Latest Blogs
Latest Articles
Blogs By Date
Blog Keywords
Board Games
Role-Playing Games
Video Games
Article Sections
Ian O'Rourke
United Kingdom
View Ian O'Rourke's profile on LinkedIn
Ian O'Rourke's Facebook Profile
Standing In The Way Of Control

I've been thinking about something on and off recently, specifically the issue of creative control in a role-playing game, specifically a problem area I have with it. I'll get something out the way first, by and large spreading creative control out to all involved is officially a good thing. I have no problem with it in principle, and in principle I want it to happen, but I think I do have a lingering issue that does cause me problems, and possible raises issues in the games I attempt to run and the games I play in.

So, what is this issue I have? Simple, I need for the games I run and the games I play in to have a clear, consistent creative vision. In order to help define this a bit, I always fall into needing each game to have everyone on the same page. I suppose it's a bit like everyone writing for a TV show understanding the premise, concepts, theme, mood, etc. I don't think this is a bad thing, but I think it does cause some problems for me. It didn't used to, I actually think it used to be one of the strong points of my DM'ing, but now I'm slightly wavering on that belief.

As a player, I seek at all costs to understand the pitch of the game, so I can plug my character into it and work as a player to bring that to the table rather than be working against it by mistake or design. It's important to me. We all have these things. The Iron DM insists on understanding the character generation rules before being able to come up with a character, I usually have the character sorted in my head and worry about the rules later. This is my foible, I need to understand the pitch and the heart of the idea. I suppose it's a bit like getting a writing gig on a TV show, you have to understand what it's all about, as certain characters and stories work and don't work in different pitches and concepts. I also like to do this as if you have a character who is intimately linked, and actually represents the concept in his very being, the whole process is smoother, and you tend to get more dramatic bones thrown your way.

If the pitch is confused, I find it difficult. One example was Pulsars and Privateers, since I felt the pitch was confused around the edges, in that it seemed part Star Wars, Farscape, Flash Gordon, Cyberpunk and Napoleonic influenced military scifi, this threw up the odd wrinkle. These genres are all quite different, demand different characters and slightly different genre conventions (Star Wars is a more a western with zero emphasis on technology, for example, beyond colour). This confuses the player, or at least it does me, as to what are valid ways to act, cool ways to author things, as opposed to ones that are odd or out of place (if you also throw in the fact the rules don't accurately model what you can do, it gets more confusing). It can also cause characters issues, with players finding other characters incongruous, or odd, due to them seeing them as slightly strange for the game, but their possibly not, it's just everyone has different games in their head. Not saying this happened to a big degree in Pulsars and Privateers, but it can.

The important fact to remember about Pulsars and Privateers is as a DM I'd have probably got frustrated with it.

As a DM, I always want the clear pitch, the premise and concept of the game to be understood. I primarily do this because I want to have that clear vision for the purposes of running the game, and also because I'm trying to deliver to the players the tools they need to tie their characters well into the idea. I'm also a big fan of genre conventions, I have no patience with role-playing game versions of specific ideas which default to the same styles of play despite the genres being different (the playing in the setting idea). I want my games to embody the genre, and be accepting of its tropes and conventions, I also expect to be able to do that as a player, and if I can't I'm generally looking for the exit (and that's why it's also important for me to know what they are). The issue is though, how does this relate to the whole idea of player control of the campaign content at the very embryonic stages of the game?

As an example, let's take a Superhero role-playing game, and I use this as an example purely because it is probably the worst case scenario and as a result the examples can come quick and fast. Another campaign idea might not have as clear examples, but that just makes the clashes in creative agendas more subtle, and as a result possibly even more awkward in play as you don't see them coming.

If I was to run a superhero game I couldn't announce that, and let some sort of creative brainstorm with the group decide what that superhero game should be. The reason I couldn't do it is I'll admit I have clear ideas on what I'd want it to be, and as a result there is a high chance the 'group created' concept would be something I'd not want to run any more. In short, I'm coming to the table not with the idea of running a superhero game, but running a specific series pitch which happens to be a superhero game. I never come to the table with just a general idea, it's always a more formed pitch. The pitch, or core concept, isn't open for debate. Is that a bad thing? After all, I'd be happy with a lot of creative control and input, give it to me, send me e-mails all the time, all I ask is the players accept the responsibility that all writers accept: they write for the product, so create away, but create within the pitch and make that pitch stronger.

If the creative input seems to at odds with what the general tone, pitch, concept, etc is supposed to be about then I'll get frustrated. I'll especially get frustrated if imaginative discussion can't form the ideas into the pitch, which I tend to think makes them stronger. If there seems to be some sort of agenda, willing, through miss-communication or otherwise, to turn the game into something else, I'll get frustrated. I'll certainly get frustrated if it continues over a long period. There is no point signing up to a game which is pitched like Star Wars, as a theoretically example, and then having a character who is obsessed with technology? Or signing up to a superhero game based on Silver Age principles and continually pushing the agenda of The Authority? Broad examples, I admit, a lot of these situations are more subtle, but you get the idea.

Does this make me a control freak, and cause me problems? First, I'll say it has caused me problems I think, though it didn't used to, and I may even hazard a guess it may have caused players a problem, but I still can't bring myself to not actually continue to do it. Why? Because to me the game I'm running is the pitch, so I can't get out of that. It's not a superhero game, it's a specific superhero idea. It's not a space opera game, it's a specific space opera concept, etc. Second no one will ever persuade me there isn't enough room in the pitch to add a vast amount of content. Create away, just don't try and subvert the core idea.

But then, maybe I am a control freak. After all, I can see from a certain point of view how this is me telling people what my game is about rather than the players telling me what the game is about. Still, and maybe this makes it worse, I don't agree with that. The players are perfectly fine in telling me what the story is about, who enemies are, what sets they want, a whole host of elements that comprise the story that actually happens, just make sure it's a story that would happen in the type of game proposed by the pitch.

I see it this way, a lot of TV shows go on to be defined, by and large, by writers other than the person who came up with the pitch, premise or initial idea, for example, both The X Files and the Original Star Trek show, had their defining episodes written by other people. The key was, those episodes exemplified and grew the pitch, and that's why they went on to grow the shows, they didn't try and change it.

Or maybe I am just a control freak.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Cyberware, Katanas, Ares Predators And Magic

It won't be too long before Shadowrun is released for the Xbox 360 and the PC, an important release largely because it's the first game that will allow both communities to play against each other via the unified Xbox Live service. I suspect, only a small proportion of the people buying the game will ever see any Xbox 360 versus PC action as the PC users have to pay for their Xbox Live service if they want to play against cross platform opponents. I'm not sure why they'd do this unless they had friends who had the game, as they can happily play against other PC components without paying for the Xbox Live service on the PC.

I'm not in the market for the Shadowrun game as it is purely a hardcore multiplayer shooter, I don't even think it has a single-player element to speak off. It is purely designed to facilitate competitive play in the world of Shadowrun, though even that's stretching it a bit, as the Shadowrun element allows the game to feature big guns, interesting technology and magic all at once as part of the competitive experience and that's about it. Still, I did find the box art for the game funny, as it features a katana, big guns, a fancy hang-glider and someone teleporting into battle. It sums up the game perfectly really.

At one point I did actually own quite a few of the books for the traditional Shadowrun role-playing game. I owned these for the same reason I owned a lot of my role-playing books at the time, I just started buying them because the idea sounded good. Shadowrun wasn't even new at this point, and I can't even remember what edition it was. It was a really stupid purchase, as while I'm fond of saying there isn't a single genre I automatically won't play a role-playing game in, the genre that comes ever so close in getting an automatic veto is Cyperbunk. I just have no real connection to it all, or the truth might be I have no real connection to what is brought to the table by most people in the context of a Cyberpunk role-playing game. Invariably the game delivers on an experience that involves second guessing yourself all the time as the 'setting is out to get you', all the elements of a badly delivered espionage experience, politics and the inevitability of being betrayed by the person who gave you the contract. It's so inevitable you might as well work to betray the person who contracted you from the get go. It gets a bit boring, involves too much 'out thinking' and any sense of a dramatic story just gets lost in winning the game, which tends to boil down to succeeding without getting killed.

The other thing I didn't like about the game is it had a kitchen sink sort of feel. First it throws magic and technology together, which could be really cool and dramatic, but it tends to come across just as functional. The system is also very bland, it allows you to resolve stuff in the game, in a semi-complicated manner, and that's about all you can say about it. The system doesn't have a goal, any sort of purpose, beyond allowing the characters to resolve their actions.

My vision of Shadowrun was different, I saw it as an epic, science fiction, action movie, with heroic figures getting involved in an epic tale of weird magic, out of control technology and Byzantine draconic conspiracies. While I'm sure you could have done that with the game, just like you can push almost anything into it if you try, it's that bland, it would have been a painful experience. It is, for sure, a very old school game, full of loads of unnecessary systems and baggage, while it produced setting book after setting book for people to consume. That's another thing I detest, systems which produce copious amounts of setting material, as I still believe you don't need a massive myth of reality to support a game.

I always hold out to be proven wrong, or amazed with an individual application of a game I don't like, after all, I shouldn't like Dungeons and Dragons as a game, reallly, but two campaigns using that system, in one edition or another, would feature on my top 5 campaigns list. Hell, possibly three, so I never say never.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Cars, Planes, Nazis And Wikis!

I went into research mode last weekend, it wasn't serious research mode, I wasn't giving someone doing a Phd a run for their money or anything, but it was research nonetheless. Basically, I wanted some colour for what travel was like in the 1920's and 30's, specifically cars and planes, and I wanted to get some information on the Nazis to see if they'd be available as enemy in the 1920's. After an hour to two hours time carousing around the Internet I had what I wanted.

The information on cars was found in websites like the History of the Automobile, which gave me a potted history of how cars developed over numerous periods, and even more importantly, provided pictures of different types of car belonging to the period. The pictures are all important, as they provide the essential colour for scenes when running a game. It did occur to me that any car chases in the period are probably conducted at ridiculously slow speeds by today's standards. This did raise in my mind the humour value card, but then I just thought of the car chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and put that aside. It seemed exciting enough, so all is well.

Possibly more interesting was the planes, probably because of the romance of it all. The little bit of research on the planes was also related to travel in the game, which is an issue I've really got hung up on in the past. Now, I don't really give a toss, as the players will just fade away to the points of adventure, but it's still interesting to have some idea of the mechanics of it for colour purposes.

The first thing you discover is any international travel in the 1920's was done by sea, for the most part, with some opportunities to do it via Airship, though this didn't stop air circuses from forming (all this discovered thanks to this potted aviation history). It wasn't until 1939 and onwards that international air travel started to proliferate. The planes used to conduct these flights were the Boeing 314 'Clipper' (often the model seen in period movies) and the majestic Boeing 307 Stratoliner. In true pulp fashion, Howard Hughes purchased a Stratoliner and transformed it into a personal penthouse. Now, how cool would that be as a set for a scene? It got me thinking I have to admit. All this is good, as while the game is set in the 1920's, it is a pulp version of the 1920's, so that leaves plenty of scope for planes of this ilk to be in the hands of various exclusive individuals, brilliant scientists, or millionaires with access to them. Pulps had their own 'advanced technology that strangely didn't seem to proliferate' just like modern comics.

The interesting thing is, these planes did traverse the globe, which by today's standards seems quite adventurous. This is the great thing about the period, it's modern enough, while still being classicaly romantic, adventurous and full of the unknown. As an example, it was a Boeing 314 'Clipper' that performed Pan American Airway's first around the world flight. As a marker for travel times it would take six days to travel from San Francisco to Hong Kong. It certainly seemed to be a luxurious way to travel though, a bit like a liner, but flying through the air. The Boeing 314 could take off and land on any body of water, and just hop from land mass to land mass as it travelled (as long as fuel was available, which begs the question where someone with such an advanced plan would get his fuel from as he flew around, but what the hell, it's pulp).

Finally we come to the Nazis. One might say that the trouble with setting things in the 1920's rather than the 1930's is the fact that you can't have Nazis running around causing all sorts of trouble. They always seem to be such a quintessential pulp villain that it is a bit annoying to be without them. In truth, I'm not actually sure if they were a heavily featured pulp villain, or whether it's just an Indiana Jones thing, but the end result is the same.

In search of an alternative I discovered the Thule Society. The Thule Society is great because it was organised in 1918 as a secret society interested in the occult. In truth they had little interest in the occult and favoured racism instead and combating Jews and Communists. They apparently had plans to kidnap Prime Ministers and infiltrated governments in Bavarian Soviet Republic, to the extent they allegedly attempted a coup in 1919. Later, prominent members of the Nazi party were allegedly members. They were even involved in forming The German Workers' Party, which was the predecessor to the Nazi Party. Not all of this is provable history, but it's 'factual' enough to run with.

As far as I'm concerned I now have the Thule Society, a secret and paramilitary organisation that is sending expeditions all across the globe to find occult relics and discover occult history for some nefarious purpose that is only known to them (and me, of course). They're not Nazis in the historic sense, but they solve the same problem. The visual impact is the same, as their various shock troops will often be seen in sandy or black uniforms complete with the Thule Society logo, which is suitably sinister. They will have little redeeming values as they believe they are a superior race, searching for their true destiny. Obviously, the idea being that the Thule Society later becomes the power behind the Nazi Party and uses German expansion to search for their artefacts more aggressively - some 10+ years later and possibly only after being beaten to within an inch of their life by the heroes.

The other question to ask is why, despite most pulp material being set in the 1930's, as I understand it, have both major pulp role-playing games released in 'recent' times been set in the 20's? Might be worth finding out, as part of me does think, since it's not a historically realistic setting anyway, more historically flavoured, why not set it in the 30's, not focus on the depression, rather than move technology to the 20's? Not a game breaker, but interesting.

One of the final and most interesting facts is a lot of this information came from Wiki sources, and they have proved invaluable as a launching point into other sites. It also got me thinking of the very brief discussions the gaming group had in the past about using a Wiki technology to support activity between games or in support of games. To this end I found the MediaWiki site, which is the exact same Wiki software Wikopedia use, and it's totally free. Certainly a possible topic for another day.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 22/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Re-Imagined Dungeon Crawl

I'd love to be able to regale hundreds of stories about old school dungeon crawls that I took part in during my formative experiences with role-playing games, but alas I can't. I spent my formative years playing FASA Star Trek, Traveller and Golden Heroes and the Dungeons and Dragons stuff we did do wasn't dungeon crawl related. This may well be what's influencing my current thoughts on re-imaging the dungeon crawl, as I don't have years of suffering horrendous stories about creatures waiting in rooms to be killed, or a 1001 ways to use a 10 foot pole. In fact, a lot of the humour that comes from such stories I know only by reading about them and second hand information. At the same time, my gaming life isn't devoid of the dungeon crawl experience, it's just hasn't all been done at the gaming table via traditional role-playing games.

