Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Star Wars feel like Star Wars

After thinking about how some science fiction novels differ from my sf gaming, and how a simple western can be told very differently, my attention turns to Star Wars.

If you've read what I've posted here lately, you might recall that I was thinking of running a session of D6 Star Wars for the kids. I've taken out my rulebook, and read the basic mechancs, the combat and now also the GM advice chapter.

In the latter, the text tries to tell you how to transfer the experience of watching the Star Wars movies (back then there was only three) from the medium of film, into the medium of a rpg. That is, just the migration I was struggling with before. Some things have struck me as interesting in this part of the book. I'll summarize some of the advice in the GM chapter, and write some of my impressions from those. I'd say there are two big things they concentrate on. The first one is mood, tone and feel in general and the second one is rules. There are also some advice on presentation, which I found extra interesting.

In order to make the game feel like a SW movie, they suggest you make sure to do like in the movies. There are droids in the movies, make sure there are droids in your game. There are aliens in the movies, so make sure there are aliens in your game. They even cite some scenes that showcase some of those things, and urge the reader to try to capture that same "wow" feeling you got when you saw it in the films. These are the trappings, and tropes, which makes it "it". I totally see how that can work. Imagine a game about Middle Earth without hobbits, and you miss out on some of the most iconic things about Middle Earth. So, bring lots.

How all those are used is also mentioned. There is a specific way to tell a story in Star Wars. Scenes are introduced in the middle of the action, the pace is quick and the canvas is broad and the scope is epic. Also, there is a story. I'd say that the wandering murder hobo is far removed from the feel of Star Wars. While the idea of tropes makes sense, I think this is quite key in order to make a property that is not originally made for rpgs work. In a film there is a structure to the telling of the tale, and you probably need to at least simulate that or give the feel of it to make if feel right. Maybe here is where my sf stories in games and the ones I read about differ.

Then there are the presentation. I found it quite interesting to read that they suggested the introduction to an adventure be a short script the players read out/act out before they jump feet first into the first scene. I wonder, did anyone take that and ran with it? I've never heard of it, but it's an intriguing idea. The idea to use establishing shots and cut scenes, where the GM basically presents the narrative like a film does it, is cool and quite different from most rpgs. In the book they even suggest you narrate things the PCs can't see or know, to build tension and structure to the narrative. This I have actually tried myself in a Star Wars game me and a few friends did at a convention many years ago. It worked nicely, I think. Maybe this is what's needed to make it feel cinematic, in the truest sense of the word.

Lastly then, the rules. Most of us who have been around are aware of the idea of utilizing the rules to support or hinder a style of play. Three things I found interesting is this section. First off the book emphasize the need to avoid anti-climax. This is paired with the suggestion that failure is good. I think this is probably a good way to get that free flowing feeling of "keep the action fast" they advocate. Sure, you might have failed your roll, but that just mean we have some new dramatic tension for the next wild stunt coming up. But, of course, this is where rpgs in general differ from other media. It almost never happen in a book or a film that a protagonist fails. If they fail they often get another chance or the next scene adds something that changes the conditions. Still, it pays to remember it. Then there's the last thing, mentioned more than once. Fudge the rules. This is not a game where they suggest that "the dice fall as they may", and I think that in order to make it feel like Star Wars, they are right.

Compare this to how things work in Dramasystem, or Gumshoe where Robin D Laws has designed systems according to resource management for the player to get "screen time" and be able to shine. In WEG Star Wars they go so far as to mention the "illusion of free will", and I think it ties in with the suggestion to fudge the dice rolls. I have fairly limited experience with both Robin's designs and the D6 system, even though I have played them. But, I to the feeling of being, "in there" and participating far more when I rolled dice. Rolling dice and the GM fudging things so they do not contradict the dice, but also don't follow it slavishly, made for a fun game. Actually I think it makes for a funnier game than the two systems mentioned above by Robin D Laws. I think I will get back to this. It might only be me.

I think here are some really core points for translating the narrative from one medium like film to a rpg. Many times I've heard that this GM advice chapter is one of the best written, and I think it is indeed really good. I'm not sure all of them can be used to make True Grit into and awesome rpg session, but some might do.

I really need to make this Star Wars game for the kids happen, because now I'm really pumped up about this game!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More thoughts on the impact of a story

In my former post on the matter, I mused about how different the impact a really good science fiction novel had on me, compared to a game session. Thinking a bit more on that, I think that maybe I have confused what makes the different art forms work. I know that often when I hear Robin D Laws talk about game design, or when I read some of his newer games, I feel he is often talking about how to model this or that narrative from film or tv. It often makes me cringe, since I feel that he seems to be mixing water and oil.

