Friday, May 20, 2016

Gift. A new better version of me.

Got this this morning from one of my players.  Normally I would have something sarcastic or snarky to say.  ------------------------------------------------------------  It's pretty awesome.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Royal Foogleeian Mobile Armored Throne

King Semiceedies III is the current sovereign of the Moot of Fooglee.  Once a month he gives audience to commoners from his Mobile Armored Throne.  (All information regarding this contrivance are classified under the Articles of Pain Of Death Act II).

Rear view showing exit door, vent and suspension.

Detail of The Most Royal Symbol Of Authority featuring the Mundo, Chum and Igor clove emblematica.

Close up of front.  

This is a test project.  Many of you may know that I am also a modeler (see The Joy of Modeling). I have always wanted to create things from the game in 3D for fun and to photograph as illustrations. Since I have been redoing the art in the book this would be good a test.  I think it works!   This pic shows the original artwork from the rulebook.

In progress shot.  It's approximately 1/12 scale and made out of cardstock, paper, white glue and a plastic dome from a gumball machine.  

Royal Fooglian Crest
Long May the Cloves of The Moot Reek!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

God's Workbench Part 2: The Great White Space

You are a mighty wizard.  Every few weeks your buds Elric, Eowyn, Belit and Tim the Enchanter show up to spend a few hours drinking off-brand soda and shoot the poop in your dungeon.  As host it is your pleasure to keep them thoroughly entertained.  Because once the Funyuns run out there's no telling what sort of craziness they will do this time.

Exciting and terrifying.  It's what every Crypt Lord experiences at the start of every game.  Welcome to The Great White Space.

It's less stress if the players are crypt bashing.  RPG rules are specifically designed to facilitate play in these well-defined spaces. However, once all the chambers have been mapped, the denizens dispatched and the last bit of swag liberated, they will clamber back to the surface.  Onward to a new adventure?  Go back to town and spend a few coins?   Or, “Oh look, that’s shiny..., how about we go that way”?  No matter, the players have just left the most defined part of the game. Now your work becomes trickier.

The Big Arrow is the overall game Narrative as it moves through time. Breaks in the arrow are individual game sessions.  Question Marks are possibilities that could be, but have not been acted on. Dotted lines show possibilities that have been acted on.  The table icons represent Gameable Action.

This is a scheme to visualize the Great White Space.  Penciling it out allowed me to pull an RPG’s session mechanics apart.  Here is what I came up with.  First, I discovered there are two basic types of game activity during a session: Narrative and Gameable Action. Narrative is represented by the big arrow, question marks and dashed lines. Gameable Action is represented by the table icons.  A lot has been written individually about both, but not on how they can inform the Crypt Lord to better design adventures.

Let’s address the Narrative in terms of design and preparation. In all my years of creating adventures I never used that term, instead I thought of it as the “logic” of the adventure.  Once I made and understood this logic everything else fell into place.  It’s the first broad stroke on the blank canvas.  Following marks are made in relation to the ones before.  Nailing down the logic also allowed me to wing things that were unaccounted for in my design in a consistent way. Without consistency the players will feel they have no control.

Let’s talk about designing for Gameable Action.  Gameable Action is the part of the game when miniatures get put on the table and play is being resolved in Na-nutas, by casting magic, chopping off bits of flesh and moving in units measured in feet.   Gameable Action are the specific keyed areas, encounters, creepie stats and anything that affects the persons in a detailed way.  A town map of Aarn definitely is needed  for this. A key of the guard barracks. The list of notable laws.  And so on.

I’ll illustrate by way of example:

The players enter the village of Aarn.  Walking down the lane they see signs of prosperity.  Everyone has a smile on their face and a spring in their step.  The fountain features a huge gem held aloft on magical streams of water.  Here's what the players don't know. Aarn has a terrible secret (duh).  Two miles away, hidden in the side of the mountain is Zlak, its sister village.   Those who break the law of Aarn are sent to the Zlak (yes, a forced labor camp). The people of Aarn figured out that the more crazy the laws were, the more free labor they had to tap.  Hence, Aarn’s prosperity. This is the overall logic and the big Narrative piece that drives this setting.  As a Crypt Lord once this part has been decided on, you can build the smaller bits.  They may be directly related to the big overall logic, completely random or anywhere in between.These will jotted down as notes.  So:  The current elder’s son broke a law and was forced to work in Zlak.  It turns out the son actually didn’t break the law,  he took the fall willingly for his mom.  Another: There is a witch hiding in a chicken coop. She’s particularly good at this, because she can transform into a chicken. And so on.  Usually,  these are called “plot hooks”. These smaller ones are bits of drama that may be acted upon.  If they are, then you can flesh out details as you go along.  If they don’t bite on one of these you haven't spent too much energy on it, so it’s not a waste.  Think of it as planting little seeds that may or may not grow.  The smaller ones are no less important, these are the proverbial “wrench” that the players often use to effect the big Narrative.  How they do this is where the big fun of the game often lives.

So far, players have been wandering around, asking questions, looking at stuff and interacting with the locals.  As the Crypt Lord, understanding the logic of this place allows you the luxury of not having to write down every freaking detail.  As you describe things, it will be in the context of this Logic.