In fact, I can only remember one dungeon crawl around a traditional gaming table, this was while I was still at school, I believe. We'd advertised in White Dwarf for more players, and we actually found two people who went on to be part of our gaming group for a good number of years. One of them wanted to run AD&D, and this would have been first edition at the time. This was interesting as I'd not had a vast amount of experience with Dungeons and Dragons, and that experience was with the original Dungeons and Dragons version. The game the guy ran was a dungeon crawl in the traditional sense, but he'd put a lot of work into it, so it was an amazing experience. We had our team of characters made up of various classes, I had a Wizard who also had psychic powers, believe it or not. I can't remember the plot, assuming it had one, but whatever it was it was an excuse to go down into a dungeon, level by level, kill things and take their stuff. The game also used miniatures, and the guy running the game, probably with the help of his mate who was good at this stuff (he went on to create all sorts of deck plans for our Star Trek series, as well as ship designs), had created placeable floor plans to construct the dungeon from. It was great, I still remember snapshots of it now. I specifically remember we had a Barbarian and a Cavalier in the party, which sounds so much like the D&D cartoon when written down like that, and they seemed very overpowered. I also remember one particular battle with a group of cats that seemed to be able to phase in and out. It was fun nonetheless.

The question now is: can a dungeon crawl survive a modern gaming group? Specifically, my current gaming group?

I actually think it can, but it would have to be re-imaged. I see it bit like taking a 70's TV show, which you may still enjoy, but there is no way on Earth you'd want to someone to re-do it in exactly the same way if making it now. It's a bit like Battlestar Galactica, I actually like the original show, but despite that, I'm not stupid enough to think someone doing it in exactly the same way now would find themselves with a hit show. Time moves on, mediums mature and audiences have different expectations. It's the same with role-playing, or it is for some. It may also be a a similar process, in that what you'd have to do is up the authenticity (I never believe in using the word 'realism') of it, and reduce the hokey aspects, as well as add a bit more drama to it all.

In my mind the new dungeon crawl would be epic, it would have grandeur and would also involve being underground and killing things, and it may ultimately even involve taking some of their stuff. The best example I can think of was a Neverwinter Nights campaign I played in, which I think had the building blocks of a re-imaged dungeon crawl. Basically, Torgan's Delve, a dwarf city embedded in a mountain, had put out a call for heroes, because their leader was in fatally ill, and their priests had prophesied he would only be saved by the water from an ancient well, and that no dwarf would find this well. The heroes responded, the player characters, and their job was to delve deep into the bowels of the earth under the dwarf city to find this ancient, and potentially mythical well.

Now, while this game involved a lot of wondering down dark corridors and killing things, it was also more than that, as the individual characters had personal stories woven into the quest, and we also had to deal with the inhabitants of the underground world, beyond them just being things we killed. While doing the quest in the bowels of the earth we had to deal with warring Dark Elf factions, the Kara-Tau, who kidnapped one of our team who we had to heroically rescue, the plans of people on the surface world penetrating to the world below, such as a powerful necromancer, demons from the beyond, etc. It was really good. It probably still involved more hack and slash than you'd introduce into a traditional role-playing game version of it, as Neverwinter Nights allowed the fights to be tactical, fun and relatively quick, since the computer was handling all the combat details, but the model could be the same.

At the same time, while writing this, it also made me think that the re-imaged dungeon crawl is also a great idea for The Circle (a.k.a Fantasy Ultimates). A story in which the heroes must delve into the Darkness Below, encountering epic underground landscapes, possibly even vast cities, battles with epic creatures, the odd battle with groups of 'henchmen', and tense negotiations with demon lords who have their own politics, all in the hope of completing some heroic quest, the answer to which can only be found in the dark bowels of Creation. You could get a good three sessions or so out of that, hell, probably a whole seasonal arc.

Still, inspiration for The Circle aside, I think the re-imaged dungeon crawl could work, even as a sort of semi-nostalgic Dungeons and Dragons experience. I think this would especially be true, if the proposal was a mini-series along these lines, with the characters coming to play with story ideas (Aspects, Beliefs, a Premise or Issues, or whatever we want to call them) linked to the quest in question. After all, that's how a movie would do it, the characters are created for the purpose of the story that's about to unfold. In short, the dungeon environment just becomes the crucible through which the characters deal with their issues (though it need not be anything too dramatically heavy, just something to hang some role-playing off). I'd play that as a mini-series and be happy with it, hell, I'd even enjoy drawing the odd map.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 21/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session 13, 497 - 498 A.D

This session continued immediately on from session twelve, with our five knights setting off from the King of the Forest Savauge's castle to find the town of Grantham, in which a very skilled blacksmith was rumoured to live. The blacksmith was rumoured to be able to create a large, two-handed sword for Sir Guillame, and also modify the armour, we had taken from a Fiend we encountered last session, to fit Sir Aeron (my character).

Needless to say, the town of Grantham was not without its own problems, as it was being terrorised by the restless spirits of the dead. Obviously, our five brave knights chose to uncover the mystery, and deal with the ghosts. Once we had freed the town of the nightly attacks, Sir Guillame secured his sword, I got my new armour and we claimed the town as our own. The rampant claiming of land and estates seems to be coming a staple of the game, with anything that doesn't have a clear leader having one of our emblems attached to the nearest flag pole. It's a bit like a game of risk.

Once we left the Forest Savauge, the game moved on into 498, and the usual Saxon rabble turned up to claim their protection money. We had three this year, so we told a couple of them to bugger off, and paid the one that offered the biggest threat. I then took the magical water to the cursed young woman, who was burning for all eternity in an undying state, and cured her of her curse (which was the reason for me going into the Forest Savauge). This brought my shield closer to its original design of a White Unicorn on a green background.

We then did a couple of different things. Sir Brion set off for home, with the intention of raising an army to deal with the Black Bear Clan. Sir Merrick and Sir Aeron (the younger) set off to take some town that was being held by a robber baron. Myself and Sir Guillame decided to raid the Saxon lands to the south so they didn't get too comfortable.

The game ended with us learning that forces from Gloucestershire had decided to invade our territory. You never get a moments peace, if the Saxons aren't trouble enough it's your power hungry neighbours. Since we've also been annexing land and estates in lands that neighbour hours, we can hardly complain.

It was another good session, though the running jokes about Sir Merrick's metal skull cap were very funny. To be honest, the characters don't know it exists yet, but since anyone wearing a metal skull cap always conjures up images of Ming the Merciless and other pulp villains, combined with Andrew's (the player) predication for playing conspiratorial characters, it couldn't help but be commented on by the players.

The skull cap's purpose remains a mystery.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 18/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Playing Hard And Fast

Spurred on by the now infamous session ten of the Pendragon Campaign, the role-playing group, to one degree or another, undertook some reflection in February 2007. This happened in discussions on Ventrilo, posts on the gaming group's discussion forum and on the blogs some of the players run. It even influenced the content of, with discussions about RPG Podcasts, the slight differences between the authorial and acting perspectives, and then how the currency and other tools in a gaming system can be used to get and drive story now, and support bringing the character to the table. The final element of that, and the question asked by the last entry in that run, was how does all this influence how games are structured?

In my opinion, the answer is it radically shortens them due to bringing to the table a certain level of trimming and editing that results in story and character growth a lot quicker, which means you tend to play hard and fast, rather than soft and slow. This also means that different models of actual play can be adopted. This is a good thing.

Typically, the tendency is to play soft and slow in actual play, that is the story takes a while to perculate, and the characters take a while to grow into anything solid. Players take for ever to bring their characters to the table (in terms of premise, story elements and background facts). This means things take time. The players feel they need a campaign of a certain length for that growth period to happen, and the DM is hit with the problem of not overly being able to leverage the more mature characters until that happens so the campaign can be a bit detached for a while. If any other medium for telling stories took this long it probably wouldn't be very successful. In truth, the DM can use that initial period to aggressively pursue an agenda of growing the characters, but it still would be better for all if the characters (a) started more maturely, (b) had story now built in and (c) it was brought to the table immediately. If that happens the soft and slow process goes away, and as a result the need to have campaigns of a particular length also goes away.

While it is true the gaming group tends not to need exhaustively long campaigns, so we are already not that soft and slow, the historical belief has been that campaigns of say just three sessions are not really that viable from a character depth standpoint? Neither are campaigns that aren't played regularly? One-shorts are almost pointless. I'm not sure this is true under a hard and fast model.

If you have a system that brings the character to the table for all to see and latch on to, and also utilises a currency that rewards everyone for driving that then the game becomes partly about ensuring story now happens and characters grow, and as a result it begins to happen from the first conflict driven scene, which should ideally be the first scene (as few scenes without some level of conflict should exist). If this is true, you could actually have a campaign that was only three sessions long and it still be viable. Don't films work on this model? There is more story and character depth in most films (or even 45-minute TV episode) than most role-playing campaigns and they are over and done with in 120 minutes, so you'd think a role-playing campaign would be able to achieve something worthwhile in three sessions of four hours? Say someone wants to run a campaign about some characters returning to their small American home town 10 years after they left, that might turn out to be only a 4-5 session affair, but if each characters comes to the table with story potential and things like beliefs, instincts and traits (to use The Burning Wheel), Aspects (to use Spirit of the Century), an Issue (to use Primetime Adventures) clearly visible for all to use in scenes that story is going to be a hard and fast one of each character dealing with that story potential of them returning home. It even has in built conclusions as each character will reach a conclusion over those issues.

Everyone likes continual campaigns though, so playing short campaigns isn't the only option, as what you can do is play longer campaigns in shorter chunks. What you effectively do here is play the same characters for an extended period, but instead of using the typical format of regular sessions, you split it up into smaller, hard and fast runs. In a way, instead of viewing your campaign like an episodic or serial TV show played via sessions every week or two weeks, you look at it like a series of graphical novels or films, played in longer bursts, but further apart. I used to run Star Wars like this all the time as it modelled the films, the usual format was a campaign of six to nine parts, each part being 1-3 session in length depending on numerous factors. The point being, in the better examples, each block was big, brash, widescreen in scope, action packed and just all that Star Wars should be as I wasn't trying to do that every week, under a production line mentality. I think this model is a great model, but then I'm used to it. I never saw any problem in the fact those 20 sessions (say for a 9 movie affair) took 18 months to complete in real time. You can even argue, some game types work better under this model anyway, as their impact either wears out if played week in week out, or you have to tone it down, either way it's not good.

The usual argument against irregular games is that the flow is ruined, people forget what is going on, the characters feel disjointed, etc. The trouble I have with these arguments is the typical gamer has a ridiculous memory for facts, still knowing TV episodes in details five years after a show has stopped actually being aired, so I find it hard to believe this is actually true if people are putting a bit of effort in. You can also use session summaries, player diaries and other blue booking tools to get over that anyway. As for characters being disjointed, I can see that, but then you'd play this sort of game with a system that supported character grown and story intimately, so that would be a large part of the game at the system level, as a result I suspect such disconnects, or any re-connections needed due to gaps in regular play will be minimal. It's on the characters sheet crying to be used, with a currency system that wants to reward everyone for doing it.

The other advantage of the hard and fast approach is you get to play more games because each one is either shorter or not being played week in an week out for extended periods. It's also true that if you have a multi-DM gaming group, more people have the chance to DM, and will be more likely to DM because they are not committing to the preparation cycle every week or two weeks. As a result you get a more fertile gaming environment all round, as due to playing more games run by different people you will entertain more and varied ideas as you're not committing to them for extended periods. This results in a more varied menu on offer. All that is good.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 15/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pulp-tastic Bad Ass Stunts!

The difficult issue for pulp role-playing games is that it can be quite subtle. Subtle! Are you mad! Pulp is a genre in which the characters can find themselves facing off against the Thule Society, scouring the four corners of the world for occult relics. Rescuing an alien princess who has come to Earth through cracks in the dimensional fabric. Battling the ancient Chinese Sorcerer who has just been awoken from his ancient sleep, or the robot invasion of the Mad Scientist attempting to end all organic life. Subtle is the last thing it is?

Well, that's true, but in some aspects, no pun intended, it is quite subtle, especially with regards to modelling pulp heroes in the rules of the game. Take for example the 'powers' of pulp heroes?

Some pulp heroes have powers, take for example some versions of The Shadow, he quite clearly has some psychic powers due to being able to mask his presence from the minds of men. Doc Savage was also stronger and tougher than the average man, as well as being a scientific genius. At the same time, a lot of pulp heroes appear to have no have powers, but at the same time they are exceptionally skilled. While Indiana Jones comes across as the most ordinary man possible, he's obviously not as he faces off against hundreds of mooks and survives and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, anthropology and probably a number of other academic subjects. These can be hard to model in a role-playing game as they fall in that nebulous bracket of not being super powers, but not really just being the skills of normal people either. It's easy to see how modelling them is actually harder in some ways than modelling true superheroes who can fly and knock people through walls?

On my third pass of Spirits of the Century, I can safely say that the stunts available to characters, even though they are not the only ways for characters to come across so bad ass (aspects and skills also help in this regard), they are brilliant. You read them and you just want to create a!

Spirits of the Century hangs stunts off skills, which is the best way to do it, as by and large pulp heroes are phenomenally skilled rather than powered. This means characters can have really high skill levels in the ones they view as important and then hang stunts off them. It works so well because the skills cover interesting areas, allowing a fascinating range of characters. Let's say a character puts his Stealth skill as top of the tree, meaning it is his one superb level skill, he can then hang stunts off it that allow him to hide in open sight, move when hidden in open sight and even attack when hidden in open sight. In short, he's very good in that skill and can do all that cool stuff. You could have some gun stunts which allow you to do fascinating things like use your Gun skill when defending in close combat, or unleash such a veracious hail of bullets you can use your Gun skill as a Block action! It sounds mundane, but the descriptive possibilities hanging off that are pure gold. The Scarlet Widow's elite assassins attack throwing a hail of shuriken at the gun-toting hero and he blocks them all with a hail of bullets, then walks into them all cool like blasting away.

It's not all about physical combat though, stunts allow heroes to be amazing at science, build devices, or always have the right device at hand, or make a great discovery just at the right time, such as knowing that this remote tribe of jungle Indians worship a particular God. Then you have character defining stuff like the stunts based of the Resolve skill, which is basically the skill that represents a sort of cool determination in social situations. One of the stunts allows the character to defend with that skill in combat! To the outside world the unflappable and calm individual just appears to stay put as the hail of bullets just misses him by scant inches, or they watch him pick up his undisturbed Martini as the Werewolf flies passed in a ball of fur and vengeful growls. Brilliant.

I could go on, as each skill has some truly amazing stunts that just gives the whole game an amazing, imaginative kick. To be honest, we created characters for Adventure! In the past, a previous pulp game, and some of them where very good. They'd all work brilliantly in the system, the ability to use Resolve as a defence skill working for one particular character perfectly. Someone who has such a sense of calm under pressure it makes them bad ass.

It's not all perfect, the few minor issues that crop up are due to everything being a skill. As an example, if you want your character to be rich, and have a base of some kind, you really have to have a high Resources skill, and some stunts under that skill. This takes up a higher slot on the skill tree and also uses up stunts. This means being rich and having a base can't just be incidental, a sort of background detail. The same is true of being well connected, as there is a Contacts skill, with associated stunts. It's not that this doesn't work, it just means some character concepts stretch a bit thin.

Still, these are relatively minor problems, overall, the whole stunt system, and the skill system with it, which I've not overly touched on, is very interesting, and exciting and just gets the imagination going in terms of scene framing, the action and the all round pulp heroics.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 09/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Just Add The Special Ingredient

So, I was roaming randomly around the web last night in a spare half hour, and I came across a number of websites that proved interesting: Sandline International, MPRI and The Carlyle Group.

These are interesting beasts, the first two are basically Private Military Contractors, which is a product of the post-Cold War World, and they are basically companies that will undertake military actions, security and support work or consultancy on behalf of Governments or anyone else that can pay. As a result, these companies may find themselves deploying military scale resources to Iraq to protect people or installations, or they may even find themselves being paid to do things like the US contribution to the Kosovo Peace Keeping Force (and I did find that one a bit shocking, that private firms are used for that).

