Philosophy Tuesday

“You either walk into your story

and own your truth,

or you live outside of your story,

hustling for your worthiness.”

Brené Brown


(This greatly dovetails into the notions of shame, for who has to hustle for their worthiness than someone who feels unworthy?  Which, by extension, is part and parcel of feeling shame.  And so when we take ownership of our actions, of our behaviour, of our story/stories (again, ownership, not blame, which would be part of invoking shame again) we gain power.  The power to be, the power to choose, the power to create.  And from that comes freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind.)

Architecture Monday

“Business park.”  Chances are (especially if you are from North America) this immediately conjures up an image for you:  low slung concrete slabs of the most unimaginative type* in a sea of pavement with, if lucky, a modicum of dying grass (about as far from a park as possible).  Most towns and cities have them, tucked away here and there and not a place you’d want to be in, even if you have to be there.

The video below is not really about architecture; it’s main focus is on transportation.  But I couldn’t stop from ogling the buildings in this business park.  Because they are actually designed and intended as architecture rather than just the cheapest container for collecting rent money (and if it keeps the rain off then that’s a bonus).   Rather than being soul crushing this area is pleasant and even delightful to be in.  And walkable to boot!

To be fair, this might be considered more of a commercial district than a business park, as it seems to be filled with larger companies than the tiny affairs that usually occupy the North American business park.  But there’s a similar district of that sort to where I live, with some very large companies indeed, filled with 4-6 story buildings, and even those are not as engaging** as the ones there in Amsterdam.  Not to mention the interstitial “landscape” is nothing short of a scorched earth no man’s land that very clearly says that you do not matter.

Great video by Not Just Bikes, and a great example that architecture and design is possible and preferable everywhere, making for spaces that enliven us rather than be something we need to overcome.  Just to do business.


* It’s such a cliché that a raze-and-rebuild development here braded themselves as as part of their advertising strategy.  The resulting building is quite certainly not a box, and is almost as nice as some of the ones in the video.

** This is one thing I’ve been excited to see travelling abroad:  a higher “baseline design quality” when compared to North America.  One, agan, that says “life is important, we should make it great for us!” rather than, again again, “sorry, you do not matter.”

*** I heartily recommend all of Not Just Bikes’ videos.  They’re fun and well put together and really do a great job to show what’s possible when we remember us humans in our urban design, and how much life is better when we do.

Gaming Thursday – Cortex of FATE

As mentioned last week, I’ve been digging through the Cortex Prime ruleset.  We’ve been using it in a narrative-forward campaign that was originally conceived and played in the FATE ruleset.  So far it’s been going well, and I’ve discovered a few things that I prefer within Cortex.  For starters, nearly every test in Cortex involves/includes one of the character’s Distinction in the pool, whereas in FATE a character’s Aspects (essentially the same as a Distinction) only come into play if you spend a Fate Point.  While the latter might be more dramatically highlighting, outside of those Point spends there’s less to distinguish one character’s skill or approach or flavour from another.  By including a Distinction with every test, however, a character’s flair and flavour is likewise included and reinforced.  Another neat bit is how, by leveraging Cortex’s unusual die mechanics, there are several slick ways that can be used to resolve different kinds challenges or encounters or situations.  There’s a streamlined way to run obstacles or swarms or large-scale events, a way to craft interesting one-on-one contests, and another that allows for tracked action/reaction encounters.  Each unique yet still tied to the same mechanics, and each of them are evocative and allow for plenty of player creativity that highlights a character’s schtick and personality.  Lastly (for this post), there are slightly more reminders and perhaps incentive to invoke against yourself and therefore keep the meta currency economy flowing.*

Even with all the neat stuff in Cortex, however, there are some features of FATE that I do find missing within the base Cortex Prime ruleset, especially around the larger and more impactful narrative-altering use of Aspects and Fate Point spends.  Hmmm… why not take those ideas/concepts and incorporate them into the Cortex experience?

And lo, the Cortex of FATE mod was born!

To be clear, this is not an attempt to model or reproduce FATE within Cortex Prime – even using this mod the game still plays and feels like Cortex.  Instead, the additions are intended to enhance the narrative oomph of a campaign, primarily by adding additional uses for Distinctions and Plot Points and by porting over Approaches as a new Prime Set.  All in all, the goal is to entice greater storytelling opportunities.

We’ve been playtesting these mods in our Broken Lands campaign and thus far they’ve been working great.  If this piques your interest check it out, and I hope they help fuel wondrous and engaging stories for all those around your table.

