Monday, October 29, 2007

Patterns and Plans

I seem to post a lot on Mondays... and sporadically otherwise. I haven't gone back and reviewed my post history to see if this is true. I am merely asserting it. Therefore you must believe.

This is the Internet. That's the way we do things here.

Anyway, in my last post, I alluded to a cyberpunk-like project. I should, I feel, mention some details of it.

Some influences/origins:
  • An idea I had for a D&D world that was, essentially, one large city.
  • Shadowrun
  • Magi-punk stuffs, mostly that I have read on the Internets
  • The Technocracy from White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension.
  • Wonders of the Lost Age, the magitech book for Exalted (I like Exalted's setting. I like magitech. I'm not sure that the former, however, is a good place for a lot of the latter).
  • My inversion of a famous quote: "Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."
  • The Neitherworld cosmology that I've been playing with for a few years.
  • The entirety of the cyberpunk genre.
The idea?

Start with a fairly typical fantasy world.

Now imagine that magic becomes industrialized - magical devices become ultra-specialized, but usable by anyone. Magical processes become assembly-line affairs that involve the use of such specialized devices.

Large-scale magic becomes the product of factories. Individual magical theorists end up focusing upon extremely narrow subfields, like the scientists of today. The wizards of the past are all but forgotten.

After centuries pass, a society familiar to readers of cyberpunk emerges, but the world's technology is powered by magic instead of science.

Many cyberpunk tropes will be easily adapted. Some will port over cleanly. Some will require changes. Others won't work, but will be replaced by setting-specific weirdness.

The twist? Recently, wizardry has reappeared... but it has done so on the street. With some exceptions, corporations (guilds?) are slow to make use of the resources of the street mage... and there are some complications to them doing so.

There's more, but that should give you an idea of what I am talking about when I, you know, talk about it...

Busy

Work just entered high-gear. This will likely have an effect on my posting habits, but I have no idea if it means I will be posting less often or more often.

In other news, I went to a Halloween party this past weekend and had, probably, the best costume there. Pictures will appear soon.

Ummm... gaming. Yeah.

Last night was Mage. I came up with a stupid plan that involved impersonating a ridiculously powerful nephandus in order to trick a Black Spiral Dancer into saving an enemy from becoming... well... a worse enemy. It mostly worked, except for that whole contact-with-reality thing.

Contact with reality is sort of the bane of mages, anyway.

Also this weekend, I began a survey of cyberpunk character types in thought-preparation from my not-precisely-cyberpunk project... that will be posted soon as well...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Losing the digital initiative...

Gleemax Alpha? Very clearly an Alpha version. Try to find/navigate a single WotC staff blog. I haven't been able to figure it out yet.

Dungeon and Dragon? Not horrible, but so far mostly articles that are either columns that Wizards has been giving away for free for awhile now (Save My Game, Design and Development, Steal this Hook, etc.) or previews of/advertisements for 4e.

So far, I am less than impressed, and I'm somewhat disappointed that they're rushing these things out the door before they are anywhere near done.

Rules Compendium

Yesterday I bought a present for Angela and I: a copy of the Rules Compendium. The book compiles rules from various sources into an easy to read format that is alphabetized by topic. Intermixed are essays on rules-design and anecdotes about how rules resolved into their current form. I think it will be good for both of us, but in wholly different ways.

For Angela, it will primarily be useful as a reference in her D&D game. She's not a rules expert. It is often easier for her to wing it than to look up how an obscure rule works. Having all the rules for a topic on an easy-to-find page will make her life easier. (Honestly, she was happy that she could just turn to "S" and find all the Size rules... as she can never find them when she's looking for them.)

For me, I think the essays will be the best part. The few I've read are pretty neat. Also, I think the book as a whole is worthwhile to look at in terms of a method of presenting rules.