Having thought about it, I am wondering if I was doing the same. Maybe a novel and a rpg game are two different arts, producing two very different expressions which really don't translate from one to the other. Staggering insight, I know. I have read "novelizations" of games and it usually reads quite terrible. Maybe the idea to transfer a well structured narrative in a novel into a co-created narrative of a game session is just as terrible. You can do it, but more often than not the players are then just along for the ride, and the payoff still isn't that great.

Then there's the movies. In True Grit by the Cohen's, there are some scenes which utilize the screen space marvellously well. They basically make the most of a medium which is visual. A RPG session on the other hand is verbal. A book also is verbal, and I think that fooled me into thinking they are thus related. But, spoken words and written words are very different. So different that translating from one to the other sometimes does makes you hurt.

What could we then do? Anything?

I'm thinking about the Star Wars rpg. For me that means the WEG d6 based game, and I have no problem with any other Star Wars game, but that's what I've read. Yeah, I'm showing my age. In that game there was a lot of advice on how to run a game that felt like the movies did. It might surprise you, but back then there was only three movies. Weird, eh? Where was I? Oh, gamemaster advice. Yes, the advice was about the feel of the movies, not the qualities that made the movies film, their visual impact. No, it was the pacing and the turns and twists of capture and breaking free again to chase down the next plot point. Those qualities you can actually translate into a rpg.

It will probably take me forever, but my next challenge will be to try to find the feel of Karl Schroeder's Permanence and see if there is anything there that can be translated, in feel. At least it helps to know what you're looking for.

Final impressions of the review mess at DTRPG

After posting my last post about the featured reviews at DTRPG I have gotten lot of really good feedback. I thought I wanted to wrap some of it up, even though the conversation probably need to continue about the relationship between producer, reviewer and potential buyer.

So, it seems like even though reviews giving less than top marks has been discouraged at DRTPG, it no longer seem to be the case. Maybe it was even thought of as a way to impress upon some reviewers the need to actually provide a review. Whatever the case, that was a terrible idea. I think it poisoned the well, and sadly made a lot of honest reviewers suspect. I will have a hard time not being reminded of that if I ever visit DTRPG.

Should you shop there? Well, I've heard more complaints about them, and am no fan of pdf game books, so I will probably be even more wary of them from now on. I dislike the idea of the mobbing a re-seller, but I am also a firm believer in informed decisions when you shop.

But, what is a poor game designer to do when wanting to sell their stuff? I don't know, really. There are some other sellers of electronic game books, but I have no idea what their policy is about reviews and how big a cut they take.

Then I'd like to say that I think that if you signed up to get free stuff in exchange for a review, you should write a review. That's just polite.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What is a review worth? DrivethruRPG in particular

I was reading a blogpost yesterday on The Douchey DM, and it was about the interaction between publishers and podcasters in our hobby. What Stu posted made me really angry. This is the deal.

So, DrivethruRPG did put pressure on their "featured reviewer" to write positive reviews, implying that since they got stuff for free, they had to give it good grades. That, boys and girls, is corruption. It's basically a by the book definition of bribery!

While this was a few years ago, and their policy might have changed, this still is the same company, and that used to be their mode of behaviour. I cry foul.

If any of you out there review things for DrivethruRPG, and give that product you've gotten for free good reviews because you "should", I call on you to stop at once and shamefully crawl under a rock!

For the rest of us, those reviews on DrivethruRPG now means nothing. They are bought, and suspect since none of us know if this policy is still in effect.

I could sit here smoulder in my righteous anger and declare that I will never buy from them again, but I don't by my game books in pdf to begin with. But, I sure wont buy them from Drivethru if I can avoid it! I urge you to do the same.

Download a pirated scan and send a $10 bill to the writer instead, I'd say.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Getting the full impact of the story of a game

I just finished reading Permanence, by Karl Schroeder, today. For those of you who don't know, it's a outer space science fiction story with some intriguing aliens and some cool plot twists and turns, and real sense of wonder.

More than once I've lamented the fact that never have science fiction games turned out like I'd want them. When I finished Permanence I once again got reminded of that, since some parts of that book would work just fine as scenes in a Transhuman Space game. But, the philosophical implications, the inner turmoil of the characters and the way the mysteries of the settings were shadowed in the actions of the protagonists of the novel, those would probably never crop up in a game. Maybe it's a problem for me that the kind of sf I like is hard to recreate in a game. Or is it something else?

