Thursday, June 26, 2014

Races in the Colonies Part Two

The last time we visited The Colonies, we took a look at three of the six major races.  Today, we will look at the remaining three.  The races described in the first entry were, more or less, cosmopolitan in nature.  The three today, while having complex social structures in their own right, are much less urbane.  These races reside on the rougher edges of The Continent.  Rare individuals may represent these races in the settlements of The Colonies, but for the most part, these races keep to themselves.

The most populous of the three races are the Orcs.  These fearsome looking individuals live in small, extended family units scattered throughout the continent.  Orcs are capable warriors when the occasion calls for violence, but their primary existence consists of subsistence farming and occasional hunting and fishing. Many Orcs are talented craftsmen, especially in woodcraft.  Some Orc tribes located near forests have even taken on the relatively new occupation of lumber production.  Of the three races, they are the most likely to come into contact with Colonials, as the more outgoing Orcs trade their handcrafts, lumber, and surplus produce for metal tools, seafood, and more exotic goods. Orc tribes, on the whole, respect the delicate balance of nature and strive to use the land without abusing it.   Their balance is ill understood by most of the other races.  The Elves claim all interior lands, but especially forests, for themselves and resent even the modest intrusions of the tribes.  The Colonials look at the talents the Orcs possess and wonder why they do not do more to exploit the abundant natural resources of the Continent.  For their part, the Orcs seem content with their lifestyle.

The Elves profess to be the original inhabitants of the Continent, and are violently opposed to the incursions of the other races into "their" lands.  The Elves spent much of their long history warring with the other races of the continent.  For most of the other inhabitants, survival against the continuous attacks of the Elves has been the ultimate goal.  The Elves proclaim that each of the other races are invaders who do not respect the natural order.  It seems to the other races, however, that Elves are simply incapable of not hating anyone who is not an Elf.  The Elves are especially protective of the forests where they make their homes.  Little is known about the structure of Elven settlements, as no non-Elf has ever seen one and returned from the forests.  At least no one who will speak on the matter.  The exceedingly few Elves who have ever come to The Colonies will speak of their homeland either.  For all their protestations about the other races misuse of the land, it is rare to see an Elven warrior who is not wearing weapons and armor stolen on a previous raid.

While the Elves proclaim they are the first sentients to inhabit the Continent, the Reptilian Elders remember when the first Elves arrived, and so know the truth of the matter.  Of the major races, the Reptilians are by far the least populous.  There are perhaps only a few hundred of them left on the Continent.  Indeed, they are a dying race, and they are aware of this fact.  The Reptilians have a very low birthrate, offset only somewhat by the fact that they are extremely long lived. All but the youngest have lived on the Continent for millennia.  No Reptilian can recall any other member of their race ever dying of disease or old age.  They are not immortal, however, as evidenced by the great number of them slain by the Elves over they years. Most Reptilians live their lives as either as solitary individuals or in the occasional pair bond, scattered throughout the Continent.  They congregate only with the greatest infrequency.  On those rare occasions when one of the females lays a viable egg, the nearby Reptilians flock to the area until the new child hatches.  The Elves watch for these congregations, in the hope that they can destroy the new life.  Only on the rarest of occasions will a Reptilian ever be seen in a settlement of one of the other races.  With their race slowly becoming extinct, one would think the Reptilians would not have much to offer the other races of the Continent.  What the Reptilians do have, however, is a prodigious memory.  They remember everything that has ever happened on the Continent.  They remember those who inhabited the land before the Elves came.  They know where the ruins of that civilization lie.  And they know how to fight them should they ever return...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Internet Resources for Your RPG Game

Life has intruded on my blog creation opportunities this week.  An unplanned trip out of town has forced me to be a little more resourceful in carving out the time necessary to commit something to pixels.  As a result, the amount of new creative material that I could produce was sparse.  Still, I wanted to provide something of value to my readers even if it could not originate from my own creativity.  In today's post, I have decided to present five of the many cool game related websites I have found over the years.  Some of these may be familiar, others, I hope, are a surprise.  Many of them pertain to running games in the various editions of the all-time best selling RPG, but the information can be easily translated into your system of choice.

