Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolutions in Review

The end of another year means, among other things, it's time to look back at last year's New Year's resolutions.

Go to GenCon
Success! I posted the first and second parts of my GenCon review back in August, so I won't go into too much detail here. Needless to say -- fun. Getting it set up was, at times, frustrating, but I managed to rescue it from real life relationship drama and see the thing through. Some of the best four days of my life to this point.

Read 15 Fantasy Novels
Failure! I did read the Kushiel series and loved it, and I'm partway through A Princess of Mars, but that was about it. I've got The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Forever War sitting on the shelf (or, actually, in a box with all the other stuff I brought home from college for break) but I never got around to getting through them. This was partly because this summer was much busier than the one that preceded it -- four to five nights of gaming a week, plus a full time internship -- but that's not an entirely satisfactory excuse.

Blog About Every Game I'm In
Failure! I did write about every campaign I've been in but I didn't post much about Trollsmyth's games for great whacks of time, and I'm not even sure I mentioned when I dropped the group game. Or when the 7th Sea game ended, for that matter.

Let Someone Else Run the Summer Game
Success! Someone else in the group almost did run a game, but it ended up not happening, partly because I complained about it. Which was, in retrospect, probably uncalled for. But then, so was my trying to play d20 again.

Finish, Run, and Publish my Social RPG
Failure! Well, kinda. Basically what happened is that I decided that this turned into an entirely different project. It's not likely to see publication, largely because I've picked up a couple of other, better opportunities to get something published over the past year -- more interesting projects, and more rewarding publication avenues.

All in all, not too bad a year. Two unqualified successes, two unqualified failures, and two kinda sorta's puts me somewhat behind where I found myself in the last New Year's review, but on the other hand -- This year has been weirder, busier, and less RPG-focused than last, and none of those are entirely bad things.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Death to All Who Inform Me of Cool Things!

From the comments on Trollsmyth's latest post, among similar sentiments:
"The smell of marketing arouses in me the lust to kill."

From Wikipedia:
Marketing is the process of performing market research, selling products and/or services to customers and promoting them via advertising to further enhance sales. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments. It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.

In other words: Marketing is figuring out who might be interested in your product, where to find them, and how best to explain your product to them. It includes advertising, but it also involves establishing and maintaining relationships at all different links of the chain of interaction between the producer and consumer of a product.

Or, in other other words: Marketing is not lies and voodoo mind control. Marketing -- or at least, good marketing -- connects you with stuff you'd like but might not otherwise have known about. Please stop embarrassing yourselves.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where Did All My NPCs Go?

I had this frankly rather bizarre revelation the other night. I think I've mentioned on here before that the last couple of games I've run just haven't been fun. I couldn't figure out why, and it was bugging me, because I used to love running games and lately it's just been an exercise in frustration. I still haven't, really, but I have a pretty damn good suspicion, once I realized --

I'd stopped building my games around interesting NPCs and what they were up to.

The Traveller game? NPCs were all stock figures. Made up on the spot, didn't have much in the way of motivation. I thought that was how "sandbox" worked, for some reason. The players moved around too much for them to get interesting, anyway. The LotFP game was all dungeon crawl. There were a handful of NPCs but they were a side note, not driving the action. That wasn't where my design was coming from. Is This Foul? was all about PC interaction and scheming, which was great, but it meant there was almost nothing happening on my side of the screen.

This is weird. Back in the day, my games pretty much all started out with, "Okay, here's this dude and he's trying to..." and then somehow the players would get tangled up in whatever it was. Or not, but there was always something going on in the background like that. Basically what I did between games -- what kept my interest -- was explore various character issues and figuring out how they were going to change their plans in response to whatever dumb thing the players had done this time. A lot of the work I did between games never came up in game, and didn't need to. Figuring out how the long-lost prince felt about his brother who was probably never going to get involved with the game didn't make a difference one way or another to the PCs quest to get that prince to the ancient sacred volcano (long story), but it gave me something to do in between sessions, and it kept me tuned in to what was going on in the campaign.

