful and valiant people who still have to deal with petty squabbles and relatively mundane problems? Because Lee thinks that it’s the concern over those details, and the concern for others (we only squabble with people we care about), that make someone human and thus able to be valiant in the first place. Notice that Dr. Doom and Magneto don’t have to deal with any of that stuff.
  6. If an idea scares you, you must use it.
  7. If an idea turns you on, you must use it.
  8. If an idea grosses you out, you must use it.
  9. If an idea makes you go, “Gee, golly, wow!” then you must use it.
  10. If you come up with an idea that makes you go, “Is that too weird? Is that going to freak people out?” then use it and don’t revise it. What you’re really asking yourself is, “Does that reveal something about me that I’m afraid of?” If you’re scared of revealing things about yourself, then don’t do fantasy.
  11. If an idea doesn’t do any of the above 5 things, it’s probably not worth a damn.
  12. A protagonist’s decisions should make you anxious about the consequences.
  13. When you see what a protagonist is up against, it had better make you go, “Ohhhhhh SHIT.”
  14. Every time a protagonist triumphs, it should make you want to pump your fist and shout, “Hell yeah!”
  15. Every time a protagonist fails, it should have you biting your nails or gaping in disbelief. When he suffers, he should suffer horribly.

hand, piano

announcing the Hustler, Stringman, and Arko

Here's the latest three classes from MADCorp: the Hustler, Stringman, and Arko.

Don't mind the formatting quirks; I blame LiveJournal.
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Hustlers are either wiry, scrawny, or fat. Roll a d10 to determine which: 1-3 wiry, 4-7 scrawny, 8-10 fat.

Appraise stuff.
With a THINK check, you can appraise the worth (in cash) of anything saleable on the streets or in retail. If it’s oldTech, you get -1. If you succeed on a 1-4, the Ref skews the real value by up to 100%. If you succeed on a 5-10, the Ref skews the real value by up to 50%. If you succeed on an 11 or higher, the Ref tells you the exact value of the item.
            This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1.

Just hear me out.
When you give a spiel, people will stop and listen to you until you finish. You’re just so damn charismatic that they can’t help themselves. This is great for creating a diversion. Now, if they have a reason to suspect that you’re up to something (for instance, if they just noticed that one of your partners has a gun and has moved to an advantageous shooting position), they get to make a THINK check to break free of your hold. Otherwise, they’re yours until you stop talking, or until some violence or danger starts happening.
            If you intend to deceive or manipulate someone through this, both of you must make a THINK check. Your mark's check counts as blocking. If you still succeed, he falls for it. If you use this skill more than once against the same person, he gets a bonus to his THINK rolls for each repeat attempt.

Growing up in a bad neighborhood also means that you’re an adept player of the Dozens. You know lots of good insults, as well as plenty of lousy ones that, for some reason, really get people’s balls in a twist. When you taunt someone, they must make a THINK check or else they come after you (with intent to do you violence) to the point of ignoring everything else. As long as they’re under the influence of your taunt, they get to keep making THINK checks each turn to break free of it. 

When selling loot after a job, you can jack up the selling prices of some of it. Make a THINK check; if you succeed on a 1-4, pick one item; on a 5-10, three items; on an 11 or better, five items. The items that you picked sell for 150% of their actual worth.

 Blame shift.
When you piss of management and are about to get written up, you can shift the blame onto one of your partners with a THINK check.

Concealed weapons.
You have the ability to conceal pocket-sized weapons about your person such that people don’t know you’re packed. When you produce a concealed weapon, it’s very surprising: the person you use it on must THINK or else hesitate.

*            Knives
*            Blackjacks
*            Handguns
Armor: Light street.
Holsters: 1.


Hustlin’: +1 to deceive management
Resourceful: +1 when looking for a hiding place or finding something to use as a weapon

When You Crack

 Starting Gear

*            Casual, sharp, or hip clothes

*            One of the following:

o       a switchblade (edged shortest pocket)

o       a blackjack (blunt shortest pocket)

o       a derringer (gun-1 shortest pocket ammo:1) & a handful of shells (reload x3)

o       brass knuckles (brawl+1 shortest pocket worn)

 Buddy Score Mods
+2 with everybody, except Yeggs, Hardcases, and other Hustlers: they’re wise to you.


