State of Gaming and Other Projects

It's the last blog post of 2016, so I'm going to do a look back all my stuff for the year. At a minimum, it'll help me fix in my memory the fun stuff that I did.

Seeing as this is a Thursday post and therefore technically a gaming blog post, I'll start off with the gaming podcast I'm on: Technical Difficulties. We launched at the end of March 2016 and as of Dec. 29th (knock on wood), have yet to miss an update! We've completed two campaigns and are in the middle of both playing and releasing a third, as well as 17 episodes of one shot scenarios. Lots of multi-part one shots... Had an interview with Caleb of Hebanon Games, a couple bonus post-mortem episodes on our campaigns, and talked about Gen Con for an episode too. Played in eleven different RPG systems (good grief), three of which were play-tests: Red Markets, Upwind, and The Veil (which, honestly, I don't think we're going to release those two episodes; system was not our speed). All in all, we've released 52 episodes in roughly nine months and have 9 episodes in the backlog. Pretty good for our first year!

Speaking of Red Markets, I've just totaled the word count of what I've edited on this project so far: 235,108. Wow. I just... It doesn't seem like quite as much when you work with it in sections (with each section under its own contract). And the sections get shorter and shorter as Caleb realizes just how many pages its going to take to print everything. There's still a fourth section being written that I'll get to edit. I did my best to trim down the first two sections — pulled 4k and 2k out them. But this third one, I finally asked point blank for a word count Caleb needs to keep the entire book under the planned page count.

He needs me to trim a 64K word section down to 50K, or the fourth section is going to have to be severely cut down. I'm doing my best: pulled out 4K so far. But we'll have to see how close I can get to 50K. It's good to have ambitious goals, right?

I also got to do some writing for Red Markets! When y'all get the finished product, check out the d100 encounters table. I wrote 33 of those. :)

Also in 2016 Red Markets work, the con packet has gone out for play testing.  Tom, Partner, and I did meet our goals of having something runnable for Gen Con and WashinCon. We all ran at least one game at both of those conventions, for a reasonable mix of people who already knew of the system and folks who'd never heard of it before. We got some good feedback, refined some of the text, wrote the text we'd previously skipped (because we knew the information in our heads) in favor of time, and generally expanded actual explanations and GM tools. Thanks to Caleb's monthly updates to the Red Markets Kickstarter backers, we opened up a play test to run this packet for folks who hadn't written the packet. So far, we've handed the packet out to 123 people and already gotten 14 responses. Which is just amazing to me. Did have to turn one dude down — he wanted to get the packet so he could read up on the game before a friend of his ran it at a convention. I think the line was 'so I can mess with [GM] when they run it.' Not cool dude, not cool. Told him we preferred clean runs of the game and looked forward to hearing from [GM] with feedback. We are cutting off handing out the packet on Dec. 31st and asking for all feedback to be in by the end of Feb. 2017. So there's my project time in March planned out.

Speaking of project time, I have finally started making time for my personal writing again! I've started doing drabbles for my Monday posts and I'm finding them to be a) really fun and b) good exercise in letting go and writing without a plan. Now to work on consistently writing more than three or four hundred words. And describing things, instead of relying on the visual I'm using for inspiration to do it for me. Also, the fourth draft of my novel project is in the works. I'm excited for this draft — it should close up a couple plot loopholes and add depth to a couple characters. Hurray useful critiques!

Speaking of critiquing, I was part of a critiquing circle through Scribophile this year. I guess it was like a writing circle? Any rate, there were four of us and we all gave each other beta reads. Scheduling was interesting since we had folks from three different US time zones and one lady in France. Any rate, that was helpful in that I got some specific feedback (although Caleb's is playing a bigger part in this fourth draft of the novella) and worked on my critiquing skills more. Also my ability to express "uh... this is a problem," tactfully. Explaining that someone had accidentally written colonialism and racism into their epic fantasy aiming for anti-racism was tricky.