One of the things I've come up against lately is that I do not think in dungeons. If I don't specifically sit down and think, "What this game needs is a good location-based adventure," I won't build them. Trollsmyth builds them naturally out of his campaign's situations. Somehow, sooner or later, a social or political problem will lead to a dungeon crawl because that's what he reaches for to solve particular kinds of problems. I don't. They're not in my blood. That's not how I was raised, as a gamer.

What I do think in is relationships. There's a lot of stuff that I struggle with coming up with, either on the fly or in prep. I can do it, and do it well, but it's exhausting. New monsters, interesting treasure, weird things for the critters to be doing, just events in general -- it takes time, it takes mental effort. Even personalities, histories, secrets, motivations can be difficult. But relationships -- ah, that's another thing entirely.

You put me on the spot, and I can tell you:
This wizard guild is run by a guy who loves evocations. He's straightforward, not particularly principled but he doesn't lie or manipulate. At least, not for business reasons -- He's got two lovers in the guild and they each know about each other but pretend not to, because both of them have other lovers as well -- one is in the guild, the other is a member of the town guard so she's really in the closet about it because all the other wizards would make fun of her for dating someone so mundane. He's in charge because most of the guild likes him; the guild hasn't exactly prospered under his leadership, but he's affable, and leads with a fairly light touch and lets them get on with their work.

There's a significant minority who don't respect him, feel he isn't as skilled and subtle a magician as their leader should be, and that he hasn't done enough to advance their power in the world. They're led by a somewhat humorless man who's well-respected for his power within the guild by disliked and distrusted outside of it; the boyfriend of the leader's first lover is also a significant player in that faction, and he's probably more dangerous. He's not likely to lead any coup given his own precarious personal situation, but he's also much friendlier and personable than the leader of the faction, and not much worse of a wizard; he's likely to end up the de facto leader of the guild if it's significantly destabilized for some reason.

Five minutes, easy, and I've got myself a whole adventure.

What I'm coming around to that this means that there are certain kinds of games that I basically can't run. Episodic? Out. Mission-based? Out. Picaresque? Sadly, out. Likewise, I can't run anything that's entirely player driven, even when I've got great players and they'd love that kind of thing. I probably can't run a megadungeon for any great length of time, at least not without doing some unusual things inside it and around it. I almost certainly can't run a true West Marches style game, and I might not be able to run that general sort of large, irregular player base game.

If I'm right, anyway. And I hope I'm right. I'd much rather think that there are certain kinds of games that I'm always going to have trouble with than that there's just some mysterious something that's keeping me from being able to enjoy running games anymore. I can run a pretty kick-ass game with a few good NPC schemes to play with. Or at least, I used to be able to.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Few Points of Clarification

I want to make clear: I respect Grognardia and most of what James Maliszewski writes there. I wouldn't have linked to him or taken the time to respond to his post if I didn't. I take issue with the specific comments he made because of the atmosphere they encourage. Furries get flack from everyone, I personally don't feel any need to add to it, and I wish more people felt the same way. The anger in that post was triggered more by the comments than the post itself, which, yeah, isn't entirely fair to Maliszewski because his comments section is usually a mess anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

They Came First For the Furries...

I suppose going "Ew! Ick! Furries!" isn't quite as troglodytic as going "Ew! Ick! Gays!" but it's pretty dang close. Seriously, people. There are folks out there who like pictures of foxgirls and catboys. There are folks out there who like dressing up as pandas and unicorns. There are folks out there who like roleplaying as otter-kin and lizard-folk. There are, as far as I can tell, rather a lot of them. I've yet to understand why this is a problem.

I know, I know. The fur suits. The yiffing. The stuff that the nightly news and Law & Order and all that other junk that normal people with nothing better to do use to fill their lives hold up to tell us, "This is weird. These people are not okay. Be normal." So sure, go ahead. Freak out about a couple of pictures in a roleplaying manual because it's "adult entertainment." Then go back to your basement and pretend to be an elf, secure in the knowledge that you're safe, because you've done your part to shun the wrong kind of weird people.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What We Mean by "Social Interaction"

There's been a flurry of furious activity on Trollsmyth's blog about how you should use rules to frame the game's core activity. I've been reluctant to step in, because I know exactly what he's talking about and it'd just come across as his solo player jumping in to gang up on people who disagree with him.

