An Arrival Entirely Unexpected – Wampus County Edition

I’m participating in the Wampus County summer contest; hurry it’s almost over. Here’s my entry.

An Arrival Entirely Unexpected

With the bridge washed out, Welliver Q. Rumpscullion and Miss Lulubelle Harch find themselves stranded in a wayside inn. An odd assortment of travelers slowly gather over the course of a three day deluge. Drying by the fireside, they each exchange tales. Mr. Rumpscullion excuses himself to the corner, tutting and muttering at each outlandish tale.

Who Arrived

For each visitor that arrives, roll a d20 once for each column. Give them a name. And figure out what’s up.

d20 Who From Where Where To Why
1 Baron Manor Ducal Seat Right a Grievence
2 Bride Wedding To New Home Recently Married
3 Tinkerer Supply Store Remote Village Fix Something
4 Gambler Next Village Over Another Country Caught Cheating
5 Groom Hometown Neighboring Village “Claim what is his”
6 Guard Keep Right Here Drown Sorrows
7 Sheriff Execution Keep The Job is Done
8 Necromancer Local wizard’s tower Graveyard Illicit Supplies
9 Troubadour Neighboring Country Festival Glory
10 Messenger Court Manor Delivering a Secret
11 Grave Robber Graveyard Pawn Shop Sell a Relic
12 Forester Kings Forest Court Deliver Captive
13 Child Home Nowhere Really Running Away
14 Shepherd Pasture Stable Good Tidings
15 Mercenary Battlefield Front Lines Make Some Money
16 Mountebank Like He’d Tell You Capital Score Big
17 Huntsman Remote Cottage Forest Fell Something
18 Researcher Library Hermitage Learn Something Forgotten
19 Priest Church City Convert to the Cause
20 Waiter Right Here Anywhere Follow a Dream

Cataloging Performance Art and other Ephemera

I grew up gaming in a pre-Internet era. Knowledge was scarce, and conveyed via oral traditions, tattered rulebooks, and gaming magazines. Then, the Internet came, and TSR clamped down on their property. It could’ve been glorious, but instead it was a frustration.

In fact, I spent several hours every week in college trying to connect to the anointed TSR content server – I forget its name, but it was rumored to house lots of house rules and hacks that TSR had “sanctioned”. Don’t ask how I heard the rumor, I assume I stumbled upon it via gopher.

Then came the OGL, and the floodgates of creativity opened. Discussions happened on numerous fronts. There was explorations of the D20 and OGC…systems clearly derived with permission from all involved (e.g. Pathfinder). There was exploration of self-publishing that went beyond D20 (e.g. the Forge). And archaeological digs into the core of old school began (e.g. OSRIC).

There was a creative fervor that began and continues. It was always there…just ask to see any old school gamers GM notebook of house rules and hacks. But now we are all seeing how the sausage is made.

Collectively we are exploring our hobby in fascinating ways. Take a moment to read Robin D. Laws post on the self-publishing vanguard that has been RPGs. Our collective desire to make our mark on our hobby has advanced more than just personal egos, it has expanded our horizons (e.g. Fiasco) while making our history readily available (e.g. OSR).

There may very well be fatigue on the horizon – I know Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are ever a temptation for me. Truth be told so many people are making awesome fantastic things. And the temptation for me comes in wanting to recapture those sublime moment of gaming…where the walls melt away and everyone at the table is their character.

Clearly, passionate people are pouring their energy into creative works. They are exploring a means of capturing and conveying their moments at the table to a larger audience. And we as the gaming community are hungry. And it is not just Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, it is podcasting, forums, blogs, Google+, Twitter, and others.

And the big one gamification. Our little subculture has been a harbinger of things to come. We are the intersection of learning, community, self-publishing, and entertainment.

Our history is preserved, thanks to Creative Commons and the Open Game License. Our future is open as we are all extremely passionate about the games we play. Geek culture has won, now what will we do with our winnings?

I believe we should share our winnings. Show them. But don’t tell them all the great things.

A Bizarre Ritual of Mine

I wish I was more organized with my note taking, preparation, and storage of character sheets. I don’t believe Matt has forgiven me for losing one of his characters – alas poor Spike X, we barely knew him.

I now have a system for character sheets – it involved purchasing an accordion binder and placing everything in there. But other information…there’s a notebook somewhere.

I never picked up good study habits, because I always felt as though things came naturally for me. Most of my notes from class were often doodles. And now, as I balance the reality of full-time job, remarriage, and teenage children, I wish I were better at my note taking and preparation.

I find that my hand written notes are much easier to remember than anything I type. However, this creates a challenge, because I don’t always write them in a reasonable notebook and they can inevitably get lost in the shuffle.

