Posts Tagged ‘gaming’
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
Solstice is behind us, and the days are once again stretching out towards summer (even if it doesn’t particularly feel like it yet.) In that spirit, I’ve gone a little Holiday Mad around the electronic homestead, and all three posts this week will be in the spirit of the holidays. But I’m trying to remain faithful to the spirit of the planned days as well: Writing on Monday, Gaming and Knitting on Wednesday and the Friday Grab-bag I like to call Potpourri.
I could talk a bit about my holiday knitting – in fact, my original plan was to discuss one of my proudest knitting gifts. Watching a now-adult brother still wear his Hogwarts House Scarf in the winter because he’s so proud of it never fails to bring me a smile and a little feeling of awesomeness in my chest for coming up with the exact right gift. I could say a lot about it.
Then I saw Raw Exports: A Christmas Tale, and I threw that idea out the window.
Let me be clear – I love horror gaming. It’s hard to do well, and I’ve been blessed to have a string of groups that came together for those magical moments of genuine terror. Most of those came around some variant of Call of Cthulhu (or more recently, the superlative re-imagining “Trail of Cthulhu”) and it is that sense of digging too deep into things Man Was Not Meant To Know that really made Rare Exports come alive.
For those not in the know, the plot of Rare Exports is this – An American Mining Company breaks open the ancient tomb where the Laplanders managed to imprison Santa Claus, and all hell breaks loose. Because this isn’t the friendly Santa that Coca Cola sold you on. This is Joulupukki, the Yule Goat, and he’s come to punish the wicked children, rather than reward the good. The Lovecraftian weirdness pervades the movie (beyond the rendering of Santa as an ancient evil), and there’s even the requisite Tome of Forbidden Knowledge (appropriately The Truth About Santa).
I came up with a half-dozen ways to ransack Rare Exports for a one-off scenario –telling the story from other points of view, or letting other Holiday symbols run amuck (The Krampus / Zwarte Piet occupies a place of honor on my holiday tree, right below Gordie Howe). I suspect I’ll put my friends through the holiday wringer sooner rather than later.
As for Rare Exports – the film is in limited US release (I am fortunate to have a very good art theatre locally) but if you get the chance, go see it. It may not dethrone the Holiday classics (like Die Hard and National Lamppon’s Christmas Vacation), but it’s earned a place alongside them.
Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
So I am a lucky nerd, or so I’m told, and have had occasion to balance not one but two game nights in my monthly schedule. Sure it’s not the heyday of college, but when you’re a band of professionals old enough to know better, well, it’s a goodly amount. Regardless, the important point is that in addition to my Dark Sun game (currently on hiatus for the holidays) I am also playing in a second group that has recently started up Diaspora.
Diaspora, for those not in the know, is a Hard(-ish) SF game using the Fate system. Players represent people from a collection of systems linked together, but otherwise separate from the rest of the broad spectrum of humanity, which goes through phases of growth and collapse. It does a lot of things right, and gives an opportunity to make some great SF along the way (Not Shock-level great, but that’s a different review).
One of the things I like most is the way it handles world and character building. All the players are involved in creating the systems, and finding linkages between them that explain their sometimes unusual connections. Character development requires you to create ties to the characters around you, with each character playing a pivotal role in another character’s moment of crisis. In all, it’s a compelling game, with a lot to offer for folks who like independent games or science fiction. Set up takes a long time, but the investment in the setting makes it rewarding and worthwhile.
Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
I’ve mentioned before that the 4e version of Dark Sun is out and is awesome. It’s cool enough that I’ve even decided to overlook the fact that the Dark Sun files still aren’t available for the Character Builder software – mostly because I know how much of a wrench the new themes must have thrown into the system.
My players have agreed, and are coming together to produce a campaign that they can put a lot of claim into on their own, and it makes me pretty pleased to watch them come up with characters for this new (to many of them) world. While I know it won’t be a big deal to many of my readers, I would expect to see a couple more posts about the birth of this campaign, as a large part of the techniques I use for world-building when I write are also used when I plan campaigns out.