* To be complete here, let me mention that I find there are also some downsides with the interesting dice mechanics.  Beyond the one I already spoke of last week, the principal issue is that in building a pool mechanic that both a) uses so many different die types as well as b) adding only two of them together to determine the result, it becomes quite difficult to get a grasp of the probabilities and outcomes.  This can be especially acute for the GM to set difficulties; if the base is 2d8 difficulty, how much harder does it make it if you add a d6 to the mix?  Or for players, is it better to go with a pool of 1d6|2d8|1d10, or a pool of 1d6|4d8?  With the d10, the former certainly allows for potentially greater success, both in a higher total as well as in choice of effect die, but will the latter, with its higher number of dice, equate to a higher average roll and thus higher chance of at least marginal success?  It gets worse when you realize that both the GM and the Player is rolling each time, with no static target numbers, and each with pools of dice that might be different each time… it will take a while to get a feel for “power levels”.

Wonder Wednesday

And oldie but a goodie, some amazing first-person view long-distance remote control plane flying!  From snow-tipped mountain ridges to amazing cliffs to so much skimming down ravines and trees and hillsides and so much more, it’s one exhilarating ride.

(It’s also reminiscent of the silly things I’d try to do in flight sims all the time… )

Philosophy Tuesday

Continuing our delve into Turning Red…

The second shows up full force in one of the quietest yet most pivotal scenes in the movie, when Jin speaks to Mei in her room, just before the ritual:

“People have all kinds of sides to them.  And some sides are messy.  The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away.  It’s to make room for it, live with it.”

The scene’s very understatedness highlights the profound peacefulness in what Jin is creating about recognizing, and for sure, integrating ourselves.  Our whole selves.  It isn’t about resisting our messy bits, nor, crucially, is it about yielding to them either.  It isn’t about good/bad, right/wrong, being broken, or whatever – remember that resistance equals persistence.  Instead, it is about acknowledging, being present to, and simply being with them all.

When we recognize that we all have many aspects to ourselves we gain both peace of mind and power.  This is reflected in Mei’s own quote from the start of the movie: ”If you take it too far, well, you might forget to honour yourself.”  Indeed… if we yield to the messy self then we are not honouring ourselves.  If we instead resist it and push it away and fight it and make it wrong, we still are not honouring ourselves.  Integration, and being whole, is about recognizing all our bits, engaging with them, and doing the work needed to make them part of us such that we harness them towards productive ends.  By recognizing all our sides we remove the hooks that hijack our expression.  We gain freedom to be, freedom to choose, and it allows our authentic self to shine through.

The moment in the astral realm with the mirror, Mei remembers her time with the panda.  Crucially, she does not only remember the good times but also the not so good.  And she realizes, hey, welcome to being human.  That is when Mei chooses to cease to resist it, and why Mei also doesn’t just give into it.  She embraces it (and her fluffy tail when she returns to the ritual circle) and thus learns how to control it… well enough to even enable amazing double-jump capabilities.

As Mei invites us at the end of the movie, integration has a wonderous power.  We can blend and create ourselves and grow.  We can let go of controlling others.  And we can embrace our pandas (our wonderful, fluffy, bouncy panda!) while allowing for the pandas of those around us, allowing for glorious and authentic self-expression.


* Just a quick note that I added another end note to last week’s post, which I’ll also repost here:  This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…

Architecture Monday

When the architect’s story for this cottage starts with, “I built a five-metre-long steel spoon and traveled the length of the country with it…” you know something interesting is up.  There’s no spoon involved in this project, but the cabin is likewise interesting designed as it is with a pair of originating concepts:  frame two views with a sweep between them and build out of found and repurposed materials.

The two views are from the bed, looking straight up, and from the working desk, which requires the floor to be opened to create a seat.  The materials came from all over, giving this otherwise “new” building a patina of rugged history.  It’s not the grand luxe, but then it isn’t meant to be.  It’s an artist/writer cabin in the woods, a place to retreat and be and work.

A cool little thing, showing what can be wrought with playfulness and thought and ingenuity, and without the need for a big budget.

Picalo Cabin by Gerard Dombroski Workshop

Gaming Thrusday: Cortex Complications

As I noted a little while back, our group has delved into the Cortex Prime ruleset for our current campaign.  I’d tried out Cortex a bit in Firefly, but this is my first deep foray into the system and thus far I’m really liking it.  There’s a lot to it that does a good job of facilitating a narrative-heavy style of play, with each character having plenty of latitude to accomplish things in their own way which helps make them feel distinct, interesting, and open for lots of RP.  Good stuff!  And that the first “complete” Cortex Prime RPG has just been released (as opposed to the Cortex Prime rulebook which is a giant toolbox) in the form of Tales of Xadia there’s plenty more chances for people to try out the system, and I’m excited for its spread.

