Archive | Games RSS feed for this section

Gender values in Manqala

10 Jun

(in which Sheikh Jahbooty shows his feminine side)

So I made these Chess wedges, the kind you might use to play Martian Chess


or BT&T (Barsoomite Go)


And I wondered if it was worth it. I mean those games are beautiful on the wooden chess wedges, and the wedges look like some sort of wide Martian crystal dagger or something, so they are aesthetically pleasing all by themselves.


But I guess I was having a sort of crafter’s remorse, like “Was it worth the time and effort I put into making these things?” Eventually I took two of them and put them together and they make a really cool looking half of a Chess board. So I thought, “If I knew a bunch of games to play on half of a chessboard I would completely feel like it was certainly worth the work I put into them because they could be put to more versatile uses.”


this game is still gorgeous

And Richard Hutnick has that list of 32 games to play on the 32 squares of half a chessboard, and a bunch of those are actually quite good.

this game is clever and pretty

this game is clever and pretty

But while I was just sort of listlessly stacking pennies on the board, I realized:

This is the starting position of Bao la Kiswahili.

This is the starting position of Bao la Kiswahili.

Subhan’Allah! How awesome is that? I decided then and there to teach myself how to play Bao. But I didn’t want to just learn it. I wanted to train. I wanted to try out different strategies and get good at the game. I don’t know how I decided this, but I decided that Bao was a game that it was worth the expenditure of time and energy to learn to play well.

And I learned that player one has a really aggressive opening strategy that is central to playing the early game well. The strategy is: threaten to capture the nyumba and another chumba at the same time. (If the nyumba has been safaried, then the strategy will be to threaten to capture two chumba that both contain a lot of kete.) Also, since an aggressive player’s strategy will be to force you to defend your nyumba while he captures your other spaces, leaving your nyumba intact when you have the option to safari from it has to be a seriously considered act. Don’t leave your nyumba intact unless it’s very early in the game and safariing is clearly a losing move.

Once you finish the namua stage, meaning after the 44th move, when the last reserve kete has been added to the board, you begin the mtaji stage, and I feel like the real meat of Bao begins. In namua, the game is just too easy. Does the opponent have a particular chumba you want to capture? Do you have kete across from his kete? Then you can capture. Take a kete from reserve. It ends it’s journey to the board in the hole you pick. And you capture.

But even though the really fun and challenging part of Bao starts in the mtaji stage, there is no guarantee that you can get there. It is apparently called mkononi, and it is a victory while there are still kete in reserve, before even all the kete have entered the board. When it happens it’s disappointing even if you are just playing practice games to teach yourself.

So I thought, what is the purpose of the namua phase? Is it just to save time? You only have to get 20 kete on the board before you can begin playing, and getting the rest of the kete onto the board is part of the game, thus saving time in setup? Which two-cycle manqala games lack the namua phase?

Specifically I wanted two-cycle manqala games because I liked how seeds never leave the board in Bao. There is an end state that the players are trying to reach, having your opponent’s front row empty, but there is nothing in the rules that forces that to happen after a certain amount of time. One-cycle manqala games are as different from two cycle manqala games, as chess is from shogi, or draughts is from sapos. In one-cycle manqala games (and chess and draughts), captured pieces leave the board and do not come back. The game inexorably draws to an end, as the pieces run out. In two-cycle manqala games (and shogi and sapos), pieces come back onto the board. After 1000 moves, you could be no further towards the end of the game than when you started. In fact, in Bao, your front row tends to fill up with a lot of large quantities of kete as you get closer to winning, which means that as you get closer to winning, you become more vulnerable to captures that can turn the tide of the game. For some reason, this really appealed to me, so I wanted to find other games that had these characteristics.

Soon I discovered Omweso, and Isolo. The rules for Isolo that I found on-line were vague, but there was something of particular note. There are slightly different Isolo rules for boys than for girls. The rules for boys use less bowls and less seeds, and only when necessary, a boy can bring in the extra seeds and bowls to stay in the game if he’s losing ground. So normally, a boy would use 15 seeds and 14 holes, but if he’s losing he can bring in the other 2 holes and other 17 seeds, and from then on, play the game just like a girl might. This, I learned, was typical of manqala games. Games that are thought of as boy games use less holes or less seeds or they might be single lap games (games where you scoop a hole, sew the seeds, and that is your turn. If the last seed ends in a hole that already has seeds in it. You do not scoop out all those seeds and continue sewing.) Games that have lots of holes and multi-lap sewing are thought of as games for girls, games like Sungka.

But why do these gender values exist in manqala games? Why are girl games more difficult?

Well, here are my hypotheses:

1) Girls are better at math than boys are. – I don’t really have any data or supporting arguments for this one. I just have to admit it as a possibility.

2) Girls invented manqala games so they’ve been playing them longer and want, as a community, more challenging games. – Is it just me, or are ladies the people that lead humanity into the agricultural revolution? I mean, when we see people living on the edge, between hunter gatherers and agriculturalists, we usually see the men continuing to hunt and gather, or perhaps herd, while the women farm. That’s the way it is, right? It’s probably just a biological thing. In the age before sports bras, it was really not fun for a lady to chase down an antelope. But if we think about the materials used to play manqala games, they were usually seeds, sewn into holes in the ground. This is a farming activity. It is not a hunting activity. It could be that girls made up simpler games for the hunters to play, so the boys wouldn’t be stumped by these farmer games.

3) In the societies where manqala games became cultural institutions, it was important for girls to train to be really good at math. – I can recognize about seven things. If you show me a group of things and there are seven of them or less, I can know immediately how many things there are. If there are eight things, I mentally split them up into groups that I can recognize, two groups of four, thus eight. If you were an ancient farmer with a sack full of yam sprouts, it might be especially useful for you if you could recognize 17 yam sprouts, without having to count them. If you spend part of every day playing a game where 17 cowrie shells end up in a bowl together, eventually maybe you just get used to seeing large numbers of things, so you know what 17 of something looks like, without counting. So maybe the female manqala games arose as a way to train young farmers to be able to plan their use of supplies better.

4) Maybe they are only more difficult for me. – I have to admit this is a possibility as well. Maybe I play manqala games the way a boy does, with boy strategies, and a lady would play feminine manqala games with her own tactics and values so she wouldn’t find them more difficult. Maybe ladies would find masculine manqala games just as difficult as I find feminine manqala games.

