Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Rivalry Begins

For quite a while now I've been tooling together the Elthos RPG and it's associated web application, now called The Mythos Machine.   As it happens, and I've rather expected such a thing all along, a competitor has appeared on the horizon.  My first genuine rival.

My rival is The City of Brass by Ember Studios.  While it is not in production yet, and the Kickstarter for it will not even start until March 6, they have put out some videos on their product.  I have to say, when I saw it I was a bit overwhelmed, and came close to panicking.  The reason being that it is almost an exact duplicate of what I've been working on for the past ... oh ... um ... well, dang, has it been thirty years already?  Ok, well don't rush me.  I'm a slow poke.

But the truth is, I'm actually kind of a perfectionist, and working on this by myself as a hobby project after my day job work hours, and ... well ... yeah, its taken a long time.  A very long time.  But coming up with the concept, rooting out it's details, and figuring out exactly how such a thing should work... it's taken a long time.   It's always easy after the fact to look at some new creation and say "Ok, well that's kind of obvious", but the reality is - figuring out what's obvious can take a really long time.

Still though, the fact is, City of Brass has arrived suddenly (after they say only one year of development!) and happens to be almost an exact duplication of the Elthos Mythos Machine, with a slightly better interface (annoying as that may be), and one key concept that I was loath to tackle - they are willing to incorporate any and all of  the other existing RPG systems out there, such as Pathfinder, D&D, and, well, whatever floats your boat.  From the videos it looks like you can add any rules systems to the thing, and they intend to add as many as are out there.   Wow. That's awesome.  I'm dwarfed by that. 

When I stumbled across this on Saturday I spent a few hours in semi-panic mode.  I was like ... "OMG... my life long dream ... being run over by the mack truck of a software development team that is better, faster, stronger than I am... wahhhh... wahhhhh... wahhhhh...."

Ok, I realized pretty fast that panicking is probably not the best possible response.  I stepped back, wrote a couple of emails to my close friends about it, and then went on my normal daily routines (Kung Fu Class and then dinner with my girlfriend) and in the background of my mind thought about the big picture.  That was probably the best thing I've done for myself in 20 years.  It gave me a chance to step back and reflect.

After all is said and done, I think there is plenty of room in our hobby for all kinds of applications to automate Gamemastering tasks in a way that helps propel the art forward.

Despite the fact that looking at City of Brass seemed a lot like looking at a reflection of the Mythos Machine with a somewhat different interface, and with the addition of  an interesting multi-system capability, and being rather daunted by the uncanny similarities between my project and theirs... I came away in the end feeling that this may actually turn out to be a good thing for Elthos, and for the hobby as a whole. After all, we need tools like these to advance the art of Gamemastering for the 21st Century.  I've been saying that for quite some time.  So in one sense, I'm grateful to see others working towards the same ends.

My friends who have been working with me on this project informally as play testers for quite some time now immediately rallied and insisted that I not lose hope.  They said there's plenty of room for competition, and there's no reason to be dismayed by City of Brass.  The main thing is to perfect Elthos RPG and the Mythos Machine to the best of our ability, and do our best to support a community of people who find it a valuable tool in their GMing utility belt.  I was touched and encouraged by my friend's responses.  They're great guys, and all I can say about that is that I'm incredibly grateful for their support and enthusiasm.

My girlfriend over dinner helped me to think about what this means for Elthos.  She came up with an encouraging point of view... "A rival is good for you.  It will spur you on to greater heights," she said.  I was happy to hear her say so.  It makes sense to me and gave me a new way of looking at my competition.   Rivals.  I like that. So I think she's absolutely right (and not just because she's my girlfriend).   Already I feel enthused and eager to engage the challenge!  I look forward to the competition, and feel that this engagement will benefit both of our companies by spurring us on to greater efforts and greater achievements.  And this in turn will help the hobby.  The more we compete, and the better tools we create, the more the hobby will benefit.

My hope, frankly, all along has been that I can help to advance and extend our wondrous hobby.  I've been working on Elthos since 1978 with the intention to do so, and I began working on the Elthos Gamemasters Toolbox in 1994 with the intention of automating GMing functions in a useful, coherent and compelling way.  In 2006 I created the "One Die System" which was a simplification of my original core rules system (Elthos Prime) in order to streamline play.  It's flexible, simple, and creativity-enabling.  I'm happy with it.  I think it's easy to use, fun to play and overall a wonderful RPG rules system.  And so, instead of being bowled over by the Mack Truck of Competition, my feeling is one of enthusiastic engagement.  Let the games begin!