A quirk in this guy’s hearing gives him a unique experience of sound. So, naturally, he took up music. His wild improvisations exist in the spaces between notes, through convoluted microtonal passages that unlock mystic secrets. That’s right, he does magic by making a racket. They call him a Stringman because his preference runs to stringed instruments – it’s easy to tune them in strange ways, and microtones are easily achievable through bends and slides, or “incorrect” fingerings on fretless instruments.

Stringmen are either beefy, wiry, scrawny, or fat. Roll a d10 to determine which: 1 beefy, 2-4 wiry, 5-8 scrawny, 9-10 fat.

Sideways hearing.
You have a special way of experiencing sound, which enables you to hear the strange interactions of sounds that allow you to use your Stringman powers. There’s a few side effects, however. One is that it’s difficult for you to tell what direction noises are coming from – you have to make a SEE check to properly identify the source of sound. Another is that loud, sudden noises Spook you. Finally, you are incapable of filtering out noises, making it very difficult for you to understand speech when things are noisy – you have to make a THINK check to reconstruct what was said from context and the snatches you did understand. That last one has a bright side, however, in that you hear noises that other people would ignore. Sometimes they’re just noises that people ignore for a reason (like the barely audible buzzing sound of operating electronics), but sometimes it pays off (like when it’s the barely audible buzzing sound of an operating gadget weapon about to be used on you from the shadows).

 Wall of sound.
Make an ENDURE check to create a wall of sound across or around any point. You can span the whole room with it. It’s literally like a solid wall; nothing can pass through it. It can, however, be broken; if an attack for +2 damage or better hits it, you must ENDURE or else the wall falls immediately afterward. Damage over +2 gives you a penalty on this (so, if it’s damage +3, you’d be rolling ENDURE -1). Otherwise, the wall lasts until you stop playing it.

 Red note.
Make a HIT check to play a short passage culminating in a sharp or piercing dissonant note at a single target. It’s literally sharp or piercing, doing +0 damage on the Edged or Piercing table, your choice. Alternatively, you can start playing early to charge it up; each round you spend charging up for the red note increases its damage by +1.

 Haunting melody.
Use this skill to play a creepy, haunting melody. It’s so creepy that it will Spook your enemies. If they can’t tell where it’s coming from, it Harrows them. You can’t use it against the same people more than once in the same action sequence.

 Soothing melody.
Make a THINK check to play a melody that, while it doesn’t sound soothing, has a physically soothing effect on the target. This enables the target to ignore any pain penalties they are currently suffering from. This effect lasts as long as you continue playing the melody.

Make a THINK check to play a lullaby against a target. If successful, he falls sound asleep. And I mean sound asleep – no noise will wake him up. Being hurt will, though. If you stop playing the lullaby, the victim can make ENDURE checks each turn to wake up.

Make a THINK check to play an adagio against a group of enemies. Any enemy in the room who can hear you is affected. The adagio slows them down, causing them to lose precedence against all of your allies. The only exceptions are people who had higher precedence than you did; they keep their precedence this round, but they lose it next round if you keep playing. This slowing effect lasts as long as you continue to play the adagio.

When you bend notes, you can bend matter. You can make an object move or distort its shape by making a MOVE check. If it’s heavy, you get -1. If it’s double-heavy, you get -2. You can’t damage your target object in this way. The effect is very brief, lasting only a quick time.

 Maintain instruments.
By taking an extended time and spending materials from your maintenance kit, you can remove all Wear from your instruments. This takes 1 point of materials per Wear box cleared.

 Appraise instruments.
With a THINK check, you can appraise the worth (in cash) of musical instruments. If you succeed on a 1-4, the Ref skews the real value by up to 100%. If you succeed on a 5-10, the Ref skews the real value by up to 50%. If you succeed on an 11 or higher, the Ref tells you the exact value of the item.
            This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1.