But then this begs the question: How am I playing differently? So far I only have one answer for this, and it’s based on my subjective experience, rather than statistical data, so I may be completely off on this one. Ladies are much less interested in look-ahead. What I mean by look-ahead is the ability to have some sense where the game will be ten moves from now. But why should this be?

My first thought was that ladies get less of a rush from beating each other at games, but I’ve known some crazy competitive ladies so that might not be true. Those ladies were obviously getting a rush from being winners, even if they were playing something goofy, like Trivial Pursuit.

But maybe competitiveness in ladies is a cultural thing. We have to admit that for most of human existence, ladies did not have to compete for mates. Technically they still don’t. If I want a child, I have to convince a woman to do something with me that would make her pregnant for nine months. If a lady wants a child, she has to convince a man to do something with her that would make him tired for an hour. If you say to your partner, “I will raise the child alone,” it’s just a lot easier to get a man to commit to an hour’s worth of effort than it is to get a woman to commit to the months of effort that she would expend being pregnant. Men are more competitive because we have to compete for the far more selective affection of ladies.

And when I think of my own experience, I have to admit that when I sit down to play games with ladies, they are always card games or dice games. My wife loves to play backgammon with me. We can play half a dozen games of Magnate, back to back. Aquarius is one of her favorite games, and it’s so infuriatingly luckish (or psychedelic, depending on how you want to look at it) that I feel like I have to remove half the “shuffle goals” cards before I play that game. My mother taught me about a dozen card games. She introduced me to Rummy-Q, and Mah Jong. On the other hand, my father taught me chess and Go.

And maybe the ladies sitting under a tree or under the eaves of a building or in the shade of a wall thought, “This game is cool and all. Maybe dudes would like it. But if we’re just going to sit here for the hottest part of the day, we should play a game that leads to completely unforeseeable circumstances. I don’t need to think ten moves ahead and prove that I’m smarter than the lady across from me. That would gain me relatively little. I would much rather have a game with exciting twists of fate and turns of fortune.”

Admittedly, all of these theories have their problems, but I think that the key difference between feminine manqala games and masculine manqala games is that feminine games are more chaotic and unpredictable. Masculine manqala games favor long term strategy over short term tactical resourcefulness.

In manqala games, unpredictability doesn’t come from dice or cards or any other kind of randomizer. It comes from chaos (in the mathematical sense). In some games, the chaos is thick, almost impossible to see through. One of the first manqala games I learned was this sort of game. My friend, Old Skillet, taught me a variant of the game Congkak that we could play with the manqala equipment we had on hand. This is a game where the chaos starts thick and heavy. It is unsurprisingly thought of as a game for women in Malaysia. But for me it was the doorway to a marvelous and fascinating new world of gaming. And one of the things I liked most about the game was the unpredictability. You could tell where your first few laps were going to go, but twice around the track was too much to keep strait in my head. At a certain point you just had to pick up the pieces and make the move.

I loved the chaos.

This is why I find Bao to be disappointing until it reaches the mtaji stage. The namua stage doesn’t have enough unpredictability. It’s too masculine. But then, does this mean that I have feminine taste in Manqala games?

girly man?

girly man?

I prefer to think that I’m a more complete individual.

So if I’m going to find a two-cycle manqala game that I like, I will have to find a game that has a lot of chaos. The game I finally settled on is Omweso. You can play it on half of a chess board with 64 pennies. And most importantly, the chaos runs so thick on an Omweso board that when you are winning, it is possible to sew around the board half a dozen times before dropping your last empiki in an empty space. Theoretically, it’s possible to play a move that never ends, just keeps cycling around your half of the board over and over. I’ve never seen such a move, so I imagine they must be rare, but mathematically they are possible. Captures in Omweso are devastating. It’s not weird for the first few captures to be of eight empiki each. That is one eighth of the pieces on the board switching hands on each capture. It is possible to see which moves your opponent has available, and which moves you could do, but a strategy of how to play several moves ahead is almost useless. It’s a case of no battle plan surviving contact with the enemy.

Also, the back row in Omweso is very kinetic. And controlling the back row is hugely important in defending your pieces from capture. But guess what, as you get closer to winning, you have less control over your half of the board, as it fills up with constantly shifting and impossible to predict pieces. I feel like Omweso is a metaphor for two people trying to have a gunfight while surfing during a typhoon.

Bao is a great game. If someone wanted to play me in a game of Bao, I would be very happy to. I like Bao la Kiswahili. I just like it less than I like Omweso.


Clam Shell Board Game System

2 Oct

I would like to introduce the world to the Clam Shell Board Game System.

For the past year I have been on a bit of a board game binge. I’ve been geeking out and appropriately spending a lot of time on Board Game Geek. And one thing that I’ve found particularly interesting is versatile game components. Most of this is the result of owning one game and wanting a new game but not wanting to leave the house to go get a new game, so there are hoards of chess variants. There is even a chess variant called Hoard Chess. There are dozens of games you can play with a Go (Wei Qi) board and pieces.

But of particular interest to me are those game components that were designed for one game but almost immediately began being used to play others and those that were designed to be used to play several different games. In the first category are Looney Labs Pyramids, also called Icehouse pieces because that is the game they were invented to play, and SiegeStones. In the second category are piecepack, Sly, Orion, and almost everything Kadon Enterprises sells.

Well all of those run into three problems. Firstly, they cost too much. On Looney Labs pyramids page they equate the pyramids to playing cards, but you can buy playing cards at the dollar store. One “stash” of pyramids costs more than ten dollars and you need at least 3 stashes to play some of the more interesting games (Homeworlds). Most of the really good games require 5 stashes. If you’re going to play Gnostica (an amazing game, you must try it, quite genius) you’re going to blow $60 at a specialty game store and then you should probably swing by the dollar store anyway for the deck of tarot cards that you also need to play Gnostica. I don’t even know who’s making and selling piecepacks right now. It’s been released into the public domain, so maybe it’s you. You are making and selling them.

But the second thing wrong with these game systems is that they are difficult to make. In the above paragraph I complained about the cost of Loony Labs Pyramids. Well even if you make your own out of paper, 5 stashes is 75 pieces. I guarantee you can earn more than $60 in the time it would take you to make 75 little paper pyramids. You have to love craft projects, be unable to earn money, like if you are just a kid, or simply be a goof, in order to not buy them. A piecepack is not just 24 tiles numbered 1 to 6 in 4 different colors. It probably should be. But it is also 24 coins, and 4 dice and they all have suit symbols on them and the pawns don’t have suit symbols, just colors, oh and they aren’t numbered 1 to 6 they are numbered blank, ace, 2 through 5, including the die faces. And you might want to make some piecepack pyramids. They are just like Looney Labs Pyramids except they are squatter and they come in 6 sizes. You will need two sets in two different suits to play Activator (sweet game).

