Friday, September 6, 2013

Run, You Clever Boy

A brief note: This is a post divided into two parts. The first part is a (rather long) reflection on Doctor Who (specifically Nu-Who) and the theme of running. The second part is how that kind of theme can be implemented in Fate gaming. If you want to read just the first part, stop at “THE DIVIDING LINE,” and if you just want the second, scroll down and start there. And—this is important—my Who analysis has spoilers all the way through to the most recent episode “The Name of the Doctor,” so you may need to beware.

Running has been a very important part of Doctor Who for a very long time. Russell T. Davies knew this, and when he brought the series back in 2005, running was front and center, both on the screen and thematically. The very first word the Ninth Doctor utters is “Run!” and when he gets around to introducing himself the next scene, he repeats the concept: “I'm the Doctor, by the way. What's your name?” Rose replies, and the Doctor continues “Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!” It’s a warning on multiple levels: first, of course, he’s telling Rose to get away from the upcoming explosion; however, he’s also telling her that if she wants to keep her ordinary life, she had better run far away from the Doctor; and if she enjoys running, she should run with him. Running continues as a central metaphor through the 9th and 10th Doctors’ tenure (more on that in a bit), but when Steven Moffat introduced the 11th Doctor, he put a different spin on the 9th Doctor’s introduction. At the end of “The Eleventh Hour,” the Doctor, finally in his iconic bowtie and thus, in a way, him for the first time, says “Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically... run.” Instead of a warning, this time it’s a threat. For the first time, he’s standing in one place and telling his foes to escape his wrath. He echoes the same threat in “The Doctor’s Wife,” telling Uncle and Auntie “You gave me hope and then you took it away. That's enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it'll do to me. Basically, run!” This goes even further in “A Good Man Goes to War,” as the Doctor goes on the offensive and forces his enemy to take on the moniker “Colonel Runaway.” So with this primer, we can see that “running” can mean a number of different things in Doctor Who. Let’s examine some of the other implications.

Much is made of companions running away. Repeatedly, adventuring with the Doctor is referred to as a way to run away from your responsibilities in real life. This appears with Rose: she desperately wants to escape her humdrum life, and ends up never returning home. Martha at first runs away from a much more promising life than Rose had, but ends up deciding that she wants to return to her real life and become a doctor of her own. Donna is the most extreme example, as she is older but is in many ways the least mature of any of the new companions, and repeatedly says that she wants to travel with the Doctor forever, escaping her humdrum life for good. This, is of course, her greatest tragedy, as she ends up returning to not only her life but her mindset from before she met the Doctor.

Moving into the Moffat era, Amy also runs away with the Doctor, performing the ultimate “runaway bride”—her one night of cold feet turns into an intergalactic adventure. The “running away” theme for companions is minimized in Series 6 as Rory and Amy are simply enjoying their time, but it comes back with a vengeance in Series 7 as Rory and Amy have to balance their regular life with their adventures with the Doctor. Oddly enough, they come very close to choosing their real life, but end up choosing to stay with him, only to end up forcibly settling down in their last episod. This is also symbolized by the abandonment of Amy's surname Pond , as her last letter to the Doctor (and subsequent little references to her) are under the name Amelia Williams—but the significance of “Pond” is worth a whole other post. Clara is able to have it both ways: as the Doctor puts it, “The thing about a time machine is that you can run away all you like and still be back in time for tea.” She is able to maintain her regular life as a governess while simultaneously exploring new frontiers with the Doctor (this could be considered a cheat, and might be one reason why many fans are dissatisfied with Clara as a companion). However, the theme of running comes back with Clara in several ways: she repeats the phrase “Run, you clever boy” in all three of her incarnations, and then “The Name of the Doctor” reveals that “Always [she’s] running to save the Doctor. Again and again and again,” and what’s more, she’s been doing it “right from the day he started running.”

