Inspirational Friends

Back in January 2018 my friend Richie Janukowicz started a vlog with the aim of doing a video a day. Richie has been involved in a few podcasts, Geek Pride and Noobgrind websites, as well as various creative projects, so he knew what he was letting himself in for.

I decided I would comment on every video, a simple way of keeping in touch. On some days it has been hard to figure out what to write, which is a bit pathetic but also a good example of self-imposed pressure; technically I don’t need to entertain, just comment.

I’ve not written a blog for months, besides my usual health issues I have preferred to focus on writing and design. Thankfully I’ve gotten a lot of writing done, including finishing a story. I have also been building towards making some videos about role-playing, which Richie and I have talked about many times. Like most people it has been an issue of allocating time and thus what to give up. I found Richie’s daily vlogs inspiring, somebody with his own health problems, as well family and work commitments has managed it. The short form of Richie’s videos as his workload increased is also a reminder that you can still hit a target by adjusting things. Whilst long form video essays are something to aspire to, they are extremely time-consuming, and that quality level is something to build towards, not demand of yourself at the start.

On an academic note, although there are many content creators on YouTube with an impressive number of followers and a lucrative number of views, apparently the vast majority of YouTube’s content is family centric content viewed by just a few relatives. So Richie’s videos also provide his friends and family to keep somewhat up to date with him, as well as being a diary. I presume Dr Michael Wesch: “An anthropological introduction to YouTube” is still applicable.

Advertisements

RPG Sigmata + Politics Your Way

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG and part 2.

At the time of writing there are just 12 hours to go till the Sigmata Kickstarter ends. It has reached an impressive level of backing, having now gone over $35,000. The stretch goals include several different settings for the game, a soundtrack and now a companion book, has been unlocked.

Whilst initially I had planned on doing an interview with Chad about his game and inspirations, he has provided lots of great answers in several interviews, well as a Reddit AMA. There are quite some diverse Q&A and I’d recommend checking them out.

Instead of more questions I decided that the focus of this blog would be about politics and choice in regards to RPGs. Part of my reasoning is that I’d read several comments querying the focus of the game, a few debates about political terms, ethics, history, plus even an accusation of cartoon evil. Given the nature of Sigmata’s focus: “ethical insurgency against a fascist regime”, it is no wonder that trying to condense such important debates in to a summary of a game, one that also needs to serve as a sales pitch, is difficult. I can appreciate why different people are focusing on particular points, and why given the serious nature of politics someone would have the audacity to gamify the subject.

Whilst I have spent many hours reading and writing about RPG theory, I appreciate that not every player has, nor wants to, as well as why some players think it is all irrelevant nonsense. Sigmata is being designed with mechanics to emphasis the game goals, which is great, but it is worth remembering that players that dismiss RPG theory do have a point, that players can still play however they want, with whatever emphasis they want. This is especially true for a group of friends who regularly play together. After all role-playing is very much what we make it, and my summary regarding this topic is:

Systems matter, I think players & implementation matter more.

I previously had a brief chat with Chad about how in any game players will play how they want, it is of course something he is well aware of. Much like with his Cryptomancer game, Chad is providing players with mechanics and a setting to help explore things in the best way possible: a game. The importance of play is something that gained a lot of credibility in science, whilst this was obvious to so many, unsurprisingly other people dismiss play as childish and an actually waste of time. Also the idea that adults cannot explore ideas to keep learning, or that play has no value, is strange to me; at least it seems that general consensus on play has shifted. So I am all for Chad’s approach to RPGs and gamification.

One thing that has stood out to me is Chad presenting a few game examples with different ways to handle things. Additionally Chad’s Cryptomancer game similarly had choice, but with an emphasis on caution/care, since considering repercussions in a game inspired by cybersecurity was paramount in helping players to think about real life security. I bring this up in regards to RPG choice, since although many role-players are all about choice, other players prefer to play the same narrowly focused violent style games, so it should be no surprise that some people have focused on the violent aspects of Sigmata’s game. Like most games I’ve played with many groups, all with varying degrees of focus, resulting in a plethora of differences, I am all for players playing how they want, as I wrote about in Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine. If you want to play in a game world with a cartoon evil government and hyper violent PCs then go right ahead, plus who knows where it could lead.

Another area of concern for some is Sigmata’s examples of player character factions. If this is an issue for you then feel free to change things, maybe take the the middle ground and make strange bedfellows more of an exception in your games. I appreciate that different words generate strong rationale and/or emotions in each of us. In a highly polarised world it can be easy to forget, or not even appreciate, that most people are not as different or divided as some say we are. I don’t wish to come across as naive, note I wrote ‘some’, I do appreciate that some people are invested in, and profit from, dividing people. Nor that it is just a matter of education, genuine psychopaths exist, people can develop mental disorders, temporary stress is usually a factor in peoples’ responses, etc. Back to role-playing, party conflict can be a great source for storytelling, think of the list of examples as a powerful source of inspiration and conflict.

