Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dresden Files: Seven Sins of Seattle

So I'm giving the Dresden Files RPG another try.  I have to say that almost every time I try out a FATE based game I'm both reminded of how I hate the swinginess of FATE dice, and how I love all the other parts of the system.  Plus I love the Dresden Files setting, and we have a great group of folks participating.

The setting we decided to build for this campaign was Seattle.  A few of the players are from that area, and in general it is a very interesting city that has a ton of possibility for magic and mayhem.  We're dealing with a new power from the East gathering in the old Chinatown, with all the big players in town having left to fight the Vampire War, and with some sort of Old Power stirring underneath everything.

We have some amazingly cool locations.  The Blue Jazz Nightclub is both the Accorded Neutral Grounds, and the den of a White Court vampire named Sven who holds items of great import to people and allows them to visit and see them in order to feed on their lust for the item.  Pike's Place Market is a hub of all sorts of crazy powers and important shops.  My character's stomping grounds are at the Woodland Park Zoo, a Summer Court bastion that houses a menagerie of mystical beasts.  Lakeview Cemetery is watched over by Bruce Lee's ghost and Denny Park is watched over by the denizens of the mysterious and dangerous Denny family.  There are Were-Rats in the Underground, Triads in Chinatown, a Biomancer at the hospital, and something mysterious going on at the Space Needle.

Our cast of character includes:

Cyphus(me) - the Summer Court Changeling who is a Keeper of the Menagerie for the Sidhe
Ellethwen (Elle) McFadden - a Summer Changeling Hairdresser
Akina - the Pack less Werewolf with the occult bookstore
Chong Xi - the Emerging Kung Fu Master with a vigilantism habit
Molly Brennan - the mortal Detective in the Know with a loose vision on ethics
Steven Williams - the "not-Zombie" Social Manipulator with a penchant for instigating trouble
Jacob Morkraven - the Wizard of Redemption with haunting family issues

As you can see quite a collection of big personalities and interesting folks.  So far we've had a very good time in our two sessions.

In our first session all of us experienced a similar dream/vision which turned out to be the final magical act of a dying wizard named Jenny Denny.  Yes she is connected to the mysterious Denny family and yes her name is really Jenny Denny.  All the players were able to identify where the vision was set (Denny Park) and headed there quickly for various reasons.  Cyphus was just annoyed that someone got into his head uninvited and wanted to find out what was going on.  He traveled through the Nevernever (magical, Fae realm) and after exiting back into the real world outside the park he hid himself with a Veil and went to find the body.

Some of the others were already there and were inspecting the fallen girl, so Cyphus quickly snuck over to her purse and palmed the $4000 it contained.  After that he moved over by the body and when he discovered traces of ectoplasm he dropped the Veil, appearing in the middle of everyone, and pointed this fact out.  After folks recovered from the surprise much discussion about what had happened began.  No real conclusions were reached, but a clue pointing to the Blue Jazz Nightclub showed up, and when it was discovered there was some sort of event happening there that weekend, we decided to check it out.

It ended up being some sort of formal party, so nice clothes and dates were required.  Cyphus had the clothes covered (he's Fae after all!) but needed a date.  Luckily a Sidhe lady was visiting town after donating a new beastie to the menagerie, and the Lady Selise was more than willing to accompany him to the event.  So with a gorgeous Fae woman on his arm and his own personal charisma (Cyphus' glamour appearance looks like Eric Northmen from True Blood BTW for those that know the show) Cyphus made one hell of an entrance at the party.

The normal niceties and chit chat happened for a bit, with everyone dancing around the two non-PC pairs; a couple of Triad folks and the local Red Court vamp with arm candy.  After a bit the owner, Sven, came out and invited everyone back into the inner sanctum to view his collection.  There were quite a few interesting items there, but Cyphus had eyes for only one thing, an actual DRAGON EGG!

Lots of talking, coveting, and skulduggery were going on all over the room, but Cyphus did not pay much attention to anything but the egg.  When his attention finally got pulled back to the world around him his date Lady Selise was having a bit of a verbal cat fight with the Red Court vamp Scarlet and things were about to escalate.  And boy did it ever escalate!  By the end of the proceeding fight Akina had torn the vampire's throat out!

Cyphus would have left it all well enough alone if Selise had not been on one side of it.  He ended up palming a liquor bottle off Akina and glamouring it to seem like holy water in order to distract and scare the vampire; which worked.  In the end every PC survived and walked away mostly free.  Oh and some of the final wheeling and dealing managed to get me the Dragon Egg!  As well as Jacob getting some special magical sword; which led to an invitation to a meeting with the Triad folks (which was a good thing since the big Triad bruiser at the party was the main suspect for the killing of Jenny Denny).

The second session primarily featured the aforementioned meeting and a some follow up action.  Cyphus did not do much this time around (mostly because his player was exhausted).  He facilitated a meeting between Jacob, Chong Xi, and Selise, in which Selise got them to promise to bring along a spy butterfly creature to the meeting in exchange for some information.  Then the group met up at Akina's bookstore before proceeding to a meeting with the Triad representative.  Cyphus basically just trailed along because he was curious, but not actively interested, until they reached the Triad stronghold at the Egg Long restaurant and saw a full fledged dragon skull.  Once again lots of talking and such happened in the background, but Cyphus did not pay much attention because, dragon skull! Something was decided about going to seek out a warlock in the Underground.

