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.

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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.

#RPGaDay 23

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 23rd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 23, #RPG, #GURPS

I was blown away when I was 11 and I first saw AD&D 1st Edition; it seemed even more impressive than the D&D boxsets. I had the same reaction a short time later when I looked through the Manual of the Planes 1st Ed. The pictures and text layout emphasised the goal of the book, an encyclopaedia of places and metaphysics to explore. For my formative years I have had similar reactions with the majority of RPGs I looked at: Cyberpunk, Warhammer, Vampire, Palladium, etc. I guess typically for my age, even a game with poor layout didn’t particularly bother me; I’d mine it for what I liked regardless.

This changed in the 90s when I finally took a lot at GURPS. I found the books to be jaw dropping, the sheer amount of information crammed in to them. Even the content pages are detailed and long. The layout style in GURPS is further enhanced by its usage of sidebars to layer even more information. I know from chatting with a few other people that the layout of GURPS added to their apprehension with the game, they felt the book was assaulting them with information. I appreciate their point, but for me it’s almost like having a book within a book.

GURPS layout

After I’d seen GURPS I did keep coming across works that impressed me, but I didn’t have the jaw dropping reaction. Even with games I adore: L5R, Changeling: The Dreaming or Aberrant.

As I gained professional experience with layouts, I was required to learn more about the power of layout. When I made the Quest: GM Edition rulebook, it was all about providing information without swamping the reader; I still have mixed opinions on that work, but at least I worked hard on it. Whilst, when my old boss converted the Beyond the Stellar Empire game to Phoenix, he settled on a layout similar to GURPS approach for the rules, which suited the nature of that in-depth game. We discussed different layouts for hours, as well as examining other peoples’ work, fun times.

These days I genuinely appreciate the craft of layout, and the time sink it can involve. I think I’ve finally figured out the layout for my massive role-playing guide, which for years I kept altering. I felt that most of the previous designs, gave the work the presentation like that of a waffling textbook. I feel I still need to learn a lot more, especially given how impressive RPGs can be these days.

There have been many great examples posted for today’s question. In particular Runeslinger’s answer introduced me to a very impressively designed book.

This video gives a good overview on the power of layout:

#RPGaDay 08

#RPGaDay 08

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 8th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 8 #RPG, any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity

I am not trying to dismiss the question with my answer. The question is certainly a good one, since not every role-player is a veteran; also, not every veteran has the same opinion or experiences. From my experience, and from chatting with others, any game can definitely be run in a way that makes it great for a 2 hour or less session, even games renowned for having system mechanics that are quite time consuming.

I believe that whatever the duration of a gaming session, all the normal considerations for running and playing an RPG apply. When determining how time affects a gaming session, I have presented three key considerations with responses:

  1. How much time a group spends on mechanics, and in particular combat.

I have known gamers play rules lite games and spend a lot of time processing things, whilst other gamers quickly process more complex systems. There all sorts of ways to help a group learn a complex system, and play it easier. Whilst systems certainly matter, how they are implemented matters more.

I’ve known role-players that like to embrace the ritual of dice rolling, making the process longer. As well as groups were all the participants excitedly discuss possibilities before the roll, cheer/boo the results, and delight in chatting about the new implications.

  1. How flowing everybody normally is in regards to decision making and describing their actions; this includes the GM.

I don’t believe that a role-player needs to be very experienced to be able to quickly make decisions, or stay focused on a game. Whilst I appreciate gamer experience helps, as will familiarity with other participants’ gaming styles, I am highlighting that I’ve met a few novices who have grasped proceedings quickly.

Role-playing and flow-state is something I have been thinking about for a while, but I’ll go in to depth with this another time. This is a subject I have been researching for my role-playing guide for years.

  1. The amount of non-game conversation.

The dreaded RP issue of a game being plagued by people talking about random things. Whether it’s the usually referencing of films/TV, debates about rules/powers, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, after all having fun is surely the main goal of a game, but for most players I assume they also want to play the game. I’ve had many different groups, and groups that have changed its requirements over time, and I’ve even had ‘hardcore role-players’ want to mostly socialise on odd occasions. Ideally discuss ideas before a short session (see below); one never knows if players fancy a change, maybe just this once.