If someone reads Sigmata’s overview and is worried about players arguing then I recommend they discuss ideas with their group before playing; I find problems can be minimised, or even avoided. For groups that don’t normally have a session 0, or email list to discuss things, then I’d recommend doing so in regards to Sigmata if only due to the divisive subject matter, particularly in comparison the vast majority of other RPGs.

I think Sigmata promises to offer something to all gamers, but particularly to anyone that has an interest in history, military tactics, psychology, or similar subjects. I recommend backing this game and giving it a try, if only to expand your RPG mental tool kit/belt.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2089483951/sigmata-this-signal-kills-fascists

Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo 2017 p2

Continuing on from my previous post about the Gingerbread competition.

I successfully sent my entry for Gingerbread’s ‘One in Four’ before the deadline, which involves Trapeze Books (part of Orion) and The Pool UK. I received a confirmation email a few minutes later so thankfully my paranoia was somewhat alleviated, not entirely of course. Whilst the book is not complete, I’ll take finishing the competition portion as completing something 😉

In 2016 I entered the Richard and Judy book competition. Whilst I managed to hit the deadline, I also disliked writing it. The story was about a family recovering from losing a child in a school shooting, and I simply didn’t enjoy writing it; no surprise given the subject matter. Part of the reason was that I was still massively struggling with my health then. This Gingerbread story is different, after struggling to get going and keep momentum I started to enjoy things. Also, considering how much effort I’ve put in it would be silly to put it on hold. So the plan is to split my writing between my fantasy social services setting, non-fiction work on my role-playing guide, plus continuing this Gingerbread ‘One in Four’ tale.

A shout-out to my editor-extraordinaire Damian who also said the story so far was good. His feedback gave me a lot of confidence as I was going through my final tweaks and proofreading. Damian has helped me many times over the years, from helping me edit my rulebooks when I worked at KJC Games as well as several fiction writing projects; his eye for detail is impressively high.

I plan to resume posts about my Gollancz Festival 2017 experience next.

Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo

As my health has improved this year, I have made substantial progress with several of my projects. Like so many creative types, sticking to a single project is a struggle, so it was a mixed blessing when I heard The Bestseller Experiment interview in September announcing the Gingerbread competition: One in Four. The deadline is the 4th of December, and I’ve spent the majority of this November’s NaNoWriMo focused on that project. It’s been quite an emotionally demanding endeavour, reflecting upon distant memories, as well as talking to several people about their single-parent experience. Based upon these conversations, and my own reflections, I made a list of keywords to highlight commonalities.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I had been working on a character in my fantasy setting who is a single-parent. I debated whether to make this character in to the protagonist, and since any genre is allowed for the competition, it would make sense to keep writing within the same fictional universe. Whilst some fantasy has mass appeal, it is rare, so in the end I decided to write a story set in modern day.

Given all the work I’d done, it was still a surprise to discover that I had problems working out a single story. After abandoning several outlines, as well as several pages that I just started writing without an outline, I decided to start writing about my own experience; I could always change details once the work was done.

By the time November started, and thus the start of NaNoWriMo, I had a collection of impressive waffle. At least this approach had provided me with several scenes and some dialogue that I did like; one cannot rewrite nothing. Despite my health declining again this month I was still able to persevere through the pain and stress. I successfully outlined a fictional story inspired by the experiences of myself and friends that I actually liked, being more than just a mix of our lives. I have since written a lot, but only tweaked the outline in small ways, a good sign that this story will stay on track and be completed. I still have a few more days with which to tweak what I plan on submitting, as well as receiving feedback from friends. Surprisingly, given how self-critical I am of my writing (like many people), I am quite optimistic about my chances with this competition.

GollanczFest 2017 part 2

This continues on from my Bestseller and GollanczFest post.

Day 1 of GollanczFest 2017 was on Saturday November 4th. Richie and I had of time to chat about writing on the train as we travelled into London. Since Richie was going to the Writer’s Worksop at the Phoenix, whilst I was going to Foyles for the Panels, we knew we’d have plenty to discuss on the return train home.

I had heard Foyles was quite an impressive bookshop, I can confirm it certainly is, and thus it made for a great location for the event. Since I had over an hour till the panels started I perused the many floors of extensive bookshelves. Eventually I purchased John Yorke’s Into the Woods and settled down to reading for a while; a book both Richie and Mark Stay highly recommend. By the time I went back to the top floor for the event’s start there was quite an impressive queue.