First up is, Meatshields!, a very quick henchman generator for OD&D.  This simple little program takes the size of the town and produces a list of available henchmen for hire.  Some of them are pretty worthless, even to bear your torch.  Others have more than a bit of training to recommend them.  The best part of the generator, however, is the equipment and personality that it attaches to each potential sidekick.  Rather than a nameless man-at-arms, I could get someone like Gar, a human man-at-arms who has some of his own gear, is a former gravedigger with a hatred of Goblins and 4 ounces of Wolfsbane in his backpack.  Now that is an NPC who could make an interesting addition to the party!

There are a number of online dice rollers out there.  By far my favorite is the Hamete Virtual Dice Roller.  This powerful little application allows you to chose what type of dice you need, and even allows for exploding dice.  In  addition, it provides a way to email the results to other players, very useful for online gaming.  I really to use this program when I am using random tables while doing adventure creation.  Sometimes breaking out the real dice is just inconvenient.  At those times, this program really fills the bill.

Speaking of Random Generators, one of my favorites can be found here.  The Donjon is packed with useful tools.   Name generators, random adventure generators, a pretty good dungeon creator and ton of additional valuable tools, including a number for non-fantasy games.

Not all of the best sites are random generators though.  S. John Ross was at one time one of the best writers working for Steve Jackson Games.  They parted ways somewhat less than amicably several years ago and he began putting most of his creative efforts into The Blue Room.  Ross is a bit of an eclectic sort, and provides a wide array of usually useful, but always interesting content.  Of especial interest are his Big List of RPG Plots, big stories that a GM can add his own details to in order to create detailed and compelling games.  Also of note is his article on Medieval Demographics, which provides a useful way to create realistic fantasy kingdoms.  I plan on using his figures from this essay to formulate the population centers for The Colonies.

Finally, I am going to mention a site that I have plugged to my friends on Facebook before.  Still, it is really useful and deserves another mention.  Recently, I have become a big fan of paper miniatures.  In this, I am fortunately not alone.  One web citizen has created a huge resource of art for paper miniatures across genres from Fantasy to Super Heroes.  7 Wonders is truly massive with THOUSANDS of minis ready to download.

Hopefully you will find some of these useful.  If you can think of a site that I might be interested in, be sure to drop me a note in the comments below.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Races in the Colonies Part One

I have given a lot of thought to the intelligent creatures of The Colonies.  The twin influences of J.R.R. Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons on the fantasy genre in our hobby have made certain races default in many fantasy games.  Certainly there are plenty of exceptions to this, but I have seen a great number of "systemless" systems that contained the standard races and even included the relatively recent additions of Tieflings and Dragon Men.  Still, the traditional fantasy races are ubiquitous because they allow the players an immediate familiarity with the world. One of the most jarring experiences I have ever had was trying to read a fantasy game in the past where the races were so alien that I had trouble imagining them in the world the author was trying to create.  A middle ground is in order then.  

Nasty Hobbitses! We hates them.
No wait.  Hobbitses are cool. Nasty
Gnomeses!  Yeah, that's the ticket!
The first thing to do is to determine which traditional fantasy races are not a part of The Colonies.  There are no hobbits  halflings in the world of The Colonies.  I have nothing against halflings.  In fact, some of my most beloved NPCs over the years have had furry feet.  Halflings, however, are the most tangible link to Middle Earth, and I am trying to distance this fantasy realm from that source material.  I have no such love for Gnomes.  Gnomes suck.  Gnomes are the Aquaman of the standard fantasy races.  No Gnomes in The Colonies.  No Tieflings or Dragon Men either.  Tieflings have always struck me as a bolt on race for players that want to be "cool" and "evil" without actually being evil. Or cool for that matter.  And Dragon Men, well... there is a reason that there are no Dragon Men that will be revealed in time.  A final change will round out the exclusions:  The various races are not interfertile.  No Half-Elves or Half-Orcs running about.