Actually SiegeStones doesn’t have the first two weeknesses. I think you can get it on Amazon for less than $25 (American) and I actually accidentally have a SiegeStones set. (I made my own Attangle board, and put it down next to my half finished Gounki set and a $7 bag of colored glass bits from the craft store.) But even SiegeStones suffers from the third weakness.

Games have to be written for these game systems.

Stop and think for a moment about all the different card games you know. If you’re not really into card games you probably only know Poker, Rummy, Go Fish, and War. You probably need a hand rank reference for Poker. Maybe you know Old Maid, or Spades. I can guarantee there are more card games than Icehouse games or piecepack games. If you’re really into card games, you know the dozen or so that you think are the best.

Because these game systems are all so new compared to playing cards, there are all sorts of people making up games for these systems, right now. Most of those games are not good, or are only half finished. Sure Gnostica is genius, but it also requires a tarot deck. Pikemen is a great game, but you have to play it on a chess board. In fact, knowing 10 pyramid games that you like and want to play is kind of a special thing. They have a name for it. I don’t even want to go into how many piecepack games require extra bits to work, or games that don’t use the bits that are official piecepack bits (especially the wonky dice). It would just make me sad. I may really like Activator. I may be excited to try Culture Wars. But I had to sort through boring or ill conceived games to find those, and then I had to make or gather extra bits. I don’t even know if there are 10 SiegeStone games, but at least they all use the same pieces.

So my new board game system will have none of these problems.

  1. It will be easy and cheap to acquire.
  2. If a game requires extra bits, they will be a single class of extra bit.
  3. And you will be able to play a large cannon of games with this game system that are old enough that a good portion of them will be good.

So I took a ride on my bike and quite literally picked this game system off of the ground. I call it the Clam Shell Board Game System.

Here is a picture of my new game system set up to play Lahemay Waladat.


Yes, it is just clam shells and acorns. In fact I want to encourage future Clam Shell Board Game System game designers to design games that only require clam shells and stuff to put in clam shells. But using just this, clam shells and stuff to put in clam shells, you can play all of these games. And all of these games as well.

Not all of the games that you can play with the Clam Shell Board Game System are old. Some are new.

ImageLike Cirk,

Imageor Christian Freeling’s Glass Bead Game. In fact using shells to play this game is better than a board. Pick up the shell you are seeding from, and replace it when empty. In the Glass Bead Game, you do not sow a bead into the shell from which you picked up the beads.

After I put this set together, I realized it is kind of bulky. It’s a lot to carry around. If I want to play Bao, I have to stack 32 shells, wrap them in cloth to protect them and put together a pouch of 64 acorns or pebbles or something. It’s like carrying around the spine of a dead animal. It’s big and heavy and frail.

So one night, after our evening meal, I washed these off.

ImageAcorns don’t fit in these, and I was already in the kitchen so I grabbed those whole coffee beans. The Nyumba is turned differently from the other shells in the row, but once you sow from it, you can turn it the other way. But these are easy to carry around, and a tiny plastic baggy holds hundreds of coffee beans.

I also have a personal reason for favoring clam shells over actual manqala boards. My wife has MS and she isn’t really able to scoop pieces from bowls. But she can pick up a shell, pour the pieces into her hand, and sow from there.

So I think this is the best game system yet.

I do anticipate one question.

Are you seriously hyping this stuff you found on the ground as a superior game system to whatever my favorite game system is (probably Orion, but maybe piecepack or Looney Pyramids)?

I’m partially goofing around. While all the criticism above is valid, my game system is partially good natured ribbing towards Andrew Looney and James Kyle.

But I am partially very serious.

Here’s a challenge. Go outside of your home, and go to a game store. No, go to any store. Buy a board to play Bao. This web page will still be here when you come back empty-handed. It is known as the Chess of manqala games. I have only ever seen a Bao board in a store once. It was one of those things that had been carved 60 years ago by some dude who loved Bao and he took immaculate care of it but when he died it sat in the basement of his family until they decided to sell it to some American collector who had an import shop in NYC, that sold ridiculously expensive handmade art pieces imported from Africa. I’m going to imagine that his grandkids got a good deal on the board, but it was cracked by this point.

Why should you deprive yourself of more than a continent’s worth of ludic inventivity? Are you so poor, so lacking in resourcefulness?

Here is a good example. There is a game, Imbelece, played by the Wagenia, or I suppose we could say Genyas (wa is the plural prefix, right?). There are no photos of this game on the internet. The whole internet! I suppose that makes sense. There are probably less than 20,000 Genyas. But nobody ever took a picture of people playing this game and put it on-line?

ImageI did. There are no play reports anywhere else on the internet of this game. Why? Does it suck?

ImageNo. It’s really good! As soon as you capture the first bowl you realize, this is perhaps not a good thing. And the first capture happens really quick, within a half dozen moves. The endgame has already started. Your boys have already started accumulating in the center shell. If this is your first time playing, you’re going to think that capturing more of your opponent’s bowls will help you win, but this is not necessarily the case. Capturing more of his bowls will restrict his moves, and you want that. But you will both run out of seeds.

ImageYou will run out of seeds and there is nothing that can stop it at this point. The shrinking board and the dwindling resources gives it a sort of Atlantis feel. All you need to do to win at this point is to have seeds on your side of the board when your opponent runs out.

There are hundreds of manqala games, and plenty of gems like this one that nobody seems to play. Sure there are a lot of manqala games that you can play on the standard 2 by 6 board that you can pick up pretty cheap at Target or Walmart or wherever. But there are a lot more that require a 2 by 4 board, or 2 by 5, or 3 by 6, or 4 by 7, or Cirk up there that requires 7 bowls around a central bowl. Even if you have a lathe and like woodworking making all those boards would get annoying for anyone who wants to learn about and enjoy manqala games.

So I’m kind of serious. Why am I the only person doing this? Everyone else has severe shellfish allergies? You all keep kosher and do not live near beaches? You’re vegetarians who have no craft stores that sell shells?


It was free! I got this game system as a side effect of enjoying delicious clams in white wine, butter, and garlic. The first one I got as a side effect of spending my day riding my bike to the beach and then riding through the park to collect acorns.