For this campaign – I sat down and thought about the themes I wanted to explore. First and foremost, I wanted to see a lot of political maneuvering between noble houses. I’m a big fan of Dune, Song of Ice and Fire, and Legend of the Five Rings – I’ve always been a fan of politics in fantasy and science fiction. I also wanted to include one of the all-powerful Sorcerer-Kings to serve as a foil to the players (or give them something to aspire towards). Once I’d decided on those two things, my choice of locations for the start of my campaign became clear – Raam.
Raam fit most all my needs. The sorcerer-queen is disinterested in governing the people, the nobility are at each other’s throats as they vie for the apparent power vacuum, and it’s a relatively unexplored city in the terms of published Dark Sun stuff. This meant I could put my own stamp on it freely, and could reshape the world around the city as I saw fit.
The players have taking up roles as members of a single merchant house, eager to carve out a place for their family against the broad background. All they needed was a suitable opponent, and plenty of morally gray choices. I’ll talk more about those the next time.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
I’ll admit something about gaming – as much as I plan my novels to obsessive detail (down to POV for each scene) before I write them, I can be a bit of a pantser when it comes to running my games. Actually, I’m a lot of a pantser.
I have a couple of reasons for this. Primarily I have had the privilege of gaming with and running for some really great groups in my day. These are folks who define the concept of making their own gravy. I could quite literally sit down at the table and say “It’s a post-apocalyptic game, you’re all survivors from a hospital, go!” and we would have four or five good hours of game-play. But having great players who get into character and have lots of interplay at the table has its downsides too – specifically, they tend to go off on tangents, chase leads I never intended as significant, and generally go any direction that I hadn’t particularly planned for them to go.
So I started looking at things differently. I started making a list of things I wanted to happen, both over the course of the campaign and from game session to game session. For a Pulp Adventure game, this might look like:
- Players get attacked by dinosaurs.
- Players find crashed plane (German equipment?)
- Players find primitive tribe. (Enslaved? Need help?)
- Nazis Riding Dinosaurs!
In the book Save the Cat (which is about script-writing and a great resource) – Blake Snyder calls these the “Set Pieces” – the beats that drive the story forward. For me it’s more like a grocery list of things I have to include. I don’t worry about how to get from one to the other; I just keep track of what’s next and let the players give the direction of the story. If it’s a game that requires more organized encounter planning (like 4th edition D&D) I put down some possible encounters on cards and mix-n-match to make an appropriate encounter for the situation as it arises.
Obviously, this runs counter to everything I do in novel writing, but at the same time, it takes advantage of the creative power I have around my table. If the players try to get the plane working again I’m just as ready for what happens next as if they decide to ride the dinosaurs a la Valley of Gwangi. So, Gamer-writers (and writer-gamers) any differences between how you work on your fiction versus how you craft a game session?
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
Recently, Wizards of the Coast released the newest incarnation of their Dark Sun campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. I should preface this by saying – I am old. I was in college when Dark Sun first came out. I played a lot of other RPGs at the time, and D&D (then in its 2nd edition, for those keeping track) was ‘that other game’ that only a handful of die-hards played anymore.
When the first Dark Sun came out, the art (by Brom) drew me in almost immediately. This looked nothing like the Tolkein-esque generic fantasy realms to which I had become accustomed. Indeed, it looked like nothing else on the market. So I bought the box set, checked it out, and changed my world.
Dark Sun, more properly the world of Athas, was my first real exposure to the concept of post-apocalyptic fantasy. Magic has destroyed the land and rendered much of it to lifeless desert. A handful of city-states eke out an existence, ruled over by all-powerful sorcerer kings. The Gods themselves had turned their back on the world and no longer answered prayers. I had never thought of Fantasy in terms like these, and it shaped the way I would view fantasy and storytelling in the future – there are places in my stories to this day that I could point at and say “Without Dark Sun, I would never have thought of this”
Seeing Dark Sun on the shelves again brought back a great wave of nostalgia, and immediately set my mind churning for new ideas. I still love the setting, and am more excited than ever at the prospect of running a game set against its bleak, oppressive backdrop. I’ve talked to my group, and most of them are excited by the possibility. I only hope I can do it justice.
