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.

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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.

roleplaying games

This is actually happening

Not my new writing project. I mean, that is likely going to happen, but I’m still figuring out how to line up my writing time and move forward with it. The Labor Day start didn’t happen, but this Sunday, which isn’t after a major travel day, is more likely.

No, I’m talking about my planned RPG campaign, happening in person and using Burning Wheel as the system. I’ve talked about running something in Burning Wheel forever, but I’m done just talking…that’s a surefire way to get nothing done.

I’ve started to clear all Wednesdays from my calendar, with the intent of running the game twice a month on Wednesday evenings, probably 6 or 6:30 to 10 or 10:30. I have two interested people and a third who is interested but will join remotely after resolving some computer issues. That means I need somewhere between one and three additional people, but more likely one or two.

The planned game is inspired by dark and intrigue-heavy fantasy that I’ve consumed, including Game of Thrones and the Witcher series. I know these aren’t particularly deep cuts, but it gives the right vibe of political turmoil cut by magic and monsters. Burning Wheel is perfect for something like this, as magic is difficult to study and perform, but still powerful and terrifying. The game is likely to be human-only, both to keep some of the fantastical elements down and to simplify my life as a first-time Burning Wheel GM.

Starting characters will have three lifepaths, making them early-stage characters who will develop (at least a little bit) quickly. While I’m going to write the bare bones of the world, hopefully the players will help provide me with some detail and help a good setting emerge.

So my hope is to have this ready to go in the next month or two, with a majority of players local to Boston (our one potential remote player is grandfathered in). I’m looking for players among my social circles…possibly including people who may read this on Facebook. You can check out the Burning Wheel core rules (the Hub and Spokes) for free, and then the book is available for a reasonable price many places online. There are no official PDFs, sadly.

roleplaying games

RPG a Day, part 5

This is the last week for RPG questions!

August 25: What is the best way to thank your GM? As I said, return their enthusiasm with your own. It can be so disheartening when you put a lot of work into something and get back a mild response. What I’d like from my players is when I use a tool like Obsidian Portal to give them a chance to engage with the game I’m running, I’d like to see it used. Even when players enjoy the game, it can be disheartening when they drop it after the session and don’t think about it again even as it’s constantly in your head.

August 26: Which RPG provides the most useful resources? GURPS is the one system that consistently produces sourcebooks which I can use in many other systems. GURPS Mysteries, as an example, is one I recommend to any GM trying to run a mystery, whether it’s in GURPS or not. Space similarly has a whole swathe of random star system and planet generators that are gold.

August 27: What are your essentials for good gaming? All I need for good gaming is something to write on. I do work better on computers, in which case having a word processor and spreadsheet is all I really need. Google Sheets has actually been pretty amazing, as it combines most of the functionality of Excel with collaboration tools that make it easy to see what everyone’s inputs are.

August 28: What film/TV series is the biggest source of quotes in your game? We end up quoting ourselves from past games way more than any one TV or film property. And when it comes to memorable utterances, they tend to be the off-the-wall ones we come up with ourselves. Our quote log is over 30 pages long and covers ten years of gaming at this point.

August 29: What has been the best run RPG Kickstarter you’ve backed? I said Burning Wheel Codex because not only was it run tightly, but the product shipped super quick. In all honesty, most of the Kickstarters I’ve backed have been pretty good on the RPG side. The ones I backed which ran into delays were transparent and still shipped good product, but many of those I backed were not particularly delayed at all.

August 30: What is an RPG genre mashup you’d like to see? So many already exist. I nearly facepalmed when I was thinking about fantasy and Cyberpunk and somehow forgot Shadowrun existed. I ended up saying something with Supers…out of those I really wanted to see Supers horror but I think that’s Wild Talents to a degree. See, so many already exist!

August 31: What do you anticipate for gaming in 2018? There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming out between now and January, including some really neat stuff out of some of the big studios (Genesys from Fantasy Flight, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything from Wizards). I’m anticipating some great opportunities to try new stuff and really get back into GMing. At the same time, the stars are aligning such that I may be able to game in person again in 2018 as well. Only time will tell.


So that’s it for RPG a Day this year! I did decently well at staying current, and had fun thinking about all the questions. A couple things are happening which will likely show up here later. First, I am serious about getting back into an in-person group. Now that LARP season is over I’m trying to free up my Wednesdays and get four players who can all come over and roll dice for a couple hours. I’d like to run Burning Wheel in this time, but I’m also aware that sub-3 hour sessions are both likely and not ideal for a game of that intensity. Up to the point that I have a group actually together, I’m willing to be flexible.

