Thursday, July 25, 2013

The SUE System: We're All Mad Here, Alice-chan

Right. Fantasy Japan time!
When last we’d left off, the party had played Hangman and gotten a wizard’s tower, along with heaping cartloads of loot.
They were, of course, prevented from enjoying it. They had to rush back to their current benevolent Marty Stu, Arns’gyr/Arn’gyr/Arun’ger “Depending on how Marty feels like spelling it today” Ravenscroft, who is also Acererak, the leader of several kingdoms in various guises, and secretly manipulating both players while also overtly manipulating them. He’s leading a k-tuple life where k is ludicrous, and he can do it because he’s “just that badass”. The whole thing kind of reminds me of the Wobblies from Paranoia (although he doesn’t like Paranoia much); if you actually trace all of his secret identities, he’s got secret identities as spies spying exclusively on his other secret identities for the benefit of still other secret identities. Everything is just as planned, and Marty thinks this is just so cool. He’s also explicitly described as being able to defeat the Dragons the party’s trying to kill, because what Elminster Problem? He’s even described as being able to defeat a clone of Marty in a “fair fight” – but, of course, Marty would always cheat better.
He is every bit the twit he sounds. Rick rightly doesn’t like such a needlessly manipulative bastard; he needs Lily to more or less drag him off to see the resident Xanatos Speed Chessmaster. In his pause-laden, sanctimonious way, he tells them to go get a magic sword from some kingdom with too many apostrophes in its name. Apparently he has/is all the spies needed to know where this sword is, what it does, and why they need it, but he can’t just pop down and get it for them. Instead, they need to ask the Emperor of Fantasy Japan for it.
Quick disclaimer: the player accounts I have are all spotty and indistinct, and my queries to Marty about it were months earlier, so much may have changed. I hope it did, anyway.
Marty, see, knows about as much about Japan as he does about middle school science, so this place has more in common with Wonderland than anyplace else. He knows everything he likes is Japanese, but has never actually researched the history of Japan; instead, he’s simply inserted all the elements he likes into a vaguely medieval generic fantasy world and stripped out everything else. Everyone chugs sake and eats rice balls, all day every day, except when they eat sushi (or, come to think of it, bread). A rabble of “shoguns and daimyos and prefects” (emphasis mine) rules a serf caste of “basically rice farmers”, and above them all is the Emperor, who sits all day composing haikus during endless tea ceremonies with a bazillion geishas and courtiers (when he’s not reading manga). Armies of samurai run around with katanas and only katanas, mounted archery be damned, except when they’re sneaking around in black bodysuits “as ninjas”. These are probably distinct from the ninja training schools on remote mountaintops that also teach mangled Buddhist philosophy. In similarly ludicrous fashion, we’ve got peasants committing seppuku and “samurai merchant lords”. The education system’s got sailor suit school uniforms (not gakuran, though), nationally standardized exams, and very important clubs, by the by; apparently samurai go through public school like anyone else, and that makes the system a meritocracy.
I feel like Milo from Atlantis; there’s bullshit here from every era.
I admit, I’m being a stickler for historical consistency here. It’s not like he ever explicitly said it’s Japan, but still, the skein of Japanese names and architecture over everything doesn’t sit well when there’s no rhyme or reason to the anachronism. I’ve done crazily jumbled-up settings before, but neither so disparate nor so unjustified. There just isn’t enough of any one element to explain its own existence, let alone the conflicting parts. There are no sword hunts, but peasants still exclusively use “peasant weapons” that double as farm implements; they have ample supplies of high-quality steel, but still make katanas via folding and armor via laminating. They don’t even have the rainfall for rice, let alone the coastline for fish. Welcome to Utah; try the sushi.