Finally, I also signed a contract to edit a second RPG project! They approached me! I'm so excited. I haven't actually gotten clearance from them to talk about it in public, so I'm not going to say the name. But I hope I'll be able to talk about it more in 2017.

Oh, yeah, I also kept up a posting schedule here and on my Tumblr :D 

On the personal front, it's been a reasonably good year. For everything else Fuck 2016.

Happy New Year everybody. May the next year be better than the last.

Internet and Gaming

So the internet in our new apartment has been down for a couple days (as of starting to write this part). No worrying about celluar data now, we're already boned there. Ah well, luckily the building I'm in has a couple of computers I can use to transfer these posts from Google docs to the site. I shudder trying to think how I'd do it on my phone. I'm sure there's a way. I just don't want to have to figure it out.

Which may make gaming this Thursday (ie today by the time folks will be reading this…) challenging. Internet based voice chat gaming group. No internet. Yeah.

Continuing the whole reassessing stuff from having routine disrupted theme of my life these last couple of weeks, good grief my life is mostly on the internet. Or at least all my hobbies/projects and social life. And I am so massively privileged that that could just be in the background for me for so long.

I feel like I should be making a joke about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right now. ... Yeah, I've got nothing.


 

Anyone in Washington DC Sept. 10th - 11th? Then you should come to WashingCon 2! It’s a fun, smallish convention focused on board games and RPGs - Partner and I will be there, running Red Markets and Eclipse Phase games. We’re giving away a free badge for the weekend, too! Enter by filing out this survey (so we can get it to you if you win): https://goo.gl/forms/jLK54tC0rSk9m1rD

Gaming Miscellania

As I write this, Partner is almost entirely non-communicative because they're reading the latest publication in our favorite role-playing system: X-Risks in the Eclipse Phase universe. Judging by the in-drawn breaths and mutters of 'oh gods...' I'm betting my characters are in for a horrifying, mind-flay of a time in Partner's next EP game. This makes me so happy!

Speaking of things to shred characters' sanity, I had to miss last week's Call of Cthulhu game since I came down sick with a throat bug last week. Medium defined entirely by talking + sore throat => not fun times. So I'll be joining in the scenario halfway through this week. Benefits of being part of a podcast: I'll be able to listen to what happened last week before playing. It'll be a new experience, to hear what the guys sound like to our listeners.

Also, our Red Markets campaign will finish posting in the next couple of weeks (wow, our first campaign posted in full...) so we recently did some scheduling of what'll post next. A couple one-shots to take us through the end of July and then the Monster Hearts game goes up. Scheduling what's next in the queue episode-wise means we also have to think about what goes up on the blog half of the site, and well. Monster Hearts inspired some fiction writing from the players. Does it count as fan fiction if its in a story you're already creating in a different media? (i'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.)

<pause for discussion/argument with Partner over fan fiction and gender politics>
Me: "You said you didn't care which how I referred to you on the blog!"
Partner: "I meant it's your creative endeavor and you should do what you want!"
Me: "I took that to mean you didn't want to be identifiable through the blog! That's why I've been using gender neutral pronouns. What I WANT is to portray you how YOU want to be portrayed!" ::wanders off muttering to self::

::sticks head back in door:: Me: "Which pronouns do you want?!"
Partner: "Male please."
::wanders away again muttering about 'was that so hard?'::

Any rate, I've already post the first piece I did back in April, although I have done a second draft. That one has incorporated the very useful critiques folks on Scribophile did for me, so the version that'll go up on Technical Difficulties should be a bit better. 

