Posts about the art, craft, science, and headache that is publishing.

For just $120, your 672-page copy of Monte Cook's Ptolus can be yours. Order soon, and you can get a nice 32-page Player's Handbook -- five copies of it in fact -- so your players will not be killed by this monstrosity of a book.

What the fuck? Who in their right mind would shell out over one hundred bucks for six hundred pages of a setting? Oh, but it's cross-referenced! It's got color illustrations! Yes, and it can kill babies.

But wait, there's more. This book? This tome? This monstrosity of an abomination of game design? It includes no rules. This works with D&D 3.5, folks. It requires the GM and Player's Guides (which are what, $35 a piece or something?). So yes, this complete game can be yours for the low-low price of two hundred dollars. And then you have to read nearly a thousand pages of material in order to play it.

Here's what boggles my mind: if the entire thing can be condensed into a 32-page Player's Handbook, why isn't that the product?

Sean Fannon is shining a thousand-watt smile over at the Forge talking about his great new idea of indie press games getting to consumers via the all-important step of retail outlets. And I'm thinking to myself, "When is the last time I went to a local game store?" and I seriously can't remember. The second question, "When was the last time I actually bought something from the local game store?" is even deeper back in my murky memory. Blue Rose, I think? Like, over a year ago?

(I occasionally go to Borders and flip through the new World of Darkness stuff, because it amuses my curiousity to see how exactly they're butchering their own games and selling them again as new product, but as I've no interest in buying or playing any of it, I don't count this as the same activity as really going to the game store. It's more like watching the monkeys at the zoo.)

Admittedly, I'm not playing as much as I'd like, but that's due to factors other than the proximity of a game store (I think -- maybe I'm deficient in my exposure to FLGS rays). I've only rarely met gamers at a store that I later played with (although for a year or so in Santa Barbara there was a disturbing trend of finding people I already knew at the game store). So maybe I'm not the best person to be saying this, but I'm wondering whether the retail outlet is really that important to the larger gamer culture any more.

Used to be (they tell me) that the local game store served as a sort of nexus of gamers. They ran demos, they had a corkboard with current games, you met people browsing the racks, right? Gamers met gamers at game stores. Game stores were also the primary distribution point of new games for the gamer market. They had the catalog from Alliance, they knew what was coming out, and most importantly, they had the books to sell.

At lunch I wrote the segment on Solar Steamers.

How the hell have I gotten this far without having written anything about Solar Steamers?!?

Remember back when we were kids in school, and we played RPGs all the damn time, and we had those campaigns that went forever? The campaigns that hit the twenty, thirty, fifty session mark? The characters that you took from fledgling to badass? The campaigns where you changed the face of the world, or you just kept going through dungeon after dungeon after dungeon, accumulating power and items and renown?

You know what? I don't remember any of that. It never happened.

I remember imagining running or playing in those campaigns. I certainly remember planning them. I remember starting them. Looking back, I can't recall any game that went for more than perhaps eight sessions. I mean come on, I was fourteen. I don't think I could watch an entire season of a television show with any regularity. But the ideal of the decades-spanning epic adventure was always in the forefront of my mind. That was the goal that I was shooting for, wasn't it? That was the point of gaming! But just as all those kids that bought metric tons of Pokemon cards, dreaming of the day they'd win the big national tournament, just as the kids who bought the Air Jordan sneakers so that they can play major league basketball, just as the kids who bought that starter guitar-and-amp set so that they could be rockstars... I think I was duped.

God. Heavy edit to FLFS's Gameplay chapter. Added Stakes, Risk. Allowed players to demand Checks for NPCs. Things are clearer... I think. Or maybe worse. Head is not clearer, though. Guh. So much like Dynasty, this really -- I swear -- started as a simple idea. Part Three: Playing the Game is now 27,000 words long, and it's still missing segments. If only the people at the Forge would shut up and stop giving me ideas on what needs to be added to the system!