The Carlyle Group is slightly different, as it's a prestigious investment firm that seems to have a whose who of ex-presidents and important people associated with it, such as ex-US Presidents, Defence Ministers, UK Prime Ministers, etc. The firm employs circa 400 people and it has offices in North America, Europe and Asia. The portfolio of companies employs 200,000 people. The key controversy about the Carlyle Group are the prestigious people that seem to gravitate to it, and the fact it could be said to be a military contractor because it owns controlling interests in key companies that are part of the US military industrial complex.

All interesting, but this isn't a political site? No it isn't, but consider this. You take the above and jazz it up a bit with some commercial fiction spin, and that's assuming it needs that, and you have a world in which private armies are used to keep the peace and possibly wage the wars of governments and corporations. You have a shadowy organisation of ex-Presidents et al who have controlling interests in all sorts of things.

Then add superheroes.

Seriously, add superheroes, people with superpowers. This isn't original, a number of comics and role-playing games already take this approach, but it's interesting to see some real world analogies and work with it. In the world presented above, these Private Military Companies would want to employ superheroes as they would be the ultimate power magnifier on the battlefield. If this company offered expensive security contracts to the rich and famous, wouldn't they want a body guard who could bounce bullets of his chest? Or one that could run faster than a bullet? When conducting military operations or intelligence operations, surely a man who could punch a hole through a tank is useful? Or someone who can render themselves invisible?

You then have the Carlyle Group, a small, but financially rich company with investments in all the right places, controlling politics more than it should through past political allegiances. They have hands in key military contractors, have a friend in every government, and they obviously have some seriously well equipped Private Military Company they own a private stake in. They do it all for the money and the power, right? Well, possibly, but maybe there is another reason, may they are privy to fragments of a prophecy that spoke about the arrival of the superheroes, and they are working to make sure they come out on top when this prophecy comes to fruition? I imagine it a bit like the Rambaldi Prophecy in Alias, cryptic clues dotted around the world by an esoteric De Vinci-style figure. In short, all their corporate, militaristic and politic shenanigans have a rough purpose. They would obviously have superhero operatives as well in their employ.

There will also be other groups in this world with competing interests, I'm sure the the UN will have its own superhero resources for utilisation in peace-keeping forces or in the myriad of other UN operations. I'm sure there will also be corporate sponsored teams as well as national security teams for specific countries. I'm sure religion has been altered by the advent of the superheroes, and many cults may have formed.

Then you introduce The Archer Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that has its own team of superheroes, who are trying to do the best they can to follow the motto of the organisation and create a better world. These are the players, they aren't saints, but they are the good guys, trying to do their best in a world that could be said to be falling out of control in a game of global power plays, out of control technology, apocalyptic conspiracies and, last but but by no means least, global celebrity. It's a world in which the heroes may be rescuing aid workers in South America by day, but enjoying drinks in a high rise nightclub in Dubai by night.

Welcome to the world of Nova!, the contemporary superhero campaign. Sounds like it might work, no?

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Much Needed Injection Of Pulp

The role-playing game I've ran the most, and I believe the most successfully, was the Star Wars role-playing game by West End Games. I ran a couple of mini-series over the years that I still rate as some of the best stuff I've done. They had everything: action, adventure, exciting locations and vistas and woven into all that poignant character drama about heroes. They even had readily available and evocative background music. In short, everything good pulp is supposed to deliver. I used to understand this, and at some point I lost it. You see, I actually think the majority of what I believe makes a good game is pulp influenced to one degree or another.

This is why it's refreshing to read Spirit of the Century, as it feels fresh, and it feels new and, more importantly, it has the same feeling of potential and excitement that reading the Star Wars role-playing game had fifteen years ago.

One of the main reasons is the system is simple, elegant and effective while delivering on what is possibly the most perfect amalgamation of a role-playing game with a very typical task-based resolution system, while also being very narrative based. It's not about widgets, a myriad of different weapons (which don't even have stats in the system), or overtly tactical, it's all about characters being dramatic protagonists, and being able to prosecute that at every level, from tense social situation, to utilising their skills and even via combat. In fact, conflict is handled by one simple system whether one is trying to intimidate the other, fill them full of lead or win an argument. This is only done through Aspects, which define characters, account for a whole host of exciting resolutions to conflicts without needing a 1001 rules, and keeping it all visual, working at a story level, and accommodating all this in a simple task-based resolution mechanism. It is very clever. Is it revolutionary? Hard to say, but it's certainly an excellent example of system evolution at work.

It was the advice chapters I was reading recently, and it was a very interesting read. It was interesting because I don't read a lot of role-playing games these days, and it's probably true to say I'm still shedding a lot of baggage from being someone who theorised about games too much rather than actually playing them for too many years. The advice chapters in Spirits of the Century reminded me of a very modern and contemporary version of the Star Wars role-playing game all those years ago. In each case it's about creating fast-paced adventures, not getting bogged down in minutia, ensuring the players always have somewhere to go, integrating the character dramas into the mad plans and epic adventures. It's true that Spirit of the Century has a more modern take on these things, uses a lot of tools people have devised over the years and uses a more concise language, but the advise is broadly similar, if more refined.

It was very refreshing, I can't state how much. One of the biggest influences on me in recent years, in terms of how I think role-playing games should be delivered, and how I'd like my games to be, is the new Doctor Who TV series, because I believe it embodies everything I want to deliver. Action, adventure, major protagonists being heroes and major villains giving as good as they get, mad plans that just might work, etc. This is to be expected, as if the new Doctor Who show is anything, it's a perfect example of a pulp show. Spirit of the Century, and the Star Wars role-playing game before it, gave advice tailored to creating that Doctor Who feel to your game.

It's also reminded me, well, less reminded, and more provided some morale support, that running games does not have to be about starting a campaign and running it week in and week out. You can run a game as a series of movies or trade paperbacks and it works fine. In this model a session or two every couple of months, or even further apart, can work perfectly fine. I know it can, I did it for years really. It doesn't have to result in games of less value than their week in and week out counterparts by any measure.

Spirit of the Century and the Star Wars role-playing game also share something else, they have reminded me of the joys of just playing to the genre, and be damned with everything else. This is a skill I used to have, and completely lost somewhere along the line. The Star Wars role-playing game did that 15 years ago, as I was reading in the text everything I wanted role-playing to be about. Spirit of the Century is doing the same thing, but in slightly different ways. I'm reading Spirit of the Century at a different stage of my gaming life, of course, but that's what's interesting about it. While the Star Wars role-playing game may have taken a relatively naive gamer and allowed him to push a style of play he found fun with more confidence, shedding a load of gaming baggage that other people understood gaming to be about, Spirit of the Century has given a more experienced gaming theorist a good kick in the arse.

I think this is why I like Spirit of the Century so much, it advocates an approach to gaming I thoroughly believe in, it does it with a set of rules that has an elegant simplicity while delivering an excellent task-based system with a stylish implementation of narrative principles. It is also about excitement, adventure, romance, heroes and villains, drama and above all It may even involve cliffhangers.

So, a number of days ago, when I asked if Spirits of the Century was a work of pulp-tastic genius I think the answer is a very safe yes, and then some. The game is actually inspirational.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
It's All About Crashed Dimensional Vessels

World of Warcraft has always been a fantasy universe that has had science fiction elements. One of the core concepts of the Universe is that the Orcs of the setting came through The Dark Portal from another planet, and this caused the original battles between what would become The Alliance and The Horde. The Burning Crusade has raised the science fiction elements even more, with the Draenei arriving on Azeroth due to their dimensional craft escaping from Outland, and crashing on the surface of Azeroth. When you go to Outland, in The Burning Crusade expansion, you can also visit Shattrath City, which is an excellent fantasy city tinged with science fiction elements. It's all a case of the fantasy elements being so advanced they come across like science fiction.

I've now been to The Exodar, with my new Dreanei Shaman and it got me thinking of Fantasy Ultimates again.

One of the key elements of Fantasy Ultimates is The Circle, a team of Awakened that gained prominence during the First Age, protecting humanity during the fall of the First Age Empire that the Awakened created. The characters in the game become a new version of The Circle during Third Age, a similarly tumultuous period. One of the key sets of the series is the old base of The Circle, known as The Temple (for now), which floats above the great and old city of Nexus. I've been throwing around ideas, or trying to, regarding what The Temple may look like. Enter The Exodar, which inspires a number of ideas. I'm now imagining a central energy column of yellow light, massive Dragonshard crystals protruding from the underneath that power the levitation. All sorts of grey walls, infused occasionally with magical yellow inscriptions. What about an audience hall complete with multiple holographic generators, left from the old days when The Circle had communications with the various major cities. The Temple may also have teleport technology allowing The Circle to teleport to these major cities during times of crises. In short, atmospheric and epic, and a great place to locate scenes. It's also big enough to accommodate other sets and ideas.

The long and the short of it is, The Exodar has given me a starting point to at least begin to visualise it. I was getting into a bit of a rut between it feeling not right being too fantasy, and not right being too science fiction, but the World of Warcraft approach to the Dreanei has given me a starting point on how one interpretation of fantasy technology can look.

This is all good, and it doesn't even include the possibility of The Circle having to respond to their own dimensional vessel crashing to the surface of Arkril after coming through the elemental tempest from some unknown location? there is an interesting idea.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Slice Of Pulp-tastic Genius?

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about system consolidation, basically rationalising the gaming systems I still have in my head and focusing on the ones that might, by some miracle, actually reach the gaming table. The conclusion was I'd run Mutants and Masterminds, play The Burning Wheel, and had Spirits of the Century winging its way to me as another one I'd potentially run. The basis of all this is I now understand quite well what I want to see in a system, so it's time to identify them and, in theory, focus on them.

Well, Spirits of the Century has arrived, and had its first, fast-paced read through. Is it a work of Pulp-tastic genius? It may very well be.

I think the key genius of the game is it manages to have a narrative focus, while still being a task resolution-based game. The majority of games with a narrative focus tend to go someway to throwing the traditional role-playing game structure out in favour of competing for narrative control, or scene-based resolution and other more radical structures. These are fine, but I've come to realise, over time, they are not for me. In some ways, while the actual application of the principles is very different, Spirit of the Century and The Burning Wheel are broadly similar in intent, in that they are both focused on task resolution, they drive the game towards a narrative, character-driven bent with the use of various tools, which in turn generate and drive the use of a currency to make the characters better and more exciting if the player focuses on using those tools to bring great characters to the table.

The key with Spirit of the Century is it's much simpler and faster than The Burning Wheel, while adding a lot of new stuff of its own.

It achieves this by focusing on Aspects, which represent who the character is, what's important to him and what he's connected to. As a result, they can be anything from relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors or even important items. In a very broad sense they do serve a similar purpose to Beliefs, Instincts and Traits in The Burning Wheel. The idea being, those 10 Aspects on the characters sheet are the primary tool for the player to author the character, and should have both positive and negative features, as an example, an aspect of Anabelle Chase is in Danger could be used to gain an advantage by spending the systems currency, and also to suffer a setback thus gaining system currency. The currency of the system are the fate points, and the narrative side of the game is driven by the invoking (the positive) and compelling (the negative) the Aspects.

The whole idea of the game being a narrative game with a task resolution implementation is also demonstrated with the conflict mechanic, which handles everything from social conflict to physical conflict, and even though it does it via task resolution, it's still narratively driven. As an example, your jet pack wearing, two-guns blazing, pulp hero might decide to block the mooks from escaping by covering the three exits with his guns. He makes a roll which sets the difficulty for the mooks to make their escape. Since the conflict isn't to hurt the mooks, if he successful he only stops them escaping. The named bad guy in the scene wants to escape as well, so he decides he's going to try and escape, and he'll use his gun skill to send a hail of bullets at our hero, he succeeds and makes his exit as the hero is a forced to relinquish control of that door under a hail of fire from the villain. So it's solid, simple and effective task-based resolution, but with a pure focus on the narrative in terms of conflict outcomes, stakes, skills used, etc.

Even the fact the game advertises and sells itself, even in the main text of the book, as a pick-up game is a positive. Normally, any game selling itself as a pick-up game is a bit brief, very narrow in focus, not really that good for campaign play of any sort, and tends to get used rarely. This isn't the case with Spirit of the Century, as all it means by calling itself a pick-up game is it's easy to run and simple to play, but under this model a game like the old Star Wars D6 game was a pick-up game. Basically, Spirit of the Century isn't a game you'd run, week in and week out for twenty weeks as a campaign, but then I didn't run Star Wars D6 like this either. Spirits of the Century is a game that you run as a special event, it may well be a monthly special event, but it's a akin to a movie series like Star Wars or Indiana Jones rather than a weekly TV show. You run a bit of fun pulp action and adventure, with some great character driven stuff due to the Aspects, lots of visual flare, and then look forward to the next thrilling adventure a month or so later. Cliffhanger optional, but you can't beat a cliffhanger. Needless to say, and as I've said before, this works for me perfectly: simple system, very narrative and character driven, with character authoring tools in the game, driven by a currency system and best played 'periodically' rather than 'regularly'. If that's a pick-up game, then give me more of them.

To top all this off the game captures the genre really well, and I could go on much longer on the gadgets, how it describes the ways different skills can be used in interesting ways just to make pulp stuff happen. The stunts under each skill. The excellent advice on how to run pulp games, and drive them with the Aspects. The fact the book, even though it's black and white is absolutely gorgeous, and the prestige paperback format really works. To be honest, it's so nice I'd like the hardback as my 'keep in perfect condition' copy, and use the paperback copy in anger.

I'll no doubt come back on Spirits of the Century in the future, like I did with The Burning Wheel, but at the moment Spirits of the Century delivers enough of what makes The Burning Wheel great, the currency driven character focus and story now tools, while being much simpler, and adds a lot of new stuff while it smells, shouts and just inspires you to think pulp, and to top it all off the Spirits of the Century experience is best delivered in a semi-regular movie fashion.

At the moment, it's coming across as a seriously good product, one that really defines how far games have come along from the traditional games being on one side of the fence and the way out their narrative games being on the other. Spirits of the Century may be one of the best example of a great synthesis of ideas currently available.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/03/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session 12, 497 A.D

We ended the last session of the Pendragon Campaign on a cliffhanger, which made an interesting change from jumping forward and a new year starting. Sir Brion's home had been attacked by the Saxon Black Bear Clan, who he has a blood feud with. We had all been alerted to the attack by various means, a core of us through our fairy wives. Despite the heroic defence of his manor, two of his children died in the attack, and Sir Brion fled into the forest. This session started at that point.

To say the session was packed with stuff is probably an understatement. My character is starting to suffer for his actions in the past, due to his failure of chaste rolls, against the odds, and cruelty rolls (which is more with the stats). While searching for Sir Brion in the forest, he had a mystical encounter which turned his shield from its normal green background with a white unicorn on it to black with a bleeding unicorn on it. A sign of his sins. The shield will stay this way until Sir Aeron performs actions to redeem himself. The first action being to go on a quest into the Forest Savauge to get some magical water in order to save the soul of a young virgin who was recently burned at the stake by his father (who we discovered is alive as of last session and is now up to his old raiding tactics in the south). This quest was given to him by the Gloucestershire bandit, who was working against Sir Aeron, but now looks like he might become an ally against his father. Not sure about that one, I was set to kill him, but it's a very interesting turn of events.

