Category Archives: In English

The Sisters Adeline: Groundskeeper’s Notes on a Game of Bluebeard’s Bride

“You know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.”
– Dr. Who

On March 10, 2019 I was Groundskeeper for a game of Bluebeard’s Bride in the Shinchon area. The game is based on the fairytale of the famous serial black widower Bluebeard, but as you can tell from the title this game focuses on the bride who married him. I personally think of it as a work of feminist horror that focuses on the violence, helplessness, and horror felt by women in partriarchy.

The cover incribed with the letters "Bluebeard's Bride," under which is a woman holding a ring of keys caught in the arms of a man with a blue beard.

Also the book is fricking gorgeous??

So there we were, five women gathered in a room on a fine Sunday. The first question I got going in was, we have four players. How many Brides are there? The answer: One! Each player plays not a different bride but an aspect of her, called a Sister. The Sisters control the Bride’s actions based on their control of her wedding ring, and Sisters who do not currently hold the ring can also speak and act to an extent. In fact some of the best fun in the game was the Sisters’ increasingly anxious speculations about whether they can trust Bluebeard, and whether the strange happenings in the mansion were due to his crimes or the faithlessness of the other brides. I found this an innovative and enjoyable approach to having a single-protagonist adventure with multiple players, not to mention a sparkling examination of the female protagonist’s inner life.

At this point Ego, who would later choose to play the Fatale, asked:

– This reminds me of that movie. What was it called? About mind-controlling a kid. –

We experienced a couple minutes of confusion trying to figure out what kind of horror movie she was talking about, until we realized…

The five emotions from Pixar's Inside Out: Clockwise from top, Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust.


This is the single easiest way I know to explain the concept of the Sisters. Carl Jung who? Female archetypes what? It’s Inside Out with a grown woman, complete with five temperamental sprites living in your head! No one has just one thought or emotion all the time, right? Much like IO, Bluebeard’s Bride employs a lively narrative device to express the complexity in all of us.

The Sisters, who each express an aspect of the Bride’s self, have relationships and stories of their own that builds up their characters and spices up the game. For instance, the Virgin (the Bride’s naïvete and love of freedom), played by Mwai-jjeong, disliked Ego’s Fatale (the Bride’s sensuality and her will to dominate) because the Fatale would make lewd jokes whenever the Bride got drunk, bringing down her reputation. (I guess we know why she had to look outside the village for a husband, eh?) The Fatale in turn thinks the Mother (the caring but also authoritarian aspect of the Bride), played by Arbonne, is too rigid in her morality and needs to learn the art of manipulating people.

Each Sister also added more depth to the relationship between Bluebeard and the Bride during the Wedding Preparation phase. The Virgin was moved by Bluebeard’s gesture of picking wildflowers and clumsily weaving a garland for her. The Witch (the Bride’s supernatural and feminine power) played by Starfire fell for him when the nobleman took off his fancy shirt to help her family’s farmwork. A gander at his half-naked body didn’t hurt, either. I especially loved this look into the more human sides of Bluebeard that helped bring home how a serial murderer of women could charm so many of them into marrying him, though his fortune certainly helped of course.

The Wedding Preparation is also a golden opportunity for Groundskeepers like me because the players are sitting there and telling us how to torment and scare their characters. With Bluebeard’s Bride, which does not take to advance preparation and where improvisation is (ahem) key, the notes taken during this step help guide and shape the Groundskeeper’s creativity.

Below are excerpts of the notes I took during the break I called after character making:

First, I referenced the Room Threats from the book to outline themes by each Sister.

  • Fatale: Body > Gender (the Fatale is not womanly enough to be a good Bride), Religion: Instruction (she is certain Bluebeard is unfaithful to her because he is far too eligible and attractive to settle for a country girl)
  • Virgin: Sexuality > Perversion (she smiles at men in ways that make her loop cheap)
  • Witch: Body > Beauty Standards (her hair is too wild), Religion > Rituals (she sacrificed one of the chickens in a forbidden ritual), Religion > Underworld (she has already touched the pagan & forbidden)
  • Mother: Motherhood > Sacrifice (she regrets leaving behind the chickens she was raising to marry Bluebeard), Religion > Punishment (the Witch did a forbidden thing!)

I also took note of images from the chargen process that left an impression on me and seemed to suggest further conflict.

  • Witch: Her hair is not neat enough, conducted a blasphemous ritual with blood-tainted milk (white skin + blood? Blood spreading in bath water?)
  • Virgin: Smiles too much, loves freedom and her own space
  • Fatale: Talks too much, is conscious of her humble origins
  • Mother, Fatale: Drawn to the fresh urban smell and masculine strength of Bluebeard

I wasn’t able to use everything I wrote down and had additional inspiration from outside my notes, but getting down even these fragmented impressions helped me organize my thoughts and gave me ideas for images and motifs to use during play. These notes also make me wistful, by the way, because I could have done so much more to mess up the Sisters.

You know the story of Bluebeard, right? Sketchy rich guy plagued by rumors about his mysteriously disappeared wives. He hands the keys of his palatial mansion to his newest innocent bride and gives her free run of the house except for one room. Then he is urgently called away and forced to travel before the newlyweds can even consummate their marriage.

The play begins with the Bride at home, after her groom has ridden away.

