Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Recap/Review of Jewel of Yavin

This is a spoiler-free recap and analysis of yesterday's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game.

Yesterday, I hosted The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire module "The Jewel of Yavin" for five players. One player was completely new to roleplaying games. Of the five players, two of them had experiences (250 Xp) characters; the rest were starting characters (though I fudged obligation rules a little and gave them 10 extra, as the adventure appeared to be designed for more experienced characters, anyway.)

Overall, the session went extremely well. It felt so good to be behind the GM's screen again! I don't know why I get such joy out of running games as opposed to playing in them, but the difference is real, and its profound. And the confidence I have and the quality of the game also get heavily influenced by my prep, and I did quite a bit of prep for this game. I didn't know everything, of course, but structually I was very comfortable with the pace and flow of the adventure. It did lack the bombastic thrills and kitchy mechanics of my Firefly campaign, but the solid, fundamental qualities of this adventure more than made up for it, I felt. Overall, I'd say this was one of my favorite sessions this year.

First, let's start with the players. I had five people; originally six, but there was a no-show. I expected this; in a venue of strangers, there's always some one who can't make it. I'm not mad at all, I just wasn't surprised. I'd actually call the one no-show a net gain for the game, though, as this put our player count at five, which I think is just about perfect for most RPGs (four ain't bad, either). Six isn't bad of course, but depending on the game, six can really stretch the mechanics and compromise the quality of the session. I was afraid that would be the case with EotE, but I'm glad I didn't have to test that theory yesterday.

Of the five that showed, I was very happy to have a great, motivated, smart group of individuals. Two of them were retuning regulars from my Firefly game and one of them had been a part of a few of my one-shot sessions over the year. So they were known quanitities, and they were just as awesome as I had hoped they'd be. Of the two other players, one of them (as mentioned) was brand new to role-playing games. He did indeed have that deer-in-the-headlights look a few times throughout the session, but by the end of the evening he seemed to be throwing dice and RPing it up with the best of them. He did great, and I'm glad he joined us.

The other player was an EotE vet. Vets pose a special challenge to me; they are a window into other playing groups, and thus other playing styles. I'm always curious as to how I match up with his other RPGing experiences. That is to say, I always hope to be better. I'm not competitive about a lot of things (almost nothing, really), but I thrive on the tireless pursuit of being a great GM. He definitely had a good time, but I'm not sure if I quite blew his socks off. Hmm. I'll have to work on that in the future...

It turns out the third time was indeed the charm when it came to this latest edition of Star Wars roleplaying. My first EotE game was a mess of conflicted interests; my second game was a lackluster starter game thrown at a crowd of vets; but this third game hit the mark perfectly. It was challenging without being frustrating, interesting without being confusing, and fun without being ridiculous. There were several fantastic moments throughout the game. I'm not going to to go into details because of spoilers and such, but nevertheless, I was very happy with the adventure itself. After playing it once, "Jewel of Yavin" is making a strong case for being the best published adventure I've ever read/run.

As for the system itself...that was perhaps my favorite part of the entire game. Long stretches of the adventure simply entailed the players describing their characters' actions, and then rolling dice. In any other game, this would be maddening, boring, tedious to the point of sheer frustration. In Edge of the Empire, though, every dice roll was fun. Coming up with clever ideas to add boost dice; watching the meticulous balance of Light and Dark side tokens to upgrade or downgrade dice, and coming up with various levels of good and bad news dependent on the rolls was devilishly fun for myself, and I daresay the group as a whole. There was almost never a "you pass/you fail" moment from the dice; the dice actively pushed the story in various directions through play. The dice didn't hinder the story; the dice were helping me tell the story. Backed with a well-structured adventure to contextualize all that planning and rolling, and this game came as close to running itself as I'd ever seen.

The only downside to the helpful system is the inertia left me scrambling for the few things it didn't cover. NPCs, for example. I was so caught up in planning and handling dice rolls that I found myself un-motivated to roleplay the various NPCs who showed up throughout the adventure. I think I did an adequate job, but compared to how smoothly everything else went, the gap there felt pretty noticeable to me. In future adventures, I'll have to be sure to either minimize the amount of NPCs, or give them some easy-to-follow personality quirks that makes a basic level of roleplaying at least feasible.

