Quick Shout-Out

It’s been a while since I last posted here.  This has mostly been because my focus has shifted away from roleplaying into work, with some writing on the side.  I’m starting to be able to come back to roleplaying, though, and I’m starting by doing a project for a friend of mine.

If you’ve ever looked around online for some extra material to use in a World of Darkness campaign, you may have run across The Howling Void (http://www.thehowlingvoid.com/).  This site consists of a good deal of material, and not all of it is even related to the World of Darkness, but all of it is quality stuff.  I mean, sure, I wouldn’t necessarily use all of it in my own campaigns, but that’s simply because not all campaigns work equally well with a given set of rules – something I’ve spoken about before.

The project itself involves keeping a two-year-old promise, one which both of us had forgotten.  I got in touch with the individual who runs The Howling Void, a great guy by the name of Steven, and discovered that he lives a few hours from where I do, and in fact, I am in his area on a monthly basis with the Navy Reserve gig.  In that initial conversation, I offered to convert (some of) his site material into PDF form so that it could be used by those interested in an offline setting, as needed.  I even began work on that exact project at the time, but allowed my life to interfere and never delivered.

Now, when I made the initial offer, Steven raised a few interesting and valid points about the utility of a PDF versus a web site.  With his site, it’s easy to click around to the section you’re looking for, skipping everything you’re not interested in.  He also hadn’t seen a lot of evidence that the few PDFs he does have are all that popular, probably for the same reason just mentioned.  Valid points, even ignoring hosting space concerns.

Luckily, Adobe has realized this, and the more recent versions of the PDF format are much more versatile in their design.  I can now build a PDF which not only has Bookmarks (an interactive Table of Contents in a side bar), but also links with which to jump around in the file – or even to various spots on the web.  So I’ve started over on this particular project, and I’m liking what I see so far.  I’m going to run it past Steven, of course, before I release it myself, but I expect that others will enjoy it, too.

I still have a lot of other work to focus on – still have to get paid, right? – but I will be working on this, as well, so stay tuned!  Maybe this time I’ll be able to follow through!

– RPG Weirdo

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Systematic Construction

There are, as you might be aware, a huge variety of RPG systems available today. The most popular (since it’s derived from the oldest RPG in existence) is the d20 System released by Wizards of the Coast. Their creation of the Open Gaming License (OGL) was one of the most brilliant methods of proliferating their system – suddenly publishers could produce all the content they wanted, and not have to generate their own systems to do it. The d20 System is a (somewhat) generalized version of the third (and third-and-a-half) edition of Dungeons and Dragons, developed by Tactical Systems Rules (TSR) way back in the way back. TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast, who then had the rights to publish 3E and 3.5, as well as the d20 System itself. Because of its popularity, and the open license for its use, this system is the most commonly-used in RPGs today.

However, there are myriad other systems as well.  To name a small few, there are Storyteller/Storytelling (both from White Wolf Publishing, and used in their game lines), Tri-Stat dX (owned by the now-defunct Guardians of Order, and used in their game lines, especially BESM), and Basic RPG (Chaosium).  Any number of others exist, and the sheer number of games designed around each of these systems makes it even harder to keep track – though not impossible.

What is my point with all of this?  Well, it’s actually fairly simple.  With so many systems to choose from, there is always one better-suited to whatever storyline you happen to be using.  In some cases, there’s a “perfect” system for one part of a campaign, and another for the rest.  So you ultimately have to choose, which system will you use for a given storyline?

Players don’t like to change systems mid-campaign.  At least in my experience, it’s enough of a pain in the butt that the mere idea is a turn-off.  Does that mean that you can’t or even shouldn’t switch systems partway through?  Well, no, not strictly speaking.  But you do need to make sure your players are aware of the switch, and are all on board with the idea.  Give them a chance to become familiar with the new set of rules they’ll be playing by so that they know what kinds of things their characters can do, and how such things can be expected to work.

This applies even if you’re not changing systems within a given campaign.  Let’s say you’re wanting to introduce your gaming group to a new system when you start up a new campaign.  If the players aren’t already familiar with the new rules, their experience will be injured by having to learn it all as they go along.  Give them time to check out the rules and see what they can expect from the new system.  If you intend to implement house rules, making these available up front will help prevent rules lawyers from interrupting game flow, because they already expect those deviations from the printed word.

That brings up another point.  Once you’ve selected a set of rules, be they printed or house, try to stick with them.  No game is fun if the rules change from one moment to the next, especially if those rules change without warning.  If something isn’t working the way you want it to, go ahead and change it to work better, but let people know that you’re doing it, and mention that the old way just isn’t working for you.  Never be afraid to give your players a reason – and answer to the question “But why?” – if the answer doesn’t affect the story.  Rules are important to keeping things from getting out of hand.  If they weren’t important, nobody would bother spending the time coming up with them and writing them down in the first place.