So on the way to the Underground the group decided to take out Selise's butterfly.  Cyphus' attention was drawn by this, but he decided to see what would happen.  If the initial assault on it had somehow failed to do anything I would have probably had Cyphus speak up and play like he was destroying it, but instead take the power into himself so he would continue to serve as Selise's spy.  But lo and behold, when you attack a butterfly belonging to a Sidhe, it turns into an ogre.  A group of purple monkey demons and Triad looking enforcers also decided to join the party in the alleyway and crazy times happened.  Cyphus did not want to attack the ogre in case Selise was still able to see through its eyes, so he focused his actions on the demons; using his power to manipulate a targets mind to make it feel the effects of extreme drunkenness.

The battle was big and epic, but this post is getting really long and I don't want to type it all out.  Besides Cyphus doesn't really care about the violence, just the results.  He was pissed by the flaming poop attacks of the crazy monkey demons though!  Fortunately due to his inhuman toughness and recovery abilities, as well as some good dodging he walked away from the whole thing totally unscathed.  Everyone else came off much the worse for wear with lots of consequences.  Oh well, not his problem.  The toughs were killed or driven off, the ogre slaughtered, and the demon beat down to size and captured.  The party decided to head to a nearby cheap hotel in order to interrogate the demon and decide on what to do next.

On the way Cyphus decided to be nice with some of his recently acquired money and buy some replacement clothes for Akina, since she keeps destroying hers when she "wolfs out".  Unfortunately the only clothes quickly available were some touristy type sweat pants/shirts.  Cyphus apologized for the crude garb, but still felt bad and promised Akina that he owed her one for such a terrible fashion insult.

Cyphus left the group still talking (because I had to leave to get ready for work) and headed back to have an interesting conversation with Selise, where much flirtation and plotting happened.  It looks like I'll be having to try and get a hold of that magic sword for my own ends.  There will also be some down time between session so I'm going to hang around Akina's bookstore to do some more research on my dragon egg.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mistborn RPG

Two Sundays ago me and my Siloam RPG group did a character creation session for the Mistborn Adventure Game RPG.  We are going to playing in our first session on this upcoming Sunday.  I have to say that I enjoyed the character creation quite a bit, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the system and the story play.

The Mistborn RPG has one huge advantage in its corner, and that is the author of the novels it is based on, Brandon Sanderson.  For one thing, he is a very gifted storyteller and world builder who has created an interesting setting that is just filled with opportunities for making your own characters and stories.  The whole of Scadrial is very thematic and flavorful.  He is also a genius when it comes to creating and quantifying magic systems in his worlds, and this has translated into a very unique and dynamic system that makes for some great game mechanics.

The game also benefits from the fact that the creators were more interested in making a narrative and rules light system instead of a heavily simulationist one.  As I have said above, the first play session is still. upcoming, but from a brief read through of the rules it looks like there is just enough crunch there to do what you need to, but that the rules stay out of the way of the story nicely.

The only real concern I have is that there is at least one incident of, shall we say wanting to "have you cake and eat it too".  There is an element to a character in this game called Standings.  The issue I have with them is that you both roll them as die pools to achieve things, and also apparently spend points off of them, lowering your die pools, to achieve other things.  Its the whole dilemma of possibly running into a situation of "In order to succeed I have get worse at doing this thing in the future", which just feels weird to me.

The character creation system was interactive and cool.  I had quite a bit of fun doing it.  The first step is to decide what you Crew is like.  The "party" in this game is called a Crew, and you as a group must come up with the reasons that they are together, what they have in common, and what they want to achieve.  To do so you answer three questions.  What is your common cause?  Who is your primary target?  What is your preferred method?  For our Crew we decided that our cause was bringing hope and a better world, that our primary target was the Steel Ministry (the oppressive police force/zealous church that enforces the will of the totalitarian government), and our primary method would be theft.

Step 2 is deciding on a concept for your individual character.  This is a short phrase that defines who you basically are.  Mine was Terrisman Con-artist (the Terris are a subjugated people who work primarily as highly trained servants and who secretly keep alive a distinctive racial magical art called Feruchemy).  We also had some idealistic nobles, a disgraced Kandra (shapeshifter race)and an ambitious Skaa (peasant) to round out the group.  The next step was to answer a series of 10 important questions.

The following questions give you various traits that both define your character and help you out:
1) Why did you join the crew?
2) How did you live before you joined the crew?
3) What special skill do you bring to the crew?
4) What is your most distinctive feature?
5) How do other people describe your personality?

The next three have to be answered with the following three answers:  Strong, Average, Weak.  You can only assign one answer to each question and must use all three answers.  These define your various attributes and abilities:
6) Do you have any special powers (like magic or shapeshifting)?
7) Are you especially fit, smart, or charistmatic?
8) Are you well-off or do you struggle to get by?

Then you get a tragedy:
9) What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?

And a Destiny:
10) What do you believe if your ultimate purpose?

The next step is mostly bookkeeping stuff.  You go through and assign different sized pools of points to your Powers, Attributes, and Standing; the pools depending on what answers you gave the corresponding questions in question 6-8.  Then you fill in the details.  You pick your race, though many of the character types with specific powers are limited to certain races (like my guy had Feruchemy so he had to be Terris).  Next is a name, then setting your damage tracks, and choosing equipment.  Then you are done and ready to play.

Like I said my guy is a Terrisman Con-artist.  He is the leader of our Crew and is meant to be a smart, charming, calculating mastermind type character.  He is heavily based off the Nate character on the show Leverage if you have seen that.  He joined the crew to try and defeat the Steel Ministry, because he sees them as a primary force for oppression and terribleness in the world.  His job before joining up was a Steward, or highly trained servant, to a noble house.  His special skill is the ability to always have a plan.

