Monday, January 25, 2010

Real Life Interruption

I haven't written very much lately, due to various real-life obligations, so I haven't finished writing up the Henchmen-for-Hire game I ran last saturday night. I do want to mention that I had the most fun I have had running a game in over a decade, thanks largely to my awesome gaming group, and to the nigh-transparency of the Risus system. I hope to have more soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

GMing Digitally: 2b or not 2b?

I'm getting ready for my Risus Henchmen-for-Hire campaign. I have a few pages of notes, and I'm getting ready to stat out some NPCs (which, in Risus, takes all of a couple minutes per PC, if you've got a good grasp on what they are when you pull out that "character sheet" (3" x 5" card).  But I've got a dilemma. Should I go paper or electronic for my notes?

I grew up in the halcyon days of the original, white-box D&D, and so carried around a loose-leaf notebook full of maps and one-line dungeon keys in that notebook. (I also carried around a grocery bag with all my Judges' Guild products and issues of The Dragon and White Dwarf, back when WD covered D&D).  IIRC, I did a lot of GMing on the fly. In college, I learned some BASIC computer programming by typing in some crude character generators, so I could create reams of NPCs on the fly.  But most of what I put down on paper didn't have anything to do with plot; we didn't keep campaign logs, and I kept what few notes I needed in that binder.

But now I'm getting back into GMing, and I have some other options.  Besides my 15.4" laptop, I also have a 10" netbook.  I don't think I'd be comfortable using the larger one at a game table -- too big, for the space at the table -- but the netbook opens up the possibility.  I am concerned, though, that using a computer at the table might be distracting, but I'm still interested in trying it out. (Though I have seen a really good GM use one at a one-shot game last year, without seeming to be distracted at all.)

I have a couple of programs that I'm trying out. Both of these programs have a lot in common: they're good at organizing all kinds of notes, from handouts to maps to NPC stats to maps.  They can both be installed on a flash drive (and I splurged for a 64 gig Patriot drive, so I can put a lot of notes on there).

The first is Microsoft OneNote, which is an information organizer that handles all kinds of files (txt, Word, PDF, graphics, sound, etc.). There's a thread about using it for gaming on EnWorld , and I was fortunate enough to have a copy of it on my Microsoft Office disk.

The second program is NBOS Software's The Keep 1.0, which is written specifically for gamers.  Instead of tabbed entries, as OneNote uses, it has a tree-style organization system.  It can handle most of the file types that OneNote can, but it also has a few features that gamers can appreciate: an automatic dice roller, a campaign logger, and the ability to tie into NBOS other gaing products, such as Fractal Mapper, Inspiration Pad, Character Sheet Designer, Screenmonkey, etc. 

I haven't used either of these programs during a game yet, but I think I might go with The Keep.  I suspect that the tie-in with the other NBOS programs will be too much for me to resist, although I don't think I'll use the dice roller at all. That's OK, because I can hide it, which frees up more room for display (which is important on a 10" screen).

What do the readers think about digital GM tools? What's your gaming style? Let the comments flow freely, like the blood of your enemies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Artifacts and Equipment in Risus

Risus: The Anything RPG has some unorthodox ways of handling many aspects of gaming that confuse some who have not grokked the Zen of Risus fully.  RisusMonkey has delayed his ascent to Nirvana to explain to us one of those aspects: how to handle special equipment such as magic items, high-tech equipment, and more, using only the basic rules and the Risus Companion. It's a well-reasoned and clearly written article that will become one of the tools of my trade. Catch it on his blog here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

Spolier [sic] Alerts

I gave in to the temptation to create another blog, whence shall henceforth be posted all the spoilers for my gaming group. Why another blog? I want input on what I write for my games, but I don't want to flaunt it in my players' face. The "jump break" feature on Blogger didn't work in rss feeds, so I couldn't depend on hiding the spoilers. I toyed with creating a wiki, but it didn't seem right for what I needed.  Thus, I created another blog.

The first post is up at spolieralerts.blogspot.com . Yes, I really spelled it that way; you can find out why when you get there.

