Friday 17 August 2007

Pentasystem: Player Currency and Character Currency

I finally got around to posting at Story-Games about my idea of the Coolmap,which (in very basic form) looks like this:

Ellipses mean themes, squares mean entities.

The black arrows
are the relationships between the entities (in this case, fantasy
races). The relationships are a kind of entity in their own right;
there are some themes that arise not just from one race or another, but
in the context of the relationship between the races. This is
why there are red arrows coming out of the black arrows. The red arrows
mean "if you have this entity, you potentially have this theme in your

(The three religions, incidentally, should be entities rather than themes.)

The idea is that you glance over the circled themes and
pick ones that appeal. The associated entities will have page numbers, so you can go and
check out only the bits of setting that you're interested in.

Someone in that thread mentioned Verge, which builds a map like this as the start of play (and modifies it in play - indeed, as play).

Which led to this expansion of the idea, which also draws on Shock a bit. At the beginning of a game, you all sit around and talk about what on the coolmap appeals to you, and things you want to add (or delete). Everyone gets two vetoes, which they can use on either people's suggestions of things to add, or on things that are on there already. You don't have to use your vetoes if you don't want to.

You write on any new entities or themes you've agreed on. You then pass the map around the group five times.

At each pass, you may initial any of the entities or themes. This means that you are interested in the entity/theme. You can initial the same one twice (though not more) if you are extra-interested.

After the 5 passes, if any entities are left with only one person's initials, those people get an extra go for each set of initials they have on such an entity. They can put them on any entity, including another one with only one person's initials (not theirs).

Now, "ownership" of the entities is decided by either informal discussion, a bidding system of some kind, or the use of a limited number of chances in much the same way as the above. "Owning" an entity means that you are, basically, the god, spirit, angel or patron saint of that entity - you are its GM. You can declare anything to be true about it (whole group may veto), and if anyone else wants to declare something true about it they need your approval.

Your approval, by the way, should always be given, although you can use "Yes, but", "No, but" or "Yes, and". Again, the whole group may veto, but the owner may not. The closest you have to a veto is the "No, but", which achieves the same thing (you should find out what the person is trying to achieve, of course) by different means, or allows a lesser version which is more in proportion.

If you are the only person with initials on an entity, you can do one of two things. You can automatically own the entity, but you can't create a main character which has it as a motivating attribute; or you can make it a motivating attribute for your main character, but ownership belongs to the group (or to someone else who volunteers to own it).

In general, if you own an entity, your main character can't have it as a motivating attribute.

Entity owners get a "budget" of what were called pentapoints and are now called "fortune". The size of the budget is based on how many initials there are against the entity. With this budget, you get to create supporting characters (and sets and so forth) to interact with the main characters. These are the "faces" on the entity: a priest for a religion, a member of the race for a race, and so on and so forth.

You earn additional fortune for hitting the themes that people initialled, again in proportion to how many people initialled them.

So pentapoints/fortune becomes a player currency; pool points are the character currency. Characters can be improved and helped, as well as created, with fortune - I've yet to work out exactly how this works.

I also need to figure out how you deal with emergent themes or shifting interest. Perhaps you just revise the map at the start of each session.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

I has a technologeez!

Now what I do with it?

Say hello to my little friend. Quiz keeps me (or, more likely, my heater) company in the office when I work at home.

The printer was a bit of a score. When my work moved offices, they sold off the old laser printers, so I got a LaserJet 5M with a trolley and a spare toner cartridge for $50.

I'm using it to print flyers and the like. I've had a few problems with paper jams, but the installation - which I had expected to take an hour of frustrated swearing - couldn't have been simpler. I plugged it into my computer and switched it on. Quoth Windows:

New hardware detected. [Pause]
HP LaserJet 5M. [Pause]
Your new hardware is installed and ready to use.

It took about 20 seconds. I was gobsmacked.

Oh, and the caption? Inspired by this:

I has a money. What I do wif it?

Friday 3 August 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The Pope

The fifth card of the Major Arcana is the Pope, in the act of benediction. The Unknown Friend defines benediction as "the putting into action of divine power transcending the individual thought and will of the one who is blessed as well as the one who is pronouncing the blessing". Blessing, according to the Kabbala, is part of a circulation like the circulation of the blood; as one acolyte holds his left hand up, prayers rise to God, and as the other holds his right hand down, blessings return to humanity. The two pillars, and the Pope's triple cross and blessing hand, represent the same. They are the pillars of Mercy and Severity.

Prayer can be any kind of vertical longing: the thirst for truth (answered with the benediction of illumination), suffering (answered with the benediction of consolation), and work (answered with benedictions appropriate to the kind of work) are the prayers of the mind, heart and will.

Horizontal respiration is the alternation between outward and inward attention; vertical respiration is as described above, and if it is learned in this life, death (the transition from horizontal to vertical) will lose its sting.

Horizontal respiration has the law "Love your neighbour as yourself"; vertical respiration, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength".

The triple cross (which, apparently, is not on the US Games version of the Marseilles Tarot) shows the three levels or stages of each kind of respiration. Horizontal respiration has the three levels: love of nature, love of neighbour, love of the beings of the spiritual hierarchies; while vertical respiration has three stages: purification by divine breath, illumination by divine light, and mystical union in divine fire. The triple cross has three vertical and three horizontal elements, and is the perfect union of horizontal and vertical.

The UF has, at this point, a digression on the outer roles of Emperor and Pope, and on the "magical deeds and works acting behind the facade of history", which I will ignore because, frankly, it seems a bit crackpot to me. (You may think this whole exercise seems crackpot to you, of course.)