And that's how it should be.  If you have hopes and dreams of being an entrepreneur in today's world, you have to maintain the high ground of your spiritual domain ... when challenges come, as they inevitably will, you have to immediately step back, relax, and look for the next way to go with the flow of the universe.   Don't let even devastating news daunt you for long.   There is always a way to turn negatives into positives, and it's your job to figure out how.

So I encourage everyone who has a dream, who has their heart set on achieving some great and seemingly impossible goal ... don't ever give up!   Remain calm.  Forge ahead.  And for those who persevere I believe there will be victory.  Embrace it.  Live it.  Breath it.  And keep pressing forward until you achieve it.

And if all else fails, and you find yourself overwhelmed by the astounding abilities of our rivals...  remember ... “Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rationals for Professional Gamesmastering

Recently a group of us GMs over on Google+ began talking about the idea of Professional Gamesmastering. To facilitate the conversational brainstorming and debate of this idea I started the Professional Gamesmaster Society ... It has been eye-opening. We've had some mixed reactions, ranging from "No way - that's impossible" to "Where the heck do I sign up?!"

Some people were curious why we would consider such a thing, given that the hobby has been around for over three decades and there's been no great effort to professionalize it. So I thought I'd chat a bit about what we think are valid reasons for doing so. Here's our thinking:

Gamemastering is Hard Work and GM's Deserve Something For It

Many Gamesmasters invest a huge amount of time and effort into their games, especially if they run their own homebrew system and craft their own adventures. In fact it is enough effort that it turns out few people are willing or able to actually do it. I think the ratio of Players to GMs has been pretty steady at roughly ten to one for thirty years. The fact is, GMing is time consuming and difficult, requiring numerous skills that are not easily acquired, both technical and social... and therefore GMs are something of a scarce commodity. Gamesmastering is both an art and a science, and those who are good at it are frankly providing some of the best entertainers in the world. The only people I know who can put me into another world the way Tolkien did with 'Lord of the Rings', are good Gamesmasters. We think that's got to be worth something. We pay for music, artwork, literature, movies and practically every other form of entertainment. Why not Gamesmastering? Given the amount of work, and the greatness of their creations, we think good GMs deserve remuneration for their efforts.

When Money Is Involved The Quality of the Event Goes Up

When activities involve money everyone gets a little more serious. And the quality of the related events go up. Lets face it - today a lot of games are run kinda sloppy. People show up late, they don't have their character sheets, they don't remember the rules, the GM was busy helping a friend study for a test, etc, etc. This is especially the case in online Virtual Table Top games where the most common complaint I hear is that online Players fail to show up. It's pretty consistent and most VTT GMs factor in that half their Players may fail to show up at any given game - often without notice. But this also happens at regular Table Top Games, too (although not to the same degree, of course), and generally people tend to not take any of it all that seriously. After all its just a game, right? And for something informal like a game between friends, we kind of just accept that it's a loose ship and stuff happens and people don't show, or it's not that well prepared, and so on, and it's all just kind of "ok" like that. What else could we expect, after all? It's just a game and "it doesn't cost anyone anything" We accept the low quality because we can't really argue that people should take it any more seriously as no one is paying anything and it's all "just for fun". Which of course it's all just for fun. So is going to the movies. But we still expect high quality. But not so much with our RPGing experiences. We accept that things just kind of sluff, and that's fine. There's nothing really wrong with it, actually, if that's all you expect out of the experience. There's no skin off anyone's back if everyone just kind of slouches through the thing. And even with all that sloppiness the games are still quite fun, which is of course why after more than three decades the hobby has grown to its present size and has garnered so much enthusiastic support from it's fans. In fact, I think most RPGers agree - there is nothing else like it out there. It's an awesome hobby.

