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June 27, 2004

Euphoria

Buckaroo Banzai wasn't the only thing Gav brought over last night. A few days earlier, he'd found a copy of Def Leppard's 1999 album, Euphoria and asked me whether I wanted it; apparently, I'm the only person he knows who'll own up to liking them.

Vickie and I are listening to it right now, and all I have to say is this: Gav (and maybe everyone else he knows), don't you know how to have fun?

octaNe Inspirado

Last night could well have been one of the perfect movie nights for octaNe. Gav came over to drop the power supply I'd loaned him off (I was hoping he'd be able to use it to get his PC working again), and brought with him his newly-purchased DVD of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension (not the special edition you'll find by clicking the link, unfortunately; it doesn't seem to be available in Australia). It must be eight or ten years since I last saw that film, and it was as bad and as fun as I remembered! Vickie rolled her eyes through the whole thing, of course, but I'd recommended it as inspirational stuff for octaNe, and afterwards she remarked that, "Now I know that I can get away with doing anything in octaNe!"

Gav wandered off a while later, and after the two-hour JAG episode that introduced the crew from NCIS (which was doubly interesting, as the first series of NCIS has already aired its first several episodes on another channel), Seven screened the Sergio Leone epic For A Few Dollars More. It was half past eleven or so by then, and unfortunately I was having trouble staying awake. But I'll definitely have to snag it from the video store sometime - that, A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. (I'd also like to note that Dizzy went to an Ennio Morricone retrospective at the opera house last night. Gringo.)

But seriously, Buckaroo Banzai and For A Few Dollars More in one sitting would be perfect setting-of-mood for octaNe. Those, and maybe an El Santo film.

And while we're on the topic of octaNe, check this out.

Old Comments

"Big Booty! Big Booty!"
[groan] "Big Boote'"

Good flick :)

D

Posted by: Doccus at June 29, 2004 01:07 AM

RPG Plot Resources

I've been meaning to mention two web pages that have come in handy recently when planning the Corsairs campaign out. The first is S. John Ross' Big List of RPG Plots. It's a nifty little resource that summarises almost every plot that's been used in an RPG module, complete with the most common plot twists and general themes.

The second is a posting on Gamescribe's LiveJournal about Adventure Axioms and Campaign Construction. Several have already compared it to S. John's Big List (although I have the feeling Gamescribe came to his conclusions independently of it), but really, it's a distillation of the ideas within the Big List into their absolute basics.

At the moment, I'm using the Axioms to come up with an episode plan for the campaign, with the intention of referring to the Big List when it comes time to flesh out the individual episodes for play. I think these articles will also come in handy when I start doing other stuff, like maybe that Feng Shui campaign I've had brewing for ages (which would really benefit from some episodic planning).

June 26, 2004

Game Dream #2: Deal with the Devil

I'll keep this one short, as I don't really have much to say here. Doc's second Game Dream asks for tales from GM or player perspective of the most vivid time "where the players are forced to deal with unsavory characters that they would otherwise destroy." Unfortunately, I've not played or GMed enough games for this theme to have actually cropped up - and if it did, I can't remember.

But the idea is one I wouldn't mind using in the Corsairs campaign sometime... Thanks, Doc!

June 25, 2004

Shit Happens... And Keeps On Happening

It seems as though there’s something up at the moment, some sort of negative vibe going around that, just when you’ve clawed things back under your control after the last crisis, socks you in the teeth with another one.

Between the two of us, shit of some kind has happened to Vickie and I over the past few months. I can’t really go into specifics on some of the kinds of shit that have happened, but it’s either been work-related, car-related, health-related or property-related, and it just doesn’t seem to have stopped.

Between the two of us, shit of some kind has happened to Vickie and I over the past few months. I can’t really go into specifics on some of the kinds of shit that have happened, but it’s either been work-related, car-related, health-related or property-related, and it just doesn’t seem to have stopped.

I know Vickie and I aren’t the only ones going through this. Just a few posts ago, I mentioned a “general malaise” going around. The Lexicon of the Whisperers At War is a good example. We started off pretty strongly, but at the halfway mark, we’re two players down because of some nasty shit happening to them, and two of the remaining four (yes, I mean Vickie and I) are having trouble mustering the brainpower to nut out new entries. This after I wrote last week about how the Lexicon was getting over the halfway hump, and how things should go okay from here.

Turn Q-R was supposed to end yesterday, and I was planning to do my entry last night – then during the day, shit happened, the kind of broad, far-reaching shit you don’t feel as though you have any control over, and when I got home, I really didn’t feel like sitting in front of a PC monitor. Really, really didn’t. Was sick of it. And I know Vickie's felt that way a few times recently.

At the moment, it’s looking like the only players who are going to contribute regularly to the Lexicon are Dan and Sim, and even Dan’s going to hit difficulties when he goes overseas in a week or two. Vickie and I are just getting bigger and bigger headaches right now.

Look, I’m pretty philosophical when it comes to shit happening. I figure life piles shit on you so you can grow bigger shoulders to shovel through it. It’s a cyclical thing; the bigger your shoulders get, the more of a load you can handle, so life piles on a bigger load so your shoulders can get bigger. In theory, you’re better for it. But sometimes, if only for six months or so, I just wish life would cut us a break. Just a little.

Old Comments

Why don't you extend the future turns to 7 days. That gives everyone a weekend per turn.

Regarding burnout, when I get hit with the irrits, I leave the computer off for 2 weeks. Usually mobile as well. I use work PC for strictly work stuff. (No email, no news sites, not even jigzone).
After the 2 weeks it's always OK again.

Posted by: Lauren at June 25, 2004 08:22 PM

June 21, 2004

Game WISH 49: Winning

I know I’m over a year late on this, but I only just read it and have to respond, because by coincidence I’ve thinking about those very questions a lot lately.