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
In the wake of a long month, for those who couldn’t tell when they didn’t see me there, I could not make it to GenCon. The Post RWA crud combined with a few other factors and knocked it out of the realm of the possible for me this year. This makes me sad, as I always look forward to reconnecting with my nerd roots and GenCon provides a great opportunity to do so. On the other hand, I was able to knuckle down and make serious progress on my WiP, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.
A reasonable assumption would be that, having missed the ‘Best Four Days in Gaming’, I would be unable to review the events there. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the Internet and my willingness to pass judgment on things I haven’t seen (ask me about Jonah Hex) I can still sum up the events even though I was completely divorced from them in real life. Without further ado, my Gen Con wrap-up:
- Wizards of the Coast revealed the new D&D setting for 2011. Sadly, it’s Ravenloft. Mind you, I don’t hate Ravenloft as a concept, but it is effectively impossible to convey a horror setting when one of your players can hurl lightning bolts. The standard D&D solution is to make the monsters tougher, which only has the effect of dragging out combat, and forcing a GM interested in Storytelling to manipulate an encounter (since in my experience, players effectively never run from an enemy).
- Green Ronin unveiled DC Adventures – the newest incarnation of the DC Comics universe as a game setting. This time around it’s using an updated version of the award-winning Mutants and Masterminds rules, and frankly, I couldn’t be more excited. I’m a terrible whore for DC – I’ll take the JSA over the X-Men, any day of the week, and don’t get me started on the awesomeness of Hellblazer. I’ll happily dive back into a new game that lets me mine the years my brain has dedicated to keeping those stories straight. Disclaimer – I pre-ordered this, and am reading through the PDF currently. I expect a review will pop up here sometime.
- Fantasy Flight unveiled the latest iteration of their Warhammer 40k rpg – at long last fulfilling the desire of players everywhere to run cybernetic killing machines for their characters with the Space Marine-centric “Deathwatch”. I played more than my fair share of 40k as a miniatures game, and I can see the appeal of this on one hand, on the other given how hard it is to shoot something in their ruleset, I expect they had to do some work to effectively replicate the Astartes’ ability to mow through opponents with bolter fire.
That’s my big three – I know that tons of other stuff happened in / around GenCon, but I figured I ‘d hit the ones I had genuine opinions about. In related news, this is the last week for my Pathfinder Web fiction out at Paizo’s website. The story will stay out there in perpetuity, and there are links in my bibliography, so feel free to check it out.
Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
This is part two of an Essay I started on Monday, dealing with the fun and frustration of writing fiction for franchise tie-ins, specifically as it relates to the work I’ve done for the Pathfinder RPG.
As I said in the previous essay, there’s a lot of fun in being allowed to play with other people’s toys, provided that you show care and respect. This holds doubly true where gaming fiction is concerned, because you end up walking a delicate tightrope between including effects that reader-players recognize and can understand with trying to keep them from thinking “Somebody just botched their Stealth check”.
With Pathfinder, I had certain elements that had to be included. Knowing that one of the characters was a spellcaster, I had to constantly think of ways that magic could be used to short circuit the plot I’d laid out. Having readers think “Why didn’t he turn invisible/teleport/levitate” out of that situation only added more complexity. I ended up keeping a list of all the spells available to that character tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk, and would look at for every scene to ask which spells might throw a wrench into the works.
The biggest issue for me, however, was presenting a thrilling story that felt like a tabletop session with it reading like one. My approach to that was to focus on a single point of view and tell the tale from as tightly restricted a POV as I could. This does lead to some interesting times – the central character in Feast of Fools is self-centered and somewhat lacking in the brains category, and he tends to interpret the events around him in the most favorable light towards himself. Still, there are moments (the Featherfall stands out) where what’s happening is obvious to the reader even if it’s not to Ollix.