Yet still, the games, we think, are not really as great as they could be. And we suspect that if we bring money into the equation then suddenly the quality in fact will change for the better. Now people get serious. You mean I'm paying for this? Oh now I care. Now my fellow Players better get here on time. Now the GM better be prepared. Now I give a damn about what is going on and I don't want to waste time on my cell phone. And so on. We believe that everything improves as soon as money gets involved because then, and only then (pretty much), does everyone actually have skin in the game. And it makes a big difference. Money = Higher Quality Gaming. A theory. But we think it will turn out to be true.

Improvement of the Art

If Gamesmasters were to be paid, and sufficiently (ie - able to make a career out of it) so that they could actually focus on the art, their mastery of the tools and their skills as GM would go up. And up. And up. They'd have a vested interest in making sure that their Players are thrilled by each game. They'd be willing to put in the time it takes to truly prep for their games in a way that makes them absolutely amazing. They'd study for it, do research for it, bring the art into it, and live it and breath it. And what we would see blossoming from this is a class of Gamesmaster-Artists who produce truly phenomenal, professional quality Worlds. We would see the flourishing of RPGs as the new 21st century art form. And it would be awesome! I'm convinced of that.

Can it work? Let's Do the Pro-GM Math

But how can Gamesmasters make the kind of money necessary to make this happen? Enough to actually devote themselves to Gamesmastering as a career? Instead of speculating, lets do the math.

I need $1000 / week to pay my rent and live comfortably, and save some money for retirement. Ok. How many games at what price would I need to charge my Players to work that out?

If I charge $5 / hour per Player and I had 5 Players per game, I would need to GM 40 hours per week to make $1000 / week. Do those numbers seem completely crazy to you? They don't to me. It seems doable. You can even tweak the yellow values to get different balances according to your needs and preferences. But your goal would be to achieve the $ needed / week in any case. I'll tweak mine a bit again because I figure I want to have enough between game prep time. So I want to play only 20 hours per week. What does that look like? I merely need to either increase my hourly fee to $10 / hour, or I need to have 10 Players per game. Conversely, I could nuance it further and charge a little more and have a few more Players per game...

So what I'm showing here is that Gamesmasters could possibly make a decent living if they could muster up 7 Players per game and play 20 hours per week, if they charge $7.14 / hour per Player. For me this would mean I'd run 4 games of 5 hours each per week. I could do two on the weekend, and two in the evenings during the week. Does that sound doable to you? It does to me. Does it sound easy? No, not really. Presently with the current tools available GMing is a time intensive activity, and it's not all just airy fairy sitting around thinking about what kinds of castles and monsters are around. It's tough grinding grunt work planning for a Campaign. There's a lot of stats and a lot of number crunching and record keeping involved. And there aren't very good tools around to help with it. Yet.

Tools of the Trade

I'd want to have a bunch of professional quality tools to make my life as Gamesmaster as easy as possible, of course, so that I could streamline the prepping of my games down to a bare minimum of time so I could focus on the fun stuff - the castles and monsters and all that airy fairy stuff I really enjoy. If we had such tools would this now sound more doable? It does to me.

Tools of this kind are on the way, and some already exist, at least in their infancy-form. If you consider the possibilities of Virtual Table Top Systems such as Roll20... the feasibility presents itself as within striking range. Not 100% there at the moment, but coming along, and showing promise. And with a better improved set of tools it could be that supporting the number of Play Hours needed to make a living on GMing might be all the more feasible. There would be more to it than just that, of course, and I'm not factoring in additional costs such as taxes and advertizing. I'm merely showing that the math indicates that there's a possibility to make a living Gamesmastering, if you can make the arrangements for it with enough Players and can schedule enough hours at the right price.


Just some thoughts for you folks. There will be more thoughts coming along soon on this topic as things move forward. We're working on a Website for Professional Gamemasters now, and hopefully we will have something to show for the effort soon.

So let me ask - If you could manage to make a career out of Gamemastering somehow, would you want to do it?

By the way, if you are interested in contributing to the thought processing, planning, and implementation of this concept, and you feel you have something to offer in the way of experience, knowledge, or enthusiastic support ... do drop by our Professional Gamemaster Society Community and give a holler. We're looking for bright and engaged members to help put this all together and actually make something happen. I will periodically be posting here regarding our progress.

