Work

This week I was “first responder”, which is kind of like in-hours support for just my team’s stuff. I paired on this with another developer: we had a few sessions to go through things, and I could message him for support, but the aim was for me to get through things myself as much as possible.

While I didn’t get through everything in the week, leaving behind a few unresolved Sentry errors, I did get through most of it. And it was definitely a good way to learn about things we own which I hadn’t come across before.

I’ll be doing a few more of these pairing shifts over the next month or two before I’m let loose, to resolve things independently.

Books

This week I read:

  • Hard To Be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

    I found this a bit difficult to follow. You’re dropped right into the middle of the action and nothing really is explained, which is fine, I greatly enjoyed that aspect of Malazan, but it’s a bit different when it’s a fairly short and fast-paced book, I had to keep going back to re-read bits. But, putting that hurdle aside, it was a good book.

    The narrator is an Earth human (from some sort of future Soviet utopia) sent by a historical institute to observe a planet of feudal-era humans. To observe only, not to interfere. Compared to those people, he is a god, and to interfere would massively change the course of their history. Some of them suspect: he’s intelligent, skilful, wealthy, and has strange beliefs and habits.

    Very early on, he suggests to some other observers that history is going wrong here. What he’s seeing can’t be explained by the “basis theory of Feudalism”, some kind of predictive model developed in our future, but they shut him down: the theory can’t be wrong, he must be mistaken. The story, then, is him continuing to observe, and trying to figure out what is happening. And all the while his detachment is worn down by his increasing closeness to these people.

Gaming

Why are there no good fantasy systems?

This week I’ve been looking into new roleplaying systems. I’m looking for a fantasy system that “clicks” for me the way Call of Cthulhu 7e does for investigative horror and Mongoose Traveller 2e does for sci-fi.

So ideally I’m looking for a system which ticks all these boxes:

  • Player characters are more like regular people than heroes: they can be slightly better than average, but definitely no D&D-style demigods. Pulp Cthulhu is about the right power level here.
  • It’s skill-based, with gradual and continuous progression, rather than being level and class-based.
  • Magic is rare, dangerous, and likely corrupting. Not something everyone and their dog has.
  • The core mechanic is something simple, like “roll under a target” or “add skill level to a die result”, with all checks using the same dice00Looking at you, Stars Without Number / Worlds Without Number, with your 2d6 + attribute + skill for skill checks and 1d20 + attribute + skill + attack bonus for combat rolls. That’s just inconsistency for the sake of being more like D&D.

    , and coarse grained “difficulty levels” or an advantage / disadvantage system over lots of little modifiers.
  • Combat uses opposed rolls, where the defender can actually make a tactical decision and not just stand there and see if they get hit or not.
  • Armour reduces damage, rather than making you harder to hit.

This is basically just Pulp Cthulhu, but with a fantasy-appropriate skill list and no sanity mechanic. I’m tempted to homebrew just that. So, so tempted. But I figure I should at least try to find some existing system which ticks all, or at least most, of those boxes.

On the BRP front, there’s RuneQuest, Mythras, and OpenQuest, but they’re both rather more finnicky than Call of Cthulhu 7e is (I think it made some great simplifications to BRP, no idea why Chaosium didn’t port those over to the latest RuneQuest) and Glorantha is significantly higher-magic than I’d like.

And on the Traveller front, there’s The Sword of Cepheus, but I fear that since it’s so close to Mongoose Traveller 2e, but also not quite the same, it would just end up confusing to run.

So maybe I need to find something more different? Forbidden Lands looks promising from its quickstart rules, though it does have classes (“professions”) and I’d need to get the full rules to see how much that restricts character advancement. No levels though, which is nice.

I’m going to set up a series of one-shots using different systems, run between arcs of my Traveller campaign, and hopefully find something which clicks.

Virtual tabletops

I bought Foundry VTT. I’ve been meaning to try it out for some time, as right now I’m paying $9.99/month to Roll20 just so I can use my custom Traveller character sheets and have more upload space. It doesn’t feel like a very good use of money, but the standard Traveller character sheets are so bad!

I’ve used Foundry as a player for quite a while now, but this is my first time using it as a GM. There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve, but I’m getting the hang of it. In fact, when copying over my Traveller game I realised that The Pirates of Drinax has a rather unfortunate typo: the monthly maintenance cost of the spaceship the players get is a tenth of what it should be. Ouch, my players won’t like that (though, it’s about time they stopped hoarding so much money…). But it’s cool that the Traveller sheets for Foundry actually do things like auto-calculate ship maintenance costs and the like. My nice-looking-but-not-very-automated Roll20 sheets don’t.

Today’s game got rescheduled to Tuesday evening, due to multiple players being unable to make it, so I’m planning to finish copying everything across by then, and run a test game in Foundry. If it doesn’t work out, we can just switch back to Roll20 and I can get a refund (or maybe just keep it for another group). But if it does, then maybe I can stop paying $9.99/month (and in another 6.5 months I’ll have broken even).

It’s also got some nice-looking character sheets for Forbidden Lands, which will be good when I get around to running the one-shot.

Miscellaneous

This month I’m experimenting with miso, and today I had great success.

I hesitate to call my creation tonkotsu ramen because, while I did base it on a tonkotsu recipe, I also changed it a bit. And the pork didn’t actually turn out that flavoursome, but the soup was amazing.

Tasty ramen soup:

  • Base:
    1. Get 1L of water
    2. Chop and add dried shiitake mushrooms
    3. Add bonito powder
    4. Leave for half an hour
  • Miso Bacon Tare:
    1. Mix 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2tbsp mirin, 4tbsp miso, and gently heat
    2. Chop up bacon and stir into mixture
    3. Cook on a low heat for half an hour

While those are preparing, also get your other ingredients ready, like meat or vegetables. When everything is ready:

  1. Heat up the base
  2. Stir in the tare
  3. Stir in the other ingredients

While that’s happening, medium-boil an egg and cook the noodles. Then serve.

I tried this with miso marinated pork, but while the soup was very flavoursome, the pork was just… porky. It had a layer of flavour, but the marinade didn’t permeate it as much as I’d have liked. I’ll look for something else next time. But that miso bacon tare was worth learning about, I’ll definitely be using that again.

Roleplaying Games