So we see that the Doctor does his share of running as well. From his actions, we can see that he prefers to run rather than fight all through the series, and he makes many references to “cowardice” being preferential to force. In “The Parting of the Ways,” the Ninth Doctor is asked “What are you? Coward, or killer?” and he responds “Coward. Any day.” In “The Impossible Astronaut,” Eleven refers to the little girl in the astronaut suit (the young River Song, of course) as “Incredibly strong and running away. I like her.” Donna lampshades his tendency to run with “He saves planets, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures...and runs a lot. Seriously, there is an outrageous amount of running involved,” and River Song glorifies it in her first appearance by promising the Doctor “You and me, time and space. You watch us run!” Even when he doesn’t remember the minor character Lorna (or hasn’t met her yet) in “A Good Man Goes to War,” he assumes that “Hey, we ran, you and me. Didn't we run, Lorna?” And later in Moffat’s run, we start to see part of what the Doctor values in running: in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” he tells young Melody Pond/River Song “Don't run. Now I know you're scared. But never run when you're scared.”

So apparently he runs not out of fear. Why does he run? He tells Clara more in “The Rings of Akhaten”: “We don't walk away, but when we're holding onto something precious, we run, and we don't stop running until we're out of the shadows.” In one of his last episodes with Amy and Rory, the Doctor really explains why he’s running, and why he values it so highly: “I'm not running away. But this is one corner of one country on one continent on one planet that's a corner of a galaxy that's a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much, so much, to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I'm not running away from things, I am running to them. Before they flare and fade forever.”

However, despite what he says, there’s ample evidence that the Doctor, like his companions, is running from his past. In “The Sound of Drums,” he tells the story of young Gallifreyans looking into the “Untempered Schism.” He says “We stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of Time and Space, just a child. Some would be inspired. Some would run away. And some would go mad.” When Martha asks which was he, he replies “Oh, the ones that ran away! I never stopped.” To make brief mention of Classic Who, the Doctor was often said to be on the run from the Time Lords, from their society, their structures and strictures, and he wants to simply escape into the universe. He explicitly likens himself to Amy’s runaway bride schtick in “The Beast Below” as Amy asks him “Have you ever run away from something because you were scared, or not ready, or just... just because you could?” He replies “Once. A long time ago.” She asks what happened, and he just gestures to himself: “Hello!” He’s telling her that everything that is the Doctor came from that one moment of running away. He engages this again in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” trying to escape the reality of dying by pleading with Amy (or rather, a holographic interface wearing her face) “Let's run away and have adventures. Come along, Pond.”

As he is running from the society of the Time Lords, it’s said several times that the Doctor is also running from himself, from the deeds he’s done and what he’s capable of. In “Journey’s End,” Davros taunts him with the following words: “The Doctor. The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame.” Dorium, in “The Wedding of River Song,” similarly tells him (in typical oblique Moffat fashion) what he’s running from: “The first question! The question that must never be answered! Hidden in plain sight! The question you've been running from all your life! Doctor Who? Doctor Who? Doc — tor — Who?!” While it’s not directly stated, it’s heavily implied in “The Name of the Doctor” that one thing the Doctor is running from is the actions of John Hurt’s Doctor, which he claims he “did without choice... in the name of peace and sanity,” but not “in the name of the Doctor.” Considering that fans suspect John Hurt’s character is the actual Ninth Doctor, who fought in the Time War between the 1996 TV movie and the 2005 Nu-Who resurrection, and that we know from “The End of Time” and “The Doctor’s Wife” that the Doctor locked Gallifrey away and killed all the Time Lords, this tells us a lot about what he’s running from.