The other one issue with the game was the atrocious running length. I committed to running "Jewel of Yavin" before finishing my reading of the book. As a result, I did not realize I had just committed to running a three-session epic adventure as a single-session game! If/when I do it again, I have some big thoughts on how to whittle "The Jewel of Yavin" down into a single session game. On the other hand, it is very easy to see "The Jewel of Yavin" expanded into an entire multi-adventure campaign. My players and I persevered, but unfortunately we ran out of time before we could fully complete the adventure. Something to work on for next time!

Overall, as said before though, I loved yesterday's game. I am so happy and grateful it went down as well as it did. I absolutely cannot wait for the next chance to do something like that again!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The EDpire Strikes Back!

After a three-month break, I am back behind the ol' GM screen this weekend. Sunday, I'll be playing the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire adventure "The Jewel of Yavin." My regular group has splintered for the holidays, so for the first time in ages, I went public with this game. As expected (being Star Wars and all), it filled within barely 8 hours of posting.

I'm not completely back yet, though. I am going to wrap up my involvement as a player in two of my friends' excellent campaigns through December. I will return proper in January.

As is typical for a game about to happen, I have a mix of excitement and nervousness. There's a lot of prep to be done, and I have a lot of other things competing for my time...silly things like my job, and my Masters thesis. But worry not, Dear Reader: I will properly prioritize my time and have the adventure ready for Sunday!

I hate doing the "random thoughts loosely organized by bullet points" posts, but that's where I'm at right now and I'd like to keep my blogging momentum up. So here are some random thoughts going on in my head right now:

-This will be only my second session running Edge of the Empire. My first ended in disaster. I was in the throes of obsession with the Apocalypse Engine, and did a mid-game system switch after I got frustrated trying to remember all the rules to the game. It was less about the rules being many or complex and more about me being lazy and unprepared (not to mention being enamored with a completely different game). I ran EotE simply because it was new at the time and I knew it would pack the room. This time, however, I'm better versed in the ways of the system (not to mention I have a few players who are accomplished at the rules, as well), and I actively want to play this game, with no other games I'd rather play floating around in the back of my head. (Well, maybe The One Ring, but I'm not even close to finishing that book so I wouldn't be able to switch to it, even if I wanted to).

-I intend on playing all the way through "Jewel of Yavin," as this is a one-shot with no ability to go beyond a single session, even if I wanted it to. Though I'm still reading the adventure, it seems pretty sandboxy, so with a little direction I bet I could nudge the players towards completion while still giving them freedom enough to do their own thing.

-Pacing, a facet of GMing that I typically tend to obsess over, is going to be extraordinarily important this session. I estimate even a group laser-focused on finishing the main plotline will be pushing the 5-hour mark, and I am drawing a hard line at 8 hours. Even that best-case scenario is a little bit outside of my comfort zone (3-4 hours). So I'm going to have to pace myself and my players, taking breaks as needed, keep encounters moving along, and not letting meta-things like table talk, rules referencing, or lunch arrangements take up too much time, or break momentum.

-I've got two new players coming to my game this Sunday. Both are RPG vets, though, and one of them is familiar with EotE, so I don't anticipate any problems there.




Monday, November 17, 2014

The D20 Effect

When I read Dungeon World in the winter of 2012, it blew my mind. Here was a roleplaying game that was speaking exactly my mind when it came to running games. This little gem of an RPG had put, in writing, ideas about roleplaying games I had been doing instinctively for years, stuff like being a fan of the players, keeping the action focused on them, and building the world off of their actions rather than having anything set in stone. Dungeon World was a game that was written and designed to be played the way I'd been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over 20 years. I was in love. I thought I'd found the only RPG I'd ever want to play, ever again.

Then, something weird happened. As I began hosting sessions and running games, I found myself craving more. I wanted to have ideas I could fall back on, rather than making everything up in the spur of the moment. I wanted a framework, a structure for games to be built on, a launching pad for my players' imaginations. I wanted to give my players options and ideas they hadn't thought of before. 

In other words, I wanted the very things Dungeon World eschewed. I already had the things Dungeon World brought to the table; I wanted the things it specifically went out of its way to avoid bringing to the table.

When I started to talk to the community about this, the responses ranged from "you're doing it wrong" to "you don't really need that stuff," to "there's nothing stopping you from doing that in DW," to...well, more antagonistic responses. The very idea that I'd find DW lacking in any way seemed to verge on blasphemy within its community. 