Fortuitous Characterization

Torgon the Eviscerator (see My Pal Torgon) is an ideal NPC for me to play. Everybody in my gaming group realizes that he's the one who suffered through all the situations that gave rise to the Evil Overlord list (not that he would have drawn the conclusions that the Evil Overlord did from those experiences). Torgon provides me with a remarkable roleplaying opportunity, because no matter what I do as Torgon, I win. If Torgon does I do something spectacularly stupid, they'll go, "That's about what I'd expect Torgon to do!" If he I unexpectedly does do something brilliant, they'll think, "Maybe that Torgon is smarter than we think!" It's a win-win situation.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Still Writing

I'm still working on my next gaming post, but it's not ready to upload yet. So let me talk about my history of gamemastering.

I started out with white box D&D, back around 1976, in high school. At least half of my gaming group ran a dungeon at one time or another, including myself. I also gamed with a couple of other friends on the side; despite efforts to incorporate them into my other group, they never really gelled. Later, in college, I found my way into another group, where 1st edition AD&D was the system of choice. (I'm still friends with most of this group, and game with one of them).  I convinced them to try RuneQuest, Superworld, and Call of Cthulhu, and ran a couple of campaigns over the next few years. After that I didn't game much because of graduate school.

After grad school was over, my friends and I drifted into another group that was playing Champions.  (Still friends with most of these guys, too.)  However, I found that I ad kind of lost the knack of running a campaign, if not the desire. I was mostly a player, but when I tried to come up with a campaign of my own, it would sputter out after a few sessions. After various permutations of the Champions group, I drifted over to the group I'm playing with today. Our core members have been gaming together for over 15 years, mainly RuneQuest, with one main gamemaster.

I'm still struggling with my inability to keep a campaign going.  Thinking back over the years, I think the main difference in my campaign style was that I used the "old school" support materials from groups like Judges Guild and Chaosium, which weren't so heavily loaded as the scenarios and settings of today. I was also more ready to be spontaneous, going off on any tangent the players were willing to explore. I think I let Champions intimidate me because of the calculations involved and the massive rulebooks.  I also got the idea somewhere that I needed to write everything down and create a kind of module (as I recently tried to do with Mythic Greece). With my latest effort, I think I'll try the KISS principle.

Anybody else have any similar problems? The comment board is open.

New Template

I found another template for the blog that lets me stretch the borders out to the full size of the browser window. Warning! I fiddled around with the colors, which is dangerous for me, since I am notoriously colorblind.  If eye-bleeding, synaesthesia, epileptic fits, hypnotic trances, or eyeball-explosions occur, please contact the webmaster.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Woohoo! My First Graphic on this Blog!



This staggered-square graph paper is similar to the one that appeared in one version of the Basic Role Playing game published by Chaosium in the late 70s or early 80s. I always thought it combined the advantages of hexagon grids and graph paper, in that it gave you movement in 6 drections, like hex grids, but you could also draw things in 90 and 45 degree angles, unlike the 30 degree increments of the hex grids. I know there's quite a history of hex grids and wargaming, but I always thought it was a shame that the square-brick pattern never caught on.

Has anybody seen this used in any other game, or was it pretty much a one-shot in BRP? If it was available, would you find a use for it? (BTW, I created this at http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/ .)

The Hardest Part Of Writing

Well, I didn't manage to post 500 words yesterday, but I did manage to post something (even if not anything of major significance). I had lunch at Uncle Julio's yesterday, which I usually enjoy, but it didn't sit well for some reason. I spent the day napping, pretty much. I did write up some rough notes for a post, so I'll try and polish it and get it up later today.


Meanwhile, if you hadn't noticed, I put up some links to some games (and game supplements) which currently inspire me. Another section, "Stroke My Ego", contains links to some other places you can read my writings:
  • Risusiverse: a wiki dedicated to S. John Ross's Risus: The Anything RPG
  • The Vanth Lexicon: A joint effort to detail the World of Vanth, from S. John Ross's Encounter Critical
  • Risus Pieces, my Risus website
The hardest part of writing is doing it when you don't want to. Like today.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Spoilers? (or: Gameblog, gameblog, gameblog, ad nauseam)