    Is there a way to win or lose in a roleplaying game?

Yes and no – or maybe yes and yes. In my mind I’ve divided the idea of “winning” in a roleplaying game into “The Big Win” and “Small Wins”. I shall expound upon this division now.

Unlike most other “games”, RPG rules rarely define any “You’ve Won, Game Over” point. Typically campaigns end by either player / GM consensus (usually at the logical conclusion and resolution to the campaign’s plot, but cancellations due to time/life constraints are included here) or the deaths of every player character in one fell swoop. The closest condition to a “win” here, the logical conclusion and resolution to the campaign’s plot, can’t really be defined by rules; instead, they depend very much on those playing the game. This is what I think of as the “Big Win”. The Big Win is like life; the journey can be long and arduous, and there’s no guarantee you’ll even get to your goal.

The trick, in my opinion, is to make sure the journey is as interesting (from a play level) as possible, and that’s where the “Small Wins” idea comes in, at the session level. I think the core of the “Small Wins” idea is two concepts: “Challenge” and “Contribution”.

I find that each individual session should have some Challenge to be overcome by the players as a group, one difficult enough so it isn’t a “freebie” win for the players, but not so difficult that the players feel they are incapable of overcoming it. If the GM can pull it off given time constraints and player preferences, I think an individual challenge for a player or two per session (with the other players acting as “supporting cast”) is also a good idea.

Surmounting or overcoming – oh, hell with it, beating this challenge is where Contribution comes in. I’ve noticed that, when it comes to RPGs, what most players ultimately want is to actively contribute to the overcoming of the challenge in some meaningful way.

Even if they don’t strike the killing blow themselves, they want to strike the blows that weaken or distract the monster enough so the killing blow can be struck; even if the even if the monster is just driven off, they want to help push it in the right direction; even if there’s naught to do but flee from the monster, they want to aid in the escape.

Then there's the active part of the contribution. Being nothing but the punching-bag for the monster while the other players go for its weak spot and/or rescue the damsel might be a meaningful contribution, but the player is just sitting back and counting down the hit points. Every player needs the opportunity to have their character do something, not (or not just) have something done to him or her (or it). Part of that is letting each player utilise his or her character's Cool Stuff. There's a reason why each player was drwan to the type or style of character he or she is playing, and if the player doesn't get the chance to explore/exploit that reason, he or she will feel cheated.

(It’s the selfish part of Contribution, the part that wants to look good while doing it. Even if the game is Call of Cthulhu, I think every player should get the opportunity to say, “Oh, horror! Oh, angst! Oh, the sheer, unmitigated Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn! of it all!” at least once every few sessions.)

In summary, each player wants to feel part of the process. That’s why I think active, meaningful participation – contribution – in overcoming a challenge is the Small Win of RPGs. If you and your players are having lots of Small Wins, you mightn’t even notice that there’s really no Big Win anyway.

    Are you in competition with other players, NPCs, or the GM?

There has to be competition of some sort, or else there’s no challenge. Really, the only sources of competition the participants have in a role playing game are each other, and in many roleplaying games, the responsibility for providing competition rests with the GM.

However, that competition shouldn’t be overly competitive. The nature of challenge in an RPG should be less like a team sport (grid-iron, soccer, rugby, etc.; the "challenge", the opposing team, might be beatable, but doesn't intend to be beaten) and more like an obstacle course. The challenge is intended to be beatable, designed to be beatable, whilst still making sure the players get a workout while they accomplish it. That’s where the rules come in. They’re the GM’s tools for building the obstacle course, and the players’ tools for getting to the finishing line; they're the guarantee for both sides that the competiton will be fair. While a GM can penalise a player for not knowing the rules, he should always give the player the opportunity to learn them.

    What are the rewards for winning or the penalties for losing?

Now, there’s the rub, especially with regard to losing.

Winning first, though. From a Small Wins perspective, experience points have been the commonly accepted coin since D&D, although some recent games shy away from giving awards out for Small Wins (Feng Shui and Heavy Gear are two games of mine that spring to mind). As mentioned before, there’s no real guarantee a given campaign will ever reach “Big Win” status, and as the campaign is basically over at that point, XP are meaningless.

Ultimately, though, the only thing XP can be spent on is to improve your character, which indicates that XP aren’t a reward in and of themselves, but instead the means to the actual reward: the ability to face greater and greater challenges. And form a rules perspective, isn’t that what ultimately happens after each Small Win in a roleplaying campaign?

Now to losing. Say everything goes as it should, and each player is actively and meaningfully contributing to overcoming the challenge the GM has set for them – and they fail. (Maybe the dice just went against the players; maybe the GM made the challenge too difficult; maybe the players Just Couldn't Figure It Out.) Are they penalised for this? In some games, yes; they don’t earn XP they otherwise would have. Their characters may be less capable of overcoming challenges due to injury or exhaustion. But ultimately, if they come back for more, they’ll still be actively and meaningly contributing to overcoming the GM’s challenges.

From this perspective, it seems the reward for winning and the penalty for losing aren’t really much different.

Then there’s losing from the other perspective. If a player isn’t actively and meaningfully contributing, whether out of ennui or lack/denial of opportunities, they’ll be bored or frustrated (or both), which is penalty enough. If the situation continues, the player will blow this pop stand and go do something more fun. Is this penalising the player or group? Perhaps; it may be a missed opportunity for GM and players to learn something and improve their gameplay techniques. Or, it may simply be a resolution of an irreconcilable conflict in gaming style or taste.

    Do you feel like your characters have to “win” to enjoy a game?

Not necessarily; I think players can enjoy the game without necessarily overcoming challenges (in the classic sense, at least). In-character, intra-PC chat can be very enjoyable, but I think eventually players will get a little bored and get their characters looking for another Small Win.