A while back I watched the Western remake, True Grit. It was a fabulous movie, with great shots and excellent interplay between the characters as they discovered their own "true grit". They way it was shot, using the scenes and the camera to show distance and closeness was also excellent. Today I saw the original, the True Grit from 1969 with John Wayne. I'm quite fond of many of his western movies. The Searchers, High Noon and Stagecoach I consider some of my favourites of all time. So, here we had the same story told in two different ways, just like the same adventure could play out very differently at two different tables.

That movie was shot very differently. It was always very light, never dark even when it was clearly supposed to be night. The music was so light and merry I almost laughed. After hearing for so long that "this ain't an easy trip, sister", that music totally flipped that impression over into a jolly ride into the wilderness. Surprisingly many of the lines the actors had were identical in the two movies, but they felt quite different. They both basically said the same thing, but it came across in a new way.

So, what does that mean for my longing after the deep impact of Permanence in my science fiction games? Well. I know that I can decide not to play jolly music when it's supposed to be grim, and I can try to describe the inner conflicts in NPCs by their external actions. But, I'm still a far away from capturing that magic. Sometimes you say the same things, and it comes across in a totally different way.

I wonder if I'll solve that riddle.

But, damn do I want to play an Old West game now, or what!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shaping the next generation

Last night one of my kids told me roleplaying games sounded fun, and it became clear that some kind of "try it out" session with some friends from school had to planned. Imagine that. I'm amazed that it has come to this. Who would have thought that, eh? Maybe having shelves overflowing with games in the living room was a great idea after all.

Since the kids are right now crazy about Star Wars legos, and the Star Wars themed Angry Birds game, they want to play a Star Wars game.

For me there's only one Star Wars game, and it's the WEG one with the d6 pools.

I just grabbed this of the web, not my picture

Time to crack open that rules book and refresh my memory, there's a new generation to make into gamers!

I hope there's some Force around when I need it...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting hurt in different games

Since I recently played a game of FATE, I have been searching out other experiences of playing FATE, including listening to podcasts. At the same time, I have been re-reading Dragonquest, which a game quite different from FATE. Today I realized you could consider them side by side, based upon what happens when your character gets hurt in those two games.

In FATE you basically only have two hitpoints. You have two stress boxes for physical hurt, and two for mental hurt. Nothing happens when you tick them. Then you have consequences, which are things that last. I guess that's clear from the name, right? But, what I found intriguing is how those consequences are used.

Since they are Aspects, just like so much else in FATE, they can be invoked. That means they will affect the story and the narrative, and they wont just be points of damage. Now, how does damage works in Dragonquest? Well, you have your points of Fatigue, and you have your Points of Endurance. Depending on how severely you get hit, you dock some points off those. But, here's the thing. If you get hit real bad, you take a Grievous Injury. The interesting thing about them is that they are lasting consequences.

See? How about this. Grievous injury are stuff that will stay with you, and a smart opponent will invoke for effect, eh. I mean, utilize to their advantage.

If you were afraid of New School, don't be. It's all known stuff, eh?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Magic Items in a new light - the Investment ritual of Dragonquest

I have been charmed by all those who fondly talk about SPI's fantasy RPG, and with that glimmer in the eye mention it as the best game they've ever played. So far I have not yet played the game myself, but true to the odd kind of madness that sometimes descend upon me, I have bought not only one, but four copies of the rules! Now I'm reading them again, and began to think on how it differs from D&D.

Probably everyone have heard about delves into the hole in the ground, from whence they brave adventurers then emerge carrying a +1 sword. It's so much part of the tropes of the fantasy rpg these days. As I was sitting with The Haunted Halls of the Eveningstar, thinking about how to run a game in that setting with the Dragonquest rules, I came upon the iconic +1 sword. Now, how would that be modelled in DQ?

Well, I quickly found a spell for enchanting weapons, and it increased the chance to hit, and the damage. Basic and standard stuff. What made me think was the fact that this was a one use spell, and like it always is, the sword in the module was a permanent item.

I dived into the rulebook, and found the Investment ritual. With this you can "invest" a spell into an item so anyone can use it at a later date. Sounds great, right? Now, this is not a permanent item. No, it has a limited amount of charges, and let me tell you, it's not 50 like it is in 3rd ed. D&D! No, the rank the enchanter has gained in the spell is the limiting factor. After looking at some NPCs, and generating some characters of my own I feel fairly confident to say that an item with anything near 50 charges will be so rare as to be almost unique.

