Friday, September 23, 2016

The Elthos Project

Well, it feels like only a few days have passed, but in fact it's been months of hard work. The Elthos Project is a vast and sprawling concept that includes not only the lovely Elthos RPG Core Rules Book (PDF), but also the Mythos Machine web application. The two of them together comprise the heart of the project. And yet there's more to it than that. The project also embodies the concept of Professional Gamesmastering, as well as Literary Role Playing Games, for which I have founded two Societies. The two are related in that Professional GMs will probably want to include the Literary RPG skills in their tool set, but not all GMs who desire those skills will necessarily wish to go Pro with them. So I have kept the two concept separated, despite the additional complexity in terms of organization.

The Elthos Project is a broad and expensive idea that seeks to cover a lot of territory. In order to pull this off I have a broad front strategy by which I seek to make incremental progress one step at a time on all four fronts. The purpose, overall, is to help the hobby to grow and mature into something that is not only fun for geeks and people who like funny dice, but for everyone who likes a good story. And that's a much wider audience. But how to get from here to there? Well, my plan has four parts.

The first is to create a simplified traditional rules system that is flexible, and generic enough to support as many kinds of Worlds and Genres as possible. To the degree possible I want to do so without losing the foundations of the game, which is, for those who don't know, the old fashioned tactical wargame from which D&D emerged in the late 1960's and early 70's, of which Chainmail by Gygax and Arneson is the primary and best known example. My goal for the Elthos RPG is to fuse the best elements of traditional wargaming with those of story based gaming.   Hence it is focused on fast action game play, and a rich yet simple Character generation system.

The second part of the plan is to provide with that rules system a unified GM prep utility in the form of the Mythos Machine. It has as its foundation the Elthos RPG rules system, and allows GMs to both create and maintain their Worlds, Adventures and Characters in a centralized location online. It also allows players to create their Characters there, and provides them with all of the Character related tools they need to maintain their character's equipment, skills, powers, histories and perspectives. Thus the Mythos Machine provides comprehensive support for the Elthos RPG.

What the Mythos Machine does not try to do at this point is what other online services are doing in terms of providing play interfaces, such as Roll20. It leaves the battle mapping to others who are providing those services. That said, lately I have been experimenting with Tabletop Simulator and it looks very promising for allowing me to build feature rich 3D interface functionality between it and the Mythos Machine and I'm evaluating doing so at this time. So stay tuned for those developments as I think that this may well be the future direction we take.

Thirdly, is the Literary RPG Society which has a focus on exploring methods for enhanced story telling via RPGs. No, I do not mean so-called "Story Games" which has taken on a hugely political taint in the world of RPGs. Instead what I mean is that traditional RPGs can, despite accusations of the opposite, provide rich story telling and our goal is to demonstrate how, and why. What makes RPGs different than their Wargame cousins, in fact, is the story aspect of the game. This dates back to the division between Gygax and Arneson at the foundations of the hobby, and has been a bone of contention between two factions of the community ever since. What the LRPGS hopes to accomplish is to reunite the two disparate points of view with the claim that, yes, you can have the best of both worlds. And we are in the business of seeking ways of doing so. I believe I've had some wonderful successes in this endeavor and so it is my firm belief that it is not only possible, but hugely beneficial to the enjoyment of the hobby. Is the story aspect necessary for RPGs? No, not at all, and that's a proven fact. But can it enhance the enjoyment of RPGs? Yes, I certainly believe so. And the point of this is that by expanding into this domain, wisely and without political rancor, we can improve the hobby and expand it to a wider audience. Examples of this are abounding at this point, as we can see a new modality of play is emerging on the scene in the form of Live Streaming of games. What makes these compelling, when they are compelling, is the story aspect and character interplay in these productions. I think there's a huge amount of potential in this category and the LRPGS hopes to help people realise it.