Old Comments

As a relative newcomer to the gaming scene I've only had limited experience. There is nothing more boring for a player than to feel that they are simply there to make up the numbers. I've sat through games where I didn't even get to role the dice.
I also thought that we (the players) were the ones to devise our character sheets. The only development should be the addition of experience points etc. Sometimes it feels as though the GM is in collusion with certain players to give them a more prominant part in the game. I don't expect to have a main part in the proceedings, but there are times when it's been hard to stay awake.
As I've said, I'm a newcomer and gaming is a great social activity for me. It's a way to get together with friends. I don't have the urge to spend hours pouring over the game books and I'm lucky that the GMs and gamers I mix with are patient. I just like to get stuck into the game and have a chance to pull off a coup now and then.
I guess what I'm saying is 'keep it moving guys!'

Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at June 21, 2004 03:37 PM

I can definitely agree with that. From observation and personal experience, there’s nothing worse than being bored or frustrated - or bored and frustrated - at the gaming table. I like to think that I try and avoid creating an environment that encourages boredom or frustration when I GM a game.

Setting a new challenge each session and making sure each player has the opportunity to actively and meaningfully contribute to overcoming it is more easily said than done, of course.

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 04:30 PM

If it looks as though Vickie and I are talking about a slightly different post from the one you just read - well, we are, sort of. I wound up editing my answers to the third and fourth questions after I noticed they weren't really answering those questions; I was off on the hobby-horse I'd suddenly saddled up in the middle of answering Question #2. I reined myself in and cantered back to the central topic of Big and Small Wins, which meant the stuff about the reward of winning being enjoyment was snipped.

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 04:44 PM

I'm going to have to be a bit of a pretentious gamer here, and point out that you haven't really touched on Freeform games.
Most of the freeform games I've played, I've been handed a character sheet beforehand, which has clearly identified objectives. Most of the time it's impossible to achieve all of your objectives, I've personally only done it once out of the 30ish games I've played. (Fishbowl! - Go Britteny!!) Now IMHO, it's a Win if you don't stuff up too bad. Lock in your major goals, or lay the groundwork for them happening in the future and you've won the game. There can be many winners at the conclusion of the game, and then you have the gut-wrenching joy of debriefing where you find that your carefully laid plans have been turned to dust because the person you paid to supply you with those 500 laserguns is not an arms dealer, but is actually a swindler with a gambling debt. (**Damn! There goes my plans to overthrow the tyrant**)
But I do find it fun, even when I find out I've been done over.
Sometimes winning is good, But I'm in it for the characterisation.

Posted by: Lauren at June 21, 2004 04:52 PM

True, Lauren, I haven't. It's probably because I'm not much of a freeform gamer. Seriously, when was the last time anyone saw me in a freeform at a con? I think it must have been in the late nineties.

I also have no doubt there are several other forms of RPGs I've not touched on, simply becuase I don't do 'em. So, I answered the question from my POV.

Why not expand on winning in freeforms over on Simulated? I have no doubt it'd be an interesting read!

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 06:38 PM

WISHes and Dreams

I discovered Ginger Stampley's Game WISHes through The 20' by 20' Room just in time to discover they'd ended. The Game WISHes (WISH: Weekly Idea Sharing Hegemony) were a weekly writing exercise where Ginger would post a question on her web log relating to roleplaying games and throw the floor open for responses. She created and wrote 100 WISHes - almost two years' worth - and gained a significant following.

One of those is Mitch Evans, who runs Doc's Blog. Rather than face the inevitable withdrawal symptoms once deprived of his weekly hit, he's kicked off his own weekly writing exercise, which he's called Game Dreams. You can find the first one here.

I'm working on an answer right now. Why not give it a shot yourself? If you don't have a blog, you can always enter your response in the comments section of Mitch's posting. And in the meantime, you can always have a look at the WISH archives. They're quite heavily Amber-flavoured, but no less interesting for it.

Old Comments

Hey!
I resent your implied Amber sledge!
Most of the Amber books were well written, and given the right GM, the game is an awful lot of fun!
... remind me to tell you about the time we sacked new york on September 11, because a NPC (Super-Grover) accidently crossed into Shadow Earth.

Posted by: Lauren at June 21, 2004 04:36 PM

Hey, Lauren:

;-P

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 07:34 PM

Game Dream #1: Voice

My response to the inaugural Game Dream:

    When Role Playing Games are discussed, the subject of first-person versus third-person character narratives sometimes surfaces. When you play a character, do you assume first-person, using your voice as his or hers, or do you use third person, simply describing what he or she is doing?

When in-conversation in character, I always use first person. Most of my describing character actions are in first person, unless I’m discussing specifics of action, or when the action enters the mechanics level (“Okay, Slamdance’s CV is 8 and he’s performing a Move By, so that means his OCV is…”).

    Do you switch between first and third person, or try to adhere to one?

Most of the time I adhere to first-person as a matter of course. I find third-person is useful when discussing character details or mechanics (as above).

    When other players are in character, does the use of first or third person affect your immersion in the game?

I tend not to pay any specific attention; I believe most if not all of them use first-person right the way through.

Old Comments

Sounds like you all have your collective acts together :) As long as something isn't "grating" it shouldn't jar you out of character.