Now, before you jump to conclusions about what I’m trying to say here, I want to state, categorically, that I do not advocate letting the rules take a front seat to story.  At all.  Rules are not there to interfere with the story; they are there to facilitate it.  With rules, you have a means to keep the story in focus by defining how certain actions will actually play out.  You could have the GM arbitrate and decide who succeeds at what purely by themselves.  But this removes a great deal of the feeling of agency among the players.  I have played in a campaign (though just a single session) where the GM was telling the story, to the exclusion of the rules.  Nobody had fun aside from the GM himself.  Well, and me, but I had a character so powerful he wasn’t affected by the GM’s decisions.  Somehow.  And even I didn’t have as much fun as I normally have.

The point here is that story is important.  It should take the front seat.  But you can’t go without the rules, either.  If you don’t like the rules provided in the printed word, that’s fine.  Don’t use them.  But make sure that everyone is aware which rules you intend to use and which you have changed or thrown out entirely.  It will make the game flow more smoothly, it will leave the players with an expectation of what they can and cannot do (and how), and it will keep the rules lawyers happy – and quiet.

What Now?

So we’ve learned a bit about me, and I’ve presented my first attempt at a ground-up game system.  Obviously, not in that order.  Today, I want to spend some time talking about some of the RPG-related projects I’m currently working on.

Nutlings

These are were-squirrels for the Original World of Darkness (oWoD) setting and rules.  The majority of the work for this has been background development – who they are, how they survived the War of Rage, why the other Breeds aren’t aware of them (or at least aren’t admitting it), and so forth.  Mostly, this is world-building.  A few mechanical decisions have been made, and the whole package is nearing completion, but it will probably be some time before a finished product is available.  Some playtesting probably wouldn’t hurt, for example.

Chanticleer

OK, so this isn’t really one of *my* projects, so much as me helping a friend with one of his – when he has the time to even think about it, anyway.  The Chanticleer are in the same vein as the Nutlings, except they are roosters instead of squirrels.  (There are rumors of female Chanticleer, but the males continuously refute them, and if there are any females, they probably use a different name for themselves anyway…)  Status here is similar.  In fact, there’s actually a character sheet for this one.  Haven’t gotten to the one for the Nutlings yet.

Denaria

This is a setting which is deliberately disconnected from any rule system.  I have been playtesting the setting using BESM 3rd Edition (as mentioned in the about-me post Saturday) for a few years now, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll release it.  I have some plans to do so, but they hinge on other plans, and those might flop.  Still, it’s a project I’m working on, so it goes on the list.

Campaigns

I have started numerous campaigns.  One or two are still active.  The rest are waiting for a higher Initiative Roll (and player participation, but that’s beside the point).  I could try to list them all, but I’d inevitably forget a handful, so I won’t.  Yet.

This Blog

The RPG Weirdo Blog is my chance to meander through the ins and outs of my various other projects, share my opinions on various RPG-related topics and events, and document my downward spiral into the madness that is my life.  Or at least it’s something like that.  I haven’t figured it all out just yet, but if it’s related to RPGs, this is where I’ll post it.

I’m sure I missed a handful.  Lucky for me, computers allow for editing after publication.  I can just add things as I remember them.  I’ll probably turn this post into a page of its own at some point.

– The RPG Weirdo

Why? What? And for the love of the gods, WHY?!!!!

I have been roleplaying for years.

My first game was played in the garage of a person I’m still not sure I’ve ever met, after conning an invite from a guy I half looked up to and half couldn’t stand.  I remember overhearing him talking with someone else about playing an RPG and asking him what kind – when he responded with BESM instead of something on a computer, I was shocked.  But curious.  So I conned an invite, showed up, and played horribly.  Nobody had ever really explained how this all was meant to work, so I kept trying to take more control of my character than I was allowed in such a context.  It was frustrating, but I started to catch on after a while.  That was the only time I played with that group.

Some time later, I experienced forum-based roleplaying.  Here there were no random-generators to help balance the flow of action-reaction.  And the story wandered widely from any recognizable path as a result.  It was fun, though, and helped me improve my skills as a collaborative player instead of a dictatorial pain in the butt.  I eventually decided to try my hand at running a campaign, and chose BESM to run it, since it was all I knew.  I don’t remember if I had come to realize that DnD was in a similar vein by this point…  I do know that I didn’t have a high opinion of it by the time I joined the Navy.  My GMing skills were pretty weak – I was still in the dictatorial mode, and started off guiding the characters where I wanted them to be.  Eventually, the players found reasons to play other games instead, but I had learned and grown from the experience.