The list of story stuff is quite long. Sir Brion encountered Morgan Le Fay while in the forest, who was conducting some sort of ritual and ended up having sex with her, thus betraying his wife. Sir Brion and Aeron (my character) encountered each other in the forest, fought, and had harsh words, but it resulted in them both dealing with their issues to some extent and choosing to resolve them through violence (him making war on the Black Bear Clan, Aeron to again attempt to kill is father). We discovered that our fairy wives are the daughters of King Madrog, the King of the Forest Savauge. Sir Aeron (the younger), a different character, ended up having sexual relationships with the spurned fourth daughter of King Madrog, which goes way back to the first session, thus ensuring she has a child by two of our knightly cohort. There is a host of other stuff, including an evil druid that is after Sir Guillame's first born daughter. We went into the Forest Savauge for a number of personal reasons to each character. Sir Aeron collected his water. Sir Aeron (the younger) his ancient spear. Sir Brion wanted to request from his father in law, King Madrog, that he provide him with an army at the allotted time to help him gain vengeance on the Black Bear Clan. As I say, quite dense, so dense it's impossible to explain it all without writing an essay.

It was an exciting session all round, even though it meant going into the Forest Savauge, which worked really well this time. Sir Aeron managed to retrieve water from the magical well, and resist the temptations of the strange spirit woman guarding it, thus changing his shield slightly back towards its original heraldry. We even rescued a village in the forest from the iron grip of a Fiend. Not just a man who was a fiend, but an actual Fiend, a man who was very tough and very strong, as well wearing advanced armour we hadn't seen before. It was an exciting fight, and it took three of us to bring him down. It made a change from the 'instant critical death' of the last encounter with a significant opponent, the Knight of Tusks. The ability for the Pendragon system to generate exciting combats under the right circumstances continues to impress, it just manages to balance the risks and the rewards really well.

The atmosphere at the the table probably wasn't as intense, nor did it seem to have as much purpose as last session, which I think had a bit of resolve due to it coming straight after session ten, but it probably did have a good balance. The story moved on in exciting ways, we had good scenes, we had a laugh at other stuff, and it was great fun.

We had what was probably our first major pre-authored scene in the game, with a stated conflict, namely the scene with Sir Brion and Sir Aeron in the forest. The intent of the scene was for Sir Brion to come out of his madness after the death of his children, and for Sir Aeron to realise he was on a destructive path. It went well, but it could have went better. This is the inherent difficult thing about role-playing games, they are very in the moment, which is why they are exciting, but also means you sometimes look back and see how you could have took the scene in better, more interesting directions. Which is inevitable I guess. It did highlight that I'm still not 100% comfortable with something in the game, which isn't a bad thing, just an observation. I think it's the milieu, the idea of being Arthurian Knights, something about it is just slightly not sitting well in terms of playing out scenes. Not a big thing, but there is still some some small disconnect between that and playing my character in other games. It's an interesting one that one. I'm beginning to suspect it's because I don't have a clear reference for it? In most other games there is a clear TV show or movie reference to pin things on, this doesn't have one, and it's all hidden away in source material I'm not overly familiar with. While I'm not immersive in the slightest, these references give me a dramatic framework and an understanding of the various bits of colour that frame scenes, etc. There is just enough doubt, and lack of reference for this game to make things slightly more difficult in those moments, when the challenge is on to get it right first time. There may also be some issue over the juxtaposition of the real world, and modern speech and world view and the old world, less modern speech and different world view which is throwing me. Need to think about that more.

Interestingly, we are still in the Forest Savauge, as we are looking for a skilled blacksmith who is rumoured to be able to make advanced weaponry, namely a two-handed sword for Sir Guillame due to his predilection to get off his horse, drop his shield and swing his one-handed sword with two-hands. We also need to have the Fiend's advanced armour modified so it fits one of our number, namely my character I believe, which is exciting. It's safe to say armour makes the difference it should in the Pendragon system, so having armour slightly more advanced than everyone else is like gaining a significant magical item in any other system. Only in Pendragon could reinforced chain be something to covet, and this is a good thing.

When 497 finally comes to a conclusion, we'll be happy to see the years go by, which is also a change from feeling they were going by too fast. If anything, now you start thinking there is a danger if too much happens in one year, which is ironic, but at least starts to embed in the mind how these things have to be balanced out.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Campaign List...Re-visited!
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

Way back in May 2005 I wrote a campaign list, a quick summary of the games I'd like to run, if I ever entered some alternate world where I actually ran games. Looking back on it now is...interesting.

The low-to-medium fantasy idea was actually tried, as I actually started a Warhammer campaign, and actually got really good characters for it. The mistake I made, I think, was starting them off as beginning characters. I probably should have given them a batch of experience to do with as they desired, but the goal would have been to get them on their second career. Yes, I wanted a campaign with a bit more dirt, with a bit less super heroic action, and one about humanity trying to do its best in a setting in which things hurt, against the cosmic forces that assailed them, but starting characters were maybe a too low for my sensibilities. A bit like a fantasy Call of Cthulhu, but with some workable, desperate heroism. I should have also set the campaign up with a 'purpose to adventure' as well. The point was they'd work their way to this over the first batch of 4-6 episodes, but maybe that was a bad idea. I've mad that mistake a number of times, I think.

The interesting thing about the Pulp Espionage/Conspiracy one is that was actually tried as well, in a very embryonic format, in that it was the first game I actually tried with the current gaming group. Actually, that's not true, as it wasn't the current gaming group, it was with the group of people the current gaming group was actually borne out of. I believe it was part of the idea that we all ran some sort of one-shot, though memory is failing. It actually went quite well in many ways, though there was one player there who just could not let the pulp aspects of it drop, and was constantly trying to ground things in realism. Very frustrating. I think I'm a bit done with this idea, though elements of it may appear in other ideas considering my liking of brash commercial fiction.

The Space Opera/Fantasy idea comes from my successful Star Wars games, which I still remember fondly. Never got around to doing a 1-3 session abort of this one. This was one of the games that the Iron DM actually put forward, so I actually got to play in a Space Opera campaign instead: Pulsars and Privateers. It was really good, but regrettably due to life pressures, and the insidious Lonely DM problem, this was cancelled Fox TV style. As a result, this idea has sort of been done, if it ever got an airing again it would probably be in a totally different format to the 'have ship will travel' approach, or actually be a Star Wars mini-series.

The Small Town Mystery idea is a very interesting one, as this is a game I've always wanted to run over the years, but never actually done it. The reason I've not done it is it would demand quite a different style of play, as there would be no 'go get it' plotting as such, and everything would be more related to the network of relationships between the characters and the various people living in the town. A bit like a soap opera I suppose, but with a bit more of a sinister edge, and fantasy elements (essentially Twin Peaks). This means the game would have to be 100% completely about the characters resolving their premise for returning to the small town, which in turn would be the character's story. It's still an interesting idea, and you never know, one day, but it would demand a perfect synergy of people bringing it to the table, and the system driving the game. One to not even begin to look at until the DM chair has been firmly wrestled into submission. It's a brave game to try.

As for the Epic Fantasy and Superhero Comic entries? Well, I still want to do those.

Since it's been over a year, actually closer to two, since the list was written, it's time for the Campaign List...Revised!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 23/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
System Consolidation
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

A while back, over two years ago now, I got rid of a lot of role-playing games. Basically, my collection went to various outlets and people and my total number of owned role-playing games was seriously slashed. I had all sorts of games, from all sorts of eras, the majority of which I'd never played as I'd fallen into the 'trap' many role-players fall into and I was buying them to read them, not play them. This isn't that bad, as it does allow you to be well read in terms of systems, approaches and styles, but I've never really missed them.

Now, I have a grand total of 18 different games, ranging from Primetime Adventures on one end right through to Dungeons and Dragons 3e on the other, by way of Hero System 5, Fengshui, the World of Warcraft RPG, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel and older games I didn't want to lose like Aberrant and Adventure. To be honest, there are still games in there I'm never going to play, but they are useful for the ideas within in terms of premise, execution, rules, etc. There are also games in there that, to be honest, I have no idea why I own them and must have been delusional when I bought them: World of Warcraft RPG? Madness.

I'm in no rush to clear out or junk any more books I own, but I am rationalising them in my head and trying to focus on games that might by some miracle be played. Out of those 18 I think the following are ones that will actually be played and I actively want to play: Mutants and Masterminds and The Burning Wheel. That's it. I'd play both of those, and I'd DM Mutants and Masterminds, but I think The Burning Wheel is more a 'to be played opportunity' for me at the moment. That's it. I've gone from owning a whole library of games, to owning 18, and now actually admitting I only really care, in an actual play sense, about two of them. Shocking, in some ways. It's not that bad, as ideas from some of those other games filter into the type of things I'd do with Mutants and Masterminds, but still, pared down to two?

That's the games on my shelf, what about future purchases? Well, I've already got one slowly making its way to me in the form of Spirits of the Century, which looks to be the pulp game of pulp games and I'm looking forward to reading it so much, and being inspired by it some part of me is starting to think it can't be anything but a disappointment. Still, every time I read about the game and how it approaches its subject matter in actual play, I get excited about it all over again. It seems to be very interesting, and very exciting to play and just that perfect game for running 1-2 session pulp extravaganzas every so often. Next time in Thrilling Tales! Revenge of the Scarlet Widow! Hah, well, we shall see when it drops through the letterbox.

As for Mutants and Masterminds, it just sits well with me. The character creation isn't so much complex as more wide in scope, but once the characters are created it's largely fast, lose and simple and has a currency system that can drive the game. It also simulates the comics really well. In a way, it's sort of the perfect blend of old school control, management and balance, in a good way, with new school flexibility and a solid, dramatic perspective. Whether Mutants and Masterminds would still appeal should I ever get Fantasy Ultimates out of my system, and then a contemporary superhero game, is yet to be seen.

In a strange sort of way, despite never understanding those people who pick a role-playing game and only ever play that game, I'm coming closer to it. I like to think I'm just being highly selective, rather than closed minded.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 12/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session 11, 496- 497 A.D

It's probably safe to say that session 10 of the Pendragon Campaign didn't go too well, though the description of that session doesn't overly go into the details. A combination of a number of frustrations probably built up in that session, then the game shifted on us all and made us leaders of Salisbury, and to cap it all off we went into the Forest Sauvage, ready to have an epic tale of heroism, rescuing the daughter of one of our fellow knights, and it played out in a very frustrating manner, with us being sort of lead by the nose to a series of frustrating encounters out of the campaign book. It did reach a low point, and a number of opinion and advice threads, despite the good intentions, probably put the DM at a low ebb, as I know it would have me. Still, we rode that out and some good discussions came out of it.

The weird thing is, it's perfectly fine to sort of mention the faults of that session a bit more, and they are faults as a group, not on any particular individual, as this session was the best session so far, and was pretty amazing.

The session opened in the tale end of 496, it had been a bad year, as we'd been beleaguered on all fronts in a country going to shit, been forced to pay a Saxon protection racket, and the Forest Sauvage had driven us to the point of frustration. In a relatively calm moment, we decided to go and see what the issue was with this sword in the stone that had appeared outside St Paul's Cathedral in London. It proved to be Excalibur, and needless to say, none of us could pull it out. We did make an oath, next to Excalibur, and in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral, to form a bond of friendship and protection in these harsh times, to ensure that if nothing else, we made a better world for our children. We each now carry silver rings, inscribed with Christian and Pagan symbols to represent this bond. This was a scene I authored in, and it worked quite well I think, and added a lot to the game with us gaining a loyalty to each other through making the oath, and that loyalty was used numerous times later in the session. It was also good, because while it could have went better, which you can always say, I was very happy with how I delivered it.

On returning to Salisbury, we discovered that Merlin had come to town, which always makes for trouble. In the past we helped him retrieve Excalibur, and even ended up helping him make off into the forest with Uther's only son and heir. Still, he was wanting us to launch a raid against a Saxon supply dump that was close to our borders. The supply dump being part of the Saxon operations to the south, formed by a new group of Saxon invaders who landed earlier in the year, with a leader with delusions of being King. We undertook the task, and ended up having a heroic battle in the mud and the snow, stopping the Knight of the Tusks, and his fellow Saxons, from taking supplies to his cohorts preparing to attack Winchester. I suffered a very serious wound in the first charge, being taken off my horse by the Saxon defensive line, effectively impaled on one of their long spears. If your character is going to be taken out, best be taken out in an epic fashion, totally wiped out, in one hit, only to be left nearly dead in the mud and the snow.

All sorts of other things happened and I could go on and on. We sent envoys to one of our neighbours to see if we could work together for better security against the Saxons only to learn he is effectively forming an alliance with a powerful Saxon leader to attack his own people. We learned the lands to the north are effectively leaderless and may be up for the taking. We rode into the city of Winchester and bolstered it's defences laying claim to it thus sending a message that the Saxon's to our south should not move any further north. We also claimed a castle between us and Winchester to further try and bolster the defences. It's all a bit of chest beating really, as we are short on men, but anything to make the enemy second guess is good. I also learned that my character's father, who my character had thought he'd killed, is alive and well and working for the Saxon leader to the south. This causes numerous problems.

The session ended with each of our characters travelling or actually at our home manors, only to be warned by our strange fairy wives, who we have learned are daughters of the King of the Forest Sauvage, that a danger is coming and we needed to be at Sir Brion's manor quickly. We all rode like the wind, only to find Sir Brion's manor under assault by the Saxon Black Bear Clan, who have been running a blood feud with Sir Brion for some time. The battle went well, with numerous people inspiring themselves through the new oath we made to each other, which was good, but regrettably two of Sir Brion's children died. Sir Brion rode off into the forest, my character giving chase, but he was unable to catch him due to Sir Brion's better hunting skills.

This ended the episode excellently, and the whole piece had a great start and end. It started with the knights making an oath of friendship and protection, no matter what the world should throw at them in the dark times, and it ended with that oath coming into being in action and in the system, to protect Sir Brion's family. While individual sessions of older games fade in the memory, this one easily stands up to the great sessions in other games that I can actually remember. The atmosphere of the session was relaxed and fun, some of the scenes were actually great, aggressively authored and delivered well. It was exciting in terms of the battle, even nearly dying quite spectacularly was exciting. The whole experience also felt more visual and immediate, conjuring up images of knights charging in the snow, desperate battles in doorways of a family home, and slower scenes like the conversation between my character and his father, alone but for the fire in the hall. Very good.

We shall see what happens in the future. How will Sir Brion recover from the loss? What will be the repercussions? How will my character, Sir Aeron, deal with the return of his father and the safety of his sister? What effect has nearly dying in the mud and the snow had on my character?

I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 11/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
Of Actors And Authors And System

So, a few days ago, I mentioned the fact some people approach role-playing games from two different perspectives: an actor or an author. This means that they bring different ideas and approaches to the gaming table that can cause conflict, or just result in one side not understanding the other. I also put forward the view that this does not make them incompatible, because if you play in a game that delivers killer scenes, then they are both happy, as they both want conflict driven scenes to happen, they just get to them in different ways and with different levels of pro-actively engineering them themselves.

What part does the system being used at the table play in this?

Well, that's an interesting point, as it's probably safe to say that the standard role-playing system, and the ones most gamers in their thirties encountered in their formative gaming years, didn't add anything to this issue at all. The majority of gaming systems are really neutral in terms of how story actually happens, and the agendas of how players approach that at the table. They provide rules for how combat works so everyone knows how you can kill something, how they can use skills to do things, how characters get better so characters can improve and a whole host of other random stuff depending on the game, such as destroying things, suffocating, burning or in a superhero game actually how many inches of steel your character can punch through. Absolutely nothing in the actual system for ensuring that story happens, or bringing something at the system level to this whole actors and authors issue.