As far as content goes, I have mixed reviews so far. The breadth of topics covered is pretty good. The depth, however, is inconsistent. Some areas are fairly deep. Others really just scratch the surface. Take the Mounted Combat section for example: there is no discussion of how Attacks of Opportunity work while mounted and there is no summary of the Mounted Combat Feat (despite the fact that most mounted NPCs are likely to have it). On the other hand, there is a very extensive table, broken up by action type, of actions you can take in combat. The table lists whether or not the action provokes an AoO and what page in the book includes more detail about that action. The table is also extensively footnoted.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is character advancement a sacred cow?

A lot of the discussion about 4e has been about questioning (and euthanizing, where appropriate) sacred cows - leftover rules and assumptions that are there because they've always been there and have been considered to be necessary parts of the game.

As I was driving Pat home from the last Rebel Scum session, I observed that my PC (Kip Fendo, Jedi Scum) was now, at 3rd level, finally reflective of how I'd conceived of him.

I remember back in the day that I used to run an ongoing Vampire LARP, that most of the problems in the game stemmed from the imbalance between PCs who had been around for awhile (and were, thus, powerful) and those who were starting characters (or close to it). We'd have new PCs coming in who were supposed to be 'Elders' - but lacked the power to back up their claims. Conversely, we'd have PCs who were only vampires for two or three years - but had been playing for all of that time, so they were ridiculously powerful.

Angela recently ran into a problem in her D&D game. It looked like one of the players was only going to make it sporadically... and the PC would fall far behind the others. She wasn't sure how to handle it.

GMing can be exhausting - once you hit your comfort zone and can peg your opposition so that they are an adequate, but not overpowering, match for the PCs... the PCs go and gain experience, and you need to learn how to find that sweet spot again.

A number of genres of fiction feature advancement at differing rates. Yes, some become steadily more competent, but:
  • some change dramatically (for better or for worse) at a specific point in time;
  • some remain at a fairly constant level of competence;
  • some advance in fits and starts; and
  • some characters even become steadily less competent as time goes on.
D&D - and most rpgs - really only handle steady increases in competence as a default. Should they?

Honestly, I don't know.

Maybe it is a good default... but maybe a better default would be to pick a character level/amount of xp and stay there for most, if not all, of a campaign... with steady advancement as one option among a few.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This one's for Jeff...

I was going through some of my old AD&D stuff and I came across an old map that I must have drawn sometime in the 1980s. I figured I'd post it.

I'm particularly amused by The Waterbreach, which is clearly artificial.
.. and by the fact that this was drawn on continuous-feed paper.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lessons from history

My last post got me thinking about using sites of real-life coolness as gaming inspiration.

I've done this in the past (a few times, but I am just going to write about one today).

Once upon a time, I lived in Washington, D.C. (in the Dupont Circle area, for those of you who know D.C.). I ran a large and fairly successful Vampire LARP for a bit (apparently, it is still around...).

While I was running that game, the players of the Nosferatu clan came to me and told me that they wanted to explore Glen Echo, the site of an abandoned amusement park where they'd heard there was some underground coolness.

So I did my homework. It turns out that Glen Echo had been founded by a couple of brothers who had made their fortune by inventing a type of mechanical eggbeater. They began by building castles there as a fancy development. The site was plagued by fire and malaria. The Baltzley brothers then set up Glen Echo as a Chautauqua Institute. There was again sickness that was, maybe, malaria.

So. I had a couple of crazy inventors who wanted to develop a site near D.C. I had disease-related problems that plagued them over a number of years in that site, forcing them to repeatedly abandon their plans.

Translating this into the World of Darkness was easy. The Baltzley's were Sons of Ether - mad-scientist-mages who were (at that point in history) loosely tied to the Technocracy. This explained their interest in Chautauqua. They wanted to build outside of D.C. - probably taking advantage of a natural node. The Ratkin (wererats) of the area (D.C.=city+swamp=ratkin territory) were that node's defenders and engaged in bio-warfare (as is their wont).

So, I filled the underground area of Glen Echo up with proto-art deco architecture, mostly-broken automata, pneumatic tubes, humanoid-rat-skeletons, and workshops. The players ate it up.