Weapons: none.
Armor: none.
Holsters: 2.


 When You Crack
When a Stringman cracks it, his hearing quirk gets even worse. Noises may randomly send him into a fit of rage or a nervous breakdown. While he’s not freaking out from noises, he’s freaking out on his instrument, playing notes that Man Was Not Meant to Play. The result is anyone else who hears them being hit for -1 damage on the Weird Magic table.

 Starting Gear

*            Casual, hip, weird, or spooky clothes

*            One of the following:

o       an acoustic stringed instrument

o       an electric stringed instrument with a battery-powered amplifier on a belt clip for +1 effect (loud battery:10)

*            a maintenance kit for your instrument (materials:20 refill:5cash)

 Buddy Score Mods
+1 with other Stringmen. +1 with Trippers, ‘cause they really groove out on your tunes.


“Arko” is dungeoneer slang for “archaeologist,” because most dungeoneers can’t spell “archaeologist.” Although some mean-spirited types call them antiquers. Basically, an Arko is up on the old shit. Hell, he’s obsessed with it. He probably doesn’t even have a degree, but that’s okay, ‘cause he really does know his old shit. 

Arkos are either wiry, scrawny, or fat. Roll a d10 to determine which: 1-3 wiry, 4-7 scrawny, 8-10 fat. 

Identify oldTech.
With a THINK check, you can identify the functions of oldTech machines and gadgets, allowing you to operate them and instruct others in their operation.
            This normally takes an extended time, but you can do it carefully (in double-extended time) at +1.

 Operate oldTech.
You can operate any oldTech that you know the functions of. If it’s something really complex, the Ref may call for a THINK check to see if you operate it properly. 

Instruct others in the use of oldTech.
To instruct a partner in the use of a piece of oldTech that you know how to operate, you must make a THINK check. If successful, that partner can now attempt to use it, although, for complicated stuff, the Ref may require the partner to make a THINK check when using it.
            This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it hastily (in quick time) at -1, or carefully (in extended time) at +1.

Appraise old shit.
With a THINK check, you can appraise the worth (in cash) of oldTech and other artifacts. If you succeed on a 1-4, the Ref skews the real value by up to 100%. If you succeed on a 5-10, the Ref skews the real value by up to 50%. If you succeed on an 11 or higher, the Ref tells you the exact value of the item.
            This normally takes a moderate time, but you can do it carefully (in extended time) at +1.

Taking an extended time, you can double-check maps of indoor locations. Make a THINK check; if successful, you can ask the Ref if any particular thing on your map is accurate and receive a true answer. If you succeeded on a 1-4, you can ask one question, two questions on a 5-10, and three questions on an 11 or better.

Knowledge of old architecture.
You've studied enough  blueprints and floorplans of old buildings that you've got a sense for how they work. Once per job, on a successful THINK check, you can peek at the Ref’s map for a number of seconds equal to the margin of your THINK roll.

 Maintain oldTech.
You can spend an extended time to take care of oldTech items and remove all Wear from them. This uses 1 material from your maintenance kit per Wear box unchecked. 

Weapons: any oldTech weapons.
Armor: none.
Holsters: 1.

Dungeon expert: +1 when examining structural features of dungeons for irregularities, damage, or other special features.
Resourceful: +1 when looking for a hiding place or finding something to use as a weapon

 When You Crack
When an Arko cracks it, he finally gets to go where he’s always wanted to: the past. Except, he doesn’t, of course. He only thinks he does. Everything around him will appear the way it did years ago, complete with people, and he’ll act accordingly. Of course, in the past, there weren’t rival dungeoneers or, y’know, monsters, so he won’t see those.

Starting Gear

*            Casual or rugged clothes

*            An oldTech version of any weapon available to other classes

*            A maintenance kit for old shit (materials:20 refill:20cash)

 Buddy Score Mods
+1 with other Arkos. -3 with Crashers, Junk Knights, and Helter-Skelters (the morons are too destructive).