Of the traditional fantasy races, that leaves Humans, Elves, and Dwarves.  Not a bad start.  In fact, a pretty diverse game could be made from these three races alone. To make them somewhat less than the standard fantasy fare, however, I am going to put a substantial twist onto each of them.  Humans are the baseline race and will have several sub-categories that will be the subject of a later post.  Dwarves and Elves are instantly recognizable.  Their roles in The Colonies are going to be very different than most fantasy worlds.  

There are six sentient races of consequence in The Colonies.  It is important to note more than six sentient races are present, but only these six races possess the numbers and resources necessary to make a significant impact on the land.  Other sentients include both adjunct races (Ogres that live among the orcs, and the Goblin's meaner cousins the Hobgoblins) and smaller tribes of barely organized creatures (the Gnolls of the Thesalian Plains).  The intelligence of some monstrous entities in The Colonies is suspected by certain scholars, but rejected by most of the populace.

The most prolific race in The Colonies is the humans.  The human population stems from two sources:  the descendants of the small indigenous population that lived in small tribal units on the continent before the arrival of the Old World castaways, and the much larger number of immigrants that have come from the old world since.  The immigrant contingent is further divided to a certain extent by their Old World nationality.  These divisions, while often quite serious in their native lands, have largely gone by the wayside in the The Colonies.  The prejudices of color, culture, and nationality that pervaded the Old World were significantly trivialized when the humans immigrants came into contact with the other races in their new home.  Indeed, one of the few real divisions that remain in the human population is between first generation immigrants and humans of Old World stock who were born in The Colonies.  The newcomers do not understand how old rivalries can be so easily cast aside.  The Colony natives do not understand how their society can survive if humans of all stripes do not work together.

The Dwarves were not the first natives of the continent to encounter the humans, but they share, by far, the closest ties with the newcomers.  The Dwarves of The Colonies spent most of the century before the coming of the Old Worlders in a disastrous war with the Elves.  The war went so poorly, in fact, that the Dwarves were driven from their underground homes by an Elven ritual curse.  To this day, any Dwarf who tries to enter one of their former homes or mines falls incapacitatingly ill.  Worse,  many of their former homes have been infested by giant ant-like creatures.  As a result, the Dwarves have reluctantly resorted to surface dwelling.  They still practice their mining and metalworking crafts by open pit mining.  This scarring of the land ensures the continual enmity of the Elves.  When the human immigrants began coming to The Colonies, the Dwarves quickly began crafting tools and weapons for the newcomers and traded these superior wares for a protective alliance.  Today, humans and Dwarves live together if not in complete harmony, at least in a series of relationships that benefit both races.

 When the castaways arrived in the continent, it was a Goblin tribe that welcomed them.  Lack of communication and misunderstanding almost led to violence in this first encounter.  The intervention of the Goblin magician and scholar Tovak (and a spell which allowed him to speak with the newcomers) prevented bloodshed.  The Goblins initially sheltered the humans, introduced them to representatives of most of the other races of the continent, and provided whatever assistance they could in the repair of the merchant ship.  All the while, they watched the humans and learned from them.  By the time the merchant vessel was repaired, the Goblins had learned enough about ship building to create their own.  This is the Goblin way.  They Goblins of The Colonies are the most adaptable race on the continent.  Their scholars can learn virtually any subject.  Their warriors can learn any tactic.  Their workers, any task.  The Goblins watch, learn, and adapt. Frequently, they combine their adaptability to surpass the craftsmen and scholars that they have learned from, a trait that made most of the other races treat the Goblins with suspicion.  There is only one thing preventing the Goblins from becoming the dominant race of The Colonies: they are extremely fragile.  Goblins are very susceptible to disease, and their slight frames are ill suited to the rough nature of life on the continent.  The life expectancy of a Goblin is only 30 years.  It is not uncommon for the best and brightest Goblins to perish just as they are about to complete their greatest accomplishment.  This is so common, that most Goblins of ability attract a number of apprentices, both to assist them in their work and to carry it on when the inevitable disaster strikes.  

