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!