In teaching, we like to talk a lot about 'extending learning beyond the classroom' by which we mean... well, homework. Stuff that the students take from the classroom and process on their own, then bring back to the classroom. This can be a worksheet, it can be a research project, it can be getting extra credit for going to the museum. Point being: as long as the classroom delimits the learning experience, the learning experience will be cut off from real life and have little to no real meaning to the student. It will be an exercise instead of an experience.

Today while copyediting Full Light, Full Steam (yes, I am working on it occasionally) it occured to me that roleplaying can do the same thing, and in fact used to do the same thing -- for one player, the Game Master. The 'real' play happened around the table, but the GM put in hours of work/play preparing the adventure and making plans. Most of the time, the GM liked that sort of thing -- but most of the time, the other players might have enjoyed that, too, but were not able to participate in that off-table play.

Sometimes we'd make characters on our own (which leads to problems -- much like making the adventure in a vaccum leads to problems), and I remember spending hours making vehicles we never actually used under the GURPS: Vehicles rules. My own game group has flirted with bluebooking a few times. But that's about the sum total of the non-GM game experience I've done outside of the 'actual game'. But given how much time I spend thinking and writing and obsessing about games all day long, and assuming that I'm not the only one like this, I think there's certainly an opportunity here for a style of play that includes 'off-table' play.

Someone somewhere in the game-design-o-sphere said that they got the most impetus to finish their book by buying art; once real money was involved, they wanted to get the book printed so that money didn't 'go to waste'. I put together an Art Guidelines package and sent it off to a couple artists, one of whom is in turn sending it off to others he knows.

Package contains:
- Art Specs (what I want, what I don't want, parameters of content)
- Reference Photos of period naval uniforms
- Sample text (a flavor piece destined for the Introduction)
- A short movie of a rough 3-D rendering of a Solar Steamer

We'll see. (Eager!)

As Chris has put out his ideal outline for Making Round Wheels, I thought I'd post the outline of Full Light, Full Steam's Part 3: Playing the Game.

(Parts 1 and 2 comprise the first five chapters of the book, so this outline starts at Chapter 6.)

  1. The First Session
    1. Social Contract (Discussion)

  1. Roles Around the Table
  2. Power Around the Table
  3. Comfort Zones
  4. Expectations (Goals and Input)
  • Game Structure (Discussion)
    1. Troupe Play
    2. Solo Play
    3. Multiple GMs
    4. Online Play
    5. One-Shots
  • Character Creation (done concurrently)
    1. Power Level (Allocating Currency)
    2. Concept & Niche
    3. Thematic Batteries (Ammo Selection)
    4. Attributes and Skills (Spending Currency)
  • Setting Creation (done collaboratively)
    1. Ship or Port Creation
    2. Superior Officer Creation
  • Storymapping
    1. Conflict (Ammo Inclusion)
      1. ...from Player Expectations
      2. ...from Thematic Batteries
      3. ...from Character Histories
      4. ...from Setting
    2. Story Elements
      1. NPCs
      2. Challenges
      3. Obstacles
      4. Sets
      5. Props
    3. Developing the Storymap
    4. Resolution
  • Roleplay (Procedures for Actual Play)
    1. Narration (Talking at the Table)
    2. Direction (Shifting credibility around the Table)
      1. General Rules
      2. Interruption (Shifting via Dice)
      3. Delegation (GM disbursing GM tasks)
    3. Checks
      1. Static Checks
      2. Dynamic Checks
      3. Cooperative Checks
      4. Using Thematic Batteries (Ammo Being Used)
      5. Condition Batteries (Health, Grace, &Will)
  • Between Sessions
    1. Feedback
    2. Character Development (XP)
    3. Bluebooking
  • So for the past couple years I have been writing sections of Full Light, Full Steam -- I've had an outline (well, many versions of outlines) and I've slowly been picking off items from the list and writing them out. It hasn't been very fast or industrious, but this is my hobby, so it needn't be any faster than every-other-weekend-when-I-get-around-to-it.

