Friday, August 27, 2010

Mood Music

The frequency with which I find myself posting is erratic at best, not adhering to any schedule but only when the muse strikes. This is a trait that defines my writing habits in general, in fact. But lightning can apparently strike twice in the same week.

I find that when I'm running a game (or writing), I like mood music. Something instrumental usually, and intended to evoke a certain sense of ambiance. While there are many options out there, ranging from classical to jazz, I'm partial to film scores.

For classic fantasy, the sweeping orchestral scores of film can be handy. The LotR scores are perfect, though I'm sure that most of the nerds in your game will recognize it. The same can be said for the Star Wars scores. But there are others that can be good if used appropriately, and are less recognizable.

I have my laptop loaded up with scores from film, television and video games, as well as some of my favorite classical composers and jazz musicians. I like to be able to pull up a track that will fit the scene, whether they are in a pub, a dance club or a sterile office building. Vigorous music for combat can help liven the pace and ease the distraction during lengthy combat sequences.

Where do my fellow gamers/GMs weigh in on the music subject?

Practice Makes Perfect

I've been contemplating the rules vs. imagination 'conflict' in RPG's and feel the need to weigh in briefly. I think that rules can serve two functions: to define the possibilities of an expansive world (D&D, GURPS, etc...) or to encourage a certain type of play (Asylum, Paranoia!, Vampire, etc...). Which of these do I prefer? Neither, really. As a GM, I use the rules as a guide to help players make decisions, but I'm not often satisfied with them fully. I drop rules out when I need to, ignore things for the sake of cool and make fast calls when I have to. Rules are just another toolset to aid a GM with storytelling, as far as I'm concerned.

And so now I have found myself contemplating the creation of my own RPG, which will in turn lead me to creating a rule set. My goal is to make the rules fun, fast and with minimal complexity. Clearly the details have yet to be carved out. But my thoughts tonight turn towards character creation, always one of my favorite parts in RPG's, and one that is often mishandled.

Though character creation isn't exactly what I mean. More, I mean a leveling system. While skimming RPG Bloggers early, I came across an article that linked to this article: Just One More...

The article itself is a rant about WotC and 4E, which is less pertinent to my topic. But in the article, the author links to another rant of his: Reward Made Easy

The second is an analysis of what video games have done right that tabletop rpg could learn from, and he makes some interesting points. Namely, the "practice makes perfect" mentality present in games like Dungeon Siege and the Elder Scrolls series. The more you use a skill, the better you get with it and the more it helps to increase your attributes.

How can I implement that in my Savage West? I'm tempted to try and heist the mechanics straight out of Elder Scrolls, but that seems an overly complicated conversion. This keys in to character creation though, and a functioning rules system. I need to decide how detailed the skill/attribute list will be.

I'm thinking something like the attribute/skill system from 7th Sea combined with a leveling mechanic akin to the Elder Scrolls, something that will eliminate EXP all together. Mmm. Brain food.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Redesigning the Wild West

My Star Wars game has been on hiatus as of late, due to real-life constraints. So while I haven't had anything new to post on the 'running game' front, I have begun work on the 'designing game' front.

I've had this vision of a savage West, an American frontier that was never tamed. This world has run rampant as technology grew alongside magic. This wouldn't be Deadland's, not nearly so goofy. This is gods and spirits, something of my own devising.

I've already done work rewriting the history, pre-Civil War, thinking about who the powers would have been, halting and redirecting westward expansion. It is a hydra, a problem with constantly sprouting tendrils.

I feel that the potential for story is something to captivate. Already, I have stories of gunslingers and gamblers, witches and arcane scientists, thieves and politicans that are bubbling around my brain.

I can do the legwork, the research, the world-building. The part that sticks on me is the system. I want to work out some sort of class/role system that is more archetype-based. Something to encourage thought in character design, rather than spewing a bunch of numbers to crunch for combat.

These are the things I'm going to be thinking about. And posting about.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


My gaming sessions have gone on a temporary hiatus due to player absence, a reprieve I'm actually somewhat grateful for. Two of my players have run across terrible work schedules, another is in the Army Reserve and is being called on for some yearly training.

All in all, this gives me time to plan, plan, plan. The players, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, chose the action/adventure route for the next chapter of the campaign. Wookiepedia is quickly growing to be my number one resource for campaign planning. I dug around for planets on the Outer Rim that aren't as directly tied into canon, giving me a bit more leeway as to what can be where.

I like to give my players choice in how things play out, rather than just the illusion choice. They found intel leading them to various nefarious deeds. I'm working on three paths for them: a slave market, a slaving outfit that is actively recruiting and a Czerka facility that is purchasing labor for mines. Which will they choose? How will they approach the situation? I never know until the moment of decision.

I've been playing through Alpha Protocol recently, and I find myself quite impressed with it despite the negative reviews. As an espionage rpg, it is unique. It evokes the original Deus Ex and Mass Effect more than D&D or Elder Scrolls. The combat and stat management is interesting enough to keep you attached. The part that really speaks to me as a GM though is the complex layers weaved through the game. How you approach each NPC, the dialogue choices given and the actions you take in the game all effect your reputation and how others treat you. If you are trigger happy and have a complete disregard for human life, it will effect how others treat you. Same as if you are stealthy and rely on non-lethal tactics. All of these things tie into an interesting and well-crafted story. These are all elements we try and slip into our games, directly or indirectly.

And as a final note, this marks my inaugural post as part of the RPG Bloggers network. Hurrah for the blog!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Here Comes The Story Train...

A busy week outside of the gaming life, though things have been going well.

Saturday's session wound up with some railroading. We all know that sometimes it can't be avoided. Sometimes, as a GM, you just need to push the story forward. This was the third session of the Ascendance campaign, and was in most ways, a conclusion to the first chapter. The characters managed to free themselves from the grasp of the Exchange, if temporarily, and have gained a worthwhile ally. They also managed to create a rather personal antagonist, after blowing the leg off of a crime boss.

