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!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The GM as Magician

Just a brief rumination that occurred to me while driving home today. There's a lot of tips about how to GM better games. And that's all well and good. But keep in mind something as you GM - you are like a magician to your Players. Well, I should caveat that by saying that it varies to a certain degree depending on the type of game your running. The more Narrative your style of game, the more Magician you become.

How so? Well you set up encounters. You create Maps. You create NPCs. You act them out improvisationally during the course of the game. No one knows really exactly what is going to happen because the Dice and the Players conspire to change whatever plans we may have had. And so improvisation is required.

But what the Players don't know, and in my opinion shouldn't know, is exactly what's been planned, and what's being improvised. They know its a mix. But they don't know how much of a mix. And that's a good thing, and should stay that way. Because one of the things that brings interest and excitement to the game is the idea that the GM's World is this real "other Place" that you can use your imagination to venture into. And when that works and you achieve some level of Immersion - it's awesome. Provided of course that the GM's World is actually awesome. But that's a different point. What I'm suggesting is that the GM should not divulge to the Players what his 'tricks' are... any more than the Magician will show you how he does a coin trick. The moment he does - the mystery is finished. You may have learned a trick, but you've lost the Immersion.

So unless you are teaching a new GM the tricks of the trade - don't tell your Players anything about what's going on behind the curtain. It's more fun for them, and probably improves the quality of their experience overall.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Difference Between Computer and Table Top RPGs

Everyone knows that Computer RPGs and Table Top RPGs are different.  And we usually talk about that in terms of graphics vs imagination.  And that's a valid point, of course, and probably the biggest difference, or at least the most obvious.

Another difference, though, and one that I find even more interesting, is that CRPGs are designed from the point of view of Action and Suspense through mechanisms that are wholly different than TTRPGs.  First off TTRPGs are typically (I don't know if there are exceptions) turn based.  They are an offshoot of tactical war-games.  They are Strategic or Tactical in nature.   You plan your moves, you think carefully, you plot out distances and make calculations based on math.  Then you move and your characters take their actions.  The dice are rolled and outcomes are determined and described.

Conversely, in CRPGs you move fast, you run towards the opponent, rapidly assess whatever skill or spell you're going to use or "fire" and twitch your way to ever-loving glory.   It's fast paced fun and exciting.

So between the two games where do you get suspense?  In one you get it from the live action element.  In the other ... and that's the interesting part.  For Table Top RPGs you need to do something extra to gain the element of suspense.  You need to build a story.  You need the Characters to be invested in that story, and you need to build suspense in the Players by cultivating that story in such a way as to make them, at some point, sit on the edge of their seats ... and when you do that, you've achieved a particular kind of mastery in Table Top RPGs.  It's not about system.  This kind of mastery is about story telling.

When I Gamesmaster I try to build up towards climactic events that will along the way create a mounting suspense among the players.  I do it by emotionally involving their Characters in the story.  For example, recently a Character named Hermel was essentially a retired hero.  He saved his town from the bandits, uncovered a mystery or two along the way, helped to eliminate a dangerous gang from the local town, found the girl of his dreams and, well, was satisfied.  He didn't want to take any chances on adventuring his way into self destruction.   Understandable!

Yet the world goes on.  And adventure was calling his name.  Mostly because there is a new campaign brewing.  A very interesting one.  Right near the village where Hermel settled down and started his farm and family.

So one day adventure came looking for Hermel and his friends.  It came in the form of a Town Hall meeting.  Hermel waited outside, not wishing to get himself involved.  At the end of the meeting the bad news was told.   While the town had been prospering after the elimination of the Bandits, and the building of the town wall (at Hermel's suggestion), and the opening of a local sulfur mine (by one of Hermel's adventuring Compatriots Ishcandar's father, the wealthy Mr. Rockerfellah) ... there were problems.  Hermel stood outside patiently waiting.  It turned out that there had been kidnappings recently.  No one knew by whom.  Three children had been taken in the past three nights.  During heavy storms.  Right out from under their parent's noses.

It began raining.

Hermel looked at his lovely wife who was seated next to him on the bench outside the doorway of the the Town Hall.

"Did we leave Peaches (his daughter's nickname) at home?" he asked.  "Of course," said his wife, but before she could finish the sentence Hermel was already running full tilt towards the commons beyond which, at the edge of the village, his farmhouse stood in the darkness.   "Peaches!" he yelled at the top of his lungs as he ran.  "Peaches!"

The towns folk, who all knew Hermel quite well, ran outside.  There was a buzz around the hall, and some ran after him, while others ran to their own homes to check on their own children.  Hermel's wife, Apricot, gathered as many friends as she could quickly muster with a shout and ran after her husband, her dress dampening in the increasing rain.  The wind began to howl.  The rain came down in pelts.

She was gone.

And so Hermel wasted no time in finding the thin trail of odd shaped tracks that lead him and his friends into the wilderness...

And that's how suspense gets built with story.  It's fabulous fun.

And for me, that's the big gigantic difference between Computer and Table Top RPGs.  I can do that with my Table Top RPG.  I can't do anything like that whatsoever with my Computer RPG.