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hand, piano

GRIEF system

I’m working on a thing that grabbed me by my throat and demanded that I work on it (I get that a lot. It’s becoming a problem). It’s a System design, independent of Setting, which is something I thought I’d never ever do, but I’m doing it, and I’ve already got two Settings in mind to apply it to (in case you’re wondering, one is the Dread Age of Sail that I blogged about, and the other is the Neverwood setting that I posted on Story Games about once). The working title is “the GRIEF System,” which is a backronym for “Gothic-Romantic Intense Emotional Fantasy” (but don’t hold me to that name). It’s the kind of fantasy where the emotions that motivate the characters are more powerful than their abilities, and are the gateway to the fantastic elements. The kind of fantasy where a character’s rage fans extant flames into explosive blazes, where a gun passed from father to son for generations is more deadly because of the heritage it represents, where a man’s sin against something he loves can spawn an unspeakable horror in an otherwise beautiful landscape.

I’ve got the basic mechanics in mind already, and there’s nothing in them that I haven’t seen in other games, so I’ll go ahead and credit them: The Burning Wheel by Luke Crane, The Shadow of Yesterday by Clinton R. Nixon, and Poison’d by Vincent Baker already contain all the pieces I’m using at the moment. Special mention should go to John Harper’s Lady Blackbird, which uses most of the same pieces in almost the same way (ok, so I’m given to understand that his Conditions are cribbed from Mouse Guard, which I haven’t had the pleasure to look at, but they’re really the same thing as the Cruel Fortunes and other Positioning+Resource mechanics found in Poison’d, which I have). I wanted a slightly different accent, though.

Here’s what I know so far:

1. Characters have a set of 4 “standard attributes” that are common to all. Presently their names are Vigor, Attention, Craft, and Persona. That’s strength/endurance/agility, awareness/perception, cunning/applied knowledge, and charisma/will, respectively. All ordinary, mundane actions are handled by 1 of these attributes. I’m not sure how these will be derived; it will probably be some sort of point-buy method.

2. Characters have one or more “special attributes,” and this is where the emotional and fantastical elements come in. These are chosen from a fixed list, and include such things as Rage, Heritage, Faith, Guilt, and Despair. All magical, supernatural, and fantastical actions must involve a special attribute. The starting values of these will probably be set arbitrarily by the player, based on his view of the attribute’s intensity in his PC. This is okay because these are both a source of power and a liability – they’ve got a bit of a life of their own. In play, I see the values as subject to change, but mostly in an upward direction, with the threat of peaking out in a manner that takes the PC out of play (similarly to Emotional Attributes in BW, or Transcendence in TSOY). Lowering the values will be difficult, and removing an attribute entirely even moreso.

Note that a PC without, say, the Grief attribute can still grieve; it just won’t have the special effects contingent on the Grief attribute.

3. Characters have one or more specific personal goals and motivations. These should of course be tied to their special attributes somehow, and, to start with, can be thought of as fleshing out the character’s special attributes – how did they get that way, and why. Think BW Belief-style writeups. I keep coming back to the terms Concerns, Convictions, and Commitments to describe these, but I don’t know if those’ll stick.

I don’t think these have any actual mechanical impact. They’re really just flags and roleplaying reminders. They’re subject to change at any time, and their changes should be tracked so you can see the change in your characters. But the changes should be in line with the character’s special attributes and traits (below).

4. The basic resolution mechanic is like this. When you endeavor to do something and something bad might happen as a result of the attempt and/or someone takes action against you, that’s when you roll dice. The dicing mechanic is basically BW. You roll the dice of one of your standard attributes, plus the dice of any special attributes that apply, looking to roll “hits” (4s or higher on d6s). You “spend” hits to address obstacles and dangers on a 1:1 basis. Obstacles are things that must be overcome in order to succeed, and dangers are unpleasant outcomes that might occur regardless of success or failure. You must address all obstacles in order to succeed in your endeavor (thus the number of obstacles is actually the same thing as the Obstacle in BW), and you must address any dangers that you do not wish to come to pass. It may sometimes be necessary to fail in order to address dangers, or to allow dangers to come true in order to succeed. (Ok, so there’s some Otherkind in there too, I forgot). Dice over the obstacle that aren’t spent to address dangers can be spent on special effects related to the action (for instance, damage if you’re trying to hurt someone, or quality if you’re making something), or else become a metagame resource called Edge that you can call on for help later.