When I decided to write a daily gameblog, I should have foreseen that I would want my gaming friends to read what I write. However, I don't want them to read any spoilers about the game they will be playing. The solution that sprang to mind, after seconds of mighty concentration, is to come up with (gasp!) a separate blog for spoilers. However:
  1. I don't necessarily want to contribute to the proliferation of unnecessary gameblogs any more than I've already done.
  2. I don't want to bug the crap out of any readers who AREN'T playing in my games, so maybe I should just resort to the old "Spoiler Alert" header (which I'll probably forget to add).
  3. If I post a link to an external blog, I'm taking people away from this blog,
  4. Screw it, this is too hard, I just won't write ANY blogs.  (Incidentally, this is the first time I've ever used a strikethrough.)
I'm curious how others handle the situation. Maybe I should have looked around at the other gamebloggers to see how they handle the situation.

The Art of Brevity

"The Fluttering Horde" is the collective name of the group of butterfly-winged henchmen that serve The Monarch, a criminal mastermind from Adult Swim's The Venture Brothers (a guilty pleasure of mine). Imagine a bunch of out-of-shape, physically awkward minions clad in orange-and-black jumpsuits; then stick a large pair of butterfly wings on their backs, in keeping with the Monarch's lepidopteran theme. (Monarch as in butterfly; get it?) The ranks dwindled after the Monarch did a stint in prison, so when he busted out, the two remaining loyal minions had to beef up the ranks. They decided to put together a commercial.

Their success was limited, but my friend Rich and I were inspired. We didn't "hench up" ourselves, but what we came up with was "The Henchmen Campaign". The idea was a campaign that anyone in our group could run. The players would be temps working for an organization called "The Henching Hand". They would work for supervillains who, for one reason or another (usually because of a high mortality rate), didn't have henchmen of their own. Rich did a brilliant job of actually coming up with the details of the organization. He even produced six-page contracts for all of us to sign; actually, it says THIS INDENTURE WITNESSETH in a 36-point black-letter gothic font on the front page. The provision for "Vacation" is checked out; under "Disability", the contract notes:

In the event that the Employee cannot perform the duties because of illness, incapacity, Death, Dismemberment, Disintegration, Dissolution for a period of more than two (2) weeks, the compensation othyerwise due during said illness or incapacity will be reduced by ninety percent (90%). The Employee's full compensation will be reinstated upon return to work.
Brilliant.

As I was saying in my last post, I asked for my gaming group's input on some ideas for an RPG campaign. For a long time I had been putting together notes for a Mazes and Minotaurs-style setting in ancient Greece. One of my other suggestions involved a space opera setting starring Galactic Overlord-cum-Drama Critic Torgon the Eviscerator. Somehow, it didn't gel for me yet; yeah, it was kinda funny to have Torgon's rocket ships going up against heroes on griffin-back, but in my mind the player characters would be the Greek heroes. I posted several lengthy documents about playing characters in ancient Greece on our Yahoogroups site (which we basically use for communication, not playing games) and got to work on preparing to run the campaign. However, something was not working for me, and it bugged me.

I first remember reading books on Greek myth in the third grade, and I've been reading them ever snceI had maps, descriptions of places (drawn from the legendary ICE/Hero Games publication Mythic Greece, I had several other games set in the time period GURPS Greece, New Argonauts, etc.). My friends all love (well, like) (OK, tolerate) the schlocky Hercules movies from the 50s and 60s. I should have been able to put together a huge, epic campaign, based on the dozens of pages of notes and my extensive library.

On the way to our next gaming night, chatting with my friends Rich and Angela brought me around: why not make it a Henchman game? Blammo! Playing Torgon's henchman fighting against Greek heroes on griffin-back is, inexplicably, a lot cooler than the reverse. This way, I can give them rocket packs... which they probably don't know how to use.

Later on, Angela commented, "So I won't be needing all that stuff you've been spamming me with?"

I guess I still need to master the art of brevity.

My Pal Torgon


You might be wondering about my avatar, Torgon the Eviscerator. Several years ago (probably over a decade ago, in fact), my friend Tony was getting ready to run a RPG campaign using the Champions/ Star Hero system. Most of us in the group were interested in space opera along the lines of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The premise was to be that we were all to be former associates of a hero named Flash Rogers (get it?). Old Flashy was missing, it seems, and the Universe was in peril once more. We were to be ex-sidekicks, mad scientists, alien princesses. and others who Flash had helped over the years.

