Sunday, 4 October 2020

The Bombing of the Quick Stop Gas Station Bench

One of the ingredients that's coalescing for Bunkers & Billionaires is a completely surreal mission landscape. Rogue intelligence agents and terrorist cells do things that seem to make no sense, until you understand that they're the pawn moves in AI-powered late stage capitalism.

(What is Bunkers & Billionaires? It's the working title for a near future dystopian RPG that doesn't yet exist.)

I think it's easiest to illustrate with an example.

The Bombing of the Quick Stop Gas Station Bench

At 8:32pm, Nov 7, 2035, three self-professed members of "QMove" jump out of an electric van and blow up the graffiti-covered park bench in front of the Quick Stop gas station with a pipe bomb. 

One of the bombers returns to the scene on foot to quietly post live video of the Welland Corner fire department putting out the flaming wreck of the bench.

Later, on the way back to the fire station, the fire truck stalls out, frozen by a remote anti-theft command sent from head office at the request of a numbered corporation, the new owner of the fire truck as of 9:11pm. An argument breaks out between the firefighters and the young man who has turned up to drive the truck away as part of a gig he got ten minutes earlier on Fiverr. The situation is a tense stalemate until the Welland Corner police arrive.

After cuffing, tasing and pepper spraying everyone (in that order), the Welland police check their phones for follow-up instructions. Somewhat confused, they turn the truck over to the half-blind Fiverr guy, who (once he recovers) simply drives it back to the fire station and leaves the keys on the seat, as per his original instructions.

While this is happening, the stock price of Блакитна енергія (a Ukrainian fracking company) briefly dives as sell orders flood the market, but rebounds as they are snapped up by a second numbered corporation. This only takes a few hundred milliseconds, so nobody really notices.

* * *

This kind of thing happens constantly, the result of the collaboration between several forces: Liquidr (and similar asset management-as-a-service operations), freelance schismatics, and the National Commercial Interest Gateway (NCIG).


Liquidr is the category leader in the AMaaS space (Asset Management as a Service, or just "amass"). For a low monthly fee plus a percentage of capital gains, a Liquidr AI will manage individual, corporate or public entity assets. Initially this is simple investing, but it soon expands into automated mergers & acquisitions, initial public offerings and other ownership restructuring—to take full advantage of the rapidly changing regulatory landscape.

Liquidr: add liquidity to anything!

Higher tier Liquidr accounts are advertised as getting more AI time and better market intelligence, but for the most part it's just data mining privileged information from lower-tier Liquidr accounts.

("Are you liquid?" asks the flawless hottie in the ad)

Freelance Schismatics

Also in the mix are former intelligence services propagandists, now freelancing to create dissociant conspiracy theory groups with actionable false belief systems. These come complete with a custom target designation symbology, so they can be weaponized as deniable lone wolves for sale.

QMove is just one of many violent splinter conspiracy groups whose ideology and identity is the deliberate product of manufactured information. (Having no influence over its own destiny whatsoever, QMove doesn't get its own heading.)

Eventually, schismatics realize that control of dissociant groups count as assets, and can be managed as part of AMaaS portfolios, which dramatically shortens the time between radicalization and action.

National Commercial Interest Gateway (NCIG)

The National Commercial Interest Gateway started out as a joint venture between an AMaaS consortium and the US Department of Justice to create an auction system to designate private commercial interests as being of significance to the national interest.

The time to make back room deals with key government contacts was identified as a significant source of friction in the AI age. Why not add liquidity™ and make it a marketplace?

Now, multinationals no longer had to play all that tedious golf to convince their friends in the CIA that there are billions at stake if such-and-such a country gets the wrong election result, or to persuade their DOJ contacts that this or that movement should be classified as a domestic terrorist organization. Just put up a bid on NCIG, and the matter is resolved immediately.

During the kleptocrat-led weakening of federal government institutions, NCIG rapidly became a welcome source of clarity in a time of confusion, despite early criticism that it was simply "Fiverr for spies."

