Approach and RPG Design

I was talking the other day with some RPG design nerd friends (let's be clear, they're nerds about a lot of things, this was just the overlap we were talking about) about items and what makes items in RPGs fun. We've all gotten to the "because they let you do things you couldn't otherwise do" part, even if we're sure there's something else we're missing.

I pointed out that in the real world, technology (usually) gets invented to do a thing we already do better in someway, and then we figure out the new things it allows us to do. W said I was looking at broad technology, like computers, where they were looking at Joe PC's L33t MaGIc Haxxzor Rig. which got us to looking at the forest to figure out how to implement the trees, "Needs moar tree.", and the design failures of writing the forest, i.e. interchangeable and uninteresting items.

All of which has me thinking about the approach to RPG design issues. Is it better to start from the tree level: what do you want X to do in your game? Or is it better to start from the forest level: what makes X fun? How does that integrate and impact the other aspects of the system? How does X actually work in the real world and how are we importing it into the game?

... As you might be able to tell from having more forest questions, when approaching an abstract question like this, I default to 'forest' mode.

That said, my personal opinion is it depends. I know, real useful that. But I don't think this is something you can look at in isolation. A systemic, big picture approach is probably going to work better for a more narrative heavy system, one with more abstraction up at the systemic level. A deep dive into individual components, a more 'tree' approach if you will, is going to work better in systems where you want the difference between different items of the same type matter to game play.

Also, in my ideal RPG design scenario, you have multiple perspectives. Even if you're the sole designer for a product, being able to bounce thoughts and ideas off of someone who approaches things from a different perspective (writing groups are great guys) is going to get you a stronger product. 

That's the whole idea behind play testing, isn't it? Hand off your project to someone who only knows what's on the page (instead of what's in your head) and see if it works.

Writing, Time, and Word Count

So uh... This blog has gotten away from me...  Guess I know what my New Year's resolution is now. 

The first draft of the PostHuman Studios contract was due today, but I emailed it in last night. Just wanted to make sure it got to then sitting business hours and I just didn't think I could guarantee that if I was sending it in after my day job. So, the first draft of two thousand words is in. It was, of course, not my literal first draft — I revised and copy-edited it before I emailed it in. But it's the first draft they'll see and the first one I'll get feedback on from the game designers. Which is so cool.

I found I had a hard time getting started because I was finding 2k words intimidating. I don't know why, I've written four times as much as that (once) on a particularly good writing day. Doing it for pay makes a lot of difference to me, apparently.  

What got me going was a) terror of a deadline (what can I say, I do know my own motivators) and b) setting up a Scrivener project. I took the proposal I'd sent, picked the six sections they'd liked best, and copied the pitch text from them into six documents in Scrivener. And then, violá! I didn't have zero words towards the project done, I had about 300 done. Much easier to get started. Plus the mental shift from needing 2k to needing 300–350 six times. 

Outlines and small chunks. It's how I get moving forward.

Make that All Acceptance

Turns out I DID get that writing assignment from PostHuman Studios, they were just slower than they wanted to be getting back to people. Which, you know, happens. I had actually wondered if the guys were Canadian (and I had forgotten that) given that the original timeline had them working to choose writers over Thanksgiving.  

So, lessons learned so far: 

1) Even when there's a theoretical tight deadline for the writing, assume from the start that it'll take longer for assignments to go out than stated. If the folks assigning projects meet their goal, it'll be a nice surprise. 

2) Don't send 'hey guys, if you have time, how could I improve my pitches to you for the future' emails until actual rejection (I'll count hearing through other sources that assignments have gone out as rejections). Or a month. A month seems reasonable.  Just thinking this writing as a business thing through, as best I can.

3) When looking at your schedule and personal capacity to write (and meet stated deadlines) when deciding whether or not to pitch, look at your schedule under the assumption they'll get back to you later than they think they will.

I mean, unless this particular company has a reputation for being very, very good at time management and getting back to their freelancers quickly.  

I'm fine in terms of my own time management and the first & final draft deadlines, but partially that's because I already wasn't traveling for the winter holiday. So, as part of that thinking through writing as a business, I'm just seeing how it could have been a problem. 

Time, as they say, to put my nose to the grindstone and get 2,000 words out. Wish me luck guys!

Making a Pitch

So my favorite RPG system, Eclipse Phase, the one that got me to find my favorite Podcast that prompted me to start writing, got me my first editing job, find my writer circle, and led to this blog (among other things), yeah that RPG? The publishers put out a call for proposals to write for a booklet (on plot hooks) in the upcoming second edition.

I missed the tweet initially, but someone in my writers circle saw it and asked the group if anyone planned to submit a proposal (because we're all capital-N Nerds about RPGs), which got it on my radar. 

Guys, I did it! I sent in my proposal yesterday! I don't talk much about my self-doubts about my writing here because, honestly?, I cope with them by ruthlessly ignoring them, but they do exist. Mostly around trying to get published/paid. If I'm writing something for my own amusement or just to share here on the blog, no shame, no trouble showing other folks. Heck, very little trouble dealing with solicited critique. Haven't gotten any unsolicited critique so far, so we'll see how that goes down, if it ever happens. 

But the second I think to submit something cfor publication/money? Man. AGONIZING over the email submission. Poking Partner to read my email for mistakes/error/social blunders. Staring at the send button. It's no fun.  

But this weekend I came up with 12 plot hooks/ideas for the setting that I'm happy with, distilled them down to one sentence pitches, added a couple opening and closing lines to the email and sent it off. Even got a short 'receipt acknowledged' email back from the developers this morning. (Well it was sent last night after I went to bed, so I saw it this morning.)

I'm just... happy with myself for following through on this and pitching. If (if, if, if) I get this job, it'll be my first writing credit for something I pitched. And that's really exciting.

Wish me luck guys! I'll find out on Thursday. 

