Saturday, September 25, 2010

What's the opposite of a best seller? I have an idea for one.

Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine." 
A Study In Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

I'm in the middle of The Apprentice, by Tess Gerritsen. It's the second novel in the Detective Rizzoli series, which was, loosely, the inspiration for the television show Rizzoli and Isles, a police procedural which is very careful to break no new ground. Not that the show (or the book) is bad, exactly. But it's like every other procedural on television (or in the 'summer reading' aisle, in the book's case). The only suspense on the show is wondering if  Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are going to confess their undying love for each other. I predict that happens in season 3.

Here are some excerpts from a detective novel I'd like to see. I believe it would sell exactly one copy. However, any publicist who wants to throw their money away, contact me and I'll write more.

Chapter 2
"You look glum, chief. What's up?" Detective John Smith asked.

Chief Joe Green did not reach for a cigarette. After all, he had never smoked, and smoking had been outlawed in police headquarters 15 years ago. He did, however, take a sip of coffee before answering the detective's question. It was delicious; it only took a couple of minutes to brew a fresh pot, so the staff regularly put up new batches throughout the day.

"You're not going to like this John. The FBI called. They want in on your latest case. In fact, there's an agent coming here right now. Should be here any minute. I'm sorry, but it's-- "

John was grinning as he interrupted. "What are you talking about? That's great! The FBI has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on fancy investigative equipment. It will make our job so much easier."

At that point, a man walked in. He wasn't wearing sunglasses, because it was an overcast day. He was wearing a black suit, which looked good, but not perfectly tailored. John would have guessed it came off the rack at Macy's or somewhere similar.

"Chief Green? Detective Smith? I'm agent David Stone."

"It's a pleasure to see you," John said, shaking his hand.

"Same here," said Stone. "I love it when I get to work with local police departments. We have all this fancy equipment, but it's so useful to have someone who knows the neighborhoods and what local people might be of interest. I think that by working together we'll have a great chance to capture this criminal."

Chapter 5
The killer watched the television intently. Soon he would see what the world was thinking of him. Soon he would affirm how much fear he had struck into the hearts of Detroit.

"Good evening. Welcome to the 10 o'clock news. I'm Grace Casper, filling in for Johann Miles, who is on vacation. Our top story tonight is--"

He licked his lips. What nickname had they come up with for him. Did they base it on the fact he sliced all his victims into seven equal portions. The Unlucky Seven Slayer. That had a ring to it. Or perhaps the toys from his childhood he left at the scenes would create his moniker. The Action Figure Killer. Maybe the coroner had found the orchid stems he left lodged in each victim's trachea, in memory of the greenhouse his mother had kept. The Floral Menace?

"-- the continuing tension in the Middle East. We go now to Sarah Tellington in Washington D.C., where..."

How could this be? Weren't two deaths, both committed on Wednesdays three weeks apart, not enough to be the lead story? Of course, what was happening in Iran was pretty frightening. Maybe he would be next.

"... thank you, Sarah. We have to take a commercial break, but next we look at a story closer to home --"

Yes! This was what he had been waiting for.

"-- how one high school is helping students get ahead."

No! Perhaps he would be on later. But he had to be at work tomorrow. He pressed the 'record' button on his DVR, and went to bed. It was better that way. He hated Sam's Sports Spotlight and would be able to fast forward through it tomorrow. Sam was so insincere. Always pretending the Tigers could pull through this year.

Chapter 9
The crime lab was always brightly lit. John Smith had wondered about that, after watching CSI, but Lucy Dorchester, the chief coroner, had explained it to him one day. "If I'm looking over a body for subtle signs like a needle puncture, I want as much illumination as possible," she had told him. John had always respected Dr. Dorchester, for both her intelligence and her charming sense of humor. But that was as far as it went. They were, after all, both happily married. Besides, it would be a gross breach of departmental regulations to let the relationship go any further.  The idea that a man and woman couldn't have a relationship without it turning into a sexual one had always struck him as bizarre.

Of course, he wasn't with her anyway, because he hadn't come here for autopsy results. He was with forensic detective Anna-Lucia Proppiata, reviewing the evidence from the last crime scene.

"If there were any weird chemicals in the blood, it will be a few days before we know," she said. "To test for this you need the solution to sit for 48 hours."

