Abraham Lincoln

Episode 172: #notAllAstrologers

January 8th, 2016 | Robin

While in London in December, the Consulting Occultist got a sneak peek at key items of John Dee’s book collection. Join us in previewing the upcoming exhibit Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee, which runs Jan 18-July 29  at the Royal College of Physicians.




Then we turn to the Gaming Hut for a consideration of apparent versus actual complexity in roleplaying games, and how to present simple game systems so they look as easy to run as they actually are.

Finally, if we were recently in London, you know that the time has come for another epic installment of Ken’s Bookshelf.

Ken and Robin have oft been accused of being cards. Well, we can deny it no longer. We have become super-limited promo cards for Murder of Crows, Atlas Games’ fast-paced card game of murder and the macabre, for two to five players in the mood for something a little morbid. It’s Edward Gorey meets Caligari, by way of Edgar Allan Poe. Wait a minute, what does that graphic say? I’m not so sure about this…

Ken fans who did not partake of the Kickstarter can now sink their fangs into the general release of the Dracula Dossier from Pelgrane Press, consisting of the Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted. You say that’s still not enough Ken for you? Very well, my friend. His brilliant pieces on parasitic gaming, alternate Newtons, Dacian werewolves and more now lurk among the sparkling bounty of The Best of FENIX Volumes 1-3, from returning sponsors Askfageln. Yes, it’s Sweden’s favorite RPG magazine, now beautifully collected. Warning: not in Swedish. In a move that surely violates someone’s security clearance, this episode is also brought to you by our friends at Arc Dream Publishing. The Kickstarter for Delta Green: the Roleplaying Game has come to an end, but don’t let that stop you from indulging your fever for this classic game, or that pinnacle of the Cthulhu game zine world, The Unspeakable Oath.

10 Responses to “Episode 172: #notAllAstrologers”

  1. Robin says:

    Latest addition’s to Ken’s Bookshelf:

    The Orientalist, Tom Reiss
    The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, Peter Ackroyd
    England’s First Demonologist: Reginald Scot & The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Philip C. Almond
    Our Men in Brazil: the Hesketh Brothers Abroad, Ian Sargen
    Palo Mayombe, The Garden of Blood & Bones, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold
    Exu and the Quimbanda of Night and Fire, “ “
    Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears, Geoffery Pearson
    Murders & Mysteries from the North York Moors, Peter N. Walker
    William Lilly: the Last Magician, Peter Stockinger & Sue Ward
    Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848, Adam Zamoyski
    Spy: a Handbook, Harry Ferguson
    Other Pasts, Different Presents: Alternative Futures, Jeremy Black
    Shakespeare and the Countess, The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe, Chris Laoutaris
    The Impossible Virgin and The Silver Mistress, Peter O’Donnell (Modesty Blaise)
    The Pinkerton Casebook: Adventures of the Original Private Eye, ed. by Bruce Durie
    Terror Within, Terrorism and the Dream of a British Republic, Clive Bloom
    1968, The Year That Rocked the World, Mark Kurlansky
    The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, Patrick Lepetit

  2. Chris Camfield says:

    I know this is the sort of pedantry that gains no one any friends, but: apparently Ramon Llull lived in the 13th century, not 12th.

  3. Norman Dean says:

    Will Ken and Robin live at Gencon be on Friday at 1:00 again in 2016? I don’t want to submit an event that overlaps with the recording of the podcast. Did Ken ever take an unauthorized jaunt in his time machine to figure out what was discussed last year that was so sensitive that the government garbled the recording? This year I expect half the audiance will have a microphone pointed at the two of you.

  4. Just listened to the “complexity hut” and I was surprised to hear that you get feedback that NBA is too complex. Sometimes I worry that NBA (and by extension, all of Gumshoe) is too simple for my players, who (in my perception, none of them have actually said this) like to roll more dice each action. But yes yes and yes again to the idea that RPG books have not yet cracked the layout problem, and the idea that there’s a “learning book” and a “reference book” in the platonic ideal.

    The FateCore book gets closest to cracking it, with its marginalia and text “hyperlinks”, but even that falls between the two stalls of learning and reference.

    And simpler games or should we say “games with simpler core mechanics” can lull you into a false sense of security. The basic mechanic is so simple that you don’t need to revise it to remember it but then what you call “edge cases” becomes broader, because you haven’t revised them – effects of damage, systems of recovery, explosions, all matter of fact in more complex games, somehow become edge cases that I have to look up every session. And finding them in NBA seems harder that it should be.

    Meanwhile, the last new game I tried was the “complex” L5R that one had to be revised, or rather painstakingly learned over the first few sessions, but now almost everything (damage and recovery at least, there aren’t as many explosions in Rokugan) seems like second nature to me. I hardly ever have to look them up.

    Does that make sense?

  5. Andrew Cowie says:

    I’ve been waiting many years for my Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians to pay off and help advance our core mission of getting enough information in Ken’s head to let him finally Understand Everything.
    Well, if you’re ever up Edinburgh way and you want to see some Celsus, or learn a little bit about drugs in Paris , give us a shout…

  6. Toby says:

    About making rule systems simple to look at, learn, and use: You should take a look at the style of EABA and CORPS 2.0 published by BTRC and written by Greg Porter. He did a fantastic job using several different colors to denote different sorts of rules and all sorts of typographic tricks, similar to those used in the O’Reilly programming books.

  7. Lawrence Allen says:

    A question for the podcast:
    I’m currently running a D&D 5th edition game for some friends. Since running a straight D&D campaign bores me, I’ve been adding lots of surrealist horror elements. How do you foster horror and uncertainty in a system/setting like F20, which seems deliberately designed to thwart their inclusion?

  8. Phil Masters says:

    My own current feeling is that the simplest way to get RPG rules to teach the systems better, convey how the game is supposed to feel in play, and make the information content more accessible for reference, is examples. Lots of examples. Examples which should both reflect the sort of things which will, hopefully, happen in play, and show the rules in action, including oddities like numbers which illustrate the rules about rounding fractions or whatever.

    (Furthermore, these examples should not, ever, say “this gets complicated, so the GM handwaves”. That’s a confession that your rules are either over-complicated, or inadequate to handle some obvious situations. If you’re tempted to write that, go away and fix the rules.)

    Unfortunately, examples occupy a lot of space and are never completely essential, so editors and publishers may be tempted to cut them. They can also look a little self-indulgent or boring. Fight the first and correct the second.

    Okay, I confess it – I enjoy writing the darned things. They’ve let me kill a lot of street mimes and blow up a few wizards…

  9. Simon Hibbs says:

    Examples are good, but I think they’re most effective when they are very short and to the point. With complex system yes, several pages of play through can be very illuminating. I remember that being the case with RQ3 back in the day, but nowadays I avoid system that complex anyway. I think the examples in NBA pass this test by being genuinely succinct and illustrative.

    The two-page character generation summaries in some of the 90s and later Chaosium games were a big advance. They centred on a slightly shrunk version of the character sheet, with numbered boxes summarising the character generation sequence and pointing to the relevant part of the sheet. It’s not that those games were complicated, but it made creating a character super easy.

    The Pendragon battle system flow charts were handy. My favourite was the one in Pagan Shores, although the graphic quality was middling.

    To be fair to NBA it does provide a variety of handy graphic aids in the form of the Vampyramid and Conspyramid, the car chase track and the thriller skeleton worksheet although these are GM aids rather than player-facing.

    Simon Hibbs

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