In all, I had a blast writing for Pathfinder – it’s a great world, with a rich pulpy feel and can tell all kinds of stories just by moving from region to region. With luck they’ll let me shave the nib on my pen and revisit.
Monday, July 12th, 2010
I’ve had the opportunity to do some writing in other people’s worlds – something that presents a unique set of issues for most writers. As a result, I thought I’d present my thoughts in a pair of essays looking at the challenges and rewards of this unique calling.
First, some background – in addition to my own writing, I have had the good fortune to write stories set in the Pathfinder fantasy setting (from Paizo Publishing), work in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire setting with Green Ronin, and did service as a contract writer for Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are plenty of people with more Tie-in work than I have, but hey, it’s my blog. I also contributed to the New Ceres shared-world setting, for the anthology New Ceres Nights – while not tie-in per se, the similarities between Shared World and Tie-in loom large.
Why, with all the possible words and worlds that every writer has kicking around in his or her head, would anyone chose to do Tie-In Work? A lot of big names have answered that question before me, most recently in an essay over on IO9. For me, it had a lot to do with love. I have a real affection for the properties with which I worked, and I hope that carries through in the stuff I did for them. I can’t imagine writing for a setting I didn’t like – the research and quibbling over details would become a lot less like geeking out and a lot more like hard work.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work involved. Just like writing a Historical novel, you have to do your fair share of research (probably more than you think you need). You’re working with material that people love and respect, and which in many cases has a lot of standing history. You’ll want to remember when “X” was introduced to the canon, or how a particular setting handles the everyday elements of life, like food and cleansing.
There is a real feeling of being part of something larger than myself when I work with a tie-in property. I get to add to the mythology of the vast scopes, and invest them with a small piece of myself. In return, I have to promise not to break the toys I’ve been privileged to deal with – I can’t destroy things out of hand, or upset the balance too much (without permission). I can’t level cities or upend empires, but that means I can concentrate on the kinds of stories I prefer – small tales of people who make do in the world and hope for the best.
On Wednesday, I’ll talk a little bit about the specific coolness and challenges of writing fiction for a game setting without making it sound like a recap of my Sunday night D&D session.
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
In the film industry, if you take off and make a labor of love project you hope like hell that a distributor picks it up and it gets seen in arthaus cinemas around the country. In the already borderline-cottage industry of role-playing games, you fall back on word of mouth and producing a great game that does one thing particularly well. Hence, the joys of the Indie Press.
Of late, there’s a few indie games that have been close to my heart. Fiasco, the self-described game of “Big dreams and poor impulse control” is a narrative game designed to replicate the heist-gone-wrong films for which I have such a fondness: Three Kings, Blood Simple, Fargo, A Simple Plan. Fiasco is very true to its source material, and it does a great job of putting people in the position of making tremendous plans and watching them all go to hell. Of particular interest as a writer is their use of a two-act structure that hinges in the middle on what they call “The Tilt”. The Tilt is that moment where everything falls apart – the triggering activity that sends the plans into their death spiral. It is a game for fans of schadenfreude, which rewards people who are willing to screw over their fellow players. Just as it should be.
Zombie Cinema is another well done, genre specific narrative that I’ve played a lot of lately. Like Fiasco, it’s designed to replicate a specific style of film (I’ll leave you to figure out which). In this case, the narrative scenes are played out against a track that progresses the zombies’ presence within the story – from scattered news reports to total apocalypse. The players also move up and down the track, pushed around by the outcome of their scenes. Those players who fall behind are eventually consumed by the oncoming tide. Of particular interest to me is their method of randomly creating characters using role and attribute cards – addicted housewife, noble beggar, cheerful survivor. It creates some interesting dichotomies that allow for interesting characters and maintains everyone as normal people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.
So there it is, a couple of mini-reviews of Indie Games I love, and more importantly, why I love them as a writer. If you’re interested in narrative games at all (and if you’re not sure, I recommend a visit to @@SITE to review the elements of game theory – I don’t want to discuss it here), or you’re curious about the storycrafting process of these particular types of tales, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
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