Weekend coolness

This weekend, I headed up to Wisconsin with Angela. I'd never been to the land of cheese and random weirdness before.

I like cheese.

While there, we visited several things that could serve as gaming-inspiration:

Dr. Evermor's Art Park

Home of the Forevertron. This place is a steampunk dreamland:

(that stuff is about 50' tall)

Also, there are bird-things:

...and small-creapy-cool-things:
...and all kinds of other things.

Devil's Lake

This place is gorgeous. The sides of the valley/depression that the lake is in are largely covered in tumbled boulders. The boulders are mostly purple quartzite so (1) they are purple and (2) they tend to be squarish. The effect is pretty darn cool. I was climbing rocks, so I didn't take my camera with me.

The House on the Rock

Alex Jordan must have been totally batshit insane.

You've probably read American Gods (and if you haven't, you should), so you've probably heard of the House on the Rock. I can't express how crazy this place is. It totally needs to be the centerpiece of an Unknown Armies game.

The house itself is amazingly cool: a rambling 13-room house built on top of/into a tall chimney of stone.

Then the addons begin. There are a series of warehouses, decorated and totally filled with... stuff. By stuff I mean:
  • A full scale replica of a small town circa 1900.
  • The world's largest carousel - that doesn't have a single regular horse on it
  • Hundreds (Thousands?) of carousel horses (and other creatures) hanging from walls/ceilings/etc.
  • The organ room: a warehouse full of organs, giant gearworks, and brass boiler-things
  • Dozens of automated displays of self-playing instruments/orchestras/bands/etc.
  • Massive collections of things like toy elephants, doll houses, model airplanes, carved ivory, Burma-Shave ads, automatons of various sorts, etc.
  • A full-sized (200' or so) sculpture of a toothed whale fighting a giant octopus
Everything was finely detailed and the space was crammed with stuff. It wasn't long before I was totally in sensory-overload mode.


A bunch of the Dr. Evermor stuff and the organ room at the House on the Rock can work as visual inspiration for the City of Gourm. I will eventually post some organ room pictures. I took a bunch, but I need to tweak them.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A new low?

I never expected to link to Something Awful... but today's Photoshop Phriday is all D&D monsters... starting off with an owlbear.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Owlbear, Revisited

The Owlbear is a classic D&D monster: a goofy hybrid of owl and bear. Its origin is similarly goofy; along with the bullette and rust monster, it was one of the creatures that was based on some plastic toys that Gygax and friends used as miniatures.

Growing up, I had a plastic rust monster and bullette, but I don't remember having an owlbear. I might have.

I haven't looked back at old versions of the owlbear's stats. I remember them as fairly fearsome creatures. However, Jeff's recent research shows that in Basic D&D they were on par with normal bears - nothing to sneeze at, true, but not really an improvement on the original bear either. In 3e, the owlbear is statistically very close to a brown bear.

I just don't see the point.

So... I asked myself, "Self, imagine you were a crazy wizard (most of my conversations with myself start off similarly) who created a monstrous hybrid of owl and bear. Why did you do it?"

Well, I thought, surely an owl has some properties that a bear desperately needs. Raptors have more efficient musculature than mammals... and they are less massive by volume (hollow bones and all). Owls have good night vision. I could see a bear becoming more streamlined by the addition of owl-bits. Owlbears don't really have wings, so they can't fly, but maybe they could jump well and pounce upon their prey like an owl swooping down for a kill. If their victim lives after the initial assault, they can then grab it like a bear would.

I could see owlbears as sudden strikers who hunt in the night. That adds some needed flavor.

OK, then.

Now... we run into the power level issue. My solution to that? Make owlbears out of different sorts of bears.




The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.