His most distinctive feature is an aura of companion-ability (not a word I know), which is to say that he just makes people want to be around him and be his friend.  Other people apparently see him as inspiring (at least I think that is what the group decided on.  He is a Feruchemist, so he has Strong powers.  I wanted him to have a high Charm and Wit, so he has Average attributes, and his Standings are Weak, but that kinda fits a servant.  His Tragedy was that his previous three crews had been caught and killed by the Steel Ministry, and his ultimate purpose (in his mind at least) is to show the people that don't have to fear and worship the Steel Ministry and its evil Inquisitors.

Feruchemy is a magic system that allows a practitioner of it to store certain qualities in special metal objects that he wears or carries, and then call upon those qualities with great speed and in typically vast amounts at a later time.  The downside if that you become deficient in those qualities while storing.  For instance you could store up vision in a Tinmind.  While you are doing it you become practically blind, but when you later use the stored vision you could spot the hair on a mouse's tail from a mile away.  Each of the different types of metal available in the system lets you store up a different type of quality.  I'm looking forward to the interesting challenge of creatively using and husbanding the limited resources of these stored qualities to best effect.

The resolution system in the game is fairly straight forward.  You build a pool based on some sort of stat that is relevant to the task, modified possibly by traits, equipment, and circumstances.  Then you roll a number of d6s equal to the pool size and your looking for pairs of the same number.  If you can get a pair of a number that equals or beats the Difficulty Score, which will always be between one and five, then you succeed.  Rolling 6s give you extra little bonuses if you succeed.  There are the typical three stages of complexity when it comes to rolls as well.  Player vs a set difficulty, Player vs. an opponent in a single roll, and Player vs. an opponent in a series of connected rolls.  These are called Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts respectively.

Character Advancement is another area where I see some possibility for concern.  I like the non-level based advancement.  You earn XP tics and then spend those to increase skills and abilities, which is a style of system I like.  The problem comes in when you look at what earns you those tics.  Most of the things are either going to be once in a blue moon, or are the vague, nebulous story based criteria that are sometimes so dang hard to define and to know when you've really earned them.  Passing these out at a good pace is going to take some getting used to, and would benefit form a confident GM; and unfortunately our GM, while most likely the best person to run a game in this world, is probably not going to be super confident in her abilities.  But the characters luckily start out at a pretty good power level, so even if advancement is slow, things should be mostly fine.

I'm really looking forward to playing the game.  I have a good feeling that this may turn out being a wonderful mix of the Matrix, Ocean's Eleven, the Chronicles of Riddick, and Lord of the Rings.  Which is an amazing combination in my opinion.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Risk Legacy

Today we played our second game of Risk Legacy.  I did not win this time around, so it was a terrible game :)

If you haven't heard about Risk Legacy, it is a very interesting and unique game for quite a decent price.  I heavily advise looking into it if you're a fan of Risk, or even if you are not such a big fan.  It plays quite differently than the old school game that it shares a name with.

The basic overall structure of the game is the same as the old one.  You have a map of the world, divided up into continents and countries.  You march your little plastic men across the world, killing enemies and capturing territories in order to bring about your victory.  You still get new troops each turn based on the number of countries you hold, still roll 3 dice to attack and 2 to defend, still get one free move for reinforcements, and still get a card for capturing an enemy held country.

The details are where the differences start to appear.  First, the biggest difference and my favorite one is the play time.  This version plays in about 45-60 minutes, as opposed to the 4-5 hours of normal Risk.  How does it accomplish this amazing feat?  Well victory is no longer about world domination, it is about gaining four Red Stars (victory points).  To make things even faster and easier everyone starts with a capitol HQ, which counts as one Red Star, and if you haven't won a game yet you get a bonus Red Star token, so you are halfway to victory.  This makes for very quick games once you realize it.  Heck all you have to do is capture one other player's HQ and then turn in 4 cards for an additional Red Star token and you've won.

Another thing that really makes this Risk version unique, and that I also really like, is that the game is constantly being changed and customized to your group as you play it over the course of the 15 game campaign that it is intended to be played for.  You end up making changes to and adding lots of cool stuff to the map, the cards, the rules, and the game itself.  Both as a reward at the end of each game and as a result of various conditions and triggers being met you will do things like add custom named cities to the board, increase the value of various territory cards, name continents, change the continent bonuses up or down, fortify cities, add powers to the various factions, and even change the basic rules of the game.  By the end of 15 games you will have a very unique and highly customized Risk game that has been shaped and formed by the creative minds and hard efforts of your gaming group.  A gaming artifact of extraordinary personal value.

Of course a certain type of gamer will not be able to accept the coolness of this unique feature of Risk Legacy.  Those who hold the physical components of their games to be sacred and inviolate have shown themselves to be utterly aghast at the concept of such travesties as WRITING ON THE BOARD or TEARING UP CARDS.  The horror!  Why even the owner of our copy is unwilling to actual destroy any portion of the game, even when it instructs us to do so.  We will just be setting aside anything that should be "destroyed".  Which is totally fine by me.  I don't really feel that there will be much to gained from physically destroying game pieces.  Doing things like naming cities and continents, and recording your name on the victory track are enough for me.  I founded the city of Asgard in Scandinavia first game, and the city of Spiel-ville in Northern Europe the second game.

