roleplaying games

Week in Review: New Metrics

So this was the first week I shifted entirely to working on games instead of fiction. I’m still figuring out how well “word count” works as a metric for games, especially as certain aspects take much less actual writing than others. So instead, I’ll list out what I did:

  • Came up with a list of playbooks, and wrote descriptions.
  • Cleaned up some of my existing rules writing, harmonizing the past/present/future ideas with my new descriptions.
  • Drafted a list of basic moves.

Not too shabby, though I do still feel like I could have written more this week. Part of it was other stuff going on, part of it was distraction and energy levels. This coming weekend looks quieter, so I’ll try to use that time to my advantage.

In addition to moving Paradox down the line towards a complete prototype, I drafted a basic list of game ideas I’ve wanted to try and execute. They range from subsystem adoptions all the way to full games, though I haven’t been interested in trying to write a ground-up ruleset. Still, I’ve had a lot less difficulty coming up with game writing ideas than fiction ideas:

  • Paradox, the time travel PbtA game
  • A bottom-up exploration hex-crawl, likely using the Year Zero system
  • A Cyberpunk/near-future hack of the Burning Wheel character creation system (Burning Cyberpunk), possibly written for GURPS (though maybe something else, like Cortex or Fate)
  • An adaptation of the Rules Cyclopedia/Dark Dungeons Fiefdom/Domain rules for 5e

I want to tackle these one at a time, though I’m going to write a usable version of the last one once I start prepping my 5e campaign in November. This is a lot of potential work, though some of them have to wait (The Forbidden Lands Kickstarter which is providing an OGL version of the Year Zero ruleset will be doing so on a longer timeline). Still, I think working on Paradox now and then switching to Fiefdom/Domain once I need it for game prep should keep me occupied through at least the rest of 2017. My only hope is that this writing will scratch my game itch between now and when I start GMing again…though if not, I can always keep recruiting for Burning Wheel (Wednesday nights, in Boston!).

Reflective Writing, roleplaying games

Week in Review: Motivation Checks

I’ve loved reading fiction for most of my life. I’ve also loved gaming for more than half of it. Through all this, I’ve had both a desire and at least some ability to express myself through the written word, which is ultimately the core reason I put effort into writing regularly. I want to keep writing, keep practicing, and keep expressing myself. I also have a desire to create, and a desire to build. Putting things together like that is also why I work on my cars and bicycles.

I’m not sure where I got the idea that the best way to express myself is by writing fiction. Now, I’ve had fictional spaces I’ve wanted to explore before, and writing Fratricide, as an example, was a good exploration at the time I did it. But ultimately, I don’t have that many ideas for stories. I generally find the process of writing fiction frustrating, and don’t yet have a strong ability to get ideas in my head onto the page.

You know what medium I have tons of ideas for? Games, role-playing games specifically. I have at least three game ideas in my head right now, and notes scribbled everywhere (though mostly contained in Google Drive nowadays) about how to design and adjust game systems. I’ve been hacking rules and writing subsystems for role-playing games forever, and wrote my first standalone role-playing system when I was 15 (note I’ll say it was my first system, I will not say it was any good). I want to design games and write gaming material. Why didn’t I just do that instead?

Part of it is fantasy. Writing fiction, especially a novel, carries with it the fantasy of making it big as a writer and getting fame and recognition. Fact is, you can barely make a living writing games, and your readership will be much smaller. Same is true with writing short fiction, thanks to the contraction of magazines publishing fiction and the general lack of recognition of the short anthologies that exist. But games especially have to be written because you want to, not even because you want people to read them. Even being successful at it doesn’t carry a fantasy with it…the money isn’t there.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that my priorities are probably out of whack. I’m not going to get *any* audience for anything I write if I find it so difficult to put work into writing and actually finish something. Meanwhile, gaming causes my brain to nearly vibrate out of its skull, especially when I’m not running or writing something.

So I went back to an earlier standalone game idea I had and have begun to flesh it out more. If I’m to have a passion project, the passion needs to be there. I’m doing this for myself…regardless of what project I choose the chance of it crossing the finish line into a commercial project is small, but with a game I actually see the path ahead of me. I still may not go much faster than an aggregate 1750 words a week, but I’m much more motivated to complete those words and create a finished product.