This post is becoming a bit long.  In the interest of not losing too many readers with verbal bloat, I think  it best to break this up into two posts.  In the next entry in this series, we will take a look at the remaining three major races of The Colonies: the xenophobic elves, the crafty, tribal Orcs, and the venerable Reptilians.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Giving the New World the Hook

In the making of a new fantasy world, I am using advice from a lot of different sources.  There is plenty to learn from those who have taken this journey ahead of me.  As I make reveal the different aspects of this project, I will be highlighting some of those resources for the other world builders in the audience.  The first product I want to highlight is brand new.  In fact, it came out (how very serendipitous) the afternoon after my last post. Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding is 200+ pages of useful, creative advice for a mere $4.  A quick look at the free preview indicated that this guy had given a lot of thought to the process of building a game world, including a number of organizational aspects that I had not considered.  Since the price seemed exceedingly reasonable, I took a chance on it.  While I have not read it in its entirety, what I have read is quite insightful.

As a result, this first post about my new world will NOT be about the races.  That post will be my second of the week, which was when I intended to present it.  Taking a cue from Jester David, this post will present a bit of information about the game world that will inform the subsequent entries.  It is my hope that this entry provides context for all the others.  According to the How-To Guide, every new campaign world needs a unique hook.  Something that makes the game world interesting and a place where the players will want to have adventures.  The author poses a question that I find it hard to disagree with:  If a new fantasy game world isn't unique in some way, then why would it not be more useful to use one of the many existing game worlds that have been published over the years?

I agree with this assessment.  Indeed, I had already determined what the unique elements of my world were before reading his book.  Where the author has changed my mind is in the presentation of some of those elements.  I had planned to unveil the hook slowly as I revealed the world through blog posts.  In order to gain initial interest in the project, Jester David has convinced me of the importance of revealing some of the bigger elements of the game world up front.  Being too cryptic about things and, in this venue, stringing the nuggets of knowledge out over too great an amount of time would only kill any player interest in the project.  A basic knowledge of what is going on in the world will (hopefully) help generate interest among potential players.

The Colonies.  

A little over  a century ago, a merchant ship was cast well off course by a storm.  When the crew finally found land after several weeks adrift, it was not any land with which they were familiar.  Indeed, as the crew explored their surroundings, they became certain that they had discovered a previously uncharted land.  The coast was rife with old growth forests, timber that would have been exploited long ago in their own lands.  This was but the first of many surprises in store for the castaways.

The sentient denizens of the old world were entirely human.  The first contact that the sailors had with the local population were assuredly not.  In fact, in the year that the sailors lived in the new land, they encountered five non-human civilizations.  Some of the natives were friendly, others wary, and one race was entirely hostile.  The friendly natives took the castaways in, taught the crew how to survive in the rugged, untamed land, and used powerful magic to repair their ship and give them the means to find their way home.

A little over a year and a half after their ordeal began, the surviving crew of the merchant vessel finally came to port in the Old World.  Most of them were happy just to be home.  One of them, a  merchant named Jovah Vrell, however, began immediately planning an expedition back.  The land simply had too many underutilized resources, a veritable fortune for the taking.  Vrell quickly found interested investors, outfitted new ships, and hired craftsmen and mercenaries enough to populate an outpost in the new world.  The native populations of the new land greeted the newcomers in much the same way as the original castaways.  Some natives enthusiastically embraced the new craftsmen, and the products they could create, others violently opposes what they saw as an invasion of their homelands.  By the end of the first year, however, none of the natives could deny that the Vrell colony was there to stay.

It was not long until Vrell and his investors were among the wealthiest men and women in the Old World.  Raw materials and finished products alike flowed from the new land.  Not to let such an opportunity slip through their fingers, other merchants and governments of the Old World launched expeditions to the new land.  Other colonies were established and the conflicts of the Old World were transferred to the new.  Old enemies found new reasons to hate one another in what became known as "The Colonies." The distance between the continents coupled with the resistance of the natives prevented any sort of mass immigration.  The colonies gradually grew and expanded for ninety years, until the vast majority of their inhabitants were natives of the new world themselves.  Small scale immigration continued, however, until eight years ago.