Mwhahaha and stuff

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Regarding Kickstarter

In response to This Blog Post by Mark Van Vlack, wherein he basically bemoans his relationship with Kickstarter ... I have this to say:

The point of Kickstarter is for you to vote with your wallet for things you want to see succeed... I would caution against viewing it as a means for you to get a good deal. It's concept is to democratize the process of venture capitalization via a low accountability network that relies on the good will of its membership. You could say it is the charitization of capitalism. You give for the sake of helping to bring things you like to market. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. Mileage will vary. Batteries not included.

That's it. I hope it helps.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Elthos RPG - Progress Report

Just a quick post on the latest progress with the Web Application, now tentatively (ok pretty sure) named "The Mythos Machine".

A number of my play testers and some friends out there in Cyberland suggested that players are going to want to have the option to Allocate stats to their Characters in some kind of point buy system.  At that time (5 weeks ago) the idea was only a glimmer in my eye, and I fretted that it would take a long time to build that into the site.  But I decided it is a good idea after all.  So I programmed the application to allow the GM to choose what kind of Character Generation System they want.
  1. Roll Random
  2. Roll Random + Allocation.
  3. Pure Allocation
Roll Random allows the Player to click a button and generate their Character's Requisites (along with everything).  The Gamesmaster can decide in their World Configuration how many Re-Rolls Players are allowed (otherwise nothing would stop the ardent Player from rolling as many as they could until they hit a Maximal Character).  The default is 3 Re-Rolls.   It lets you keep all three and then decide which you want to play.

Roll Random + Allocation allows the Player to click a button and generate their Character's Requisites, but then gives them the ability to move points from one Requisite to another in order to optimize the Character for a wanted Class or Race.  They also get to see a list of Races the GM has allowed Players to select from and will roll the Character so that it fits the selected Race's minimum and maximum Requisite limits, and does so randomly within that range.  If they roll well they can move points around to beef up (and diminish) their Requisites.   Again the GM can define the number of Re-Rolls.

Pure Allocation allows the GM to predetermine how many points in total can be allocated to the Character, and this is based on the Race Generation Dice that the GM has chosen for their World.  The Race Generation Dice can be 1d6, 2d6, 3d6 or 4d6, and there's pretty good arguments for using any of them.   The lower the Race Dice number the faster the game play tends to be as all the numbers are small and easier to work with.  It also happens that all the numbers in the game tend to track along with that choice.  For example in a 1d6 Race Generation Dice game the maximum Life Points at 2nd Level is 12 (if the Character has a 6 Strength).   For a 4d6 system the same 2nd Level Character will have 24 Life Points.   Monsters and NPCs work the same way.  So augmenting the Race Generation Dice bumps up all of the stats of everything across the World.

Which leads me to the next major change to the system.  I decided that if I was going to go so far as to allow alternate Character Generation Methods, I should probably go all out and create a method by which the GM can choose their World's Race Generation Dice as well.  Hitherto this, there was only one option, the simplified and fast-play oriented 1d6 system.   So with this change I am no longer emphasizing the ODS as "The One Die System", but instead I am referring to it now as the "The Optional Dice System".  I think this is a big improvement as I understand completely the reaction I got on a few occassions where perspective Players pretty much scoffed at a One Die Six System.  After all, they reasoned, who the heck can do anything with just one six sided die to run an entire RPG World?   Well, actually, I can.  But that's a quibble I would just assume live without, and so now we have The Optional Dice System and everyone can be happy.

What turned out to be necessary in making The Optional Dice System was I needed to factor in that Races and Classes will have to change their Minimum and Maximum Requisites Boundaries, as well as Character's Life and Mystic Points.  So I automated that process in the background.  The system will tell the GM what the effects will be if they go, for example, from a 2d6 System to a 4d6 system, or from 3d6 to 1d6, etc.  They can take a look at the effects on Races and Classes, as well as Character's Life Points and Mystic Points.  If they like what they see, and save the new setting, then all the calculations are done in the background and everything in their World flexes appropriately, including Requisite Bonuses.   It's pretty nifty and took a bit of thought to get that piece right.  (Pat on the back).

In addition, I took the opportunity to neaten up the Character Screen and make it both more orderly, and more handsome at the same time.  I'm fairly pleased with the results... not so much because it looks perfect (yet) but because in doing so I made it a lot easier for future embellishments to the look and feel of the screen, and the site as a whole.