We do find, as your outlined above, that discussions of mechanics tend to break first person (and immersion). Makes me want to try a diceless game :)

D

Posted by: Doccus at June 29, 2004 03:54 AM

June 20, 2004

In Praise of the Playlist

I’ve read several columns on the use of music in gaming, and for every RPGnet column that expounds on the incalculable enhancement that music is to the gaming session, there are at least two comments that the mechanics of including and managing music during an adventure, plus the potential for distraction, add up to a royal pain. Music is nice, but GM and players are here to game, first and foremost. Music should be an aid to roleplaying. As soon as the music or the management of it music intrudes on gameplay, you’re not gaming any more.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best soundtrack to a session is one that supports the overall mood of the game and that can adapt to specific moods without requiring a significant break in the flow of the session. The problem is that, up until the past few years or so, such a goal has been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Thankfully, the advent of the MP3, the ever-decreasing size of computers and the capability of ripping tracks from CDs have put the minimal-maintenance soundtrack within the grasp of Joe and Jane Gamemaster. In fact, the convergence of modern technology has given this goal a name – the playlist.

And why stop with just one? Take your CD collection and a few hours, and you can put together several playlists, each one suiting an individual mood within your campaign. All you have to do when the mood changes is swap between playlists and make sure the brick is still on the Track Shuffle button!

What Is A Playlist?

Quite simply, a playlist is a list of musical tracks to be played. As this is telling you nothing you don’t already know, I’m broadening the definition for the purposes of this article to include not just the music, but the storage media that contains the music and the equipment that plays and aids management of it. More often than not, your playlist will be either:


  • A collection of tracks on the hard drive of a PC, connected to a set of PC speakers.

  • A set of CDs (either store-bought music CDs or writable CDs with tracks burned onto them), loaded into a stereo system’s CD stacker.

There are combinations, of course. Some have their PCs hooked up to their stereo systems full-time, or make the effort just for gaming sessions. Also, the MP3 player is making its way into the modern stereo system, whether as an integral feature or a specialised “multimedia mini-PC”. But I think you get what I’m driving at.

In this column, I’d like to expound on my ideas when it comes to gaming music, and see whether my first (and most recent) attempt at seriously including music in a game has any worthy examples. I’m directing this toward game masters, as they’re the ones who are most likely going to be organising the session soundtrack.

A Legal Warning

I apologise for patronising anyone, but I’d like to remind you all that the methods of assembling and utilising a playlist that I discuss below often occupy a gray area in music and copyright law in many nations; in others, most if not all of the tips I give below are strictly illegal. Check your local laws, so that at the very least, you know whether you are or aren’t breaking the law.

Plan For A Party

Gaming is often compared to narratives such as theatre and movies, so much so that when gamers start thinking about including music in a roleplay session, they start thinking in terms of theme tunes for individual characters, specific songs for specific moods, and digging out their favourite movie soundtracks. Therein, I think, lies the downfall. It’s no wonder that some gamers simply throw their hands up in frustration when faced with changing tracks, hunting down a single song that “suits the scene” and accommodating (or not) players wanting a specific tune that “really puts across what’s going on with my character right now”.

It’s condescending to state that a roleplaying game isn’t a movie. But when it comes to music, it’s worth a reminder of what roleplaying is: a group of people getting together in one place to have fun, a.k.a. a party. I think that idea is the key to planning a good session soundtrack.

When preparing music for a party, you consider the mood that you want to encourage; whether the party’s going to be relaxed and comfortable or upbeat and loud. You also consider volume, balancing “loud enough to be heard” with “not loud enough to compete with or drown conversation”. Finally, you consider maintenance: whether to have a stack of CDs to be changed on a regular basis or just one and two so you can leave it to play while you’re doing other hosty things.

Plan your gaming music in the same manner. Rather than thinking of specific tunes, think of musical genres, and artists in those genres, that suit the general flavour of your game. Rather than specific events in your game, think of the moods that will (or may) occur during your game and pick tracks based on them. A helpful hint is to think of the places within the game world your PCs will visit and the activities they will most often perform, and base your playlists around them.


    Example: A few months ago, I ran a session of the octaNe RPG, and put playlists together for two of the major locations: Shangri-L.A./California (surf/punk) and Free States (hillbilly/rockabilly).As octaNe emphasises The Road, I also assembled Roadhouse (for when the players are at a roadside bar, drinking and/or gambling) and Cruise Control (road music). There’s also Action (for the inevitable fights) and Pedal to the Metal (car chases and auto duels).

    If I can get some appropriate music, I’d like to put together two more location playlists: Lost Vegas (Elvis/Rat Pack) and New Texaco (Country/Mexican).

Be General, Not Specific

If you’ve planned music for your gaming sessions before, you know how hard it is to find more than two songs that suit a specific combination of mood, setting and non-player character (or characters). My advice is to aim for just mood. You’re more likely to find a lot of tracks that suit a general mood (even if you’re staying within a given genre) than you are to find tracks that suit a specific event or character – especially when, given the nature of a roleplaying session, there’s no guarantee said event or character will ever occur or appear.

As such, don’t worry about specific “sets” when you’re planning the playlist for a location; although one track may be slightly more appropriate in the throne room of the Evil Overlord’s Dark Castle, it shouldn’t be a big deal if it comes on in the Dark Castle’s dungeon (or anywhere else in the Dark Castle, for that matter).

Don’t Play Favourites

No matter how they plead, no matter how much they beg – never, ever put your players’ favourite tunes in your playlist. That goes double for you, Mister or Mistress GM.

Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Really, it shouldn’t be a big deal when a song gets everyone’s attention for a bit; after all, the odd break won’t bring your whole session crashing down. If you and your players are enjoying the roleplaying, you’ll all segue back into character and mood quickly enough. Just be careful when you know the song in question is one a player particularly likes (or one you particularly like). The music should be changed as little as possible in order to remain an aid, and monkeying around with the playlists to find a specific tune (and then hopping back into the playlist once it finishes) is too much work on top of running the game.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It’s tempting when coming up with your session soundtrack to pick extended pieces from movies or the classical genre. Be careful here. A piece of music has its own internal consistency that never quite goes with any other tune. The ear can get used to things, and in my opinion, it’s better that the ear gets used to lots of small changes between shorter tracks than getting used to the flow of an extended piece, only to be jarred out of it by a single track change. That’s not to say it can’t be done, it’s just that your playlist will need closer management than otherwise – which, of course, diverts your attention from gaming.