In “The Wedding of River Song,” he asks Dorium “I've been running all my life. Why should I stop?” That question of why should he stop, and what happens when he does, has been addressed several times. Shortly after the conversation with Dorium (though earlier in broadcast time), the Doctor tells Amy and Rory “I've been running. Faster than I've ever run. And I've been running my whole life. Now it's time for me to stop.” He’s finally decided to take a stand, and similarly tells River that he “Did run. Running brought me here.” And we have seen what happens when he’s forced to take a stand, unable to run any longer. In “The Runaway Bride,” among many other episodes, he kills the monster of the week without mercy once he can no longer run or talk his way out of things. The best example of this, however, appears in “The Family of Blood.” The Doctor had been running harder than most times, going so far as to hide as a human, to avoid the Family. But at the end of the episode, it’s revealed, in the words of Son-of-Mine, “we discovered why — why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind.” His vengeance against the Family is terrible, as he traps them all in eternal torture. So in a sense, the Doctor can be said to be running from himself, from what he is capable of.

As we can see, running shows up a lot in Doctor Who, especially in the Moffat era, and it has a number of different implications: running away from real life, running away from the past, running away from danger (both what could hurt the Doctor and those he could hurt)—and running towards excitement and adventure. That one simple word, one simple activity, is thematically all over Nu-Who, and interpreted in many different ways.


So what does this have to do with gaming in Fate? Obviously, running must appear in an aspect on the Doctor's sheet , many of the companions' character sheets, and really on the game as a whole. Running is almost always the right answer: characters who try to stand and fight, use bullets, seldom make it to the end of the episode. This is a good example of a game aspect. A Doctor Who campaign would need some aspects about running in order to properly reference the source material, while a campaign about strong knights of Camelot defending their home against an implacable foe might go the other way and have several aspects on the game, locations, and characters that emphasize “standing your ground.” In Strange Voyages, exploration in some fashion or questions of the truth are likely to be aspects that will appear in many games. The Kerboros Club does a great job emphasizing their setting by saying that whatever other game aspects there are, “Malum Necessarium,” the club motto, will always appear. This emphasizes the theme of its English translation, "necessary evil." Characters do what they have to do, and don't always stay on the side of the angels. Similarly, the Atomic Robo RPG (coming soon) has “Remain Calm and Trust In Science” appearing as the “mission statement” aspect of Tesladyne, and thus will always appear. Like running in Doctor Who, this tells us that the answer to an Atomic Robo problem will nearly always rely on science in some fashion.

This sort of thematic aspect can be used in a number of ways: they can be invoked in almost any circumstance where acting in accordance with the aspect gives a bonus, and thus it encourages characters to act that way. If the characters in Doctor Who attempt to run away, they will be able to gain a bonus do so, whereas they won’t if they choose to fight back. Of course, the second way you can use these aspects is through compels, either from the GM or self-compels to stay in the correct "tone" for the game, and even when Doctor Who players want to stand their ground, they can be encouraged through compels to run.. Finally, these thematic aspects give you a sense of what stories to tell. The Doctor Who GM quickly realizes not to tell stories where is necessary for the characters to stand their ground, and instead to make scenarios that explore why the companions are running away from their real-life; the Camelot game should conversely tell stories where characters will have to stand and fight, and explore why their characters need to stand and what that costs them; a Strange Voyages game should focus on stories of exploration, new things and new locations, with stories that explore why the characters are exploring in the first place. Creating a thematic aspect like this can be as simple as placing it on the game as issue, or it could add on to the game above and beyond the issues that are already there (as in the case of The Kerberos Club and Atomic Robo), and can also be encouraged to be reflected in the aspects of PCs and various faces and places throughout the campaign. How far you want to take this depends on how much you want to emphasize the theme—how far you want to run.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On the Brink

I just had an Experience. Experience with a capital “E.” Something unique and magical and out of the ordinary. And all it was was going to a concert. A small, intimate concert, with a bunch of people that I’d never met, but know anyway. People with “Shadowrun” T-shirts and nerdy card games just happening to sit in their pockets, there to listen to a band called the Doubleclicks and a singer whose most famous song is called “The Nerd Anthem.” There was a sense of community, of communion, and although I did not speak to a single person, I was really comfortable. I just watched, and felt like I belonged even though I wasn't interacting with anyone. Maybe I should've talked to someone, I'll probably regret that later. But it didn't seem necessary, didn't seem vital to enjoy that moment, and despite my isolation I felt like I was part of something. This is an experience that I haven't had since I was 19, feeling like nothing so much as sitting in the makeshift black box theater next to the pizza parlor on my college campus, listening to amateurs up on stage sharing their souls in the Midnight Beatnik Society (who were not beatniks and did not meet at midnight). That close, intimate “these people are just like me and that’s awesome” feeling, with both the people in the audience and the people on stage. Marian Call and the Doubleclicks spent the intermission hanging with the people who came to their concert.