Major astronomical events were not unheard of in the Old World.  Usually they were attributed to the whim of one god or another.  Most people dismissed the Great Mass, a ball of light that streaked ever closer to the planet, as another such event.  One that would impress upon the people the power of the gods without changing their day-to-day existence.  As the Great Mass came loomed ever closer, however, many became concerned that this event was different.  The storms, earthquakes, and giant waves that followed when the Mass impacted in the Old World made believers of even the doubters.  Once the natural disasters subsided, the colonists began to realize that no new ships were arriving from the Old World.  Furthermore, after the impact, no ships that left the colonies for the the Old World ever returned.   For better or worse, the Colonies were now the world, both old and new.

Without a mother country to answer to, each of the colonies were forced to forge their own path.  Some now thrive, some languish, one utterly collapsed.  The friendly native races share the sorrow of the Colonists.  The less friendly plot their revenge.   Some of the colonists long for the Old World.  Others see coming of the Great Mass as the dawning of a new era of opportunity.  One that they wish to seize and make the most of.  Hopefully, the players will be some of those last group.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Rule of Six

When I proposes creating my own fantasy world to kick around in, I knew it would be a lot of work.  The number of details that go into such an endeavor are astounding.  I have done a considerable amount of research over the last several days, and come to at least one conclusion: anyone who decides to undertake this kind of world building probably suffers from some kind of mental malady.  A journey begins with a single step goes the old adage.  It holds true for both a journey of discovery and a the road to damnation.  It remains to be seen which one this endeavor will become.  Perhaps both.

There are a bewildering array of choices to be made when creating an entire game world.  Maps, cultures, races, technology, magic, monsters, style... the list is nearly endless.  And yet, to have a finished product all of these choices must be made even if the choice is to exclude that category altogether.  At least part of this is the Paradox of Choice.  There are so many options that it becomes difficult to make any choice at all, or be satisfied by the choice once made.  Hand in hand with the Paradox of Choice comes Analysis Paralysis: in which the frantic search through the myriad options in service to a "perfect" option leads to making no decision, and therefore, no progress.  For the purposes of this project, determining a path and following it to a conclusion, even an imperfect one, is preferable to scrapping the project due to the lack of a perfect solution to any of these design problems.

PSST.  Hey bud! Want to buy a six?
In an effort to circumvent any potential impasse that may arise, and especially because my preliminary thoughts found such paralysis creeping in, I have decided to institute an artificial constraint to the proceedings which will give me a good finish point when dealing with any of the individual issues that may cause a sticking point.  I call this The Rule of Six.  When designing any aspect of the world that contains multiple choices, the goal will be to design six distinct options.  There will be six predominant sentient races.  Six major nation-states will comprise the central gaming world.  The major races will share a common pantheon of six deities.  There will be six major trade routes through the central game world.  The object will be to make this an upper limit, but not a hidebound goal that must be obtained.  Why six?  It is a nice middle number that gives variety without making the choices akin to "everything but the kitchen sink."  Also, it is a manageable number of things for players to remember.

The plan is to make this endeavor system-less.  If the project reaches a conclusion and players would like to play in the world, I would probably use Savage Worlds, of course.  Still, I would like the end result to be playable even my readers who do not regularly use SW.  Perhaps at the end of the exercise, I can create some specific rules for SW.  Edges and Hindrances that reflect the game's flavor should be pretty easy to create, but are perhaps better left for when the project is closer to completion.

I am going to reveal one aspect a week.  Each will be a, hopefully, brief synopsis of the topic.  There is more to be known about each subject than I can possibly include in a weekly blog post, but I hope to include enough information to interest both potential players and the casual reader. Next week, I will reveal the major races that inhabit the world of Sextus (a working name for the world, I have yet to firm up some of the details of the cultures that might necessitate a change).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Learning the Rules from the Bottom Up

Where Man Meets Magic... and is totally
I have a run a number of different game systems over the years.  Learning a new game can be a very enjoyable part of this hobby.  It can also be a hugely frustrating process.  New rules systems can be confusing even when they are well written.  Concepts that are easy to practice at the table can be ridiculously hard to put into text.  The learning curve is steeper for some games than others as well.  This becomes a barrier to entry for some games.  I have mentioned before, but it is germane to the point:  I really like the concept of Shadowrun, but the magic rules, and the hacking rules to a lesser extent, were so dense that I gave up on them years ago.