You’re the Voice

I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with including songs (i.e. music with singing) in your playlists. When played at an appropriate volume, it’s not difficult to tune out sung lyrics, simply because the sung voice is melodious, and melody is easy to tune out.
Rap, on the other hand, is another spoken voice added to a table of spoken voices, and that can confuse and distract. If your players are off to a modern urban or American ghetto setting, I recommend finding non-vocal hip-hop or house over rap (the rappers are going to sound a lot like the NPCs the GM will be portraying).

The Shuffle Button Is Your Friend

Keep mixing up the tune-order on your playlists; even if you’ve used a playlist lots of times before, you can get away with re-using it when its tracks never play in the same order.

Hardware

In my opinion, the best system to run a playlist on is a laptop with a set of external speakers. Using Windows Media Player or WinAmp, you can have a list of your playlists right there on the screen, accessible with just a few clicks. A simple double-adapter (and extension cord, where necessary) will give you power for the laptop and a set of external, powered stereo speakers (laptop speakers are often very tinny) right by the gaming table (not on, by; laptops aren’t spill-friendly), and the whole kit is fairly easy to port around; a bonus if the game is at Sue’s place this week and Rodney’s next week. You can even alt-tab between the playlist and your game notes.

The downside is, of course, cost; laptops, even used ones, are expensive pieces of hardware, and I think I’m in the minority in having access to one.

With Apple going all-out recently in its marketing of its iPod portable music system, it’s tempting to look at that as an option for gaming music; it beats the pants off a laptop in the portability stakes, and it can be connected up to a set of PC speakers via headphone jack. However, I’m not familiar enough with the device, or other common portable MP3 players, to comment on how easy it is to manage a playlist with – or even if you can set a playlist up on – one of these devices.

A stereo system is a more ubiquitous option, but to really use it properly for gaming purposes, you need to have your playlist or playlists burned to a CD (this also presupposes you have a computer with a CD burner, and tracks that can be legally copied). You won’t spend too much time juggling CDs, especially if the players hang around individual areas for extended periods.

Ideally, you’ll also have a carousel or stacker setup so that you can change playlists rapidly. If your stereo isn’t close to your GM’s seat, use any available remote control so you can make changes without having to get up from the GM’s seat. Have a printed list of the playlists handy, so that you know which disc is which, and also where individual tracks are should you need a specific one (preferably as little as possible, if at all).

The Low Budget Option

Unfortunately, there are those gamers (and I think they’re more often than not) who are stuck with a basic stereo system with a single-CD drawer (sometimes a DVD player doing double duty). This sort of setup is probably the cause of many gamers’ horror stories with music in games. Imagine having to stop the game for a few seconds at a dramatic moment to leap over to the CD player, stop it, take the CD in there out, put the one with the appropriate track on it in the drawer, select the track number and hit play, then wait for the player to close, seek and come on… it’s no wonder some gamers start pulling their hair out when their players (fellow or otherwise) say “Hey, I have a CD here with a track that’s perfect for what’s happening!”

If you absolutely, positively must have music with this sort of setup, be prepared for breaks in your GMing as you rush to the stereo to pull one CD/tape and put another in. My advice? Concentrate on game mastering and don’t worry about music. If your players strenuously complain about the absence of music in your sessions, ask them to split the cost of a CD-stacker stereo. That’ll shut ‘em up. If not, hit them up for the cost of a laptop. Hey, if a stereo system didn’t faze your players, they must be rich!

June 19, 2004

DVD Days Doomed?

It seems as though the theoretically popular DVD Days suggested a week ago have garnered very little interest indeed. Sim reckons she can drag up a few attendees for the Red Vs. Blue Day and Mad John is keen as well, and I know Dan would like to see Pitch Black sometime. But no one else on the IMAGinewS group has reacted to the idea at all. Is something up? Is the e-mail not getting through? Is the malaise that’s generally set in getting to everyone else as well? Or do you just want me to pick a day so you can check your calendars? (I did specify a week range for Pitch Black, but even that didn’t seem to drum up so much as a “sorry, too busy”.)

Speaking of the general malaise, Turn O-P of the Whisperes at War has been extended. I will confess to being slack when it comes to my entries, although part of the problem this turn can be chalked up to a virus scare and an Internet outage.

Vickie and I didn’t go and see Van Helsing last Sunday as planned. When we got to the top of the escalators leading to Greater Union Hornsby, Vickie was surprised to see all the kids milling around for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. After I assured her that the film was indeed screening, well, that was it for Van Helsing. We had to wait a little longer to get into a session where we had a chance of nabbing a decent seat, but it was fun to watch! Quite enjoyable indeed; I remember reading a review that thought this one was actually a better movie than the last two, and I do tend to agree.

I also managed to get Tim a copy of Battlefield 1942 yesterday (he still owes me $44 for it), so hopefully, Dad’s Army’s Wednes[DA] will be one man stronger soon!

Today, Vickie and I are going to get stuck into some housework (the computer room needs a thorough tidying up) followed by a good thorough Shadows of Undrentidying this evening. Sometime this weekend, I also might polish off the notes I have for one new article and a re-write of an existing article. I also have some notes for the next Corsairs session that I want to compile.

Madam Lash’s smoke problem has resisted the bottle of Nulon Stop Smoke I dumped into the engine, so she’s booked in for a service on Friday. Fingers crossed the problem can be fixed – and won’t cost too much; we're nearly broke again as it is.