Foyles

Upon entering the room for the panels, we were given a tote pack. The tote bag’s print design is quite impressive. The bag contained an overview of the event, some striking samples of forthcoming fiction, plus some water and even a chocolate bar. It certainly set the event up well, especially the water, since I’d forgotten to bring any; sadly I had also forgotten to bring Moo & Bat with me for photos.

GollanczFest tote bag

I got to briefly talk with Mark Stay who was working on the event, both on and off stage. The Bestseller Experiment podcast had officially started at the GollanczFest 2016, and it was great to see Mr Stay at this year’s event, but with the bonus that he is now a bestselling author; shame Mr Desvaux couldn’t be there, but it’s a very long way for him to come for a weekend.

Mark Stay
Mark Stay guardian of the Author-Portal for #GollanczFest 2017

One thing I regret is not talking to any of the people I was sat near. Undoubtedly anyone that had turned up was passionate about reading, and likely writing. Whilst it is likely the room had many shy book readers, it was unlikely any of us was going to freak out, quietly of course, and run out of the run if one of us said hello. Whilst I don’t consider myself shy anymore, I still fell back in to very old habits of feeling awkward about striking up a conversation with the few people I’d made eye contact with; which is extra odd since I had been talking to Mark Stay only minutes earlier. Looking around the room, there were people chatting. Thankfully it was only ten minutes until the first panel started, and armed with my mobile I did a little bit of writing and then checked Twitter.

Since so much happened at the numerous panels, I’ve decided to do separate posts about each of them. I still have lots of fiction writing to do today so I’ll write about the first panel another time: Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!

I’ve currently focused on the Gingerbread competition, since the deadline of December 4th is fast approaching. I’ve made it my NaNoWriMo writing challenge, and although attending the GollanczFest really made me want to return to my main writing project, I have managed to stay on target; well, not my word count target, but something is better than nothing.

PS – Richie is the person that runs http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

Bestseller and GollanczFest

Last week, November 4th & 5th, was quite the experience as I went to the Gollancz Festival. The event was held at Foyles, a rather grand bookshop in London. I had wanted to go to the writer’s workshop, but that had sold out. Fortunately for me I won tickets to the main Gollancz Festival via the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

Since my friend Richie was going to the writer’s workshop the event also had an extra appeal; we already chat a lot about our writing, and it’s rare we meet up these days. Plus I had not visited his home yet, so after a brief discussion an extended visit was planned.

One thing about long train journeys is at least there is plenty of chance for reading and writing. Even for someone like myself who suffers from travel sickness, trains are generally tolerable for me, plus when I did feel a bit off I stopped writing and changed to listening to an audio book.

Joining me on my journey were Moo & Bat, my mini-fluffy-sidekicks. I planned on taking some silly pictures of them on the train and at the festival, in part because I’ve been thinking through some children story ideas. Plus the Adventures of Moo & Bat amuses my wife.

The Adventures of Moo & Bat

I’ll write about the Saturday morning Gollancz Festival panels next time. I’ll end this short post by highlighting that the Bestseller Experiment has a Patreon fund. Considering the value Mark Stay & Mark Desvaux have provided with this great podcast, it is something I am happy to support even though I currently have no income due to health problems. Just to clarify, I had backed them before I knew I had won Gollancz Festival tickets 😉 It would be quite sad if the podcast does not continue, and it’s worth considering what quality & quantity season 2 could provide, so please consider getting involved.

https://www.patreon.com/bestsellerexperiment

I quite enjoyed Mark Stay’s recent interview with Cover to Cover.

Part 2 of my GollanczFest visit.

Spirit Choice for Secret Rage

This continues on from part 1 PBM Thanks & Secret Rage, the 2nd part is Spirit Game – Secret Rage.

Further to what I wrote previously about the scale of any game that includes something as vast as D&D’s Planescape, L5R’s spirit realms, or World of Darkness’s three Umbras, etc., I appreciated I was giving myself a ludicrous amount of work. Powerful characters tend to have a lot of lore and cultural understanding that would be a key factor in any character choices, and typically large networks of others to manage. This applies to all sorts of high-end campaigns:

  • Epic level character in D&D, GURPS, etc.
  • Methuselah in Vampire, or Archmage in Mage, Deathlord in Wraith
  • Clan Daimyo in L5R
  • Epic level Superteam member like one of the Justice League
  • Daemon Prince in Warhammer’s Slave to Darkness and Lost & Damned
  • Eldar Farseer in Warhammer 40,000

In 1995 I ran a Warhammer Chaos Champions RPG, with the goal of one of the party becoming Daemon Princes. Despite how much we all enjoyed it, two of the players left the area and the game was put on hold. Cue reminiscing about one of those cool campaigns that got away…

Whilst this chronicle is very much set in the World of Darkness, games like D&D’s Planescape, L5R and GURPS have been great aids in working out ideas. All part of my RPG mental-toolbelt belief.