– The Bride finds her gaze drawn to one of the keys on the ring. Mother, tell me what it looks like. –

– It is gold-colored, and extraordinarily large and long. The gold has flaked off in places, as though it has been plated. Despite its coloring it comes across as austere rather than luxurious. –

Once a Sister gives a description of a key, the Groundskeeper describes a room based on the key. I linked the key to Religion, one of the Mother’s motifs, to come up with an old chapel. Since the Mother missed the chickens she had to leave behind to marry Bluebeard, I further linked this place to the threat of Motherhood > Sacrifice to make it about a mother who had her children stripped from her by Bluebeard.

– The door that matches the key is of clean-grained wood of a pale gold hue. The handles are two hands held palm together in prayer. When you push the key between the wooden palms the lock opens smoothly. When you take the hand-shaped handles and push, the doors open. The room beckons. You enter, and the door closes behind you. –

In the chapel, where golden sunlight spills through stained glass, the Bride meets a crying maidservant who weeps and prays before the altar to get her children back. The Bride witnesses horrible bloodshed when the glued-together remains of small children’s ashes and bones fall upon a priest, tearing him apart. She is forced to doubt her own perceptions, however, when the priest she just saw die emerges from the confessional as though nothing had happened. After trying to console the weeping maid and kicking away the ash-children who tried to climb up her legs, she tells herself Bluebeard didn’t take anyone’s child away–he was just taking care of children who had no one else to turn to. She takes the gold brocade behind the altar as a token of Faithfulness. It is pure blasphemy for a wife to cast aspersions on her husband, after all.

That faith is challenged in the very next room. A pretty key adorned with pink flowers opens a glass hothouse filled with the very wildflowers that Bluebeard had picked for her, drawing cries of admiration from our bride. The Virgin instantly sets herself to weaving a garland for her hair from the blooms, improved to be more vivid and fragrant than the wild ones that grew behind her house. At that moment a woman rises up from a shallow grave mere feet away, the flowers wrapped around her body and growing out of her eyes. She harangues the Bride, saying women must be perfect flowers of silence and obedience; the Bride’s cries turn to screams of horror. The garland she has woven into her hair dig roots into her scalp, and frantically tearing them out leaves her bleeding.

The Bride turns the flower woman’s attention to another victim and escapes, but her mind is filled with doubt. Was the woman a former bride of Bluebeard? What happened to her?

The next room is a woodcrafting workshop opened with a wooden key, and the Bride is frightened to find yet more strange children made half of wood. When the carpenter tells the children to “Go to your mother” they go and cleave to a grotesque wooden form in the corner, and the Sisters tell each other that Bluebeard must have been tricked by a monstrous wood woman into having strange children with her.

The Mother puts the rest at ease, telling them such misfortune does not befall a woman of worth. The Virgin tells herself that she is more beautiful than any flower, and will make Bluebeard happy unlike the prior women. The Fatale, formerly suspicious of Bluebeard, actually feels herself eased by the evidence of a former wife. It’s the Witch who feels new suspicions spring up, but the other three won’t listen and the Bride reaffirms her Faithfulness to Bluebeard.

When the Sisters open a beautifully crafted and bejeweled door whose lock fits a sparkling silver key, a room full of jewelry greets the Bride with its splendors, overwhelming her with her bridegroom’s wealth and his love for her. The moment the Fatale tries on a diamond necklace, however, the Bride falls over from its crushing weight, and the Sisters are overcome with the visions of the many women who wore the same necklace and how they died. The Virgin tries to tear it off but only succeeds in cutting her hand. The Bride crawls from the room, staggering under the weight of lives and blood and the conviction that Bluebeard killed his brides. As soon as she makes it outside the door the diamonds shatter like glass, the unnatural weight disappearing with them.

This, hilariously enough, was the moment the Mother and Virgin turned away from Bluebeard for good. “He gave us fake diamonds?!” We all burst out laughing at that. Murder is one thing, but fake jewelry is absolutely unforgivable. You know?

With two tokens of Faithfulness and two of Disloyalty, the Bride is torn between belief in and suspicion of Bluebeard. A search for the door opened by the night-black lacquered key that the  Witch is drawn to leads them to a basement the Bride didn’t know existed, one enveloped in a darkness so deep it stifles the light of her candle.

There is light in this darkness, however. Wherever the Bride stepps the wildflawers from home, the same flowers Bluebeared once plucked for her, spark with illumination to light her way. They aren’t the “improved” variation that overwhelmed her with its scent in the hothouse but the small, unassuming blossoms she remembered from home, each a tiny but clear point of light.

She finds them at the center of the room, not the lurid litany of beauty and death that was etched across her mind in the jewelry room, but sad and shy shadows in the darkness. They ask the Bride, Adeline (that is what the players decided to call her), to stay: It’s comfortable and safe here, they say. Don’t return to the world of men that took their lives so cruelly.

Adeline, however, says no. She won’t hide from the sun like that. She will take the evidence to the town and stop Bluebeard. She consoles them in turn, telling them they can be brave no matter how hard and scary things are. When she has gone around the circle of grieving women she finds herself back aboveground, in front of the house. She turns her back on Bluebeard’s mansion and goes home, holding gold brocade, flower petals, broken glass, a block of wood, and a small clump of wildflowers.

Did the villagers believe Adeline when she came home alone a mere day after her wedding, her wedding dress torn and bloody, claiming her rich husband is a murderer and holding out a small pile of knick-knacks as proof? Would you have believed her? I think the important thing is that she went from ignoring and pushing away the voices of other women’s pain, telling herself that she is different and she alone would be loved, safe, and happy, to believing them, holding them by the hand, and finally going back to try and stop the carnage. To me the story of that change, that courage, was the true story of our session.