    In any case, I've now got something like 85% of the manuscript drafted, and it's time to start stitching the pieces together. Instead of 200+ files, I've condensed them down to chapters, and the second half of the book I've condensed into one long file. The holes are now obvious and marked with placeholders, and the transitions that stretch between chapters and sections are now made evident. Needless to say, there's still a lot of work to be done.

    Part Three, Gameplay, is my current quagmire, as I'm trying to set the entire thing up procedurally instead of as chunks that do not quite work together. I reason that, if the first thing your playgroup should do is sit down and discuss their goals for the game, that should be the first thing in the Gameplay section, before character generation, before how the rules work. If the GM is supposed to prepare the adventure based on the players' expectations and the player characters' themes, that section should go after character generation and before rules. Et cetera. When I'm done, it should be a step-by-step procedure rather than a collection of separate and disparate chunks of rules. Here's hoping.

    In the first half of the book, though, the disparate collection of documents forming a collage of information is something that I'm aiming for. I really hope the personality and character of the setting will be expressed through all the voices that I've compiled.

    I don't know if this is endemic to RPG writing, or is idiosyncratic to how I'm writing Full Light, Full Steam, but it struck me as unique to this writing experience. When I write a segment -- especially in the setting half of the book -- I am writing towards a number of different goals, all at once. Say I'm writing, as I was at lunch today, the section for American territory on Mercury. This 500-word section must:

    • be engaging on its own merits
    • exemplify the tropes of the genre -- ingenuity, tenacity, and duty
    • express the setting in general -- steampunk space opera
    • detail the setting in specific -- Mercury
    • color the portrayal of a faction of people -- Americans
    • offer a plot seed that could be expanded into an adventure concept -- rampaging insectoid monsters
    • attempt to portray prosaically how the game could actually be played mechanically -- die rolls, thematic batteries, handing off narration, et al

    Now, I picked up this style of writing RPGs from Tribe 8 (thank you, Hilary, thank you, Brand) and I really really like it, because it squeezes a whole lot of information into very little space. It really packs a punch due to its compressed nature. But god damn is it tough! The only other example I can think of that comes close to this multi-layered writing is mystery and suspense novels where there is a narrative of what appears to be happening and another, hidden narrative of what is actually happening, and there's a couple books actually in the canon that tinker with ambiguity in similar ways (Ulysses, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse 5).

    Over at Yog Shoggoth's Dice, Brand responded to a challenge from me on how a games company could publish non-Illusionist games and not go bankrupt. The conversation developed from there to begin just touching on the outskirts of marketing issues the likes of which gaming tends to avoid. These are the issues that I had written that post about but Blogger ate.

    At present, the 'Generic RPG Marketing Model' goes thusly: Core Book (sometimes Player Book and GM Book) which generates the majority of the revenue, and Supplements which do much worse, but keep the game 'alive' and the Core Book selling. This is as seen in White Wolf, 7th Sea, GURPS, Rifts, et cetera, with a few elaborations (World of Darkness now has two hardcover player books necessary to play). The Generic model tends to assume play will go for years; the supplements are designed to keep the line going for years. Players buy supplements, encourage their friends in the playgroup to buy their own copies of core books, and even replace their original copy of the core book. There is also the 'Indie RPG Marketing Model' which goes thusly: BOOK! The Indie model defaults to play lasting a couple months; these games tend to be more focused and also tend to generate stories that actually end.

    The company (or individual) creating the game, if they have any hope to support themselves on the affair (which is another matter entirely; I should post about the RPG Cottage Industry sometime), need people to keep buying books. They don't actually need people to use the books; they don't even need people to play the game (I have a number of games I've never played; you?). They need people buying books now, and more importantly, they need people buying books next quarter, too.

    You know why I started this blog?

    Originally, I started on Blogger so I could comment in other people's blogs, because they're not thoughtful enough to post in a LiveJournal where I already have an account.

    Then, when I got up, I decided to move what had become my design blog over onto my own site. It started, however, so that I could comment.

    That's how it spreads, man. It's viral, just like zombies.