There are good piecepack games, Hanging Gardens, Alien City, etc. There are great Looney Pyramid games, Pikemen, Gnostica, (actually Dectana is better than Gnostica if you have more than 2 players because of the crazy stuff that players can collude on in Dectana), etc. Angry Gods for SiegeStones is a fascinating and beautiful game. But in order to get these game systems you have to sit in a workshop and make them, or worse actually go to work and do the vastly more efficient, but alienating labor of the consumer economy.

The Clam Shell Board Game System allows you to play ancient games that have almost been forgotten, and you get it by pulling it from the sand while listening to the ocean.


1 Jul

I have invented a new game, or a variant on an old game, that I’ve been calling Towers Alquerque, or Quirkat-ul-Buruj, or just Al Buruj (which is also the name of a chapter of The Qur’an, and a space opera RPG that I’ve wanted to write for a few years now).

I combined Alquerque and Bashni and I like the game even better than either one.

Alquerque is a really old Spanish game, probably brought to Spain from Africa back when Spain was full of Moorish kingdoms. Think of checkers played on a tight interconnected board. In fact checkers is probably just a variant of Alquerque played on a chess board.

Men playing Alquerque, pictured in Libro de lo...

Men playing Alquerque, pictured in Libro de los juegos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alquerque is such an old game and was so popular in Medieval Europe that when the Spanish colonized the New World, they brought the game with them, and the Zuni people even made up their own variant that they play on yet another different board.

Awithlaknannai board start

Awithlaknannai board start (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, Alquerque is a fun game. Because the board is so small and interconnected, each board position is like a puzzle of sorts. You have to slow down and think about what the best move is in each situation. Sometimes it’s really easy to tell. But sometimes you would need to be a computer to figure out what the board position would be after both players have completed a series of obligatory jumps.

But Alquerque tends to be short and result in ties. And to many players this is a real downside.

Bashni is a checkers variant from Russia that people have played on and off for the past hundred or hundred fifty years. The difference between normal checkers and Bashni is that when you capture a piece in Bashni you do not remove it from the board. You place it underneath the piece that did the capturing. Eventually the pieces that remain in play will be formed into stacks. And when you jump a stack, you take the top piece off of it and place it underneath the capturing piece or capturing stack.

This creates a number of tactics that don’t exist in normal checkers. When you sacrifice a piece in Bashni, you can get it back by capturing the piece that took your sacrifice. If you have a big stack that includes five of your own pieces on three of your opponent’s pieces, you can sacrifice the top of your own stack and after your opponent jumps you, you can jump him right back, which results in you capturing your opponent and having your stack split into two.

In fact this game is so good that the chess master Emmanuel Lasker was fond of it, and really liked playing it on a 7 by 7 board. This tighter board meant that pieces would be in danger pretty much from the first move, and that exciting multiple jumps were a lot more likely, and a lot easier to set up, in the middle of the game. His variant is called Lasca and people still like to play it a hundred years later.

Lasker’s 7 by 7 board and an Alquerque board both have 25 positions, but each space on Lasker’s board has 1, 2 or 4 connections. Each space on an Alquerque board has 3, 4, 5, or 8 connections. This means that in this new game that I put together it is not terribly hard to set up 5 jump moves or a series of obligatory jumps lasting 6 to 10 moves. It is possible to make a bad move while playing Quirkat-ul-Buruj, and to not know it was a bad move until 3 or 4 moves later.

Just like in Bashni or Lasca, it is possible in Al Buruj for a player reduced to one stack to still come back and win.

Just to be clear, the rules for Towers Alquerque are:

  1. Start from this position.

    Commenters are not allowed to make fun of my rustic board that I made from an old shelf or my amateur polymer clay pieces. The lines were seered into the board with a hot iron, and the board was coated with spar varnish because I tend to use it as a coaster in bed, and I’ve spilled coffee on it. The pieces were the first time I’ve ever made anything out of polymer clay.

  2. Move each piece one space along a line. Don’t worry about forwards or backwards. You can move along any line in any direction, and you do not “king” an opponent’s piece if it reaches your side of the board. You don’t really have a side of the board.
  3. If you can capture, you must. I’ve been playing that you just take back a move if you do not see a capture but your opponent does, or if your opponent sees a capture that captures more pieces, he can ask you to take back your move and make that one instead. (In normal checkers you can “huff” a piece that fails to make a capture, and that adds an interesting tactical element, the question of, “Are you willing to let a piece die so that you can set up a better move for yourself with another piece.” But huffing a piece is a rule that novice players use to be rude to each other, punishing your opponent for not seeing an opportunity to capture, and it seems out of the spirit of the game since it would remove a piece from the board, so I haven’t experimented with it yet.)
  4. If you jump a piece (capture), you place it under the piece or stack that jumped it. If you jump a stack, you put the top piece under the piece or stack that jumped it. Multiple jumps are fine, but you cannot jump a stack that you just jumped. I’ve been playing that you can jump a stack twice if you jump another stack in between. (If you want to make multiple jumps more dangerous then make it the rule that once a stack has been jumped, it cannot be jumped again that turn. This will create a situation where some multiple jumps leave your piece right next to an opponent’s stack that can jump it on the next move. This will force the players to think more tactically about their jumps, but I find crazy multiple jumps more exciting, as long as you can’t jump back and forth over the same stack.)

    If you play that multiple jumping a stack is possible, then this arrangement of pieces will allow the orange swirls to make a 7 jump move. If you play that a stack cannot be jumped twice in one turn, then all 5 stacks can still be jumped, but at the end of the move, the new stack controlled by orange will be jumped by purple, liberating a 5 piece stack of purple.

  5. To win you must get all of your opponent’s pieces under your own pieces (or off the board if you’re going to allow huffing). I think that a draw is probably impossible, but if you can’t totally deprive your opponent of all moves, then that should be a draw.

I can’t imagine this invention is worth any money. An Alquerque board is something that can be easily remembered and drawn on a napkin in a pub, with one player using copper coins and another using silver coins (pennies and dimes if you are reading this in North America). So I’m just going to call No IP on Al Buruj and trust that someone, somewhere will remember that Sheikh Jahbooty made it up.

Is it hubris of me to create a Board Game Geek page for my game, or should I create a variant page on the Alquerque page? Should I wait until my contribution to the field of board gaming is recognised by someone else who will create those pages, like how you can’t create a wikipedia page about yourself? I’ll just leave this here and figure that out later. I just like this game and wanted to share it with you all.