Owlbear

Black Owlbear
Size/Type: Medium Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 3d10+9 (25 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 14 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +3 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 12
Base Attack/Grapple: +3/+12
Attack: Claw +7 melee (1d6+5)
Full Attack: 2 claws +7 melee (1d6+5) and bite +2 melee (1d8+2)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Scent, superior low-light vision
Saves: Fort +6, Ref +5, Will +2
Abilities: Str 21, Dex 15, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +5, Jump +11, Listen +6, Move Silently +4, Spot +6
Feats: Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Temperate forests or hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 3
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 4-7 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —



Brown Owlbear
Size/Type: Large Animal
Hit Dice: 6d10+30 (63 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +6 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+19
Attack: Claw +14 melee (1d8+9)
Full Attack: 2 claws +14 melee (1d8+9) and bite +9 melee (2d6+4)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Scent, superior low-light vision
Saves: Fort +10, Ref +7, Will +3
Abilities: Str 29, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +9, Jump +15, Listen +9, Move Silently +5, Spot +9
Feats: Alertness, Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Cold forests or hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 6
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 7-10 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —

Polar Owlbear
Size/Type: Large Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 8d10+40 (95 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +6 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +8/+21
Attack: Claw +16 melee (1d8+9)
Full Attack: 2 claws +16 melee (1d8+9) and bite +11 melee (2d6+4)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +11, Ref +8, Will +3
Abilities: Str 29, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +9, Hide -1*, Jump +15, Listen +9, Move Silently +5, Spot +9
Feats: Alertness, Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Cold plains
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 6
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 9-12 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —

Dire Owlbear
Size/Type: Huge Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 12d10+60 (126 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 18 (-2 size, +2 Dex, +8 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 16
Base Attack/Grapple: +12/+31
Attack: Claw +21 melee (1d8+11)
Full Attack: 2 claws +21 melee (1d8+11) and bite +16 melee (2d6+5)
Space/Reach: 15 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +13, Ref +10, Will +5
Abilities: Str 33, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +11, Jump +17, Listen +11, Move Silently +5, Spot +11
Feats: Alertness, Cleave, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Track
Environment: Cold Forests or Hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 8
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 13-36 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: —


An owlbear’s coat ranges in color from brown-black to yellowish white; its beak is a dull ivory color. Owlbears tend to be larger and lankier than normal bears. Adventurers who have survived encounters with the creature often speak of the bestial madness they glimpsed in its red-rimmed eyes.

Combat

Owlbears are stealthy and vicious hunters. If they spot prey, they will often wait until nightfall to track it in the hopes of coming upon it unawares. They will launch themselves at their prey in a leaping pounce attack, grabbing their victims in their rear talons while tearing at them with their beaks.

Improved Grab (Ex)

To use this ability, an owlbear must hit with a claw attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity.

Leaping Pounce (Ex)

As a full-round action, an owlbear can make a standing jump. If it threatens an opponent at the end of its jump, it can make a full attack.

Superior Low-Light Vision (Ex)

An owlbear can see five times as far as a human can in dim light.

Skills
Owlbears have a +4 racial bonus on Jump, Listen, and Spot checks.
*A polar owlbear’s white coat bestows a +12 racial bonus on Hide checks in snowy areas.

Quick Update

More food-related posts will be coming later this week. My next planned post, however, will include a new look at the Owlbear.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Food in RPGs, Part II

Food can help define cultures, continued....

Once you associate different foods with specific cultures, you have another tool in your GMing palette. If your PCs walk into an area, they can be assaulted by familiar smells that might give them a clue about what they are dealing with. Once you establish, for instance, that kobolds like to soak their meat in a bitter, horseradish-based solution the party that enters the cave system and begins to feel their eyes watering may pick up the hint that there are kobolds about. Similarly, walking into a tavern and smelling a strong mix of mint and rosemary might indicate that the innkeep is, say, an elf.

The way food is prepared and served can also say a lot about a culture. Does everything get slapped together into some sort of mush or is it prepared artistically? It is easy to associate the former with primitive cultures and the latter with civilization, but breaking expectations can sometimes lead to interesting results. Perhaps a warrior-culture makes elaborate displays of their enemies corpses - they might emphasize artistry in food preparation as a reflection of that (or, if they eat their enemies, they might be the same thing). Food can be intricately tied into religion, such that the act of sitting down and eating a meal is in itself a religious ritual.

