Thursday, October 25, 2007

Serial Distractibility

Just as I decide to do NaNoWriMo, I start spinning out another campaign setting, this time a desert ruins exploration deal, in the style of the West Marches. I probably won't get far enough to actually be able to run it, but it'll keep me from using my downtime to work out bits and pieces of the novel.

Which I'm currently worried is not stupid enough to make a really good NaNoWriMo entry.

And this is in addition to planning campaigns way off in the mists of time, for next summer. Which are at least guaranteed to get run, unless I come up with some really cool idea two weeks before kick-off time and decide to go with it instead.

In other news: Roy is screwed. Check out that second sentence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Regrettably Inspiring Title

Now I really want to write a novel (or something) called Saturday's Warrior. This is unfortunate.

It puts me in mind of a character. There is a person named Saturday, and this person has a warrior. Something of that nature. Not even the least bit related to what the title actually refers to.

Sort of like what happened when I heard Keep on the Borderlands for the first time.

Maybe I should write a novel containing the ideas that the title inspires, but call it something else. Give it a different title from the one I'm holding in my head.

Stuff I Found in Drafts

There are no stupid questions. Only questions that tend not to edification.

"Snakes are basically the funniest animals ever. Except maybe weasels. But weasels are basically just snakes with fur."

"I'd say he's about a 4.5, on a scale of 1 to Hitler."

Realism is over-rated.

Today, I wondered if I could kill myself with Metamucil.

Kung Pao Squid

Whack-a-Mole is a universal principle.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Inspired by a Conversation a Few Days Ago

Hey, here's a metaphor:

DMing is like directing a movie with no script. And the actors all have guns.

Okay, so it's actually a simile.

Friday, October 19, 2007

IQ Tests Are Bogus Anyway

Anyone else been keeping up on the Watson debacle? (If you haven't been, check out Watson to Africa: You're All Dumb. Lots of nice links, get the whole story.)

My first reaction to this is: seriously, what century is he living in?

Second reaction: Please, everyone, can we quit obsessing about intelligence? As a concept? The most important part of a person is not how smart they are. It's not the be all, end all, absolute measure of human value.

Yes, parts of Africa are messed up. Lots of places in the world are messed up. News flash: Smart people are also capable of colossal screw-ups. Intelligence is not an absolute indicator of success, and success is not an absolute indicator of intelligence. Not on a continental level, not a national level, not on a personal level.

So please, stop using intelligence as a crutch for your outdated ideologies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Brief Moment of Culture

It turns out that Qwerty-iu-whatsit's music type stuff is actually pretty awesome.

So check it out. Unless you hate techno. Or Newgrounds. Which are both perfectly legitimate positions of loathing.

If you don't: he claims the early stuff is vile. Beware.

Onslaught, on the other hand, is righteous.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Best Books Are a Dollar Twenty-Five

I have a new favorite book: Spacehawk, Inc. by Ron Goulart.

It's about Kip Bundy, Space Engineer! He builds robots, mostly, and has to go to Malagra to fix a bunch of robot butlers who have gone kablooie and have high potential surliness ratings. And he has to fix them without letting their owners know, because it might cause an international incident, somehow.

Mostly, it's got catmen, and lizardmen, (who you can shoot, no one minds) and the Boyscout Liberation Army, a talking car, a robot revolutionary who glues on his beard, and all manner of equally wacky happenings.

It's the kind of book that you figure out very quickly, because there's really only one kind of book where the protagonist is named "Kip Bundy."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unitarian Universalism

Anyone seen the ads the UUA is running in Time Magazine? They're pretty nifty. There's also a video that's worth checking out.

It's a cool religion. I met my first gaming group through the church youth group, and it's where I learned to play Dungeons & Dragons, so it's near to my heart in that way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Because No Game Master Can Be Too Insane

I'm of the opinion that every game master should write at least one novel.

Or make at least one movie. Or one comic book. Or video game. But a novel is one of the simplest, most solitary, and easiest to complete narrative forms around. (And it will be particularly easy to complete when NaNoWriMo rolls around.)

Trying another narrative form is a good way to pick up tricks applicable to running a game. Character development, world design, the generation of conflict; a novel improves all these skills.

But more broadly, knowing another narrative form is a good way, maybe the only way, to find out what roleplaying is really good at. What can I do with a campaign that I can't do with a novel?

Once I've answered that question, those are the things I should focus on. Because those are the things that players can only get from my campaign. Those are the things that will keep them coming back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dang Emo Kids! Get Off of My D&D!

Warlock. Uh-huh.

Let me break it down like this: I don't want to play bad guys. I don't want to play "tortured souls." If I play a less-than-good character, it's because of irresponsibility, not angst. So you tie, and continue to tie, the warlock to that flavor, and I continue to not play the class.