Lastly is the most controversial of my project plans. The Professional GM Society. None of the other aspects will raise as many eyebrows as this one, I suspect, once it gets going. Right now we have a community of almost 200 GMs who are all in various ways endeavoring to bring themselves up to the professional level of Gamemastering and charging for their services. A lot of players out there will probably be alarmed by this development. On that I have two things to say: 1) the GM typically puts in a huge amount of work into their world that you enjoy the fruits of and should probably help to contribute to if you want to see higher quality games at your table. 2) the PGMS is specifically shying away from the proposition that we should try to convert existing players over to for-pay clients of our games. Nope. We realize that is a losing proposition and our conclusion has been that we won't be attempting it. So players who are playing for free now should expect to remain safely ensconced for a long time to come. However, to argue that GMs should never get paid for their services is not something we GMs of the PGMS can agree to. For one thing every other art form has professionals who provide top quality way-above-average services for a fee. And some make quite good money at it. And they all started at one time as hobbies. Music? Painting? Poetry? Literature? Film? Yup, all started once upon a time as hobbies. We see no difference between this and GMing, except that GMing is newer than the rest of them. And we feel that now is the time to step up and professionalize our skill such that for-pay RPGing becomes a thing. At least for some GMs who are willing to put in the effort and take the risk.

Perhaps you can see how all four of these aspects form one comprehensive whole which is the Elthos Project. I hope you will help me in bringing this to life by giving the Elthos RPG a chance and checking out the Mythos Machine.

The current status is that we are almost finished with the Core Rules Book and will be selling it on DriveThruRPG, and possibly on Lulu and Amazon (TBD). I don't expect it to cost a lot, but we wont be giving it away for PWYW either. We need money to make the Elthos Project come to life, and the Core Rules book is intended to help subsidize the project, and we're hoping that people will be willing to chip in by paying the modest price for the Rules Book. Conversely, if you find yourself wondering how you can make a bigger contribution (you might actually think this entire concept is worth supporting) then please take note of the handy "Sponsor" section on the right panel of this blog and feel free to contribute whatever you feel like.

The Mythos Machine is currently in Open Beta and you are very welcome to come by and check it out. It will be the central hub around which all other activities will orbit going forward. Right now it has the core system of the Elthos RPG programmed and is somewhere around 95% finished. We need feedback on it to find out where the bottlenecks are, locate any code errors, and learn from the users what it will take for it to serve the needs of Elthos GMs more completely. That said, at this point it is highly functional, feature rich, and extremely useful in terms of saving GMs time on Prep for their games. I know because I use it myself and it saves me countless hours of prep time. It also keeps all of my world's history and information online which means I can access it from anywhere. So at a coffee shop and come up with another great adventure hook for my latest campaign? No problem. The Mythos Machine is there for me. And I hope it will be there for you, too. I'd also like to note here that you can use the Mythos Machine's World Weaver Studio for other systems if you wish, to create your own worlds simply by bypassing the Elthos RPG related aspects in the Gamemaster's Toolbox. How you use the utility is up to you, but I would recommend trying it with the Elthos RPG aspects as well... it is a pretty good system for fast play and rich character generation. And the Mythos Machine allows you a great number of configuration options to shape your world the way you want. Everything from how many dice for character generation to creating your own weapons, armors, skills and pretty much everything else for your world. Anyway, please take a look if you're at all interested. You may like what you see. And if you do - please provide feedback! Thanks. :)

In addition, via the Professional GM Society I will be working towards creating a venue for Elthos on the Tabletop Simulator platform that can be used by myself and other GMs to run both professional and hobby games. Hobby first, I should imagine. I think the potential there is high and we're working on developing the necessary tools to allow GMs to quickly and easily create 3D RPG worlds there and integrate the Elthos RPG into the game play with direct feeds of Character data to the TTS system. Again this requires time, and time, as Einstein once proved, equals money with his little known yet all-pervasive equation T = $.

I will also be hoping to create workshops for GMs via the Literary RPG Society for enhancing GM skills in relation to story and character development and providing other useful services via this organization. This aspect is one that has been on the stove for a long time simmering quietly in the background. I plan to focus on this in the years to come, and eventually I see this as a greater part of the Elthos Project. But this one will take lots of time to develop and won't happen immediately, although if you are interested you are more than welcome to join in and promote the concept with your ideas, observations, and advice to other GMs on the topic.

Ok, that's my statement for September 2016 on the Elthos Project. Thanks for reading this far. :)

Lastly I want to thank all of the Open Beta testers for all of your excellent feedback thus far! Every bit of feedback is very helpful! Thank you!

Links:

Elthos RPG Mythos Machine website: http://elthos.com

PGMS Website: http://professionalgamemastersociety.com/

LRPGS Community on G+: https://plus.google.com/communities/101579906998277448016
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