There are a plethora of other minor things that make this game different from classic Risk.  Each player plays a faction with specific plastic minis and special powers (well only one power right now, but there will be more later).  If you've won a game and don't get a bonus Red Star token any more, you get a missle token that you can use to change a die in any combat to a 6.  There are things called Scars that can make certain territories harder or easier to defend.  You only start with one country at the beginning of the game, so there is lots of expanding into empty territories at the beginning of the game.  And more interesting changes should be coming up as we open some of the various boxes and envelopes in the box.  Like if either John or I win the next time then we will open the envelope that says "Open when someone signs the board for a second time."

I have to say I'm really a big fan of this game so far, and I think my opinion will only go up as more facets of it are revealed.  I love the super fast play time, I love the customizing, and I love the cool theme and flavor of it.  It still has the same failing of any Risk game to some degree, in that victory can largely be determined by being the first one to trade in a good set of cards for a large chunk of troops.  But that is not going to be the only way that people win.  John won this one by saving his cards and trading in for that fourth Red Star token.  I think the game will promote people playing harder and taking more risks, since games can go from a stalemate to a victory so quickly, easily in a single turn.

August Game Day

Oh my I have so many things that need to be written up for this blog.  The latest Game Day, Smallville at Magpie, Mage Knight board game, Dresden Files, my Mecha game and my new project, Risk Legacy, the Mistborn RPG, and 1989: Dawn of Freedom.  I'm going to type up as many as I can in this current sitting, so I can have them easily available for release over the next few days.

First up the latest Game Day.  It was this last Saturday, the 18th, at the Clubhouse at the Creek.  It was a ton of fun, and I was very happy to get a chance to playtest my Mecha RPG.  I ran a quick scenario for five players, and I think that for the most part people had fun.  I tried out quite a few new things that I added to the game on the fly, and most of it worked.  I love the system that John Wick uses in Aegis Project where players get to add details to the mission and the location of said mission.  This I stole whole cloth and am not ashamed to admit it.

I tried using my step up die system instead of building pools of D6s for all the mecha systems, and I do not think that it worked out all that well.  I definitely prefer the feel and ease of the pools of D6s.  The mental strain to energy points system also was a bit rough.  I love the concept, but I don't like my execution.  I'll probably drop the whole concept, I think the theme of the game is moving away from the one that inspired the mechanic anyway.

There were tons of ideas and questions, lots of good points were made.  I definitely need to have limits on how many points you can put into a given system, and come up with ways to customize both the pilots abilities and the mechas systems.  The initiative order also was rather slow, which is something I hate about the D&D style, one at a time initiative.  The Aegis Project has everybody roll at the same time.  I like that, but the more I steal from that game the more I can't help but think, "Why am I not just playing John Wick's game?"  That question is one of the main reasons that this game is going on the back burner for me right now.

At the same time that my game was happening there was quite a lot of other activity happening in the room, which I was very happy to see.  I got there a little late, and the whole place was filled with games in progress when I walked in.  Made my heart all warm and fuzzy :).  There was a game of Arkham Horror, the Winterwall Old School D&D game, and a Serenity one shot.  Had to have been about 15 or 16 people playing, and everyone seemed to be having a ton of fun.

After my mecha game I ran off and grabbed some lunch, while I was gone I think some games of Resistance, Munchkin, and Canvas Eagles all started up.  Apparently Anders tried to start up a game of Battlestar Galactica, but without me there to help push it it didn't happen.  I'll be making sure it gets played at a Board Game Day or Game Day in the near future.

I did get a four player game of Dungeon Lords going once I got back.  Resistance I think was on their 14th or 15th game or something ridiculous like that at the next table btw.  :)  We had a good time with Dungeon Lords, and I think everyone liked the game.  It is one that I enjoy, but I always feel bad about because it has one heck of a learning curve and an experienced player will usually blow any new folks out of the water in it. I was the experienced one and everyone else was a newb, btw.  A good number of other folks that spectated found the game to be interesting as well and I am quite certain I can get another round of it in at the next Game Day if I remember to bring it.

Overall things seemed to wind down and the crowd thinned out fairly quickly.  I think this was a combination of a lot of games happening right up front, like 4 or 5 at once; and the fact that Resistance kept 4-6 folks tied up for quite some time.  Not a bad thing on the whole or on Resistance in particular, don't get me wrong.  Just observing and hypothesizing about the observation.  I'm really looking forward to the next Game Day, I always do.  My hope and promise to myself it to present a game of my own design at each future Game Day, whether it be a totally new one or just a revised version of one I've already shown.  Very excited about that as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lessons Learned at Glitch Con

I decided to do one final post about Glitch Con where I examined the various things I learned and realized over the course of the weekend.  I already touched on a few things in my other two posts, but I didn't want to go into too many details in those posts because I had already rambled way too much.

The first lesson I learned was that if you hang around cool, wonderful people all weekend you can totally mooch food.  Haha, just kidding.  But seriously I barely had to spend any money for food the whole time I was at the con because some very generous people bought large amounts of it and shared.  I don't know who exactly was responsible for it all, I know Mike bought pizza one night, but I do know that the next time I see some folks (like Mike, John, Ro, Art, Rob) I owe them some food on me or at least some booze.

Secondly, I feel like the weekend in general and the interactions I had completely validated my idea that I love nerdom and gaming, it is my passion, and I am going to pursue making a contribution to it.  Basically I feel okay with the idea of saying that I want to design games.  I have spent the last seven years since graduating college pretty much being aimless.  I have tried to pursue various paths and choices at times, but have never followed through because they just didn't appeal to me on a deep and passionate level.  The only things that have ever really excited me and brought me real joy as far as something that I do have been learning, playing, sharing, and designing games.  Well that and storytelling, but that is kind of tangentially wrapped up in the first to a large degree.