So this week I switched gears. I took my outline for my time travel PbtA hack, Paradox, and started to flesh it out. I should have a playable prototype in two to three weeks if I stay motivated.


Don’t give up the ship (er, bicycle)

I’ve been at my current job for a little over four months now, and one thing from my previous job that I’m still not completely over is the commute. My previous job involved a 5-6 mile commute which could easily be done by bicycle, or train if the weather didn’t cooperate. Now, my commute is by car, and while it isn’t bad in the morning the drive home is usually in quite a bit of traffic. Dealing with traffic every day has had a negative impact on my stress levels as well as my free time, and I seriously wish I could still bike to work.

Well, I can. Sort of.

Last weekend I pulled the bike out, cleaned and re-lubed everything, and went on a ride from my house to my office. The ride has three basic stages. The first five mile stage is the same route as my previous commute, from my house to the Charles River. This is not ideal in many ways, but there are bike lanes and I’m familiar with it. The next ten miles are all on separated bike trails, and is a combination of an older commute route I took when I lived in Newton and some new trails that are part of the Charles River Greenway. It’s flat, peaceful, and easy. The last three miles involve turning onto Main Street in Waltham, and merging with traffic. It’s not so bad, traffic-wise, but it’s also mostly uphill. After getting through the last gauntlet, I’m at the office, mostly in one piece and having already done my morning workout. If I were to leave at the same time I already do when driving, I’d have about half an hour to take a shower before going to my desk.

Seriously considering doing a 35 mile round trip once or twice a week has given me reason to consider my bike. My primary commuting bike (it’s not even worth joking about doing this ride on my single speed) is a 2012 Bianchi Volpe. I’ve been commuting on this bike since a month after I bought it, and it likely has somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-9000 miles on it (not a lot for a car, a  fair number for a bicycle). After washing it in preparation for the ride, I could see that the road grime had hidden a fair amount of surface damage, places where the paint had been scraped off and there was surface rust. All only cosmetic, but reminders that the bike has been through a lot. Beyond that, there are certain mechanical things about the bike that are an utter pain. The triple front derailleur has spent more time misaligned than aligned, and gives me gearing range I never, ever use. The cantilever brakes are a pain to change pads for, hard to align correctly, and only work well when it isn’t wet out. And beyond that, there are things intrinsic to the bike, like a relatively high weight and weird fit, that make me seriously think about getting something else.

My main problem with the idea of buying another bike is that my current riding profile would indicate that I purchase something very similar to the Volpe: A cyclocross, touring, or endurance road bike with rack and fender mounts. There are two things I’d like that the Bianchi doesn’t have: first, disc brakes, and second, a compact double crankset in the front instead of a triple. I could even replace the Volpe with another Volpe…in 2014 they started offering a disc Volpe and they’ve since changed the gearing to a compact instead of a triple. That does kind of justify my desires…even Bianchi wanted the bike equipped the same way I do.

I looked at modifying the Volpe and it’s essentially out of the question. Switching to a double would require about $250-300 in the form of a new crank, front derailleur and maybe also a bottom bracket. I can’t put disc brakes on, and switching from cantis to calipers, while not impossible, would require me to find crazy long-reach calipers that can accommodate my tires. So just those two issues would require at least $500, which is both more than the bike’s worth and also a larger chunk of a new bike than just the brakes and cranks.

So I’ve looked a little at new bikes. It’s really tough to justify spending the amount I did on the Volpe (1200-1500) when I already have a working bike, but it’s harder to justify spending less and getting a bike that is less of a bike than the one I already have. I’ve looked a bit at BikesDirect…it’s a good way at getting high-quality parts for not much money, and though I’d need to set the bike up myself that’s a perfect way to save money for a mechanically-inclined person. In contrast, buying even a kit to build a custom bike seems to cost double what the same specced bike does from a major vendor (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc.). I’ve looked used, but the selection is very small and I’m also anxious about buying someone else’s stolen bike when looking for relatively new stuff (if you want a steel road bike from the 70s or 80s, though…go Craigslist).