"I understand," Smith said. "And I know this isn't the only thing the lab's working on. This serial killer may be my main case, but I've got several other things I'm working on myself." Anna nodded, grateful he wasn't trying to demand the impossible.

Smith continued, "How about that oil-like substance we found?"

Anna smiled. "We have identified it as motor oil."

"Great," said the Detective. "It's a sort used by only one car company, right? It will tell us that the suspect drives a custom-built 1994 Jaguar?"

She shook her head. "Sorry. It's the sort sold in every hardware store, convenience store and mega-mart around the country. He could be driving anything. Heck, he could have used it for a lawnmower or boat. It really tells us nothing. Sometimes clues are just a red herring."

Chapter 14
He got the impression the police weren't taking him seriously enough. It was time to get personal. He would stalk the detective investigating his case just like Jeffrey Dahmer had stalked... actually, he didn't know the name of the detective who had arrested him. But he would torture his pursuer's dreams the same way that Ted Bundy had tortured... how had Bundy been caught again?

Well, neither of them had the advantage of Google. Ignoring the search engine's slogan of "Don't Be Evil," he typed in "Detectives in Detroit,"  ready to locate his nemesis and slowly drive him insane.
Now showing results 1-10 of 998,000.

Well, he'd have to narrow it down. Maybe Google was giving him results for private eyes. Maybe if he tried "Detroit Police Detectives" instead... results 1-10 of 7,194,000.

Over seven million hits? How was that possible. No way he was searching for all those. Oh well, he'd just keep killing like he always did.

It was getting late and he had work tomorrow. He really should start planning his killings earlier in the evening, but who had the time? Bed soon, but first the auction sites. Maybe someone was selling a cool toy,

Chapter 28
Dr. Barcus Emptor stared out his maximum security prison cell, barely even blinking. The prisoners in the cell across the hallway avoided his gaze, scared of the cleverest serial killer Michigan had even known. He listened to the inane chatter of the security guards in the hallway.

"I'm telling you, we want to keep at least two people on patrol in this corridor at all times. We've got Doctor Emptor here! He's as bad as Hannibal Lector."


"You're kidding me. You've never heard of Hannibal Lector? From Red Dragon? Silence of the Lambs?"

"What are those? Plays? Radio dramas?"

"They're -- look. Forget it. Let me try another example. Ever see Con Air. He's like Steve Buscemi's character."

"Steve Buscemi? The guy on that Boardwalk show? He's been in other things?"

"Ugh. Okay. Ever watched CSI? Remember the Doll House killer?"

"CSI? Is that the one which shows Masterpiece Theater?"

"No! That's PBS... Gah. Look, the dude is cell 5 is an evil psychopath who's already killed 3 guards who let themselves get distracted when they were dealing with him. Don't -- I repeat, do not -- let your guard down near him."

"Oh. All right."

For the millionth time, Dr. Barcus wondered how, exactly, he had been captured.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hunger Games Trilogy

I touch the fire and it freezes me/ I look into it and it's black/ Why can't I feel? My skin should crack and peel?/ I want my fire back.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I just finished the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It's a great page turner, though not without its flaws Technically, they're young adult books, but in a world where Harry Potter and Twilight dominate the best seller lists, and the New York Times saw fit to review Mockingjay this week, so there's no shame in checking them out even if you're not a young adult.

The books are set in the future, in the dystopia of Panem, which was once North America. There, the Capital rules over 12 Districts. Technically, it still is North America, since it's not so far in the future continents have drifted. I assume Collins means it was once the U.S., and maybe parts of Canada and Mexico. It's really not too important to the plot. Other than mentioning that District 12 is somewhere in the Appalachian coal mines, the geography isn't mentioned much. I suppose if I wanted to study the books more closely, or look up a FAQ, I could find out where each was.

Anyway, the Capital controls the Districts with an iron fist, keeping them too poor to rebel. The heroine of the series, Katniss Everdeen, comes from District 12. Even though it's a coal mine, they have to buy fuel to heat their homes at exhorbitant prices. Food is scarce, and Katniss helps supplement her family's meager income by hunting -- which would be punishable by death if she got caught. To make matters worse, once a year, to punish the districts for the rebellion of the 13th, the Capital draws the name of a boy and a girl from each district to compete in the Hunger Games. The 24 competitors are put into a specialty arena, and forced to fight to the death, until only one survives.
When her little sister's name is drawn, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The boy chosen from District 12 is Peeta, who complicates things before they go into the arena by saying he's always loved Katniss.