No big deal, right? Hey, look at the paladin. Except . . . well, there were some rumblings about non-lawful good paladins being in the base game. And the paladin's powers are pretty neutral, cosmetically. Only minor tweaks necessary. If everything about the warlock is dark and weird and demonic, fixing it will take a lot more work.

Besides, if I am going to include angst in a character, it's going to be over something the character actually did. Worrying about whether intrinsic traits are inevitably damning is so 19th century.

I'm Allergic To Fear

Please.

Please, oh please.

Let there never be a giant freaking spider in my pajamas ever again.

That would make me so incredibly happy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going All Web 2.0 On My Campaign

This post-all-the-campaign-notes-on-the-blog project is starting to give me ideas. Crazy ideas.

Build-a-campaign-on-a-blog ideas.

Jeff Rients is already kinda doing this, with his World of Cinder project, and to a certain extent with Beyond Vinland. But I was thinking, just do the same kind of thing I'm doing with Is This Fair? except post the material before the campaign runs, instead of after.

I'd have an incentive to do at least a little work on it every day, and occasional internet commentary from random internet people wandering through. There would be the possibility of players getting spoilers, but there would also be the possibility of the players actually knowing something about the campaign world before the game started.

And, of course, there's the possibility of collaborative campaign building, but things of that nature never quite seem to work out for me.

Mostly it'd be about incentive. Keep it small, make it part of my routine. Harness that statcounter addiction towards something productive.

As Much As I Love Novels

Occasionally I hear D&D described as "like writing a novel." Or GMing as something that GMs do because they can't hack it at other creative pursuits. The Chatty DM occasionally refers to himself as a "failed novelist"--mostly as a joke, I think, but it serves to illustrate the point.

I really don't think this is accurate. There are better analogies than novel writing--directing a movie, for one. (Not my idea. I just stole it.) But the larger point:

I don't GM because I can't write novels. I GM because I love to run games. Because there are some things I can do with a roleplaying campaign that I can't do with a novel, or that are easier in roleplaying, or that are more fun in roleplaying.

And when I want to write a novel, I write a novel. Some ideas, some techniques, are fundamentally novelistic. But I don't think of writing a novel--or any other creative pursuit--as fundamentally superior to roleplaying.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A List Found in an Old Notebook

Adventurers explore ancient ruins in a land of giants.

The gods wage complex socio-political warfare. By blowing each other's #%&! up.

Warriors struggle to protect their village from a jungle filled with Lovecraftian horror.

Island-hopping pirates hunt for treasure and fight for glory.

Humans live in the mountain cities of the giants, searching the deep places where the giants cannot go.

The younger children of powerful nobles adventure for treasure and fame to advance their positions.

Teams of gladiators fight horrible monsters (and occasionally, each other) for Fame! and Glory!

The greatest warriors of the age have been cast out of time, and wander through the strange world of the future.

Adventurers struggle against the remnants of ancient, evil empires in a blasted land.

Humanoid noble houses serve individual giants in wars that span centuries.

Sky pirates seek adventure in the spaces between the stars.

Angels and demons wage a secret war through mortal politics.

Heroes seek pulp adventure in a mysterious and unexplored continent.

Humans/humanoids are paired with a young dragon, and together they undertake dangerous missions for the Queen.

The Order of the Couatl/Feathered Serpent battles hideous aberrations in a deep and forbidding jungle.

Troubleshooting utilities engineers must defend their city from what lurks in its sewers.

Druids and their allies must defend a sacred forest.

A powerful dragon hires humanoids to advance its interests in the world.

Young, idealist soldiers undertake missions for a surprisingly decent, but deeply ruthless dictator.

Cities spring up in a huge and ancient tower--but dangerous monsters roam the uninhabited areas.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What's My Inner D&D Character?

After analyzing your answers with state-of-the-art medieval fantastic psychology profiling tools, Dungeon Mastering is confident that your inner D&D character is a Lawful Good Gnome Ranger!


That's . . . weirdly perfect.

Of Monsters and Manuals

You don't get frost giants if you don't get Monster Manual N? What? They think, people are going to be more likely to buy Monster Manuals II and III and so on if they don't get all the major iconic monsters in the first one? That this won't just knock those monsters off their iconic pedestal?

I assume they know what they're doing, but . . . are most people really going to get more than one monster book? How much is Wizards declaring "these are all core books!" really going to affect how people use these books, and the monsters in them?

I do see how this could work. Package the monsters in each book so that each one gives you a particular kind of campaign. But just spreading the classics around, which is what it sounds like . . . I just don't know how well that'll work.

New Goal

Next campaign, no over-arching mega-plot. Firefly style mission-based adventuring, old-school wander-into-trouble adventuring, whatever. But no "everything is connected, you must find the seven keys to activate the mystic dingus" adventuring.

I did it in the last campaign I ran. The campaign before that was heading towards it. I don't talk about the one before that, and the first campaign did also had that sort of ring to it, if memory serves.