The Stabby Knife of Healing

The Stabby Knife of Healing

Wonderous Item, Weapon, Common

Despite the pleas of many herbalists, druids, mages, and artificers, these items are known in the common vernacular as ‘that stabby thing that heals you’ or ‘the stabby knife of healing’. Typically short and thin, these knifes are clearly designed for close, delicate work, having almost no reach and a small actual blade. Although commonly found on many healer’s persons or in their workshops, very few are available to non-healers. The blacksmiths capable of work this delicate are few and far between and those with the skills tend not to jeopardize their working relationships with the mages who enchant the final product by selling it to non-healers or allowing a non-enchanted version onto the market.

Several adventurers have obtained an artifact of this variety without awareness of its properties and been surprised when the secondary effect went off. Some of them even survived this revelation.

These knives inflict 1d3 cutting damage on a successful attack, followed by 1d6 damage being healed. The writer is unaware at this time how healers are reported to avoid the first infliction of damage on their patients.

Preparing to GM

I'm running a game for Technical Difficulties next Saturday and three games at GenCon in mid-August. So this seems as good a time as any to talk about what I do to prepare to GM a game.

There's only a few systems I'm comfortable enough with to GM, but I don't regularly GM. So I don't have all the rules memorized at any one time and like to review some areas I know I'm weak in before GMing. Right now, I'm comfortable with A Dirty World (next Saturday), first edition Eclipse Phase (GenCon), and Red Markets (intermittently). I have the basic mechanics and expected genre/setting/mood of all three down (which is more or less my baseline for saying I'm comfortable with a system) but before a game, I like to review:

  • the combat system in A Dirty World, both physical and social;
  • hacking in Eclipse Phase;
  • negotiations in Red Markets.

I think with time I'll move on to a more complex part of A Dirty World than combat. Not that there's a lot more to the system — I like A Dirty World, but it designed to do one thing (noir) and one thing only. So, not the most complex of systems. Hacking in Eclipse Phase and Negotiations in Red Markets are probably going to be the go-to review sections for a while though. Hacking because it's both complex and not used frequently in games I run. Negotiations because it's just different than other systems I know and the most complex part of Red Markets, period.

In addition to reviewing the system is the prep I do for the adventure. I typically run pre-written one-shots, so I'll have to write a new post exploring how this changes if/when I run a campaign (I have an idea...) But any rate, for one-shots, I like to review the pre-generated characters, read the adventure thoroughly, let it sit for an hour or a day, and then read it over again, thinking about how my players are going to something completely bonkers.

And then the day of, I'll have the rules books to hand, ready to go aaaaaaand everything flies out of my head. So I improvise the whole thing anyway.

But the prep work means the improvising happens faster (no 5 minutes of dead air and players twiddling their thumbs) and more coherent, because I know (theoretically) where I'd like everyone to go.

Not that they go there. Player Characters == Cats. First rule of tabletop rpgs, that is.

Game Review: The Play's The Thing

I have not played or GM'ed this one yet; this review is entirely based on reading the rules and listening to RPPR's actual play (Bouncy Castle Inverness!)

The Play's The Thing is a game about actors playing characters to put on a stage play. So you, the player, are an actor who is, in turn, a character within a play. You the player are in-character as your actor who can yell 'cut!' to try and talk the GM-who-is-the-play-director into allowing an edit to the play as y'all rehearse. Actors have types, plays have places, and characters have parts, plots, and props. Got it? Good, 'cause I need another read through of the rules or three.

One of the things I really appreciate the author doing is the nine Shakespeare plays they broke down into a cast list and five act structure that fits the rules set-up. One, that's like including nine one-shot adventures just ready to go for new GMs. Two, it's a great illustration of how to do it for any other play. While the central expectation of the system is that you're going to use Shakespeare's plays, I honestly don't see why you couldn't use a play from someone else. It's a nice flexibility to the system that I appreciate.

From the rules, this system also appears to have hit a sweet spot a lot of indie narrativist games have a hard time finding, the balance between doing a type of RPG play really well and long-term play. The system deals with the problem of character progression leading to over powered character really fast (*cough*Monster Hearts*cough*) by making progression non-linear. You don't get better at bending the story in your direction, you change up your approach and goals by shifting between actor types. It's character development instead of skill development in a way that allows the player to write a narrative for the actor over several sessions who writes narratives for their part in each session. 

Admittedly, I'm not sure how many non-theater nerds are going to want to play a campaign, but I think the structure in the rules is there for it.

I'm looking forward to trying this out with my gaming group. I'm thinking of trying to adapt The Maltese Falcon to the system as a play and seeing how badly the plot gets butchered :D

Another Kickstarter I'm Backing: Alas for the Awful Sea

I heard about this Kickstarting system pretty much how I hear about all the systems I end up backing: through an online friend's recommendation. Occasionally I find out about a system through a blog review or pitch, but it's usually friends. So far, it's been working out for me: I've gotten what I've backed and my backlog is quite long. There's always more to play (and read, and write) than time.

The system in question for this post is Alas for the Awful Sea, which is finishing off its Kickstarter on Feb. 22nd (at 7am). It's make its goal multiple times over again, so backing it definitely means putting money down on the table. To quote the pitch:

Alas is a story-focused tabletop roleplaying game about a ship’s crew navigating the remote British Isles. There, they face a world consumed with suspicion, sadness, and desperation. Struggles for power have deadly consequences; mysterious disappearances plague the region; and those who seem human may not all be so. Amidst all this, the sea sends forth strange messages. Will you be the one to listen?

It draws on the history of fishing villages and folklore of 1800s Scottish Hebrides. So it should fill more of the disempowered fantasy section of my roleplaying games library, while using the supernatural to keep it from being too crushing. Since it uses the Apocalypse World system for the core, I should be able to pick up the mechanics faster than a system with totally unfamiliar mechanics. Which means that I, personally, am more likely to play. I mentioned that backlog of new systems to play, right?