Going into this game, my biggest concern was the balance between the “feminist” and “horror” aspects of its premise. Fall off that tightrope and I feared that only the horror would remain and the worst parts of the genre at that, making a numbing show of violence against women rather than empathizing with their pain.

It was the players, not I, who found the answer to this dilemma. Adeline started out fearing and disbelieving the brides in the mansion, insisting that she was different, that she would “win” an unwinnable game by being more pious, more obedient, wiser, and more mature. After witnessing the depth of their pain she finally realized she was just like these women. That they felt the same fear and the same pain, and their fates were inseparable from hers. It was the conversations between the Sisters, veering between fear and hope and a hundred other emotions, that led to this conclusion. These conversations were the heart and conscience of the game.

Once I had this insight I realized that my role as Groundskeeper wasn’t just to scare the players or to keep ratcheting up the horror. That may have worked for a different game, don’t get me wrong, but the more sad than frightening final room with the ghosts of the women felt right for that moment and for that particular table.

I am not opposed to the concept of showing women’s pain, of course. The house rightfully holds sad and horrific memories of violence, and the Bride would be traumatized for experiencing these memories. My role as Groundskeeper, I came to believe, was to follow the players’ signal and to support them so that they are not numbed by the horror but can feel and empathize with the victims.

The change in Adeline as she went from rejection and othering of women’s suffering to empathy and solidarity was a continuing thread in a sometimes difficult session. It was something we could all hold onto, a bond that held us together. Enough of these threads may, in time, weave together into a lifeline that will save us in the end.

(Translated from the original Korean post)

Aspect : Establishing Facts and Compelling

I was asked the same question by players who are new to Fate: “What mechanical effect do aspects have besides earning or spending Fate Point?” In Fate Core and FAE, there is a good answer: The aspects are true and established fact in the game. Then some players asked me next question. “Then why do you compel aspects(especially situation aspects) if you get already their effect?”


Here is my answer : Aspects are true and fact, obviously. You can burn yourself if you rush into the “On fire!” zone naturally, or you can’t use your weapon while you are “Disarmed” without spending fate point or rolling dice.


Then when do aspects need to be compelled? When the new stories evolve from the aspects. If you compel “On fire!” aspect, there will be not only a fire: there will be a child who is trapped in a room on fire, or the exit will be blocked by fire. If you compel “Disarmed” aspect, not only you can’t use the weapon, but also have a problem with it : Your weapon will be thrown off a cliff, or snatched by an enemy.


So, aspects(especially situation aspect) are equivalence of other RPG’s condition, or tag, modifier, etc. but it will make a new story when you compel them.

(You can check other’s comments in here.)

Review of Emily Care Boss’s Shooting the Moon

“It’s not just some arcade game you can start up on the spot, you
know?” That comment on role-playing games has stuck with me ever since.
I remember thinking in response, “Well, why not?”

The default assumption with the hobby, of course, is the
everlasting campaign, taking place over years, often with at least
three players and a GM meeting at regular intervals. That, indeed, is
no arcade game to be started up and played because you and a friend or
two have a couple of hours of free time.

Book Cover

Shooting the Moon Cover

On the other hand, once one gets past the default assumption
there are in fact role-playing games that can be started up on the spot
and played in one sitting. Breaking the Ice by Emily Care Boss was one.
She’s struck again with Shooting the Moon, in many ways a more elegant
and streamlined offering.

Breaking the Ice is a game about two people going on three
dates and falling for each other. Shooting the Moon, on the other hand,
is about two Suitors competing for the affections of a Beloved. It is
this competitive element that gives the game zest, and a well-defined
and clean play procedure that enhances the fun of both the competition
and the story.

Before I dive deeper into the substance, let me back up a
little for the obligatory style review. I am not the best judge of
layout and visual presentation, but the book looks fine to me. I really
liked the illustrations by comic book artist Jenny Manley Lee, and the
use of boxes to delineate differences between two and three player
games and play examples worked well. At a little over 40 pages
including illustrations the book is skinny and staple-bound, but seems
sturdy enough and has survived abuse such as folding backwards.

Back to your regularly scheduled substance review: As you may
have guessed, I have played and like Breaking the Ice. My motivations
for buying the game had a lot to do with the “arcade RPG” impulse I
mentioned at the beginning. Breaking the Ice could be played with two
players, with no GM, and there was no prep or long-term commitment
involved. Nevertheless, there were some shortfalls in the play
experience that I feel have been satisfactorily resolved in Shooting
the Moon.

The first of these is competitive and dramatic pressure. My
impression from playing two games of Shooting the Moon was that the
game is not truly competitive, despite its basic structure. Rather, the
competitive frame drives the dramatic tension for a more satisfying

The spirit of competition, and the driving force of the story, come
from the Hurdle rule. Players take turns being the Active Player,
framing the scene and describing their Suitor’s advances toward the
Beloved. (Shooting the Moon can also be played with three players, with
one player playing the Beloved, but both my games were two-player,
Suitor-only games.) The player of the other Suitor, the Opponent,
introduces the Hurdle when the chance presents itself, throwing a
wrench into the Active Suitor’s plans. The Active Suitor has a chance
to respond, and the two roll against each other for the outcome of the
scene and to gain–or keep the Active Player from gaining–points
towards the goal.

For instance, one of my two games took place in the Beast
Hunters setting, with two Chel’qhuri tribesmen competing to be chosen
by a powerful woman in the tribe to breed with her. My Suitor,
Thundercloud, staged a raid of a caravan by himself, hoping to prove
his cunning and fierceness. The Opponent then narrated how Thundercloud
was outnumbered by the unexpectedly well-trained caravan guard. In
response I narrated the Beloved herself, Pineflower, coming to my
Suitor’s rescue. The players each try to take the story in their own
direction, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth and unexpected twists
and turns.