They’re on a different level—no one would be foolish enough to publish a CD of the ramblings of college-age Ryan Schmidt strumming along on his guitar to the Tacoma Song (though now I understand he’s doing quite well for himself as an improv comedian), and I certainly wasn’t invited up onstage with Marian to share my latest blog post, but I still felt that connection. Perhaps it was because these people were not pure amateurs, but burgeoning professionals. I believe Marian Call makes her living as a musician, but she is not a household name, nor will she ever be. I would be surprised if the Doubleclicks don’t have day jobs, and Josh A. Cagan’s big claim to fame is contributing to a not-terribly-good web series. They’ve moved on from the level of amateur, but they’re not yet at the level of pure professional, not Ozzy or Stephen King or even Felicia Day. That’s where I’d like to imagine I am—certainly a step behind, with my first game just about to come out, instead of my career being a few CDs in like Marian and the Doubleclicks are, no professionally produced webseries to my name, never mind the quality. But it’s that level of leaping forward onto the professional plane that I feel like I connect with. I might just be humoring myself, but I’d like to think I’m finally coming into my own. Twenty-nine, a little late, but that’s not uncommon in this day and age, this generation of delayed adolescence.

I may never be a household name, but I think that's okay. If I could simply foster the kind of camaraderie that I felt at this concert, share that feeling with some portion of the world, I just might be okay with that. I used to have far loftier dreams, wanting every single person in the world to experience my art, whether or not they liked it, but perhaps I can settle for something smaller.

There are 3000 people on the Fate Core community on Google+. I don’t know what percentage of the Fate Core crowd that represents, and I don’t know what percentage of that crowd I might be able to capture with my game or games—but if I could, if I could get 3000 people to buy my game, that would be an amazing accomplishment. 3000 is in some sense not that much: it would be a small town. It would be a small con. If a television series got those ratings, it wouldn’t finish the first episode. But for someone on the brink of professional artwork, three thousand would be like a million. Like ten. I’m trying to keep my expectations low. Maybe only a few dozen people will buy my game, maybe into the hundreds. Something along those lines is what I envision. But just think about it. I had maybe two dozen people who followed my blog back in the day, if that. I’ve shared my games with a dozen or two people over the course of my lifetime, and always in groups of five or six at a time. If I could spread that out, see and hear the effects further on, and further out, well that’s what being an artist is all about, isn’t it? Giving something of yourself to the world. I don’t write for me. If I did, I wouldn’t be trying to publish something, I would simply write in my journal and call it good. I write because I’d like to think that someone else would like to read what I’ve written, would like to play the game I’ve designed, would like to explore the worlds that come flowing out of my head. This is not to say the small and intimate don’t have their place. I cherish my time with my gaming group, and adore the job I have working one-on-one trying to help a single individual succeed. But there is something to be said for quantity.

Tomorrow, I have to return to my ordinary life, some of the pain-in-the-ass stuff I have yet to do: doctor’s visits and another day at work. But for a few hours, I was part of something, and if I can just hold on to that sensation, summon it up when I really need to, I just might be able to make that same connection with someone else out there in the world. Wouldn’t that be remarkable?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