Dice that come from special attributes will have special “fallout” effects when certain values are rolled; probably 1s or 6s, or maybe both. This is where the special attributes take on a life of their own, leak into the environment, and cause things to happen unbidden. This fallout works apart from dangers, and can’t be blocked by spending hits like dangers can.

Minor NPCs don’t roll dice; they only impose obstacles and dangers. When acting against someone, you can likewise spend hits in excess of your own obstacles to impose dangers and obstacles. The added bite there is that you can double up on them; if you commit 3 hits to imposing a single danger, then it’s going to take 3 hits to address.

5. There will be special subsystems for: highlighting conflicts (at a level of intricacy somewhere between BW’s combat systems and TSOY’s Bringing Down the Pain), sorcery (i.e. deliberate magic), binding oaths and vows, bearing personal animus, and perhaps a few other things. I’m still vague on these.

6. Characters have a number of “trait slots,” into which they put traits. These traits come primarily from fixed lists, and it’s these lists of traits that will primarily define and differentiate Settings using this System. These traits are basically BW’s skills & traits and TSOY’s Secrets & Keys consolidated into one mechanic.

Each trait functions in one or more of the following ways:

* Allowing you to use your attributes in special ways. For instance, someone with some sort of “Thief” trait would be able to roll Craft to pick locks – something which an ordinary person can’t do.
* Opening up constraints on declared actions. For instance, if your guy had a trait that said he was able to fly, then you can now include flying in your descriptions of your character’s actions.
* Rewarding you with “Growth” points for focusing on stipulated character qualities & motivations in your roleplaying & decisions, especially to the detriment of your character and others. Growth is spent to fill empty trait slots, and to get additional slots.
* Applying bonuses in stipulated circumstances.

All, or nearly all, traits can be “bought off” similarly to TSOY Keys. Unlike Keys, however, you don’t earn points for this. The only reward is making room for new traits.

Your traits should, of course, have some connection to your special attributes and motivations. Perhaps some traits will require that you take on certain special attributes. You can think of traits as the way to give your motivations mechanical effect, if you wish.

7. Characters can suffer conditions, which are the evil twins of traits. A number of conditions that are likely to come up frequently, such as injury, illness, madness, and exhaustion, will be prescribed by the rules. Others may need to be ruled on the spot by the GM. Any compromising position is a candidate for a “condition,” and can be applied as a condition if a.) it was a danger and you allowed it to come to pass, b.) it was stipulated as being contingent to failure in an endeavor, and/or c.) you acquiesced to it. For an example of that last one, that’s where someone says, “I sneak up behind you and knock you out,” and you decline to say, “Like hell you do!”

Each condition functions in one or more of the following ways:

* Constraining declared actions. For instance, if your guy is suffering from the condition “mute,” you can’t describe your guy speaking.
* Allowing the GM to dictate that unpleasant things are true. For instance, if your guy has been trapped by the royal guard and it’s applied as a condition, the GM can say, “Ok, so they clap you in irons and take you to the Tower.”
* Imposing obstacles and/or dangers (i.e. penalties) in certain circumstances.

Conditions aren’t exactly “bought off” so much as they are “overcome.” Unlike traits, this does earn you points (i.e. Growth). In case you were wondering why anyone would ever acquiesce to a condition.

hand, piano

Rustbelt self parody: "The Cookie Crumbles: a tale of pain"

Pseudo proposed an art trade: ask him to draw something, then he'd ask you to draw something. I asked him to draw "a badass dude being badass with a machinegun machete." He did. Then he asked me to draw a badass eating cookies. Naturally, I read "badass" and thought of Matchley "Match" Daws, one of my PCs from the Rustbelt (you might recognize him from the cover of the ashcan).

hand, piano

Announcing the Tripper


You think you experimented in college? This guy opened the doors of perception, and then the windows of perception, and finally tore up the floorboards of perception and went abseiling through. He came back, sorta, with the knowledge of how to achieve superhuman and supernatural states through the use of hard drugs. Yes, kids, drugs are the answer.