I mentioned the Navy above.  I joined the active Navy in 2004, and actually signed the paperwork before I turned 18 or graduated high school.  But Basic Training (we don’t call it Boot Camp in the Navy) wasn’t until the end of the year, so I graduated and turned 18 before it came time to actually be a sailor.  After Basic, I went to “A” School for job training (I think the letter indicates a class of school, since there is also “C” School, which is far more technical…).  It was while I was in “A” School that I first played DnD.  I’m still not really fond of it, but I must admit that I rather enjoyed the experience.  I hit some rough spots in the training process and had to leave the game early, but by then we had also started playing some Star Wars RPG, so I had finally gotten a taste of things other than BESM.

“A” School ended and I moved on to a ship in Hawaii.  There was a long period where I didn’t actively play.  This was probably a good thing, since more work got done that way.  Oh, there was a group on the ship, but they were playing a game that seemed far too complex for me to ever figure out, so I didn’t actually join up.  It wasn’t until my second time as a Food Service Attendant (they save money by rotating crew members through the cleaning and serving positions, letting the cooks do just that – cook) that I finally bit the bullet and actually tried the system out.  Instrumental to this was a friendship with one of the E5 cooks, Rich (we went by last names as sailors, but both of us are now civilians, so first names are more natural, though he calls me Praukse instead of Dan…  That’s pronounced like proxy, by the way – I deliberately chose that spelling because it was unusual).  Rich is something of a living encyclopedia on all things released by White Wolf publishing, plus much of the ever-growing world of comics.  He’s also a brilliant GM and an excellent cook, perhaps even to the level of a chef.  I still use my Mage character from time to time, when I get a chance to dally in the Original World of Darkness (and sometimes in the realms of Exalted, but that’s a whole other story).  His knowledge and passion for the games pulled me in far enough to actually give it a shot, and I’ve been more-or-less hooked since.

I ran a campaign of my own before I left the ship, using a newer, shinier version of BESM than I had before; 3rd Edition was actually published by White Wolf’s Arthaus imprint vice the now-defunct Guardians of Order (their defunct status being the reason Arthaus became the publisher, of course).  Rich ran a decent handful of others himself, though using various aspects of the oWoD.  In one campaign, we actually playtested a new form of Changing Breed, the Chanticleer Were-Roosters.  Lots of fun, that.  Look for the fan-published material sometime in the next year or two (assuming I can convince him to actually work on it and send me his material, of course… 😀 ).

Eventually, I left the ship, as well as the active duty side of the Navy, and came home to be in the Navy Reserve.  One of the first nights I was home, I dusted off my Mage, Mierjin Tiathay, and experienced a session whose GM was much like I was back in high school – he took the term “Storyteller” to an extreme where he was telling the story, and the players were simply providing dialogue.  My character was powerful enough to write his own parts of the story, but I could see that the other players weren’t having anywhere near as much fun.  Undiscouraged, I soon started my own campaign (more BESM 3rd; I don’t recall ever running a campaign in any other system) which is still running today, nearly three years later.  In that time, I have played in at least a half-dozen other campaigns, including several played in online chat, complete with dice-rolling ‘bot.

And I still don’t consider myself anything of an expert.

Now I’ve even created an entire RPG (see previous post).  I needed a place to put it, so I created this blog.  But that’s not the only thing I want to use it for.  There are numerous ideas rolling around in my head, and each deserves a chance to be seen by the world.  This is a place where that can happen.  So, dear reader, stick around.  I may someday post that one idea you’ve been looking for in your own games.  Or you might be able to give *me* ideas that I wouldn’t have on my own.  Come on in, make yourself comfortable, and toss your dice!

– Dan

Flash Game Design Friday

So I’m starting with something positively insane.  I created a simple RPG based on guidelines for a contest.  I won’t say a whole lot about it here because, well, I already explained it in the source document.

So here it is!

Unsteady Footing

– Dan

[Edit: Well, poo.  Seems I misunderstood the definition of a “countdown mechanic”.  Balance doesn’t quite fit the bill, since it’s so easy to move it upwards, and it doesn’t really count toward anything.  Most of the other entries are really good, though, so have a look!]

[Edit 2: Changed the floor and ceiling values for Bal from -10 and 20 to -5 and 15, respectively. The changes are in the new version of the PDF. This should balance out the PvE roll somewhat so PCs can’t get automatic success.]