Still, there's been some confusion about just what he means when he says "social interaction," which is something I hope I can clear up.

First, yes, all roleplaying games are fundamentally about social interaction to some degree or another. When we say "social interaction" we're talking about in-game behavior. In most games, the main in-game activity is combat or investigation or something else adventure-y. We're talking about a game where the equivalent to a boss battle is a big fancy party -- or, heck, even seeing a character my character has a significant relationship with for the first time after being separated for a while.

Second, it doesn't mean "social combat." When I sit down with a cleric and a Rakshasa to talk about boys, I'm not trying to convince either of them of anything. I'm trying to figure out what the cleric wants out of a relationship (because the fundamental issue at hand is "which boy?") and find out more about the boys from the Rakshasa (because she's known most of them longer than we have). Almost all the conversations we have in that game are like that. We're trying to solve a mutual problem, uncover an issue, or work all the angles on an idea, rather than convince someone of something or another.

Or, sometimes, just chatting. Here's an example, very slightly edited from the original log to make it more readable:

I lean out over the parapets. "Nice night."

"Gorgeous night," agrees Reswet.

"A blue night," says Seban, joining the two of you. "Sometimes the Sea of Fire burns hotter than at others, and it turns blue or purple."

"When do you find these things out?" I ask. "I swear, you already know more about this place than I do."

He chuckles. "We actually talked about it at dinner. I've never seen the Sea of Fire. I hope to soon, but the others have said we hardly go to that part of the city."

I nod. "Mostly, what, the docks, and the industrial parts of the city? Azer, fire giants, and so on?"

Reswet nods. "I've been to the Merchants' District once, but only briefly, and never anywhere close enough to see the Sea."

Yes, I think this is fun. I spend 4-6 hours a week on this stuff. I'm a freak. I kind of consider the solo game to be practice for real life socialization, that's how crazy I am.

Third, this is a style of game that doesn't always work so well at the table, and the very immersive, hyper-focused variation on the style that Trollsmyth and I have developed pretty much only functions in text, as I think the above example makes fairly clear. There are a lot of little things about text that help support this style of game. It's easier to stay serious and focused for long periods of time, for one, though the biggest is probably that it's much easier to separate player and character. If you can't see how roleplaying in text could be more fun than doing it in person, you're not likely to have any interest in the kind of game we're describing.

There are a lot of games that could be described as focused on "social interaction" that would handle social mechanics fairly well, or even require such critters. For instance, the phrase might describe a game that was mostly about politics -- talking to people to get them to do things. There's no reason it couldn't apply to a game that was played at the table with more than one player. If you've got more than one player, you've got varying levels of interest in all the activities of the game, including talking to people, and at the table you're going to have different comfort levels with "talking in character" and otherwise exercising your social mojo.

In such a game, I'd probably want my players to have some social mechanics at their disposal. Probably not "you roll and the king agrees," but certainly something like D&D's reaction mechanics, reputation mechanics, perhaps rules to allow players to gather "dirt" on their foes with dice rolls, that sort of thing. In that kind of game, the game would be "what do we want, who can give it to us, and how do we push or pull them into doing what we want?" Playing out how that happens wouldn't be crucial.

In the solo game, though, the point is the relationships and how they're affected, so the little details of how everything plays out are important. Little jokes between lovers, accidental allusions to secrets my character is keeping, that sort of thing. Most mechanics we could use would be, at best, unnecessary, and at worst would replace the stuff we find most fun. Unfortunately, the terminology we have available doesn't really make distinctions that fine, and these are all types of games that are unusual enough that there aren't clear categories for them. Even "a game focused on social interaction" is unusual in itself, never mind all the variation within what those words could mean.