No Buttons

I just finished playing Save the Date [], a small freeware video game that ponders the meaning of choice in video games. The central dilemma of the game is trying to find the “good ending,” and at one point it’s brought up that the problem is that there’s no button for it. The fact that your choices are limited by what the programmer put in got me thinking about magic of tabletop role-playing and how you can do anything you want. Then immediately, I thought about the fact that of course that's not true. At the tabletop, you have far more choices than in a videogame—there are no buttons, there are no limits to the maps you can access, or hard-coded NPC behaviors you can’t change. However, there are implicit limits written into the game. Want to do something that your character isn’t good at, or that’s beyond their abilities? The dice will probably tell you “no, you can’t do that.” Beyond that, there are choices you can take that the rules don’t even cover (and thus quietly discourage you from taking). Want to take over a kingdom and tax the populace in D&D 4e? Sure, you can theoretically do that, but there aren’t any rules that govern it, so you and the GM will have to create rules in order to tell that story. Taking a step further, your D&D party can’t venture into space, or travel to the future, or implant cybernetics, or at least not without bringing in rules from another game. And what if you want to tell a story like Save the Date, metafictively pondering the nature of fiction and your character’s role in it... you could use D&D to tell that story, but the rules would be of no use to you. Nor would they be in virtually any game out there (I’m sure there’s some freeform narrativist indie game floating around the net somewhere that allows you to do this, but I don’t know it)—and if you could find a game whose rules support metafictive storytelling, I doubt you could use that same ruleset to run a tactical wargame as well.

Even if you’re playing a game with no rules, a narrativist diceless system like our theoretical metafictive game, there are still fundamental assumptions put in place by the game master—or if you’re playing one of the few games with no GM at all, then the assumptions shared by the table. Want to leave the dungeon and venture into space? Want to run a restaurant? Want to ponder the existential ramifications of being a character in a game? Then your fellow players had better be on board. There are strictures—structures—in place. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Without structure, there’s no story. Pure randomness ends up going somewhere, somewhen, or else it’s nothing more than gobbletygook. And then there’s the question of an ending. Save the Date reflects on the nature of an ending, that its story only really ends when you stop playing, and the ending you choose is the one you, as a player, write for yourself. Nowhere in gaming is this more true than on the tabletop. If you’re not playing a pre-written adventure, it can end wherever and however you like. Even if you are, the campaign as a whole can go into new and strange directions, and end with the PCs as rulers of the world, or slaves, or dead, or whatever. But how often does that happen? How many times is the ending of a campaign simply a non-ending, when real life intervenes and the story is abandoned, never to be brought to a conclusion? Is that an ending? Does it “count”?

Should the rules cover every situation? Should they cover none? If they cover every possible situation, you’re going to get a pretty thick tome—and, of course, there will end up being some situation, somehow, that they can’t cover. And if the rules are pretty much nonexistent, like the six-page system Risus, then what exactly is the advantage of using a ruleset over just sitting with your friends and spitballing a tale. “It helps us tell the story we want to tell” I hear your imaginary voice say—ah ha! So you choose those rules based on the story you’re planning on telling, on the experience you want to have. And if you decide to change your experience, you’re going to need a new set of rules. A new set of assumptions. A genre switch. Some buttons to press.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finding the Next Dragon

Have you ever noticed how we spend all our time looking for new challenges while simultaneously trying to find the cheat codes for life? I heard a new song by Marian Call tonight, about the dragons we face and how every time we defeat a dragon, we are compelled to find another. And I find that, for the most part, that’s true. It’s as if all of life is a series of leveling up: there's always one more platform to reach, one more challenge to accept. Work, romance, children. The next big thing, the next big step, the next dragon to face. And yet, at the same time, we try to find a way through without actually meeting those challenges. We ask “how can I get that job without actually having the training for it, there has to be someone I can blow.” “I can get that girl to sleep with me if I say just the right thing without actually getting to know her.” In our personal lives we seek out new and exciting challenges. We call them games. What is a game but a series of challenges standing between you and the end? And it's those challenges we relish, much more than reaching the end (see The World is Saved by Danny Wiessner).

There have been open world video games with no battles, no puzzles, nothing to do but explore—and no one plays them. There are tabletop RPGs just about telling a story about ordinary people—and no one plays them. I mean, some people play with the cheat codes on. I must admit that some of the most fun I've ever had was rampaging around Liberty City as Nico Bellic with an invulnerability cheat on: mayhem and chaos and a complete lack of consequences. It gets tiring, doesn’t it? You get done with it. You’ve got to turn the difficulty back up.