I've already addressed how John's statement about why he does game design inspired me.  I also feel that I have gotten a lot of great support and feedback on both my blogging and my first forays into game design from the people I play with and the various others I interact with through NWARPG.  On top of that, I have realized that while I have no real desire to do any sort of 3D animation stuff using my degree; the general creative and design skills I gained while getting it, as well as the various creative people I'm now friend with because of my four years in a creative degree program, really gives me a good foundation for helping me make both fun and well designed games.

The third lesson I learned was the importance of emotional investment.  Emotional investment is a very powerful tool and a very difficult task.  Think about what you're trying to do here.  You have to convince a group of people, most likely smart and opinionated people, to care about, feel for, and invest in something that doesn't exist and that they blatantly know is not real.

Intimidated yet?

I know I am.  I see myself as an emotionally stunted person on some levels.  I can find it very difficult to feel empathy, and regularly doubt my actual capability to experience the full gamut of human emotions.  So ya, a very scary prospect to think about having to create emotional investment in others.  Luckily there is tons of help.

For starters, thing about all the books, movies, TV shows, games, etc that have really drawn you in.  Think about specific characters you have become invested in.  Use what you see there.  Analyze why these stories and characters engaged you and mine the hell out of that for great methods and ideas.  Look at your own emotions and see why you feel certain ones in connection to certain things, if you feel self aware enough to do so.  Why did I immediately gravitate towards House Fox in Houses of the Blooded?  Because they are all about passion and romance and beauty, things that I long for and do not get in my life.  My real life emotional needs created the connection to the game.

There were also a few other specific points that I learned over the weekend concerning this.

1.  Give people the freedom to take the risk of becoming invested.  Why do we guard our emotions?  Because risking them often leads to being hurt.  Therefore if people feel safe to take risks and try being vulnerable in your game, they'll be more willing to invest the emotions needed to do so.  If they don't feel safe they'll clam up.

2.  Dropping out of character/looking at your character sheet kills emotional investment.  This is probably subjective to each individual, but it is definitely true in my case.  The most emotional investment I've experienced in games has been when I'm barely acknowledging the mechanics and I haven't looked at the character sheet in ages.  Having to shift my mind over from the fluff to the crunch really kills this.  So in general you want to have less crunch if you want more character.

3.  Be willing to draw help and inspiration from some unlikely sources.  John made a joke at the beginning of one of his panels that is was about how pro wrestling relates to role playing games.  He then turned it into a serious point.  He posited that there were no finer examples of getting people to passionately invst in something that they know is fake than pro wrestling and soap operas.  Now honestly, would you ever have thought to look for game design help in either of those?  Or what about the tricks used by magicians, con-artists, and grifters?  I bet you could mine their skill sets for tons of ways to get people to think and feel what you want.  After all, "game design is mind control".  (Another Wick/Sorenson quote)

4.  Reward the hell out of the emotional investment.  Everyone loves positive reinforcement, so give it to them.

Another lesson learned can be awkwardly put like this:  "You have to do it to claim it, but if you do it you CAN claim it."  This was something I took from one of the writing panels, but it applies to game design as well.

Basically it means that if you want to call yourself a writer/game designer/whatever, you've got to write/design games/whatever.  Not talk about writing, not plan to write, not always start and stop unfinished projects; but really truly WRITE.  Churn out the prose.  Finish what you start.  Get your stuff out there.  Write, write, write, and write some more.

It is hard work, but if you want to claim the title you have to do it.  But guess what?  If you do it, you CAN claim the title.  You don't have to be a NY Times bestseller.  You don't have to have a 10 book deal.  You don't have to win awards or be internationally recognized.  None of that is needed to be a writer.  All you need to do is write!  The same can be said of game design and being called a game designer.

Finally I learned that nothing quite equals the community and camaraderie that springs up around shared passions and loves.  Get your mind out of the gutter!  :p

I spend a lot of time with the people I work with.  I talk to them a lot, we share the same day to day experiences, we have some common interest, etc etc.  But at the end of the day I felt closer to the random folks I encountered at Glitch Con than to the familiar faces of my co-workers.  Why?  My co-workers aren't nerds.

They aren't geeks or gamers.  Maybe they can understand and appreciate my love of nerdy things, but they don't share it.  While it may be presumptive to think so, I believe everyone I saw at Glitch Con shared my deep and abiding love for nerdy things.  We might not love the exact same stuff, but we are in the same ballpark, and we sure are both passionate about these things.

Nerds are a heartfelt and passionate people, and that creates a wonderful bond between us.  I truly feel at home when I'm surrounded by my fellow nerds, and in the pursuit of my nerdly obsessions.  It is a feeling that I don't get anywhere else, with any other type of people.  Which makes it extremely special when I can experience it, and very sad when I can not.

I love being a nerd.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How I Learn to Stop Worrying and Love to LARP


It stands for Live Action RolePlaying.  It is a special type of roleplaying game where you do more than sit around a table and roll dice.  You get up, you move around, you act in character, and heck you might even dress up in costume.

Among nerds and gamers of all types there are various hierarchies.  Some level of nerdom are considered better or worse than others.  Which has always struck me as pretty silly, but that's the way it is.  LARPing has always been one of those forms of gaming that has been looked down on and derided.  Mostly because of a large number of bad examples of the hobby.  All the Dark Lords of Dennys have given this type of gaming a bad reputation.  I shared this opinion to a degree, making fun of LARPing in the past.  Thankfully I have now had the chance to experience what LARPing can be when done with skill and awesomeness, and my opinion has made a total 180.  I am completely in love with this form of RP and I am super excited to do more of it.