One of the other players, Greg, and I got together to collaborate on a piece with both our characters back in April or May. Our characters worked together a lot in the campaign and I ended up with an idea about their shared backstory. But I didn't want to dictate Greg's character to him, not even by writing the story and then asking him to go over it for characterization. So I pitched that I'd write up the intro to a scene, and then we'd hop on Google Documents at the same time – he'd write JJ's reactions to the set up, I'd add Catrin's, and we'd build up a story that way. It was fun, so much so that we got together again this week to write another one – this time from JJ's POV. As methods go, it produces a slightly dialogue heavy first draft, but that's what second drafts are for. :D

Getting ready to run a game

We’re going to be recording some play tests of new RPG systems for the next couple of sessions over at Technical Difficulties and I’m on tap as the GM next session. New, successfully kickstarted, Powered-by-the-Apocalypse cyberpunk system - the cyberpunk is why I’m the GM, this being more my wheelhouse than anyone else’s. So we finalized our recording schedule last session, namely last Saturday. Which gives me one week to read a new system and come up with a scenario... Okay. I got this. I swear.

First thought: Gibson. Shamelessly steal plot from Gibson. Try Burning Chrome. Short stories will be faster to reread and it’s only going to be a 2 or 3 hour session. Novel plot will take longer.

Second thought: Does this system have a quickstart guide? Yes, they do? Glory be, that should make life easier.

::starts reading::

Third thought: ... SHUT UP EDITOR BRAIN!

So yeah, apparently I can’t read this system without wanting to edit all the things. To do both developmental and copy editing. I'm gonna claim that since I sat down to read it as part of a play test, my mind was already in editing/critique mode about the rules. Yes, I know editing is not the same thing as looking at rules with a critical eye. I know this. Really. But… yeah, sticking with my story here.

I'm not saying I think this is a bad system. I know the fundamentals of how the rules work are going to be solid, I've used this engine before (Monster Hearts uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine too). The experience mechanics look interesting and certainly focus the game in a particular direction. It's just...

Cyberpunk systems are crunchy systems, you know? The tech is important to creating the feel of cyberpunk and maybe it's that I've just never tried a more narrative cyberpunk system before, but I'm having trouble seeing how a collection of tags to describe equipment is going to create that lived-in technology feel.

Rather my job as the GM isn't it?

Wish me luck folks. This is going to be the first scenario I've come up with from start to finish, run in a new system, created in less than a week. Deadlines impose creativity!

I'll just keep telling myself that...

Miscellanea

Quick note, the interview I was part of with Technical Difficulties of Caleb of Hebanon Games on his game Red Markets is now live! Go check it out on our website.

Little bit of a funny story about the ad at the beginning of that interview. Being in the US and having a holiday weekend, partner and I were traveling when Aaron (who does the audio engineering for TD) texted us, asking if partner could record an ad to throw up at the beginning of the interview. Having just realized that would be a good idea. Being at our friend's house for the Memorial weekend yearly get together we didn't have the microphone we use with us. So, maybe when we got home Monday evening and the interview could go up late? But wait, several of our friend are part of No Nostalgia Filter, maybe someone hasn't started the drive yet and could bring a microphone with them. Oh, you've all already started driving? Okay. Wait what? Angelo, why do you always carry your professional grade microphone with you...? No, never mind, not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

So yeah, that ad was recorded with a better quality microphone than we usually have access to, partner learned a new technique for recording multiple takes, and there was much rejoicing. 

On the personal writing news level, I have finished transcribing The Night Clerk! My next writing project (which I have no plans to try and push forward while editing Red Markets) is going to be a novelization of that scenario from Role Playing Public Radio. It's going to be my first foray into horror which is going to be fun. Specifically atmospheric and mental horror, so lots of opportunity to focus on and work on my descriptive writing. I'm looking forward to this.

