Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Muppets and no Sausage Rolls - I read Electric Bastionland - DRUNK

Behold, I hath read (much of) Chris McDowalls Electric Bastionland and tweeted about it, often while drinking. Below you will find my often-incisive analysis and commentary while my brain rockets back and forth between alohol and the effects of antidpressants.

(I left the mis-spellings and insanity in. Headings and sub-headings added by me.)

We Begin

Ok I'm gonna drink and read Chri's Electric Bastionland and tweet it now


everyone has better design skills than me

"Other game say Gamesmaster, Referee or MC but this is Bastion and we do things differently" -

differently, even to the last version of this game, in an acceleration of the rule that every rpg deign head must ritually kill gary in their mind by renaming the DM into something new to symbolise their new dawn

A Starting Party

a sandwich is SIX POUNDS - like, actually that is possible, like an M&S sandwich

Huh so there is starting group debt and even a starting Belloq rival figure with more hit PROTECTION (not points) than you - so the game is very absolutely and directly about doing this particular thing right now

and you also have a failed career

and dying adds to the groups debt - so if you die, even doing something heroic and useful to the group and Basionland as a whole, you are still fucking the rest of the group and your own future self

there is something extremely british and of its generation about the quiet background sadism of that concept

so you start with lamps and batteries, climbnig and camping equipment and food and water - presumably because its boring getting those things

one other thing you might add in - and this comes of gaming with the Fallen Demiurge whos name shall not be spoken - is in a city game no one ever has a car to start with - so I would add in, considering the ambient britishness - a bus pass or family ticket

So in other versions of ItO the crapness of your stats got you better stuff, and good stats got you rubbish stuff - a concept I enjoyed - is that still the case here? For it seems not..

Chris Betrays Gaming

multiple attackers are NERFED - no longer do numbers count for all, and one man can indeed hold off an army

what will this mean for adventuring

no doubt much flop sweat was dropped by Chris over this arguably non-diagetic rule!





it makes EB an essentially interpersonal adventure-world and sets a hard - or flattened curve limit, on tactical thinking

so - big ass rooftop ambushes etc or hiring a company of dudes - all flattened, both against the players and if they try to use those methods

a sandwich and a drink gets your hp back but riskes a random encounter- curiously specific

You Will Play This Game The Way Chris Says

Also - 1st mention of Greggs

fuck Electric Bastionland is like being kicked out of your parents house in your 20s and trying to survive off your overdraft while sleeping on a friends couch and begging for a job in Greggs

carryig too much shit reduces your hp to zero! Ruthless!

And effective

rules here are bascially chris staring at you thru the page & saying "the game is not _about_ that"

so there is no 'persuasion' rules - just save CHA to avoid a *negative* reaction and to *stop* your peons running off

that still doesn't get people to *do* things for you - that is all down to gameplay

ah so in fact one map cannot hold off an army as they would be a detachment and roll a D12, while he would roll a d4


one man could popssibly hold off an armies worth of INDIVIDUALS provided they do not fight as a detachment

'vehicles take no damage for running over soft targets like people' - dark, since everything else is an exchange of risk - time for some hit and runs!

A Complex Relationship with Risk

SCARS - what are scars in EB? Are they gud?

They are a reflection of the creators complex relationship with risk and its role in gaming

you get one if you go to EXACTLY 0hp

not a likely event

and if you get one, there can be good and bad effects (though since the standard response is death, any intermission of chance is 'good'so we may account scars as mercy if we wish

scars are a kind of high risk high reward routlette game you get accesss to for being damaged to juuuust the right degree but not dying

they are interesting enough that I wuold have got rid of the 'death at 0 hp rule, and just made the damage suffered a modifier on an extended

Exemple of play has differing corridors having differeing smells and winds - an adaptation to the generational praxis of high resources but limited time - corridors only gain meaning thru context which the modern gamer may not have time to create and so they must breathe and live

example of play - everything broken down into either/or risk decisons - the essential binary of meaning creation

say w your friends, or run away? fight, or flee? risk w reward or safety with life - the essential dilemma of entropy bound forms

hmm, no random roll for targets in multiple pc situations - a ruthless and heavy burden on the DM - orr CONDUCTER

and classic mcdowall fair declaraion of in-world risks, even if that level of perception not necessarily diagetically justified - a very prodestant mind. All the information will be given to you and you will decide, and FACE THE CONSEQUENCES.

curious that we can creat nothing complex without embedding our perception of morality into it

ok a new page has happened

ok weapons are basically

- how much damage d6, d8, d10, d12
- is it bulky (can't carry too much
- does it do BLAST (and so harm detachments)

and thats the deal


lol Alecs art has started to come in and the text is so Gen-X british and the art so US Zoomer/Millenial that the combo makes a whole new thing

Old ItO was a lot like watching a british sitcom from the 70s, a halrold pinter televised play or an episode of Dr Who -

what will the asethtic of this version be??