This, I felt, was the missing dash of spice in Breaking the
Ice. Too often there the play devolved into “let’s squeeze as many
successes out of the dice as humanly possible” without regard to pacing
or, more fundamentally, fun. The complete convergence of interest
between the players toward a happy ending sometimes made the game lag,
especially if the players were not honest about their preferences and
desires. (There’s got to be some kind of metaphor there.)

In Shooting the Moon, on the other hand, the back-and-forth
between the players drove the conflicts and the story forward, with the
clear and limited procedure for doing so helping the focus and pace of
the scene. This point leads to the second great improvement in Shooting
the Moon, namely the clear procedure.

Every scene in Shooting the Moon has a set procedure of scene
framing, hurdle presentation, and resolution. Breaking the Ice had
procedure, as well, but a turn in Breaking the Ice could be pretty much
all over the place as players worked to maximize successes, something
that, as mentioned above, could seriously harm the pace of the game.

In Shooting the Moon each scene can only be about one Hurdle, or
central conflict, and once the Active Player makes three responses to
the Hurdle the players must roll to resolve the scene. There can be two
more steps to the process if the Active Player loses and wants another
chance, but those steps, too, are finite.

The restrictions to the three responses by the Active Player,
furthermore, help to keep the scene tightly focused around the three
protagonists. Each response must involve an Attribute or Trait of the
Suitor or Beloved, or flirtation between the Suitor and Beloved. This
centers each crisis squarely around the characters, their interactions,
and previous events in the story.

One example of this is from another game I played about a king
and his best knight competing over a widowed noblewoman. The Hurdle
thrown in King Artegal’s way was that Sir Ciel was about to help Lady
Ariannaid onto her horse. My first response was that Leland, Artegal’s
Person Trait and Ciel’s rival, spoke to Ciel on the way, distracting
him. (Suitor Trait) The second was that Artegal and Ariannaid brushed
hands as he escorted her to her horse, making her blush. (Flirtation)
The third response was that he knelt down and locked his hands together
for her to use as a mount step, surprising onlookers. (Suitor
Attribute: Dignifed, but humble to his friends) In this way, the rules
provided for meaningful interactions and an interesting story.

The setup for the climactic scene similarly draws from the
characters and preceding events for a dramatically appropriate setup.
Each player narrates an element of the scene for each goal point that
he or she gained during the earlier turns. Each scene element must
involve Traits, Conflicts or Obstacle, flirtation, or a background
description. (Not Attributes, however. The omission for the climactic
scene serves to place more emphasis on closing the story by focusing on
issues and preceding events.)

In the Chel’qhuri game mentioned earlier, the two Suitors were
about to have a showdown with an enemy tribe to regain control of
tribal lands. As part of the setup, I narrated my Suitor hiring
mercenaries with the loot from the successful caravan raid at the
beginning of the game. It was a small thing but gave quite a sense of
closure, and was something I was unlikely to have come up with if I
hadn’t been racking my brain to make use of Suitor Traits.

Thus far I have compared and contrasted Shooting the Moon
extensively to Breaking the Ice, but of course Shooting the Moon stands
alone without the earlier game. It’s just that comparing these two
games by the same creator on a similar subject served to highlight what
I felt were its two great strengths.

Something else I liked about Shooting the Moon was its system
for collaborative character generation. It seemed to serve two
seemingly conflicting purposes. First, it gave all the players a stake
in all characters since everyone contributes to each character. This
served to mitigate the competitive pressure, making it good-natured
rather than heated, since these were all our characters in a sense.

Second and on the other hand, the chargen process itself was
competitive at some stages. This was especially true of the Attributes
stage, where in a two-person game players take turns modifying their
own Suitor’s Attributes and the other Suitor’s. This was how my
Chel’qhuri Suitor ended up with “Handsome but cheerless” and “Lowly of
birth but discontent,” while the other Suitor turned out to be
“Surrounded by friends but mostly due to his birth” and “Blessed by
ancestral gods but arrogant.”

All this is not to say I have no bones to pick. The first is that the
game is a little too random. The dice mechanic compares the highest die
in opposed rolls rather than totals or successes. Since it uses
six-sided dice, this means that a one-die difference statistically
means little. This in itself may be a feature rather than a bug, but my
complaint is that there is little the players can constructively do to
manipulate those odds. The story that the players create in the
process, as stated above, may be fun, but I felt there was little I
could do to better my odds when it came to the outcome.

At least, that was my impression of the two-person games I
played. A three-player game seems to have meatier options, leading me
to conclude that this is the default for Shooting the Moon. I look
forward to playing a three-person game and seeing how the tactical side
of it differs from the two-way game.

Another and related complaint was the tiebreaker rule for the
two-person game. If I correctly understand the grammatically incorrect
instruction at the middle of page 21, it comes down to the two Suitors
comparing just one die roll against each other, making it a completely
random exercise that disregards the earlier tied roll or even the
Active Player’s negligent one-die advantage. This did nothing for my
sense of tactical control over the outcome.

Overall, I found Shooting the Moon to be a simple and quick game with a
lot of punch. Playing it can, really, be as easy as starting an arcade
game, but with deeper results in terms of story–especially with the
rules to support it. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a
short, painfree playing experience with high returns. It makes for a
decent one-on-one game, with some warts as mentioned above, but I
suspect that it would truly shine as a three-person game, which I look
forward to trying in the future.