The game master needs to know how the rules work.  I, as the GM,  must be able to explain them to my players. Without a solid grasp of the rules, I cannot properly create material for the game.  As the final arbiter of the game, I must fairly apply the  rules to determine what happens when a player takes an action.  So that begs the question:  how is the best way to learn the rules of a new game?

Yup.  This guy is my welcoming committee for
every new game.  
The best way I have ever found to learn the basics of any game is to create a character in the new system.  Not just any character, I always design the same one: a basic thug.  The genre of the game does not really matter for this to work.  In every game, there is someone that the players, especially beginning players, are going to pound on.  Most games provide the stats for this type of character already, but I always go back and do it myself anyway.  By using the character creation system to generate this basic cannon fodder, I learn some interesting things about the system.

The first, and probably most important, thing that creating a very basic fighting character in any system teaches me is how the character generation system will work for my players. Once the players have accepted your campaign pitch, creating  characters is often the first time that the players will encounter the new game you are proposing.  For many players, the character creation process is one of the great joys of the game.  A new character is a blank canvas, one full of possibilities.  If the players find the character creation process difficult, however, it can sour them on the game before the first session begins.  Taking a trip through the character creation process ahead of the players can alert me to the problems that players may encounter when they generate their own heroes.

The second reason to create a thug is to see how the character stats work within the rules.  Until I understand the rules, a pre-generated character is just a bunch of numbers on a page.  By engaging in the character creation process, I can see how the character stats mesh with the task resolution systems.  The most important things that a rule system can do is provide a method for PCs to do stuff and fight stuff.  By creating my own character, even a violent and not very bright one, I can use each step of the process to see how the various attributes, abilities, and skills work within the system to allow characters to achieve both these things.
Or... at least I will when I finally
level up.

Finally, drawing up a new fighter from scratch gives me a good idea of the power level the system allows to new characters.  This permits me to scale challenges, both combat and otherwise, to the abilities of my new characters.  If the statistics for my generic thug will likely struggle with a challenge, then the (presumably more competent) players likely find it challenging as well.  If my beginning bruiser cannot succeed at all, then my challenge may be too difficult for new players who do not yet know how to optimize their characters.

At the end of this process, I have learned quite a bit about the system.  Less than I will likely learn in the first session of play, but certainly more than I will learn by reading the rules alone.  In addition, I have some idea of how to utilize the character creation process.  Since I will be using that system to create NPCs throughout the campaign, that is a very useful byproduct.  And, if nothing else, I have a new useful stat block for an NPC that I can throw at the players any time there is a need.  


Friday, June 6, 2014

The Method in My Madness

I have been a moderately successful GM.  Certainly some games have been more successful than others, but most of my players seem to enjoy whatever I am running most of the time.  In the past few years, I have felt like I had far more hits than misses, which is about as good a track record as I could hope for.  Even some of the misses, like the AD&D TPK three sessions into the campaign, have been illuminating. One of the reasons for the recent success ratio, I think, is that I have been practicing a campaign planning scheme of my own design.  At least, I do not think I have cribbed it from somewhere else.

"A plan is just a list of things that don't happen."
  -- Way of the Gun
This is doubly so of detailed session notes.

Despite the evidence I have presented in the last month, when it comes to the actual act of gaming, I am not an over-planner.  I usually come to a campaign with an idea of how long it should last and the overall story arc, a handwritten list of scenes that I anticipate taking place by the end of the next session, and usually the stats for the various foes I expect the players to face.  I have found that writing copious campaign notes before the game begins is  a really good way to waste a lot of time.  Now sure, you can force your players to go where you want them to go.  Rarely, however, is that where they seem to want to go.  My system for individual sessions is usually to set the scene for the day, let the players go in whatever direction they desire and figure out a way for that to tie into whatever I wanted to do by the end of the night.  That system seems to serve me pretty well.