'Board' meaning somewhere to sleep - costs £10. More than the d6£ you start with - so you better get working day one

fuck Electric Bastionland is like being kicked out of your parents house in your 20s and trying to survive off your overdraft while sleeping on a friends couch and begging for a job in Greggs

also - why is Greggs not in this Chris? UKFAIL

Hospital and Leasure are free, but slow - spending money only speeds them up

taking an 'improvement course' lets you re-roll a stat, but you have to keep it whatever - an accurate representaion of british education system

'luxuries ' include a medal ceremony for yourself, a sanctioned duel, a legitimate funeral (10k, really you should be leaving at least 1k for your inheritor to clear the expense of your death) and a radio station

ahhh so he has dealt w the transport issue - public transport is available with sliding scales for distance


OK new thread as we are on to 'failed careers'  -- which aaaare about 215 pages of this 333 page book

answering the question of how do you turn a rulselight system into a fucntional money making product in our global times

answer - fill it with art and make char gen also worldbuilding and make there be  a LOT of it

so this is also our map to Electric Bastionland, through the failed careers of its economy and society

which are also options

(look out for a shit neutered version of this in D&D 5E(b) <<<< A PREDICTION

£10,000 is the group debt - so game assumes that by the time you have done enough shit to make that, you will have embedded yourself in the world and caused enough trouble to be essentially self-generating adventure machines

The Mysteries of Publishing Exposed!

Interesting that this is *not quite* black and white

for anyone who doesn't do pblishing - B&W is much cheaper, and so the profit margins are highter

so every creator notices this and thinks "wait, I'll just do B&W art w high quality, charge the same and make a mint"


then they think - "hey this thing is going well... maybeoooone colour wouldn't hurt.. just one..."

and then you end up w a full colour book

those are the beans which I just spilled

Cultural Background

so from one career we have sci-fi, sci-fantasy, terry gilliam, touch of 40k, edge of dr who

terry prachett - a 'loot office'

o there is some of the old school ItO evening out of capacities thgrough the money and hp system - w lower money & hp granting cooler stuff and higher worse etc

3. Trench Conscript. What was your role?

£2 -Recon. Take paints and a portable canvas.

So for anyone who did NOT grow up wathing british TV in the 80's/90's

So while up to now was lite sci-fi and Blackadder, this Dead-Shoresman is pure Gaiman. Not only are you back from the dead, but no-one believes you.

So there's this invisible backwash of generall 'oddness' (hook in the title) that flows through market towns at night, moterway service stations, the BBC at odd times

and EB is right slam in the centre of that

I Complain about 'Hipsters'

This book will be popular w hipsters and people who care about 'design' because its easy to read, text tlight and has good art

it is worth caring about for other reasons

I am just making it clear that other, more attractive and succesful, but shallower people, will enjoy this for the WRONG REASONS =and they need to be jidged for that

"Threatening Stave - has no fucntion but glows and vibrates in a way that suggests that it could be used for distributing extreme pain"

what can we say about art?

So - first ItO felt VERY british, 19tC industrial in aesthetic

Here the people and style are clearly not that - more idk definitely US, maybe futuristic/current - from a different social milueax

& sadder - more human - but also more beautiful

definitely the people I saw walking around the hipster area of toronto - thin, golde, multi-ethnic, rather than the dense potato people I know from my youth and environment - 1 of which I am

so for me there is a very slight tension between the art & text

but not necessarily for the first reader, for whome the whole will fall a new whole <<< PARTICULARLY BRILLIANT PHRASING HERE PATRICK, THAT'S HOW YOU GET THOSE SILVER ENNIES

I gotta stop because its nearly 10 heere and I drank everything in the room

got up to page 37 though, so you no i did an in-depth reaed

back tomorrow maybe?

More Cultural Influences

K I bought more cider and am back to read Chris McDowalls Electric Bastionland again

'Verminator' gets a combination of Cronenberg castoffs

'Lost Expeditioneer' is in debt to the Elephant Reinbursment House, which is a post-singularity sci-fi story right there

Wall-Born more 'infinite city' vibes and more of a China Mieville feel

Cities demorph and arrange themselves neatly for game designers shaping space w random generators and tables - maybe because they are already organised on human-useful lines anyway - as much information as arrangments in space

'shoe throwing' - thats not an object Chris, you have broken your own rules. Inspired by Austin Powers or that guy who shoes George Bush?