The artwork shown so far in the Kickstarter looks gorgeous. It fits my current desire for narrative and character arc focused games, but looks like it will have enough plot focus that I will have a structure to work with, in order to play my character — I like having goals to move towards, it means I know something to do with a character. And the setting is an area I haven't explored much in gaming or my personal reading.

So all in all, a good mix of familiar and desired things along with ways to stretch myself as a consumer of media and a role-player. I'm looking forward to the finished project.

Go check out the Kickstarter, see if it's a game for you too.

Scenarios and Systems I will probably not write

I've been immersed in the tabletop RPG world long enough that random things get my brain to churn out an idea for a scenario or a system at a distressingly regular rate. Distressing not because I dislike feeling creative and having ideas. But because, despite writing down the better ones to come back to later, I am fairly sure I will not find (make) the time to turn them into usable things. Because the editing and general fiction writing I do is a) more satisfying and b) expands to fill the available time, if allowed. I could fix this by just setting aside some time every week to just. freaking. write. these things. But then I'd have more projects in various states of incompleteness and each one would make less visible progress on a day-to-day basis. Which I would find more frustrating than having lists of scenario and system ideas I know I probably won't get to. It's entirely in my power to change the dynamics and make the time. I've just calculated for myself that the trade-off, right now , isn't worth it. Maybe that will change in the future, maybe it won't. But if it does, I've got my list of ideas I can use.

Scenarios ideas:

Giftschrank: I've written about this one (and the next one) for this blog before, but I haven't written the scenario yet, so it belongs on the list. The original posts went up March 14th 2016 and March 24th 2016 but the summary version is that Giftschrank literally means 'poison cabinet' and, in German, refers to the cabinet the controlled substances go in a pharmacy or, in a library, refers to a biohazard zone for information. Which just screams for a scenario in the Eclipse Phase universe about information escaping/being stolen from a research facility located on an exoplanet only accessible through a Pandora Gate with the players unsure which side they are or should be on. If I ever actually start writing scenarios, this will probably be first, just because it was the first one I wrote down and I really like the name.

Courrières Mining Disaster: I've also written about this idea, back on the 31st March 2016, but. In 1906, a very large mine in France exploded and then caught fire. It was an awful disaster that killed more than a thousand people, but the part that caught my attention was the group of miners trapped underground, in the dark, for more than a month  before rescuing themselves. To which I said, 'damn that would make a terrifying Call of Cthulhu scenario, the system already had a sanity mechanic.' Writing this one up would involve really learning the 1920s era Call of Cthulhu system, researching mining equipment, technology, and practices of the era, finding a map of the actual site (shouldn't be too difficult...), and building the characters, because no way in hell an I going to let the players build some insanely broken character taking a gun and no rope into the mine for some reason.

Base Raiders: I also have an idea for a base to loot. Well, more like a scene within the base. Let me give y'all the backstory first, because the idea came from understanding the Base Raiders setting. Base Raiders is a Fate system by Ross Payton where the players are in a world where superheroes existed before suddenly disappearing on a day. Left behind were are those superheroes' and supervillains' hidden bases, which you, as PCs, go raiding. Also, lots of the PCs are turning into superheroes themselves.

The idea for the base I'd write is that it's a superhero family and friends' ER and hospital.  Family and friends a superhero thought might be a target for hostage situations would be given emergency teleporters paired with medical monitoring devices. When the teleporter detects tampering or the monitoring service detects a problem, the user is teleported to the triage room of the base or, if the problem is severe enough or the facility is marked as currently slammed, directly into cryogenic freezing. This all came from expanding a scene in my head of a dead body on the floor of medical bay, face down in front of a gurney, having obviously bled out, based on the very old, dried pool of blood the corpse was lying in.

As for writing it up, I'd need to read the system (yes again) in order to make sure something like this doesn't already exist in canon, figure out power-levels of gear that could be looted (all of which would be medically based/themed), and see what kind of security other bases use. Then I'd need to figure out what sort of security would be compatible with a hospital. 

Systems: 

The first two system ideas come from encountering the flashbacks in the Leverage RPG (through the Drunk & the Ugly's APs) and Red Markets' non-linear time mechanic with scams in negotiations. Also how much I enjoy cop procedurals and heist films. ... And now that I'm thinking about it to write this post, Shadow Run and the inordinate amount of time I have spent planning how to hack, rob, extract, and otherwise do mischief to fictional corporations in a cyberpunk dystopia.

Any rate. 

The first is a system around criminal heists with Ocean's 11 style flashbacks while the second has cops investigating crimes with flashbacks to what the criminals did as the cops figure it out. Alternatively, combine the two where the players are both a cop and a criminal. The scenarios would start with a crime having been committed so you have the end result and the cops need to work backwards. When they figure out something, everyone switches over to their criminal character and there's a scene of what happened. I don't actually know where I'm going with this one, or really why/how is different than Leverage so there's a secondary reason this one probably won't see the light of day.

The next five are all systems I'd like to write using the Profit system found in Red Markers:

Running a community hospital

Stone Age tribe level survival

1800s escaped slaves survival

1800s colonization of the American West

Modern day survival scenarios  

So... a lot of survival games in there... It fits with the Profit system's focus on trade offs, opportunity costs, and resource scarcity. Which is how health care fits in with the rest of them for me: resource scarcity. What can I say, there's two ER doctors and a health policy economist in my family, I hear and talk about this sort of stuff more than the average lay person. For the community hospital, I think the players should be the administrative heads of various departments in the hospital. Each compete for resources and prestige in order to stay relevant (and an actual department) while having to use the resources to drive value to the hospital (along with all the other departments) so the hospital can keep their doors open.

I'm picturing the Stone Age tribal survival system as a semi-cooperative, narrative game. My idea is that players control a section of the tribe, like the hunters, the gatherers, the shamans, the elders, etc. instead of individual characters. So folks need to cooperate for the tribe and the characters they're responsible for survive but there's room for intra-tribe politics and changing what kind of society you're building. Sessions/scenarios would be things like going on a hunt, gathering resources, dealing with nature, or trying to build up a tribal improvement (like finding a good source of flint so the nappers can make better spears or something). I think I'd handle trying to change societal norms through an altered negotiations mechanic.

