Archive for November, 2009

Things I learned about RPGs over the years.

 

I’ve learned a few rules…why are you looking me like that? Okay, rules is a bit strong, if not inaccurate. Maybe lessons I picked up? Working suggestions? Useful bullet points? Whatever! Here is a list of things I sort of remember from my many years of playing RPGs and mastering a few (just a tad). In no particular order (other than the one given, like you really care either way)

1. Every gamer is a min-maxer: Each and every ONE OF THEM. Even the scrawny kid in the corner who is waiting for his thespian moment. Oh, woe it be to the Master who goes anywhere his one combo, stat or item he has hanged his characters hopes and fears on. Somebody called the waaaaaambulance please! Also known as “all players all whiny little children”.

Oh, a mirror, for me? Thank you! And don’t get me started on the munchkins . Yes, I have that mirror right here. Why do you ask?

2. Strip all publish adventures of treasure: Every single copper piece, +1 sword or other form of treasure must go. Then carefully build the treasure with all the misery love of a pre-Xmas Eve Ebenezer Scrooge. It is the only way to avoid Monty Hauling , which invariably leads to a dead campaign because the PC ascended to godhood by the end of the first encounter, or you drop a red dragon on their heads which leads to a TPK (Total Party Kill for you noobs!)

3. Don’t mess with the established monsters: Sure you can fiddle with them a little, but go too far and you will NEVER live down that one time, fifteen years ago when you decided to drop a “special” on them. Never…EVER!

4. When you utter the words, “Hey aren’t you playing X?” or “Here I have an NPC ready for you”, or “How about playing Y race cause I really need one in my game”, it translates in the players mind thus (Cue Admiral Akbar voice) “IT’S A TRAP!”

5. The Rule of Inverse Book Rule Carry: Lets say your current system has, oh I don’t know, 10 books so far (it’s just a number, yes I know they have like 30 out, or 177, just go with it, okay!). If you bring all 10, by the end of the night you will discover that you brought 9 to many. Bring only one and, of course, you brought 9 too few. Never fails.

6. The Inverse Square Rule of GM Loving/Slavish Detail: The more you time you spend on something, a weapon, an NPC or a map (or some such) the less likely the Players will care about it, react to it or bother to use it. However they will spend hours try to gang-bang the no name wench behind the bar, then once she gets knocked up they will want you to research (i.e. make shit up on the spot) the whole courtship/marriage ritual/ceremony whatever of the Old Kingdom of Aerdy just so they can slap a ring on the bitch and then leave her and her unborn child behind to loot another dungeon.

7. “You all meet at the local inn.” It’s old, cliched, kind of stupid and boring. It also FUCKING WORKS!

8. Ask for a character background, you may get a paragraph if you’re lucky. Ignore the player that handed you a freaking bible of a backstory and they will go on, and on, and on, and….yeah…..

9. As the GM is the master of time and space, which means if you give 3 days for the PCs to recover, hop across the planes, save their uber-wizard friend from the Pit of Hell and be back to face down the Apocalypse and the PCs say, “Not going to happen Bob”. Don’t be surprised if they didn’t also rescue Dorothy from Oz and reversed Global Warming while they were at it.

10. Celebrate PC ingenuity: If they found a cool way to kill your uber-monster of the week, reward them, don’t whine about how it was too easy. Also clever and unexpected solutions to problems (in and out of combat) are what players live for, so don’t be a spoil sport about it.

11. Oh and a final note, NO CLUE IS OBVIOUS FOR THE CLUELESS: What is obvious to you is not obvious to your players, remember rule #6.

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Hardening Sci-Fi without turning it into a fossil

Sci-fi is all the rage these days. Made a sneaky comeback (or not) with Star Trek: NextGen and grew in popularity during the 90s until today. However, it is, by enlarge, on the soft side of the scale (downright mushy if you ask me). In the beginning (somewhere in the middle of of the 19th century) science fiction was truly speculative  fiction. New scientific discoveries accelerated the pace of technological advancement. They in turn opened up a universe of possibilities for adventure in far away places, like Venus, Mars, or the moons of Saturn. When man managed to reach earth orbit, hard science fiction became popular and distinct from the softer fluff of pulp fiction, which came to be known as space opera (as in soap opera).

