Thursday
Feb172011

New Savage Setting: Gallowgear

Over the last few days, I've added a new setting to the Hobbies section.  The setting, called Gallowgear, is a post apocalyptic science fiction setting, with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.

Gallowgear represents a big experiment I've been wanting to do for a while - add a "syntactic" magic system to Savage Worlds.  I've never been shy about sharing my opinions on Power Point magic systems.  I just don't like them.  I feel that they encourage meta-gaming, rather than role-playing

I do like the magic system Pinnacle introduces in the Savage World of Solomon Kane, and use a variant of it in my Marchland setting.  I've also always had a fondness for the syntactic magic system in the Ars Magica RPG.  So, I thought, "Why not mix chocolate and peanut butter?"  This is still a largely untested system, so be aware of that if you choose to use it.  Hopefully, play testing will begin soon.

If you want to check out Gallowgear, start HERE.

 

Thursday
Jan272011

Savage Worlds: IZ + FC = SR?

What's all this alphabet soup about?  Let me explain.

I recently picked up Interface Zero, a Savage Worlds setting from the Gun Metal Games.  Interface Zero (IZ) is a cyberpunk setting, with all the trappings usually associated with dystopian, near-future settings.  It's the first full cyberpunk setting for Savage Worlds, and so far, it looks pretty good.

When I arrived home with my shiny new book, I set it down on my desk.  Also sitting on my desk was my copy of the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion (FC).  I stared at my copy of IZ, then at my copy of FC, and had a Eureka! moment.

You see, I've always liked the Shadowrun (SR) setting, but found the system to be a little dense.  It's not a bad game system, but I really prefer the lean, cinematic nature of Savage Worlds.

Now, it seems like I have the best of both worlds.  I still have a lot of IZ to read.  It's a whopper of a book - the largest Savage Worlds setting after Solomon Kane (and maybe Deadlands).

So, does IZ plus FC really equal SR?

I'll let you know.

Tuesday
Jan252011

Game Writing: Technical or Creative?

The answer to this might seem obvious at first. It's game writing, so it must be creative, right? I'm not so sure. While there's no question that games are a creative endeavor, the act of writing them is really more technical than creative. Sure, you need a great deal of creativity to come up with the concepts in the first place.  However, when you sit down at the keyboard, you are instructing the GM on how to use your setting, adventure, creature, etc.

Tech writing consists of a few key steps:

 

  • Data Collection
  • Writing/Editing
  • Usability Testing
  • Editing

 

NOTE:  This is not a comprehensive list.  I'm just covering the most basic elements.

Now let's look at an adventure as an example:


You have already created the story that encompasses the adventure.  You've chosen your major plot points, written pages of description about every NPC, town, and ruin the players will encounter.  The majority of the creative process is complete.  Next comes the technical stuff:

Data Collection

First, You research the statistics for your NPCs, monsters, towns, and any other elements that are required to get the players from beginning to end.  This is all just data collection.  It's the same process you would use if you were writing stereo instructions, but with dragons.

Writing / Editing

Now, you have to instruct the GM how to use all this data. You don't do this with flowery prose. You are presenting technical data, so you use technical writing concepts.  Some of the things you will provide the GM include:

 

  • A Timeline of Events
  • Statistics (NPC, Vehicle, Weapon, Magical McGuffin)
  • Geographical Data (Map, Description)
  • Handouts or Props

 

It isn't enough to simply data dump this information to the GM.  You need to present the Events in an orderly and logical way.  You need to provide the Statistics, Geographical Data, and Handouts when they're needed, and in an easy to read format.  You may even need to provide assembly instructions for Props.  This information needs to be presented to the GM in a logical, legible and useful format.  You may need to take cultural biases into account as well.  In western cultures, we read left to right, and top to bottom.  This is not true in other cultures.  Always follow the golden rule here - "Know your audience".

After you've put this information in a logical, legible, and useful format, you need to edit it.  This first round of editing should be limited to spelling, grammar, and format.  Don't worry about pacing, balance or plot holes yet.  The players will gleefully punch holes in your plot, pacing and combat balance in the next step.