Additionally, in the last couple of months I had an idea for a novel, and I’m going to try again to execute on it. Starting next Monday, the end of Labor Day weekend, I’m going to put myself on a writing schedule again. I’m aiming to write every day, without setting an amount. I’ll use this blog to track my progress. Once things have coalesced, I’ll tell everyone what this story is about.

Continue checking out Cannibal Halfling, I posted a neat article about recent editions of Paranoia there yesterday. And keep watching this space, we’re getting closer and closer to me having GM shenanigans again!

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RPG a Day, Part 4

Another full week of gaming questions!

August 18: Which RPG have you played most in your life? I tried to answer this as which game I’ve been a player for most, but I don’t actually know the answer to that question. We as a group jumped around a lot, especially after college. That said, with four or five campaigns as a GM (one was split into two campaign-length sections) and an additional 2.5 as a player (the .5 was a short summer game), Cyberpunk 2020 is the game I’ve spent the most time with as both a GM and a player.

August 19: Which RPG features the best writing? I hedged here as both Fate and Apocalypse World serve as excellent play guides, but in terms of being both a good game and a fun read, Apocalypse World wins. The fact that people are divided on the writing style is one of the signs it rises above being merely a game book, in my opinion.

August 20: What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs? DrivethruRPG. Even the old cyberpunk books I like finding as artifacts are all available in PDF. If you actually want the game books for a game, PDF is the only way to go.

August 21: Which RPG does the most with the least words? This basically translates to “what is your favorite micro-game”, and for me the answer there is Everyone is John. One of the few micro-games that not only does great with word economy, but does something strikingly different.

August 22: Which RPGs are easiest for you to run? Here, I went with easiest to run and produce the game I want…any small game can be “easy to run” but if it doesn’t do what you want it to do that’s not very useful. In addition to being straightforward, Apocalypse World also produces the game that is advertised very easily.

August 23: Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout? I answered Grant Howitt’s Unbound, because the art is gorgeous and it doesn’t interfere with the function of the book. Most books, even modern ones, split the difference between functionality and prettiness, but Unbound does a solid job at both with full-page art and a simple layout. From the looks of the Kickstarter, Howitt’s next project, Spire, looks like it will be as pretty if not moreso.

August 24: Share a pay-what-you-want publisher who should be charging more. I don’t really buy PWYW, except for some of the early Fate books which had PWYW PDFs…and I bought hardcovers of all of those. I’m up for discovering great creators, but so far the new games I find are ones with enough credibility to already charge money. Getting me further upstream in the discovery process will require some friends from my network.

Once again, I’m posting these answers daily (or nearly daily) on Twitter, my handle is @LevelOneWonk. Next week I’ll wrap this up, and talk about my next big writing project.

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RPG a Day, part 3

Another week, another bunch of RPG a Day responses.

August 11: Which dead game would you like to see reborn? This question is made difficult by the fact that we live in an era where everyone and their mother is rereleasing a game on Kickstarter. My answer for years was Rifts…not that it was dead, per se, but in a coma. Then Savage Rifts happened. I of course want to see Cyberpunk 2020 reborn, but a) Interface Zero exists and is a pretty good substitute and b) after v3, maybe I don’t want to see Cyberpunk 2020 reborn. So the answer I came up with was The Morrow Project, a post-apocalyptic game with a neat premise. Honorable Mentions: Twilight:2000, for pretty much the same reason as The Morrow Project, and Recon, because there is room for a nice and tight modern military RPG in the world.

August 12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art? I haven’t been struck by game art all that much. Burning Wheel has an evocative layout but minimal interior art, Apocalypse World is striking but overall utilitarian. GURPS art is not great, but gets the job done. The only game I’ve played where the art signaled any part of the game to me and really got me in the right headspace was Paranoia. Paranoia art pieces are comic art of smoking pairs of boots, giant weapons, literal bootlicking, and a lot of other nonsense that tells you exactly what a Troubleshooter is like. It’s brilliant.

August 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play. In high school, one of the older members of the science fiction and fantasy club ran a game of Champions with a strong Battleship Yamato vibe, with all the characters running this alien starship we acquired through mysterious circumstances. First off, it blew my mind a little that the game’s book had superhero setting material but yet a completely different game was being run (I was 15, give me a break). Second, the character interactions were key. The one skill test I remember was the guy playing the weapons officer shooting the ship’s guns. GM says “well, it’s not moving and you’re right next to it, so according to the book it’s like hitting the broad side of a barn.” The player then missed the roll and we all doubled over in laughter. My character was the ship’s captain, who had a crippling inability to make decisions. The level of slapstick was high but it was the first time that I was playing a, well, narrative game. The crew interactions with each other were way more important and interesting than our mechanical abilities.