Trippers are either wiry or scrawny. It’s a 50-50 shot, so roll even/odd to determine which.



Drug tolerance.

You can self-administer one dose of hard drugs without overdosing. However, if you have more than one active dose at a time without successful supervision or instruction from a Croaker, you overdose.


Phase trip.

When normal people take a hit of phase, they feel insubstantial, like they’re made of air. When you take a hit of phase, you actually become insubstantial. You can’t be harmed physically while phase-tripping, but you can’t affect anything physically either. You can, however, pass through walls and other solid barriers. Just make sure you’re not in the midst of a solid object when it wears off.

            Phase trips last for 1 turn or a single action sequence. When you come down, you feel really heavy, and are treated as if burdened until you take a break.


Rainbo trip.

Ordinary people take rainbo and just get a pretty lightshow for half an hour. When you take it, you see pretty colors too, but what you’re actually seeing is magic. You gain the ability to see any and all magic energies in the area – ambient ones, those contingent on spells, energies emanating from artifacts, and so on. Big, potent ones you can actually see through walls. With a THINK check, you can identify the function of the magic.

            Rainbo trips last for 10 turns. When you come down, you’re dazed.


Z-ray trip.

When normal people drop z-ray, their vision just gets all weird for a second, then they get a body high. When you take a hit of z-ray, you can, with a SEE check, see through solid objects: through walls, into crates, and, yes, through clothing.

            Z-ray trips last for 10 turns. When you come down, you’re dazed.


Rush trip.

Rush makes normal people talk fast and move in quick, jittery motions. It gives you the ability to run really fast, as fast as a motor vehicle (fast+1).

            Rush trips last for an extended time or a single action sequence. When you come down, you’re exhausted.


Smash trip.

They call it smash because it makes people want to, well, smash things. When you take it, you not only want to smash things, but are extremely capable at it: with a successful HIT check, you can demolish any non-living thing beyond repair.

            Smash trips last for an extended time or a single action sequence. When you come down, you’re exhausted.


Atlas trip.

Atlas is normally used by body builders to maximize their pump. It is abnormally used by you to gain the ability to lift and carry anything on your shoulders, without it slowing you down. Just make sure you’re not carrying, like, a bus when it wears off.

            Also, for all uses of the Comparative Physique table, treat yourself as if massive, then add 1 to the modifier. (So, if you were shoving someone scrawny, you’d get +3; if you were arm-wrestling someone massive, you’d get +1.)

            Atlas trips last for 10 turns. When you come down, you’re exhausted.


Chill trip.

Most people take a chill pill to calm down and cool off. You take them to gain the ability to drop the temperature in localized areas, even to the extent of freezing water and the moisture in the air into ice at will. Make a HIT check to attack someone with it, with damage on the Blunt table for chunks of ice or the Piercing table for wicked icicles. Reach doesn’t apply. You can also make the floor slippery, requiring MOVE checks for people to get across it without falling. Finally, you’re immune to the detrimental effects of cold while chill tripping.

            Chill trips last for 10 turns. When you come down, you’re treated as if suffering from extreme heat until you take a break.


I’ll show you performance enhancers.

When you take any of the performance enhancing drugs (krush, perk, slide, flash, or hero), their effect is doubled for you.


Connection for Tripper drugs.

You have a connection to score your special drugs on your own time. Your supply of 20 hits refills between jobs. They don’t carry over between jobs because you used them all to get high in the downtime.



Weapons: none.

Armor: none.

Holsters: 1.



Fried: -1 to THINK and SEE outside the scope of your tripping powers.


When You Crack

When a Tripper cracks it, all the drug remnants that have piled up in his brain break loose and send him on the worst flashback ever. Everyone appears to him as horrible monsters, and they all think he sucks. At this point, he’s apt to be very unpredictable and violent. He’ll also have unlimited access to the powers granted by the most recent drug he took.