Despite a whole host of games not touching this area, many games do.

Take the game Sorcerer, it takes a very up front and direct approach, with each character having a Premise, and yes, it deserves the capital P. Premise is an idea taken from fiction, as pretty much every story will have a premise, which is the central question the story is designed to provide an answer to. It's true something else may happen along the way, such as a war being won, but the true story is the conclusion of the premise. Sorcerer advocates that each protagonist, the player characters, should have a premise and that the story of each character is them finding a conclusion to that premise. It even goes as far as suggesting each player knowing each other's premise is perfectly fine as the story is a group one, and the scenes between the players will help each other conclude their story. Sorcerer focuses on premise so much, that it even recommends characters being retired when that premise is done, and concluded. This whole merger of the principles of writing fiction, and how they can be applied practically to actual play at the gaming table is what keeps me gaming, and ALL my characters have a premise that is their core story that I'm seeking a conclusion to. As an example, in the current Pendragan game the premise is 'Sins of the Father', will Aeron be a Christian knight of higher purpose, or will he become a cruel thug like his father? The passions, the events in the setting and the interaction with the other player characters, who are free to push that button with scenes, will ultimately answer that story.

The goals in Sorcerer, with its focus on premise, is to get Story Now! Not in six sessions, when players finally start revealing crumbs of information, but to get everyone working on everyone else's story immediately, as what's the point in doing anything else?

A few other games take a different approach, and you'd be surprised at the type and variety of games that do this. Take the game Fengshui, a game that isn't supposed to be anything intense or deep, it's a fun game of Asian action movies, full of elite assassins, sorcerers, mad eunuchs and a 1000 bullets, yet even it pushes this issue of putting a character's story out there by having each character have a melodramatic hook, which is on the characters sheet, visible for anyone who chooses to look. It doesn't have any system to put this stuff in game beyond a players willingness to do so, but it is visible. This is another example of both getting the story out there, and the player being given an explicit opportunity to say what he wants the character's story to be.

You also have The Burning Wheel, which is about as focused as Sorcerer but in a different way. Each character has beliefs, instincts and traits, all of which combine to define the core of the character and, to some extent, their premise and the system then supports that with a whole system designed around a fuel, the currency, that ensures the best way to get better in the game, and be more successful in the game, is to play to those beliefs, instincts and traits and make sure they generate story.

Spirit of the Century, a pulp game that is winging its way to me at the moment, has Aspects, which are again on the character sheet for all to see. These Aspects represent certain elements of your character and you have 10 of them, the Aspects give you both advantages and disadvantages and represent both defining traits and story elements. As an example, an Aspect might be 'Seeking Redemption' or it may be 'Gearhead', while the first is more slanted to story, and the other a trait, they both in fact tell the story. As 'Gearhead' might make her great at fixing things, but also be defined as her getting lost in her machines and possibly making things too complicated when a simple fix will do and as such things break down. Both put the story in the game, even if it is the player's super-plane failing at the inappropriate moments due to the 'Gearhead' engineer over-engineering. Not only that, mechanisms exist in the system to get those Aspects in the game, for other other players to use them and everyone to be rewarded for doing so. It makes scenes happen, it provides a mechanism for story now, rather than later.

It doesn't take much to do this in games that don't support it at all. Take Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, it doesn't have anything in like this, so in the game I intended to run each character had to have a dramatic hook and a doom. The dramatic hook was a story waiting to get out, and the doom was the thing most likely to doom the character or cause her to fail. I also intended to reward fate points for really good actual play relating to these issues. This resulted in some good stuff, that was then completely wasted by the game being aborted. You could also do it in Mutants and Masterminds, by using the complications and the currency system. Get the complications up there on the character sheet for all to see, rather than them being just in a player's head, so that they are more visible when people use them to generate hero points, thus utilising the currency to drive the game. One of the players recently said that, when he runs a game, he might put these sort of 'story elements' of the characters, be it a premise, some sort of general issue the character is dealing with or a goal, on cards and actually put them on the table for all to see, this is another example of the above, combined with a currency system to drive that at the gaming table and it would be great.

What about Pendragon? Well, it does have a mechanism, in a way, for getting the story up and into actual play. While there isn't anything that puts it in the mix explicitly, like Sorcerer's premise, or the dramatic hook or bullet point aspects, or beliefs, instincts and trains, etc, you do have passions on your character sheet. These passions do drive the character's story, or they should be, either in terms of the things that cause them to fail or things they are aspiring to. As an example, Aeron is a Christina knight and he has the passions to match, but he is also incredibly cruel according to his passions, and even though he has a high chaste passion he usually fails the roll and ends up shagging some wench. This plays perfectly into the character's premise, as in truth he wants to represent his Christian traits, but in reality he fails them and he also has that cruel heart his father had due to the cruel passion being high. In fact, a little secret, how his passions turned out during character creation created the 'Sins of the Father' premise, and it's usually the other way around for me, so that was an interesting system moment with respect to Pendragon. Does that not mean some of the essential conflicts of the character are on the character sheet for all to see? I'd say so.

Interestingly, most of these methods favour the author focused player to some degree, as they provide tools for him to use to actually author, or make elements of other characters visible to make authoring possible. This can cause trouble for the actor player, as surely failing his chaste roll, which statistically he has a low chance of failing, is going against how he wants the character to be? The character he created to play? Well, possibly, but then maybe the actor should view it another way, as in that failure is an excuse for a great opportunity to act out the consequences of him failing that roll? It's a dramatic scene, a great opportunity..does it matter how it came into existence?

One thing I will say, is all this focus on Story Now, and getting the character to the actual table to be played and get their story moving ensures that characters don't take six sessions to actually amount to something. It also means characters are better understood, and therefore group interaction happens quicker, as there is less 'feeling of the way'. This also means you can have shorter, but more intense and rewarding games, or longer games can be played in more intense, shorter blocks. Which then brings up the issue of questioning the stereotypical structure of a game in actual play? That's a topic for another day.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 08/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
A Bit of Amateur Cartography

Three months a go I did a bit of world building for Fantasy Ultimates, in a conceptual sense anyway. At the time I was dealing with cosmology and imagery and how the world was going to work on mythical principles, rather than geographical, planet orbiting a sun, and so on, rules. Since then, I've had some more ideas on how the setting of Arkril should be visualised. A few days ago I actually did something I've not done for ages, in that I got some graph paper out and actually sketched out a map.

Okay, it's not a 100% complete map, as in every city, country, hill, mountain, desert and river is on it, because that doesn't serve my purpose. It's not even got an exact scale, though I have a couple of options in mind. After all, as you soon as you put something on that map it's set in stone isn't it? Blank space is good. At the same time, you need something to start with, some basic sense of shape and direction, and also enough setting to visualise and build the opening episodes on and give the players an anchor point. This was the purpose of this map, with extra detail being added as adventures take place, assuming we even bother.

So, what's on this map at the moment?

Arkril is essentially flat, and is surrounded on all sides by the elemental poles of water (west), air (north), earth (east) and fire (south), I'll freely admit at this point that the broad geographical approach taken for Arkril is ripped straight from Exalted, even to the extent Arkril is also known as Creation, the name for what was carved out of the raging Elemental Tempest by the three Primordial Dragons (a mixture of Mage: The Ascension and the D&D setting Eberron). The three Primordial Dragons represent three competing forces: Voria, representing creation and instability; Thocnia, representing order and stability; and Azul-Khun representing destruction and corruption. This means as you get to the edge of creation all you get is what appears to be a never ending sea, frozen wasteland, forest and desert and somewhere in these never ending, mythical landscapes are the Elemental Primes of the respective elements, out on the edge of Creation ever since being overthrown by The Awakened (the fantasy superheroes of the setting) at the end of the Age of Demons.

In short, I have the edges of the world.

In broad terms Arkril is in a dark age, this is a mythical dark age, so in many ways it's still pretty fantastic, but it is a dark age nevertheless. When The Awakened freed mankind from the dominion of the Elemental Primes at the end of the Age of Demons they created a glorious, and awakened empire known as The First Age. In turn, the Dragon-Blooded, the armies of The Awakened in the wars with the demons, spawned from the blood of Dragons, overthrew The Awakened and created a lesser empire in The Second Age. Now this has been weakened by a generational war between the dynastic houses of the Dragon-Blooded. This was has only ended relatively recently, under the banner of a new, young Imperial Princess. Arkril is now in a less rigidly defined Third Age. Now, Arkril is very broadly defined by what remains of the Dragon-Blooded Empire on The Blessed Isle and its immediate surroundings, and The Threshold (as the nascent Empire calls it, rather insultingly), which is the rest of Arkril, which now consists of loads of individual states and countries broadly aligned under The Confederation of Rivers. This is loosely taken from Exalted, which I freely admit.

As a result, in terms of actually putting things on the map, I've concentrated on the eastern side, which is where The Blessed Isle is, as well as some of the basics surrounding the eastern side of The Threshold. We have the great Imperial City, known as the City of Spires, as it is a majestic sight built upwards towards the sky. This city is the centre of what accounts for Imperial power. Then you have its sister city, Nexus, a sort of independent city state in itself, which exists in The Threshold, and acts as its unofficial commercial and diplomatic centre due to sitting at the point in which a number of mighty rivers converge. The Blessed Isle sits on a large island off the eastern coast of the 'continent'. While the geography is slightly different the influences here are again Exalted and Eberron.

The two fantastic cities are very different and yet linked in many ways. The Imperial City is a glorious place of a bygone age, and stands as a relic of a time long-gone. It is the centre of Imperial power, as well as The Enlightened Church of Voria, the official religion of the Dragon-Blooded, and if they had their way, all mankind. It is a city of learning and bureaucracy, and the occupants, by and large, think all of Arkril should be ruled form it, as has been the case through the First and Second Ages. Nexus is different, it's less a capital city and just a merchant capital due to its relative proximity to The Imperial City, and the fact its sits in a large lake formed by the confluence of a number of mighty rivers, as well as being a transport hub for the lightning rial network (taken from Eberron). As a result, Nexus is like Babylon 5 in the form of a massive city, a place of business, diplomacy and crime, a place where things just get done, for better or worse.

Nexus is also important, because floating above Nexus is The Temple (a better name potentially pending), the ancient home of The Circle, a gathering of The Awakened that took it upon themselves to defend mankind during the painful fall of The First Age. The Temple has been unoccupied since The Circle vanished during the war between The Awakened and The Dragon-Blooded. Obviously, the players become The Circle, taking on their mantle as The Awakened return to the world to either enlighten it or plunge it further into chaos as they become part of the fabric of the tumultuous, formative years of the Third Age.

Anyway, things are progressing in this little exercise for the imagination...

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
It's All About The Currency

When you discuss systems with the average gamer, they rarely discuss the currency of the system. They will discuss neat resolution mechanics, possibly. They might discuss the elements they like in characters creation. It's possible they may mention a myriad of stuff like not liking how hit points work, or imbalances that can be exploited. The odds that they discuss the positives and negatives of the currency within the system are pretty much nil, for a lot of gamers.

The closest you tend to come to discussing the currency of a system is the reward mechanism, usually some form of experience system. Every so often players are allowed, via some mechanism, to improve their character through experience points, or roll to improve skills they've used, or whatever. In a lot of games though, these reward mechanisms are not intrinsically tied to rewarding a specific activity or style of play, or they are, but in a very broad way. You get general comments about success in the adventure, or for good role-playing or in some games, overcoming challenges. So, while the currency may touch upon, and may even also be the reward mechanism, it's not necessarily the same thing.

A currency system is basically the lifeblood of the system, it should be designed to allow the player characters to be better at acting in a way that is conductive to a good game, of said game, by rewarding them for playing in that way. This is why it's called a currency, you put in the effort to work in a certain way, you get rewarded in a way that makes you better. The aim is to create a circular model, that supports and creates a nurturing environment for the type of game being run.

A few examples may be appropriate?

Take the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer role-playing game, it has experience points and drama points, but it's the drama points that are the true currency of the system, with the experience points being relegated to a basic reward mechanic. The drama points are the currency of the system because they support the whole approach of the game: supporting the TV show fabric of the game by allowing characters to act like their TV show counterparts, and the drama points reward players for doing that by giving them more drama points thus making them more likely to act like their TV show counterparts. The key here is how players earn new drama points, and they earn them for great quotes, heroic acts and suffering the agony of life, bad things happening to them and in the case of some types of character, supporting the hero through her trials. All these things, are in the mould of the Buffy TV show.

You can also take Mutants and Masterminds, which also has both an experience points system and hero points, in a similar way the experience point mechanic is, by and large, an advancement-based reward mechanic, and the true currency is the hero points. In Mutants and Masterminds hero points allow the characters to do heroic stuff like their comic book superhero counterparts, but they also earn them for allowing stuff to happen similar to what happens to their comic book colleagues: suffering various complications in their lives, acts of great heroism, pulling of great stunts and when their enemies get one over on them. This currency supports a superhero comic model as when Positron suffers a complication due to his wayward sister he gets a hero point, when a character's sense of honour allows a villain to get the advantage Positron would get a hero point, if a villains gets a big advantage, say mind controls Positron, he gets a hero point. Since each adventure starts each hero of with only 1 point, it can easily be seen they generate points over the course of a story by acting like superheroes by doing great stunts, heroic stuff and suffering the sorts of things heroes suffer, even down to the point that allowing themselves to be put in a death trap, or experiencing the villain escape, as they always do, allows them to get hero points. The currency ensures the players want their character to go through these trials. Obviously, they can use these hero points, and should, as next adventure they start at 1 again. It models the rise through setbacks model, until the final fight, in which they pull through.

A particularly great example of a currency system is Artha in The Burning Wheel, as it's one of the most focused, deep and perfect circle currency systems I've seen. It allows the players to earn Artha by having their characters take on tasks of great risk, role-play their beliefs, instincts and traits 110%, and due to earning Artha, it then allows them to do all that better. I have no idea if this is why the game is called The Burning Wheel, but it assuredly a wheel that is fuelled by this currency model. The way to be better in the game in terms of mechanics, is to play the game as it is intended.

The interesting thing about currency systems, is when games have them, it seems rare that the person running the game gives the currency system the credit it deserves and uses it to drive their game. That's what a good currency system should do, drive the game. It should be fostering and nurturing certain activities, those activities representing a great game. As a result, if the currency system of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer isn't used effectively and with thought, you might not get the best results. Yes, people have to want to role-play under the general principles of the game in the first place, but actively pushing and using the currency's agenda should enhance the game. Take Mutants and Masterminds, which has a tighter currency due to starting on 1 hero point per adventure, if used sensibly this should engender in the attitude of the players the wish to author complications in for themselves so they can get hero points?

So, currency systems are good. They are perfect example of how a game supports the type of game you want to play. They should be used, as in most cases everyone wins and no one loses when the currency is flowing. This is also why it's dangerous to discount mechanics like drama points and hero points just as 'newfangled player authoring tools', as they are more than that in a lot of cases.