I don't want to give away too much, though since there's three books, it's safe to say Katniss survives the Hunger Games. The later books take on a bigger scope than the first one, expanding the world beyond her attempt to survive the death match and into an attempt to survive the much bigger death match of life and politics.

If you want a good page turner, I recommend reading the series. I went through the three books in under a week. There is some intense imagery I imagine could disturb people, but I expect cruelty in my dystopias. (Then again, I read 1984 when I was 10 and was unfazed by the scenes of Winston Smith being tortured. So I may not be a good judge of something going too far.) So I'm not too upset by hideous genetically engineered monsters or people slowly dying of horrible wounds.

One complaint: you keep hearing music when you read the series. Every time I looked at the first book, this song came to mind. 

Catching Fire  suffers a bit from middle child syndrome. It's the weakest book in the trilogy, often either repeating things from the first or setting things up for the final. But it does remind me of a song too, which I put in the opening quote of this entry. Rather than post from the original episode, here's the song in a family reenactment of the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, just because it's so weird.

The third book is good, with the most depth of the series. It's also musically memorable:

Also, while Katniss was charismatic and sometimes clever, she's not the sharpest tool in the box. ("Why does she act so dumb?" I asked my sister, who loaned me the books. "She's 16," she replied. That does explain a lot.) Also, as young adult novel, the series doesn't want to go over the heads of its readers. So sometimes things just go on too long. At some points I just wanted to reach into the pages and shake some sense into her.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Æternal Legends comments, part II

Julie Newmar: "I could give you more happiness than anyone in the world." 
Adam West: "How do you propose to do that?" 
Newmar: "By being your partner in life, I mean it's me and you against the world." 
West: "What about Robin?" 
Newmar: "Why I'll have him killed. Painlessly."
Batman Displays His Knowledge, 1966

The rules inÆternal Legends are normally pretty clear, but sometimes, like Catwoman in the above quote, I think it's possible to not quite get them. 

Like last time, I haven't played the game, but I've now created some characters, tried a solo round or two of combat, some skill checks, the magic system and a few other odds and ends. And, as I said in my last post, I think a few examples and designer's notes could make things a lot clearer.

The mechanics used are called the Ready 2 Run system, and they're pretty straightforward, simple, and seem solid enough, especially for a system which explicitly calls for trust among the players. So the fact that this analysis below may look like a lot of griping isn't because the system's broken, but because I think these are areas which could trip a player up, or are neat and I want to elaborate on more.

I'm going to assume you've read the rules, which means these comments will probably be of use only to a very small number of people, most of who will never read this blog. C'est la vie.

Character creation
The first character I created -- a theology major turned cop -- took 15 minutes, and would have gone faster if I hadn't needed to double check how some of the rules worked (particularly Spheres).  A second one -- a Dwarven cat burglar -- went even quicker. If you have a rough concept, creating a character can probably be done in a few minutes. For my second one, the hardest part was figuring out some appropriate Beliefs.

Some tips:
  • There's a lot of neat, non-obvious synergy possible. For example, I chose a Dwarven burglar because Dwarf Legends have an ability to sense things at a distance through the earth. I thought this would be a really neat way to case a joint before robbing it, figuring out how many guards were around and where they were stationed while 1,000 feet away and looking in a different direction. (She's also faster than you'd think, because Dwarfs get a bonus to health and running speed is based on health. I can't tell if that's a bug or a feature, but it works well for a non-combat oriented character to get away.)
  • Some concepts call for a specific Sphere. The cop, a fighter type, screamed for Strength. Others will require a bit of lateral thinking. I chose Splendour for the cat burglar, going for an Indiana Jones, seeker of knowledge and artifacts feel. It's not an obvious match (mages re the ones who truly dig Splendour) but it's at least a square peg in a rectangular hole.
  • While the rules say you start with two Aptitudes, remember that you'll be playing a Legend, so you get  a sphere Aptitude too. That gives you some extra flexibility. 
  • Like I mentioned last time, check out the sample characters from the game's website. It helped clarify a fair number of details for me.