Starting Gear

*            Weird clothes

*            Twenty hits of hard drugs in any combination of the following:

o       Phase

o       Rainbo

o       Z-ray

o       Rush

o       Smash

o       Atlas

o       Chill


Buddy Score Mods

+1 with anyone who has drugs, extra +1 with Croakers. -1 with anyone not in weird clothes.

hand, piano

musings on KILLER7

Just helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither He moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.
            – Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

I’ve read various analyses of the political content of KILLER7, and, while I don’t disagree much with the points made, I don’t find it a satisfying take on the story. The topical content is heavy-handed, dated, and lacking in resonance. This is some rambling analysis on parts of it that resonated with me.

I initially rented the game and played up through Sunset Part 2 before returning it. I bought it a couple years later, because, while the gameplay itself had its flaws, the game presented a one-of-a-kind experience that I wanted to see through to the end. I mean, if Guy Ritchie and William S. Burroughs got together to make a movie, it might be something like this, if they were lucky. I love the way it forces you to take things in stride – or, as William S. Burroughs would say, “take a broad, general view of things” – just to be able to even play. Its form, with its fucked up structure, rampant symbolism, and dream logic, is what draws me to it.


The novelist William S. Burroughs is famed for his use of the Cut-Up Method, which, in its most basic form, consists of taking a block of text, cutting it into pieces, and rearranging the pieces such that new words and phrases would be formed. You end up with run-on sentences and fragments, and little punctuation where it is needed, but you also end up with a lot of evocative, amusing, and occasionally astounding results. Burroughs applied this principle in other ways as well, including shotgun paintings and tape recordings over which he would record new material at random intervals, rewinding and fast-forwarding to dub new recordings at whim.

The operating principle here is the same one that fuels most divination, from I Ching to Tarot to tasseomancy. This is the ability of the human mind to make sense from chaos. By the same token, we see pictures in the clouds or even in random assortments of dots. Cut-up takes this further than divination, however, because divination techniques come with commentary and advice for interpreting. Cut-up does not pretend to offer a new kind of sense. What it does is face you with something incomprehensible, occupying the rational mind to give you a moment of silence in which the intuitive mind and the dreaming mind are free to create sense. Through this dynamic, the reader of cut-up fiction takes on just as much of a creative role as the author does.

 Through a slightly different method, KILLER7 also does this. While it doesn’t cut-up and rearrange things (beyond a bit of chronological mixing that isn’t anything weirder than you’d see in a Tarantino flick), it confronts you with situations and juxtapositions that you can’t make sense of rationally. It requires a different view, one that is closely tied with symbol and dream-logic: a magical view.

 I don’t mean that the explanation for everything in the game is, “Oh, it’s magic.” I’m also not talking about what modern psychology dubs “magical thinking” (which is merely a misguided branch of rational thought). I’m talking about a worldview by which the universe is abstract and incomprehensible, causality is synchronous, and the symbol IS the thing. This is the same thought-model necessary to make sense of Buddhism (especially the Apocalyptic Vehicle), most paganism, and any occult philosophy worth the paper it is written on.


A good starting point for analyzing dramatic narratives is to identify who the protagonist is, and what he wants. Going from there, you look at what he does to try to get what he wants, and what happens as a result.

Another side note. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but schools in the U.S. are notoriously bad at teaching this (as well as all other literary theory). The protagonist is not necessarily “the good guy,” and he’s not necessarily “the main character.” A protagonist is a character who wants something, and who drives the plot by proactively trying to accomplish his goals, facing adversity and antagonism along the way. Some stories have multiple protagonists, and some don’t have any at all, merely having characters that we like.

So, who is the protagonist of KILLER7? At first glance, it seems to be Garcian. After all, he’s the guy you play as. But a bit of thought reveals that he’s not it. Through the majority of the plot, Garcian is an instrument, following orders with no will of his own. It is not until the final scene that he is even presented a choice in what he does. Garcian is Harman’s instrument, which is what has led me to conclude that Harman Smith is the protagonist.