Game Bashing

11 Jun

Game bashing is a thing that has been around since Gary Gygax hated the first D&D clone. It is a thing many of us have done at one point or another. In fact, many a role-playing game has been written because the people who wrote it were not having fun playing a different game. I wrote Play it Cool, because I had a horrible night playing DC Heroes by West End Games.

But ever since Ron Edwards proposed that game writers facilitate the creative agenda of players when writing their games, I feel that we’ve reached a kind of scientifically divisive point in the game bashing rhetoric. For example if I say that Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game, this means something scientifically, and even politically. It doesn’t just mean that D&D is about winning, about succeeding in one’s efforts to solve tactically interesting encounters. It means that D&D is less of a game than Traveller, because Traveller is a role-playing game. And that doesn’t just means that in Traveller you get to play around in a universe of worlds and immerse yourself in the minutia of the lives of the characters that inhabit that universe. Saying that Traveller is a role-playing game, that it is a toy, a sim, also means that it is less of a game than Ben Lehman’s Polaris, which is a role-playing game. Polaris is a game in which the role one plays, the story that is told is the only thing that exists. Characters don’t need to eat or sleep unless that’s a compelling part of the story. Somehow role-playing games like this, so called narrativist games or story games have taken a sort of high ground, and other games have been relegated to lesser status.

I guess I see why this happened. When we think about what people find fun about role-playing games (tactics, fantasy worlds, or story telling) we have to admit that you enjoy a tactically interesting gaming experience playing chess. You could enjoy the fun of exploring a complicated and rich fantasy world in a computer game. But only in role-playing games could you enjoy the fun of making up an exciting story with your friends. So people who have this creative agenda kind of dominate the discussion about new games, while people who enjoy tactics tend to dominate board game and war game discussion. And people who enjoy exploring fantasy worlds dominate discussion of MMORPG computer games, or world-building projects like Orion’s Arm. Nobody complains that Orion’s Arm has no narrative premise or that shogi isn’t immersive enough.

Even though I see how it happened, I feel like it didn’t have to happen this way. A game need not be considered more shallow or more profound, worse or better, based simply on the creative agendas it caters to. And the politics still trip me up. I find myself in a situation in which I want to say, “This isn’t that type of game.” But I stop myself. Or I don’t stop myself and I go ahead and say it, and then I get attacked, as if I were some sort of elitist nerd who’s games are better than the one currently being discussed.

For example, I was just on RPG Stack Exchange, and someone asked the question, “What does Deep Speech sound like?” Deep Speech is the language of D&D4’s Cthulhu monsters, Aboleths, societies near them, etc. The answer of course is that nobody bothered to make it up, D&D4 simply isn’t that sort of game. And considering that D&D takes place in a world that is entirely made up, if we were to now make up an answer, it would be gibberish to you.

For example, I answered, “The accent falls on the ultimate syllable, unless the word possesses a prepositional prefix, in which case the prefix takes the accent. Epiglottal consonants are more common than dental ones with the voiced epiglottal fricative being particularly common. It has a class of sentence ending words often called attitudinals that convey the speaker’s relationship to the sentence, ‘I experienced’, ‘I was told’, ‘I surmised’, but most of them are used to convey moods or emotions that only aberrant creatures and natives of the Far Realm can properly experience. Dipthongs are common in attitudinals and rare in all other Deep Speech words.” It answers the question perfectly, and before the moderators moved it, it even got an up-vote because someone else really liked the answer, but unless you are a linguist, it’s total gibberish.

D&D4 isn’t about this sort of stuff anyway. The game measures distance in “squares”, not feet or meters. They aren’t trying to give you the impression that your imaginary alter ego is exploring an exciting fantasy world. The game has an absolute standard of good and evil. They aren’t encouraging you to tell profound stories about difficult moral choices. No, D&D4 has “per encounter” abilities, meaning a super power that you can use once per encounter. So D&D must be about encounters, about negotiating one’s way past tactically interesting encounters. A player does not need to know what Deep Speech sounds like in order to roll on one’s skill, or make an attack, therefore it will never find it’s way into a D&D4 book, except in the most haphazard type of way, for example, writers choosing exotic and cool sounding place names or people names for areas where characters speak Deep Speech.

If he really wanted to play a game that has answers to those questions, like, “How do they write and how do they pronounce this letter in this language?” then he should be playing Empire of the Petal Throne.

I know it’s elitist, pretentious and annoying to go around telling people they are playing the game wrong, but seriously, if you want to know what Deep Speech sounds like to surprise the other players, you are definitely playing D&D4 differently than the way the game is written. I am certain of this, unless I somehow missed when they added a rule that allows you a bonus if you as a player learn a satanic language, like in Dark Dungeons. And you shouldn’t expect Wizards of the Coast to have answers to something that comes up in only your game. How many copies will they be able to sell if they write a book about the sounds that can be made with Illithid mouth-parts? Very few. OK, so they aren’t going to write that, because almost nobody cares.

You can play the game differently. People play variants of Backgammon, Checkers, Dominoes, etc. And they aren’t wrong. It’s not wrong to play differently. It is only wrong to expect Wizards of the Coast to anticipate how you play differently and to have an answer prepared for you.

Incidentally, there is a game where revealing the startling side adventures and back story elements of your character is part of playing the game well. Not D&D4. You get no benefit for it in D&D4, and no penalty for absolutely lacking back story. The game where it matters is called The Destiny System, and you can get it here.

And I posted all this on my personal blog rather than on that thread in Stack Exchange because I didn’t want to be rude and vote down his question or tell him his question is crap, poorly worded, that I answered his question but he didn’t care, etc. (He never specified in his question that he only wanted to know if there was a canon answer to his question, and I’ve already established that expecting a canon answer from WotC is idiotic, so making up answers should be fair game.) I didn’t want to get involved in a flame war where people would think I was bashing D&D. But I still felt like I wanted to get it off my chest, and repost my response in case someone was making a fantasy retro-clone of MegaTraveller, and they wanted some inspiration to help them fill in those random word generation tables. I tried snarkiness and it was misunderstood. Rudeness would be clearer, but I don’t care enough to be rude to their faces.

If this exchange had happened on any of my more regular forums,, or, I wouldn’t even be posting here. The question would have been asked, “What does Deep Speech sound like?” and I would have posted the answer you read above, and the people on those forums are so admirable and secure that I would have gotten a response like, “Well that’s certainly an answer, but I was hoping for something canon, unless that is canon, in which case could you please post the source.”

