Monday, March 14, 2016

The Feelz

This isn't about what you think it's going to be about. This blog entry ain't about "feelings." It's about when a thing feels right. It's about following your gut to where it really wants to go.

I am scheduling a game of Cyberpunk for next Sunday. Cyberpunk came out in 1990. There is a third edition, released in 2005, but it looks like booty so I'm going back to the second edition.

The question that comes up is, why play a 20+ year old cyberpunk game? Why not play Tech Noir, or Shadowrun? The answer is simple: Cyberpunk feels right.

One of the hardest things about GMing is learning when to trust your gut. In nearly 30 years of playing RPGs I still struggle with it. Those fucking Shoulds enter my head. You should play a game more relevant. You should play something more people recognize and can get behind.

But you know what else I should do? I should play whatever the fuck I want. I should play to my passion. Passion's contagious, as we all know. If I have a fire for Cyberpunk, someone's gonna wanna see where it goes. And my gut tells me it's going to go to a cool fuckin' place.

So how am I going to deal with the obsolete elements of Cyberpunk? A future without wifi? A future without Facebook? That's simple: I'm not. I'm not aiming for contemporary realism in this game. I'm aiming for the future of the 90s, not the future of the 20-teens. If you want to see how my Cyberpunk game is going to look, go watch Robocop (preferably the original, but the remake is not too far off the mark, either). Go watch Total Recall. Go watch Blade Runner. These are the stories I'm basing this game's future on. This is a long, waggly middle-finger to transhumanism and the "realistic" future that has nearly killed this genre with its lofty idealism and hard-to-understand technologies.

Now don't get me wrong: I love transhuman shit, and I've written at length about how cool I think Eclipse Phase is. But what feels right to me is cyberpunk. So that's what I'm shooting for. And I think it's going to be awesome.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How to Control Pace.

You like that period I threw up there? I'm gonna say about 7 out of 10 of you read that title differently because of the period at the end. Knowing how to change someone's thought process, even for a fraction of a second, is pace control. And that is a VERY valuable skill to have in the bold and dynamic world of tabletop gaming. Whether you're playing Dungeons & Dragons or Pokemon, knowing how quickly or slowly things move relative to each other...and knowing how to adjust that speed...is an essential skill for tabletop gamers to have.

Unfortunately, pacing is such a bold and dynamic variable that it is very, very hard to teach. At least, from my experience. I'm going to write about two little tricks I do. These things may or may not work for you. "Your mileage may vary," as they say.

The first thing I do is take a ten minute break every sixty minutes of play. During that break, I take a little walk, I think about what's happened, and I think about what I want to do next. Guided by my agenda, I typically come up with a solid enough foundation to build the next sixty minutes of play on.

The second thing I do is intentionally take as long as possible to do something. Not everything, of course. Just whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed or that the game is running away from me. I don't normally look up rules in the middle of play, for example. But if I feel like the pace is going faster than I'd like, suddenly I give a damn about rules and start looking them up, mid-game. This is a tricky little trick because many people are going to read this and think I'm saying do fucking EVERYTHING as slowly as possible, and of course I don't mean that. I mean, a tool I have at my disposal for controlling the pace of play is to intentionally make an effort to think a thing through, rather than throwing out the first thing I can think of. A lot of you probably do this instinctively. That's an awesome gift to have, gov, and I'm jealous if you do! I don't think I have it since I have to think about it a lot to get there. 30 years, in fact.

Life's Agenda

One of the coolest things that has come from the "Powered by the Apocalypse" revolution is the idea of the GM keeping an agenda. The agenda is, essentially, a set of not mechanical rules but a set of theoretical moves. Everything you say and do at the table (and away from the table, too) exists to accomplish your agenda. Things that aren’t on this list aren’t your goals.

GMs, do this for EVERY FUCKING RPG YOU RUN. Here's my agenda when running Shadowrun:

1. Represent the street.
2. EVERYTHING is corporate.
3. There are haves, and there are have-nots.

See what I did there? I took the agenda one step further and injected some good ol' fashioned literary theme in there. 

I have an agenda for every game I run. Here's one for Edge of the Empire:

1. The Galactic Civil War is an opportunity. 
2. EVERYTHING is Light and Dark...but everything can change sides.
3. Everybody's got a boss.

I'm not going to share any more because I don't want my players to discover the agenda for their games. Afterall, another one of the coolest ideas Apocalypse World and its brethren have taught us is "never speak the name of your move." Or, in this case, agenda.

Homeland

This Sunday, I'm starting True North, a campaign for Chronicles of Darkness. The six-episode campaign takes place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a place very special to my heart. I grew up there.

To me, the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is a lonely place. The largest city, Marquette, has a population of about 20,000. The rest of the U.P.'s population of 311,000 people is spread across over 16,000 square miles of forest. To put it in perspective, the U.P. is about 30% of Michigan, but contains only 3% of its population.

You feel that, growing up. You definitely see it when you enter the military and see how vast the rest of the fucking world is compared to where you grew up. It changes your perspective.

But I'm human, and they say the most traumatic thing every human being goes through is childhood, so there's that. I still carry with me the trauma of growing up in that lonely, open forest. And now, I've found a way to exercise that trauma: in a campaign for a horror role-playing game. How fucking therapeutic does that sound?