I would turn to the computer, but for me, it represents my workspace. And as I said earlier, I know that there are better ways to store the information – I could create an ontology and begin mapping the information for storage and retrieval. But would I rather work on a game? Or work on the meta-game?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been in somewhat of a funk. I started a new job, learning from and helping others. I’ve been mentally drained as I stepped out of the marketing environment of content management and into the library environment of cataloging, archiving, and discoverability – There are similarities, but there are real differences as well. There is a lot to learn.

What I realized today, as I was picking up a birthday present for my daughter, is that I buy a new notebook and pen when I’m ready for a change.

There is some catharsis in choosing a new notebook. A whole new opportunity to record thoughts in a blank book. A book devoted solely to whatever idea is trying to break forth from my skull.

Inevitably, the notebook’s original intent, which was likely not very clear, gets muddled. With its initial purpose sullied, the notebook languishes. For some reason my brain abandons this once promising virginal book to undertake a stygian journey of mindlessness.

For now, the notebook is new and fresh. I know there are ideas to come, so now, it is time to sit with pen and paper and capture those thoughts.

And I’m looking forward to reading “Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep.” I’m certain there will be some helpful advice.

Just Arrived – Monster of the Week by Michael Sands

Awhile ago, I sponsored the IndieGoGo campaign for Monster of the Week by Michael Sands. Monster of the Week is a part of the burgeoning Apocalypse World hack ecosystem.

Monster of the Week

Monster of the Week

I was pulled into the IndieGoGo campaign with the one-two punch of Apocalypse World engine and “It models seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

And today it arrived.

I’ve read a good portion of the PDF, but didn’t finish it. I find game books are easiest for me to read in physical form – in fact most books remain easier for me to read if I have a physical copy.

To my knowledge, this game is the first RPG I’ve purchased from a New Zealander.

I’m looking forward to reading this book and giving it a try. I’m going to run at least one session before GenCon so I should have this in my repertoire of games that I can run at Games on Demand.

More importantly, when I mentioned that the game was partly inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my kids immediately perked up – they love Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Spike, and company.

The challenge remains not enough time for all the games. At least we got a few hands of Tichu in this evening.

Crippled by Knowledge

My day job is software programming. My passion is games and hacking. I’m not the best hacker, but I find a quiet solace in solving a problem through the various raw tools at my disposal. It is a process of constant learning, which is a requirement for remaining a professional in the software industry.

Unfortunately, there is a tension between my game preparation and my knowledge as a programmer. As I’m working on my games, I see patterns, repetition, and want to create a solution, typically as it relates to content storage.

This quickly spirals into me exploring a technical solution for my hobby. Which in turn leads to the current state of my preparation for GenCon – poor.

I’ve stalled on my Dungeon World conversion for the T1 portion of the Temple of Elemental Evil. I have the monsters in a playable format; Though I still need to run some brave souls through the adventure.

As I was working on the Dungeon World conversion, the programmer side of me, couldn’t help but shudder at the repetition. After all, I was manually applying HTML tags to the chunks of text I was working on.

The programmer in me screamed, “Wait! Make a form for entering the content. Store it without markup! If you do that, then you can easily render the content in any format…so long as you create the view of that content.” After all, other people are interested in the content.

And then my brain was off. It wanted to solve the problem of normalizing the data input so it could be portable. And what was once a hobby venture quickly got mangled into some crazy amalgam of work and hobby.

Fortunately for me, at this time, I rather quickly abandoned the idea of making a simple application. In my personal experience, I have found the most sure fire way to lose interest in my hobby is to start programming ways to be more efficient at it.

There is a part of me that wants and needs well formed information. The 4E powers are quite appealing to me at this level. They were well defined; I could see data structure. There was a harmony in its presentation.

Zak S‘ blog posts, especially the ones with bizarre maps, are a Rorschach test for my gamer brain. His posts do not present information in a uniform fashion. There is instead a creative fury behind his presentations.

I can easily envision his GM notebook; It is a collection of hastily cut out, clippings with mismatched that are stitched together like some kind of bizarre ransom note.

I’m not entirely certain if I can create GM notebooks like Zak, but the other option is for me to mentally juggle half-baked ideas and solutions. So why not hit Cmd+P and find a nice 3-ring binder?

After all, I’m a hobby gamer. If I run a shitty game session, there is always next week.

Sitting Down to Run a New Game

Originally written for a Gnome Stew contest, but never completed.

Since starting this blog back in February of 2011, I have played several new RPGs:

  • Diaspora
  • Microscope
  • Fiasco
  • Burning Wheel Gold
  • Bulldogs!
  • Hollowpoint
  • Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
  • Dungeon World
  • Labyrinth Lord / D&D Rules Encyclopedia

And several new board games:

  • Eminent Domain
  • Ascension
  • Artus
  • Castle Ravenloft

I’ve also written about the games that I want to play this year.  When I decide that I want to run a new game, I sit down and do some research.