Who is Harman Smith? One thing that seems unavoidably clear is that he is a being of power. After all, in the stuff we’re shown, he lives for well over 150 years. Whether he’s a god, a sorcerer, an anthropomorphic representation of a concept, or whatever is unclear, but also not necessary to understand. But who is he, as a character? Well, the way he’s depicted, he’s pretty inscrutable, but there’s a trick here, in that protagonists can be defined by their antagonists. So, what do we know about Kun Lan, his antagonist?

Kun Lan is also a being of power. His appearance is bizarre and flamboyant, his speech and bearing theatrically exaggerated, and his laughter maniacal. His methods are terror and disorder, revolving around the en masse creation and proliferation of walking, laughing bombs. Contrasting this with Harman, certain aspects of his character come to light. His appearance is neat and stately, his speech and bearing grave, and his laughter usually restrained. His methods are tactical – surgical, even – revolving around the manipulation of established systems and infrastructures, and the careful, focused use of a single assassin.

It’s tempting to try to assign roles of good and evil to protagonists and antagonists, but it’s pretty clear that neither of these are particularly good or evil. Their ethics are far more ambiguous. But one thing that does work in this case is roles of Order and Chaos. Harman represents Order, and Kun represents Chaos. This actually ties into the political content a bit, since Order offers security at the cost of freedom, while Chaos offers freedom at the cost of security. Which is right? Well, that’s the question, innit.

What does Harman Smith Want? Harman Smith wants to prove Kun Lan wrong. This is what their chess games are all about, and the contest between the Killer7 and the Heaven Smile is itself just another chess game. It seems pretty clear that Harman and Kun have been arguing about this for a long time, and will probably be arguing about it for a long time to come (they’re still going at it 100 years later, after all).

One thing I’d like to point out is that not only are Garcian and the Smiles pawns in this chess game, but Japan and the U.S. themselves are pawns. The topical content is present only in an over-arcing conflict about the difficulty (and perhaps futility) of finding a compromise between security and freedom. It isn’t The Point, but merely a cultural hook to point us toward the perennial issue at the heart of it all.


Notice that it is in the presence of SECURITY cameras that Garcian is able to unleash the power of the Killer7. Also note that the Killer7’s movements are confined to predetermined paths, while the Heaven Smile are FREE to run all over the map.


It seems to me that Emir was a pawn of Kun’s in a previous chess match. He was used to kill Harman’s original band of assassins, and then Harman’s incarnation (thoughtform, sending, fetch, tulpa, whatever you wanna call it). Note that it is just before Harman’s incarnation is shot to death that Kun declares checkmate. (Sure, Kun gets shot up too, but he doesn’t care; he’s Chaos.)

What Kun didn’t anticipate was that Harman would infiltrate the people who trained Emir, mentor Emir himself, and then claim Emir as his own at the end of the game. Harman not only thinks several moves ahead, but he also thinks games ahead. He is Order, and Order requires forethought.

What is the deal with Emir’s third eye? Is it literally there? I don’t think so. It is only apparent on the symbolic, dream-like plane that Harman and Kun operate on. That third eye is a quality of Emir that enables him to intersect with and act on this plane. Specifically, I think that Emir is a schizophrenic [according to Merriam-Webster: “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as delusions), perception (as hallucinations), and behavior”]. His training enables him to use what would ordinarily be a debilitating psychosis as a window (or eye) into Kun and Harman’s scale of operations.

Another fun little detail: the Third Eye is a chakra (one of many nodes of energy according to yogic philosophy), specifically the one through which insight, intuition, and premonition enter. Chakra literally means wheel. Wheels and rings aren’t much different. Suppose that Garcian’s Vision Ring that enables him to see the Heaven Smile is Emir’s third eye? Consider that the Vision Ring is necessary to gain access to Emir’s computer.

What is the deal with Harman’s original band of assassins who are killed by Emir? It’s clear that upon the completion of that mission, Harman incorporated the six of them with Emir to form Garcian Smith. Why were they so much weaker then they are as part of Garcian?