For the escaped slaves system, I was thinking of the American South but if I made this work I could expand it to other countries in the Western hemisphere during the same time period. For instance, I happen to know for a fact there are tribes of folks in Suriname (a small country north of Brazil) in the interior composed entirely of folks who ran from the plantations on the coast and reformed societies like the African ones they were stolen from. But the core idea came from a session recorded for Technical Difficulties (which hasn't been released yet) — it was a Call of Cthulhu game where the characters were escaped slaves who headed into the Great Dismal Swamp to escape pursuit. I'd be interested in stripping out the magic and making it just about survival and what risks the players are willing to take. Do you work towards making a life in the remote area you're hiding in? Escape to the North? The West? Canada? Flat out, can you avoid the slave catchers and are you willing to kill to stay free?

Thinking about that lead to the idea for a system in the American West about colonization. I'd want to write it so you could play the Americans pushing west (and stealing land from the Native Americans in the area) or as members of local Native American tribes. As an American, you're away from civilization, in remote areas, how do you survive? You're invading land someone else calls home under the belief of Manifest Destiny, that you deserve it more, that they're 'savages'. How far are you as a player willing to go as a character who believes those things, explicitly or implicitly? As a Native American, do you resist? Adapt to the changing social and political climate?

Both the last two systems would require a lot of research for me to feel comfortable contemplating writing. For the American West one, I would want to do as much research as possible before even attempting to approach members of the tribes in question to ask for advice. And I'm not a historian in training nor do I have the inclination during my free time. I mean, I'd do it because I have a specific goal and I'm good about working towards goals. But yeah, I am not unaware of how much work these two systems would require from me. At least I might be able to use the same information on tools and technology across the systems.

The last system, the modern day survival system, seems the easiest of the proposed systems. I'm already familiar with the time period :) Just have to research survival skills and craft a narrative around why the players are in such straits. I'm not saying that's not work, I'm just saying the other systems require researching skills and setting/time period. Thinking about the narrative, it feels like a system build around one-shots — here are your characters, here's the situation, survive. I mean, unless you're a Special Forces operator going through training, I'm not too sure why you'd end up in a series of life threatening survival situations. ... If you do, maybe it's time to look at your life choices. Anyway, I'm thinking of things like 'You're all average people from X country who just survived a plane crash in Y location. Survive until rescue or get yourselves back to civilization.' scenarios.

So there you have it, three scenarios for three different systems and six or seven full systems I probably will never write. Unless someone wants to collaborate on them and kicks my ass. I'm real good at working on things when I'm responsible to another person. ;)

An RPG system I failed to sell myself

A ways back, sometime before August of last year, Technical Difficulties had the opportunity to play test Upwind (by Biohazard Games) before it went to Kickstarter. I found Upwind to be an example of a really good, well put together system that just. was. not. for. me. 

The thing about Upwind for me was, that as different and innovative as the mechanics were, and they are very inventive, the thing that made the system itself was the setting. The world building was involved, complex,  and well-done. I'm just not terribly interested in an epic, adventure fantasy right now.

The tagline for Upwind is "A roleplaying fable of lost science, elemental magic and uncharted skies." It's set in a floating world, with sunlight above and The Dark below. Player characters are Explorer Knights on their airships, fighting pirates, keeping sailing lanes open, exploring, mapping, trouble-shooting, and dungeon crawling.

I honestly think my issues with the system have less to do with the system and more with Technical Difficulties's play test session. So I got a bit behind the week we were going to play and by the time I did sit down to read the rules I was trying to read just the rules. Well, the setting section and the rules section were not clearly labeled, and I started reading the setting section. So I'm reading, one chapter, two chapters, five chapters before I start skimming, looking for the rules, getting more and more frustrated, before finally figuring out that there's more than one file and try the other file. Oh look, there's all the rules. Which were kind of short... Which once I read the resolution mechanics made sense:

The resolution mechanic discards dice in favor of a deck of cards: player and GM negotiate two possible outcomes (both of which must allow the story to continue), determine the stakes involved, and then bid on the outcomes using a hand of playing cards. So it's a scene level resolution mechanic, rather than an action level mechanic, which is narratively based.

Once the Technical Difficulties crew gets the game rolling, it turns out that I'm the only player who had perused the setting information at all really. Which, let me tell you, is not a great way to try and use the resolution mechanic. For a narrative negotiation based mechanic to work, everyone involved really needs to be well-versed on what's going on in the world. Otherwise you don't have a great idea of what to ask for, what works as penalties, or even really the type of story to tell or feel to give it.

Also, online game.

The whole deck of cards thing does not work well over the internet. In my experience, you really want the tactile and visual feed back of cards in your own hands, seeing other folks' cards, and being able to look at the multiple decks that make up your various sources of cards. If only to help each other know where to draw from. So the four of us were constantly stopping to figure out our deck situation. That was partially an issue of needing more practice with the system and partially an issue with our set-up. It'd be a better mechanic for people who play together in person.

So yeah, a game I can recognize has interesting stuff going on. But isn't for me personally.

Go give RPPR's episodes of Upwind a listen through though, because they love the game and have a great time playing. Maybe it's a system for you and either way, it's a great series of episodes to listen to they have so much fun.

Kickstarters I Have Backed

Since 2012, I have, through my account (not my partner's) backed 13 Kickstarters:

  • Singularity & Co.
  • a smart thermometer 
  • wipebook
  • a card game about using funny voices for new characters (Noisy Person Cards)
  • a board game about political movement building
  • the Baby Beastiary, vol. 2 & vol. 1 reprint
  • 7 role-playing games
    • Unknown Armies
    • Red Markets
    • Ki Khanga
    • Dialect
    • Monsterhearts (2nd edition)
    • City of Mist
    • Harlem Unbound

Honestly, I think I've got some weird tastes. Either that or I tend to think if the project will eventually be available through some mainstream sources I'll just buy it that way instead of backing the kickstarter. Or both. It could be both.