All of this pales, however, next to the Celestial bureaucracy that got jammed into the rest of it. Yes, apparently this pseudo-Japan uses a Chinese sort of pantheon…but without the Grand Tao. There’s a Jade Emperor sitting on top of a giant mountain of bureaucratic immortals, he makes the rules, and they trickle down. Apparently Marty has efficient bureaucrats hope to become celestial functionaries when they die, or something like that.
I should mention here that Marty is a perfect bureaucrat…in his own mind, anyway. He’s the sort of person who writes detailed, lengthy letters to the editor about the treatment of his past letters to the editor; you could set a trap for him with a box, a stick, and a complaints department. He honestly thinks he’s helping to “improve the system” by “giving feedback” to people who are patently not going to change a thing, because if they had the power to make the decisions he wants, they wouldn’t be handling consumer complaints. Complain about anything, and he’ll march you along to complain to the right people…who are clearly the people behind the complaints desk, otherwise why are they there? I kid you not, this is a man who said, earnestly and while sober, “they always pick me for early room selection because I give such good feedback”. Then, too, he’s a time-consumingly ingratiating little sucker; I’ve never known anyone to monopolize so much of the time of so many busy people for no good reason. He doesn’t actually remember anything about them, of course, but he’s convinced that “they save the best things for me at the dining hall because I’m on a first-name basis with them.” So is everyone else. Their first names are etched into their nametags. Besides, if there were ever any “best things” in the food vats, who could see through enough grease to tell?
That, at any rate, is why he constructs this silly toy-train bureaucracy inhabited by people with very neatly arranged pens, and shortly thereafter forces the players to read a bunch of paperwork in order to do anything.. It’s what he thinks is the perfect system because it lets him “make a difference” in his own self-serving, inept way.
For all that, the whole reason they’re here, the magical god-slaying ubersword, has a fairly recognizable backstory: forged by a god who then got killed with it. It’s so sharp it cuts the air, never chips or scratches, has been around since the dawn of time, etc. etc. etc. Very specially magical metal stick, style of thing. Naturally, no “inferior gaijin pigdog” (different countries, Marty…) could ever be trusted with the holy sword Amegiri/Anigiri/Onigiri. So either it’s cutting wind or it’s a rice ball, but either way it’s not leaving the Emperor’s side. And yes, he wears the atom-splitting uber-sword around every day, because he is always in full ceremonial dress.
Naturally, we need a Convenient Event to happen to allow them to prove themselves worthyish. Lo and behold, that day, the entire court takes a nap. Right in the middle of the afternoon bacchanal and poetry slam, they apparently have naptime.
Then mind flayers and psions attack, and the party makes a minimal contribution to their being turned into neat chunks by “a combined force of samurai and ninja monks”. Apparently the entire Forbidden City was napping, because someone parked an invading psychic monster army on the lawn, and they fight their way to the Emperor and defend him because he’s sitting on the only reasonable chokepoint. Construct siege engines are shredded, another few thousand bodies add to the kill count, and the Emperor favors them by making them “minor nobles”. They’re “shoguns” now, apparently; it still freaks me out to pluralize that.
Anyway, the Emperor offers them “any boon [he] can grant”, and apparently this came with raised eyebrows and pointing at Riceball the Wind-Cutting Sword, because that was the only boon it was “feasible” to grant. Pick a card, any card, no not that card, this card. They get to borrow it for a while, and they have to return it just as they received it. I kid you not; they signed a rental agreement for the god-slaying sword of ages.
In triplicate.
Next time, things get surreal.