Things Get Weird

After the complete shut-off of federal subsidies in 2024, state, provincial and municipal governments turn to Liquidr out of desperation in an attempt to find creative ways of covering climate reconstruction and refugee management costs.

In 2029, Liquidr acquires Legal Dynamics, a machine learning-powered contract negotiation company. Liquidr starts using this to better exploit municipal asset portfolios, and it starts writing laws solely to create just-in-time opportunities for Liquidr gambits. Things that were once illegal become legal, temporarily legal, or mandatory, all as part of creating pathways to new ownership structures and financial instruments. These changes could be permanent, or last less than a second—just long enough for a complex trade or restructuring to take place.

By 2035, laws are completely indecipherable to people, a stew of machine-generated legalese that grows by terabytes per minute.

The Quick Stop Bench Bombing, Redux

In October 2035, the owner of the Quick Stop Gas Station places ownership of the gas station into her Liquidr portfolio (a Hustle! tier account). Moments later, the bench out front is carved off into a numbered corporation subsidiary, and has an automated initial public offering on the basis of its expertise at natural gas management. The Hustle! AI transfers the entire value of the Quick Stop gas station to the park bench, reverse mortgages it, and uses the proceeds to buy Блакитна енергія stock. This is a bit risky, maybe, but it's part of an A/B test. It could be great!

(The Hustle! tier AI has no idea what a park bench is, only that it technically counts as real estate and—unlike the gas station business, has no employees to complicate its tax situation.)

Meanwhile, a tier 9 Liquidr account checking its notifications sees the gas station's precarious situation and takes immediate action, doing three things simultaneously:

One, it injects a rider into an anti-competition settlement it's negotiating with the Michigan state legislature, making it temporarily illegal for Michigan-based corporations to own financial instruments in the Ukraine if they hold no US real estate. The Michigan state legislature account AI grants this rider cheaply. Michigan doesn't own any such instruments at the moment, and the proposed rider expires in three hours anyways, so no big deal. The rider goes into effect at 8:03pm, becoming law.

Secondly, the tier 9 account places an NCIG bid to have the Welland Corner Fire Department designated as a domestic terrorist organization. WCFD doesn't appear in the NCIG database, but the briefing attached to the bid has solid intel that WCFD has only twelve members (barely a cell) and the required action section is blank, so again, this is inexpensive.

Thirdly, it buys the activation key for a small QMove cell for $820. The control software sends a dynamically generated video to the three members in Welland Corner, alerting them that the park bench outside the Quick Stop Gas Station is the target they've been waiting for. (You can't see it at night in November, the video explains, but it's where Antifa has used graffiti to spread their plan to bring socialism to the gaming consoles in electric vehicles.)

* * *

QMove springs into action at 8:22pm. (The pipe bomb has been sitting ready by the front door for weeks, and they only live around the corner from the gas station, but Alex is so excited that it takes him six minutes to find the keys for the van.)

By 8:44, 720 people have watched QMove's vertical video of the bench fire, enough for a YouTube algorithm to recognize it and tag it as footage of a terrorist incident. The tier 9 updates the NCIG bid with the video, recommending a 50% commission for itself on any resulting asset forfeiture arising from law enforcement action.

Armed with video of destruction of its only US real estate, the tier 9 triggers de-legalization of the bench's holding company. Benchco's assets in the Ukraine are sold in less than a second, with the tier 9's preregistered lowball bids scooping up the shares.

The schismatic control software reports a near certainty that the QMove cell can be reactivated again, later (even for non-bench targets), so the tier 9 sells the activation key back to the schismastic's Liquidr account for 78 cents on the dollar.

By 9:15, it has also sold the fire truck back to Michigan state, exactly offsetting the cost of the legislative rider before it even expires!

Fucking tidy, it thinks.

* * *

By 10:28pm, the gas station's Hustle! tier Liquidr AI has realized that something really bad is up. With no assets, and a fresh invoice from the fire department for putting out a fire of some kind, the account's net worth is suddenly deeply negative. For Hustle! tier customers, this triggers auto-bankruptcy mode, instantly terminating the whole account to prevent the customer from becoming even less profitable by letting them complain to customer support.