These changes represent the last of what I have in mind as far as large-scale systemic modifications to the Mythos Machine.  At least in his Phase.   So I'm very happy that's all behind me now.  It worried me a lot before Christmas because I though these changes would take several months.  Good coding practices along the way, however, added up and it took far longer than I had expected.  Usually in the world of programming it's the opposite of that.  So another pat on the back for me.  Happy Happy.  :)

So this has been a pretty solid three weeks of effort coming out of the New Years and I'm happy with the progress being made.  Ok, that's all.   Back to the Salt Mine.

PS - the site will be changing over to an Open Beta in the not too distant future as we polish  up the look and feel and get it into a final shape that I feel is acceptable enough to show to the general public.  I hope people will find it a useful and enjoyable RPG System, and I think it can easily be used in conjunction with Virtual Table Top systems like Roll20.  We'll see.  I'm of course hoping so, but frankly, I won't know until we put it out there and get some real world reactions to it all.

Ok - salt mine is calling.  Ciao!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Problem with Beautiful Maps

People are doing some spectacular RPG cartography lately.  Best I've ever seen.  I've experimented with some new styles and have come up with some interesting maps myself as well.  The maps look beautiful.

That said, lets think about this.  There's two kinds of maps in RPGs.  There's battle maps, and then there's geographical maps.  The Players will always see the battle maps as that's the point of them.  The geographic maps, on the other hand, ... the GM sees, and those the Players often don't get to see as they may wind up being spoilers for the World.  After all, for a lot of Players half the fun of the game is exploring and discovering.

So here's the problem... The more beautiful the map the more inclination there is for the GM to show all that lovely beautifulness to the Players... especially if it is the GM's own map that they hand crafted themselves.  Of course, we like to share our creative work.  Especially when we bother to make it look as beautiful as we can.  And the Players love to see that work because it lets them know that the GM has really put some time and thought and serious effort into their world.  Which adds enormously to the Players sense that the World is a 'real' thing (in the GM's mind) and that they're actually exploring someplace, as this is what makes immersion possible.   All good stuff.   But that pesky problem ... we have to be careful not to make our geographic maps with things on it that the Players shouldn't see.  But we do want to record those things because ... well, the map is supposed to record what's in our World... so we wind up with this weird situation.  We can either make multiple maps that show two (or more) different views of our world (and that's really asking a LOT of anyone).  Or we can make our Maps for Our-Eyes-Only.   Or we can try revealing little bits of our maps as they become revealed to the Players.  Each of these solutions is less than optimal.  The least odious among them is to reveal little bits at a time, of course, as that requires the least amount of labor and still allows us to share our beautiousness with our Players.  So that's the one I go with.

But there's a rub.  Sometimes I make beautiful maps that are somewhere in between Geographic Maps and Battle maps.  They're lovely to behold.  But they contain all sorts of stuff the Players shouldn't see until  the get to it.  We can't quite use them as Battle Maps either as they're not quite entirely designed to be used for that purpose.  I'm thinking in particular of some of the isometric projection maps I've done recently (like the one in the image at the top of my post). Their purpose is to show me, the GM, what's in the dungeon.  Including where the Pit Traps, Magical Thingies, and other WhosieWhatsIts are located.   In fact it's completely awful because I have this lovely looking map that I can't share with my Players.  At least not before the end of the game.  And when does an RPG game actually end?   Oh that could be months.  Or even years.  And even then, sometimes you still don't want to share it because you think "They might someday show up here again, and they still haven't seen the whole thing... don't want to spoil it for em... I'll just hold on to it."   And so, in this case you have this lovely map that no one ever gets to see except the GM.

Then we have another form problem as well. What happens when you like someone elses maps, and you want to use them for your game... but the Players may have already seen it because it's been posted online or in a module or something somewhere?   My Players are the sort who would not go out of their way to find a map that I was using from another source (I don't do that anyway, but even if I did, they wouldn't) ... in fact I know them well enough to believe they'd specifically avoid it.   But not every Player is like that.  And sometimes having a map's secrets in hand (especially if the GM doesn't realize you already know the map) can make a big difference in the outcome of a campaign.  "Should we turn left at the fork, or head head to the right?"  ... "Oh, lets go to the right.  Maybe there's treasure up that way or an old temple or something ..."  And lo ... there is.   Big difference (especially when the left path leads instead, for example, to a muddy cavern of giant Bobbit Worms, ya'know?).  So this is a different variant on the same basic problem.  Maps are designed generally to benefit the GM.  Not the Players.  Stuff on maps most often must be kept from the Players.  And yet, ... when they're so gorgeous... how can you not share them?   Wahhhh...