Old Comments

Well, you did put a contact me if you are interested condition on video nights...
I don't want to watch pitch black, but still very keen for red vs blue.
I can't make it on the 17th July though.

Posted by: Lauren at June 21, 2004 04:15 PM

Well, yeah, but I wasn't really expecting that much sheer lack of interest. I mean, my interests aren't *that* uninteresting, are they? Does throwing a DVD in make popping over to see us *that* much of a chore? Would I really get a better response if I just announced an open house on Saturday week, come one, come all?

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 06:34 PM

Yes, actually.
I don't want y'all to know that suspense/thriller movies wierd me out. I dont' want to inflict wierded out Sim on anyone.
Open house though...?
I'm in.

(especially if there will be devilled eggs)

Posted by: Lauren at June 21, 2004 06:46 PM

I am also finding that my University-attending friends have very little time for anything other than preparing assesments, prototypes, pages of text and for exams.
Could that be a reason?

Posted by: Lauren at June 21, 2004 06:54 PM

Heh heh! You know, Sim, I can't help but wonder why *you're* weighing in on this when I mentioned you as one of the "keen" people! (Not for Pitch Black, of course, but still...)

As for the Devilled Eggs Open House - I think that'll have to wait a month or two.

And thanks for the heads-up on the uni situation; I know at least two people who are under exam pressure at the moment.

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 21, 2004 07:32 PM

June 14, 2004

New Category & Archives Up To Date

Well, it's finally out of the way. I've brought the rest of the news postings from the old BigPond website over to Movable Type. This should make them easier to referr to, not to mention allowing searching (which can come in handy for me).

I've also set a new category up, Events & Get-Togethers. It's where I'll put notices of upcoming parties, social occasions and the like, as well as run-downs on any we attend.

Pitch Black Pre-Riddick

I’ve been talking a fair bit about DVD showings lately. There’s the instantly-popular Red Vs. Blue Day, of course, and then there’s the not-quite-so-popular Battlestar Galactica showings I keep doing. Recently, though, there’s been some talk of doing another DVD showing at my place.

Now, I think it’s a fair bet that you know how keen I am on the upcoming SF film, The Chronicles of Riddick. It’s come to my attention that some of you haven’t seen Pitch Black, the film that Chronicles is the sequel to. It’s also come to my attention that some of you would actually like to see Pitch Black before Chronicles hits the big screen.

Now, let’s make no bones about it; Pitch Black is a suspense thriller in the mould of Aliens, which means it’s probably not a good choice if you can’t stand monsters-lurking-in-the-shadows tension. This is why Vickie doesn’t like it, so if I do have a get-together for it’ it’ll probably be on an evening that Vickie’s working.

Also, as I don’t actually own Pitch Black (I’m waiting until the Special Editions hit the shelves prior to Riddick), I’ll have to get it out from the video store beforehand.

So if I get Pitch Black out for, say, the fourth week of June (Sat 19th - Fri 25th) who’s interested in seeing it at our place on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night?

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of The Chronicles of Riddick: Check this out. I'm hankerin' for it.

June 11, 2004

DVD Days and Long Weekends

I thought that after the last couple of postings on very specific topics, I’d get back to a general news update. First off, good news: Trent dropped Red Vs. Blue Season One off earlier this week. (Thanks for stopping by, Trent, and we really ought to see you again soon!) Yes, this means there’s going to have to be a Red Vs. Blue Day soon. I know Sim and Mad John are keen, and Sim reckons she can rustle up at least a few others. How about the rest of you?

I’ve had another expression of interest in the new Battlestar Galactica. John T from work wants to borrow the DVD, but frankly, I want to use it as an excuse to get him out of his house; it’s been ages since Vickie saw him. The little Boots saw of BG before Heavy Gear a couple of weeks ago has whet his interest, although as has been previously mentioned, he’s head-down-bum-up with uni work for the time being. Again, anyone else interested?

Vickie and I had a nice evening in Burwood tonight; Vickie finally got to meet my manager Allison and her partner Tim, and we had a good couple of hours at a lounge bar close to work. We’d like to see more of them, especially Tim, whom I’ve hardly seen anything of since his contract went up. I’m being pretty successful in getting him keen on Battlefield 1942; the only problem is that he can’t find a copy anywhere!

So what’s happening on the long weekend? Well, Dan’s running the next session of Bubblegum Crisis tomorrow night, and it’ll be the first game since I bought the Hero System 5th Edition rulebook; it’ll be fun to actually play using the rules. Vickie and I are planning to see Van Helsing on Sunday night, and we’d be at EvilHayama & Pirotess’ Housewarming (or even seeing the Bodacious Cowboys at the Darling Harbour Jazz Festival) on Monday if not for the extensive trackwork CityRail has laid on this weekend fucking things up. (Vickie’s also working during the day.)

Speaking of jazz, might I have a moment of silence for the passing of Ray Charles today.

Important Notice: Upcoming Birthday

As some of you may or may not know, my birthday is precisely one month from today. You may also be aware that Boots' birthday is precisely one week after mine. As such, he and I are attempting to combine birthday parties by having a nice, relaxed get-together at the Greengate Hotel on the Pacific Highway, Killara on Sunday, July the 11th.

Boots is still a little unsure whether he'll be there; mid-July is getting into crunch-time uni-wise. Still, Boots and I figure that the Greengate is a nice compromise destination that shouldn't be too far out of the way for the slack buggers we call friends. ;-D

I think Boots will be there. After all, if he's not he'll probably get bothered by drunken phone calls all evening, so he won't get any work done anyway!

Meet Graham

Remember a while ago I found the perfect birthday present for Vickie? Well, I was in Electronics Boutique this lunchtime and saw one on the display racks for $25, and... well, it was just too good to wait until October.

E-ne-meee!