It's worked out fairly well in all cases. But I lean on it; it's my comfort zone. So next time, the PCs are going to have a series of sometimes loosely connected adventures, and no one plot is going to take over the entire game.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What These Players Wanted

Here's an example of the technique I (sort of) described yesterday.

I wrote down these notes a few days after the first session. Roughly two-thirds of this material stayed valid through the last session.

Soern (the name is misspelled in the original document) would basically go wherever he heard their were magical items of interest to him, or interesting kinds of arcane power. Later on, he started collecting one of the magic item sets in the Magic Item Compendium, making him incredibly easy to motivate.

Sigrid (again, misspelled) dropped the justice motivator, partially because it was causing problems with the other characters, but mostly because it was more interesting to her player to be internally conflicted over her own motivations than to have the kind of clarity that the justice thing was best suited for. She later developed an attachment to one of the main NPCs in the campaign. That's something I didn't really mention before, but it turns out that a character who really cares about a particular NPC is incredibly easy (and fun) to motivate.

Rellik, on the other hand, is sort of a case study in wasted potential. I never really could figure out what was interesting to him, mostly because I was too busy with Sigrid and Blank to focus on him. Which I deeply regret.

Xerxed only showed up in the first session. He was retconned/replaced with Blank, because I thought he was too similar to Rellik and potentially destructive to the campaign, and because the person who played both of them thought being a pirate sounded fun. Thus was born Captain Blank, one of the best things to happen to that campaign.

Blank had a lot more handles than Xerxed, being interested in pirating and interaction as well as being cool, and he lacked the potential for psychopathic behavior. He later developed a personal vendetta against a nemesis, a subplot that was both very fun and somewhat underutilized.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What Players Want

When I GM, the first thing I want to know is: what do the players want? The second thing is: what do the characters want?

If I show the players a way to get what they want, or what their characters want, they will go after it.

Most problems I've had with weird off-the-wall behavior have been in situations where there was either no way for the players to get what they wanted, or there was no obvious way, because I hadn't communicated their options properly. Occasionally, I've had players whose goal was weird, off-the-wall behavior, but in the majority of cases players who do bizarre things are simply confused.

If players can make progress towards achieving their goals, they will usually be happy--and, within certain limits, predictable.

How do I find out what players want? Observe and ask. What's going on in the game when a players is most engaged? What's on that player's character sheet? If I'm paying attention, it tends to become fairly obvious.

What characters want is even easier. I have the players make a list: 3 goals my character wants to achieve. (This will give me some idea of what the players want, too--are their goals story related? Challenges they want to overcome? Cool things they want to get?)

Not only does this give me a good idea of how to get the characters into the next adventure--and keep them happy once they're in it--it gets the players thinking about their characters in ways that may not have occurred to them. Giving a character goals is a simple way to get invested in that character, and the world it lives in.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

With, Like, Zombies and Stuff

Feeling the need to run a horror game.

The trouble with that is that I have no idea where to start. Call of Cthulu? I've heard of people introducing horror elements into their D&D, but I also know that D&D has a lot of features in it that are really not designed for the horror thing. Maybe d20 Modern, or even Iron Heroes, but that just takes care of the magic issue. Both systems are designed for "you shoot it and it dies" power fantasy.

The trouble with getting an entirely new system is that I have no idea if I can actually pull it off. And if I can't, if I run a session and it doesn't go all that well and I decide, well, at least now I know, I'll have a book I'm never going to use again.

But at least I'll have used it once. That's more than I can say for a lot of my gaming material.

And of course, there is the fact that this interest in horror originally revolved around a couple of D&D monsters which I found particularly intriguing. Not that I couldn't take what I think is cool about them and convert their stats to another system. But if they're designed for D&D, then it follows that they're designed to do scary in D&D. And there is always Heroes of Horror. At which I have not yet looked.

GURPS might work. Might. But I have a somewhat troubled relationship with that system.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Languages Filled With Lies

I need to get back on the conlanging wagon. I have one language-like thing that I made years ago, and I had fun with it, but it'd be nice to have something that was actually use-able. In roleplaying, fiction, and/or espionage.

I've been thinking that it'd be interesting to design a language as a creative expression of meaning. Perhaps with themes, in the manner of a novel. Natural languages encode information about cultures, and the people who use them. Could other information be expressed in a constructed language?

I can use language to make a point. Can I make a language that makes a point?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

This Talk of Climaxes Intrigues Me

Today's edition of Treasure Tables got me to thinking. Maybe I should actually write up adventure notes, or at least do some thinking along those lines.

It'd be interesting to actually try to get some dramatic structure out of a session. I tend to do that only on a campaign level, ratcheting up the tension until we get to the big villain fight. It might be worthwhile to actually pay attention to how things are going in an individual session, and try to give it just a bit of structure.