This entire issue is about Fog of War in relation to Maps.  And the problem I have with loving to create beautiful maps, but hating to share them before the Players have completely finished with the scenario.   I want to make them useful for myself as GM, so they include all the little details the Players mustn't see.  And yet... it's beautiful and I'd love to share it.

Case in point.  The other day I was having a computer problem.  My players came into my little side room to help me troubleshoot it, and on my desk was one of my nicer-than-usual maps in a new style my players haven't seen yet.

"WOW!" they exclaimed.   I had to quickly grab the map before they could take a real look at it.   Now they really would love to see it.   That's good and bad.   I can't reveal it to them without giving important information away.  So I hide it.   Oh duh.  Why is this such a problem?

Because that's just how it is.  It's a weird and convoluted thing, frankly.  And I'm not sure what the elegant solution to it all may be.   For now I will just hide the maps and reveal them little bits at a time by covering over what they haven't seen yet with black construction paper.   And believe me... that's not really all so ideal... though it does have it's benefits.   The maps are intriguing them sufficiently to make them want to press forward to look around at everything they can get their eyes on.   Which is kind of cool... but may well turn out to be misleading and dangerous for them.  After all ... somewhere in that maze of gorgeous looking chambers and caverns is the Serious Bad Guy.   They might just not be up to it... but their desire to see then next thing on the map could compel them forward.   It's like a bit of meta-gaming in reverse and at a diagonal.   And I'm not at all sure how that aspect might play out.   We'll see.   Hopefully, I'll come up with a good way to handle the whole kit and caboodle of this issue before that happens.   And in the meantime I will refrain from publishing my map for you on my blog ... where they might see it.   Waaaahhhh.... :p

Ok.  Nuff said for today on this.  If you have thoughts, suggestions, insights or epiphanies... please let me know.  Darnit, I'd love to hear em.  

Friday, January 09, 2015

The GM as Master Artisan

Lets talk a bit about the GamesMaster as Artisan.

The idea struck me this morning, not entirely for the first time, but in a sufficiently organized way to write something about it.

There's a lot to being a Master Artisan.  It takes a combination of natural talent, studied skills, and enough time to cultivate greatness.  Artists aren't simply born into existence.  They are cultivated through enormous effort.

I won't go into the vast array of skills required to be a great artist as it would take too long.  And if I attempted to do so for GamesMastering I suspect it would take even longer.  The reason why is that GamesMastering combines a host of arts into one activity.  Improvisational Theater, Literature, Story Telling, History, Art, Game Play of various kinds, and so on ... in fact it can encompass a very wide range of existing arts and knowledge.  The more you can master all of the component arts and knowledge that is useful for Gamemastering the better a GM you likely will be.  Being born with talent is easy.  Cultivating it into a Artisan quality craft takes time and effort.  Things to study are Literature, History and depending on your interests I would also include Science, and possibly Folk Lore, Anthropology, and Ethnography.   A study of comparative Religions is also a pretty-darn-nice-to-have, as well as basic Psychology.  In other words, you could spend a lifetime studying all the various subjects that might pertain to your role as Gamemaster.   Easily.  And that is simply covering the knowledge aspect, and not touching on the skill sets required.  