This is Graham. He's Vickie's Grunt. He has pride of place atop her PC. You'll note he's equipped with the standard Covenant plasma pistol (right hand) and a needler (left hand).

Yes, they did have a Master Chief on sale, but he was the White Master Chief (or, as I prefer to think of the figure, Ghost Church) - I want the classic green - and I'm on zero self-spend until after my birthday, so I didn't bother.

Old Comments

You give me a white church, and I'll return him in any shade of green you choose...
I can even add phosphor to a clear final coat so he will glow in the dark!

Posted by: Lauren at June 12, 2004 06:51 AM

*lol* Just what Vickie needs, Lauren. A thing that glows in the dark and scares her silly if she should wake up in the middle of the night. She'd have kittens!

Graham, huh? I can't say he looks like any Graham I've ever met, but he does resemble a Tony that I used to work with. ;)

Peg

Posted by: Peg at June 15, 2004 05:34 AM

June 06, 2004

Closing Down Comment Spam and MT3.0

Yesterday and today, I've been adding the news history from the old IMAGinES website files to this web log. As of this writing, I've done as far back as May 2002, which means I have about seven months to go. It's been good catching up on what's been happening over the past couple of years. What I've done while putting those comments up, though, is switching the Comments option for each post to "None". This way, I won't have comment-spam on all the older posts that no-one's likely to comment on anyway; I've noticed that most posts older than a few months don't get any new "real" comments. I'm also going over the existing comments that have gone up in the meantime and switching the Comments option from "Open" to "Closed". My plan is that, whenever a new month begins, I'll close comments on all posts from four months beforehand; being in June 04 at the moment, I'm closing everything from February 04 and earlier. A while ago, I mentioned looking at Movable Type 3.0 as an option for eliminating comment spam. That started changing when Six Apart announced their new licensing structure for MT. Now, you know me; if someone wants to charge me to use their work, I'm more than willing to pay,and if not, I don't bother taking and/or using the given work. But - let me explain: At the moment I have four web logs running on Marcus' server, and although I have eight registered authors, only two actually post at all. If I were to go by current active usage, I'd have to fork out US$50 (AU$70) to cover it - that's the Introductory Price for a "5 Weblogs, 5 Authors" licence minus the US$20 I've already donated to get IMAGinES on the "Recently Updated" list. If I were to actually take my Black Talon authors into consideration, though, I'd have to bump that up to US$80 (AU$115) to buy three more Author licenses. And that's assuming I can get in before they drop the Introductory Prices; after that the cost of a "5 Weblogs, 5 Authors" licence minus the US$20 I've already donated goes up to US$80 (AU$115). This feels like a bit of a slug in the teeth. I can understand a need to cover development and support of the application, but is US$80 really needed for a non-commercial, private-use weblog that you want your friends (and not many friends, at that) to be able to post to? I can, of course, stay with MT2.661 at no charge, which is looking like a tempting option right now. Even though my June payday is coming up, I have other things that the money really needs to go on. Like bills.

June 05, 2004

All I Need To Know, I Learned From...

"Subdual damage fireball? I think I'm taking subdual damage just from the concept."

"Haven't you ever watched Saturday morning cartoons, Andy? I mean, GI Joe and the Transformers clearly teach us that lasers and high explosives never hurt anybody!"

As seen in the Comments of this 20' By 20' Room posting.

The White Gamer's Burden

I've been meaning to post about this for ages,and only just got around to it. You know I was on about gettng the HERO System 5th Edition? Well, just after I bought it, I decided to cruise into the Hero Games website to get the latest errata and FAQ stuff, and what do I find on the front page?

This.

Damn, was I cheesed. If only I'd waited a few more months...

Still, I've got over it; I think all the stuff Steve Long talks about is pretty much covered in SideKick anyway. And besides, the 5th Edition pretty much gives me everything I need to create the stats for Slamdance. Even if the typos aren't fixed.

June 04, 2004

Red Vs. Blue Day

At least a couple of friends - Sim and Mad John, to name names - have been agitating lately for a Red Vs. Blue Day at my place. The one thing that's stymied any plans is the fact that Trent still has my RvB Season One DVD. Mate, is there any chance we can get together soon so I can get it back from you? And who else is interested? Not only will I have Season One, but all the episodes thus far of Season Two. Right now they're on my PC, but with a little network fiddling, I can get them onto the laptop - which I can now connect to our TV!

On The Next Episode…

If any of you know my reputation among gaming circles, or have even played in one of my games, you’ll probably know that I have some trouble in coming up with ideas for the dreaded Next Session. While I have some fairly solid ideas for the overall campaign arc, I always seem to get stuck on that simple question: What Do I (as a gamemaster) Do Next? It’s resulted in the premature deaths of at least two campaigns of mine.

Often, I find myself going to my players. Unfortunately, though, asking them open-ended questions like “What do you want to do next?” tend to elicit open-ended answers like, “More of what you’re doing, it’s great!” Which is reassuring, but at times not quite helpful, especially when “But I don’t know what I’m doing!” doesn’t do much to inspire your players.

To be fair, the players are usually kept in the dark with regard to the GM’s plans for the campaign, and more often than not, it’s the GM who’s immersed him or herself in the campaign world, while the players have probably read the core book and a supplement or two (probably with no interest in reading further). They may also feel like the GM is really asking them, “Can you write next session’s adventure for me?” (Which probably wouldn’t be far off…)

Just recently, though, I hit upon an idea that might engage the creativity of both players and GM in coming up with the next session. The idea is to put some structure around that wonderful question “What do you want to do next?”, to narrow the focus a bit, and to cut down on the size of the expected answer.