However, there is one aspect of the system that threw us a bit for a loop:  Generally, building a larger pool* is desirable as, obviously, makes it more likely to get a high result and thus achieve success.  Perhaps counterintuitively though, that same larger pool also means more chances to roll a hitch and therefore more chances for a complication.  Thus, the better your chances equally better is your chance to have something detrimental come out of it.  This seemed both weird (in that counterintuitive sense) as well as punishing, and we bumped on it for a while.  However!  In yet another one of those “walking through the house” epiphanies, I got what I was missing to see it in a much more useful light:

  1. Rolling a hitch always removes the die from your pool. However, AND THIS IS THE BIG THING, it is up to the GM whether to ‘activate’ it as a complication, or not.  Not every hitch HAS to be activated into a complication.
  2. IF the GM activates, you get a PP. This is important as it is one of the primary ways to enable and ensure the meta-currency economy.
  3. So if you do get the complication you also get something to help you get out of it if you need to… and if you don’t, excellent! You get to save that meta currency for extra awesomeness later.
  4. In addition, if the GM creates a complication based on the hitch, then, in general, that complication should LAST NO MORE THAN THE SCENE. It mucks things up in the moment, but it isn’t “sticky.” They are a narrative setback that are a niggle only for the moment.  (Lingering and sticky effects should mostly be the result of a failed test or contest or go to the stress track if using that mod.)
  5. (As an aside, if there is a case where it might be good to include a complication as something that lingers, then it can act like a clock, filling up until it triggers something. For example, a hitch on a test to infiltrate a facility could begin a complication called “Compound Alerted”, which might increase the base difficulty of future tests, and if the complication is stepped up above a d12 then compound goes onto lockdown.)
  6. It is also good to remember that complications don’t necessarily apply on every test going forward, only on tests where the complication would apply or have an impact. This can entice players to find alternate and creative ways to work around the complication, leading to more drama and dramatic action.
  7. Overall, the intention behind this mechanic might be to “balance” large pools somewhat. In other words, if you can build up a big pool the increased chance of hitches helps keep it in check and keeps things narratively interesting.
  8. I think a good hitch activation rate might be between 1/3 to 1/2 of the time. This allows for the narrative drama without it becoming a frustration for the player or, worse, feeling feel like punishment for when your character is really good at something (ie, when you have a tonne of dice in your pool).  It also alleviates the GM from having to continually come up with interesting complications.
  9. (For clock-like hitches it might be OK to activate them more often…)
  10. It’s also worth thinking about when to step up an existing complication, and when to create a new one. Roughly, I think stepping up only once per scene (which keeps it from potentially becoming overwhelming) is a good baseline before activating a new complication.

As an additional bit, and I don’t know if it’s explicit in the Cortex Prime rules or not, but I would allow the players the choice of whether to include an opponent’s complications or stress dice in their pool or not.  If they are forced to, and they hitch on that die, then once again it can elicit frustration and annoyance.  Alternately, or in conjunction, as a GM I’d have a light touch on activating complications that arise from including an opponent’s complication or stress dice in the player pool.

With all of the above in mind now this quirk of the system sticks less in my craw.  It becomes an opportunity for something, and like so much else at the table it is an opening for conversation.  What would be cool here?   What would make for the “best” story?  What’s dramatically appropriate?  Out of that will come whether or not to create a complication and, if so, what complication to create, all in service of the action and drama and story.


* Briefly, if you’re not familiar with the system, the base mechanic is to build a pool of dice (of differing sizes depending on what’s going into the pool), roll, and keep two to determine your total.  Any die that rolls a 1 is not only removed from the pool but, crucially, allows the GM to create a complication for the character.  These complications come with their own die rating and actively hinder the character.

Philosophy Tuesday

I noted Turning Red has some good stuff going on beneath the surface.  There’s plenty of it!  And one of the biggest that underpins the story is about integration.  It’s about yin and yang.  And it shows up most prominently in the film in two ways.

The first deals with synthesis and about how we can blend.  Mei doesn’t have to follow her mother or become her mother… or follow tradition or become tradition… but she doesn’t need to entirely abandon them either.  She can engage with both and, above all, make it her own.

Life and all of us within it are not trapped within a series of binary opposites.  The idea of “You are either this, or this” is not accurate.  Nor is the idea that our tastes, interests, attentions, fandoms, and more must be in opposition to others.  We don’t need to hate something else in order to like something.*  Instead, we can embrace broadly.

Mei’s admission of “But I’m scared, it will take me away from you,” is the crux moment for this thread.  Both she and her mother realize in that moment that it needn’t take either away.  We can all explore and grow and create ourselves (whether we’re 13 or older!) not in opposition to tradition but growing from it and even remaining in dialogue with it.  And we can pour in all else we love, mixing and synthesizing and dancing with it all as it becomes our own personal, glorious, and authentic self-expression.

* Quite the contrary, and I enthusiastically invite everyone to enjoy what they enjoy without engaging in denigrating that which you don’t enjoy.

** This idea and theme of synthesis also plays out beautifully in the movie when the old school chanting is joined by, and musically merges perfectly with, 4*Town’s Nobody Like U…