What would be interesting, and I don't know enough about it, is to what extent Glory is a currency in Pendragon? You get better in Pendragon by using skills, and while you get better as a character every 1000 Glory, I suspect how you get Glory differs during the different periods in the campaign? It may be a rather blunt one, and a bit confused because of its relationship with character advancement, but a currency nevertheless? Possibly. Certainly worth thinking about.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
Of Actors And Authors

I'm going talk about something now that is going to necessitate a bit of generalising, otherwise I'd be here for ages, and end up writing a 6000+ word treatise on the subject, and I don't overly want to do that. Besides, a couple of people have already done it. I still think it's going to be useful though. So, what is this topic? Well, as a sound byte it's simple: it's about those who bring things to the gaming table as an actor as opposed to those who approach the activities at the table as an author.

Broadly speaking, and to sit people in two diametrically opposing camps for now, you could say that some players approach the gaming table as actors. These players tend to see the game as an opportunity to play their guy, to respond to what happens in the game and act the part. In a lot of cases, they view everything from within the head of their guy, basically their character. In the most extreme cases, they will not move out of their guys ahead, to take control of anything that their guy cannot influence directly by touch, his words or whatever. It can be said that the actor approach is very focused on IC (in character) thinking, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. They often wait for the DM to deliver the story, and put the scenes in play, their only influence on this being what they are doing next in response to a scene that has already occurred. They want to be taken on a ride, so that they can act in the context of an exciting drama with betrayal, loss, success and all the good stuff a great story takes place in. They want that to come to them though, so they can act in reaction to it, and when conflict does come there way, as an actor, they will probably rise to the occasion, chew the scenery and make the dramatic choices, as it's acting gold, so to speak.

The authorial view takes a different approach, not necessarily any better or worse, just different. When approaching the gaming table from the authorial perspective the character is just a tool to author a story, ideally one involving other characters, if possible those of other players. The primary way this shows is in the fact the author doesn't feel bound by only what their character can see, feel, touch and speak to. The author player probably has a story in mind for his character (as a general statement or moral question, a premise in fiction terms), he won't know how it will end, and he won't know how he is exactly going to get there, but he will have that story in mind and will be looking to author that at every opportunity. He may add scenes to support that. Pro-actively add background details to his character to support the same agenda, whatever. Try and get scenes going with other player characters to highlight and progress that story, and pursue the same with DM controlled characters.. At the end of the day, his view of the game is very OOC, the idea being that he is a writer of a script, the only difference being every scenes that happens is in the moment, and played out, rather than written down, refined and edited (plus the journey, the actual story, is influenced by many people, other players and the DM, and that is good, as the focus is not on the how, but what the conclusion may be when it finally finishes).

In summary, the actor wants to be presented with an excellent script, the author believes he should have some hand in writing it.

As I say, neither of these approaches to the gaming table are better than the other, they are just different. As a function of them being different though, they can result in a level of conflict, or both sides feeling that there game is not reaching its full potential due to other style getting in the way. So, what can manifest when these styles both sit around the same table?

The main problem is the potential conflict between players over the IC and OOC approaches each side takes. The author focused player gets frustrated with the actor focused player not leaving his character's head for a moment to consider a dramatic opportunity that he should run with, if he just authored a bit, rather than restricting himself to his guy, and playing the logical consequences of his character's background. While it may be IC to keep a facet of his background secret, OOC it may be plainly obvious revealing it to this other player now, in this moment, would make a better story, etc. This can seem, to the author, that the actor is more focused on playing what he's created, rather than playing a dramatic character who grows and changes and has a driving premise. In reverse, the actor focused player can get extremely frustrated, to the point some of the more extreme proponents view it as cheating, with the rampant OOC activities of the authorial player. I've had that label put against me, when I fell into a group who viewed IC thinking as what role-playing was, and any OOC activities was basically bad gaming.

The perceptions of what happens in the game can also be quite different. As an example, while the actor focused player wants the scenes that challenge his character and provide conflict as much as the author, even though he might not be using every tool available to him to get those scenes (as that might involve going out of his character's head), he will also be quite satisfied with just playing his character. Which is good and fine. Even in scenes that are quite perfunctory, and don't establish anything new, or take things in any particular direction, he is happy just playing. He can also do this well, turning the most mundane of starts into an interesting, if not necessarily dramatic conversation. The author focused player, on the other hand, may well get extremely frustrated and even try to avoid scenes, and by that actual role-playing, that are totally perfunctory and don't establish anything in terms of new character relationships or advance the story in play, or his character's journey or someone else's (he's perfectly fine with helping to advance someone else's). As a result, while a basic conversation with a shopkeeper to buy something can potentially be turned into a good bit of role-playing entertainment by the actor, the author will get bored with it because there is no story, no real drama and no real opportunity to author his story in so, in his opinion, if this was a script or a book, it'd face the wrath of the editor.

The main point of conflict in this area though is the actor is quite happy to act in scenes without conflict, as he is playing his part, while the author detests scenes without conflicts. An actor can happily have all characters in the pub, talking shit and be happy, and what would result might be entertaining and fun and therefore good. Nothing wrong with it. The author though, doesn't see the point in extended scenes of 'just talking' without any sense of conflict or dramatic direction, so he will either aspect some central conflict to be in the scene, delivered by the DM, or expect to be able to introduce some. If neither happens, for one reason or another, again he will get frustrated.

So, can they sit at the same gaming table at all?

I think they can, for one simple reason: both the actor and the author truly want the game to feature highly charged scenes, which carry characters forward, challenge their perceptions and involved them making hard choices. The author, because that's what a story is made of and the individually scenes in the game ARE the story, a stepping stone on that journey, and the actor because it's those scenes an actor wants to see and play out. While he's happy doing the relatively innocuous scene in the pub, he'd rather be facing down his arch enemy who has kidnapped the love of his life? Or be facing having to fight his best friend because he killed his wife who was working for the enemy? Etc.

So, in my view, while the two approaches involve quite different tools, involve viewing the game in different ways, and may even manifest in activities at the gaming table that make little sense to either side, if the game has killer scenes, in high number, I think both will be perfectly fine. After all, if the actor focused player gets a killer scene delivered to him by the DM, he's quite happy to talk about it with the author focused player who edits a scene to tackle him about it later. It's happened to his character hasn't it? So all is well. The only difference is, the poor DM has to cope with and manage the activities of the author focused player as he works stuff in, while largely taking more responsibility for delivering stuff to the actor so he can react to it.

No one said a DM's job was easy, buy the easiest way to keep the actor and the author happy, is to play the game at full throttle, with hard hitting scene after hard hitting scene. Why take five sessions to do something when you can do it in two? Or in the case of one of our first games in the current gaming group, why not have a strange, magical message from a princess in the first half an hour of the first session, and be rescuing her from back in time by the third? Bring it on. In this environment, character development happens very fast. It works to reduce style friction, if only because neither side has time to think of the remaining niggles their respective approaches might still entail. In a slower, less intense game though, the differences in style have a chance to cause frustrations on both sides.

The missing element here is the system being used, but that is a topic for another day.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
Checking Out Gaming Podcasts

So, as I mentioned a few days ago, as part of the Iron DM's investigation into all things game design, he's been unearthing some gaming Podcasts. In the interest of checking one of them out I downloaded a few episodes of the Sons of Kryos today and listened to them.

It was very interesting.

To be honest, a lot of the content in terms of discussions about running better games didn't really touch on anything that new, but it was interesting to hear it anyway. As an example, the segment in one of the podcasts about using characters to ask direct and meaningful questions to get deeper role-playing happening was very interesting primarily because it is a key philosophy of mine as a DM. As far as I'm concerned, the non-player characters at the disposal of the DM are there for one key reason: to peal away the player's characters layers and challenge them with conflict and questions to make them grow. At the same time, despite it be nothing knew from a DM'ing perspective, it did get me thinking of this philosophy from the point of view of being a player. I don't do this as a player, why not? That was an interesting question I found myself asking myself. I often complain about not being able to get such scenes going when I'm a player, with another player, but then maybe the answer to that is to ask direct and challenging questions like I would as a DM? Very interesting.

At the end of the day though, what is most fascinating thing about the Sons of Kryos podcast is how they discuss gaming. They don't consider anything taboo, and they discuss it openly and with a great interest in pushing the boundaries a bit and making a better game. They discuss each other's agendas, the tools they can use, how to make sure everyone is enjoying the game and are willing to try anything. It is fascinating, as it's my experience that to get your group being so open and forthright about all their approach to games, so open minded about potential tools, systems and ideas and being so actively involved between sessions and so forthright in terms of getting the best role-playing happening in game is very rare. I'd even say that's true for my current gaming group.

I think the best way to put it is there approach to everything gaming is aspirational.

They enjoy gaming, it's a passion and they speak and work on it as something they seriously enjoy. It's also not a personal passion, it's a group one. It also sounds, as a group, they are on the same role-playing page. Very interesting, largely because I could talk about gaming all the time. I could work to improve a game all the time. I could discuss agendas for characters in actual play to get everyone working on each other's stories all the time. I'm just used to a higher, deeper and more active level of gaming disucssion across the board, and at numerous levels.

So I suppose, I found myself being slightly envious of their attitude.

What did surprise me, is the podcast also sprung a new game on me, which I wasn't expecting. A number of the podcasts mentioned Spirit of the Century without actually saying what the game was, it just got used in examples about other subjects. I've looked Spirit of the Century up and I'm now positively gagging for it. Basically, Spirit of the Century is a pulp game, using a simple, but very interesting system. I basically have to have it now, and possess its goodness.

I shall undoubtedly listen to more.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session Ten, 496 A.D

The Pendragon Campaign continues, and now the dynamic of the game has changed, along with the death of the King. Since Uther, and the majority of the knights and nobles that normally sit at the poshest table, all died last year, during the feast to celebrate the heroic victory over the Saxons at St Albans, our knights have suddenly found ourselves as the principal knights on the ruling council of Salisbury. The head noble being a four year old boy, effectively the ward of his mother.

I must admit, this was a shift in the focus of the game that completely threw me for some time. As I suddenly found myself having to go from a knight that happily went were his Lord told him to go, and had some heroic battles along the way, to suddenly having the fate of Salisbury and all its inhabitants on my head. Obviously, we come to find ourselves on the ruling council during one of the most turbulent times as well, with the Saxons getting all rowdy, including one Saxon group that was starting a protection racket, and a meeting to choose the next King that was inevitably only going to turn into a war. When this happens I can't help but feel like a middle-class white bloke trying to handle the situation, which is no fault of the game, it just takes me a while to get it all in context and sort it out in my head. After all, this session had been largely billed as a mysterious journey into Forest Sauvage.

The journey into the Forest Sauvage was a strange experience, as we'd all had items personal to our character taken for some strange reason, though the only one that really mattered was the daughter that had been kidnapped. So we set off into the mysterious forest with a determined look on our faces to rescue one of our knightly brother's children from whatever forces had kidnapped her (at this point the other items taken to get us on the rail road track had been cast aside by and large). The trouble was, any sense of tension, drama or heroism was sort of drained away by a sequence of about 6-8 maddening encounters encounters in the tradition of the random encounters of old.

We did eventually find the strange King of the Forest Suavage, who was incredibly annoying, and just seemed to give us our stuff back. The kidnapped daughter was also returned, though she'd been given some special knowledge. The exact reason for it all happening was a bit of a mystery in terms of the kidnapped daughter, and it was even more of a mystery as to why the King had too the other items. He gave us some gifts for our trouble though, again a bit of a mystery as to why.

After returning from the forest we faced another dilemma, as Saxons seemed to have landed on the south coast and were sacking Southampton and its immmediate areas. After a heated debate we decided to not help, though the decision was divided. Once the invading army had secured victory we investigated only to find out it was an 'invasion' force by someone staking his claim on the throne. He even asked for our support.

While the trip into the Forest Suavage just seemed to be a random collection of odd encounters, and the overall reason for the trip very confused, the way the game is positioned now is interesting, as it changes the game totally. To be honest, it's not particularly what I was hoping for in terms of the dark times, as I wasn't in anyway looking for the focus to be 'leading figures in Salisbury', I was more thinking that the desperate times would be about protecting our homes and friendship, loyalty and honour as we are assailed from all sides. Still, for all I know, it may turn out to be both!

Still, it will be interesting to see how the game goes when it is our odd bunch that has to decide which battles to fight. I pity for the people of Salisbury. Still, this must mean we are eating off metal bowls now? Now that's progress.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/02/2007 Bookmark and Share
The Frustrations of Lonely Fun

One of the interesting things about the role-playing group currently is the fact the Iron DM is getting into a bit of game design. The fact he's designing a game isn't interesting in and off itself, as that's not something I've ever had any wish to get into, but what is interesting is this is taking him to all the types of resources and the various theories, thoughts and discussions on game design and actual play goals that I absorbed roughly about a decade ago and have continued to keep an eye on. He's experiencing them in a different way, as podcasts discussing these topics didn't exist when I was deep into it, as it was in its embryonic stages, just sort of being born on web forums, but the information is the same.

So, what's interesting about this? The simple fact that some of the things I've been trying to push with respect to the group are now being voiced by another individual and I no longer feel like some mad profit.

As an example, recently, in relation to the Pendragon Campaign, the Iron DM posted a thread about avoiding lonely fun, and I couldn't agree with it more, and it's a barrier I've been trying to break for ages. The lonely fun concept is quite simple. The traditional approach to role-playing games, assuming characters have any sense of an overall purpose and story in the first place, is for the player to either keep that to himself or keep that between himself and the DM. This makes it a totally personally experience, and more frustratingly, cuts all the other players out of the process. In a lot of cases, this is taken even further with things like backgrounds and the personal details of characters being marked as something that 'you shall not reveal' to other players in the game, as if that somehow breaks the sanctity of it.

I've not believed this lonely fun idea should exist for about a decade, the problem is you encounter so few other players who agree. I believe all players should know, broadly speaking, what the overall story or agenda of each other player character is. The reason for this is simple, the role-playing experience is essentially one of group storytelling, and the way I see it is as follows: all the participants are essentially screenwriters, authoring their characters, the only difference is instead of scenes being written down they are played out in the moment. For this to work, you cannot have lonely fun, as you need scenes of meaningful conflict and character growth to occur and for that to happen each player has to be able to role-play in the context of helping other characters with their personal stories or progressing their own via others.

Let's use a simple example, in a fantasy campaign, you might have some warrior trying to gain some sense of redemption and forgiveness for his actions in the passed, but another character might be playing a priest who has had that redemptive experience and come out the other side. The scenes between those two characters could be very strong, as one acts as a guide to the other? The problem is, if lonely fun kicks in, each of the players will have their characters interact without revealing any background details or overtly putting in play their current story (the redemptive journey of the warrior in this case). As a result, the scenes become generic and flat and the enhanced story of both of them forming tight bonds over this redemptive journey is lost. If both characters have their personal stories known up front, and are willing to put their backgrounds at the forefront so they can serve a purpose, the game becomes more intense and scenes actually mean something. After all, if each player knows broadly what each player's story goals are in each scene, they have the tools to make them stronger? No? Without that, your writing your scene in the dark, not only that, you're writing it in the dark, in the moment, with no ability to edit it an hour later.

This has happened to me all the time, as I've tried to create scenes in the games we've played, angling to get a scene intimately about each of our character stories (because I've guessed they share elements that could be enhanced together, or one character could help another on their journey, have a similar theme, whatever), but the other player fails to engage due to lonely fun (keeping his story secret and not revealing background details). As a result, the scene falls flat. To be honest, when doing this, I usually have some sense of potential story a few branches down the tree. How it goes and exactly where it goes isn't an issue, any direction is good.