My character was Torgon the Eviscerator, who had once ruled over a decent chunk of the galaxy along the lines of Ming the Merciless. He was a thoroughly despicable type, lopping off heads and having people put to torture at the slightest whim. His was the ultimate toxic work environment (at tims, literally). But at some point, Flash finally led a rebellion against Torgon, nobly sparing the tyrant if he would give up the throne and go peacefully into exile. Facing a mob howling for his chitlins, Torgon had no choice. But idle hands are the devil's playthings; Torgon had to find another job. But what can a natural-born galactic overlord do when he has no empire?

He became a drama critic.
(http://torgon.blogspot.com/)

When Torgon hears that Flash Rogers, his old nemesis was missing, he did what any ex-space tyrant would do when asked to help out his greatest enemy: he dropped everything to rush to his rescue. Of course! Being an ex-villain himself, he knows the villainous mindset. He'd be a tremendous asset to the rescue effort. (Of course, Torgon was merely waiting for an opportunity to re-seize his galactic throne. After all, he had hidden fleets of ships and arsenals full of space-artillery over the galaxy before the masses rebelled against him. The only problem was that most of his lieutenants who knew where these stockpiles were, were either in prison, or dead, or fled to the far corners of the galaxy.)

Somehow, the campaign never really got started, and I never did much more with Torgon. Oh, yes; I wanted Torgon to rrview some movies, like the Star Wars prequel trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Somehow, Torgon never got the idea that Christopher Lee was playing two different characters in those movies.

Back to the reason I was telling you about Torgon. I was getting the itch to run a new campaign, and I couldn't settle on one that I was happy with. I presented the other players with ideas like Mythic Greece (similar to the Mazes and Minotaurs RPG, or the Hercules and Xena TV shows; my other main suggestion was a space opera style game, "maybewith Torgon", or a few other suggestions like superheroes. A couple of people were encouraging about the Greek game, but somehowit didn't really gel with me. Then Sandy, who runs the RuneQuest game we've been playing for almost a couple of decades, made a suggestion:

"Torgon invades Earth with rayguns and rocket ships. Sadly, he has chosen to do so in the time of Heroic Greece, and so he is opposed by Hercules, Perseus, et al.
Who doesn't want to see space monsters face off against Greek mythic creatures? "

Phrased like that,whowouldn't? I started chugging out notes for Greekheroes and witchs and philosophers and such, but there was still an element missing. The missing piece didn't turn up until a couple of days ago, when somebody mentioned... "The Henchmen Campaign".

Which I'll tell you about in my next post.

Getting Back in the Game

This weekend, a friend of mine told me about his brother-in-law,a former football player, whose 2009 sucked harder than mine. He lost his dad to a lingering illness, his mom a month later; the family business he inherited went under; he has a family to support and no job. Compared to that, I'm doing OK.

The thing that made me dust off this old hollow blog is that my friend's brother-in-law is writing a novel. Already has several chapters done, and outlines for several others. I don't know if he's written anything before, or how good his writing is, but I do know that I have a master's degree in Playwriting, and I have not been doing much writing myself. Now that I have some time while looking for a job, why am I not doing the same? I was piddling around for awhile on a project of my own, but it was going nowhere.

Long story short, I decided to start setting a goal for myself. It's a modest goal,but accomplishable I think. I'm going to write five hundred words a day and post it on this blog. I can write more thn a hundred words, but if I do, the count still resets to 0 the next day. I won't make any promises about the content, though at this point I think it will be mostly gaming related.

At this point, these are my goals:

1) Get some writing done. Any writing. On a daily basis (once every twenty-four hours). If you notice that I'm falling behind that, please drop me a line.

2) Improve the writing that I do by self-editing. If you see me doing something truly egregious, please let me know, but I'm a pretty good speller and know the basics of grammer. I could probably use some pointers on style, but that may be a matter of taste.

3) Create a setting and some scenarios for an RPG game. The system I prefer is Risus: The ANYTHING RPG, which is available for free at http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/risus.htm. It's awesome.

This post doesn't count against the five hundred word limit, BTW. The count is zero.