Task resoltion
This only takes up a page or two, which is all it needs. It's pretty self explanatory, especially if you've played any game with a Stat + Skill die pool before. My only complaint is that the extended task resolution method is confusingly worded. An example could have cleared that up easily

Example: Kylie (Body 3, Aptitude Cat Burglar 3) has to scale a 30-story building in a blizzard to get to the penthouse, where an elf is keeping a rare copy of Summoning Demons For Fun and Profit.The GM rules the conditions are so bad this is an Extended Task which would take a Professional climber 30 minutes. The chart says a professional-level task has a threshold of 3, and it should be divided into three checks. Every roll Kylie makes represents 10 minutes of game time spent climbing; she'll need to accumulate 9 successes total to get to the top, and at least 3 successes each time to make progress on the icy building. 

I think that's how it works, anyway.

Some tips:
  • Unless you don't mind a big whiff factor, spend Will, and justify using your Beliefs, Sphere, and magic to help get bonuses. Every die rolled will, on average, give you half a success point. A starting character is probably going to have 4-8 dice in their basic pool, which means 2-4 points per roll. Since a Difficult task requires 5 points, these supposedly impressive Legends don't look too competent unless they're making an effort.
  • I just want to say I love the Expertise rule. You get to define a niche where your character is given primary control in a situation. Since Aptitudes are so broad, it allows a good place for overlapping character ideas to shine. The Bodyguard might specialize in hand-to-hand combat while the Soldier specializes in tactics. Also, while I don't think it's particularly relevant for this system, it helps a player who doesn't think in terms of character optimization get spotlight time to do what they want when another player would dominate them on paper.
Given how simple the task resolution is, combat feels relatively complex. This is achieved through a bidding process. Every round, you have a number of points equal to your Wits to spend. Every action costs at least one point, and some require more. It can also be used for defense, or to add dice to an attack or action. Since Wits is based on Mind, I think this may be the only game I've seen where intelligence is arguably the primary characteristic in battle.

I like this because it leads to a lot of interesting choices through a simple decision. Should I put only one point of Wits into my attack, and hope I roll well? Should I put several points in for a better chance to hit, or does that risk points I could use to defend against the counterattack I know is coming. Maybe at the start of the round I should spend points to boost my order in combat, which means I'll attack early, but with fewer resources to attack or defend.

The damage system, with three different types of injuries, is probably the crunchiest bit of the R2R system. As a sidebar notes, it's possible to incapacitate or kill someone by either nickel and diming them with a bunch of weak, light blows; or to do it with one decisive blow. A punch will probably just bruise, but if they're battered up, or it's a good shot, it could wind up breaking bones.

Among the Aware, the ability to use magic is very common. If you learned an Aptitude while Aware, you probably learned how to cast some spells or enchant some items to make your life easier. (This is in the book, but it's one of the things I didn't realize until I was creating a character.) While it's difficult to enchant complex items with mechanical parts, simple devices such as books, hand weapons and clothing are easy to make magic. Aware tailors probably make their suits so the buttons can never tear, and the jacket grows with a man's waist-line.

Even someone without an appropriate Aptitude can learn a specific spell for just a couple of experience points and a teacher. I'd be inclined to say that for an Aware community, many spells are taught in an evening workshop. 

Technically, each spell must be a form of Alteration, Creation, Destruction, Divination or Preservation. If you have an applicable Aptitude, it's got to relate to that domain, but it can be freeform magic within those parameters.  One mage might achieve an effect by chanting and gesturing, another by singing. It's all good.

There are three effect levels: minor, significant and major. I didn't look too closely, but there's a huge cap in casting costs between minor and significant. The system looks like it encourages people to use a bunch of small effects rather than regularly blowing up buildings with an ancient blasphemous invocation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The symbol Æ is called an "ash" for the curious

Boy, that was the best scavenger hunt ever. 
Cordelia, Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

I just picked up a series of small-press roleplaying games, because I enjoy reading them. (They came at the same time I picked up a whole bunch of other books, so I may be a bit slow getting through all of them, but that's no big deal.)

The first one is Æternal Legends, which I picked up because it was described to me as an angst-free modern day fantasy game. That sounded pretty good (the most popular modern fantasy RPG is Vampire, which is crawling with angst.) I also liked the fact the preview section discussed how important beliefs were to the characters existence and well being. It seemed like an interesting take, maintaining a sense of magic but not sliding into the cliche "anything is possible if you just wish hard enough."

