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.

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.

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.

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!

roleplaying games

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.