Interestingly, having a deadline can greatly help with regards to keeping the game focused. By discussing with my group that there was a time issue for that particular session, we were able to decide on plans, and then get promptly started. It’s not always fully worked, but having a deadline was still a positive aspect.


Options

A possibility is for the GM to design encounters that are almost guaranteed to be a lot of dialog. Keep mechanics to a minimum, especially if mechanics are normally a bit of time drain in your group, but not if that is what the players typically love. Part of the skill of GMing is to avoid be railroaded by your own ideas, you can always use what had been planned another time; any encounter can be tweaked and even used in a radically different way, so don’t worry about having wasted any preparation time.

Even if the session is in the midst of a campaign, then maybe for this particular short session there all sorts of possibilities:

  • If the GM has big time pressure, maybe let someone else run something.
  • Use the opportunity to try out something new. Many games include pre-generated character, and an introductory story, which is ideal for this sort of thing.
  • Use the opportunity to flesh out backstory, flashbacks to something that was skimmed over, maybe a dream sequence. All of these ideas can be cliché, but can work wonderfully if handled well (avoid being too epic, keep it personal).
  • For some games the session could maybe be used as a downtime/blue-book session. This will be a chance to work out things, maybe each player details characters connected to their PC.
  • Role-play different characters in the setting, maybe relatives or allies of the PCs. Maybe the relatives/allies have found vital information, but since the PCs are in a dungeon, or at sea, the chat is about what to about things. If rarely done this can be a nice way of foreshadowing things.
  • A lot of other ideas, I am sure you get my point 🙂

As there are plenty of posts by other role-players giving system recommendations, I went with my gut reaction to this question. I believe this question raises a deeper issue regarding how gaming styles, session plans, and system mechanics combine to influence what is considered ‘good’. I hope that by highlighting the above I have been helpful to a few people.

I’ve not called any system out, as per my blog mission statement and the guidelines for the RPGaDay event about keeping to positive answers:

 

#RPGaDay 01

Chatting with role-players online and researching is something I quite enjoy, although like most people I do worry about the time sink factor. Yet despite that I’ve decided to take part in #RPGaDay, which was started four years ago by Dave Chapman:

A few years ago I felt there was a negative undercurrent in our hobby. Sorry to say that, but I felt it was there, and inspired by one of those “aDay” things for bibliophiles I thought that I could try to get the world talking about tabletop RPGs in a positive and encouraging way.

Besides the fact it is something I find really interesting, I debated with myself about the time factor. I have so much going on currently, plus my health/energy management to consider, but I finally convinced myself using the following key arguments:

  1. It will be more good writing practice, since RP is my primary passion. I will want to write a lot, but also not just waffle.
  2. Given the number of tweets, I am likely to come across interesting points.
  3. A few friends have recommended that I blog more.

Since leaving KJC Games I have too many unfinished projects. Of course I have run a lot of other peoples’ games, but until recently not my own. I imagine a few friends will remind me of previous conversations: “Finish your RPG Guide, and stop procrastinating by doing another decade’s worth of research.” Although I’ve not double checked with them, I think they will be happy that I am using this month as extra motivation. I believe it will provide me many chances to re-examine ideas from a fresh perspective; due to lots of editing I am somewhat sick of reading my own stuff.

The following is the list of questions for this year:

#RPGaDay

My answer to the question for day 1: What published RPG would you like to be playing right now?

Anyone who has read my recent blog posts on Cryptomancer won’t be too surprised by my answer involving that lovely game. Although I’ve not blogged about Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R) yet, it is one of my favourite RPGs; I’m one of those people that has 10 favourite RPGS, 10 favourite bands, etc. I’ve been running the same L5R campaign since the game came out, so my group and I have a lot invested in the game; one player has the same character he started back in 1997. As my campaign has ‘featured’ the Shadow a lot, and secret organisations, I think Cryptomancy would fit right in; I’ll expand on this idea another time.