What I find odd about this is it seems like every other post regarding Dungeon World appears to be some suggestions or ideas on hacks. More classes. Custom rules. Even whole adventures, a concept DW seems to be completely against, were appearing out there for the masses. Gamers wanted to make DW more complicated. Yet when I suggested to simply play a more complex game, the response was shock, if not flat-out disgust.

Personally, I blame something I'll call the D20 Effect. The D20 Effect is this phenomenon I've observed both online and in person where gamers feel constrained and powerless to influence the rules of a game. As if there really was a Rules Police that would kick in the door if they didn't use all the flanking rules in combat. 

I attribute this effect to the D20 System because that's when I think it really became a thing. When that game came out, it had rules for everything. As the new books came out and more and more rules came forward, the idea of "winging it" or (gasp!) playing your game without those books seemed wrong. The books themselves certainly didn't advocate their unnecessariness. It became the unwritten rule, this notion that you had to follow every rule in d20. The little DM section where it's written "if you don't like it, don't use it" had been buried under an avalanche of splatbooks, sourcebooks, and campaign settings with their own custom rules. That advice somehow ended up in the "fluff" section, skipped over as DM's were looking for the difficulty classes on various kinds of traps. So to gamers who's first experience with RPGs was the D20 system, I feel for them. I think any RPG gamer who cut their teeth on the 3rd, 3.5, or even 4th edition games probably feel like it's not okay to ignore rules because that will somehow break the game. So for those gamers to discover a game like Dungeon World, that purposefully and intentionally keeps the rules to a minimum, I understand how that must be a revelation to them.

It also doesn't surprise me that there are so many of the old guard who don't get it. Those folks, who had cut their teeth on older editions of D&D, were used to doing the things described by Dungeon World. 1st and 2nd edition did not have rules to cover everything; hell, even the rules they did have were oftentimes inconsistent and counter-intuitive. Those gamers didn't really have many other choices, so they just gutted the games they did have in order to play the one they really wanted to play. 

But even those older gamers aren't necessarily immune to the D20 Effect. Many of those older gamers got crushed under the weight of that system's meticulousness, as well. And now they think they're "too old" to enjoy heavier RPGs. They're not. They just forgot the most important rule: the rules only matter if you want them to. Many older gamers have forgotten this, while many younger gamers were never taught it. I was one of the former, till Dungeon World reminded me.








Friday, November 14, 2014

The Digital Divide

Over the past several months, I have grown increasingly distant from videogaming. Although it overtook tabletop gaming as my top hobby throughout my 20's, as I've gotten older, busier, and surrounded by new friends, I have found myself caring far more about tabletop gaming than its digital equivalent.

Last night, I had an hour to myself. Normally, an hour free meant an hour on a video game. Instead? I watched Gotham, then an episode of The Colbert Report after that.

Every afternoon, around 11am, I think about what I'd like to do at lunch. I inevitably think "I should play some more Persona 4 on my Playstation Vita. Or Super Smash Brothers on my 3DS. Or X-Com on my iPad. Every day for the past several weeks, I've chosen instead to read a pdf of a roleplaying game.

A month ago, I went on a mini-shopping spree and spent about $100 in videogames. After not opening several of them for weeks, I finally just took them back to Best Buy, returning about $60 of it.

And, perhaps most damning of all, I decided yesterday that, for Christmas, I would rather upgrade my smartphone (an iPhone 5S) to the latest model, the 6 or 6 Plus (haven't decided which, yet), instead of getting the Xbox One, as I had originally intended.

Videogaming is continuing to lose the battle for both my free time and my expendable income. If I were to look back at the hours I've spent playing, reading, and studying RPGs over the time spent playing or reading about videogames, it's no contest. Videogames in my life are getting increasingly marginalized to a quick time-wasting activity when I'm in an environment where reading is too difficult (like on a crowded bus, or in line at the grocery store). Right now, I consider my Vita my most-used gaming console, and even that isn't saying much.

It's not unusual for me to have rapid shifts in interests. When I was into videogaming, I was almost pendulum-like in the way I'd swing from home consoles to PCs, back and forth. Now that I'm into tabletop gaming, I frequently lean one way or the other between boardgames and roleplaying games. But this somehow feels different. This feels like I'm changing. 