So far, Singularity & Co. did what they said they were going to (keep a bookstore open and publish some sci-fi), the thermometer and wipebook were delivered to us, and I've picked up the Baby Beastiary at Gen Con 2016. Partner and I still use the thermometer. We tried the wipebook (notebook make of dry erase pages essentially) and found that while we liked the idea, it didn't fit with how we used notebooks. Not the fault of the product, just wasn't for us. And the Baby Beastiary is directly responsible for my Monsters and Other Childish Things character. Besides just being, you know, really fun to read. So, I feel like we've gotten our money's worth out of those.

Noisy Person Cards has slipped their planned released date but were good about keeping the backers up-to-date on what was going on, where they messed up, and what was happening now. All of the rest aren't even estimated to be coming out until sometime in 2017. Heck, Harlem Unbound finished its Kickstarter this morning. All of which is going to make for an interesting 2017 if even half these projects hit their projected release dates:
March — Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Roleplaying Game
April — Rise Up (political movement building board game) and Unknown Armies
June — Monsterhearts 2
July — Dialect (birth and death of a language)
Aug — City of Mist (Noir Superheroes)
and of course the one I'm working on, Red Markets, slated for Dec. 2017

I've been lucky so far. None of the projects I've backed yet has crashed and burned, flaming out in a wreck of not-finishing or putting out a product. If that continues to hold, I will have a lot of new games I can review here :D

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.

On Deciding to Back an RPG Kickstarter or Not

Partner popped up with an RPG Kickstarter today called Harlem Unbound and did I want to back? RPG stuff is one of those things we try to both agree on before buying since we both like the hobby and would prefer to share. Partially that's because RPG books can be expensive and partially because any game is a bit of a time commitment, so only one of us being interested in any particular RPG is a great way to either not play together or one of us have an un-fun time. Besides, if it appeals to both of us, there's a better chance it'll be good, ya?

So, what do I look for when deciding if I want to back an RPG Kickstarter? Figured I'd walk y'all through my thought process.


Well, first thing I check (and this might be way too obvious) is the title. Is it evocative? Does it give me a sense of what the project is going for? In this case, I find 'Harlem Unbound' to be pithy, evocative, and I'm already thinking I'm inclined to give this thing a chance.

Alright, next, is it a new system or supplementary material for a system already in use? In this case, we've got a supplement, here called a sourcebook, to Call of Cthulhu or Gumshoe. I like playing in the mythos setting, have had good experiences with Call of Cthulhu, and am interested in learning Gumshoe (even if I haven't gotten around to it yet). So far so good. 1920s Harlem — a time and place I only know as the briefest of sketches that would expand the world I could play  in those systems? I'm interested.

Next watch the pitch video. Looks like the creator put time and effort into making it look professional and evokes the time period in question. Cute framing device (creator's three or four year old daughter interviewing her dad) that also evokes the 1920s. Creator name checks a couple names I'm at least aware of from the era as part of the research he's done. Clean description of what the project is. Still interested.

Check the creator's track record: already backed 52 other projects on Kickstarter and this is their first project on Kickstarter. Says to me they likely have seen what works and what doesn't on Kickstarter, so will only promise what they can deliver. Successful previous projects on Kickstarter would be nice, but everyone has to start somewhere and this doesn't look like a heartbreaker project, so consciously choosing not to penalize for not already being successful.

Goal: modest and already surpassed three times over with three weeks left to go. So definitely will fund. Hm, extra swag/add-ons of the physical stuff variety (dice and a sweatshirt). That's not great — many a Kickstarter has been sunk by physical stuff costs...  Let's check the stretch goals next.

Let's see, already funded are two extra scenarios, a keeper's screen, more art, a longer history section, printing in color, and extra creatures. Left to be unlocked are another character class, a scenario, and printing a hardback book. I like the stretches, they are focused on making the core product better. I'm a little worried the creator isn't asking for enough money for each stretch goal, but I haven't done the research on printing an RPG book and they look similar to what I recall from the Red Markets Kickstarter. So. Still good so far.

Okay, I'm pretty sure I'd like to back this, so let's look at the pledge levels. 

Hm. There's a 5$, 25$, 40$, and 50$ pledge level (actually, there are higher levels too, I just know my limits). The 5$ just gets Partner and I in the acknowledgements page — that's no good, I want to use the product. 25$ gets me a digital copy but none of the stretch goals. I assume that would be the additional scenarios but the creator isn't making two books, one with the longer history section and one without. That's an assumption but it sounds like a waste of time to me... Any rate, I personally may not care about getting a GM's screen, but I do want those additional scenarios. 40$ gets me that digital copy with the stretch goals while 50$ gets all that plus a hardcover copy. Well, Partner and I already have a lot of RPG books, both digital and physical. I'm alright keeping this digital only, especially since I don't actually own a physical copy of either base system. 

I would have loved to have seen the digital only, no stretch goals at 15$ with a softcover + digital (maybe no stretch goals?) at 25$ or 30$. But again, I haven't run the numbers from the creator's side and the pledge levels are in no way egregiously different than other projects I've seen, so I really just have to trust that they're selling it at the fairest price they can while paying everyone working on the project a fair wage. 

40$ pledge level it is.

Annnd backed.


So that's more or less how Partner and I choose RPG Kickstarter projects to back. Is it in a genre we like to play? If not, is in an area of RPGs that we're looking to stretch into? Are the creators people we feel we should back and support in order to bring new ideas or new perspectives into the hobby? Does it look like it's going to meet minimum viability? Does it look the creators have an idea of what they're doing? Do they have a plan (as evidenced by the stretch goals)?

And finally, can we afford the price they're asking right now?

Pulling together a scenario, part 2 — Using a plot generator

All right, let's get building this story for A Dirty World scenario started. To start with, I'm using the plot generator/prompts in the Appendix of the book called One Roll Legal Problems, where I am directed to roll 11d10. I got: 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9. The sets (two 1s and two 7s) determine the 'central disputes' and the single numbers are the 'Twists, Reveals and Complications.'