And I would have just replied, “No it’s not canon, but there is no canon answer and I doubt there ever will be. It may be true that nobody takes these guys seriously anymore, but I think WotC would rather not rile them up by providing children with a grammar of tentacle monster language.”

I think maybe we were too harsh on Byron Hall.

6 Jun

In case you don’t know who Byron Hall is, he wrote a role-playing game called F.A.T.A.L. (From Another Time, Another Land, or you may be more familiar with the original acronym, Fantasy Adventure To Adult Lechery, which I like better because it is more honest. The game contains no calendars or time-lines, and no maps, no other times or other lands, but it does contain much lecherous content.)

Byron has received a lot of negative attention for writing this game. He’s been lambasted, lampooned, ridiculed, insulted, and then insulted again much more fervently. Some of it is deserved. There are rules that start on page 50 and describe what happens when a character tries to sodomize a newborn elf. This means that one of Byron’s NPCs or one of his friends’ PCs decided to sodomize a newborn elf. Byron and his friends thought this was too important an in-game event to be left up to the twisted imagination of the GM and players. They wanted a set of standardized rules that they could reference when such things happened. It seems they expected these types of things to happen often enough that they would reference these rules. This is a pretty huge indictment of their characters (not fictional characters, or rather it reflects poorly on their in game characters, but also on their real life personality, as in “Byron and his friends are people of questionable character”).

As a quick aside, Byron’s response to this criticism is that those rules were included out of a desire for completeness, a desire that actions that one would expect to typically happen in a fantasy medieval Europe setting would have clearly defined results. But after carefully going over the whole 1003 page game, I found no rules for how much wheat or barley one could grow on a given area of land, or how much meat one could expect to get from butchering an animal. There is a skill, Milking, but no rule for how much milk a cow generally gives. There isn’t even a skill for butchering. An entire page however is spent on the skill Urinating, with rules for how far and how accurately one may urinate.

When I play fantasy adventure games, the question of, “Should we go hungry and suffer hunger penalties, or butcher one of our pack animals, eat that meat and abandon that gear?” comes up. This is a question that I have asked, that my players have asked. When Byron and his crew play fantasy adventure games, the question of, “Can I pee on that dude who is 5 feet away from my character?” comes up.

Some of the criticism wasn’t deserved. When it was pointed out to him that some of what he and his friends considered to be funny in-jokes were actually wildly offensive racism, he removed them. He may be racist enough to have found them funny, but he didn’t write that stuff himself, and he wasn’t malicious enough to leave it in further editions. It’s a game about lechery, not racism.

But back on track, I think that despite all their failings as RPG authors, we may have been too harsh on Byron Hall and his cronies.

Why would I think such a thing?

I recently watched Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys, Flesh for Frankenstein, and Blood for Dracula. (Actually the last two were produced by Warhol, and directed by Paul Morrissey.) I can’t explain why I decided to watch them all, pretty much back to back, but I did. Maybe I desperately needed to see Joe Dallesandro’s buttocks, a lot. Seriously, boys and girls of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” film making efforts, we get it. You love Joe Dallesandro’s butt. It was very important for you to share that love with us, and you did. Maybe I watched the films for gems like Udo Kier’s line, “In order to understand death, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder.” Probably I was just tired of seeing articles on-line declaring that Inception was one of the most confusing films of all time, and I wanted to watch films that were truly mind bendingly confusing.

Whatever insanity possessed me, I watched them all.

Incidentally, the racism in Flesh for Frankenstein is the scariest part of the film. Udo Kier (playing Frankenstein) goes on and on about finding Serbian parts for his masterpiece, to create a new and pure race. In 1974 they had no way of knowing about the ethnic cleansing that would happen roughly 20 years later, but watching it today I know about what happened in Bosnia, and got seriously creeped out by it all.

And while watching the last in my triple feature of Andy Warhol films, Blood for Dracula, I thought, “Is there a game that exists that would encourage you and your friends to tell this sort of story? The game would have to have three pages of rules for the use of a skill called Sexual Adeptness. It would have to have long and wildly medically inaccurate combat charts depicting strange and often ridiculously gory injuries in combat. The game would have to have bizarre and grotesque random magical effects and random magical ingredients so that after a series of accidents performing ancient pagan rites you could end up with a character that is sickly, but immortal, provided he can feed on the blood of virgin girls. And then when he accidentally feeds on the blood of those who have been deflowered by Joe Dallesandro, the character can deliver the famous Udo Kier line, ‘The blood of these whores is killing me.’”

In short, if I wanted to play a role-playing game that accurately portrayed the world of an Andy Warhol horror film, I should play F.A.T.A.L.

And that was when I felt bad about all the grief we’ve been giving Byron Hall. We. I’ve done it too. Heck, I did it further up in this article. Yes, we’ve given similar grief to Andy Warhol and Udo Kier, but Andy Warhol and Udo Kier both also get a lot of respect. I mean tons of respect. Udo Kier’s career is one you would murder for. The prices that Andy Warhol’s work commands would make you weep. And they (Andy and Udo) seem to be perverts, perhaps up there on the pervert scale with Byron Hall and his friends. But Andy Warhol and Udo Kier get accolades, often for perverted stuff, and Byron Hall? He only got derision.

But, you may be thinking, Andy Warhol did not just do perverted movies. He also did many praiseworthy things. And Byron Hall has only produced this perverted game, that even if it weren’t perverted, would still be quite risible. Not so, pages 17 to 33, wherein most of the fantasy races are described were interesting, and not very perverted. True, most of the game is risible and/or perverse, but it is not true that Byron Hall has only made risible and/or perverse contributions to the field of fantasy gaming.

Even the instances in which Byron tries and fails have inspired interesting lines of thought. He wanted to depict a Europe that was self contained, so no Christianity, no contact at all with Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. And for a moment I thought, “This will be interesting. He gave some types of dwarves and elves innate magical powers. So he recognizes that fairy tales and fairy rites represent the remnants of pre-Christian European religion. If a Shinto practitioner can be said to follow his religion when he leaves a dish of sake out for the kami, then Europeans who leave dishes of milk out for the fairies should be viewed as following the rites of their ancient religion.” But he couldn’t keep it up. Again and again he sites Christian religious institutions and Christian gender attitudes.