At Glitch Con this weekend I got to play two LARPs, a Legend of the Five Rings one on Friday night and a Houses of the Blooded one on Saturday night.  Both of them were run using the Blood and Tears system, the  system that John Wick came up with for LARPing in Shan'ri, the world of HotB.  The system is really easy to learn, and is beautiful in its simplicity.

First off, the L5R LARP.  Like I said this one was on Friday night and lasted about 3-4 hours.  This was my absolute first ever LARP experience, so I went into it fairly nervous, but also excited and ready to try out something new.  For those not familiar with the L5R game and universe, John described it as "Rokugan is to Japan as Middle Earth is to Europe."  It is a fantasy world based on feudal Japan, filled with samurai, magic, honor, and swords.  The players all belonged to one of the major clans that form the political and social scene in Rokugan.

For this specific LARP we had folks play members of the Phoenix, Crab, Scorpion, and Unicorn clans.  There were also a few members of the Lion Clan present, at first only the in character host of the game was a Lion Clan member (played by Chris Colbath) and then a couple more got added in when people joined the game as it went on.  Each of the Clans has a very distinct theme and flavor, and is fanatically devoted to the Emperor in their own way.  This feeling of being "turned up to 11" really makes the world feel awesome, and makes folks love their Clans.  I chose to be on the Phoenix Clan for this game, and played a courtier named Mugen Isawa.

In the system your entire character sheet is composed of a Name, a Profession, four Advantages, and a Secret  That is it.  The thing was barely bigger than a Post-It Note, and it is really all you need.  The Profession and the Advantages both provide color for your RP and character, and give a simple mechanical benefit during the few times you actually need to engage any sort of mechanics.  For instance, I had the advantage of Making Friends.  If a situation had come up where I was not able to make friends by spending Style Points, which I will explain in a second, I could use this Advantage to force the issue and Insist on my agenda.  This did not happen during either LARP, and according to John barely ever happens in general.

Style Points.  Probably should have explained them first, but it is late and my brain is crazy.  This is the main currency and mechanic of the game.  You get a supply of them at the beginning of the game and can earn them throughout play by other people giving them to you or by doing awesome things and getting recognized by the Narrator (GM) for it.  Why would other people give you style points you ask?  Well because that is how they get you to do things and how they make things true about the world.  Want to say that you and the lady from the Crab clan are having an affair?  Walk up to her, hold out a style, and say "Isn't true that you and I are having an affair?"  If she thinks that is a good idea for developing your characters she can say yes, and she gets the style to add to her own supply.  If she says no you can try and give her more style to sweeten the deal.  If she refuses three times, that is when you can Insist and use the mechanics, but people don't refuse all that often.  And when they do it is usually more enjoyable to try coming at things from another direction or renegotiating terms instead of insisting.

That is pretty much 90% of the game.  There were a few mechanics for things like duels and the like, but I won't go into much detail on them, both because they can be summed up really easily and because they may have just been worked out on the spot and may not be the exact ways you do things under the rules.  It all comes down to this idea though, one player chooses to win, the other chooses to be awesome.  Not that both can't be awesome, but it is more about making losing awesome and enjoyable instead of crappy.  Oh and it usually seemed to be the case that the "loser" was the first role chose, someone spoke up and said "I will let my opponent win."

So back to the specifics of the L5R game.  I enjoyed the game, though I enjoyed the HotB one a lot better.  This was both because of my nervousness and because I just did not latch on to the character or the setting as strongly.  I ended up making it true that an evil spirt had possessed me.  I lost the spirit over the course of the game, but ended up getting a book that allowed one to switch souls with another person, and getting it delivered to the Emperor.  Not a very in character move, and not the best LARP plot.  It was too solo focused and kind of a bit of wankery.  But it was my first time.

The next night was the Houses of the Blooded LARP.  This one also lasted about 3-4 hours, and was awesome.  Both because I was more comfortable and because I am in love with the world of Houses, with House Fox, and the Ven (the powerful nobles who are portrayed by the player characters).

The plot of the game was basically a big party, an opera performance.  The Ven consider Opera to be the height of art.  In this game I played Baron Pando Yvarai, a noble of House Fox.  My character valued Beauty and Cunning, though he was woefully blind in the area of Wisdom.  He was a Courtier and a Rake who was as the opera with the goal of breaking a heart by the end of the night.  I only asked for a Fox character, and when I was handed this specific one it felt like fate, I loved this guy already.

I was much more proactive in engaging the other players and pushing my own story into the spotlight this time around.  I was largely inspired by a Rumour I saw on the two hosts backs.  Awesome new mechanic that, Rumours.  Basically you pay one of the Narrator's to create a rumour and they put a name badge sticker with it on the target's back.  That way they can't see it, but everyone else can, and they must depend on others to find out what it says.  I LOVE this mechanic.

I saw a rumour on the hosts' backs that said that they were both secretly in love with the same person.  So I decided that the person whose heart I would break would be theirs, by killing the target of their love.  I talked it over with Chris and Rob who were playing the hosts and got them in on it.  I decided my character thought that Emily's character was the target of their affection, and that I needed to get rid of her to break their hearts, in order that I might pursue them because I was in love with them.  Chris suggested that it would be more interesting if I was certain of that but that I was wrong.  Which was a great addition.  We got Emily in on it and she thought it was a great idea as well.  So the machinations began.