"BUT!," you may ask, "How do you let them do their thing and then eventually get them where you want them to be?"  Campaign prep is the answer, but not the sort of intensive detailed delving that some GMs undertake.  Please note, however, that I am not knocking that sort of preparation.  In fact, quite the contrary, I have a certain admiration for the dedication to the craft that such prep can represent. A carefully constructed campaign with reams of notes can be a thing of beauty.  I, however, prefer a more free form construction: One in which the architecture is present, but fluid and adaptable.  To do this I have taken to using what I like to call my Ten by Ten Method.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a song entitled 10X10.  That has
nothing to do with this, but YYYs are amazing, so here they
The Ten by Ten Method strips down the campaign creation process into component parts and then allows me to configure (and reconfigure) them as I need to on a session by session basis, with an eye toward incorporating as many of them as I need to for the overall campaign.  The beauty of this method is that It allows me to re-skin elements that I think are important on the fly.  If the players don't go in the direction I think they will (and when do they ever?) then either the component I was planning on using can be moved to the where they have gone or I can draw on a new, more appropriate component and use it instead.

Before I begin each game, I make a list of important categories of components.  I shoot for ten, but that number may be bigger or smaller depending on the needs of the game and my levels of inspiration.  Some of the categories are the same from game to game:  Friendly NPCs, Major Opponents, Villainous Lieutenants, Cool Places to stage a battle.  Others change from game to game.  The Freeport game was the first campaign in which I used this system and it included categories like:  Unusual Monsters, Unique Magic Items, and Secret Agendas.  In my Savage Mars game there were no magical items so that got changed to Weird Technologies while Secret Agendas morphed into Odd Signs that perhaps Mars was the forerunner of Earth's humanity.

Once I settle on categories, the "by Ten" part of the process begins.  If the category is important enough to BE a category, then there should be no problem in coming up with ten (or more) different items to fill it.  These NPCs, nifty gadgets, and scurrilous minions may have connections, but they are not always necessary.  In the Freeport game, for example, I tried pairing a Major Opponent with a Villainous Lieutenant on a one for one basis.  In the end I found that I did not need all the Major Opponents but the ones I did need sometimes required more than one Lieutenant.  Note that it is possible, indeed probable, that you will not use every one of the items in the category by the end of the game.

After I have my ten categories with ten representatives, I think of ways that they can work together.  If one piece can work with more than one of the other pieces, so much the better.  In fact, that is the best way for this system to work.  I pick a few of these items and construct my first adventure of the campaign with them.  From there, as the players go about their business, I can incorporate the items as need be.  As the campaign continues, the elements I have already used have become part of the narrative and I can continue to incorporate the other items as we go along.

If my plan was for the PCs to befriend the kindly innkeeper who then tells them of some important goings on, but the PCs decide they would rather find their own lodgings, then the innkeeper will suddenly become unimportant.  Rather than letting the innkeeper's info go to waste, perhaps it could just as easily come to the players from a villainous lieutenant that they interrogate after his capture.  When the PCs decided to suddenly leave Freeport, the ocean trading captain I had hoped to link them to in the mid-game was suddenly moot.  When the hit mainland, however, that trading captain became a caravan master many of the unused plot elements just ported right over to the mainland without much fuss.  The focus is on the important elements instead of their method of delivery.          
This guy.  You know you would
have wanted to shoot him too,
had you been there.

Another benefits of this method is how it allows me to adjust to what the players to determine is important.  One of the beautiful things about roleplaying is when the events at the table take on their own "life."  For example, I give you the instance of the man in the shiny shirt.  In a Savage Pulp game I was running a couple of years ago, the PCs encountered some thugs in a nightclub in Miami.  The thugs were completely run of the mill, I thought.  What I did not anticipate, however, was the violent reaction the PCs took to one of the miniatures I used, a nightclub patron in a red open collard shirt.  The players took an instant dislike to that guy (an incidental endorsement of the use of visual props BTW), and dubbed him "Shiny Shirt."  Very quickly, Shiny Shirt took on the personality and stats of the henchman that I had planned to introduce later and a new villain was born.