(Gameable Action)
Boram, (one of the players), has worked the hinges of the chicken coop door off.  Something about one of the chickens just isn’t right (she used her skill Gut Feeling, pg 33).  Breaking and entering definitely breaks one Aarn’s many, many laws.  As Crypt Lord, I knew to design this adventure that I would need detailed descriptions of the police forces of Aarn.  The players know it’s a set up, that I’ll be keeping a close eye to see if someone in Aarn can catch them breaking a law.  Indeed, this is part of the fun. So I have my non-player personas ready in the wings.  I made a generic stat block descriptor for the common gaurd types and three progressively more powerful NCO’s.  I have a map of the town, where guards are typically stationed and some ways to randomly generate reinforcements and so on.  I am basically ready.  So the door is off the coop, a guard has been shadowing them and blows a whistle. I say “Boram is right here (I point on the mat), the rest of you put your selves down on the map”.  Just like that the session has switched from Narrative to Gameable Action.  Players who were daydreaming suddenly are paying attention.  In the coop or out? Now it matters.  Once we start the ground rules for the action get set. There will be a defined number of guards and the terrain is fixed. A weapon that is being sharpened is not available.  This part of the game session is most like the traditional definition of game. It has turns, players move game pieces with defined attributes, pieces that have their PHP reduced to zero die.

When the battle ends, typically the session swings back to Narrative mode.  Then something happens and Gameable Action is triggered.  As the Crypt Lord, understanding Narrative and Gameable Action informs you on how best to prepare for Great White Space.  

A note on terms used in this post.  Crypt Lord is what the GM is called in Crypts-N-Creepies.  Player Persona’s liberate Swag from Crypts for economic reinsertion.  I went back and forth on whether to use generic terminology, but decided that since I play C-N-C, I’d use the terms native to it.  This may rub some of you the wrong way.  If so send me a note and I’ll put in front of the committee.  

A new encounter system next time.

P 33 of the C-N-C rule book for sticklers
Elric of M. inspecting a "Funyun"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

God's Workbench Part 1: Tricking Yourself

I really want to have the coolest Fantasy game world ever. It’s that simple.

For many years Crypts-N-Creepies* has been focused on crypt bashing. Traveling overland and having random encounters was viewed as a waste. Over time however, the game has evolved beyond just sacking the proverbial enclave of Doom.  As a game designer this has become a new challenge to work out.  I'll be starting from scratch, if you don't count all the baggage I've accumulated playing games for several decades.   The current rule set assumes that the spots between adventures will be edited down to the barest essentials so that the players (who have limited time) can get to the meaty, juicy crypt adventuring part of the game.  Since I am building new encounter systems up, I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts in a series of articles I'm going to call God's Workbench.

The plan is to talk both in theory and practicalities enabling the reader to more easily fashion their own unique fantasy setting based on my experiences.  Here are several observations:

1) The task is overwhelming. Where do you start?  A town? The gods? Legends? Weather? Names for stuff? Countries? Is the tech level different than what is assumed in your core game mechanic? Thinking about it all at once will drive you mad.

2) Players are unpredictable. In real life people take the path of least resistance.  In RPGs they take the path least prepared. This happened to me last week.  I spent a lot of energy preparing multiple options and even more energy on the shiniest one.  What did those cute little swine players do? They latched onto an ad-libbed bit of random backstory I made up to rationalize the appearance of a new player. They literally turned around from the proverbial pie cooling on the window sill to lock themselves into a closet to engage in human trafficking (it’s a long story).  I am not complaining (well not much).  As frustrating as it can be, I still hold to that allowing them complete freedom is worth it. Frustrating, sometimes, but still monolithically important. Besides, what fun would it be for me if I knew what they are going to do?  This leads to...

3) You can't make everything.  Yes, even the Godlike beings known as gamemaster/mistress have this one limitation.  If you want the troupe to be able to make meaningful choices, how do you design economically to accomplish this?

The first problem is this damn blank page.  To conquer it, we must allow ourselves to be tricked.  The vast sea of white void will swallow you up.  The void...the big vast nothing, it’s just too big.  Take this emptiness and fill it with one idea at a time. Break down the process into nuggets.  Defined little bits.

This is how I trick myself.  I make dumb templates.  They are hand drawn and photocopied at first, then done up on the compy when I get a better feel for them.  For example, I need rough overviews of each country and region of my campain.  I drew out the one on the left first and made areas (much like a character sheet) for things that need to be described, such as the area’s symbol, a list of cities and government, the weather  and so on.  You don’t want to be obsessing over the infrastructure, you need to just stop overthinking it and get stuff on paper. Everything doesn’t need to exactly right, you just need to get started.  It’s funny how this one thing will get it all going.

We have a way to start generating bits, now we need some form of organisation.  Creating a fantasy world means there is going to be a lots of scraps of data.  If you throw it all into one big pile, they will be useless if you can’t find it.

This is the method that works for me.  I have a bunch of blank folders, a big Sharpie and a bankers box.  Folders represent discrete topics ranging from adventures, countries, NPC’s, monsters, magic ideas and so on.  I use loose sheets of paper (I haven't had luck with sketchbooks). I can put one idea on a sheet and move it around so it’s where I can find it.  Right now it is still easier for me to do things non-electronically, but eventually this may change.  I have a pipeline of sorts, where I have prioritised working on certain aspects of the milieu.  It’s easy to grab that folder and work on what’s needed and the loose sheets allow a lot of flexibility.  And ideas don’t get lost.  It isn’t very glamorous, but has been a great tool to get this giant wheel turning.  It works, my world has become a reality.

More will follow.  Comments, of course, are welcome (unless you're that gal with the ecru hat).  I have a lot to talk about.

*Most of you do not play Crypts-N-Creepies.  This should not matter, these tools will be useful for any world that needs creating.