I got a rumour started about the target of the hosts' affection being Emily.  Then I went up to one of the more militant, warrior type characters, played by a great guy named Mike Curry, and asked him to kill Emily for me.  I was trying to be a bit clever with my words and stumbled around, but he was thankfully patient enough to help me get to the heart of what I was saying.  He said that if I could retrieve proof that another Ven was responsible for killing his Lord then he would kill her.  I accepted and was able to very quickly acquire the proof.  He then told me we had a deal.  After it was all said and done I was informed by him that he immediately double crossed me by going and telling Emily someone had just hired him to kill her.  Well played sir, loved it.

I felt like my plan was well set at the time, so I relaxed a bit and just mingled.  I was also serving as a Herald for Emily's nephew Gabe, since he was ed having small and soft-spoken, so I helped him out a for a bit, announcing his desire to duel with Chris' character.  It was during this time that I noticed quite a few people had created Romances between their characters.  I was once again inspired and decided to loudly and publicly announce a Romance with Emily's character in order to deceive anyone who looked at me as a possible source of her death.  She agreed and so at the next break in the action I loudly called everyone's attention to myself and announced that in light of all the crazy stuff going on at the opera that night, I had to proclaim something immediately.  I pulled Emily over, knelt down, took her hand, and professed my love for her character.

We were immediately interrupted by one of the other Fox player whom I had told about my character's true love interest.  She loudly proclaimed our love to be false, and a wonderful argument broke out between her and Emily.  Apparently their characters' were enemies, lucky chance there.  I had to step up to defend Emily's honor after they had argued for a bit, and called for a swordsman to represent me.  None answered. I was luckily saved by the Narrator at this point when he decided that spirit of Talia Yavari, the patron of House Fox, descended upon the room and proclaimed that there must be a Court of Love to decide the truth of mine and Emily's characters' feelings for each other.

The Court of Love had a jury of five members that would decide our fate.  None of the jurors were people that I had any alliance with or trust in, so I was pretty much doomed.  I got first argument, and used it to say my character dipped Emily's character into a long passionate kiss, and then looked at the jury saying, "For love need there be any other argument."  Got a few "ahhhhhs" and  wistful sighs out of that one.  Emily also made an impassioned plea.  I should stop here and state that the mechanic for the jury was that there would be two piles of Style Points, one for yes and one for no.  The jurors would split the Style in the pile that corresponded to the way they voted.  So folks could hope to sway the vote by adding more and more Style to one pile or the other.  Me and Emily added quite a bit with our pleas backed up by our character traits and advantages.

Then the parade of negativity followed.  Everyone who spoke up spoke up against us, saying such awful things.  Mike was awesome when he walked up and loudly proclaimed that I had hired him to kill Emily.  Great moment.  Gabe had some amazing moments where he just walked up and threw a bunch of Style into the No pile.  It was dramatically wonderful and brought me to my knees in laughter.  As all this was going on Bobby walked up to Emily and handed her a glass with some Style in it and a card underneath it.  She turned to me and asked "Did you really hire that man to kill me?"  I looked her right in the eyes and said "Would you really trust the word of that Bear over one of your own House?"  Apparently since her enemy was another Fox as well, that gave her her answer and she handed me the glass.  The card underneath it said Posion.  AWESOME!!

So the Court of Love voted against us.  I was not surprised.  I stepped forward after the decision, proclaimed that the spirit of Talia had been insulted and dishonoured, and that I must drink to drown my sorrows.  I showed the crowd the Poison card, upended the glass, "drank" the "poisoned draught" and then began to pantomime not being able to breath.  Whirling around I gave Emily my best betrayed look and then collapsed to the floor.  She verbally spat on my corpse with some awesome cutting remark that I wish I could remember, and Chris commented "I do so love the Opera."  With that John called the game, the LARP was over.  I got quite a few congrats and kudos for the performance, and was on Cloud Nine.  Hell I was on Cloud 11.

This post is already really long, and I'm going to do another one on lessons I learned from Glitch Con, so I will just wrap up quickly.  Like I have said over and over I loved this experience.  I now respect and enjoy LARP.  I am in love with Houses of the Blooded, and I can't wait to play more.  It looks like we are going to be starting our own HotB LARP here in the area, and I am super excited.  This was the most in depth and character filled RP I have done in years.

Finally, remember that you can always trust a Fox, we love you too much to lie to you.

A Look Back At Glitch Con 2012

Over the course of this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend Glitch Con 2012 over in Bentonville.  This was a fan run and oriented convention that focused on Sci-Fi, Anime, Steampunk, and Gaming.  For those of you who do not know what this means, it was basically a big gathering of hundreds of various fanboys and fangirls of all types and ages.  We all came together over the course of three days, Friday through Sunday, in order to hang out, buy and sell awesome products, listen to various experts and celebrities in our beloved nerdy fields, dress in crazy costumes, dance, laugh, talk, and play games.  It was an amazing experience and three of the best days of my life for quite some time.

Let me run you through a quick overview of what I did and saw during the convention.  A few of the things I did and the lessons I learned will merit posts of their own, which I'll get to soon.  But for now I'll try to capture as much of the awesome as I can without making a novel long post.

On Friday I arrived in the early afternoon and started things off by having a look around, purchasing a few books, getting them and some more than I brought signed, and just really getting a feel for the place.  I grabbed a few gaming books from John Wick and a couple of paperbacks from Kevin J. Anderson.  I loved spending time with both of these guys over the course of the weekend, but more on that later.