Also consider eating utensils. An organized, warlike culture (say, hobgoblins) might eat with a single dagger - and perhaps it is one that they carry with them at all times and use in battle. A more bestial culture (orcs?) might use false talons that fit over their fingers to represent some sort of a connection to a totem creature. Others might use their hands. A more refined culture might use an elaborate set of utensils - or a single, elegant one.

Preparation methods can also say quite a bit. Stews and soups are generally considered simple, hearty fare. Elaborate preparation methods (consider the turducken) can imply wealth and decadence.

If you are dealing with non-human cultures, you may wish to consider using ingredients that are not, strictly speaking, food. Dwarves might add clay to many of their foods. Elves may be able to digest some plants that humans cannot. Goblins might grind up bones and add the resulting powder to breads.

Next: using food as a motivator.

Food in RPGs, Part I

I like food. I enjoy cooking, and I am not too shabby at it, either. Last weekend I made borscht. I also broke out the ice cream maker for the first time and made some donut-flavored ice cream. (My housemate had been craving donuts, and it was her birthday on Monday.) I belong to a CSA. I read some food blogs. I sometimes write about wizards obsessed with meat. I play a dwarven chef in a D&D game.

All that is just to say that I think about food a bit more than is healthy for someone who could stand to lose about 30 pounds.

I think that food can add a lot to gaming. Here are some ways that you can use details about food to improve your game:

1. Food can help define cultures.
One thing that has struck me is how much you can say about a culture based upon what they eat. If I tell you that the Romans considered peacock brains and flamingo tongues to be delicacies, that probably conjures up some images of exotic decadence and conspicuous consumption. On the other hand, if I tell you that all you see are fields, and fields of cabbages, you probably assume that the people who eat those cabbages are rather bucolic... and maybe somewhat boring.

Food taboos (or their absence) can also tell you a great deal. You meet up with some nomads and they offer to share a meal with you. You'd probably think very different things of them if they served you something that was vaguely sentient (say, kobold eggs) than if they were strict vegetarians.

Different spices can also convey different things about cultures - or encounters. Often, the use of things like cilantro, cumin, star anise, chile, cardamom, tamarind, ginger, saffron, and lemon grass can impart a sense of the exotic. Other spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and sage, are more familiar and homey. The use of a familiar spice or two in an unusual context/combination could easily create a feel of an alien palate. Imagine, say, elves who eat a savory blackberry paste flavored with basil and nutmeg and wrapped in mustard leaves.

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Recipe Book: Spider Legs with Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

4 pounds spider legs, about 1-2 feet long each
1 mug light ale
1 orange
1 small onion
1/3 pound butter
1 handful flour

  1. make sure your spider legs are thoroughly washed
  2. soak the legs in one half the ale, mixing them around occasionally
  3. grate 1/3 of orange peel
  4. juice the orange
  5. mince the onion
  6. melt a small amount of butter in a pan
  7. set the rest of the butter in a bowl near the fire.
  8. mix the flour into the melted butter to form a paste. add more butter if needed
  9. add the minced onion
  10. slowly add about half the grated orange peel
  11. follow this by mixing in one-half of the ale and the orange juice a bit at a time
  12. cook this until it boils. mix constantly.
  13. take off the fire and set it nearby so that it is warm
  14. mix rest of orange peel in with now-melted butter
  15. remove spider legs from ale. pat dry
  16. coat spider legs in orange-butter
  17. grill spider legs for about 3 minutes. flip and grill them for about two more minutes.
  18. serve with orange sauce for dipping

Notes:
  • Unless you live in southern lands were oranges are plentiful, be sure to either use the rest of the orange soon or dry it out for later use.
  • If you cannot find spider legs of the appropriate size, use larger legs. Larger legs are tougher, so be sure to marinate them longer and add some vinegar and molasses (or honey!) to the marinade. Do not use smaller legs, as they tend to be sour.
  • If you have access to spices, you can add some to the pan when you make the sauce. Add them a bit before you add the butter.
  • If you buy a whole spider (which I recommend), be sure to remove the poison sacs before removing the legs. It is easy to accidentally rupture a poison sac when dismembering a spider. If the spider's body isn't big enough for steaks, save it for soup!