Overall, I like it. I think it had me when it described orcs as charismatic leaders; I knew I wasn't just reading a Vampire clone or Dungeons and Dragons with machine guns. But one or two bits stick out, and I'm not sure how I feel about them. 

This is definitely a first impression review; I haven't actually played a session of it, and may not have completely digested the rules and setting.

The Weird
The thing that first struck me about the book was its shape and size. It's landscape style, as opposed to portrait, and it's 7x9 inches. I'm used to portrait configurations, but it made no difference to the readability.

The Bad
I'm getting my major complaints out of the way first, then I'll spend the rest of the review being positive, or at least constructive.

If you have a low threshold for typos and other errors, avoid Æternal Legends. It's not unreadable, but it contains far too many examples of things like "than" instead of  "then," of "if" instead of "is." Sometimes a line is repeated -- or almost repeated. For example, on page 68, the first paragraph begins "Splendour is only partially applicable to spellcasting..." The second paragraph on that page starts "Splendour is only applicable to spellcasting..." The word "partially" makes those two rules very different from each other. If you're willing to overlook these things for a book that is pretty clearly a labor of love put together by a handful of people, then you can decide if you want to check the book out or not. (I know, since I'm criticizing them, there will inevitable be typos and mistakes in this blog entry no matter how much I try to avoid it. But you're getting this entry for free, and I'm willing to cut myself some slack.)

I also wish it had given some more examples, such as how to create a character, or run a few rounds of combat. I think every game should have these, since it helps me know what the authors envision, and can help clarify some ambiguities. Fortunately, sample Player Characters are available. On the website, under the "downloads" link, there is a file containing six sample characters, which is worth checking out for some out there ideas, like Anvil Jenny, a nice Jewish Elf with clockwork eyes. No good walkthroughs of the mechanics though.

The good and the interesting
Æternal Legends is set in our world. Magic is real, but we don't realize it, because we are Unaware. (To those who don't normally read RPGs, I'm capitalizing some common words to show that they are special game terms.)

The Unaware -- about 95 percent of the world's population -- just do not see magic. The reason I began this entry with a quote from BTVS is because most of Sunnydale, in the first few seasons, are perfect examples of Unaware. Buffy's mother automatically invents a perfectly acceptable rationale for what's happened to her daughter, no matter how much bizarre stuff she's seen. If every female in the town falls under the effect of a love spell, they'll be happy to believe they were all crammed into a small space with one dorky man because of a scavenger hunt. (Not that the rest of the game resembles Joss Whedon's universe.) To the Unaware, a troll made out of granite is just a bulky looking man, and a cockatrice's poisonous breath would probably be a leaking vat of toxic chemicals.

The Aware, the remaining one in 20, see the world as it truly is. They have a bigger sense of self-belief, and because of this, they see what is really going on. They might live among the Unaware, in Aware neighborhoods (that the Unaware instinctively avoid as too Bohemian for their taste) or they might live in pocket kingdoms, places where the mundane can't go, and magic is more prevalent. To continue to BTVS analogy, they might love the changes, as Faith did when she became a slayer, or be ambivalent about what they'd learned about the world, as Buffy often was. The Aware do not always look human, but sometimes take the form of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Orcs or Trolls. (I'll have more to say on those in a bit.) The Aware are governed by an organization known as the Ministry, which is actually a branch of the government. Since Unaware naturally rationalize it away, none of them want to join this dull-sounding bureaucracy, but the Ministry has enough access to provide law enforcement, assistance for the magically inclined, etc.

Some Aware are even more in touch with magic. They become Legends, touching on spheres of power, giving them a natural affinity for combat, diplomacy, knowledge, building, or other fields. Legends must go on quests to continue to improve. They must challenge themselves, and challenges naturally occur to them. If they stop in a gas station to pick up a newspaper, a man carrying a mysterious artifact will almost certainly stagger in, mutter an arcane phrase, and drop dead.

In your normal game, the players are Legends. It's possible they'll do something similar to what would happen in D&D, only instead of rescuing the princess from the goblins armed with spears, they'll rescue the CEO from the goblins armed with shotguns. But they can also go in other directions, pursuing strange paths to spiritual enlightenment.

The game is pretty up front with the fact that, just like the Unaware, you shouldn't think about this too closely. The Unaware are to explain why this world is familiar. They can be a major part of your stories, or just background.