I have a several-step process to prepare for novelizing an actual play of an RPG session:
1.  Transcribe the audio
    Transcribing gets me to listen to the episode again, in a very intent way, really concentrating on what happened and who does what. But, more importantly, it creates a record I can text search if I need to refresh my memory. Instead of trying to find the proper time code for the specific issue I have a question about. This is the part that takes the longest; depending on many factors, I can transcribe 1.5-3 minutes of audio in 15-20 minutes. This particular audio was ranging on the high end (2.5-3 minutes in 15) because there were only three folks talking and they were pretty good about not talking over each other. Let me tell you, I am very, very familiar with these folks' verbal tics...
2.  Research points
     Next I reread the transcription and note all the points I think I need to research. These can be things I think I need more historical background on so I'll write it properly, technical details I want to double check, and things that just sound interesting and would like to know more about.
3.  Outline
     I build an outline of what happened in the audio. This is partially to have a timeline and partially to start breaking things down into 'scenes,' which is how I organize things in Scrivener.
     3a. Writing Outline
           If I notice plot holes or things that make sense for a gaming session but not a written story, I'll create a second outline that rearranges scenes. This is to smooth out timeline issues and/or improve the movement between scenes.
     Please note that I am completely willing to rearrange scenes after they're written.
4.  Do the research
     DO THE BLOODY RESEARCH. This step is NOT skippable. This is where I'll pull together reference material into Scrivener's Research section and maybe build a relevant Pinterest board.
5.  Character Bible
     A document where I pull together everything that seems relevant about the main characters and any minor characters who show up for more than one scene.

And once all that is done, then I get started writing.

The apocalypse happened, and I'm its editor

It's been a year and a half of doing a lot of new things for me. In that time, I started writing, learned to use new software (Scrivener), started critiquing other people's writing and began learning how to receive critiques, taught myself a little bit of graphic design, designed a book cover, printed a book through my local library's print on demand machine, started playing tabletop role-playing games regularly with strangers (now friends) over the internet, started blogging again, started using social media (regularly), wrote several short stories, and started a podcast (Technical Difficulties) with said now-friends.  

And on Monday, the Technical Difficulties crew interviewed Caleb Stokes of Hebanon Games about Red Markets and the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for it. 

This was especially awesome to me because we as a group formed specifically in order to play-test the Red Markets system. As you may notice from the number of episodes of Red Markets we've posted (campaign's not going to finish posting until June either). And once the Kickstarter makes, I'm on-tap as the editor for the project. A job I got because of the beta Caleb released – basically I really wanted to read the book, didn't think I was very good at giving feedback based on just reading the rules, and didn't (yet) have a group I could play with to do a play-test. So I went through and copy-edited all 250 pages. Guess Caleb liked the quality of my work.

So the interview. One of the things I thought was nice was that we could go more in-depth with the game and Caleb's process to get it this far, instead of spending a lot of time on the basics of what the system is, because of how much time we've spent playing the game already. And because we're all fans of Caleb's work from Role Playing Public Radio actual plays, we could talk about Caleb's progression from designing scenarios to a campaign to this particular complete system.

The Kickstarter opens up on May 23rd and our interview will going up on the 30th. I'll post links on those days and I hope you'll check it out. There's not many games where the apocalypse has happened but the rent is still due.

New System – Monster Hearts

So I really liked listening to The Drunk & The Ugly's Monster Hearts campaign, so much so that I found a copy of the game and floated the idea of playing it by the rest of Technical Difficulties. Good job marketing, guys! I am absurdly excited to play this system, which is a bit odd (to me) since I loathe teenage monster drama television shows, which the system is explicitly emulating. Eh, maybe my theater of the mind is providing better visuals than the television networks. Either way, I thought I'd try and explain the system a little bit to y'all, because it might be interesting and it'll help me keep the rules straight tonight during our first session.

So, the premise of the game is that the players are teenagers in school. Or young people otherwise in flux. And that they are 'monsters' somehow – whether actually supernatural or just the name for a particular stereotype of teenagers is up to the players and the GM. We're going to be playing as actually supernatural. Instead of 'classes' like folks are familiar with from D&D and World of Warcraft and the ilk, the system calls them 'skins'. You've got things like the Chosen (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the Fae, the Ghost, the Ghoul, the Infernal (sympathy for the Devil anyone?), the Mortal (nooooope, nope, nope, not even touching that Twilight-level pretentious crud), the Queen, the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Witch, not to mention all the fan made skins. It's a game that explicitly expects sex to happen between characters (teenagers after all) and every skin has something different happen for the character when they do. It's a more narratively driven system where when you want something to happen, you say it and it happens. It's more Fate than D&D, Shadow Run, or Eclipse Phase, if you know those systems. There's only mechanics involving dice when you're trying to do specific things:

  • 'turn someone on' - think more gaining emotionally-based pull on someone than just making them horny. Although it is that too. Which says something interesting about attraction within the world of the game: a character doesn't determine what they find attractive, it's all based on what other characters do
  • 'manipulate an npc'
  • 'shut someone down' - people being shitty to each other, basically
  • 'hold steady' - big, scary thing? roll to hold steady
  • 'lash out physically' - try and hurt someone
  • 'run away' - what it says on the tin
  • 'gaze into the abyss' - now this one is interesting. It's equating the GM, who is supposed to give you information about what's happening (if you succeed your roll), with 'the abyss'. I think the designer may have had some adversarial relationships with a few of their GMs

The thing with the 'Skins' is that you get more moves specific to just your skin, and not all of them require dice. A lot of them you can just do. The other bit of mechanics is 'strings' to represent that emotional pull you built up with 'turning someone on' or stripped away by 'shutting someone down'. Strings can affect rolls, force people to hold steady to do a thing, hurt people more (lash out physically) or offer people experience to do what you want them to do. Because you need a mechanic to try and manipulate real people, instead of those controlled by the GM.

And beyond that, there's not really any structure. You could have entire sessions of players doing nothing but role-play bouncing their characters off each other. You could have a plot. But you don't have to. There's nothing in the rules encouraging that either way.

Thank goodness the GM for this campaign also prefers narrative fun. Give me PLOT!!

 

(For more on different kinds of fun read this paper here: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research).  

Poor Private Collins. He never survives.

Private Collins of the title is an NPC in a Call of Cthulhu game my online group ran the past two Thursdays (sorry Ethan if I'm mangling the name of one of your NPCs). This particular game is pulled back before the usual CoC time period (1920s-1930s) and is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War (or as my partner calls it, The War of the Traitorous States – they're from Charleston SC and have strong feelings about the South's moral position in that war). Any rate! I bring up poor, driven to insanity by the haunting of his abusive commanding officer, Private Collins who freaking shot a nurse in our scenario iteration because I wanted a catchy lead-in. I mean I'll be talking about how I think my gaming group is good at reacting to situations in game like normal people from the real world and not player characters, but the title and lead-in help. :) 

One of the thing going on in Call of Cthulhu, at least in one-shots and the early stages of campaigns, is that the characters are, theoretically, average people. They haven't been confronted with life-or-death situations, haven't been exposed to the mythos, aren't freaking paranoid and jumpy and ready to kill everything with fire to save the world from insanity. At least not yet. 

But the players. The players usually know something about the mythos. We've played CoC and Delta Green games. We know this world is out to horrify and kill our characters if possible. We've played the badasses, paranoid, nut-job, murder-hobo, power fantasy characters with no consequences for the first and only solution to problems being 'kill it with fire.' In video games if not at the role-playing... video call? I mean I wanted to say table there, but yeah, I don't think I've actually had a face-to-face, physically present gaming session in more than three months. Hurray scheduling... 

Anyway, what I'm driving at is that metagaming is a thing. The disassociation from the consequences of your character's actions can and usually will lead you to make different choices than if it was you, yourself, physically having to react. 

Which is why I'm so proud of myself and my fellow players last week when the GM said 'I wasn't really sure what you were going to do – you all react like normal people, not PCs'. Feels like an accomplishment of role-playing. That we got in the right headspace to act like people in insane situations, not video game characters. Don't get me wrong, I will totally play characters as badass murder machines in, say, Delta Green where it is literally that character's job to go out and hunt down mythos for the safety of humanity. But not while I'm playing a Civil War-era nurse just trying to get some passes from Union soldiers for the patients under my care. 