What I am ultimately advocating for here is flexibility.  As a GM, when I write down a bunch of notes, it becomes a lot harder to allow for things to happen that do not match the work that I have already put in.  With the Ten by Ten system, I am doing some of the prep work that goes into a campaign session without attaching that work to predefined events that might never transpire in the game.  When it is time for something important to happen, I draw the most appropriate element(s) from the list and run with it.  The players get to interact in the environment in a more natural way, I still get to incorporate the plot elements that I created and everyone gets a fun game.  Which is the point of all that prep work anyway, right?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Now What?

My initial goal with this blog was to record a number of the campaign ideas that had been kicking around my head so that my gamer friends could see them. Also, so that I would not forget them which has unfortunately happened a number of times.  Writing a post a day pushed the pace for no particular reason other than my own personal project style.  Once I commit to a course of action, I like to pursue it to completion.  I have had my fill of unfinished projects in the past.  That is probably the same reason that I try to run games the way I do: with a definite story arc, a beginning, a middle, and an end goal.  Like Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me, the concept of the same characters having the repetitive adventures forever without growing, or changing (leveling up doesn't count here), or getting anywhere seems strange to me.
Wagon Train is a really cool show.  But did you ever notice that
 they never get anywhere?  They just keep wagon training.

The original goal is accomplished. Mostly.  There are still a few ideas kicking around that I don't have fully formed yet. Not enough to write five or six coherent paragraphs about in any event.  In addition, there is the one campaign that I have done a lot of thought about, but how to present it without the end result sounding like chaotic rambling is still eluding me.  The idea is there, and I think it is solid and could be a lot of fun, but it is not polished enough for public consumption.  Finally, every day I have new ideas about things and others in the hobby present ideas that I find intriguing.  There are thousands of games out there that I have never seen as well.  One of them could potentially be my next Autoduel, L5R, or Savage Mars.

That said, posting the occasional campaign pitch is a good way to kill any interest in this blog for both the reader and the author.  There needs to be something more, especially for my gamer friends who live far enough away that they will likely not get to actually play in one of those games. The focus will still be gaming.  This is a gaming blog and needs to remain so, with outside influences only brought in as they inform the topic.  The author of one of the gaming blogs I used to read regularly started salting his gaming posts with the occasional political/sociological diatribe.  The end result was cognitive dissonance for me: my enthusiasm for his gaming ideas and my repulsion at his misanthropy were impossible to reconcile.  So I quit reading him entirely.  I have ten regular readers, so alienating any one of them is probably not a good idea.

So the question remains: what do I do next.  Clearly, I need a new writing goal to strive toward.  When I have an assignment, I do the assignment.  And usually sooner rather than later. I hope to post twice a week, likely on Tuesdays and Thursdays on an ongoing basis.  Maybe an additional post here and there as interesting topic arise.  One of the ideas I have been kicking about is creating a fantasy world of my own.  Most of the fantasy gaming I have done in the past has been either mucking about in someone else's world or operating in some mythical "fantasy land" that only gets defined as we go. Perhaps one of the posts a week could be a column about one aspect of that world, with subsequent columns shaped by comments from my readers (and potential players).  This idea dovetails nicely into the unwrangled campaign that I mentioned above. The two ideas would likely work well together and could actually be the path to finally bring that idea to light. 

I am a firm believer that putting multiple brains on a problem can likely produce better results.  Since the people reading this are likely some of my favorite brains, that means your input is even more valued to me.  What could I write that you want to read?  Is there a campaign pitch that you want to know more about?  Is there a game you have always wanted to play and wanted to ask: "Hey Ken, what would you do with [insert favorite game]?"  Is there a different gaming topic that you are interested reading the opinion of from a long time slightly curmudgeonly hobbyist? Does the create a campaign idea sound good (or like total rubbish) to you?  Now is the time to tell me what you want out of this.