So instead of going through all of the various aspects of what it takes to be an Artisan quality GamesMaster, I'm going to focus on providing what I think are a few bits of Key Advice that come primarily from my experience as both a GM and artist.
  • Details & Flourishes.
    • Details and Flourishes matter.   If you take a piece of artwork and put it on a page, and it has a nice outline, good composition and basic colors then you have a piece of artwork.  If you add shadowing, it gets more refined looking.  If you add a border its even more refined.  If your border includes flourishes in the corners it starts to take on the quality of a finished work and a delight to the eye.   Applying this concept to GMing is a matter of doing the same thing, but for your back-story and Narrative Descriptions.   Think in terms of filling in the details, not necessarily in advance, though you can, but along the way as well.   It is a matter of being able to improvisationaly expanding your Players vision and understanding of your world.  This can be done, for example, by including details such as smells and sounds, as well as what the Player Characters see.  Naturally a lot more could be said on this, but I'll leave it to you to consider how you might go about it for yourself.
  • Composition 
    • When looking at a painting or photograph composition is extremely important.  How do the elements of the scene visually line up with one another?   Is the scene balanced (or intentionally out of balance)?  Does the composition flow so that it guides the eye to the main subject of the thing easily?   This concept as applied to GMing involves knowing how to shape your story.  What are the main elements of the thing?  How do they relate to each other?  Is there a sense of balance (or intentional imbalance)?  How does this concept translate into story?  The things you might consider have to do with how well balanced the story is.  Do you have a number of Main Characters who have clearly defined objectives?  Do those objectives balance with one another to form a holistic tapestry?  As a contra-example, if you have four Main Characters but their objectives are completely unrelated to one another, this will not produce a story with a good composition.  Consider it. The whole of your back story should blend together to form a cohesive narrative.  It should, in other words, tell a story, and a compelling one, and in a compelling way.
  • Subject Matter & Meaning
    • Great art, despite what modernists may tell you, have meaning.  The greatest art has the greatest meaning.  It stands the test of time because people who look at it find value in it.  The value is that they derive meaning from it.   And this has to do with subject matter.  What makes Greek Art so intriguing for example is the many layered nuances of meaning behind each story, and what one can learn about human nature from them.  Freud and Jung went to town on analyzing Greek mythology from a psychological perspective.  They found untold depths of meaning in the works.  Most people will not immediately recognize the meaning of a great work of art unless they've studied the subject.   But throughout the ages people have been drawn to it because they sense there is a meaning, and in their subconscious heart-of-hearts they connect to it, and it answers something for them at some level.  Maybe they don't know why.  But they come back to the art because their interest in it is piqued.  The same thing is true for great literature.  And it can also be true for your RPG.  You just have to think about it and put meaning into your world.  I would recommend reading works by Freud, Jung, or Joseph Campbell to get an idea of how that can be done.   Another pair of interesting books to read that give clues as to how this might be done are "Tolkien's Ring" by David Day, and "Holy Blood and Holy Grail" which though an apparently debunked conspiracy fabrication by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, nevertheless is fabulous at revealing how art and history can merge together to form an amazing hidden tapestry of inner meaning.
  • Story Arcs
    • Lastly for today is the topic of story arcs.  A lot of people have talked about this already and you can probably find tons of blog posts on how to apply this idea to RPGs.  I won't go on about it except to say that it's important, and that you can link this idea to both Composition and Subject Matter to form amazing RPG stories. 
I encourage GMs to think about how to merge all of these ideas into a unified whole.  There is every reason to believe that going forward into the future we will find GMs who aspire to Great Art via their talent and skills by making their Worlds into beautiful tapestries of Theater, Story, and Art.

Of course there's much more than can be said on this subject, but I will keep it short so that my post doesn't become TLDR.  Oh darn... too late, probably.  ;)

What To Do with Patreon?

I heard about Patreon.com from a post on the InTArWeBZ recently and decided to create my very own Patreon page.  Patreon, btw, is a very interesting concept that allows artists and creative types to put up a shingle for Patrons to sign up and help support the artist.  In my case, RPG Designer / Artist, but same thing basically, I think.  Anyway, I decided to create my page there because I'm doing a ton of work on the Elthos RPG (and related side projects), but have no income from any of it at this point. I think the quality of the work is good, and in the end I think people are going to be very happy with the results.  But in the meantime, like everyone else, I do need to pay the rent. So I thought maybe Patreon might be a way to help me sustain while I put together the entirety of my project (which is kind of vast, so it's taking a long time).   So here's my Patreon page for anyone who is interested ...

Elthos RPG Patreon Page

I wonder - what do you think I should do with this?  I'm not at all well informed as to how Patreon works, or how to get things going with it.  So, as always, any advice at all would be greatly appreciated!   Thanks!