So I thought, “What if he had done it? What if he had actually depicted a Medieval Europe, devoid of Christianity?” What was Saint Vladimir like before he accepted Christianity and baptized all the Kievan Rus? Well, he had at least 8 wives and something like 800 concubines. Oh, I see now why Byron didn’t try to write about a Europe without Christian gender values. It doesn’t seem like there were any women in Kiev that could have been raped or any women that were whores. But then Christianity came to Kiev and said, clear off ladies. You can’t all live off the king any more. He has no concubines and one wife at a time. The rest of you will need to find jobs (sometimes as whores) or find lesser husbands (who can’t protect you from ravishers as well as a king’s palace can). So I see why Byron failed. He’s a pervert and he thinks rape and whores are more lecherous than harems full of Viking babes. But I personally like harems full of Viking babes (would that I had one), and more than that, I think it would be interesting to think about what things like marriage, family, and religion would be like if Europe were alone in a fantasy world. Heck we might have to cut out Greek and Roman gods as well, since its likely they were imports from the Yoruba and Egyptians.

If people can come away from Lonesome Cowboys thinking, “I know more than I ever hoped to know about Joe Dallesandro’s buttocks, but at least now I have seen this noteworthy cinematic fumbling by this disturbed artistic genius,” then I think maybe Byron Hall deserves some of the same slack. Byron Hall may not be a genius, but F.A.T.A.L. is definitely noteworthy disturbed fumbling.

To End: I have also recently been possessed of the insane desire to get my hands on and read at least some of Henry Darger’s The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, a 15,000+ page epic of naked little girls fighting for their freedom against graphically depicted slavers and torturers. It is considered a very important work of outsider art produced by a deeply disturbed recluse who suffered years of abuse as a child. I’m sure as I read it that I will remind myself, there is a role-playing game with rules for these sorts of things. It isn’t a very well written or popular game. But it exists.

Why is Traveller a classic? Part 5

28 Oct

And here is a map of Benji’s starship. This method of starship mapping isn’t part of the three basic books, but does go back almost to the beginnings of the game. It first appeared in Traveller Supplement 7 – Traders and Gunboats, first published in 1980, three years after the first three books came out. In that book it is established that two 1.5 meter squares, given a 3 meter height, represent one “ton”, in that, that volume would displace one ton of liquid hydrogen. And in Traveller it is impossible to have a starship that is not a significant portion liquid hydrogen (to fuel the power plants and drives). Indeed, 40% of this map is used to store hydrogen fuel. At least, it’s supposed to be 40%. I hope I got it right.

I tried to make the starship plan a cross between the standard Traveller scout ship plan, that 100 ton arrowhead shaped design, and the shape of a Cobra MkIII, from Oolite. I did so love my Cobra MkIII back when I was still a brand new commander.

The background comes to you from Terranova, the screen saver. The actual map was done on a ten-year old (or there-abouts) version of Illustrator, but I packed my other computer already, and this is the best vector art program I could get to work on my netbook. The starship plan and the background were combined in GIMP.

Why is Traveller a classic? Part 4

19 Oct

Benjamin Knight – 7695A6 On sabbatical from Casandra University, xenobiology department, Age 38m, 5 terms 50,000 Cr
Jack-o-t-2 Medical-1 Engineer-1 Pilot-1 Navigation-1 Vacc suit-1 Blade-1, 4000 Cr/ year grant, dagger, Scout Ship

After looking at this character I actually started to despair of being able to put together a party. Sure he has a grant (pension) that pays his living expenses on a planet, but life support for a stateroom costs 1000 Cr per week. Considering that a scout ship has 3 free staterooms and 3 tons of cargo space, it seemed clear that Benjamin would have to occasionally carry passengers just to cover the cost of flying around in his ship. If he has to take passengers, then he can’t carry around the other two characters I’ve already made up.

But there was a house rule that we used back when I played this game with my friends. We ruled that scout ships were largely self sufficient. They were equipped to use unrefined fuel. It seemed a little silly that all starships weren’t equipped to use unrefined fuel. Separating oxygen from hydrogen is a high school science experiment. Anyone who went to 20th century high school should be able to make pure hydrogen out of mud with a few wires and beakers and a battery. Note that you need a battery or some other source of direct current. I remember one teacher when I was in school that performed electrolysis with alternating current, presumably because she couldn’t find the batteries so she just hooked up to the electrical outlet. Then for the big finale when she was supposed to show the hydrogen burning, the beaker had an even mix of hydrogen and oxygen so… it exploded. I don’t recall her being seriously hurt although she might have lost her eyebrows or something.

So I find it hard to imagine Benjamin saying, “We need to stop at a high-tech spaceport to purchase refined fuel for the fusion engines.”

I find it much easier to imagine Benjamin introducing Lief to the intricacies of restocking a starship.
Lief: What’s this?
Benjamin: It’s an asteroid.
Lief: I see that. Why is it in the cargo hold?
Benjamin: Because we need it. I’m waiting for it to melt right now.
Lief: Melt?
Benjamin: It’s mostly ice. You’d be surprised how much random space debris is just ice.
Lief: But it’s black.
Benjamin: And dirt. Oxygen, hydrogen and carbon are three of the most common things in the cosmos. Some of this looks like silicon.
Lief: Why would we need those things?
Benjamin: Some mud goes in the algae tank. The rest of the water get’s electrolyzed by these two leads. Hydrogen forms here, and goes here where it is cooled and compressed and sent into the hydrogen tanks for fusion. Oxygen forms here and goes into our air to take some of the load off the algae tanks and air scrubbers. The rest of the dirt goes into the planters in the common area, or into the sand-casters to protect us from space pirate lasers.

As far as life support costs… scout ships are small. We wouldn’t have house ruled that they have hydroponic garden areas that clean the air and grow food. But there is no rule in the book that says how much you can pay ahead for life support. It says that life support costs 2000 per occupied stateroom, per trip (2 weeks). But it doesn’t say that cost has to be paid every two weeks. So a scout ship could be stocked with several years worth of life support. And could be restocked at a price of 52,000 Cr per extra year. Maybe we ruled that a scout base (or in this case participating university) will restock a scout ship for free. The supplies will be rather spartan, so the scout ship cannot take passengers unless it also pays normal life support overhead, but as long as a scout ship isn’t taking passengers, it won’t be accruing life support costs.