The other problem is, of course, since it's not a two way process, you then lack a mechanism to get your story out unless you stand in a room and soliloquise about it. So what happens then? You're driven to support the lonely fun agenda, probably more so than everyone else, because it's the only avenue to get that story out! Personally, I want my character story up there so everyone can use it, and my background mentioned so it can become part of play now! After all, nothing is wasted this way, it's not like you've shot your load too early, as all that happens is the story changes and grows, it never actually gets used as such.

You see, one interesting fact related to this is the difference between how I role-play as a DM and as a player. It's probably been noticed, at least I notice it, that in the few sessions I have ran, I role-play more aggressively, actively and passionately as a DM then I do as a player. I'll happily do whole scenes about love, honour, betrayal and just stuff based on people making decisions, both good and bad, because of human emotion and relationships. I don't do this as a player too much? The truth is I actually try every so often (though Pendragon campaign has been slightly different in this regard), but the lonely fun barriers cause a problem. I don't have this problem as a DM, of course, as I view it as my job to get those scenes happening and those character stories to come out, and I have the tools to do it as, due to being the DM and as such being involved in that lonely fun pact.

It's going to be interesting anyway, to see someone else posting, and to a degree, pushing the agenda of breaking down some of the barriers I see in the game. It's already proving interesting,as it's been mentioned in passing that we should we structure our gaming differently in the future (and this is in no way the immediate future), and a potential move away from the single game campaign model and into a series of mini-series or trade paperback concepts. Basically, we don't just run one game, we just play games that run in 2-4 sessions blocks, some may even begin and end in one block, others might run over several blocks with the same setting and characters but each block would have a beginning, middle and end. I believe this idea is now gaining favour because the material the Iron DM is reading is showing that it's a myth you need a long campaign for character depth, if you throw out concepts like lonely fun, and use a few additional tools. After all, movies only have 120 minutes, and they create better characters than role-playing campaigns by and large.

That sort of broken up mini-series approach is something else I've been pushing for some considerable time, as I think it works and delivers a number of advantages, but that's potentially another topic, and is an issue that will only come into play sometime down the road. It's also been the briefest of discussions, and a purely theoretical one, so at the moment it's more interesting from the fact it's being considered, than any move to being reality.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/01/2007 Bookmark and Share
It's All About The Giant Mushrooms

Fantasy Ultimates. It's invading my head again, and I have to say this is largely due to World of Warcraft. Last time my mind wondered to this topic it was because the opening cinematic to The Burning Crusade actually managed to give me a whole load of visual queues with respect to imaging the series. Now, The Burning Crusade is teaching me a valuable lesson.

It's all about the giant mushrooms.

What do I mean about this cryptic statement? Simple, one of the zones in Outland, the new area beyond The Dark Portal, is known as Zangarmarsh. It is, you guessed it, a marsh. This is no ordinary marsh, it is an epic fantasy marsh, complete with giant mushrooms with blue to grey colouring, with deep red flashing underneath the hood. They look brilliant, and create a suitable strange and eerie landscape. If you throw the mushrooms in with the tripod, jelly fish like walking Fen Striders you have something really cool. It all looks fantastic, and that is the key lesson. The Fantasy Ultimates should be fantastic. If the heroes ever need to enter a mysterious marsh to find the ancient bog witch, then it will be a marsh with giant mushrooms, with strange creatures living in them, and giant tripod-like creatures looming out of the fog.

The other impressive thing is Zangarmarsh has an underwater dungeon. One of the great lakes in the marsh has some sort of industrial complex at the bottom of the lake, where the insidious Naga are doing something nefarious. You enter the underwater cave complex via one of the industrial pipes. A brilliant landscape in a fantastic location. In Fantasy Ultimates terms this would be the secret stronghold of a group of water elementals plotting the downfall of mankind.

That's not all though, in Hellfire Peninsular you can look up into the sky and see a vista of moons and a glowing yellow ribbon of energy that arcs across the sky. In the Fantasy Ultimates, the world has been created by three Primordial Dragons (all stolen I hasten to add), and one of those chose to reside in the sky above their creation, manifesting as a silver ribbon of energy. It sounded cool, but I never could envision it, and now I can, it will be relatively dim during the day, but bright at night providing the same function as the moon. It also the primary religious symbol in the world as it is the power source for divine magic, and it is said it's where souls go when they die (assuming they are not devoured by demons). The silver ribbon of Voria casts light when there is darkness, warding a way the demons during shadow hours.

The simple lesson is this: think big, think fantastic and just put it up there for people to enjoy. Don't worry if it all fits together, it doesn't matter, it's a world built on mythical principles, not geography. It's a world of epic adventure, in wide screen landscapes, with epic fantasy superheroes. I used to understand this, but somewhere it all got lost as I've got older and, to be honest, life has gotten a whole lot more banal. I used to run Star Wars campaigns, and if Star Wars is anything, it's fantastic and big. Why save a city when you can save a planet? Why try and make a living on a space freighter when you can save the Universe?

How will the series remain grounded amongst all this imagery? Simply because despite the epic nature of it all, ultimately the central characters will have a dramatic story to tell. Ashara may be the white witch, wielding the staff of the frozen wastes, but ultimately she just wants to gain some sense of redemption for the acts of her mother, the Elemental Prime of Air, who lives in her ice palace beyond the frozen north. It's that core that will ground it, despite the epic vistas and superhero battles.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 23/01/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session Nine, 495 A.D

The Pendragon Campaign continues. Last session for me was session seven, since I missed the glorious year of 494 covered in session eight. This brings us to session nine, the year 495 and the death of a King.

Since 492 King Uther has had failing health, or so the rumours go, as most people haven't seen him which makes the rumours even stronger. The fact the lands have been failing to one degree or another since 492 does suggest it is true, as the health of the land is intrinsically tied to that of the High King. The year of 495 started with the Saxons massing in the north and ultimately heading south due to their alliance with certain northern Kings who had decided to use the failing health of Uther to their own ends.

The Lady of the Lake came to court and wove some magic on Uther and he was able to lead the armies north to St Albans to meet the Saxon army that had taken the city. The stand off soon fell into the pattern of a siege, but a very short one as the Saxons chose to come out and face Uther's army due to having significantly more troops. The two armies met and our knights saw great valour on the left flank, bringing our skill at arms to bear, the knights under us as well as our troops. That's right, we got made bannerette knights in 494, which means we now have a ridiculous number of manors, three knights under our stewardship and we can raise our own small armies and have our own banners. Very nice.

The victory celebration was going well, though my character, Sir Aeron, a Christian knight, failed his chastity roll again, as he is prone to do (he always bucks the statistics on that roll for some reason). That wasn't the main event though, the main event was the fact the feast for anyone important, including Uther, any of the regional Kings present and all the Dukes, etc, got poisoned and they all died. It was a master stroke, and represented a total beheading of the leadership of England. Our knights moved to secure the bodies of Uther, our Lord, Excalibur and protect the two remaining higher nobles who weren't at the feast due to receiving injuries in battle. The Lady of the Lake came to take Excalibur away.

The year was rounded out with funerals for King Uther, which my character chose not to go to, and our own Lord. As we moved into winter we learned that some strange enemy had moved against us, stealing things important to each of our knights. It would seem the dark times have begun.

It was another very good session, and it's interesting to learn different things from different people DM'ing games, and seeing the players play under another DM. One thing I'm learning from this one is how to play out those thorny mass battles in role-playing games, the DM of Pendragon has an excellent way to make it both seem narrative as well as tactical. He maps out the basic formations of the army on paper, what they are what weapons they use, etc, and we choose where we attack and we can abstractly watch our progress through the battle. We can also get a feel for our position when we get bogged down, where our knights are in relation to our archers and foot troops, what is happening if people get separated, etc, all in an 'overall relationship and position sense'. It works really well. I've known for ages finding a match between the abstract, the narrative and the tactical was key to these sorts of scenes, but this is one of the best ways I've seen it work.

I'm connecting to the game more as well now, as I think I'm slowly acclimatising to the saga-based structure, and the way it is largely an exercise in hitting historical points. The game is very interesting in how it makes the big battles thrilling, they really are exciting and you really do want to put yourself in danger and do glorious and heroic things. The battles even have a healthy dose of competition in terms of that, which is what makes the critical-based earning of Glory a bit frustrating (see below). At the same time, my agenda now is to try and move the game, for me, it may already be this for the other players, to be less like 'living in an exciting documentary', which it does a very good job at, to being more like being in the drama Rome, which was also historically-based, but just had things slanted more to the drama of it. Interestingly, Rome also compares well in the fact it had historical figures, but two of the main characters were also like our knights, new, dramatic creations that didn't necessarily have a pivotal, recorded place in the history. Anyway, the analogy is interesting, for me anyway, even though I did stop watching Rome.

It's also interesting to see the players play under another DM, especially since you can see the Iron DM, who normally runs the games, obviously, play over an extended period and without it being me who is the DM. I've actually realised I've made a bit of a classic mistake in my games in relation to the Iron DM: I've assumed what he wants out of games as a player is the same as what he wants out of games as a DM. This isn't true, he pulls a bit of a fast one actually, and while he throws every sense of a role-playing games being a game out of the window when he runs games, even when that 'game element' would support him in his goals, he very much favours the game element when he plays (albeit it with a heavy character and story-based leaning). It's safe to say, to a degree, when I've been running games we've been potentially not communicating very well, which probably hasn't helped on a few fronts. Not a big thing, but interesting nonetheless.

What's also been a bit illuminating, though I may be reading it a bit wrong, is the way I approach games, and the potential support network that needs in everyone trying the same thing, may have been totally invisible to people and misinterpreted. Now, this is interesting from a playing point of view but it's more interesting from the perspective of running games, as I've always come at it with plots connected via themes, moods and more important the passions and concerns of people (be they player backgrounds, other characters in the situation, etc). Basically, the players arrive, and there is a situation, the situation largely being categorised by a web of relationships and what drives them. The story may have if..then plot structures, but they aren't as important as the relationship driven stuff. This means I rely on players immediately authoring stuff in to creates scenes that push their character's growth using those themes, moods and the relationships that strive the story (which have been designed around the character ideas in the first place). In my head I like to think I've given them the environment to do that. I'm not suggesting I was too clever for anyone, more the opposite I think, just that the basis I was working on might have been different to the basis the players were working on. Possibly, I try too hard to do a certain thing, while I should may be push the agenda within a more typical approach. At the same time, as the person running the game you have to get out of it what you want out of it as well. Who knows?

You also learn more about the quirks of Pendragon. As an example, I can't remember if I've mentioned in the past how the game really manages to get across the idea that the knights are technologically superior to the average person on the battlefield. A combination of their armour, shields, lances and the fact they fight on horseback means they just dominate the field until they meet others similarly equipped. The system just applies totals of protection and bonuses to rolls just in the right amount to allow you to feel largely confident of victory in certain situations against certain opponents, as it should be. This is a good system element.

A slightly negative aspect for me is linked to critical rolls and how that is linked to glory. In a battle you can critical key combat skills, but this largely concerns the sword skill as that's the one you used most of the time. If you do this you get Glory per critical. Glory is a measure of social standing and also an experience system since you get to increase a skill every 1000 Glory. If you combine this with the fact the higher your sword skill is the easier you critical than you can see the result: everyone has to have a maxed out sword skill otherwise they fall behind even further due to not generating Glory fast enough and they fall behind in social standing for the same reason. The accumulation of critical-based Glory is just too much, and you can't not be generating it. If you also throw in the fact you get a chance to increase any skill that criticals anyway, the need to have a high sword skills increases even more. A whole exponential benefit sort of kicks in.

Anyway, next session the dark times begin for sure, as power does abhor a vacuum.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/01/2007 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session Seven, 491 - 493 A.D

I think it's safe to say that the historical events in Pendragon Campaign are entering a specific phase: the end of the beginning, as everything is falling apart making way for the period of darkness and chaos that precedes the arrival of Arthur.

As detailed in the last session we made war upon King Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, and our company of knights actually met him on the battlefield and killed him Julius Ceaser style, each running our sword through him before he died. We then sacked the city of Terrabil and, in some cases, slaughtered the residents of the city. Before the year was out Uther had married Ygraine and also got her pregnant. As you would expect, a suitable feast happened to celebrate, during which our company of knights had to play host to the various Kings assembling for the wedding.

In 492, we again spent most of the year in Cornwall, stuck in Terrabil, the most depressing town in the whole of England. We spent time there because of the need to garrisoning the city and also because Ygraine didn't want to leave Tintagel. During one of our patrols of the moors we met Merlin and he asked us to protect him while he undertook a task of importance. Since he recovered Excalibur last time we helped him to accepted the task only to find ourselves in conflict with some other knights of Uther as Merlin made his escape with some hidden package. We soon found out that Merlin had kidnapped Ygraine's new born baby, and we ended up on trial for treason. Luckily, the glory and honour we had attained in the past got us through the trial, though it has caused a rift between some of the company and signs of a coming conflict between the Christian and pagan religions came to light.

In 493, we again travelled north to speak to the Centurion King in order to organise the treaty between him and Uther. While there we discovered that King Octa, the King we heroically took down at the Battle of Lindsey, had escaped his prison. Not long after it became obvious that he had been set free as the northern Kings were plotting with the Saxons to ride against the now ailing Uther. We made our exit, surviving a vicious ambush on the way back. We may have run our swords through Gorlois, but I personally want to run my blade through the Centurion King, as he's been a obstinate pain in the arse from the beginning.

It is most certainly the end of the beginning, and this is a good way to look at the sessions so far, like one big prologue building up to the time of darkness and chaos after Uther's death. Even now it is obvious that the land is failing as Uther's health wanes, and that the various Kings are plotting to fill the inevitable void should he die due to the heir not being immediately in play. The events of 490 - 493 have also been more passionate and more intense, rather than just another battle with some Saxons, which are exciting in a battle sense but lack a certain personal edge.

As the next couple of years pass, and the dark times come, it will be interesting to see how this influences the game. Will the company of knights be forced to battle their friends? Will they find their homes hard pressed and find themselves defending the home front rather than fighting on far flung battlefields? Will their friendships and families survive? Hopefully, the ensuing chaos will also leave time for more personal stories to the characters themselves, rather than going from one historical event to the next.

We shall see, but it was certainly the session I've enjoyed the most. The coming chaos and dark times sound good as well.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 18/12/2006 Bookmark and Share
You Are Not Prepared!

Blizzard Entertainment are known for a number of things, not least great games that have spanned numerous consoles and, of course the PC. In those games, one of the things they are really known for is their computer generated movies. Whether it be the opening movie or the ones littered throughout the game, they are just inspiring. That's the key thing about them: they inspire. You see the opening cinematic of a Blizzard game and you just want to play I remember when I was playing Diablo II, I loved the movie interludes and one reason I kept playing was to see the next one. The Warcraft III movie interludes also had me in awe, I still remember the first that went to Stormwind, and had the grand council with the King and Arthas I think, with all the councillors sat around the cathedral like chamber. Great stuff. When I first loaded World of Warcraft way back in February 2005 I just wanted to play it immediately. It was just cinematic, heroic fantasy at its best. Okay, the games are often a different experience to the movies, but that's true of every game by and large.

The opening movie for The Burning Crusade has been released, no doubt to generate a frothing at the mouth level of buzz for the expansion. Blizzard aren't stupid, they know how people who love their games react to this stuff, and they no doubt realise people like me, who just like the epic, fantasy grandeur of it, can't get enough of it either. At first there was the really bad copy recorded with a video camera at some awards ceremony, but now you can get the pretty much full definition version. It gives us epic imagery, a view of the new races, and Illidan proudly proclaiming that the heroes of Azeroth are not prepared. Great stuff.