Saving Little Miu

Originally posted to Story Games.

So my friend Wishsong and I played a short adventure in the Transhuman Space setting. The protagonists were an uplifted (human intelligence) talking kitten, Miu, and a sentient AI implanted in Miu’s head, Pacific War veteran Tien Ba Dinh. Transhuman Space as a Disney feature animation, in other words. The rulebook we used was Mythic Role Playing, and to test it out we went GM-less and prep-less. It was very entertaining, and the shortfalls and stresses in the experience were good food for thought, in particular regarding what constitutes a story game.

The way Mythic works, basically when a situation comes up and you have to decide what happens, you frame it as a question. Everyone decides on an acting rank and a difficulty rank. Then you match this up with the Fate Chart, which will give you a percentage where those two ranks meet. Roll 1d100 same as or under that number and the answer to the question is yes. Roll over and the answer is no. This is the fundamental way both GM emulation (“Does it rain?”) and resolution (“Do I persuade her?”) work.

The climactic next-to-last scene, in particular, really brought home to me what story games are about. Lieutenant Tien, the AI powering the implant in the kitten Miu’s head, tries to resist his own programming in order to save Miu’s life. His Will was Exceptional, but Wishsong and I decided that it is horrendously difficult for an AI to resist its programming. Being used to story games, I thought it was lame Miu might die just because Tien failed this check. Wishsong, whose gaming experience is much more traditional, seemed to be used to the phenomenon of the system fighting what the players wanted.

That made me realize what a story game meant to me: A game that supports what the participants think of as a good story, instead of imaginary probabilities potentially getting in the way of those story goals. If everyone has the same amount of fun whether the kitten lives or dies, there’s no tension there; if not, a system that recognizes only physical odds can actually take away from the fun. Story games take away that tension by dealing directly with story elements.

What came after was really revelatory regarding a second important element in story games. Tien makes his check and briefly resists his program, warning Miu not to listen to him when he tells her to go to the subway station, and instead to find the police and ask for help. Then his program takes over and Tien tells Miu to hide from the police and go straight to the subway. Poor Miu is really confused, but decides to trust the first Tien. After a couple of other checks and events she finds safety. In the epilogue scene Tien, downloaded into a new bioshell (basically becoming a regular dude who doesn’t live in a kitten’s head), comes face-to-face with the now court-order-protected Miu for the first time. They do some explaining and forgiving, and the story ends with Miu falling asleep in Tien’s lap.

I was pleased as punch with the outcome, and was a little surprised to learn that Wishsong had wanted a different one. He had wanted Miu to be sacrificed, feeling it would be an appropriate ending to show the harshness of the Transhuman Space setting. On the other hand I wanted Miu to live, erm… well, admittedly because of a desire not to see cute widdle critters get hurt, and also because I wanted to explore the meaning of sentience and free will with an AI fighting its program.

It occurred to me that Mythic had no real way to reconcile these conflicting visions, or to help us come up with something altogether different. Like most non-story games it didn’t actually do drama, just logical probabilities. A story game would have systems in place to handle this kind of thing instead of leaving it to the kind of polite dissembling that social interaction is likely to involve. (“Damn, I want that furball to bite it but Eldir seems really attached to a non-existent talking kitten, so…”)

That’s basically what I came away about story games by playing a game that wasn’t one. It was fun overall, but I felt I was fighting the system to achieve that fun and poor Wishsong didn’t get his dead kitten… er, his creative vision didn’t get a place in the story. A story game wouldn’t have that tension between fun and system, and would have some way for conflicting visions to come out and be reconciled. I think it would be fun to try starting again at the same starting point with a different system and see how it goes.

A couple of other points that I came across in play were narration control and the nature of checks.

Since Mythic handles GM emulation it’s possible to play GM-less, which we did and it worked okay. However, there was some awkwardness because neither of us had narration rights over NPCs or the outside world. We had to keep going back to the Fate Chart to frame the question and decide on the ranks, which was obviously much slower than someone just saying something. It wasn’t necessarily the lack of GM that slowed things down, but that there was a void in narrative rights over non-PC things.

After the first session I suggested we take turns handling traditional GM duties, and if the other player wanted to object, or add something, or if the GM was unsure, we’d do the Fate Chart. This sped things up tremendously. And since we were both still players, the non-gamemastering player would pick up the NPCs that were interacting with the GM’s PC. Overall I think I prefer games with better-defined participant roles. Not necessarily the traditional GM and players, but in the sense of knowing at all times who has narrative control over what.

Also, another difference I came to notice between Wishsong and me was the number of checks and what they handled. Being used to conflict resolution, I felt it a little odd to make multiple checks on a dramatic outcome that I felt was already settled, such as “Do they escape Vietnam?” “Will Miu live?” And so on. Wishsong, on the other hand, was used to task resolution and didn’t see resolution as settling a dramatic outcome. For him the questions were more like, “Will Tien resist his programming?” “Can the police dogs find Miu?” etc. Mythic is a task-resolution system, so it supported his way better than mine.

Life and Travails of Schoolgirls – Panty Explosion

I read this entry on the Atarashi Games site and was quite flattered that my review was linked by the game’s official site! I’d been wondering why the Atarashi Games URL was appearing in my blog’s referrer logs. I just wanted to clarify the contents of the post a bit, as some of the finer points seem to have been… lost. Starting with the title.