And it was such a simple thing we did, too. When we first encountered a house where no one answered our calls hello, we went back outside and investigated around the outside. Instead of treating the house like a dungeon crawl, with every room to be secured and made to yield all its secrets.

There is a downside, mechanics wise, to role-playing properly, at least in this scenario. At one point we were trying to deal with a character's horse who was being driven mad, to the point I thought it was going to strangle itself on its reins (tied to a hitching post). Which meant that I cut those reins so it could run off. This would have left us without a horse, but you know, it dying to strangulation would have done the same thing. 

Cutting the horse loose let the mythos creature control it. We got attacked by a character's horse. That was... not fun for the characters, even if we the players enjoyed that combat sequence.

So yes, Private Collins did shoot me. No, I did not shoot back. That was the job of the calvary Captain on this little expedition. And yes, as our GM (Ethan) mentioned afterwards, despite everyone trying to talk the kid down, in the four times Ethan's run this scenario, Private Collins has yet to survive. 

Technical Difficulties - Red Markets, The Reformers #4

So I was going to write a post about writing a Giftschrank inspired gaming scenario, but came down with a plague instead. So, just episode #4 of Technical Difficulties' Red Markets play through and hopefully a full blog post next Thursday. Hope you enjoy.

 

A warehouse full of who-knows-what, a downed helicopter in the parking lot, and a herd of casualties blocking the way; there’s a reason Anton’s old outfit didn’t make it out of St. Louis alive.  Will the Reformers suffer the same fate?  Can they lay their fellow takers to rest?  Will they operate heavy machinery?  Guess you better get to listening.

THE PLAYERS:

Laura – “Pixie” Mallory: Former pre-med student who volunteered as an EMT, Pixie was out west on an internship when the Crash went down. She’s been working her way back East and home alongside a slowly dwindling squad of Army Reservists ever since.

Ethan – “Freebird”: an Ozark gun dealer with a social justice streak. Used to run with a raider outfit, but got out when they turned white supremacist. He’s trying to make a better life for his black adopted son, Davion, who lost an arm to the raiders.

Aaron – Antonio “Elder” Delgado:  Smuggler turned Mormon missionary who got trapped in the States during the Crash.  Now he uses his truck and criminal past to earn enough for a one-way ticket back to Mexico.

You can find out more about Red Markets at hebanon.blogspot.com and slangdesign.com/rppr/category/game-designer-workshop

Follow along with our after action reports on the RPPR Forums (spoilers):slangdesign.com/forums/index.php/topic,1952.0.html

Laura writes about the campaign and other cool things (like an upcoming novella) at www.laurabwrites.com

Warning: Explicit Content

http://community.roleplayingpublicradio.com/blog/2016/03/15/red-markets-beta-the-reformers-episode-04/

Technical Difficulties - Red Markets, The Reformers, Ep. #3

After running into big trouble at the Little Pittsburgh Mine, the Reformers head back to The Four Seasons to get paid and recoup.  Then their new latent friend Anton requests that they complete his final job, a contract that cost the lives of his former crew.

Will they accept this dangerous, yet potentially profitable mission?  (Spoilers, we do).

 

You can find out more about Red Markets at hebanon.blogspot.com and slangdesign.com/rppr/category/game-designer-workshop

Warning: Explicit Content (Namely, I curse.)

http://community.roleplayingpublicradio.com/blog/2016/03/04/red-markets-beta-the-reformers-episode-03/

Technical Difficulties - Red Markets, The Reformers, ep. 1

A few folks from the RPPR forums and I got together to give Red Markets, the roleplaying system in development by Hebanon Games, a play test. Eventually we named ourselves 'Technical Difficulties' after the number of times Google Hangouts would just drop the audio from one or more of us. But we always had/have fun. Go give us a listen at the RPPR Community AP site - our first episode is here and I'll post links to the rest as they come out.