All the places Aliens can come from are worse than Bastion. makes sense I guess.

BONE MAGNET! My old nemesis!

The next drink is for Chris for having to come up with 1200 items and elements

"Dog rifle" is one of those fragments which tells a.. _tail_..

Face with tears of joyFace with tears of joyRolling on the floor laughing  im dying inside

'Roadside Picnic' is probably the best tonal match for the technology. Reality-bending, semi-useful, not understood, often one-shot and clearly not meant to be used for the thing it is being used for. Humanity as scavenger.

This definitely feels more like 'Dark Toronto' more than decayed England.

(I have been outside the UK a handful of times in my adult life so my field of reference may be limited)

In the absence of a frontier or a singular unnatural incursion, the adventure takes place 'in between' islands of various elements of order which, if seen from afar, could be mistaken for a whole

See the book 'the insurgent archipelago' which was about no matter how dominant modernity becomes, its very complexity keeps creating new webs and cracks and elisions of chaos betwixt its endlessly moving parts

There is always a little microdrama or a little worldbuilding in the back of Alecs art

main figure, often a crowd, often a single individual that doesn't quite fit, often crossing eyelines, and something in the background, a wreck, a cable car

so depending on what PCs you roll in EB, you could be playing a Neil Gaiman urban fantasy game, a near future China Mieveille sci-fantasy, straight sci-fi or just victorian social drama

Urchin pack - think Arnold was the 1st person to have this idea. I always wanted to use it in a Frostgrave RPG

Wizard - magic & in charge but can take no action
Merc Company - as in the whole company, can do stuff but no authoity or money
Dog - is a dog, can smell. A good dog.
Barbarian etc - more like standard characters

The advert and the celestial sphere is very "Electric Bastionland", whatever that is

I fully support this movement! #HumanityFirst

If warhammer has taught me anything its that if you really love humanity, you need to kill anything that isn't human

and most of the things that are - because they are getting it wrong

Char Gen is also NPG gen, society gen, plot gen, rival gen and item gen


'Masked Horrorist' is very Ramsey Campbell, so we can add that to the stew I guess

Chris you give away being able to see in the dark too easily, have I taught you *nothing*?

of course you can basically hack your own 'bastionland' by making maybe 20 character gen packages of a particular tone or diagetic implication

oh gooood people are going to do that - they are going to release _zines_

if you imagine Electric Bastionland as a real place, life there is largely about intuiting the use and meaning of any one of a million potentially powerful but *singular* items, talents or situations, encountered near-randomly in the mosaic of order

The Absence of Moral Chaos - a personal failing in Chris McDowall????

There is no moral chaos is the decision matrix of EB. Risks may be unfair but they are always signalled. It's rare you make a choice without knowing the consequences. My impression is that mad streaks of luck or doom are not an intended part of the game.

Which is a major character difference between Chris and I

It does take some balls to just say "Yes there are Muppets in this"

"They are not aliens or androids. They are Muppets. And they even sometimes act like you are in a Muppets Movie"

But "Monstrosities" are still an element and you can recognise immediately that they are monsters, even if verbal and self aware. This does seem to nudge slightly against the moral axis of much of the rest of the book.

Hmm Chris and his cult of information again.

Information is not the be all and end all Chris! If we never have to gamble with limited, poor or deceptive information then ARE WE NOT MACHINES?

I skipped a lot of the failed careers. May go back to them later

"If you get into the habit of giving the right amount of information to your players, they have more agency in their decisions, and are less likely to be unpleasantly shocked by the consequences of those choices.'

No. Negative affect, boredom, frustration and *some degree* of unknown unfairness are vital and necessary organs of FREEDOM.

These advices are good but they cannot be held to be absolutely true

If I am a contrarian, what of it. I drove to that forest to test my eyes! I was acting legally and ethically!

I have been drinking yes

heuristics of efficiency

It's tomorrow now

Reading this book on vision confirms that evolution is as obsessed as Chris McDowall with cognitive offload, heuristics of efficiency and more minimising time on unnecessary decisions

So the obverse of Chris's risk/reward hypertransparency is the severity of impact once the choice is made

No "minor" fuckups and few "learning" mistakes? Is that how it actually plays over time?

Ah ha! "Like your Tomb of Horrors style deathtrap dungeon might be full of hidden traps that don't announce themselves, but you're breaking that rule as a specific exception for this particular dungeon"

A paradox of performed secrecy in films is that the actor (& film) communicate simultaneously to the audience that they are lying &/or keeping a secret and..

to other characters in that fiction that they are telling the truth.

