Tuesday, 30 November 2010


"Railroading is a pejorative term for a game in which something is accomplished."
Kenneth Hite, Dragonmeet 2010

I suppose it is these days. And yet I still use it. And I use it to mean this:

The GM pushing the players and their characters through a plot that they would otherwise leave.

By this meaning, a plot can be linear of "on rails" without being railroaded, since as SteveD puts it, "Nobody minds the railroad if the view from the carriages is pretty and the destination is Awesome Town." It's a question of whether the GM is dragging you along.

I've been guilty of this... and equally guilty of being entirely reactive and leading to the common joke around our table where the PCs' action is "we wait for external stimuli".

Monday, 29 November 2010

Now is a good time to buy ICONS on PDF. It's one dollar.

Six staples of SF/F series

According to Den Of Geek just about every kitchen-sink genre show hits these six at some point.

The Bodyswap
The Time Loop
Ascension To A Higher Plane Of Existence
Alternate Dimensions
The Doppelganger/Double/Duplicate
The Dream Episode

I only did three of them in the course of The Watch House and the Bodyswap wasn't actually my idea. Mostly because I was sticking with the Buffyverse and there had already been high-profile Ascending, Dream and recent Time Loop episodes. I did do some less common ones, like a Descent Into The Underworld. And admittedly I hit Alternate Dimensions a few times, and that's where our Doppelganger/Double/Duplicate came from. (Which Buffy did as well.)

I naturally had a Time Loop in my Doctor Who game. Who being back as of 2005 might have stopped me doing one in TWH.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Tonight, the Buffyverse is in turmoil. And not the fun in-character kind of turmoil either, but the grumpy-inducing out-of-character kind.

Here's why.

Look, if you want happy, go read my Doctor Who blog. It's a birthday over there.

But in a feeble attempt to scratch a bit of silver lining off this big old cloud, let's look at the idea of reboots as they relate to media-type games. They could make for a fun session or miniseries with the same players, as well as the obvious example of running the same game premise for a different bunch of people and using your old game as prep.

Of course, with the same players, a fairly straight retelling wouldn't be much fun, so go with one of the weirder reboot ideas...


That Was Then

The simplest reimagining looks back at a real-world or other dynamic setting and moves the characters from the then-present to the now-present. Play up changes in style and attitude.

This is probably funnier done in reverse. What would your modern Vampire game be like in New Wave Requiem, with the players taking on the roles of their normal PCs' sires, and the Prince talking on a phone the size of a book?


Darker And Edgier

Hey, it worked for Battlestar Galactica. Look at a grim, dark, or even GRIMDARK element in a less gloomy premise. So a Buffy game becomes World Of Darkness monster hunters, fighting horrific and at times sympathetic horrors in a rainswept city, but turned up to at least 11.


Brighter And... Rounder...?

Or go the other way - take a doomy and brutal game and run the cartoon spinoff or not-previously-mentioned cheesy 70s original show, where the characters are happy-go-lucky types and the villains don't kill anybody on-camera.


The Summer Blockbuster

Throw your game through some other kind of genre shift for a week or so. For example, crank up the Weird Level and the special effects budget, blow more stuff up, up the pacing of the session drastically. Use a more action-y ruleset. Or do a session of the game as Tim Burton would direct it.

This could even fit into an ongoing series, but might lead to a Jump The Shark moment as the players feel like nothing that follows can top it. (Could you accept Scully rationalising things for another three or four years after The X Files movie with her being stuck in an alien birthing pod in a giant Gigery spaceship in the Arctic? Really?)


A New Creative Team

What would the game be like if one of the other players was the GM? There's a danger of learning more than you wanted about how your settings, plots and NPCs are viewed, but seeing your world from the other side of the screen is bound to teach you something. Decide in advance, or in retrospect, if it's canon or not.


What If...?

There's got to be some turning point where you had an idea for what would have happened if X hadn't done Y or the PCs hadn't blown up the bridge or... A session looking at the effects of such a change could be interesting, as long as the players involved don't feel like their effect on the game world is being lessened.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Invisible

So I was watching The Spiderwick Chronicles, having previously leafed through some of the books (ooh, ahh, Tony DiTerlizzi art) and (a) it's a modern fantasy out in the country that still includes a fair bit of modernity through the simple use of cars and (b) it features a bit where one of the heroes has to fight invisible goblins using a seeing stone. This a few days after watching Coraline where the film has one of those as well, albeit not in a neat little steampunk eyepatch contraption.

Invisibility and variable visibility is a good visual effect, of course, and using it in the largely verbal medium of RPGs rather lessens the impact. But it can certainly add to a mystery, and as seen here can definitely add to a fight scene.

And of course, in the right circumstances, having the characters having to pass around a seeing stone, or use one in public = fun.

Here's one I made earlier.

Since I'm linking to it over on The Door In Time, I should point to an article on RPGnet about Christmas Specials for games as wot I wrote eight years ago. Most of the links are dead now, of course, and I have since discovered that A Very Star Wars Christmas was thankfully a hoax.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Urban fantasy... or not.

Remember the trailers for the last Harry Potter film with the Death Eaters swooping down on central London and wrecking that fancy foot bridge we keep seeing in Spooks? With the portentous voiceover saying the danger would cross over into our world? Then watching the film and discovering (if, like me, you stopped reading the books when they got bigger than dictionaries) that this was all the wizardy folks did in our world, on their way to trash Diagon Alley?

And I think it was the fifth one that had trailers showcasing a bunch of them on broomsticks flying past Parliament... which was the only shot involving a real-world landmark.

Well, today I saw a poster for HP7.1 with Hermione looking moody in front of Tower Bridge and the tagline "nowhere is safe". Even though I know perfectly well that most of the big action takes place in the Scottish countryside around Hogwarts, I still want to think that it might come through.

It seems that someone making these trailers and posters is (a) out to mess with my head or (b) is, like me, more interested in the juxtaposition of mundane modernity with classic fantasy stylings than J.K. Rowling herself is.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that it makes it feel like a lost opportunity. If you set a fantasy story in the present, keeping most of it in an ancient castle and the misty woods surrounding it rather lessens that impact, even if the viewpoint characters are modern people. I suppose this is why it's generally called "urban fantasy" rather than "modern fantasy", even though the former could easily be construed as including non-modern genre stories about non-modern cities.

Because that last trailer made me want to see a story about an evil wizard in modern London, opposed by the SAS or something. Because that could kick major ass.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Putting down some ideas for Vampire

The Council in charge of London all have their own problems, keeping them from working together as well as they once did. This has given the renegades (a coterie that looks a lot like the Council in demographic terms, but averages a few decades younger) an in to oust them.

Both sides are Invictus.

The Holy Lance of the Hawksmoor Churches and the Circle will probably take opposing sides because of each other rather than their political purposes.

No Carthians or Dragons unless someone wants to play one. Other power blocs in the city (the drug lords and slavers) are covenant-free.

I have a page about prominent mortals in my notebook.

And a page about VII... which is deliberately left blank.