After that I went to my first panel entitled "Creation of LARP" which was run by the aforementioned John Wick.  LARP stands for Live Action RolePlaying for those that don't know.  In the panel he talked about the LARP games he has designed and played, including Houses of the Blooded and the Legend of the Five Rings LARPs (both games that he created btw).  He also talked about his opinion and views on LARPing in general and how to design a good game.  There were some good things there that apply to any type of RPG in my opinion, like allowing players the freedom to take risks, encouraging emotional investment, and realizing that the other players are an audience.  I enjoyed the talk and it made me very excited about the fact that I would be able to do some LARPing at the con.  In fact I kinda threw out my plans for the rest of Friday in order to do just that.

After the panel I joined a group of about 20 or so folks in the LARP room, which was basically the outer living room area of two joined hotel rooms, and the emptied out bedroom of one of them.  These were John's room btw, and I felt it was quite awesome of him to host the games in what amounted to his personal area for the weekend.  I'm going to do a separate post on the LARPs that I played in, both the L5R one that night, and the Houses of the Blooded one the next night.  For now I will just say they were tons of fun, and the Houses LARP was the single best gaming experience I have had in years.

After the L5R game I had the privilege to play test a new card game that John is developing.  It is called the Houses of the Blooded Card Game, and is obviously set in the game world for that game (which I'll do another post on probably).  The game was very fun and employed some mechanics that I loved.  Since it is in play testing and it is now my property I am not going to divulge any real details here.  I will say you get to play one of the six noble houses, that each one has a wonderfully unique thematic feel, that the game feels like it should based on the inspiration, and that House Fox is best.  John will be bringing the game to the public via Kickstarter at some point, and I'll be buying it definitely.

 After a late night playing that card game I went home, crashed for a few hours, and then came back to the con mid-morning to run a game of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  I had four players, and made up a fun little scenario where Dr. Doom used the Sinister Six (my version of it) to steal some items from safety deposit boxes and help his crazy, evil plans.  The heroes (Iron Man, Storm, Spiderman, and Colossus) took down the Sinister Six, and even managed to defeat all the Doombots that came in to try and help, including the one that was actually masquerading as the Dr. himself.  It was quite a bit of fun for me, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  John Wick even added a bit to the end by asking if Dr. Doom had called anyone a cretin, to which I responded by having the real Dr. Doom show up and do that very thing.

After that I went to my first writing panel with Kevin J. Anderson titled "Things I Wish A Pro Had Told Me".  His co-panelist was his wife, Rebecca Moesta (another author).  They talked about some of the various tips and advice that they wish they could have received early on in their career.  They told us things like Heinlein's Rules of Writing, and ways to be professional.  I enjoyed listening to these two very talented writers and was definitely feeling a bit of fanboy-ness towards KJA.  After that I went to a great panel about Game Design with John and followed that up with a panel on Media and Literature with KJA, Moesta, John, and another author named Richard Knaak.

After that panel it was time for another LARP and some more hanging out with John, his wonderful wife Ro, and a group of his other friends, who were all cool folks that I was super happy to meet.  Seriously one of the best nights I could have ever hoped for.

Sunday morning brought me a bunch more panels to attend.  The first one I went to was "Collaborating in Writing" with Wick, Moesta, Anderson, and a romance writer Claire Ashgrove.  The panel was a bunch of anecdotes and stories about the subject, and was great.  I followed that up with a panel on "Exciting Seconday Characters" with Anderson, Moesta, and Ashgrove.  Very informative, and I learned that KJA almost killed off one of my favorite characters back in the day, and thankfully his wife stopped him.

The next two hours I sat around and listened to John talk.  The two panels were titled "L5R" and "Collectible Card Game Design".  He talked about the L5R world and shared stories of designing it in the first one, and then talked about card games design and his upcoming HotB card game.  He also shared some fun general stories and talked about how Pro Wrestling related to Roleplaying Games.  After that he and his folks were pretty much done with the Con, so I bade some absolutely amazing people goodbye for now and went upstairs to the gaming room for a few board games before I left.

As I said over the course of this post, I had an amazing time and the convention was wonderful.  I was able to get a lot of great advice and information for some awesome people in the fields that I love.  I learned a lot about game design, writing, and storytelling.  I made some new friends, and had some great new experiences.  The con was very well run and had tons of great content.  They are moving locations next year and are going to have even more room, so I'm looking forward to that.

But I think the biggest and most important moment of the whole thing came during one of John's panels.  I can't remember which one it was exactly, but someone basically asked him why he got into game design, and he said "A lack of desire to do anything else."  At first that seems a bit joking or flippant, but it really resonated with me.  I am never more excited, happy, or alive than when I am playing, designing, teaching, and building games and stories.  It is something I have loved doing for years.  I have never really taken it seriously as a possible career path until just recently though.  After all it isn't something that you'd normally think about as a job, and as John also said "there is no money in game design."

Now I know I can't do anything crazy like quit my job tomorrow and start trying to make a living as a game designer.  I'm fairly certain that unless I become very lucky I will always have to have some other form of employment.  I'm working on figuring that out.  The realization that I love explaining things to people, learning things, and telling stories makes me think I should very seriously look into teaching.  But beyond that I now feel that I'm truly okay with the concept of trying to make games for people on a serious and professional level.  That and writing.  I may never become a best selling author, but I love telling stories and creating worlds and characters, so I'm going to do some sort of writing.  I've got a whole lot of ideas, some of them are even in progress right now.  I'm certain it will be a bumpy road, but it is wonderful to feel like I'm actually on a road instead of just wandering aimlessly.  I look forward to the journey.

One last little note, I befriended John on Facebook, and these posts get cross posted over to there.  So, while I do not really expect him to read this, if for some reason he does I just wanted to say "Thank You."