Oh wow, I've been in editor mode a lot today. That lack of an Oxford comma is really bothering me.

Any rate, back to story crafting.

The Central Disputes. The ones set gives me theft, petty, minor stuff while the sevens are Government Regulation, Police Misconduct. First, that's hilarious given the setting I've already chosen and secondly, it either works really well with my character concepts or is going to make character creation harder. If the police misconduct is know or apparent from the start, it would make sense for the PCs to be Internal Affairs. But, one of the secrets I was going to lay on a character was that they were undercover Internal Affairs. (It's noir, everyone has a secret. It's coded in the rules and everything.) So, I can either make the PCs part of the Robbery unit and they have to figure out the police misconduct OR the misconduct is apparent enough when the crime gets called in that it's all handed off to IA off the bat.

Given my personal experience with identity theft, I happen to know that at least some jurisdictions aren't going to investigate/take it to court if the theft is under a certain monetary amount (because resources yo, the department is overwhelmed as it is). Therefore, petty theft doesn't seem like something a modern police force would hand off to detectives. Which pushes the story either towards being primarily about the misconduct or I need to make the theft bigger. I'm going to look at the complications and come back to that. 'Cause there's a lot of complications from this roll.

Given how few sets I managed on 11 dice, I have seven out of ten numbers on the Twists table.
2: A frame job, or evidence tampering
3: Insanity
4: Addition
5: Reluctant key witness
6: Seemingly damning physical evidence
8: Passionate, powerful courtroom testimony
9: A marital infidelity angle

I'm not all that comfortable with the insanity complication — there's a tendency in popular media to portray mentally ill folks as 'crazies' who commit crimes when in real life they are statistically much more likely to be the victims of crimes. I don't really have time to research a mental illness to portray it as sensitively as I'd hold myself to. So, since it's my story and all, I'm just going to change that 3 to a 1. And now the theft our characters need to sort out is "an item of great sentimental value."

I can fold the frame job/evidence tampering (2) into the 7s set. So know I know what type of misconduct happened. Or, the evidence tampering can be the clue pointing our PCs to the misconduct. I think I like that better. Alternatively (again), I could drop the addiction (4) complication to push up the theft into the "Elaborate, intrusive theft of something very expensive" category and say the goal of the theft was to steal evidence (2) but high-value things were stolen as a cover. Or, you know, payment to the thieves. Now I'm getting into some territory I feel familiar with.  

So, lets look at the complications I have left:
5: Reluctant key witness
6: Seemingly damning physical evidence
8: Passionate, powerful courtroom testimony
9: A marital infidelity angle

The 5 and 9 pair nicely: a key witness is reluctant to give evidence because they're involved in marital infidelity. So somebody knows something but only because they were stepping out on their partner and giving evidence in court would mean their partner finds out. I can work with that.

Now the question becomes do the players need that reluctant key witness to give 'passionate, powerful courtroom testimony' to counter the seemingly damning physical evidence? Or is their testimony opening the door to introducing the physical evidence into the record? Namely, is the evidence accurate or not? Basically, should I be looping back to tie the 6 evidence into the 2 frame job/evidence tampering or leaving them as separate elements?

Hmm, I like the idea that the theft of physical evidence was itself evidence tampering and our reluctant, cheating, key witness needs to give courtroom testimony in order for the stolen items to be admissible in evidence.

Melvin killed his drug dealer Tiny in Tiny's own home and then dropped the gun where it got kicked under the couch. Officer White found the gun and was sealing it in an evidence baggie when his partner interviewing Tiny's partner mentioned that Melvin, Petru, and Liza had all been behind on payments lately. Officer White knew Melvin's daddy Moses Nikodemos was a) rich, b) protective, and c) influential in the business community. Also, White wanted to retire in a couple years. Nikodemos could certain provide a little starting capital and recommendations in the real estate business in say... Portland. Somewhere other than the East Coast any rate. So Officer White pocketed the gun, still in the evidence bag.

White wasn't stupid enough to keep the evidence in his home — he contracted out the evidence collection and actual blackmail to a bookie he knew. Samuel McNiven, the bookie White knew, (don't get him started on the Catholic versus Jewish guilt; he's a connoisseur of both) did a pretty good job with his end of the deal... right up until he let slip to Nikodemos that he was the one holding onto the evidence that would lock up Melvin for life.

Nikodemos senior is not afraid of direct action or breaking the law. But murder would just bring too many unnecessary risks. So he contracted out a theft to a couple of professionals — hit the bookie's place and steal the gun in the evidence bag. Don't touch anything else and they'd be well compensated. Too bad for Nikodemos that the thieves decided the cash in the safe was a bigger payday than Nikodemos could provide and to keep the gun as insurance against Nikodemos. After all, if that was all he wanted, it must be pretty important.

Too bad for the thieves there was a witness — Officer White's wife Katrin whose having an affair with McNiven. She was in the room when the thieves broke in and hid behind a curtain. She got a good look at the whole shebang, including the debate over whether or not to take the money or follow Nikodemos's instructions. And a good look at the evidence bag and her husband's writing on the bag. She doesn't want a divorce just yet, nor her husband to wind up in jail...

Too bad for Nikodemos AND Officer White that McNiven decided to report the theft. After all, all that money in the safe was part of his perfectly legitimate pawn shop operations. And he wants his money back. He'll just not mention the gun that was in the safe too...

System Fluency: Gaming edition

I also have some thoughts on ‘system fluency’ in the context my friend, the Shadow Run GM, used the term. See, roughly two years ago my IRL gaming group reformed after a post-college break of multiple years. The GM hasn't had a chance to fully use the fourth edition of Shadow Run and wanted to run a campaign before he even considered buying fifth edition. Shadow Run is his system the way some folks apt D&D or Pathfinder reasons as their system: he knows the system lore and plot at a pretty deep level and it's his default system to run a campaign in. That's the kind of story he wants to tell (and yes, only tell — I don't think he'll be convinced to play anytime soon, if ever).