You know what this made me think off? That's right, my current play thing for my more imaginative moments: the Fantasy Ultimates idea. It made me think of it in a few ways.

First, when musing about what the series would look like, I eventually fell on the idea that if it was anything other than a role-playing campaign it would be an animated series. Well, now I can be more specific, if the Fantasy Ultimates idea was anything other than a role-playing campaign it would a computer generated, animated TV series - but with quality acting and visuals on par with what Blizzard puts out or the similar Final Fantasy ones or movies like The Spirits Within. In short, it would look really good, be epic on a grand scale and not be hindered by a special effects budget in terms of the physical grandeur of it.

Second, some of the characters in the Blizzard cinematic made me think of the sorts of characters that would exist in the Fantasy Ultimates idea. The visuals got my blood flowing. A hulking warrior with the blood of giants within him, tremendously strong with a magical hammer capable of causing earthquakes when it hits the ground? What about a Paladin of Voria, same thing, a warrior clothed in protective magical armour with a sword that cuts through almost anything, and capable of healing those around him. An ancient Battle Golem, a magical android, capable of taking enormous punishment, with great strength and 'technological' weaponry. A lethal assassin, amazingly skilled with his weapons, preternaturally perceptive and agile and almost unstoppable due to his undying nature (regenerative powers). A woman with the essence of water elementals running through her veins, she can breath underwater, change into a solid ice, water and mist as well as blast people with water. A witch of the frozen north, capable of freezing people in solid ice, bringing down the wrath of the northern winds, blasting people with piercing ice and incapacitating people with her icy touch.

The list could go on. Essentially, superheroes in fantasy trappings, all with a common origin, but with infinite diversity. The Awakened, those with Awakened souls, connecting them to the elemental energies at the heart of all Creation.

Third, what is Illidan but the perfect sort of enemy that would appear in the Fantasy Ultimates series? He has a history, he's larger than life, he can only be taken down by heroes who are so powerful every decision they makes influences the fates of thousands whether they like or not. They stop and start wars, they save or condemn thousands to death on their every decision. Not only that he looks mean and has a great voice for when he gets into those dramatic conversations with the heroes just before they clash and the surrounding landscape trembles. He also has a bit of history, in Fantasy Ultimates terms he would be a great Awakened hero of the Age of Demons who fell into corruption and spent the millennia imprisoned away despite him, from his point of view, sacrificing himself to save others. Now, twisted and bitter, he wants revenge, and that just happens to involve destroying all civilization!

As I say, gotta love those Blizzard opening movies, they grab the imagination every time. They do me anyway, but I'm a bit of a sucker for such things.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/12/2006 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session Six, 490 - 491 A.D

The politics in the Pendragon Campaign continue to get more bloody, duplicitous and driven by the overriding passions of men with each passing year. Due to missing the last session (session 5, covering 489 A.D) we chose to have my character to have spent most of that year dedicated to building the church he is having erected to personally house the ancient religious text he has in his possession, a gift bequeathed to him. So, it's safe to say, during the Year of Our Lord 489, Aeron was building a church and no doubt taking some interest in his newly born son. A year free of people trying to kill me was also good on the virility front as my character extended his family, albeit via a daughter (this time without the help of a fertility festival).

The centre piece of this year was the epic battle of Lindsey against a Saxon Horde, a vile bunch of pagan worshipping sorts posing a significant threat to civilization as we know it. A feature of many of the years so far has been a battle of one sort or another, whether it be against a Three-Eyed Giant, the Saxons or a city on the continent. This was easily one of the most exciting as we lead a host of young knights against the ranked up Saxon Horde with the aim of getting to King Octa, the Saxon leader, before King Uther. We succeeded at the task, though the last formation of armoured soldiers was a hard fight. It was interesting to see the superior armour and weapons cut through the lesser troops and then for the assault to become much more tense when those encased in steel clashed.

We also had quite a few feasts, I actually lost count of the number of feats we had this year, but it could have been about four? Certainly three. We even got to eat in the VIP tent after the Battle of Lindsey due to taking down Octa. We graduated to wooden bowls, which makes a change from a bit of bread standing in for a plate, and we are looking forward to the grand moment of actually having plates made of metal. One day it'll come, mark my words.

The other pivotal event was the arrival of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall at court. Duke Golois made peace with Uther in 489 (one of the events the other knights were involved in while I was obsessed with church building) after being a bit of a pain for a few of the previous years. It wasn't the Duke that caused a stir though, but his wife, Lady Ygraine. She was a beauty to behold and most knights either fell in love with her, or became lustful towards her. This demonstrated the most fascinating aspect of Pendragon, the passions, which should really become an even more central part of the game. My character has a much higher chaste passion than he does a lustful passion, it's just whenever he has to roll against it he fails and gives in to his lust (he did when he was tempted during the vision that got him the religious relic, and he failed when he saw Ygraine for the first time). Uther obviously failed his roll really badly as he lusted after Ygraine. At the tail end of the year, as the winter snow fell, Duke Gorlois was forced to leave the hospitality of Uther in London, without asking his leave, in order to save his wife from Uther's lustful advances. Duke Gorlois and his wife fled to the castle Tintangel in the furthest reaches of Cornwall.

In the early part of 491 we made war upon Gorlois as he tried to protect his wife's honour, only to have the wrath of Uther rain down upon him. We took part in the siege of Terrabil which ended after Duke Gorlois rode out in a surprise assault on the surrounding army. In that moment our company of five knights closed on Gorlois and killed him. The town was then pillaged, including the deaths of women and children, and since my character gave in to his cruelty passion, he has that to haunt his dreams. I suspect we will see a wedding between Uther and Ygraine before the year is out, but that's for session seven.

A final footnote, Aeron is now the proud father of a baby girl, who was born in the year 490.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 12/12/2006 Bookmark and Share
Series, Comics, Movies And Trade Paperbacks

It's safe to say I'm a big fan of delivering my role-playing games in specific formats. I didn't used to be, I used to just do what everyone else did and do one session after another until everyone got a bit sick. That's how a lot of role-playing games run, and some of them go on for years, with a gap here and there and never really end.

I stopped doing the never ending campaign ages ago, and the principle driver behind that was West End Game's Star Wars role-playing game. That just begged to be run as a grand series of big scale movies just like the Star Wars films. Why do a never ending campaign when you could do six or nine big, blockbuster event movies (which may be anything from 1 to 3 sessions each) and have concentrated character development and one heck of a finale? Campaigns without some sense of a dramatic structure or an ending are for suckers.

So, this brings us back to the Fantasy Ultimates idea that continues to percolate along in the background, in a rather low-key fashion, as my brain wonders around as it is prone to do. What structure should it use? Yes, I've moved on from world building, and on to dramatic structures.

The first thing I have to do is picture the medium in which the Fantasy Ultimates would be delivered if it wasn't a role-playing campaign. A lot of people will find this really odd, but it is something I have to do. It helps me just image everything. I decided early on it wouldn't be a live action movie or a TV series, it just doesn't fit. At first I was thinking it would be a comic, just like the Ultimate line of comics it takes some of its inspiration from. The idea being I'd deliver the series in trade paperbacks lasting 2-3 sessions. This has the advantage of running them as events. The whole trade paperback idea has the advantage of it not being something that needs to be run week in week out, while each block of sessions is big enough and complete enough to be worth doing in and off themselves. It's quite flexible. It's totally theoretical thinking about the format's effect on actual scheduling, but it's worth taking in the whole picture.

My thoughts then moved on, as the potential imagery in my head never appeared like a comic, it always took the form of an animated series. This is probably due to the idea that I tend to think in terms of scripts and scenes, which doesn't overly translate to the more static medium of comics. So, I came around to the idea that if the Fantasy Ultimates idea was anything, it was an animated series akin to something like Batman: The Animated Series, written with a dramatic edge, a bit of brutality to it, intensity and done on a massive scale. Basically, an Ultimates series comics done as an animated series. I can see the visual landscapes as an animates series, I can see the characters and I can see the epic conflicts. The current leaning towards an animated series idea is also gaining ground due to me playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and watching the seriously good cut scenes in that game, which are essentially small animated movies albeit via computer graphics. The over the top action of a Superhero series are just better served via animation.

To be hones though, there is only two options for me, however you dress them up, whether you say you're doing a TV series or a series of movies, that's exactly the same as saying you're doing a comic as opposed to a series of trade paper backs. The animated series idea has moved me back to it being a bit more like a TV series with each season having some level of beginning, middle and end. This has even lead to me having the first season sketched out in broad terms, in that I have the six episode season written on a sheet of A4 with episode titles and 4-5 line summaries. I've even got some that didn't fit as a potential season two. That is good. I'm still missing the flexibility in terms of actual delivery the event trade paperback idea had, but I'm going with the flow at the moment as it may resolve itself further into the process.

While it's a project I fit into a busy schedule, a moment here and a moment there, it's still rolling. It's also the furthest I've got in a long while in terms of the world building and mapping out a season with actual plot ideas. The next step is to maybe flesh out each episode a bit more.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/11/2006 Bookmark and Share
Pendragon: Session Four, 488 A.D

Another year rolls around in the Pendragon Campaign, and like all other years, it seemed to involve lots of drinking, eating, bashing the hell out of one form of barbarian or another (a bit different to the more sedate previous year), putting your inferiors in their place in case they should get one over on you and doing your best to get your wife pregnant.

One of the characters, to celebrate his prodigious ability to get his wife pregnant every year, and I'm sure she loves it, organised a grand, pagan fertility festival which, funnily enough, involved lots of drinking, eating and drug fuelled alfresco sex. Amazingly enough, the Lord all our characters ultimately serve was persuaded to come along so that turned it into quite a grand occasion.

The barbarian of choice this year seemed to be the French, more appropriately the Franks, but the difference is lost on me a bit. Suffice to say an agreement was made to help someone on the continent as long as we got to sack one city and loot it for all it was worth. We quite valiantly attacked the city, and heroically held the gate so our armies could get in, before pillaging it within an inch of its life. We then picked up our gear and returned home, our lords and masters having decided to get really into the looting of the city, but not so much into following up on the helping part of the deal. It was a an act of killing thousands and taking a whole cities worth of stuff, quite impressive. Still, we got some fancy new swords out of it and some extra cash.

Annoyingly, the bandit who thinks my character is going to organise some damned fool crusade against the Welsh has started to attack villages in neighbouring lands and dressing in my characters livery to do it. Obviously some vein attempt to persuade the neighbours that my character has gone totally mad. It won't work, but it is costly as I feel the need to compensate the people appropriately. I think I'll keep track of the pounds spent in this manner and if I catch him alive I'll carve each pound out of his flesh before I hang him.

The best news of the year is, whatever magical shenanigans were going on at the fertility festival it worked, as my character is now the proud father of a son. I now just have to stop him dying from some insidious disease before he matures. I could also do with pillaging more towns, as my character is attempting to build a grand church to house the relic he possess. It shall attract people from miles around, indeed it already is, it's just pity I can't tax them at the gate.

I've thought some more about the game a bit, as I'm prone to do, trying to get my head around a way to describe the way in which it is different to the types of game I usually favour. I'm going to fall back on a TV analogy again. I favour role-playing games that are essentially like fiction, in that they are a sequence of scenes, no matter how they come about, that are about conflict, which in turn leads to some sort of overall story. The people in the game, to one degree or another, drive what scenes happen and how the conflicts and events pan out and through that characters grow and progress. Now, Pendragon differs, or at least it does the way we are playing it, in that it's less about a narrative, or a series of scenes in which conflict happens, in that rather than being like a drama, it's a bit more like a documentary.

So, as I say, instead of it being a drama, it's a bit like a documentary series, sort of a historical creation, exploring the lives and events of four knights that lived in these 'Arthurian Times', giving us snapshots year by year. Yes, it touches upon certain personal conflicts, but only in the sense that they highlight what it was like during the time, just like the various major historical events do, such as going to war with the Franks, and the unfolding political turmoil with Cornwall. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it's proving to be interesting, but it does mean you sort of play the game from a distance, from an analytical perspective, a bit like watching a documentary. As I say, like you're creating a very good documentary of the times, with a bit of drama as part of the 'historical' eye view, not so much a drama set in the 'period'.

It makes sense to me anyway, even if it doesn't to anyone else.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/11/2006 Bookmark and Share
Building A Fantasy World..Sort Off

I spent some time last weekend doing something I've not done for ages: world building. Well, as close to world building as I get, since it doesn't involve creating many maps. To some involved in the role-playing hobby world building is everything, it's primarily why they take part in the hobby, as the playing is actually secondary to creating a living, breathing and realistic world for the players to mooch around in. They will create realistic political structures, make sure deserts aren't placed in impossible places, and that rivers come from mountains, feed lakes correctly and whatever else. The whole simulation aspect of it is important and it all gets a bit too much into the realms of geography, sociology and political theory for me.

I've always taken a different approach, a bit more like a novelist creating a fantasy world I suppose, in that the the world building is largely a way of creating somewhere exciting to tell stories in, consisting of great visuals and exciting conflicts, the idea of it being a perfect simulation in a geographical, political and historical sense isn't really that important to me. One major reason that's not the case is I don't feel the need to have a vast myth of reality, that is a high level of reality outside the bounds of the immediate story, and as such things can remain only broadly sketched out and added to later. I want a broad framework to add others idea into, not exhaustively detail everything ahead of time.

I'll also admit to ripping ideas from other sources, squashing them all together, to create something that works for me. After all, it's not like I'm trying to create a work of art or an original novel here, it's a game which is meant to be fun. A dramatically-based game, but still a game nonetheless.

So, this weekend I set about creating the rough guide to the Fantasy Ultimates role-playing series idea, which includes a lot of world building lite information. Not a rough guide in the sense of cities, countries, fauna and flora and exciting restaurants to eat at, but broad stuff like series premise, history, cosmology, religion, magic, notes on the race of man in this fantasy world and a few notes on game rules. It's about 22 pages long at the moment, and it's flowed quite nicely, cementing various things in my head about how it all hangs together; rather loosely and best not scrutinised too much in my opinion, but then that's the nature of mythical settings.

As usual, it's an amalgamation of sources, moulded them into something I like with an eye towards dramatic possibilities, the imagery I want and potential themes and moods. I've taken quite liberally from the role-playing games Exalted and Mage: The Ascension, the D&D campaign setting Eberron, comics from the Ultimate line and Battlechasers and a few computer games. The only dilemma in all this, is while this works well for me because it creates something I like and can work with out of sources that didn't fully work for me individually and in their entirety, the players are familiar with a few or all of the influences so it may just get confused and result in comparisons or mistaken assumptions. That's an actual play thing though, not something worth concerning myself with at this stage.

Whether it ever gets used is another question, but what is surprising is it feels like a place I could run a Fantasy Ultimates game in, and considering my recent track record to pull this sort of stuff together, even when nicking ideas left, right and centre, that is a significant achievement. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience. I'll probably keep coming back to the project on and off and just see where it leads, at this moment in time actually getting the project to being played isn't even on the agenda. It is something to do other than drift into World of Warcraft all the time though, and that's a good thing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 31/10/2006 Bookmark and Share
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
All material on is either copyright of, the invididual authors or someone else, so don't copy or use the material without permission. You can find our FAQ and Submissions Guidlines here. Admin login is here.