A couple of weeks have gone by since my last SSS post. Thing are rolling along well in my life. On the writing front, I’ve started querying another novel by sending it out to literary agents. I’ve received a few of the expected rejections and collected a few requests for partial manuscripts or full pages. This is expected (well, hoped for) as well, so things are on track. At this point, I’m waiting on responses from 53 more agents, so we’ll see how things go!
I also attended the Superstars Writing Seminars last weekend (which is why there was no post). It was a great conference. I got to hang out with old friends, make a ton of new friends, and learned quite a bit. I took 28 pages of notes using my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. This is the first time I’ve tried to take handwritten notes in a digital format. I have to say that it worked out wonderfully! I used an app called GoodNotes, and I highly recommend it. You can use different colored “ink” and “highlighters” as well. This allowed me to seamlessly swap between “colored pens” and such to make the notes pop and call out certain things. It worked really well for how my brain works with note taking, but without the chaos of paper, a collection of pens/highlighters, and such.
Of course, you’re probably here for the links, so let’s get on with the links for the past couple of weeks!
Mike’s open and honest post about fear (inside the game and during the metagame) is strangely refreshing. Reading his words made me realize that I suffer from many of those fears (new game and new campaign to be specific). Are they rational? Sure. Yeah. Definitely. Can they be handled, so that forward progress can be made? Absolutely. I think the most nervous I’ve been at the start of a new game/campaign was when a friend approached me and asked if I would GM a game for her and her friends. I knew some of the friends, but many of them were new to me. It was entering uncharted territory, and I could tell from her tone that she highly respected my GM and gaming abilities even though we’d never gamed together. I didn’t want to let her down, but I also wanted this new opportunity for gaming. We had a great conversation over lunch about genres, play styles, rules light/heavy, and how she envisioned things going. During this conversation, we settled on high fantasy, Pathfinder (though I wish I’d chosen a more rules light system now), and general storytelling themes we both wanted to cover. The game ran for about 3 years before my life caught up with me and forced me to shift gears away from that game. I regret killing the game, but I was simply overwhelmed with things and didn’t have the time for proper (even minimal) prep for the game. Wow. I’ve typed lots here. There are many more areas of fear when it comes to gaming, and Mike covers them quite well. I highly recommend checking out this article.
I love being a player in a sandbox adventure, but only if there exists some level of rumors, backstory, area knowledge exposed to the player, and other things to hook into. If I’m dropped into a village with no context, and asked, “Where do you go?” My answer is going to be “The tavern to get my drink on.” because I’m not offered information about the “haunted burial mounds just north of the village” or some other neat thing. James has a great article about how to pull together disparate elements and books from various sources to tie them together in a great sandbox arena. Just keep in mind that the GM will need to provide “cool stuff to play with” along the way. Offer up a ton of hooks and rumors and such, and the players will certainly glom onto several of them to guide the GM into what to plan for next. Of course, the GM should be fully prepared for the PCs to hang a left instead of a right in an unexpected manner.
I’m going to keep this comment brief: The world (or universe or galaxy or whatever) is a living, breathing, changing character in your games. With all good stories, characters change and interact with one another. This includes the world and the PCs and the NPCs. I love the definitions of “status” and “trend” Mike gives in his post because they are spot on and should be used in the manner he describes. Last note: Mike has a section describing showing the trends vs. telling the trends. This is vital! I can’t put it better than he did, so I think you should click that link now and find out more.
I’ve only played a couple of online sessions and never a campaign. It’s just not for me. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get together with friends in person for my gaming, so I don’t have to resort to online gaming. The few times I’ve been gaming online, the games were very much “theater of the mind” rather than “I move my mini to this square” type games. This made for a more fluid game play. Senda’s article touches on not the “my fighter controls this part of the battlemat,” but on how the GM can keep control of the folks at the table. It also presents information on how the players can use that control, surrender that control, and be good (e.g.: non-distracted) players even though everyone is remote. I like what she has to say here. It still hasn’t changed my mind about playing online, but for those of you gaming online, I highly recommend checking this Gnome Stew article out.