August 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play? Well, I want an open-ended campaign first. Most of our games, even the long ones, are designed with an end point in mind, and we don’t necessarily present good fictional positioning with regards to the progression treadmill. This is one of the reason I’m so obsessed with finding good domain-based rules, because I honestly believe domain power is a better way to present mechanical progression than acquiring more powerful equipment and stat buffs.

August 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most? I wrote GURPS here because GURPS is made for adaptation. Even if it can be a little overwhelming to play, mixing and matching sourcebooks and elements within makes GURPS like a Lego set for mechanics. Fate gets the honorable mention partially because it is easier to use, but also because the purple books will hopefully give Fate some more of the Lego-like adaptability that GURPS has. As it stands, as easy as it is Fate presents one of the more intimidating blank slates in the generic RPG sphere.

August 16: Which RPG do you enjoy running as is? Not many of them. Even PbtA games see me mixing and matching advancement mechanics, bringing in limited playbooks, and of course writing custom moves. I mentioned Paranoia as I think that’s the only game I’ve ever run without at least some modifications. Burning Wheel and Torchbearer look as if they’d stand on their own, but of course I’ve never run them so I don’t know.

August 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played? The answer I gave here is Guardian’s of Order’s Ex Machina, which I purchased late in college when searching for a Cyberpunk 2020 successor (a search that had been happening in the background ever since I discovered Cyberpunk v.3 was terrible). The four settings included in the book are really interesting, but the mechanics were uninspired and lacked 2020’s style. Prior to college, I bought D&D and Cyberpunk 2020, and then in college I bought GURPS. I didn’t start really collecting RPGs until a couple of years ago, so Ex Machina preceded most of my never played acquisitions by a good five years.

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RPG a Day, part 2

Another week of interesting questions.

August 4: Which RPG have you played most since last year? The answer here is FFG Star Wars, split between Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny. No offense to our GMs, but as it’s also the most-played RPG of the year before for me, I’m quite sick of it.

August 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game? I missed this one on Twitter, but I do have an answer. Burning Wheel best captures the spirit of the game, and it’s not just the cover, it’s the form factor of the entire book. Burning Wheel looks a bit like an ancient tome, inviting you in to read and discover its secrets. The entire game is built around this idea of continual mastery and advancement, both for players and for characters, and starting it with this mysterious, nearly illuminated book is extremely evocative.

August 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do! I said start an involved game, but let me specify. I’d want a game where having a number of sessions back to back allows for rapid character and story development. Both GURPS and Burning Wheel could provide enough detail that I could set some groundwork and then after that week come back to a very well-developed campaign.

August 7: What was your most impactful RPG session? The two I listed were Seamus’ Masks one-shot, and my session zero for my online group’s low-quorum Apocalypse World game. The Masks session broke into dramatic play, a playstyle I admittedly had no faith in our group to pull off (I loved being proven wrong, though). The Apocalypse World session was wonderful in that I saw the gears turning in players’ heads regarding player-facing play. I hope to replicate that sort of play in many of my games, but that “ah-ha” moment was beautiful.

August 8: What is a good RPG for sessions of two hours or less? There’s really only two requirements: your players already have their prep done (rules knowledge and character generation), and there are as few rules transitions as possible. Games without demarcated combat or with very quick combat work well, as do very structured games like Torchbearer where you can play a few turns and then leave off very easily.

August 9: What is a good RPG to play for about ten sessions? My answer here is PbtA, specifically Apocalypse World. The PbtA advancement arc tends to last ten sessions, and actually crossing a bridge to a new arc is tough. Those ten sessions are great, though. While I’ve read and played a number of PbtA games, I find that Apocalypse World is still one of if not the best in terms of balancing player freedom with genre simulation, as well as still being the best example of the ideal PbtA “conversation” playstyle.

August 10: Where do you go for RPG reviews? As I said online, no one source. Being a blogger myself, I know how many good resources are out there, and tend to engage with Google or social networks to find them. While I sometimes read RPGnet reviews, I find that they either don’t cover games I’m interested in, or cover them from a very strange perspective.

Like before, most of my answers are on Twitter, where I’m @LevelOneWonk. Looking forward to continuing the month.