Usability Testing

In game terms, Usability Testing is Play Testing.  You need to actually run the adventure to find the holes in logic and story flow that may exist.  This is the same process a technical writer would use to test their C++ reference manual, but again with dragons.

Editing

No, this wasn't a copy/paste error.  Now that your players have kindly pointed out the flaws in your adventure, it's time to go back and edit them.  If the flaws they find are only storytelling flaws, you will have to put on your creativity hat again.  However, if they find the adventure hard to read, or can't find the stats on the villain NPC, you need to edit your work with a technical eye.

These last two processes may be repeated as many times as necessary to get it right.

 

I would never argue against the idea that game development is a creative endeavor.  What I hope to point out with this post is that understanding technical writing concepts is essential for effective game writing.  You don't have to be an expert, or have a degree in technical communications, but knowing some basics will help your GMs, and players alike.

The best way to learn about game formatting is to read published adventures.  I recommend modules from well established publishers.  I do so not because they are necessarily better, but they are more likely to conform to a particular style.  Most large publishers have style guides that their writers must follow, and these guides are often the result of years of trial and error.  So, why not benefit from their pain ;)

Saturday
Jan222011

Nerdiest Bar EVAR! (yes, that's a compliment)

So, I am currently sitting in the AFK Tavern in Everett, Washington. The AFK bills itself as the world's first gamer bar. Whether or not that's true, it certainly is geek friendly. Along with the beer list, you are handed a list of "games on tap", games that can be played on site.
LARPers are also welcome here, and apparently the staff can even participate. So far, I'm impressed with the place. I'll edit this after I eat.
The existence of the AFK does beg one question; "Why the he'll don't we have something like this on the Eastside?"

 

[UPDATE]  The food was standard pub fare, but with clever names like the Orc Burger.  Check with your doctor before you order that one.  I had the basic cheeseburger.

So, is this a good place to game?  That depends on the game.  Here's my breakdown.

 

  • LAN Games:  Good - plenty of stations, and a good selection of games.
  • Console Games: Good - big screen with PS3 and Xbox 360 (with Kinect).  There's a standalone Rock Band setup too.
  • Board Games: Good - nice selection.
  • Card Games: Good - again, nice selection.
  • Minis:  Maybe.  There's only two tables big enough to accommodate even a small battle.
  • RPGs: Not Good - too noisy, and limited selection of tables that could accommodate 6 people with all of their stuff.
  • LARP Games:  unknown - might be too noisy, and it's a little tight for people to move around much.  The potential for annoying the other patrons is high.  Outside games when the weather is nice might be doable.

 

All in all, a nice place with very friendly staff, who aren't afraid of geeky talk.  If you're a gamer of any stripe, you'll feel welcomed there.

Sadly, it doesn't meet my needs as a gaming site.  I was hoping to find a place where our group could meet outside our homes.  Unfortunately, due to the noise factor, this isn't it.  The search continues...

Thursday
Jan202011

New Section and New Content

I've added a Hobbies section to the site as a place to store all of the things that don't quite fit anywhere else.

The first bit of content is a RPG setting called Marchland.  This is an urban fantasy setting influenced by writers such as Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Jim Butcher.  Those are just the ones I can think of at the moment.  There are many others.

[edit] I should also give credit to the artists who've inspired me as well - Brian Froud, Larry MagDougall, Tony DiTerlizzi, Charles Vess, and Ted Naifeh, and more...

What sets Marchland apart is the focus on Faery creatures.  There are many settings out there that focus on Vampires, Werewolves, and Wizards, but few that focus on faery tales.  Those few that do tend to be very dark in theme.  I wanted to introduce the possibility of playing lighter stories in a modern, fantasy setting.  There is still room for horror in Marchland, but it isn't a central theme.

If you're interested, head on over to Hobbies, and have a look.  The sidebar contains the navigation for the setting.  Other settings I've worked on will eventually join Marchland when I feel they are complete enough to present.