The Process

Learn The Rules

First, I read the book, not necessarily cover to cover.  I need to have a working familiarity with the game.

With a large repertoire of games that I’ve played, I am able to fairly quickly ingest a rules set. This can lead to overlooking rules nuances (e.g. exactly how do you populate the colonist ship in Puerto Rico). But as a whole, it means I can get going rather quickly.

In the case of an RPG, I try to go through the various procedures for pre-session work.  Make a character. Create a cluster.

If I have time I might give the game a dry run.  For RPGs this might mean having a quick conflict, as that is what many RPGs spend a lot of pages describing.

Remember, the goal of this preparation is to best sell the game to the other players.  Getting buy-in from them is key for repeat plays of the game.

Gather Friends Sympathetic to the Cause

It is very frustrating trying to teach someone a new game when they are content with the games they have. So don’t invite them – and instead set aside another night to play their favorite game.

Instead invite those willing to try a new game. Especially those with a bit of time to talk it over afterwards. With your friends convened, explain the game.

Explain the Game

If there is a win or session ending condition, explain that up front.  Let the players all know what they are working towards.  In RPGs, win conditions are likely a non-issue.

Keep the pre-game explanation to around 5 minutes.  No one really wants to hear you read the rules, nor narrate each component. If you have some real rules lawyer types, let everyone know that you’ll allow take backs of moves – unless its Jenga and the tower toppled. Its a first game, don’t spoil everyone initial experience.

Dive In

And most importantly, just get started. In the case of a boardgame, ask if someone wants to go first. If no one quickly volunteers, then step in and take the first turn.

While you are taking your turn, explain out loud your thought process and any actions you are taking. This can help other people understand the game…of course your thinking may be misguided, but if you say it out loud others may be able to help correct you.

Wrap Up

If there is still plenty of time remaining and there is interest in another round, by all means play it. In this way, everyone can and apply their new understanding to the game.

If you don’t have enough time, try to get other players input on the game. Maybe what they wished they would have done.

Diaspora Character Creation – Alexandros Teleman

A few months back, I wrote about joining a new Diaspora campaign as a player. My goal was to make sure we played out a platoon combat. We did play that session, but haven’t since then. Below are my notes for my character.

Diaspora Cluster

Diaspora Cluster

Growing Up
My father, Darius Teleman, is a general in the Andorian Congressional Guard. My mother a Rylon slave. Father insisted on providing the best education. I grew up under the tutelage of numerous brilliant minds, many of whom were captured X scientists. My toys were maps and armor replicas. My childhood friends were war simulations.

Aspects: Father’s involved in everything I do; Cold and calculating

Starting Out
Alexandros graduated from the Congressional Academy with highest honors. He was given command of the Yellow Phoenix Brigade. Navigating the political labyrinth came easily and he quickly rose in ranks assuming control of the Phoenix Platoon.

Aspects: Smooth-talking Politician, Leader of the Phoenix Platoon

Moment of Crisis
The Slag Syndicate provided advanced armor prototypes used by the Phoenix Platoon to quell the Jesper uprising. While mechanically sound, the interfaces were confounding and prone to reboots. During the battle of Jaros, the Phoenix Platoon was routed and Alexandros taken hostage. General Darius Teleman leaned hard on the Slag Syndicate and secretly brokered an arms for hostage exchange.

Aspects: Tortured hostage; Once more into the breach!

Sidetracked
Alexandros had heard of Berto, a Rylon slave; Alexandros’ mother had found that he was the vintner for the Whispering Blossoms. His wines were among the most coveted in all the worlds. A plan was hatched, and Alexandros setup an opportunity to claim Berto as his personal vintner. The events went according to plan and Berto was brought to me. The investigation into the events was eventually stonewalled by my father. And Berto now travels with me, fermenting custom spirits for me and my family.

Aspects: Skeletons in the closet; Wine snob

On Your Own
Mother’s Day is coming and I’m looking for something unique for her. A trip to Rylon was in order. Father insisted on traveling to Rylos so that I may checkup on Big Mike. He may be sympathetic to the AFF. I am here incognito, donning one of my alter egos.

Aspects: Lead a double-life; Loyal to my family

Skill Tree:

  • Rank 5: Tactics
  • Rank 4: Agility, Alertness
  • Rank 3: Resolve, Charm, Slug Throwers
  • Ranks 2: Medical, Micro G, EVA, Oratory
  • Rank 1: Intimidation, Stamina, Survival, Bureaucracy, Culture/Tech Jesper

Stunts:

  • Natural Swordsman: Use Agility for Close-Combat
  • Military-grade Alertness
  • Military-grade Slug Throwers