I don’t know what I’d do with the Volpe if I bought a new bike. The bike itself is fine, though it needs a tune-up. There are pieces I may want to grab off of it, like the seat and the rack, but if I were to get rid of it it’d likely be as a whole bike. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Move on to something a little more modern, get the Volpe to someone who wouldn’t have been able to afford it new. Anyone ride a 54cm?

I haven’t made any decisions, but I’m going to keep biking either way. Time to think seriously about whether a better bike will help me spin out more miles. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll try the bike commute for real next week.

roleplaying games, Writing

Week in Review: Down with the sickness

I only wrote 500 words this week, once again not counting an article. The low word count and a rushed article came from a mild stomach bug that, despite being low on the range of stomach ailments, still had me laid up with a fever and inability to eat non-cracker foods from Sunday to Monday. I give this week a pass as a result.

Burning Wheel may actually be happening…in addition to finally gelling a campaign idea I’m excited about, I may get a third player, which for Burning Wheel is enough to start. The campaign idea actually ends up being closer to the original vision of my fantasy apocalypse, with low magic, no fantasy races, and more mystery and danger than adventure and conquest. It doesn’t negate the value of the D&D campaign ideas I’ve come up with, but it will stand in contrast to it.

On a more random note, I’m all the way caught up with the System Mastery podcast, and so have begun listening to One Shot more frequently. The Gauntlet will get into my rotation eventually, but the reprise of the One Shot gang’s Numenera shenanigans popped up to the top of my list easily.

Speaking of Numenera…I’m likely going to try and cut back my Kickstarter habit a little bit. Numenera is the sort of game where the reputation would have pushed me over in the past, but the fact that I will almost certainly never play it has knocked it off the list. Fact is, there are too many games that I will have a tough time fitting in that I desperately want to. I really want to run or play Legacy, but I don’t know when. The Veil is still high on my list as well. I’m finally getting close to running Burning Wheel, and I’ve owned the Codex for over a year, let alone the original book. While there are some games like Red Markets that are just so interesting they’re worth reading for the ideas, there are fewer and fewer campaign-based games that I can honestly expect to use and run. My pre-orders are much more aligned with gaming I expect to do. I pre-ordered Xanathar’s Guide to Everything specifically to use in a campaign, and I have high hopes that Genesys (which I also pre-ordered) could replace GURPS as my toolkit if it’s both good enough and well supported enough. It’s strange to admit, but though I love GURPS and it’s still the best LEGO set of am RPG I’ve ever had, the core playstyle it supports is one I’ve been moving away from. Fate is play-wise the best generic system I own, now, though finding times to run it have been tough. If Genesys meets in the middle of those two like I hope it will, it could be everything I want.

And then it’s a good thing that I won’t be backing Kickstarters as much…because knowing Fantasy Flight I’ll be taking that money and spending it on supplements.

Fiction Writing

Week in Review: Project Balancing

It’s time for the first check-in since I talked about my new project last week. Long story short, I fell short of my goal of 1750 words on the new project, writing only 1250. That said, my weekly article was 2600 words, at least 1100 words longer than average…that means I exceeded my pre-project writing target of 1500 words a week by a whopping 2300 words. So I’m fine with how I did. Not writing enough of one thing because you’re writing a lot of something else is totally OK.

The project is off to a good start, I have an idea of the basic conflicts and I’m starting to find a voice for the story, something I’ve had difficulty with before. I have a feeling the intro may need to be reworked…I dumped the names of six different characters in at the beginning while only introducing half of them and using a bunch of other names of supporting characters that may come up later…it’s a confusing way to start a story. I’ll file that away for later, though, because worrying about what I’ve already done wrong will make it impossible to get a first draft done.

Reflecting on an earlier still post, I  am resolute in running D&D for my online group when the time comes. Waiting until November to start prep is making my mind wander a bit, but I’ve stayed committed. I did drop the low-quorum game because of prep issues, but that has given me a potential outlet for all my Cyberpunk twitching. I’m also resolute in my desire to run Burning Wheel in person, but finding the necessary people and getting them together is, as I thought, taking a while.