Or maybe I'm not changing. Maybe I'm just finally in an environment where I can be myself. In my 20's, I played so many videogames simply because I had few friends. Now I have several good friends, and meeting new ones is as simple as joining or hosting a meetup group.

Do I have any particular problem with videogames? Absolutely not, although I will say the whole GamerGate thing has strained the already-disdainful attitude I tend to have on many of my fellow gamers. I think, if I had to attribute this seismic shift in interests to anything, it would be two factors: an increasingly strong urge to create, and bonding with friends.

Creation, true acts of creativity and player-driven storytelling, is a concept videogames have yet to compete with. They may never be able to. Yes, there are several games out there that allow you to be very creative. Minecraft immediately jumps to mind. The meta-stories players can tell themselves in epic games like Civilization or X-Com also come up. But there are few, if any, videogames out there that can truly capture the fluid nature of creativity the way a roleplaying game can. Even the most basic adventure I've run or played in within the last year couldn't possibly hope to be emulated in any meaningful way in any of today's existing videogame genres or technology. Even if they could, I wonder how successful they would even be. Many people play videogames to relax and ease their mind, not to continually tax it with creating new things. Minecraft again sprouts up, but the elegant brilliance of that game makes it an exception that proves the rule.

As for community...well, I've written before about the bond a gaming group can forge, and how, from my experience, anything similar in a videogame seems almost pathetic by comparison.

I guess what I'm finding interesting about this is I sit here, and I scan IGN and GameSpot, and I look at where videogames are and where they're going to be further down the road...and I go "meh." Meanwhile, I go to the Fantasy Flight Games website, or the D&D website, and I see what's available now, and the stuff coming down the pipe, and I'm absolutely bouncing in my chair in anticipation. The divide between my videogaming and my tabletop gaming is widening.

Back in the day, I literally could not have imagined a world where I wouldn't be all that interested in videogames. Today, I'm finding it harder to believe I ever liked videogames that much.

I wonder if the bow this elven ranger is using is a +2 Goblinslayer or just a +1 Returning...



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Editionism

The internet age hasn't been all good. Ask anyone who knows what gamergate is. Is it more good than bad? Probably. But there have been some ugly spots.

One ugly spot that I notice in my own hobby is the amount of soapboxing going on over one's gaming decisions. For lack of a better word, I'm going to call it editionism. Yes, I am talking about D&D mostly, but it can (and does) apply to other RPGs, too.

Editionism is the deep-seeded need for a gamer to proclaim that the edition he's playing is the best edition of the roleplaying game in question...or, alternately, that the edition he's not playing is the worst edition. It's backed with numerous status updates, blog posts, forum posts, the whole nine. It comes from our new social media-driven instincts to have to proclaim our beliefs, as if there is some silent majority out there that's wondering "What does <insert name of random person> think about this?" It can come in the form of mild, passive-aggressive dismissal ("I don't play X edition because I just don't care," a proclamation which begs the quesiton "If you don't care, then why are you writing about it?"), or rampant, unbridled hatred. 

It's unfortunate that the world has gotten itself into the mindset that everyone cares about everyone else's opinion. They don't. Nor should they. And don't tell me that you don't care, because if you took the time out of your day to write something, then you do care. At least a little. It's really unfortunate that all this energy is being spent on proclamations of beliefs, on editionism, instead of on actually playing the game.

Because, as Robert McKee famously said, "Action is character. You are what you do." So if you really think X edition is better than Y edition, don't waste your time and mine posting about why X edition is better than Y edition. Show me a recap of your great X edition game. Write me an analysis of the strengths of the X edition book. Post a podcast about your X edition campaign. Live your life. That says more loudly, more clearly, and more concisely what you believe, moreso than any rant.

I'll end this with one clarification: although editionism is sad and irritating to me, I have no issues with hypocrisy. That shit's just funny.

There's no particular reason I'm using the Dark Sun Campaign Setting for D&D 4E as an image. I'm just tired of seeing my face in all these blog posts!



Monday, November 10, 2014

The Spectrum

The Spectrum is how I help visualize/contextualize the complexity of a role-playing game. It's on a -5 to +5 scale. On the -5 end are the "storygames", RPGs that are extremely rules-light and narratively-focused. At the -5 level are GM-less collaborative storytelling games like Fiasco. Most of the big storygames today like Apocalypse World and the like would be a -4, in my mind.