I'll note while the game is designed around the assumption you'll play Legends, I think it might be pretty interesting to play those who are merely Aware. You could have a good, gritty urban fantasy setting, where the players are members of the Ministry trying to cope with problems like the enchanted cocaine a gang of high-powered executive elves are smuggling in from a pocket kingdom, or protests from those who object to goblins and dwarves wedding each other. Most importantly, it would allow more thorough use of several races in the book. (Again, more in a little while.)

Interesting bit one: Beliefs
As mentioned before, what powers the Aware is the fact that they really and truly believe in things. The Unaware have weaker beliefs, are willing to trust what society tells them to.

All characters have beliefs that can come up in play. The rules explicitly state they don't have to be positive. They can range from "The only thing I have to fear is fear itself" to "The ends justify the means" to "Only people with my skin color deserve to live."

For Legends, there are two paths to power: the Light and the Dark. Those who follow the Light, and embrace their beliefs, gain power through mystical Spheres. Those who follow the Dark deny their beliefs, and follow Shells, hollow spheres with similar powers. For example, the Sphere of Mercy is about responsibility, and gives its followers healing powers. The shell of mercy gives those powers without responsibility. A Lightsider might use these powers to heal their allies, tend to earthquake victims, or help an exhausted army keep fighting for their cause. A Darksider might use the same abilities to get rich with their miracle cures, torment their enemies with promises of relief, or stitch together Frankenstein-monster abominations.

What I find interesting is that, since beliefs don't have to be positive, a Lightsider doesn't need to be good. If a Legend believes that everyone with a different skin color deserves to die, and goes on a rampage against a gang of blue-skin elves who are minding their own business, he's technically following the path of Light. If a Troll Legend steps up to defend them, not because he cares about them, but because their screams are ruining his party, he's following a Dark path.

I don't know if this is a bug or a feature. I suspect it's both, and a GM should talk to the players before deciding if Dark Legends are automatically "evil" and those who follow the light are "good" or if it's just that those who follow the Light value integrity over easy answers.

Interesting bit two: The Clades
What most games call races, Æternal Legends calls Clades. I'm not sure why, though it may be because there's a lot of ethnic variation in each of the Clades. Goblins from Japan look very different than those from Africa.

None of the Clades quite fits roleplaying stereotypes, which is a good thing. Some are very divergent. Elves aren't these things willowy things with pointy ears, they're descendants of demigods, and take on features of whatever the surround community believes spiritual beings should look like. In a Christian community, they might have halos, in Silicon Valley they might have jet black skin with green flashing numbers, a la the Matrix. Gnomes might be awesome mechanics who build wondrous devices, but that's just a tiny aspect of their creativity. They might be accomplished poets, or chefs who make unforgettable meals.

With the exception of humans, each of the Clade has a complementary one. Elves and orcs share some traits, as do dwarves and trolls, and gnomes and goblins. Orcs, goblins, and trolls are known as the Dull Clades or Dark Clades, and there's some prejudice against them. It's illegal, but the Ministry can't always enforce that.

With one exception, that prejudice is pretty clearly undeserved. Trolls don't need to be thugs; nothing keeps them from being a security guard, or a forensic accountant. (They're slow thinkers, but not stupid. They'd probably be right at home digging through a spreadsheet that would bore others to tears.) And the allegedly Light Clade gnomes frequently become robbers, developing an "I was gonna give it back eventually" mentality.

The one exception is Legends. When a character becomes a Lightsider Legend, their race changes to the Light Clade equivalent. A troll who follows the sphere of strength turns into a dwarf, though he may maintain some troll-like features. If they become a Darksider, they turn into the appropriate Dull Clade, so our corrupted dwarf would once again become a troll.

I really don't know what moral statement, if any, this is supposed to make. People who want to say that orcs are evil merely need to point out that the most powerful orcs ultimately follow a corrupt path, and elves who lose sight of their goals turn into orcs.

Perhaps more annoyingly, the rules are really only set up to let you play Lightsiders. There's no rules for how Dark Clade Legends use the shells, what special abilities it gives them. Effectively, half the races are closed to player characters, despite the fact that ostensibly they're not about the dark side.

I think that sums up my preliminary thoughts on the philosophy behind the game. My next post, I'll look at some of the mechanics.