Since an ancient spirit would have vast knowledge of many subjects and treaties with many other spirits, I decided to go with the easy solution of starting the game with the birth of the spirit. This way the player and I will develop a better understanding of the character’s development, and as I’ve written about before PBM is particularly good at handling Time. The time between turns allows for all sorts of details to be pondered, worked out, and dramatic character development.

I made a big list of story/chronicle ideas for Richie to choose from. The idea being that by playing a unique spirit, the spirit’s nature and goals can be designed to cater to the type of game he wants to play. The following is part of the list I sent to him:

  • An Ancestral Incarna, this could be ancient Spirit that goes back to the dawn of the Garou Tribes; these types of spirits are heavily linked to Past Life. They might be closely linked to the dead, maybe even formed by long-dead Garou, or they could be epherma (Spirit matter awakened by a Tribe’s actions), or maybe they came from the Tribe’s Totem but gained importance and independence. This sort of Incarna would be focused on members of a single Tribe.
  • Incarna of Historical Big Moment, this Spirit embodies the idea that big moments are guaranteed/inevitable, and that an individual plays a pivotal role; humans tend to fixate on the ‘big-movers of history’, but this Spirit understands things are more complicated, and it figures out what domino to knock over. Maybe it’s an Ancestral spirit, maybe more linked to the dream realm and Chimera’s brood, maybe this is linked to Storytelling Spirits given its narrative nature, maybe a Past Life Spirit, or maybe it is a manifestation of the Fates.
  • A Wyrm healing Incarna that has hidden itself away and wants to heal the Wyrm by re-joining it! This is likely a super-hard mode campaign, which is saying something given the standard hard mode of the Apocalypse. Maybe the Wyrm is insane because this Incarna spirit escaped, maybe with this piece the Wyrm could heal, sounds like a crazy plan, but the Hydra is crazy 😉
  • A tiny spark of the Balance Wyrm, this Incarna focuses on figuring out how free its parent. However, how to fight a Triat? Especially given the scope of the task. Can the Weaver be persuaded? Can the Wyld be slowed enough to talk to? Could the Wyrm reveal a secret even in its current insane state? As above, super-hard mode, and crazy Hydra.
  • A Weaver Spirit that is a hybrid with either Wyld or Wyrm. In the Wenn Diagram of the Triat there is cross-over, albeit normally in smaller ways and only briefly, cosmologically speaking.
  • Maybe a Spirit explicitly dedicated to a different Supernatural race, maybe in regards to healing, communication, monitoring, or maybe the race’s total annihilation.
  • A lesser Incarna that is a sub-part of the Phoenix Incarna, this would be a big secret since the Garou nation does not know about it. It reveals itself only to Garou who must walk a lonely path to carry out a quest associated to a concept like redemption, rebirth, transformation, etc.
  • The Carer of Gaia’s Word, a spirit that has a secret quest, to protect a secret of Gaia, one that was whispered to her sister Luna. What that secret is, how it relates to the Triat, or to the Apocalypse would be a key part for focusing the chronicle’s theme.
  • Crazy Outsider Spirit Pretending to be a Wyld Incarna: This crazy suggestion could be that the spirit is basically one of Cthulhu Mythos in disguise trying to usurp Gaia, or simply get a place at the buffet of gnosis.
  • Trickster Incarna, super-mega-turbo-hard campaign. It claims to have this big secret, and travels about distracting everything so a subtle plan can be implemented. Likely results in many dead Garou, and other Fera. Maybe the secret is even real!
  • Ninja Spirit, because well ninjas.
  • <Insert TODO Incarna>. The ultimate trick of the Weaver, the Procrastination Planning Spirit. Somehow it will resolve the Apocalypse via a night of cramming. This sounds like the most powerful thing ever! 😉

After a lot of discussion we worked out another spirit idea, which will be revealed in a later blog. Once this was done we were able to determine the chronicle’s focus. I also mentioned that once the game is established I will consider adding new players to the game, partly depending on health, partly workload, and also whether I program some of the game aspects to make it easier to run something even bigger.

There had been a good few minutes spent discussing the <Insert TODO Incarna>. I love this idea, and I’ve added it to my vast list of comedy RP ideas to develop; I’ve made a few already for my forever in development role-playing guide, since it previously read like a monotone academic volume.

Next time I will introduce the prelude.