One of the most common complaints I hear as a GM is “you’ve made this too easy for us.” Too easy? Wouldn't you like to be guaranteed a win, in a way you can't be in real life? Nope. In fact, the Fate Core community is currently abuzz about the coolness of conceding conflicts, that there's a neat game incentive to lose, and people are eating it up to make an eventual win that much sweeter. Gamers want to pay for victory. This is a concept that just recently came to my attention, that has apparently been a cornerstone of my beloved Fate system for years. Victory in Fate is not a question of the whims of the dice, it's about how much you are willing to give up in order to achieve victory: from fate point to stress to consequences to narrative complications from concessions and such. How much are you willing to pay to win? And the answer is always "something," nobody wants to walk through the game without anything standing in their way. So apparently, we relish challenges and difficulty. But you might never see that in real life. You'd think if we really wanted those challenges that we would want them everywhere, wouldn't you?

Perhaps it’s the fact that we can set the difficulty level of our games—if not by changing a setting in a menu, then by talking to the GM or simply playing a different game. In life, we don’t always have that choice. Sometimes that dragon is bigger and meaner and harder than you expected, you are thrust back down to where you were before: you’ve got to do a little more grinding before you can move forward. And sometimes we can’t find the right dragon to slay. We can't always find the next great challenge. Sometimes we're treading water—grinding—working far below our abilities and desires. That’s when boredom sets in, ennui. Gaming-wise, this is farming low-level mobs in WoW, it's running a dungeon filled with goblins for the fiftieth weekend in a row, it’s spending hours getting that one Mortal Kombat combo just right. In real life, it’s the days flipping burgers, the hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the nights spent with that lover that you just don't care that much about. Sometimes it’s because the next challenge hasn’t been made available to you, you haven't been able to find it. But more often, as I'm sure all of you know, because you haven't really looked for it.

When you finally find that dragon, you will very often find it’s smaller than you thought, weaker, not nearly as scary when looked at from the other side. I just spent the last 10 months writing a brand-new role-playing supplement (and by by supplement I mean it's actually larger than the game that it’s built for). This was something I had been trying to do for years, been wanting to do for a long time, but I always shrank back, I never pushed too hard. I never found the right venue, the right circumstances, and the right people to get involved with. Getting those extra people on your team can really help, but the fact is, Jennifer and Quinn aside, I personally have done way more writing and design this year than I've ever done before. I picked a project and I set out to slay that dragon. Now the first of this flight of dragons is defeated (flight, it’s the collective noun. Look it up. Or don’t, because I just decided that just now). The first draft is done. Soon it will become a new dragon, one I haven't tried to fight before. This is the one that scares the shit out of me, but I really am looking forward to the battle: the playtest, the Kickstarter, the publication. Getting it out there. Becoming published for the first time. A step I should have, could have, but didn't, take years ago. I spent too long grinding, not looking for dragons. Now, my viewpoint is different. Strange Voyages may be my current dragon, but it's not my last. I have three pitches prepared for the next game project on the pipeline, the next dragon to fight.

Maybe you don't understand what I'm saying. Maybe you are someone who always wants cheat codes on, never ever searches for that next dragon, has no interest in new challenges. But I'd like to think that the hypothetical you does want something more—people who genuinely want no challenges in life are mainly the ones who already have so many they can't handle what they’ve already got. So let's assume that everyone reading this does like a good challenge, wants those dragons to find, in whatever way, in whatever form, at whatever level of difficulty they may exist in your life. So you've got to take a look, reach out beyond your comfort zone, because that comfort zone is dealing with the same problems every day, using the same solutions over and over. You know how that goes, you know what that answer is. It's boring. It’s a grind.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Parallel Paths