So, are there no permanent magic items in this game? Well, in a supplement that was written, but never published called Arcane Wisdom (which can be found by searching around a bit), they included the rules for a permanent investment. I just skimmed it to see if it did what I though it did, and did not check for how expensive it would be to learn. Probably quite. Just the fact that the ritual to create permanent items is not in the core rules felt significant.

Now, some of you might claim that even in, say, AD&D, it was no mean feat to permanently enchant an item. True, but you have noticed that there a dozens of them listed in the DMG, right? They are there, and everyone expect them to be around for the taking.

Now, imagine a D&D game where almost none of the magic items are permanent, and those with a limited amount of charges are likelier to hold 5 charges than 50. You will get a pretty different game!

Just imagine, and maybe try it out. It will be fun to try to run this game one day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My JackerCon experience - playing FATE

This last weekend there was an online convention being organized among the fans and friends of the Happyjacks RPG podcast. It was all happening on g+, after you signed up on the events posted in timeslots in the podcast forums. Luckily for me, some people scheduled events at a time when it was not in the middle of the night here in Sweden. So, jumped in and played a session in a g+ hangout.

First I had to setup a laptop with a webcam, which I did not have on my main machine. Then I actually did a test hangout with my wife just to understand how it worked. It felt like I had never used a computer before. Finally, I was ready. I can say from the start that it worked quite well, even though it felt a bit awkward to switch from the Roll20 window to the Hangout window to actually see the person speaking. But, all in all I think this marks the beginning of more online play on my part, if I can only manage to get all the duck in a row in the messy world of international gamerdom and timezones.

The game was a secret, only to be revealed when we "sat down at the table" so to speak. Had I known more about the source material I might have been able to immerse myself even more. We played gummi bears. Yes, from the children's cartoon. Silly but funny.

Our GM had decided to run the game using Fate Accelerated Edition, a slimmer version of the recently concluded FATE Core rules release. I have not played FATE before in modern times, and it was great to get the opportunity to try out a new game system. I own the FATE books, but sometimes you get a better perspective on the game not by reading, but by playing it with someone who have ironed out the kinks, and can show how it's done. I love that aspect of convention play, and I'm a bit sad it doesn't seem to be done much in these parts where freeform play is popular in the convention arena.

How did it work? Quite well! We had an aspect that defined our character, a bit like the class define who you are in D&D. Then we had an aspect defined as a trait that would get us into trouble, either with the setting or another character. In general that is a great idea, I think. There were some other abilities, but those were the ones I fixated on. We went nuts and acted like cartoon characters for a couple of hours and laughed a lot. Thanks a lot to the organizers and to our GM Mike!

One thing I though you could grab from FAE, and maybe import into other games. In contrast to FATE Core, you don't have skills but instead have something called Approaches. Since older editions of D&D don't have skills, many have pondered the question of whether that is a feature, or a indication that something is missing. I wont take a firm stand on that question, but for your edification I will tell you something about how Approaches work, and you can decide for yourself if you like to maybe include something like that in your D&D game.

Approaches are basically words that describe how you do things. They are Forceful, Quick, Careful, Clever, Sneaky, and Flashy. So, if you want to bypass a door, you can do it sneakily or forcefully. I guess you see what those two options entail. I think the way you do it in FAE, add your rating in that Approach to your diceroll, might be borrowed to other games. Maybe you have a few points to spread around, or decide one Approach is dominant and the other recessive. It could be a cool way to differentiate that 1 in 6 roll to intimidate someone if you choose to do it your favoured Forceful way, or the Clever way instead. If you roll under your stat with a d20 or 3d6 a bigger bonus than +1/-1 might be used depending on how much you want those Approached to influence play. I think there are interesting possibilities in this system! Fool around with it, and if you try it out, I'd love to hear how it went.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Is it hard to get an online game going?

When g+ was new, I remember how some people hailed it as the future of gamers lacking a group. Now all the online community was open for recruitment. That sounded so good I dived in.

Since then I have tried multiple times to sign up to people wanting to run games, and never has there been anywhere near a full group showing up. Mostly it's just me. Still, since I am stubborn I'm thinking of buying a headset and a web cam and try my luck at recruiting some players of my own. That Delving Deeper game has got to me!

But how do you do it? Have someone written a tutorial to how to set up a g+ event and how to run a hangout game? If anyone reading this has a clue, feel free to enlighten me.
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