I nearly choose Tales From The Loop, as I am quite intrigued by that. I love the book Roadside Picnic, the Stalker computer games, and of course Stranger Things. A friend backed the Kickstarter, and loves the finished product. There are so many other games I’d like to be playing: Numenera, FATE, WoD, Aberrant, plus many more to get in to; we are living in an RPG rich age.

Although I have written a lot about this today, I am not planning on writing so much for each of my answers. I likely will, but this will be another chance to practice: if I had more time I’d have written less.

If you are interested in #RPGaDay, and you’d like to know more, then check out Dave Chapman. Also of note is Brigade Con, as Dave mentions on his page, they have been helping to run #RPGaDay, also check out Casting Shadows blog. There is also a webpage https://rpgaday.com/ providing a feed of the numerous tweets.

Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.

RPG Power of PBM: Social

This post about RPG and Play by Mail Games (PBM) continues on from the previous article RPG Power of PBM: Time.

When discussing PBM RPG, occasionally someone will be concerned that there is a lack of social interaction in such a game type. They envision a lone player reading something like a Choose Your Own Adventure, or Fighting Fantasy book. Even before the explosion in email access or the World Wide Web took off, PBM games were very social. Granted some players were playing a smaller game with none of their local friends involved, and they had to wait for a letter to arrive by post from other players. Whilst phoning someone was possible, back then the cost was off putting, particularly an issue for younger players; the further back in time we go the more likely players did not have telephone access. These days, none of these concerns are an issue, if you have access to email or the web you are good to go.

It’s understandable that some players of tabletop games, and in particular LARP, would assume that socialising is an issue in a PBM game. Consider how many people refer to the online world as not being real, there is just something detached about a lack of physical presence. This lack of face-to-face interaction does not prevent a PBM player from developing strong social ties. Besides curiosity, many games promote alliances, and given the strategising power of PBM, contacting other players is normal. Obviously other players are going to form alliances, and information gathering is vital.

Direct social interacting, face-to-face, whether physically or virtually, is not something everyone wants to do. There could be any one of a number of reasons, such as: illness/injury, bedridden, social anxiety, autism, and returning to the previous article’s point about time. Please don’t think of PBM games as being just for mental health sufferers, non-neurotypicals, or the disabled, this list just highlights another benefit of this game type.

During a tabletop game, and even more so with LARP, the emotional intensity and sense of connection can be quite intense. It may seem that PBM will lack this level, but just like with any other role-playing games, whether playing with others, or reading a turn result by themselves, players can still achieve emotional highs from succeeding or failing. Given the strategy aspect I previously emphasised, having a long-time ambitious plan succeed certainly provides an emotional high. Other players also tend to be interested in what is going in the game, so there are still plenty of chances to socialise with others and froth, as well telling friends about your latest game exploits.

The raise of the modern Massively multiplayer online (MMO) owes it roots to tabletop RPG, Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), and PBM. Within these games large number of players come together to form alliances, either to compete with other players, or the game world. Organising things with other players is a big part of the MMO genre: fleet co-ordination in EVE Online, dungeon raids in World of Warcraft, etc.

Coalition

As mentioned above, players were forming alliances in PBM games decades ago, and some professional games were quite popular. Playing a bigger PBM means more players to interact with, and this scaling of game size translates to more people to keep up to date with. The end result being a player can spend a lot of time communicating with other players, and this certainly addresses the query of socialising with a PBM. For some players they can be communicating with many players a day, all year, a level of socialising tabletop or LARP rarely achieve.

My first PBM game was Quest by KJC Games, which I eventually ended up running and redesigning as a moderated RPG. As a kid I had seen PBM adverts in the old White Dwarf magazine (Games Workshop), but the money I earned from my paper round went on RPG books and wargame models. Whilst at college I met some other gamers, and via these people I eventually gave Quest a go. Their Quest alliance consisted of only people they regularly hung out with, partly to keep in game information secure, and partly just because they were friends. Before a tabletop gaming session they often discussed their PBM plans, and this eventually resulted in devastating attacks on their enemies. When Magic the Gathering came along, the group would often bounce PBM ideas around whilst playing cards; fun times. I appreciate I was lucky with regards to joining such a organised group of players.

In the next article I’ll tackle a question I have been asked many times: “But how do you actually role-play during a PBM?”