At the +5 end are the "simulationist" games. These are RPGs that try and emulate reality with their rules, games with procedures and stats in place for every little thing imaginable. Right at the top of the spectrum would be actual wargames. The heaviest RPGs, like GURPS, HERO system, d20's heavier iterations, would all be about a +4.

It's easy to get caught up in the process of rating games along this scale, but a very important factor to keep in mind are the tastes of the people playing the games, players and GM. Where your personal tastes fall on this scale can be a rough, early estimation of how much you'll enjoy a given game. If you find yourself consistently loving games in the +3 or +4 range, but you're about to join a game in the -4 range, you might struggle to adapt. Or vice versa.

So, now that I've laid all that shit out, let's start arbitrarily assigning some ratings, shall we?

-I would say myself, as both GM and player, I rate right at 0 (at least, that's where I strive to be). I like RPGs that are both "RP" and "G." I get bored quickly with games too heavily in the minus range; I get frustrated quickly with games too high on the plus range.

-I'd say my group averages out at about a -1. All of our recurring campaigns have been built around games in the minus range, although several in the group have said they have no problems with "crunchier" games.

-The latest edition of D&D, in my opinion, weighs in at a +1. The rules are far more streamlined and light than previous editions, but there's still plenty of number-crunching that can be done, for those so inclined.

-Previous editions of D&D are as follows:
         -4th gets a +3.
         -3rd and 3.5 get a +4.
         -2nd gets a +2.
         -I didn't play enough of 1st to rate it.
         -Regular, "red box" D&D gets between +2 and +3, depending on the set.

-Here are the ratings for my Big & Little Five:

  1. D&D: +1.
  2. Shadowrun: +3 or +4, dependent on optional rules and used sourcebooks.
  3. Numenera/The Strange: 0.
  4. Star Wars (Fantasy Flight edition): +1.
  5. World of Darkness: +1.
  6. Cortex Plus: Action: 0, Superheroic: 0, Drama: -1.
  7. Fate Core: 0/-1, dependent on hacks used. (Fate Accelerated: -2)
  8. Apocalypse Engine: -2, -3, or -4, dependent on particular game
  9. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: +2.
  10. Call of Cthulhu: +1.


So, how would you rate your RPG interests on The Spectrum? How would you rate your favorite RPGs? How would you rate your gaming group?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Letter of Resignation

This week, instead of doing my homework for class or refining my thesis that's due next month, I worked on my novel for NaNoWriMo. Instead of further pursuing a Master's Degree that will have long-reaching and immediate benefits to my career and professional life, I worked on a novel with the goal of nothing more than writing words for the sake of writing words. Instead of reaching out to my friends or working on adventures for them to go on someday, I wrote about a character and his friends doing just that. 

What the hell was I thinking?

Well, what I was thinking about was simple: I want to do this thing because I said I would. Because I'm a habitual half-asser and I was done with saying one thing and doing another. I figured if I jump in deep, on a project I know I can do, I'll have no choice but to succeed. 

I still believe that, but what I failed to do while thinking about this was to choose my battles. If I'm going to stretch myself thin, let it be for some epic shit, not just to heal a wound in my ego. 

This is all a roundabout way of saying "I've got more important things to do with my time right now." And so, six days in, I'm officially saying "screw this" to NaNoWriMo this year. I wish the best of luck to my friends who continue to fight the good fight. Maybe I'll even try again next year, if I'm not, you know, pursuing a graduate degree while working full time, writing freelance reviews for a great website, working on any of the projects I already wrote about a few days ago in my blog post about The Kitchen, or trying to reconcile my marriage with my wife. 

Are these all excuses? Maybe. Do I give a shit? Nope. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Kitchen

The Kitchen is what I call my works in progress when it comes to tabletop RPGs. These are either adventures I'm working on, published adventures I'm assimilating (studying, re-studying, and re-writing published adventures so completely that they feel like as if I had written them), or RPGs I'm reading.

This post goes hand in hand with a post I made earlier about my Big & Little 5. The overall idea is to refine all of my diverse RPG gaming tastes down into something manageable, so that I'm not spinning my wheels studying RPGs I'll never play, writing adventures I'll never run, or otherwise inefficiently spending my nerd time. I'm publishing this to simultaneously create accountability, and to formalize my thought process in hopes of it creating a lasting infrastructure in my brain.