His next idea that I want to talk about is that the Pope guards the threshold or equilibrium between "day" and "night", human effort and divine grace. The Emperor is the King, ruler of the day, the outer world; the Hermit is the Prophet, ruler of the night, the inner world; the Pope is the High Priest, set between.

The UF repeats his point here about different kinds of truth. The Pope represents the kind of truth which is based on harmonious respiration, of moral truth and logic, according to which the earth is the centre of the cosmos because it is the scene of the Incarnation - although in phenomenal truth and factual logic, the earth orbits the sun. Factual truth (veritas, emeth) is in conflict with moral or ideal truth or mercy (misericordia, chesed). This conflict between the ideal ("marriage is indissoluble") and the real ("marriages break up") is the fifth wound which the Pope possesses and the Emperor does not, the wound of the heart.

This is the conflict between the sephira of chesed (mercy) and geburah (severity), resolved in tiphereth (beauty), which is the sephiroth of the heart and the wound of the heart.

The UF now spends several pages quoting other writers on the pentagram, and argues that there is an evil pentagram (the emancipated human will separated from the unity of the will of God, personal arbitrary magic) and a good Pentagram (the emancipated human will united with the will of God, personal sacred magic). These have nothing to do with whether the pentagram is upright or not.

The first operates by force of will, the second by purity of will. Purity of will, in an impure human being, is attained when five things are "nailed" and hence wounded:
  1. The desire to be great (the heart) - male side, great in one's own eyes; female, great in others' eyes;
  2. The desire to take (right hand) - male;
  3. The desire to keep (left hand) - female;
  4. The desire to advance at the expense of others (right foot), to hunt (male);
  5. The desire to hold on to at the expense of others (left foot), to trap (female).
A wound "is a door through which the objective exterior world intrudes into the interior...". By this definition, each of our five senses is a wound, showing us objects external to ourselves which may not be as we wish. And the five organs of action - the four limbs and the head - correspond also to these five wounds, as summarized above, though the fifth wound (of the desire to be great) is not in the head but in the heart, from which it controls the head as its instrument.

"This is why many thinkers and scientists want to think 'without the heart' in order to be objective - which is an illusion, because one can in no way think without the heart, the heart being the activating principle of thought; what one can do is to think with a humble and warm heart instead of with a pretentious and cold heart."
I like that, it's well put.

So, how are the five wounds acquired? Through the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience. Obedience, to nail the will to greatness of the heart (the Usurper); poverty, to nail the hands which desire to take and keep (the Thief); and chastity, to nail the desire to advance and hold on at the expense of others, to hunt and trap, which are the desires of the feet (the Hunter).

Obedience is the natural result of recognising something higher than oneself (something we modern people have particular difficulty with).

Poverty is the practice of inner emptiness, the silence of personal desires, emotions and imagination, so that the soul can receive revelation of the word, the life and the light. It is the perpetual expectation of what is new and unexpected, the readiness to learn and receive, which enables illumination, revelation and initiation.

Here is where I realized that I had got poverty backwards in the Journey in Four Directions. It isn't being "content with what you have" at all; it is recognizing that what you have is empty and that there is better to come. The UF tells a story of four brothers seeking the greatest treasure. The first stops when they find iron, the second when they find copper, the third when they find silver, but the last brother perseveres until he finds gold. All the brothers find wealth that contents them; only the last finds the greatest treasure.

Chastity is living "according to solar law, without covetousness and without indifference. Because virtue is boring and vice is disgusting. But that which lives at the foundation of the heart is neither... [it] is love...." Chastity is the state in which the heart becomes awakened and functions as the sun, the centre, to which the lower centres conform. Chastity is not just about sex; it is about the choice between "solar law and... dulling intoxications". Fanaticism, nationalism, some kinds of occultism, are all unchaste.

Not the full possession of the virtues (impossible in this life), but their practice, is what leads to the five wounds. And this establishes the presence of the good. Good does not fight evil; it either triumphs by being present, or is defeated by being absent.

With a reflection on the stigmata of St Francis, the UF suggests that the function of the wounds is to bring about a change from the natural state (limbo) to the human state (purgatory), and from that to the divine state (paradise). Limbo is innocent nature; purgatory, suffering nature. By bringing the divine into these, the five wounds liberate and reunite.

Now, symbols. The cross, with its four parts, is the symbol of obedience, the unity of horizontal and vertical, and also of faith. The pentacle is the symbol of hope, the vow and virtue of poverty; effort and work, the presence of the divine here below. The hexagram is the symbol of love and of chastity, "the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Mother, Daughter and Holy Soul". (I couldn't find much on the latter fascinating idea; the book The Most Holy Trinosophia, which uses the phrase, appears to get it from Meditations on the Tarot.)

The UF assigns these to different ages of history: the age of faith, in the Middle Ages; the age of hope, in the Renaissance, which, however, split hope in man off from hope in God, creating the materialistic civilization we now have. The spiritual post of the Pope is to guard the pentagram of the five wounds, the one legitimate way of passing from the cross to the hexagram, ensuring that obedience, poverty and chastity endure in the world. He doesn't talk about the age of love - presumably it is yet to come.

I found this a fascinating chapter, like all of these letters full of ideas, but much better tied together than in the previous chapter (The Emperor). I had at least one "aha!" moment in the re-presentation of poverty as a state in which we recognize our own emptiness, but have hope for attaining fullness - hence "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven". And the concept of the five wounds "nailing" those things in us which prevent our wills from being pure and in alignment with the will of God is an excellent one.

I look forward to further insights in the next letter, The Lover(s).