Now, we’ve all got our favourite prime-time TV show, right? You know that at the end of every episode, you can expect a thirty second teaser for the next one: short bursts of action and dialogue culled from the next episode (typically the most exciting, funny or dramatic) with dramatic-sounding voice-over from the channel’s voice-over staff. You get hints as to what your favourite characters are up to, what else is going on in the world that relates to them (“You crossed the line, Richards; now you’re on your own.”) and what’s going to happen to them. (And one of them – won’t be coming back…) Because the clips are often shown out of order and context, the viewers’ idea of the next episode can quite often differ from the hour of television presented to them next week. (Also, the actors’ lines tend to sound rather stock.)

I propose taking the concept of the “On Next Week’s Episode” teaser and transposing it to a roleplaying game.

Here’s how I see the idea working. Before each session, the GM asks each player to come up with two “clips” and write them down/print them out (the GM should probably come up with a couple as well). Each clip should be:

  • A snippet of either character dialogue or voice-over. (Note: the dialogue shouldn’t be assigned to anyone specifically, even if it sounds like something a particular character would say.)
  • A short line describing a visual from the “show”, used to describe setting or action (i.e. “Exploding car” or “Las Vegas, Night” or “Hovertank flying straight towards camera, firing main gun at POV.”).
  • Both, provided the visual described isn’t of a character speaking that line (i.e. “Meet your new political officer: Colonel Makarov.”).

This gets tricky when it comes to world knowledge, especially when it comes to pre-established settings. As mentioned above, it’s not always reasonable to expect that the players will have the sort of encyclopaedic world knowledge that the average GM/product line collector has. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep dialogue both non-specific and within genre; fitting it to the setting will then be relatively easy.

So, when the regular session’s finished, the GM and players have a ten-minute mini-game where they try and assemble their disparate pieces into a teaser. This is where having each person come up with two clips each works out; it makes sure everyone gets at least one idea in while still giving enough leeway to drop ideas that just don’t quite fit together (they can always be re-used later). The GM has power of veto over any clip on grounds of genre and/or campaign appropriateness.

The clips are shuffled around and assembled – remember, internal continuity and coherency aren’t important – and the result is read out loud. This can be done in any manner the group feels comfortable with. For reasons of coherency, I suggest one player be “the voice-over person”; only make two if you can get a man and a woman reading the voices (which is the only time they use more than one voice on TV). The GM should add sound effects to visuals where appropriate – not pre-recorded SFX noises, but pantomime (e.g. Exploding Car: “BOOM! Clatter clatter!” Hovertank firing: “Schweeeeeeee- Fwap! Fwap!”).

What the GM should have, by the end of the exercise, is a small collection of ideas and kickers that he or she can use to populate a whole session with interesting stuff; not only that, but the players have been involved in the making of the session, which will give them an even bigger hook into it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the GM can or will use all of the stuff that gets written into the teaser; after all, this is an RPG, not a TV show. But some of the items – especially the bits of dialogue – could be turned into a sort of group exercise. Essentially, if a player can get their character to perform one of the actions or speak one of the lines of dialogue from the teaser – in character and situation-appropriate (or in an entertaining manner) – they get an XP award. This kind of thing might work well with pre-prepared cards that the players can pick up and play.

While the idea could potentially work with any game, I think it’d operate best with something freewheeling and zany, like octaNe – you could probably even improvise a teaser from the ground up at the end of a session instead of preparing for it beforehand!

Old Comments

You know, reading over this again, I'm reminded of the Confessional rules for InSpectres; it's just more of a pre-session thing than a during-session thing. I didn't have InSpectres in mind when I came up with this idea, but I'm more than willing to credit it with subconscious inspiration. Ta, Jared!

Posted by: IMAGinES at June 4, 2004 06:47 PM

June 01, 2004

Obligatory First of June Posting

It’s the first of June already. I swear, it feels like we should still be in February. Time has no right to rush past like it’s doing, I tell you. I haven’t been having that much fun! … or have I? Maybe I’m a masochist…

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the week of Saturday, May the 22nd to Friday, may the 28th was the week from hell. That neglects the high points, though. On Thursday evening, Vickie and I got together with Pierre, Jane and their two youngsters at the Blackbird Café in Cockle Bay Wharf. We did, of course, forget our camera – actually, I believe we didn’t even think of taking the camera along in the first place – so we have no pictures. Nonetheless, it was a good night out, and it was great catching up with Pierre and meeting his family for the first time!

I’ve also been doing my part for Battlefield Australia; one bloke at work, who owns Battlefield 1942, has expressed interest in hooking up for a game or two, so I told him about Wednes[DA] and the web site, so hopefully we’ll have one more along for tomorrow evening! On Friday I also mentioned Battlefield 1942 and Vietnam to my boss’ husband, who’s also a bit of an FPS nut; he doesn’t own the games, so we’ll see whether he picks them up soon.

The next Black Talon session was on Saturday night; you can find a GM’s post-mortem here. You'll notice that the main page has been re-named; after some debate and ideas going back and forth, the players agreed almost unanimously on a name for their Black Talon Squadron: the Corsairs. You'll even find a squadron patch on the right hand side! I'll get reports for this and the previous session written and posted within the week.

Boots and Reecie slept over after the game, and I dropped them at Chatswood on Sunday morning. On the way back home, I noticed Madam Lash was still putting some smoke out, so when I stopped at a petrol station to top her tank off (paying $1.05 per litre), I bought a bottle of Nulon Stop Smoke and dumped some into the engine; fingers crossed that’ll fix the problem.

Vickie and I spent Sunday afternoon in the garden, doing some mowing, trimming and tidying. We’ve turned the earth in our garden beds and put some new mulch down; they look a whole lot better for it.

Yesterday was World Quit Smoking Day, and Vickie decided to follow the trend; I bought her one last pack of ciggies on the way home last night. If she’s a little grouchy the next time you see her, just be extra-nice, okay?