We have, on occasion, gone three months between sessions. Just life stuff killing scheduled time.

Ignore the difficulty of keeping a story going and fresh with such big breaks between events. We're having a hard time keeping the rules in our heads. The same things cause us to stop and look specific, fiddly rules up from session to session, players and GM alike. We aren't gaining system fluency. Our 'speech' in the language of Shadow Run is still halting and dependent on dictionaries/grammars. The rules and our lack of fluency in them is placing a barrier between us and the story we're failing to craft.

I honestly think system fluency (or lack there of) can play a big part in how enjoyable an RPG system or campaign is. How often have we heard 'the rules got in the way of the game'? Time spent looking up rules is at the table is time not spent interacting with friends or the story. Unless your type of fun is studying RPGs to gain system mastery, that's not fun. (And if that is your type of fun, you can do that in between sessions, yes?)

All of which got me thinking about system design and how the system can aid or hinder gaining system fluency. And how I can pick up new systems faster. Especially since I've been playing a variety of systems with Technical Difficulties.

Rules light, narrative systems seem, to me, like they should be the easiest to pick up. There aren't a lot of rules to remember and what there are should be core mechanics. Things that apply across a spectrum of situations. For example, in Monster Hearts, everyone had four basic moves; the trick was figuring out how you wanted to apply them to this situation and what they said about your character. The difficulty with narrative systems though can be the lack of rules. If the system doesn't do a good enough job conveying the expectations of the system, the type of story it's supporting, I at least can end up flailing, feeling like there's no direction to go and unclear even on what tone to take.

Take, for example, Fate Core and Monster Hearts — Fate Core seems like an awesome system, one I could see using for a sword-and-sorcery epic fantasy and for a gritty investigation. So unless the GM has a clear vision of the world they want to build, the genre of the game to play, conveys that to the players, and gets buy-in from everybody, I'd be flailing as a player. This is not to say I don't like Fate Core — I do, have read up on the system for it's own sake, and would be willing to play in a campaign (or one shot) of Fate or its derived settings (which I haven't read up on yet). But only with a GM who has a clear idea on a campaign. It's a broadly applicable narrative system.

Meanwhile, Monster Hearts has one story it's designed to tell: teens/young adults growing up. You can layer all sorts of stories in that, but that is the core story the system is built for. I've got a direction to take my character and a tone expectation built in. So the system is doing the tone and expectation setting, before the GM ever needs to communicate with players. Gods help you if you want to do a different type of game or campaign with the system though.

In terms of learning these types of systems, I try to focus on core mechanics and narrative feel. So I pay more attention to included fiction and rules examples. 


On the other end of the spectrum are crunchy systems, things like Shadow Run and Eclipse Phase. My main attraction to Shadow Run used to be the cyberpunk setting, but over time the density of the rules and different systems for different classes (the magic system is different than the hacking system is different than the drones is different than...) has eroded my desire to play in the world. One of the things I think Eclipse Phase learned from Shadow Run is to keep the system flat. The magic system in Eclipse Phase is, fundamentally, the same system as performing any other skill: percentile dice under a skill rating target number.

Another thing the EP team is doing differently from SR is that the metaplot is not advancing — whether or not this is a good thing is more individual choice, but personally I'm in favor (and will get to why in a bit). In Shadow Run, there was a story line that canonically happened, lots of which were available to players as modules or campaigns, and then the world changed. It was time for the timeline in system to advance by five years and the next edition of the system to come out. Eclipse Phase is keeping the 'official' clock at AF 10 and diving deeper into various aspects of the setting — what would be the Monster Manual in D&D just came out (it's called X-Risks). 

Both the crunchy systems I know are heavy on rules and setting (Shadow Run more on the rules, Eclipse Phase more on the setting). Shadow Run feels like it has just the one story to tell: go do an adventure from the perspective of people outside the power structure of the world. My GM has played at least one adventure of Lurg, the combat medic mercenary, but the campaign we've been trying to do as a corporate black ops team is the one that's not working so well. And the GM has quietly been doing a lot of work in the background to keep the system balanced (not that he really has that time to spend). Eclipse Phase, I've run a dungeon crawl, I can see a long political intrigue campaign, I've heard an actual play adventure quest, I wanted a different actual play campaign to stop  play the war scenario they touched briefly, I could see running an investigation campaign. Heck, I could see running a police procedural. What I'm trying to say is that, like narrative systems, crunchy systems can range in scope of stories they support playing. So, you know, I think that's the place to start — figure out what type of story the designers expected folks to play in the system and use that to direct you to the rules to learn first. But for me, once I get the first set of rules, I really need to try an adventure or two. One, to figure out if things move fast enough that I want to keep playing and two, to figure out what set of rules to focus on learning next. Setting wise, I limit my dives into the sourcebooks to the areas most relevant to whatever we're playing next.

You know, if I don't have time to read them for fun.

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

What I learned GMing at GenCon

Gen Con 2016 was my first time GMing at a convention and I have a few thoughts on it.

First, if anyone likes GMing, likes doing it at conventions, and likes the Eclipse Phase system, I seriously recommend GMing for Posthuman Studios. The number of hours you'd need to GM for your badge to be paid for is reasonable and, if you'd rather GM less, their pay per hour is pretty good. Also, I got to go to a coffee hour with three of the Studio's folks so they could pick their GMs’ brains on what worked and what didn't. Really nice guys. AND you get to see/read some scenarios before they're offered for sale to the public.

Second, apparently stage fright isn't just for public speeches. I had two sessions and was nervous as heck before both. The first makes sense to me. I have yet to find a session prep methodology that gets me to feeling like I know what I'm doing (fellow GMs, please, leave your methods in the comments, I need ideas). I guess I'm developing some improv skills off of it. But I'd have thought after playing in the same scenario last year and running a session once, I wouldn't have those nervous butterflies before the second session this con. Nope. Still just as nervous. Well. After accounting for how tired I was. Last day of the con and all.