D’oh! John beat me to the punch! I had this idea queued up in my brain for a future Gnome Stew article (full disclosure, I write for Gnome Stew). I use Trello to manage/track information in the Dresden Files RPG game I’m running. It works fairly well. I think it could be better, but I’ve not found anything that hits all my buttons yet. Trello is, for me, a great tool that’s close enough to perfect that I use it. I won’t steal John’s thunder here (even though he inadvertently stole mine) by going into too much detail. Let’s just say that John makes better use of Trello than I do, so I think you should check out what he had to say about it.
In a D&D 3.0 campaign I ran, I asked all of the players to write up a brief (1-2 page) backstory for their character. I then asked them to come up with 3-5 NPCs they are somehow linked to. Could be a relationship, a friend, an enemy, whatever. Their choice. I wanted a paragraph about each of these NPCs. With zero exceptions, the players use the opportunity to create 3-5 super powerful allies/relatives for their PCs. I was dismayed. Partially my fault because I didn’t give more guidance. This was out of trust that I placed into the players that they would do things for the betterment of the story, not boosting the power base of their characters. To link this to Mike’s article. There’s a high level of probability that one of the character’s ancestors (perhaps immediate, perhaps distant) is powerful or did great things. However, the chance of 3-5 immediate people in a character’s life being a powerful hero is pretty damn slim. Mike breaks it down quite well. Thanks for the article, Mike.
When a GM throws out something weird, “against the rules,” or simply not explainable on the surface with the facts given, I give the GM the benefit of the doubt. As a player/GM with 34 years of experience, it’s kind of hard to head fake me. I’m not one of those players who has every bestiary memorized and every spell rule known forward and backward. However, it’s hard not to collect a vast amount of knowledge after gaming for as long as I have. This is why I like it when the GM bends/breaks rules or adjusts things to make something new and interesting. I’ve also built enough worlds and studied enough world building books and even gone to (and taught) classes on it, that I know how the real world works and how to emulate it in sci-fi/fantasy. When someone’s world doesn’t conform to “the rules of reality,” I give them a pass and assume something cool, wondrous, fantastic, magical, or extraordinarily disastrous has happened to put things into the shape they are.
I love lists that I can roll on to generate idea tokens that I can then evolve into full ideas. This taps into the part of my brain that gets excited about the new, fresh, and unusual. I never know what I’m going to get from random charts, so what I end up making isn’t limited by my creativity, but I’m given what I call a “creative compass” to build upon. No, I don’t use charts like Matt’s to generate things straight off the page. That’s insanity. I’ll roll a few times on the table, see how the bits mix ‘n’ match, and then run off with those tokens to create more full-fleshed idea. This is the heart of improv creating. Don’t take things literally. Use the tokens to guide, but not direct. Make it your own!
Another winter post from Mike! It’s currently snowing here in Colorado while I type this, so I think it’s appropriate that I’m getting to read this article at this moment. There are great details here about Washington D.C. (which I’ve only been to during the muggy, humid, hot summer), and Detroit (which I’ve only been to during an unexpected cold snap of 9 degrees without my coat). Unfortunately, the article gets broken at that point. It looks like Mike stubbed out some data for Chicago and has some broken HTML in that area. There’s a list of other planned cities, so I’m kind of confused. I love what he had to say about the two cities he detailed, but I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the article.
Social contracts are a must! I didn’t do one at the start of my Dresden Files RPG because I know and trust the players very well. My mistake. I should have put one together because one player is playing his character (a were-mountain-lion) like an asshole cat. Even to the point where I can’t get the character involved in the plot hooks because “it’s what my character would do.” I’m not sure it’s too late to go back and retro-fit a social contract in, but it might be. I need to broach the subject with the player here in a few days, and I’ll be using advice from Marty’s article to build toward that conversation.