“Pan Mote” appears to be Babelfish’s valiant attempt at “Panty” as rendered in Korean. “Ti” in Korean refers to a dust mote, and the fact that I stuck the Korean words for “Panty” and “Explosion” together seems to have confused Babelfish. The “agony” part was pretty funny, too, since it’s far too strong a word for the Korean word–“Komin”–I used. The original title goes more like “Life and Travails of Schoolgirls – Panty Explosion.” The gist of the review is as follows:

I start by stating that Panty Explosion, despite its title, really has nothing to do with pedophilia or fetishism in of itself. I then go on to outline the chargen rules, adding that I would prefer to use the Western zodiac instead of the birth-year animals, and that I’d go back to the traditional fire-water-wood-metal-earth elements.

Through this overview I point out that the rules are well-suited for creating well-rounded and believable schoolgirls, with the added depth of psychological horror that is all the more horrific because it reflects the oppression that schoolgirls live under. (While I’ve left my own schoolgirl days behind, the life of a Korean schoolgirl isn’t all that different from that of a Japanese schoolgirl.)

Then I outline the resolution rules, saying that the system is excellent for recreating the vicious little rivalries and shifting alliances that are the staple of a schoolgirl’s life. I also mention that I like how the rules support self-contained scenarios with a Big Bad apiece, and that it would probably make for clean, well-plotted stories that won’t meander endlessly like more open-ended scenarios can. Finally, I end by saying that I would like to run a scenario with Korean schoolgirls.

Some comments follow, and a surprising number of those who commented (all male) thought that this was a rulebook for women to relive schoolday memories. I hasten to set them straight, pointing out that the creators and some of the playtesters were male. I asked (a little snidely) why these men seemed to think they could play aliens, elves, and bikini-clad Amazons, but not ordinary, everyday girls?

One of them replied to say that it would be hard to play the game with women who had been real live schoolgirls and could tell if the guys’ portrayal of schoolgirls rang false. I conceded it was a fair enough reason. We agreed that it would be difficult but fun, as long as all involved were unafraid to give and take constructive criticism.

I also pointed out in my reply that a rulebook truly geared towards women would have a lot more sex in it than PE does. 😀

So there’s that, hopefully it’s more readable than Babelfish’s offering. As you can tell I like the rulebook a lot and plan on using it sometime. The one downside since posting the review is that, according to my referrer logs, my blog has started to appear in such search results as “panty,” “Japanese schoolgirls,” and “schoolgirl panty.” It pisses me off, but I guess it can’t be helped. At least it’s amusing.

Thoughts on Dragons of the Yellow Sea

John Kim gave me the link to a new Spirit of the Century campaign page, Dragons of the Yellow Sea, and boy is that cool or what! I read His Majesty’s Dragon and thought the idea of dragons in real life was cool, though the book didn’t grab me otherwise. But the thought of dragons on Jejudo… that’s just delicious. (And those sturdy, clever little island ponies? ‘Yum’ indeed for our scaled friends. 😉

John asked me about possible hooks and tropes for a Korean campaign set in the 1860’s,  though he is wisely unconcerned with historical accuracy. This post far exceeded LiveJournal’s max for comments, which is why I moved it here. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for…


Three classes

Yangban on donkey with Nobi attendants, commoners bowing by the roadside

Class friction would be one interesting dimension for a Chosun campaign. (Image source here) There was the nobility, the Yangban, the commoners, or Sangnom (Yangin if you want to be polite), and the slaves, or Nobi (Jongnom to be insulting). Nobi are more akin to lifetime indentured servants than slaves in the antebellum South, since Korea had no plantation system and land ownership was closer to feudalism: The peasant farmers worked the lands and paid the landlord in addition to paying their own taxes.

In addition to taxes paid with rice or other commodities (by the nineteenth century paying in currency was fairly common as well), commoners also paid with labor, working on major state-run constructions like fortifications, and could be drafted into the army. These were all sources of widespread misery, as you can imagine: Overworked peasants dropped like flies from starvation and contagion. If you had money you could pay off the labor tax with cash, and the steady rise of rich commoners was another source of social pressure. Heck, some commoners were actually buying impoverished noble families’ Jokbo (family records) to pass themselves off as nobility–effectively buying stature with cash.

The indentured servants, the Nobi, worked in the noble households and could be bought and sold. An individual or family could also have their free (common, or even noble) status stripped away and become Nobi, usually because they were associated with some major crime like treason. The archetypal story is one where a nobleman is accused of treason and is messily executed, then his entire family are slaughtered or sold into servitude. This status of servitude was hereditary, so this meant effective annihilation for the whole family.

So there are some interesting social pressures in regards to class. There’s the traditional oppressive class system, perpetuated for, oh, easily a thousand years. There’s also resentment building steadily against it, with the growing recognition of the horrible iniquities and the rise of some rich commoners. For the Yangban the new development is a source of alarm and righteous indignation; for the Yangin and especially the Nobi the old system is a source of growing resentment. The historical details are unimportant, but these kinds of opposing pressure could make for some really meaty conflicts. Korea had its share of peasant and slave uprisings, particularly when times were bad with famine and such.
Maybe dragons played a role in such conflicts as well?

You could bring class into play in a number of ways, one of which is the issue of class and dragons. What class of people ride dragons? Many Yangban considered physical exertion beneath them. Chosun was a country that consistently looked down on martial pursuits in favor of scholarly ones, so soldiers, even noble ones (Mushin), were considered inferior to the bureaucrat scholars (Munshin). Still, “Yangban” does mean the “two Bans”–the Munban, which is the bureaucracy, and the Muban, which is the military. Overall I’d imagine the noble-born officers who passed the relevant state exam (the Mugua) would be the most likely candidates for dragon riders.