-Bart Fliegenbart

Something to keep an eye on...

The Writer's Symposium is a group of 20 science fiction/fantasy-type writers who hold seminars and such at Gen Con designed to help writers write. I attended one of these... and, to be honest, I wasn't terribly impressed. It quickly devolved into "why I like to write sex scenes." On the other hand, these are writers - not professional public speakers - and even if I didn't get a lot out of their seminar, I might get something out of things they write that are designed to help other writers (with an acknowledgment that some of their tips and such are also useful to GMs... since they are somewhat rpg-focused, they seem to keep this in mind).

Enter their blog.
It started off last week, and it only has a single entry with actual content so far. I hope that they will keep it up and that it will be useful.

The bang

Last night was Exalted. We ended last session facing down a volcano.

We began this session by fighting it.

We beat on each other a bit until the Lunar in our group (who had grown up in the area and respected the volcano) managed to talk us down by pointing out that (1) The volcano ruled here and received its sacrifices according to laws passed down by Solar exalted (like us) and (2) If we continued the fight we'd probably destroy the whole island. Talking down the volcano was a bit trickier. We gave the social combat rules a whirl - I managed to finally get it to back off by channeling my Valor and intimidating it.

Yes. I intimidated a volcano.

...and it backed off.

That is what Exalted should be about.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

XO Giving

I've been looking at the XO Giving program of the One Laptop Per Child Project. For $400, you buy two of these fascinating little green laptops. One of them goes to a child in a developing country. The other one you keep.

There's some controversy about the laptop and the program, but I think that it is a fascinating experiment that could have some far-reaching benefits, and I would like to support it.

The machine itself is neat: it is designed with a minimal number of moving parts (it uses flash memory instead of a hard drive, for example), the screen contorts for comfortable e-book viewing, it consumes very little power and can be recharged by a hand crank, it is durable - designed for use by children is suboptimal weather conditions. Specs are here.

If I got it, I'd probably use it as a word processor, web browser, e-book reader, a travel machine, and a tabletop rpg accessory.

The two drawbacks:

1. This thing is small. Is it too small for comfortable use? I don't know... the keyboard would certainly be a step up from my cellphone, but a step down from my work laptop. The screen is only 7.5" viewable (about 6" on the horizontal).

2. It runs Linux. This is normally-speaking an advantage. I'd like to play with Linux on a machine... unfortunately, this might cut into its usefulness at the gaming table, as I wouldn't be able to use it with the whole Wizard's Digital Initiative thingamabob.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rites of Passage

So, last week I was at a conference that focused upon cultural competency with respect to social services.

Yeah, it was as exciting as it sounds.

The conference was in a hotel (right near O'Hare) that I knew I'd been in before. It took me a little while to realize that it was the home of WindyCon.

Anyway, one of the speakers at the conference was quite good. He was talking about the need for spirituality (not necessarily religion) in one's life and how it would be sought out by people who weren't getting what they needed spiritually. Part of the upshot was that gangs often provide youth with a sense of spiritual belonging - through initiations/rites of passage, a commitment to mutual support/defense, a shared identity that emphasizes respect and honor, and heavy use of symbolism.

My thoughts, of course, turned to gaming.

A number of games loosely base themselves on coming of age stories... even if it is the conceit of the peasant youth who takes up a sword to defend his village. Few of them have formal rites of passage. The only one that I can think of off the top of my head is Werewolf... and that was designed as an explicitly spiritual game (whether or not they pulled off that design goal or whether it was typically played in that mode is another story).

I know that I've created characters who have gone through rites of passage in their backgrounds, but it seems like something that could be a powerful tool for shaping your character's development in play.

I'll think more on this.