So without further ado, the current projects are cooking in the kitchen:

-Assimilate D&D Starter Set: My Boardgames at Work event has now changed into an RPG at Work event, beginning next Thursday. I want to have the Starter Set's beginning adventure, The Lost Mine of Phandelver, down cold, and broken into hour-long chunks for the long haul.

-Assimilate Masks of Nyarlathotep: Easily the biggest, most ambitious adventure I've ever seen, Masks is a Call of Cthulhu adventure that is a campaign in and of itself. For those of you unaware, Masks of Nyarlathotep is, essentially, a tabletop RPG version of a game of Eldritch Horror. PCs travel the globe unraveling an epic mystery. Finances are tracked, a calendar is used to keep track of time, and numerous red herrings and side quests open up throughout the course of the game. As if all of that weren't enough, the adventure has an open structure; PCs could go literally anywhere in the world, right from the opening hours of play, if they wanted. Assimilating this game into my brain could be the project of a lifetime...and if I pull it off, being able to have something this epic on tap could last me years.

-Assimilate the Dark Spiral: This is a big adventure/mini-campaign for The Strange. It, too, follows an open structure, and can be a great starting point for people new to the game.

-Assimilate the Devil's Spine: See above, but for Numenera instead of The Strange.

-Assimilate the Gathering Storm: This Warhammer adventure is every bit as premium/deluxe an experience as the game itself, complete with customized cards for new abilities, encounters, and magic items! It's an interesting adventure from what I've read so far. Getting it down cold in my head will allow me to run Warhammer on a moment's notice, something I'd greatly love to be able to do.

-Assimilate Splintered State: The first major adventure released for the fifth edition of Shadowrun is an awesome showcase of what's great about the system, plus a great segue into the bigger "plotline" of the game. It also has a great, logical progression to it. I've already read it twice, so assimilation of this beast is almost complete.

-Continue work on “The Right to Know” Campaign: My own idea for a modern Cthulhu epic is approximately one-fourth of the way done. The first chapter, "The Digital Tome," is an adventure I've run several times and am happy with how it turned out. The second chapter, "The Sudden Knife," is complete and ready for play but hasn't gotten to the table yet. The third through eigth chapters have yet to be written.

-Re-tool, rewrite “The Longest Game”: My crazy God Machine Chronicle adventure landed with a dull thud when I brought it out a few months ago, proving that GMing while stoned on pain medication following a tooth extraction is about as bad an idea as it sounds. However, in the months since, I've re-read The God Machine Chronicle, and with my new love of Demon: the Descent, I'm ready to rework this adventure into something truly bizarre and amazing.

-Read Mindjammer: This huge transhuman sci-fi game runs on Fate Core. I want to read it in the hopes of finding something a little heftier than Nova Praxis, but not quite as hefty as Eclipse Phase.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lookin' Back

This afternoon, I've begun reading Things Don't Go Smooth, the first major sourcebook for the Firefly RPG. As a result, I've been reminiscing a lot on my summer Firefly campaign.

Our campaign wrapped on August 18th. So it's been about two and a half months since the last episode. Whoa, it feels like it's been longer! But here are some of my thoughts on the campaign, looking back:

Things I Liked About the Campaign:

1. First and foremost, it was a great opportunity to bond with my friends. Again, it's only been two and a half months, but I feel like we really got to know each other and work with each other over the span of that campaign. Away from the table, I feel much closer to everyone in my group, and I think a lot of that had to do with the great chemistry we found at the table, while playing this game.

2. I've said this before, but I relished the opportunity to experiment with different adventure structures and storytelling techniques, stuff I never would have dared to try in a more conventional RPG. The experience of running those avant-garde style adventures is something I'll carry with me moving forward, ideas and methods that I can use to run better games in the future. The campaign was a tremendous learning experience for me.

3. I set out to run a campaign, from beginning to end, and I did it. Granted, there were distractions along the way, and sure enough, I wanted to quit at certain points, but with my friends egging me on, I embraced the momentum and followed through to the end. Many may scoff at a mere seven sessions as a "campaign," but for me, it was a pretty major achievement! That experience with running games consistently is definitely something I'll carry with me moving on. I'm really looking forward to my next opportunity to run a complete campaign. Who knows...the next one might even be eight adventures long!