They have commandeered a ship and are setting off into the Outer Rim to end a slaving ring that seems to have connections with a nefarious galactic corporation. And it was their decision.

I think that railroading because you want to tell a specific story should be avoided as much as possible. I want my player's to have as much control over the narrative as possible, even if it means that I have to make changes on the fly during the session to accommodate them.

As this was the final part of the arc, there was a fair amount of resolution. They were introduced to one of the primary antagonists, witnessed a bizarre ritual, and then fled with the girl they were trying to rescue. And then there was the showdown between the local government and the local faction of the Exchange, where the characters sold the criminals up the river and fled with their lives. They had in the process uncovered some information about some shady goings-on: the aforementioned slavery.

And so I gave them the choice: pursue the slavers in the Outer Rim and try and save some troubled souls, or head into the Core Worlds to investigate the dirty dealings and low morals of the Czerka corporation. In terms of story and what I would have to prepare, it boils down to an action-adventure story or intrigue and diplomacy. My players, bless their hearts, opted for the action-adventure this time around.

So how do you keep the players involved when you have to railroad the story along? Well in this case, much of the railroading was in response to their previous actions. And I gave them skill-checks to pull of some fancy maneuvers, etc...

They told me that they enjoyed it, and I honestly believe them. I hope they'd tell me if something sucked.

I put this to the two people that read this. Is there a situation where you feel railroading is absolutely necessary?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saturday Recap

So Saturday's game session went quite well. A friend of mine from work joined the group, playing a Kel Dor scout working as a hired gun with the Exchange, sent along with the other players as back-up for their second foray into the droid-controlled mine.

In an effort to maintain choice, I had planned the two major encounters for the session to be combat-free. That is to say, they characters could have most certainly talked their way through them. They didn't though. And this led to some rather cinematic moments.

The first battle, against the droids that were blocking off the entrance to the mine, was quite epic. There were several minion-like repair/construction droids, a prototype HK unit and a gargantuan spider mining droid. The players (all 4 of them) had managed to recruit several redshirts to accompany them, also employed by the Exchange. I think one of the moments I was most proud of was when one of the players, the Mandalorian, jetpacked onto the weakened spider droid, firing into its hull and then dropping a homemade explosive onto it before jetpacking away again. Very reminiscent of Starship Troopers.

After that, they found their way deeper into the mine, searching for a crate full of evidence for the Exchange, and the lead security officer's missing daughter, or evidence of her. What they encountered in the bizarre tunnel system under the mine, illuminated by the phosphorescent lichen lining the cave walls, was a bizarre ritual being conducted by a strange race of aliens never before seen. This situation too could have been talked through with a positive end. But diplomacy was never on the table for the characters, and they went in guns blazing.

Everybody had fun, combat ran smooth and the plot moved forward in an interesting direction.

And I've been asked to run a second game for one of my coworkers and her boyfriend, and I'm to choose the system. She's pretty new to gaming, but he's got some experience. I'm going to try and convince them to play Earthdawn, or possibly Deadlands.

As a minor note, I managed to write a draft of the first chapter of my weird western tonight, which pleases me greatly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

For the sake of it...

Ah Wednesday. With the weather, it should be more like Thor's Day. Bah, who am I kidding, this is San Francisco. There is no weather. There is only Schroedinger's Weather.

Wednesday has called upon me to be a posting day. A day in which I discuss things.

I'm working on planning the next Star Wars session. We may or may not be getting a new player this week, though I'm sure he'll fit very nicely into the group. And when last we left, my players were trapped between a Droid Rebellion and a very hard place. Intrigue wheels will spin, new details will be provided, and my players must determine how to get out of the ghost rock mines alive.

I'm getting ever closer to beginning actual work on the novel. That is, the actual writing part. I've nailed down most of the setting details at this point, and from there can move on to characters. In the meantime, I'm attempting to finish a sci-fi story that also threatens to turn itself into a novella. Whatever shall I do?

Monday, July 12, 2010


I've been reading all this business on the Old School Renaissance. What is the OSR?

I understand that there is no formal organization. From what I understand, it is a collective of people revolved around playing a certain style of game. And being nerds on the internet, they seem rather vocal about it. So what else is new?

Nerds bitch on the internet. PS3 sucks. 360 rocks. The Wii is for children (and I still giggle every time I hear someone say "I'm playing with my Wii"). Everyone everywhere has an opinion and will most likely share it with you gladly, whether you'd like to hear it or not. Isn't this why we blog? Because we have thoughts to share?

Internet drama is for plebs.

That is all. And Twilight sucks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Encounter balance...

The current trend in game design from Wizards seems to lean towards a balanced, fun-for-everyone, GMing is easy sort of thing. So encounters are intended to scale with your PCs. Is this actually fun?

Sure you'll get some tough fights, but for the most part, you know that your PCs will win unless they roll shitty or do something stupid. Sure, some of this tags back to "I don't want to kill a PC."
Most of the D&D games I've been have ended with TPK. It sucks.

But sometimes real heroes run away. And the real world isn't balanced in our favor. Real world challenges don't scale to our age/experience. Nor should they for a PC, or a party. I feel like adding real threat, an insurmountable foe, can add necessary pathos.

The villain who can't be fought, because his army is too large, he is unreachable. He taunts the characters, hovering just out of reach. They have to plan his downfall, arrange it neatly, think carefully. The players have to be clever. Or at least a facsimile of it.

These are my random gaming thoughts of the day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Forgive the layout change, just tinkering. Please feel free to share an opinion. I'm open to suggestions on making the blog look better, yet I have no webskills.