Of course, dragons can’t be expected to give a fig for human conventions, so I can definitely imagine the pesky creatures choosing commoners or even some slave who was sweeping the yard or carrying loads. Or a bureaucrat who must now lower himself to officerhood. Or even–horror of horrors–a woman! It would actually be better if it were a commoner or slave woman. I can imagine many a noble lady fainting dead away at the idea of her daughter running around with men and engaging in sweaty physical exertion.


The status of women was, well, pretty bad. They couldn’t inherit, had no right to leave their husbands… hell, even remarriage was frowned upon for widows. This was worse for noblewomen because they were more tightly bound by repressive moral expectations. Common women had more leeway, but overall it was pretty severe.

At least if you were born noble it was unlikely you were illiterate, though your education was limited compared to noblemen. Hangul, the letters created for the Korean language, was (and is) immensely easier to learn than Hanja, the Chinese characters used by the elite, so women turned to Hangul for self-expression. The bureaucrat elite looked down on Hangul as Un-mun, the woman’s letters, but many examples of Hangul literature by Chosun noblewomen survive and are highly regarded today.



The most highly educated and accomplished women in Chosun were probably the Kisaeng, or courtesans (image from here). These weren’t noble or even common women but actually indentured Nobi, and belonged to the state. They were also instructed in music and dance, and many were superb artists and poets. They were a staple at noblemen’s parties, pouring drinks, dancing, improvising poetry. Think high-class prostitutes from other cultures. These ladies were pretty similar.

Cultural themes

One recurring trope in comical Korean folklore is the plucky, worldly, clever commoner and the boorish, sheltered nobleman. That might be fun to work into the characters, kind of a two-man comedy routine coupled with social commentary.

Another recurring theme throughout history is that the central government is oppressive and uncaring of the people, so the people had damn well better rely on themselves if they want to get anything done. Yet reverence for the king’s person was almost absolute unless he was really, really tyrannical. Mostly it was the Yangban who bore the brunt of resentment.
The local government was sometimes good, sometimes bad, but the central government was almost always seen as corrupt and untrustworthy.

Naval commander Lee Sunshin

Lee Sunshin

Yet another recurring theme is that the really good guys will become targets of the jealous Yangban, who will stop at nothing to discredit and ruin him. During the Japanese invasion navy commander Lee Sunshin was a hero to the people and to his men, so much so that he was arrested on unfounded charges, tortured, imprisoned, then cleared of charges, stripped of his rank, and set free. Then the war started going to hell and he was recalled to his post, where he proceeded to smash the Japanese into the sea and die heroically in battle.

This is a fairly typical hero’s tale in the Chosun era; there’s no stigma for a hero to be accused by the state, since there’s no trust in government. If anything it adds to his heroic status, because he’s made powerful people nervous. The hero’s tale also doesn’t end in revenge and bloodbath like it might in Japan. Yes, the hero was horribly wronged; no, he’s not going to take revenge, rather he’s going to prove his righteousness through heroism or cleverness, which will shame the person who wronged him. The hero will be triumphantly restored if it’s a happy story, and die tragically or leave for greener pastures if it’s a sad one. Either way it’s society that will judge the villain, not the hero him/herself.


Korea never did share its neighbor’s fetish for swords, though they were commonly used. (Korean swords share a superficial resemblance to the katana but were actually very different, and were used differently.) The weapon with the greatest hold on popular imagination was probably the bow. (On a probably unrelated but fun note, check out the Korean Olympic team’s track record in archery.) Jumong, founder of the ancient kingdom of Goguryoh, is a prime example of a legendary marksman. So was Lee Sung-Kié, the founder of Chosun.

Goguryoh grave painting

Goguryoh hunters

Archery from horeback was widely practiced, too. One advanced tactic was to whip around in the saddle and shoot backwards. Check out these hunters (image source here) from a Goguryoh grave. Archery from dragonback? The mind reels… in a good way…

Of course, there’s no need to dispense with more modern weapons, either. Remember, gunpowder was a Chinese invention, and Korea also received a painful lesson on the power of firearms when the Japanese used them in their sixteenth-century invasion of the peninsula. Within years the Koreans were firing back with guns of their own.

Dragon folklore

Two Dragons

Blue and Gold Dragons

Image source here (Huge image)

Regarding the traditional affinity with water, the king of the sea was called Yong-Wang, the Dragon King. There was also an ancient king (Munmu-Wang in the 7th century, 30th king of Shilla and the first king to unite the peninsula if you want specifics) who had his remains buried at sea so he could rise as a dragon and protect the peninsula from the marauding Japanese. His watery grave is a rocky outcropping in the Eastern Sea (or the Japanese Sea as it’s commonly known outside of Korea), about two hundred yards around. It’s called Sujung-neng, Underwater Grave, or Dai-Wang-Am, the Great King’s Rock.

Another important dragon in Korean mythology is Choyong. He’s one of the seven sons of the dragon of the Eastern Sea, who became the retainer of a 9th century king. Heck, maybe he was even a progenitor of latter-day dragons. Evidently he lived in human form among humankind, though.

The king (Hun-gang-wang, 49th king of Shilla) gave Choyong a beautiful wife, so beautiful that Yokshin, the spirit of contagion, became enamored of her and took on man-form (one version of the story says Choyong’s own likeness) to sleep with her. Choyong, coming home late at night, saw them lying together, but instead of getting angry he withdrew dancing and singing:

On a bright moonlit night in Seoul
I come late from carousing

In my marriage bed

I see four legs.