Things I Would Have Done Differently:

1. Though I managed to break from my normal form and run a complete, persistent campaign, I failed to break from another habit I have: ignoring rules. Of course, I'm all about throwing out the rules when they get in the way of play, but if we're being honest here, I didn't throw out all of the rules because they were getting in the way. I was throwing out rules because I was lazy, didn't want to study them, and didn't do enough prep before the game. Again, I am not advocating having to follow every rule as written in the corebook to the letter/number, but I do believe you need to at least attempt to understand and use the rules before you make that judgement call. While reading Things Don't Go Smooth, there have been many moments...too many moments, in my opinion...where the book addresses a rule and I thought "Oh! THAT'S how I was supposed to do that!"

2. I don't mind running games from the seat of my pants. I do it all the time. But for a campaign where I had two weeks between most sessions, I wish I had done more prep. Good prep, in my experience, helps improv, it doesn't hurt it. You see, if you do your homework, then you're doing less scrambling in-game, which frees up your mind to come up with even better ideas on the spur of the moment. I had an opportunity, between the flexible nature of Cortex Plus, and the weeks of downtime between games, to craft some great adventures. I blew that opportunity. I hope I don't do that again, for the next campaign.

3. I discovered, somewhere around the fifth or sixth episode of watching Firefly, that I just don't care much for the show. I understand why people love it so much. I can objectively see the quality of the show. And I absolutely believe FOX cut it down before it's time. But I was not a fan of the show. It's hard to run a game when you don't care about the source material. My friend Boomer recently talked to me about how his fantasy campaign, which was originally supposed to be Dungeon World, got switched to D&D because he got caught up in the hype. I can certainly relate, because that's exactly what happened with me and Firefly. I was all set to run the Call of Cthulhu epic, Masks of Nyarlathotep, but then Firefly and all the extreme hype around both it and the Cortex Plus system showed up, and I got caught up in it. The previous two items are issues I've struggled with throughout my GMing "career." But this particular issue was a rookie mistake that I normally don't make. It definitely won't happen again.


Monday, November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo: A pep-talk (or, um, pep-write)

I'm three days into NaNoWriMo and I'm about to cross 5,000 words. I'm more or less on schedule to hit 50,000 words by November 30th. The question I find myself wondering now, however is "at what cost?"

My story, so far, sucks. Not the humble-brag "oh it sucks, but I expect you to tell me it's actually good" sucks; an actual, flat-out, I'm-embarrassed-to-say-I-wrote-this kind of sucks. That's okay. It's a rough draft of words coming out of my brain at an almost free-association level of depth and speed. I expect it to suck. I'm not worried about it sucking. I'm confident I can turn "sucks" into "rocks" (or, maybe more realistically, "sucks less") during revision.

What I hadn't counted on when I laid out my plan was how fucking boring my little novel was going to be. In writing these first almost-5,000 words, I have seen the seams, the infrastructure lurking beneath the illusion. I do a fairly decent job of hiding those seams in my blog, but in my novel, there is absolutely no safeguard there: someone reading my draft is, very clearly, reading the work of a nerd obsessing over his nerd-hobby. I can't imagine anyone wanting to read more than a few pages of this before putting it down. I don't even want to read more than a few pages of this without putting it down.

This is a unique problem for me. My tolerance for boredom is quite low, typically. But writing about role-playing games creates an odd little paradox within me. I can see that my novel is objectively boring, yet I can still write all goddam day about it. There is literally nothing else in the world I can do that about. Crazy.

I set out with a simple goal: write a 50,000 word novel, as quickly and consistently as I can. Now I find myself under the effects of "Careful What You Wish For" syndrome. There's little doubt in my mind I can do this. I'm just not sure I'm going to be proud of the product. The answer to that, of course, is "Being proud of the product isn't the goal, is it, Ed? FINISHING the product is the goal."

Because that's the one thing I keep coming back to. In all my professional, personal, and academic experience as a writer, I've discovered this: successful writers and talented writers are not the same thing. There are literally millions of people on this planet with ideas for The Great American Novel in their heads. Ideas, like talk, are cheap. Work is valuable. That, to me, is what NaNoWriMo is all about. It's about getting away from the "I need to have it just perfect" cliche of the amateur writer and actually putting something down on paper (or typed on screen, I suppose). You want to know why so much crap sells? Because crap is real. You can't publish a good idea; only the book that comes from it.

So if you, Dear Reader, like me, are struggling right now with just how horrible your writing is, remember this: anybody can write well. It takes a real writer to write shitty.