Its final action is to list the gas station personnel in an eviction authorization for the property's new owner, the Welland Corner Fire Department, in consideration for 33% of the value of any assets seized from its deadbeat former owner.

Bunkers & Billionaires

As I mentioned, Bunkers & Billionaires doesn't exist, but even nonexistent games must answer the question: who are the PCs and what do they do?

They're the people who are trying to destroy this system so that something better can take its place.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Servants of Memory Kickstarter Ending!

We've just entered the last 48 hours of the Kickstarter campaign for the fourth Trilemma bestiary: Servants of Memory.

This edition stats out the Trilemma Adventures Compendium creatures for the Year Zero Engine, the system underlying for a number of popular hex-crawling/base-building adventure RPGs.

We've blown through most of the stretch goals, including stats for a number of magic items, a spread of terrain-specific encounter tables, and playable kin for Carreg, Dradkin, Heelan and Ricalu. If we're lucky, before we're done we'll hit that last stretch goal and get three final playable kin.

If that sounds like your jam, you only have a few hours left to jump in on the Kickstarter! If you know someone else who is, there's only a short time to let them know!

Ennies Wins!

In other news, Trilemma Adventures did very well at the Ennies! As I posted previously, the compendium got nominated in four categories, and we took home a win in two: Silver for 'Best Adventure' (beat out by Mothership's Pound of Flesh), and Gold in Cartography!

Thank you so much for your support, and for your votes!

Next: Ogre Bridge Adventure

As I've revealed to my Vicious Imp patrons, I'm back at adventure-making! Thanks for all of you who have been bearing with me during this long, Kickstarter-scented detour. The wait will soon be over!

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Live: Servants of Memory Kickstarter!

As previously announced, there will be a fourth Trilemma bestiary, this time adapting the creatures for the Year Zero Engine. It is now live on Kickstarter!

The Servants of Memory is a hardcover/softcover monster book with 117 creatures and kin inside, more than half of which have detailed attack tables. There are classic creatures like wraiths, brass soldiers and dire beasts, but also weird and horrible things to keep your players on their toes like water shades, void gulls, and the spider-infested bears of lurrock. 

The book makes it easy to use Trilemma Adventures with Year Zero Engine games, of course, but it also stands alone as a solid set of monsters for random encounters or for stocking your own adventures.

We're way ahead of schedule compared to my last Kickstarter. We've already received our format test prints! There's work still to do of course, but our aim is to deliver smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Join in and help us hit stretch goals for:
  • Dradkin ritual magic
  • Stats for rarities like the Hell Knight's armaments, Spell Engines, and the White Lances of Deel
  • Encounter tables for a dozen terrain types

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Isometric Tutorial #9: Evil Idol in a Niche

I've just posted my ninth isometric dungeon tutorial, this one is an evil idol in a niche.

I haven't posted one of these in a while, so you may not be aware of the rest of the series where I draw an assortment of isometric mapping features.

* * *

As a reminder, there are only three days left to vote in the ENnies! Trilemma Compendium is up for four awards: Best Adventure, Best Layout/Design, Best Cartography, and Product of the Year. I'm sure whoever you vote for can use your support, so vote for what you love before it's too late!

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Year Zero Bestiary Kickstarter!

There will soon be a Trilemma Bestiary for Year Zero Engine fantasy role-playing games. It goes live on Kickstarter on August 4!

The Year Zero Engine is a system reference document released under the OGL, which powers a family of role-playing games in a number of genres: post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and of course, fantasy. A number of people have asked me if we intended to support this system with a bestiary, and the answer is yes!

For some time now, Craig Atkins and friends have been busily converting the Trilemma bestiary creatures to the Year Zero engine, and we're now preparing our Kickstarter campaign.

The Kickstarter launches August 4!
Follow it on Kickstarter

One of the interesting things about Year Zero is the way many creatures are given a table of random moves: interesting things for them to do in a combat situation. Here are three of the entries from the Cave Stitcher:

Cave Stitcher by Russ Nicholson

Craig put his brain against the juicing sieve and has made custom attack tables for more than 75 creatures, and including kin and animals, there will be over 110 creatures in the bestiary. You can of course use these with the adventures from the compendium, but they work just as well to enrich your own setting.