I think this partially has to do with not having a great memory for details and Eclipse Phase being a fairly rules crunchy system. Partially to due with being an introvert about to be in charge of herding 5-7 people I’ve never met before. And it being on me to make the game fun for them.

I had two bunches of good folks playing though. Having watched a bit of partner and a friend play in a Pathfinder game, I could have ended up with dudebros or folks who'd want to make me being female a thing. I think Eclipse Phase’s politics, which it proudly wears on its sleeve, are going to filter some of those folks out. But still, having a good group, including folks just cross-playing gender with no comment, was nice.  Although I would have liked to have seen more than one other lady at the table (out of twelve people).

My take away is that while I can GM at conventions, I'd rather play. Especially to check out new systems, see if they're for me. I'm just more comfortable GMing for folks I know or in more narrative systems I know better (*cough*Red Markets*cough*). Spontaneously deciding to run a game of Red Markets worked out better than I had any right to hope – good confluence of having a large block of time available, a channel to announce on to find players, folks who know the system already (despite the purpose of the scenario I ran to playtest introducing new players to the system), having written the scenario in the first place, and only going over the player rules for Red Markers once in beta and three times as an editor.

So yeah. I can GM. I will GM for Technical Difficulties, because equal share of the load and all. But, I would rather play.

Still going to be GMing a session of Eclipse Phase AND Red Markets at WashingCon on September 10th and 11th. As will the partner. 

Gen Con Report

So Gen Con!

(Yes, I moved over the weekend. No, the new apartment is not in anyway put together. Yes, it resembles a shaken snow globe of stuff everywhere. Nope, not thinking about that right now.)

Gen Con was awesome. I hung out with friends we only see at Gen Con (played SmashUp, Hello My Name Is..., Brewin' USA, and Paperback over a couple of nights), went to several panels, talked on one, played in a live-action puzzle game, and ran two sessions of Dog Star. 

Dog Star is a scenario in the Eclipse Phase RPG. The tag line for this one is 'Doom Metal Laser Whales in a dungeon crawl on the surface of a Sun.' Yes, the characters are in the bodies of whales adapted to live on the surface of a sun who need to go investigate a space installation floating in the corona of a sun. It's awesome and I am looking forward to running this scenario for my gaming group, Technical Difficulties. (Also, if you're in the DC area, the partner is going to be running it at WashingCon 2!)

Running this scenario at GenCon is actually why I'm willing to talk about GenCon on a Monday, my Writing blog post day. This was the first convention I've run gaming sessions at and I thought I'd talk a little about the parallels I see with writing.

A few weeks before Gen Con, I got the scenario from Post Human Studios, the folks who publish Eclipse Phase. The scenario is (to my mind) a lot like the background development material you develop for a writing project. You've got the relevant world building material (or in this case, pointers to the parts of the vast amount of world building that are specifically relevant to the scenario). You've got your character bible, i.e. the character sheets. You've got the antagonists and their motivations. You've got the inciting incident and background material on it. You've got the outline of the action you expect to happen (i.e. what would happen before the characters come along and throw a monkey wrench in your plans). And you've got some expected resolutions. And then you read through it all, let it seep into your head, and sit down to execute the story. In this case, run the game.

The two sessions I ran, there were 6 players and seven available characters, so I had a slightly different mix of characters between sessions. And the interaction / comfort level between folks at the table was a bit different from game to game, of course. First game at four folks who play together regularly at home who had really fun character moments together plus someone who'd played the scenario last year and therefore was hanging back verbally to let other folks have more impact on the story. Second game, there were fewer humorous bits, fewer back-and-forth character moments, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

It was interesting, both groups made very similar choices. I mean, it's a pretty straight-forward scenario but both groups made similar choices. Option between getting to the interesting point fast but not having emergency bugging out fuel OR getting there slower and having fuel to leave fast? Both groups chose to go slow and have fuel to leave quickly if need be. Investigate now or rig to blow up in the event of 'oh shit'? Both groups chose to rig it to blow up first.

I don't think I was steering them into those choices....

Any rate, can't talk too much more about the specifics, not and surprise the Tech. Diff. folks when I run this. :D

So yeah, for me, the scenario is the developmental writing work and running a game is the four-hour marathon writing session where the details get filled in, clever bits of dialogue happen, and your characters surprise the heck out of you. Possible taking the story in a completely unexpected direction.

No editing phase though. We're doing it live!

More Story: The Secret Door

Back in the same campaign that spawned ‘Dead Bum Acquisition Squad’, my friend Adam was playing a troll. This troll was, like many trolls in the ShadowRun universe, not the brightest. He was, in fact, down right dim. And Adam had the worst time rolling for this character (who’s name I’ve forgotten - he’s getting retroactively renamed Thog).

So the Squad was tasked with tracking down a Geomancer who’d gone into hiding. We went to their address of residence, just to get a starting point. Dude was good enough at his job to live in the penthouse. Of a forty floor apartment building. So he was doing well. Probably why he was the target of a corporate ‘do the job or die’ offer.

We take the elevator up to the Penthouse and step out into the vestibule. Everyone looks around for anything unusual (i.e. check the room for traps/hidden doors/etc.) and Thog critically glitches his roll.

“There’s a secret door guys, it’s right here!”

The rest of the party manages to convince Thog not to try the “secret door” and we all head into the apartment. Fifteen minutes of searching, observing, and (fruitless) clue-gathering later, we all troop back out into the vestibule. Everyone makes a perception test again, and Thog critically glitches again.

“No really, it’s right here!” ::punches wall:: ::fist goes through wall into the electrics and pipes in the wall::

Pause around the table.

GM: “Roll a d6 to see if that was a load-bearing wall.”

The dice skitter across the table…

“Is that a one?”

“Good thing we’re on the top floor…”

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