Fiction Writing

Writing tracking, or, more meta-writing

I’ve had a new writing project floating around in my head since it came to me while flying back from San Diego over a month ago. Now, I really need to execute on it before it completely evaporates. Additionally, I’ve started getting distracting gaming ideas, so I need to direct my energies elsewhere while I’m waiting for the last D&D sourcebook to come out so I can write the game I actually intend to run.

My schedule has been a little too inconsistent to support daily writing, so instead of trying to fit that square peg into the round hole of my life, I’m going to switch to weekly goals and reviews. I’ll be posting these Thursdays, so next week we’ll see how I do with my word count. I decided on a fairly conservative pace, 250 words per day, which translates to 1750 words per week.

I found when I was doing the RPG a Day updates, my weekly recap encouraged me to go back and cover days I had missed, rather than get discouraged as I fell behind (which is what happened in the past with daily writing schedules). My hope is this way I’ll still write consistently a few times a week, and get my allotted words in with no problem. Between this and Cannibal Halfling I’ll be writing about 3000 words a week, not too shabby for a hobby I don’t get paid for.

Next week I’ll have my first check-in, and some reflections about this new story I’m going to hopefully start creating.

roleplaying games

Lock-in and Game ADD

I’m walking down the path where I’m going to lock down my next campaign for my online group, as well as my intent to make it a long-runner. And I’m realizing that I may be mentally self-sabotaging the campaign a bit as I get to the point where I need to lock it in and really start writing.

My gaming history has been a constant fight between my desire for long character arcs and my game ADD, where I have no fewer than 3 ideas I want to run at any given time. I have abandoned games because of this, and had them peter off to a whimper as well. In looking forward, I need to be aware of this and try my best to stop doing it.

My online group is looking at 5-ish sessions left in our Star Wars: Force and Destiny game, which would put me at a start point of around November based on our typical schedule. Add in a wrap session (I need to run the finale of my Apocalypse World game) and the holidays, and I’m probably going to be a primary GM in January. Still, that means I should start writing now, especially as I’m waiting for a sourcebook to drop in November. I’m planning on running D&D, and my intended campaign is a development of my post-apocalyptic fantasy idea I’ve been harping on for some time. There will be a lot of exploration, supported by a hexcrawl scaffold, as well as some potential for domain-based play in the future. While I don’t know how long the game will run, I want to give XP at a standard rate, meaning this could be a runway for quite a long one if people are into it.

And now, just as I need to start focusing on a single idea, I start hesitating wildly. I’m worried about doing the same thing for a long time, and worried that I’ll lose interest. Objectively, neither of these things have to be true, but I know I’ve done it in the past. My last go-round at 5e withered because I didn’t know where I wanted it to go. And my last major campaign, Interface Zero, kind of limped towards an ending because I wasn’t sure how to make it turn in just one direction. Apocalypse World also got to a point where it became difficult to continue without a major writing overhaul, but at least there I ran one arc as is typically designed in that game. I told the stories the characters set out with, and feel it turned out fairly well.

So I want this 5e game to be different. I want their to be motivation from both myself and the players to continue. And while the 1-to-20 progression provides some of that, I’m hoping the sandbox will as well. The world is unknown and there’s tons of things to discover. The bottom-up sandbox will also force me to prep, which, trust me, is a thing I need to do for longer campaigns.

I’ve also started writing a world background that does not look like the typical D&D race spread. Using Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I’m going to create a range of races that looks quite different, and hopefully get away from the race=political unit problem that plagues a lot of D&D settings. The other hope is that I’ll get some player input on the world as it expands…I want things to be mutable. That’s one of the huge advantages of post-apocalyptic games; since there’s a storyline around rebuilding, there’s a very real way for the players to change what the world looks like.

All of these things take time to develop, of course. And time is the main resource I squander by looking around at different games I could run instead of the game I’m running now. So it’s time to put the blinders on and commit. Think I’m going to buy the necessary sourcebooks today…start putting some investment in and get serious about this. If I have the focus, this could be a truly great campaign.