A dual signal

So in EBlnd can there be *real* geographic secrets? Like a secret door?

*People* can keep secrets, but are not likely to have more than one, if at all

But can there be a secret place which does not communicate it's existence

but which can still be discovered?

The doctrine of information and risk and the iteration of the game world may interact strangely over time to produce unpredictable cognitive lacunae of particular types


giant ants and the attention economy

Look giant ants are not uninteresting as a concept - they are basically the Borg - but, ants

The city as starting area seems to be as common a concept to whatever the current gen is as the wilderness was to whatever older gens were

The difference may lie partially in the shift in the attention economy and social groupings from the 70s to now

70s issue I imagine being more like " how do I spend these extra cognitive hours in a world without screens and internet" and "what do I do w my geographically close sustained friend group for 6 hours'

Modern problem being more like "how do I keep their attention for maybe 3 hours max" and "how do I adapt the game to a shifting attendance group and online interaction"

The city can present a flowing matrix of challenge, information and adaptation more easily than the imagined wilderness.  << I SAID ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME THING ABOVE BUT I WAS DRINKING AND FORGOT I SAID IT

Characters/Players can be brought in and out more easily too.

Amusingly, if PCs and NPCs have actual jobs in the imagined world, that explains why they weren't present at the game or scene - they were at work.

In the next edition Failed Careers might be "Unstable Careers" or "Gig Economy Trap Careers"

Future Bastionland would definitely have twitter in it

"9. Dark clothes, lone wolf, won't work with any other hirelings. Thinks they're so cool." - Chris I feel attacked by this remark. Neutral face

Cosmic Angels - are these 40k Primarchs?

So you can have Kermit the Frog and a Primarch in the same world?

Lack of Ghosts

Actually if this was REAL British Paracosm role playing it would have more ghosts in it CHRIS

Fuck you could do a Gerry Anderson "Supermarionation" source book for EB. Hidden humanoid mockeries rocketing forth to save Bastionland in bright primary vehicles

Have fun trying to work out which internet personalities these are based on

A Mass Coffin Auction does sound like fun.

The fact that cremation doesn't seem to exist in this megacity pretty much guarantees a gothic logistical structure of trains and necropoli.

The Bureaucrolabyrinth is good. Advancing d20 rolls remind me of Gardens of Ynn

Alien Kung Fu meta dice games - lol I would probably have based the whole game around these


  1. i might be too sober right now to understand this

    1. That does explain why Stuart is slightly less coherent than normal.

  2. Games that can fit on a bookmark and are free + books that look pretty and would work well as display pieces = THE FUTURE OF GAMES

  3. You are aware that nationality and culture/subculture plays a role in art and roleplaying. I want to ask about what you have learned about compelling art by inheriting the fiction and media of the British Empire, but it is extremely difficult to ask this without imagining that I am causing offence. And yet you speak often of what being British means for the fiction that you consume and produce, so I badly want to ask what someone whose fiction will take a spotlight on the world stage can learn from someone who pays attention to the unique media of his own British civilization, during the periods in which it knew no peer in its exploration and perhaps still does not.
    I came to your site today just to make a post, and now I find that this posts's name contains Greggs and my last name is Greggs, so my coincidence-finding mechanisms are in overdrive.
    Also, it may please you once again to hear that I've met people and incidentally spoken to them about Veins of the Earth, and found that they already knew about it and its numinous fascination. There are few better indications to a party that they're encountering something unknown and nebulous than including a creature or situation from VotE in a campaign

    1. I'm not offended. I don't think I can really say much about using British culture as, like most people, I just reach out to interact with and use the culture that's around me.

    2. That's alright. Your writings on aesthetics are gift enough already, as are your publications. Just picked up DCO; I'm looking forward to trying to adapt it to my current weird fiction magical realism anachronistic social organization industrial tech campaign

  4. "If you get into the habit of giving the right amount of information to your players, they have more agency in their decisions, and are less likely to be unpleasantly shocked by the consequences of those choices."

    Yeah, that's bullshit. We are not writing a collaborative novel, this is a fucking game. Next time Chris will want we announce our next three moves when playing chess.

  5. This is why I come to read this blog.

  6. Re-reading this as it’s a great stream of consciousness, out of curiosity what is your stance on zines? The brief mention of building your own hacks and zines made me wonder, and given your experience with publishing it would cool to get your take.

    1. I like them in principal and like to read them but they are tricky to store and use. No spine so they won't stay neatly on a shelf, which means they really need a special box which often puts them out of sight.