Two are mine

But what of the other two?

Once they were mine

But they were taken, so what can I do?


Choyong's likeness

See what I mean about Korean stories not being big on revenge? 🙂 Yokshin was shamed by Choyong’s generosity and knelt before him, begging forgiveness. He swore he would never trespass on him again, and would run even at the sight of Choyong’s face. This is how Choyong’s likeness (image source here) became a ward against disease. Scholars say this stranger from the sea who rose high in court and showed such magnanimity in the face of his wife’s adultery was actually a seafaring Arab or Persian merchant (possibly a doctor?), but either way it’s a good story.


I notice I keep mentioning Japan, so here’s a brief rundown on cultural attitudes: The Koreans traditionally thought of the Japanese as savages, pirates and marauders with no culture or history. (They were wrong, fatally so, but when have neighboring countries ever lacked for mutual prejudice?) With China, the font of all culture and civility (yeah right), as Korea’s traditional patron, the defeat of China by Japan was a huge shock.

Also, the coastal dwellers in particular suffered from Japanese pirate attacks, so there was hostility going on in that direction, too. Then there was the invasion in the sixteenth century during which the whole country suffered. (Imjin Waeran, “the attack of the Puny People in the year 1592”) One common derogatory term for Japanese is Jjokbari, “footpieces,” regarding their distinctive footwear; another is Waenom, “puny bastard(s),” mocking their height.

Wow, that is one LONG post. I tried to tickle the imagination rather than give a history lesson–I’m note sure how well I succeeded.

7th Sea Dice Roller + Combat Phase Manager


This is a dice roller and combat phase manager for 7th Sea, translated from the original Korean. To use, open an mIRC client and load the script file into the Remote Scripts window. (Alt+R) The free version of mIRC seems to lose features as its trial period passes, so you might want to try uninstalling and re-downloading the program if the script does not work properly. (If you use mIRC a lot I think paying for a license is a very sound investment, personally.)

Use this mIRC client, with the script loaded, as a dicebot only. Connect to a server and enter a channel with a nick like “Dice” or “Dicebot” or something, then leave it alone. You don’t need to type anything from this client, you don’t even need to return to the window unless you want to load and unload scripts.

Then connect with another client (either a new mIRC window or a different IRC-compatible client) with a different nickname and to the same channel. This way you will be recognized as a distinct entity from the dicebot and will be able to roll the dice yourself. If your “real” persona, the one that’s not a dicebot, is also an mIRC client, check to see if the script file isn’t loaded to this client as well. If it is, unload it. Otherwise anyone other than you who tries to roll the dice will get double results from both you and the dicebot.

It might not make sense right now, but you’ll see what I mean with some trial and error. 🙂

Here’s a rundown of the dice roller/phase manager’s capabilities. All commands are case insensitive.

1. Rolling the dice

From a non-dicebot client, type something like


to signal that you’d like to roll 4 d10’s and keep the 2 highest. The dicebot will give a result something like:

Loki’s roll is 4d10(10+5,4,10+8,5) , the highest 2 dice are 2d10(18+15) = 33.

It handles exploding dice automatically, including dice exploding many times in a row.

If you roll and keep the same number of dice, you can simply type something like


To handle non-exploding dice, put an exclamation point somewhere in the dice-rolling text. Something like:




and so on.

If you accidentally say that you’ll keep more dice than you roll, the roll will be modified so that you keep all the dice you roll. So a 2k4 is the same thing as 2k2, or 2k.

To add modifiers, just put a space between the roll and the modifier, like so:

4k3 + 5


2k! -5

2. PC Initiative rolls

Initiative rolls are handled in the following format:

Ini N


Initiative N

Where N equals your Panache. So if my swordsman has a Panache of 3, for my initiative I would type

Ini 3

The dicebot will tell me which phases I will act, and stores those values. This only becomes really useful in conjunction with the phase management features, which follow.

3. Phase management (GM only)

To manage combat phases you must be recognized as a GM by the script. Doing this is really simple. Just type:


(Yes, you have to trust your players not to be complete jerkoffs and keep taking your GM’s crown away. Tough, eh?)

If you want to know who the GM for this channel is, type:


To roll initiaves for NPCs, the following format is used.

Ini N NPC’s Name

Where N equals the NPC’s Panache and the NPC’s Name can be as many words as you like. Giovanni Villanova, Intelligence-Challenged Brutes, etc. You can also roll initiatives for as many NPCs as you like.

Once all the initiative rolls are in place, just type


and the dicebot will respond with something like

Phase 6, acting character(s): Brute Squad(15),Inigo_Montoya(6).

The numbers in parentheses are the sum of the characters’ remaining initiative dice, and so shows the order they act within the Phase. Each time the GM types “phase” the dicebot will automatically increment the phase number, telling you which characters act this phase. Once a Round is over the script will tell you so and all initiative rolls will be erased. (If you reroll initiative before a Round is over the previous initiative results will be overwritten, so be careful.)

To run to the end of the Round without seeing the rest of the phases in this Round (for instance, if everyone’s last acting phase was Phase 4), just type


And the current Round will be over immediately.

Once combat is done the dicebot needs some way to know it. Type

End Combat

And all Phases and Rounds will be initialized. Else the script has no way of knowing the combat is done with and both Phases and Rounds continue for your next fight, so don’t blame me. 😛

Enjoy, and please tell me if there are any bugs or problems.