I saw an old friend today. My oldest friend. An old girlfriend, if you can call the little bits of fumbling romance we eked out of high school to count. You always have to wonder, when you haven’t seen someone in a long time, what will they be like now? I’m reminded of a section on campaign advancement in Fate Core, that says sometimes the bad guys will advance along with your characters, becoming just as powerful and just as tuned in to the PCs’ circumstances as they were the first time they interacted, while others will stay static and be quickly and easily outpaced by your protagonists. The same can apply to your friends: you never know if they have stayed the same or grown with you—or will they have leveled up, but in a new and unpleasant direction? I’m not the same person I was in high school, I don’t have the same tastes, the same day-to-day activities, the same physique. But when I met my friend, I found that somehow we had traveled along parallel paths in life. We’d both read the same authors and watched the same television shows, and started playing geeky board games.

All of these things had their seeds back then: the Lord of the Rings cooperative board game, watching The Princess Bride over and over and trading old copies of The Hobbit back and forth, but I had never heard of Joss Whedon when I was sixteen, I had just barely discovered Neil Gaiman, and I don’t believe China Mieville had even started writing yet. And somehow, this old friend and I, who I came together with when I had a different set of interests and a different way of looking at the world, has fallen in love with the same authors and activities that I have. Not quite the same, of course: she says she seldom actually likes Neil Gaiman’s books, and Whedon’s tendency to kill off beloved characters throws her for a loop. Nonetheless, when we sat down to play a cooperative card game that neither of us would have played in high school, she just adored it when the game kept kicking our asses. We watched Doctor Who, which I didn’t discover until 2005 (at which point it proceeded to control my life for the following eight years), and we talked about how Torchwood was a good idea but just wasn’t quite the same. We were in just the same place together as we had been, even though we’d both changed along the way. I wonder how many people can say that about their own friends, how many of my old friends I could say that about. I don’t know. I have new friends, as well as those who I’ve kept in touch with along the way, but there is a certain magic in finding that synchronicity that two people traveled down parallel paths.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Welcome to the new Realmcrafting

Welcome to the new Realmcrafting. This blog is undergoing a bit of a rebranding. No longer devoted specifically to the creation of the City of Lives RPG, you will now find a variety of essays and updates related to my escapades in game design.

Let's set the stage: since I ceased updating, I've changed focuses. The City of Lives is still on the docket for a future project, but the game formerly known as Terra Incognita (see my series of posts starting here) has been my life since December 2012. The game, now known as Strange Voyages, will be published by Occult Moon in early 2013, with a Kickstarter coming next month to fund cover art and a few other things.

For now, Realmcrafting will update sporadically, with a few essays related to gaming and (gasp!) how it relates to real life, and then probably the site will focus on keeping folks up to date on the progress of Strange Voyages as it moves through editing, playtesting, layout, etc.

Welcome! I hope you stick around.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Middleman FAE

The Middleman
High Concept: “I’m Just the Middleman”
Trouble: Ride Lonesome
-“Our mandate is protect people from threats, infra, extra and juxtaterrestrial.”
-These Rules Exist For a Reason
-It’s Just You And Me Against All the Bad Things Out There

Good (+3): Clever
Fair (+2): Forceful, Careful
Average (+1): Flashy, Sneaky
Mediocre (+0): Quick

-Because I am Sensei Ping’s favorite apprentice, I gain +2 to Forcefully attack when outnumbered.
-Because I’ve seen it all, I gain +2 to Cleverly create advantages on creatures the Middle-organization has faced before.
-Because I have a great sidekick, I gain +2 to Forcefully create advantages whenever working as a team with Wendy Watson.

Wendy Watson
High Concept: Middleman-in-Training
Trouble: Personal Stuff Gets in the Way
-Rash and Impetuous
-Pop Culture Genius
-My Father Disappeared Under Mysterious and As-Yet-Unexplained Circumstances

Good (+3): Forceful
Fair (+2): Flashy, Sneaky
Average (+1): Quick, Clever
Mediocre (+0): Careful

-Because I am an abstract impressionist, once per session I can create an advantage for free based on a detail I noticed in a previous scene.
-Because the Middleman is the closest thing I’ve had to a father, I gain +2 to Forcefully create advantages when working as a team with the Middleman.
-Because I have great friends, once per session I can get just what I need from Lacey or Noser.