The authors like Arthur C. Clarke took a hard look at the science in front of them and extrapolated entire universes bound by the laws of physics.  Overtime the science became a straight jacket to story telling and confined sci-fi to a sub-class of hardcore fans. Meanwhile franchises like Start Trek and Star Wars (who turned the concept of space opera upside down) went the other way and opened up the genre to millions of fans worldwide. Yet even after they encouraged a new generation of scientist and technologist to go farther in their fields, they still scratched their heads, “But that doesn’t work that way!

Hollywood sci-fi has gotten so fluffy that all it takes to call something sci-fi is for the producers to declare,  “X IN SPACE” or “Y IN THE FUTURE“. Now not all shows or movies trend that way (recent SW and ST movies not withstanding). A few examples show that you can have a enough science to spice up your narrative without being strap down to a table for a extended session of electroshock therapy at the hands of astrophysicist screaming “THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE!”

Examples include: Firefly (no sound in space, not FTL), BSG/B5 (Newtonian Physics which makes for some cool space dogfights) and a few others (feel free to insert your own examples). By adding a few bits of real science you can break the mold and make your show cool again. Doesn’t mean you have to jettison all the softer parts (artificial gravity, FTL, space dogfights),  especially if you need them to make the story work for you. Just be careful that you keep it consistent and don’t abuse the applied phlebotinum.

In other words, you can still use science to wow your audience without pretending you care for the actual science.

By way of example, look at this short video. If that is not a gorgeous sight perfect for any sci-fi (or even fantasy) story, I don’t know what is:

It’s dead Jim

I’m a writer, not a necromancer. My NaNo was DOA and got more putrid with every word I injected into it.

So I said, screw this!

I started over.

Will I make it to November 30th?

I doubt, but at least I shed a lot of bad ideas and now I can proceed with a clear mind.

Because NaNo is not (just) about winning, it is also about the writing.

And that makes this a win for me.

Good luck to all of you this month. Keep on writing!

NaNo Update: Things Coming Together and Blowing Apart

Now the story feels like it they are coming together. The key players are coming online and the action is moving forward. Still behind the curve at about 10k to 15k words but I can live with that as long as I keep writing. I’ll see how many more words I can produce before I hit the sack tonight.

Laging behind in NaNo

But I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot:

 

Yes, that is the NaNo counter widget. Forgot to include it in pasts NaNo posts. It’s up now.

Now back to work.

Breakthrough

So far NaNo has been nothing but pure frustration.

That is until last night.

Last night I finally reached my minimum daily requirement (1,600 words).  I’m still way behind but I can catch up now.

The problem so far is that I screwed up the beginning. It doesn’t have a proper hook. And so I plowed on, chapter after chapter. But now the action is picking up, which is what the book needed. Yes I know, NaNo is a very rough draft, but I always pride myself in my beginnings.

One rule I always follow, killed someone in the first three pages, preferably by the end of the first page if possible. A bit crass, I know, but nothing raises the stakes like a well place body. I’ll do my best to win this year and leave the inner editor out of this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to NaNo.

Web Tools for Your RPG Campaing- Obsidian Portal

I found (via the Penny Arcade news page) a new web based site for tracking and keeping notes about pencil-and-paper RPG campaigns. Its called Obsidian Portal. According to their home page:

Obsidian Portal allows you to create Dungeons and Dragons campaign websites and other tabletop role-playing games. Rather than trying to automate the playing of the game, Obsidian Portal provides tools to help facilitate the storytelling. Every campaign gets a shared blog/wiki to showcase their story, as well as integrated tools to help track NPCs, locations, treasure, and all the other minutae that makes up an RPG. Check out this video for more details.

Basically you can upload background information, maps (in jpeg format) and all the minutia of your current campaign. It need not be a D&D campaign or for that matter an RPG at all (great for fantasy/sci-fi world building) and the service is free (although if you want to use the full features you need to “upgrade”). So far I found it useful if nothing else a backup for my own files in case the worse happens. For example, I uploaded this map of one of the locations for my upcoming campaign (made with the Neverwinter Nights 1 Aurora engine, however my copy of NVW went kaput, so I lost the ability to create more 3D maps!). Feel free check out my campaign page here.

 

And now for some over the top anime action!