  1. -Arnegir is his name, the only character I marginally liked for a while before it got too ridiculous and he tricked Lily.
    -He actually was friendly with the cooking staff, but he likes food and has a similar paranoid to mine that pissing off cooks gets your ass poisoned by ninjas/pissed off cooks.
    -I think the sword was stored in an underground vault, the emperor and his nobles were useless.
    -also we had to tell our entire history to basically convince them it was for a grand quest that would add to the legend.
    -on an unrelated note: the sword was so sharp that when it was drawn it glowed blue as it cut through air molecules causing cherenkov radiation apparently, and had a somewhat powerful scabbard to keep it contained (somehow it stopped the damn sword where gods couldn't despite being a non artifact)
    -Also really I didn't want anything else from them, I wanted to leave their crazy town of lazy nobles, they are clearly doing it wrong. Lead from the Middle of your armies and take the world by force. Mwhahahaha.

    1. Ah, okay. He said the Emperor never ever took it off, slept with it under his pillow, etc. Guess that got changed.

  2. I can understand why you were willing to play 'any' game and I 'do' respect your patience.

    I only had one similar experience. In the uni, after I got used to being homesick, I started searching RPG groups. There was one person folks spoke about. He was called 'the DM'. WOW! He had mastery in every system and people playing in his games were so, so lucky!

    I got invited to play with him because... actually I learned why he had so much of an interest in me about three years later. The girl he had a crush on was one of my best friends. I was excited. The system was one of the Vampire the ....... series. Forgive me for being so uninformed. I never played in any of White Wolf settings other than that incident.

    So we got explained the basics of the system. I made a Malkavian, who had a great obsession with his antique handgun. He was biomedicals expert who got sired by an eccentric woman in hopes of losing his virginity. Loss of his imagination with the vampirism was his heart break and he was trying to assemble a computer using real human brains to recreate a semblance of imagination. A toreador and a gangrel were other players. Being the newbie, I would be integrated into the game by them, being recruited.

    Then we started. They caught and subdued me. The Toreador got my handgun. After demanding whining to be given my gun back a few times, I attacked in rage. The gangrel punched me through the wall. End... We decided to rewind.

    This time the other players were less harsh in their recruitment and I accepted to aid them examining some kind of brain reading machine that they found. We started traveling when 'the DM' declared: "It's ten minutes to dawn. Better find somewhere..."

    I was annoyed. I repeatedly asked him why my character, who was a vampire for more than a couple years would try to travel just before dawn. I got ignored. "The DM" produced a stopwatch and started the countdown. Then there was chaos of everyone talking at the same time. The other players looked used to such eccentricities. "Where are we?" "In a forest." "I hide into the trunk." "It's an old cars. There are dents where light will seep in." "I dig a hole and bury myself."

    I felt my temples throbbing and an oncoming migraine attack. I was dragged to the other end of the city to his home for... this? "So, if we need to explicitly announce everything? My vampire would never travel so late!". "You didn't ask the time, you just told me you travel along." "Then I breathe."... "I breathe again." "I breathe." "What?" "I don't know if in this setting vampires need to breathe or not. Just in case, I'll tell you every time I breathe so my vampire doesn't suffocate." "...." "Anyway I got a headache. I'll go home. Tonight's enough for me. My vampire can't find somewhere to hide from sunlight and turns to ash."

    Later I heard such other gems from "the DM", like a soldier throwing a grenade just to be told "You didn't check if the window was open. It hits the glass and falls beside you."

    I played with him only once more, as a theoretical optimizer, or one that simply remembers what he learned from GitP forums. It was my last year in the uni. I was a member of the game club, like he was. He was tutoring a couple newbies, telling them how in 3.5 monk was so overpowered because he didn't need to pay for swords. I challenged him to make a monk, any monk, aimed to kill a druid and I'll beat him to the ground with a generic one. He accepted the challenge and I made a druid with a camel animal companion, just for kicks. "Summon Nature's Ally" spells were enough. The legend of "the DM" got broken before he could poison the newbies' minds.

    When I think of it now, he wasn't that much of a horrendeous DM or something. I was overreacting. I do respect your patience.

  3. Rick rightly doesn’t like such a needlessly manipulative bastard

    And also OBVIOUSLY MUTANT DAEMON MONSTROSITY. Y'know, for someone from 40k, he does seem rather cool about working with not-Imperium things.

    A rabble of “shoguns and daimyos and prefects” '
    I suppose 'shogun', translated literally, could allow for more than one? Especially if this pseudo-japan is big enough to need a duke-style title. But the plural would still just be 'Shogun', like every other Japanese word.

  4. I said it before and I'll say it again: every process inevitably churns out a few defective items. As a PC, you need something to be unique, this seemed as good as any other reason to play the campaign past the first self-condemning session. The hell with the Imperium :)