After my compendium Kickstarter last year and putting out three books since, I've learned a bunch of dos and don'ts. This will be a by-the-book, low-risk Kickstarter with a single goal: putting usable monsters in your hands as soon as possible. We will of course have some fun stretch goals, but everything has been carefully selected to fit into a short production schedule.

Friday, 3 July 2020

2020 ENnies Award Nominations

A few days ago I learned that Trilemma Adventures Compendium Vol I has been nominated for four ENnie awards!
  • Best Adventure
  • Best Layout and Design
  • Best Cartography
  • Product of the Year
Voting is live now!  There are some very cool things listed. Some of my favorites:
  • Hit the Streets, Defend the Block, by Rich Rogers (Judges' Spotlight Award)
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luka Rejec (Best Cover, Best Interior Art)
  • TTRPG Safety Toolkit, by Kienna Sunrise, Lauren Bryant-Monk (Best Free Game Product)
  • Zombie World, by Brendan G. Conway, Mark Diaz Truman (Best Game, Best Rules, Product of the Year)
There are a few others I'm less familiar with, but by people who are awesome:
  • Visigoths vs Mall Goths, Lucian Kahn (Best Writing)
  • Asians Represent featuring Daniel Kwan, Agatha Cheng (Best Podcast)
  • Electric Bastionland by Chris McDowall (Best Writing)
  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, the Adventure Game, by Ben Milton, Jack Caesar (Best Cartography, Best Family Game / Product)
Hats off to BFF! Best Friends Forever for a chart-topping five nominations for a single product! (Best Production Values, Product of the Year, Best Interior Art,  Best Family Game / Product, Best Layout and Design).  BFF is based on Fall of Magic, which I've never played (heard great things), and it looks really fantastic.

Free League looks like a heavyweight this year, with the Mithral-selling Alien RPG and MÖRK BORG duelling for best game, and MB looking very solid in three other categories.

* * *

I'm sure I've missed many great things, I don't get out enough. The point is this: in every ENnie year there's a silent category, Best Marketing. I say this without cynicism, marketing is a real skill that few independent outfits bring to the table, and while round one is judged, the voting phase is essentially powered by product awareness, either the skills + grassroots kind, or the skills + money kind.

At the same time, the network effects of the ambient white guy demographic are undeniable. This is a chance to take something that should have more visibility and lift it up so it can be seen. Many such products weren't chosen by the judges, or were written by people who can't afford to gamble what is effectively a $100-200+ entry fee on a slim chance of winning.

Here's what I recommend:
  1. Read the list of nominees
  2. Vote for what you love, what you think should be more widely seen
  3. Then, go and pick three awesome things that weren't nominated (and perhaps weren't even submitted) and post about them somewhere.
I'll start!

My Highlights:
Your turn!

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Dungeon World Bestiary

The Trilemma Bestiary for Dungeon World is now complete, and live on DTRPG! The PDF option is available now, and a softcover option will be available as soon as my proof copy arrives.

Like the 5e and B/X bestiaries, this contains 112 creatures and scores of illustrations. This book makes it even easier to use the compendium adventures in your Dungeon World game, but it's meant to also stand on its own.

It's packed of illustrated, interesting creatures, which vary and complexity from an incidental challenge in the underworld (like the Cave Drake), to a whole community-threatening mini arc, like the Dream Eater:

I'm doing a happy dance over here because this marks the final stretch goal for the compendium Kickstarter. As of now, the Trilemma Adventures Compendium Kickstarter is 100% complete.

* * *

Dungeon World has attracted some flak recently via the rather appalling actions of one of its authors, Adam Koebel, during an actual play livestream.

Johnstone and I have talked it over, and for the next six months I'll be donating the proceeds from sales of this compendium to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which defends and protects the human rights of Black transgender and gender non-conforming people.

At the time of writing, trans rights are under assault in the United States (as in many places), and racial discrimination compounds the problem significantly for Black transgender people.