Lacey Thornfield
High Concept: Confrontational Spoken-Word Performance Artist
Trouble: In Love With Sexy Bossman
-I Love My Dub-Dub
-Reap the Whirlwind (That Means We’re Going to Do Bad Things To Him)
-Dr. Barbara Thornfield, MD, PhD

Good (+3): Flashy
Fair (+2): Quick, Sneaky
Average (+1): Clever, Forceful
Mediocre (+0): Careful


High Concept: Alien Android
Trouble: Domineering Schoolmarm version 2.0
-“She’s a hophead!”
-“That's what you get for being made of meat.”
-I Don’t Care

Good (+3): Clever
Fair (+2): Careful, Forceful
Average (+1): Quick, Flashy
Mediocre (+0): Sneaky

-Because I can be hooked up to the HEYDAR, I gain +2 to Cleverly overcome obstacles when searching for information.
-Because I am an alien android, if I am taken out and destroyed, I can be replaced by O2STK at the end of the scenario.
-Because the Middleman and I have history, I gain +2 to Sneakily create advantages when trying to notify the Middleman of danger.

Tyler Ford
High Concept: I’m a Musician
Trouble: Tyler the Not-a-Rock-Star
-I’m a Man of Many Shades and Dimensions
-“You do what you have to do and when you get back, I'll still be around.”
-“Tyler Ford Will Smite You!”

Good (+3): Careful
Fair (+2): Flashy, Quick
Average (+1): Clever, Sneaky
Mediocre (+0): Forceful

High Concept: Master of the Unseen Arts
Trouble: Everyone Remembers Young Noser
-“Yo, Wendy Watson.”
-“I never thought I could play stump the band without hearing a single song.”
-A One-Man Oasis of Zen in a Desert of Insanity.

Good (+3): Careful
Fair (+2): Quick, Sneaky
Average (+1): Forceful, Clever
Mediocre (+0): Flashy


High Concept: Malignant Nematode
Good At: Plagiarizing, manipulating his tenants
Bad At: Creating art, making people not hate him

Game Aspects
-Fighting Evil So You Don’t Have To
-My Plan is Sheer Elegance So You Don’t Have To
-A Big Silver Ball That Gives Us Answers To Things

-The Illegal Sublet Wendy Shares With Another Young, Photogenic Artist
-Booty Chest: The Pirate-Themed Sports Bar With Scantily-Clad Waitresses

-Drown in the Icy Waters of the North Atlantic
-There Can Only Be One Middleman

Unused Aspects (appropriate for switching out at minor milestones)
-I Do Have One Weakness--Magic
-Oh, Phooey
- “I can badge my way into Fort Knox, I can talk my way into Lincoln’s bedroom.”
-Moscow Rules
-I Like To Keep the Old Heroes Alive
-Old Fashioned Manners and Language
-The Middleman Only Uses Violence When the Fate of the World is at Stake
-Sensei Ping’s Favorite Apprentice
-There are some things a man just can’t ride around
-I Will Always Have Your Back. Always.
-Been watching out for you all along
-It’s Waterproof, Shock-Proof, and Grafted To My Skin
-I know you're upset about Art Crawl, but sometimes that's the job.

-And I want you to know that since my dad disappeared, you're the closest thing I've had to a father.
-Queen of Snark
-No one dies on my watch
-You are such a rockstar. - on Tyler

-I’ve Taken a Few Eggs out of My Wendy Basket
-I Have to Take a Stand
-WWWWD? (What Would Wendy Watson Do?)

-Devoid of Human Emotion

Tyler Ford
-A _nado
-Incredibly Observant
-I'm a musician
-Because You’re Made of Awesome -Tyler, on Wendy

-Tyler Ford Isn’t Most People