Wait, I think this is it. The 2000 Cr per occupied stateroom cost for life support was only for staterooms occupied by passengers. The crew is actively working towards the maintenance of the life support system, so their life support costs are negligible, other than groceries which they can get at normal costs. Passengers on a ship have their sheets and towels changed and laundered every day. They eat finely prepared food and engage in entertainments during the boring voyage through hyperspace. It costs 2000 Cr per trip to carry a passenger, not a crewman. It doesn’t explicitly state this in the rules, but it doesn’t make sense that a scout ship with no real income generating potential should cost so much to operate. 16,000 Cr per month? Isn’t a scout ship supposed to operate on unexplored frontiers? It should be able to run for years on freeze dried tamales and ice.

Since it explicitly states in the rules that fuel and maintenance are free at scout bases, making fuel free almost everywhere, and making life support free as well (by far the largest expense of running a starship), isn’t a huge change in the rules, and may have been how they were originally intended. Without the change, it becomes a whole lot more difficult to keep the party together. The ship will need to take passengers. With the change, the party is encouraged to stay together for a very simple and elegant reason. Staying on the ship relieves one of the 180 – 300 Cr that the character was paying for lodgings. So twice a month a scout ship will be paying 100 Cr for berthing costs, and even that can be gotten around. I imagine that a water landing is entirely possible, kind of like in Cowboy Bebop, since the rules state that fuel can be skimmed from worlds that have bodies of water.

I think I should make it perfectly clear that I do not like making this change in the rules. I just like it better than having a scout ship cost four to sixteen thousand credits per month in life support costs. Let’s be honest, LBB Traveller is a very poorly edited game. The section on character education and advancement is in the Starships book rather than in the characters book or the worlds and adventures book, where one would expect to find it. If I were playing this game with my friends, like I did when I was a little Jahbooty, back in the 80s, we would all expect a certain amount of house rules. Imagine you’re playing with your friends, all gathered around your cargo manifest, balance sheets, character dossiers, and dice, and the game is going at a good clip. It’s exciting. Everyone has characters they like because you’re 12, so you regularly fudge things in your favor. If one of your friends wants a character with a certain skill, nobody forces him or her to roll and hope for it. Just select it off the table. And now that things are really rolling, one of the players announces, “Couldn’t we rent a spacecraft to go investigate the asteroid field?” And that seems to make sense. Their ship is a free trader, so they can’t accelerate at faster than 1G (roughly 10m/s2), so it would take them a while to get there, but they could rent a ship’s boat and get there in a couple of days. So you go to the section in worlds and adventures on equipment, including booking passage on a ship, and it’s not there. But you remember that the only place in the rules that it mentions baggage restrictions on starships is in the characters book, so you look there and it tells you how many Kg of baggage you can take on a starship, but it doesn’t tell you how much it costs to rent a spacecraft. So you make up a price. You just make up a house rule that a ship’s boat costs 30 Cr per hour to rent. Incidentally that is how much it costs to charter a ship’s boat. You can find the rule in a four sentence paragraph on the bottom of page 9 of the starships book in a small section called Trade Customs. But if the made up price had been wrong, do you think we would have cared? Not in the slightest. The price we made up would be what it costs in our world from that day forward.

Most house rules are like that. You can’t find the rule in the book, so you just make something up and write it down so you know to be fair to anyone doing the same thing in the future. Or you don’t remember that there even was a rule for that in the game, so you make up a rule and write it down to be fair. Or you just read the rule but it doesn’t make sense the way you understand it, so you change it so that it makes sense. It makes me wonder if there are any RPGs that people play the way they are written, without any house rules. I’m assuming that the people who wrote the games, Mark Miller and Frank Chadwick in this case (From what I understand, much of the solitaire aspects of Traveller were inspired by Frank Chadwick’s game En Garde!, a swashbuckling RPG designed to run largely without a GM so everyone could play a character.), play them as they are written, but I have no reason for assuming that they don’t run into these little thingies. For example if I were playing Traveller with Mark Miller, I might try to pay 2000 Cr for each occupied stateroom, even if it is just one person on a scout ship, and he might look at me funny. “You don’t have to pay that. It’s a scout ship. It runs on ice and freeze dried tamales.”

Now that we’ve addressed Benjamin Knight’s finances, lets think a bit about the events that brought him into contact with Lief James. I imagine him a little like Jack Hanna, so I’ll try to base his story on Jack’s to an extent.

Benjamin Knight (doesn’t mind being called Ben or even Benji) grew up on the water covered planet of Casandra. On Casandra, the weather is mild and food is easy to gather from the wild (kelp, clam diving, etc). The spaceport clings to one of the few volcanic archipelagos and atolls that break the surface of the Casandran sea. Most of the world is just one undulating ocean. The locals take advantage of the enormous waves that form to travel from island to island, sliding down the sides of gigantic moving mountains of water in kayaks or on surf boards.

But Benji was never tempted by the daring, the speed, the freedom of life on the waves. He was too engrossed in what lay under the waves. Several entire ecosystem live under the surface of the Casandran sea. There was the ecosystem that drew energy from sunlight, starting with algae and kelp. There was another ecosystem on the bottom of the ocean that drew energy from pools of brine, starting with bacteria and clams. There was another ecosystem that drew energy from geothermal processes, heat vents or faults from which magma oozed. There was more different types of fish and insects and mammals and reptiles and life forms that never even existed on Earth than he would ever be able to remember.

And as soon as he finished his primary education he dedicated his life to studying and popularizing the study of exotic life forms. He worked as a biologist, pilot, engineer, navigator, and everything in between. He is the star of several computer simulation safari adventures. He was married for 10 years, and is now separated (not officially divorced) and has three daughters. His current plans are to explore the Anarian Expanse to write and film travel logs of the places he goes, the creatures he finds there, and the people he meets.

Since he got blade as a mustering out benefit, I should probably make up a story about how he got that too. To make it simple, let’s say he got it as a gift while filming a nature show on the world, Karri, and that it’s a traditional type of dagger on that world made from alien sedge or reed or something. It doesn’t make it any easier to conceal, but it won’t set off metal detectors, so that’s something. Considering that flint, high density plastic, and ceramic could be just as common combined as metal knives in the future, I’m thinking most places don’t rely on metal detectors, but some places would.

Incidentally, Jack Hanna is happily married, but if I were to create a Traveller character that were married it would be a disastrous Traveller character fail. I’m having a hard enough time creating characters that have some incentive to adventure. Can you imagine if I created a character that was retired, drawing a pension, and owned a warm bed with a beautiful woman in it? How the hell would I get such a character to leave the house for anything other than groceries and condoms?

Now the only question I have to answer is, what would happen if space Jack Hanna met space Oscar Wilde?