Monday, 28 March 2011

Nationals oneshot development diary: 3-ish

Now one short of completion, Buffyverse Trailers. Nice little snapshots of each season - tending to a minute too long and spoilery to show to people who hadn't seen the season in question before, although the Buffy and Angel S1 ones would work.

Anyway, posting here because I like the varying tones from Buffy S1's bouncy comedy all the way to the no-fun-at-all-except-the-last-gag fantasy action drama of the new Angel S4 one. Because, hey, Angel S4 is pretty much no fun.

Something to think about as I slowly bolt together Nationals Buffy characters. How much do I rely on the players to bring the funny and action and heartache in response to an otherwise horrible world of monsters and stuff?

Back in the day, the answer in The Watch House was "quite a lot", with me providing setups for heroic smackdowns and feedlines for gags, and the odd funny line from friendly NPCs, because I knew they could and would.

Not a luxury I have here, of course. So I load on optional relationship issues and sample hopefully amusing lines on the character briefings...

I'm not going the full Smallville with interconnecting character relationship charts and them directly affecting stats, but I'd like a bit of meat there rather than it being wholly ignored. Of course I don't know who's going to be at the table, so it might end up being played up or sidelined. Best I can do is not provide ammo for cringe-inducing joke portrayals. (I'd like to include gay or bi romantic interests, for example, but I don't really want to put those in front of a dozen total strangers who could turn out to include That Guy.)

Hrm. Something to consider.

I'd like to have a mutual attraction in the group, rather A loves B loves C loves D loves E oves F loves A. A and B are into each other... and C is into A and D is into C and...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Video editing nerd alert

New Wave Requiem Trailer

I could have made a completely different one with retro-80s clips.

And I'm currently thinking of what to do for a V20 trailer.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Nationals oneshot development diary: 2

I met to discuss this over coffee and cake (which is why I'm posting at half one in the morning, soooo much sugar) and at this point:

I have about five viable characters, which is an improvement over the two and a half I'd had going in.

We've narrowed the plot down to one of the four or five possible apocalypses.

There may also be a social element now. I'm not 100% on how to connect this to the fighty action stuff, but if need be it can always just happen to be happening at about the same time.

Progress is being made. Which is good, as I was recently reminded it's in three weeks' time. And Conpulsion is next week. But I'm not worried about that... probably because I have other worries to distract me...

Monday, 14 March 2011

A Riddle Wrapped In A Mystery Inside An Enigma

The Event is back tonight after a mid-series hiatus, which means it might actually get to some sort of conclusion.

It's probably the biggest and most blatant post-LOST series out there, although it goes with The Invaders rather than Robinson Crusoe as the basic story framework it attaches hefty layers of conspiracy and SF mystery and bemusing end-of-episode cliffhangers to.

Unlike several other examples of the subgenre it still appears to make sense, because it explained "there are nearly-human aliens around, and some other stuff" right away, although some of its extraneous "yeahbuhwha?" cliffhanger moments seem, well, extraneous.

Is this sort of series gameable?

Some would say maybe. Some would say no...

But if GURPS can produce a viable game-friendly sourcebook for The Prisoner...

The first thing to decide is how much of the conspiratorial stuff goes in the average session, versus how much of the PCs' other activities like arguing about supply lines and running from polar bears and falling in unrequited love. LOST started with one or two head-scratchers a week and made them bigger as the series continued.

The second thing to decide is what the players know versus what the PCs know. A Prime Time Adventures style version of LOST would have the players taking a hand in determining the mysteries the PCs are stuck in. While that would model the series well it wouldn't reflect how the audience experiences it, making the players the writing staff instead. I've done this now and then, but not in a game about mystery and surprise.

The third thing to decide is DECIDE WHAT'S GOING ON. This can change a bit due to player interest and new ideas, but in general start with a road map and veer off rather than going in totally blind.

Seriously. Don't.

I've considered this before but gone nowhere with it really. Partially because it's difficult to pitch. "This game is about mysterious events... which I can't explain now... and which will possibly take years to reveal..." But I think it could be done.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Applying The Sorting Algorithm Of Evil To The Watch House

A personal example of Big Bad engineering:

Season One: Victoria Valdermar, and her father. Former Watchers turned vampires, out for revenge against the Watchers and a bit of an occult underworld powergrab as well. Victoria became a recurring nemesis, as she was the fun one. A shadowy reflection of our hero Milli (in her own way a rebel against the Watcher system, attracted to the same guy, diametrically opposed in style and manner) who got more troublesome as the series went along.

Season Two: Ziggy's family. Since Ziggy's player was leaving. More directly powerful, actually less evil. A lot more personal, though. Came complete with a face turn for one of the family members.

Season Three: Charybdis. A mildly experimental idea here - a Big Bad who wasn't actually Bad, a walking magical environmental disaster. There was an evil cult using her for their advantage, but anyway.

Season Four: Victoria again, and then Jake. A really experimental idea here - a PC turned Big Bad. With a bigger, badder Big Bad plan. Resurrect every vampire ever slain. Probably the biggest and baddest until Season Seven, and certainly the most traumatic. Yes, I watched Buffy Season Two and took a lot of notes. I don't think we hit that emotional high because it was all a bit complicated and maybe too like it, but still, worth doing.

Season Five: The Highmore Club, a secret society doing the "occult underworld powergrab" thing again, connected to one of the new PCs Lucian by their use of mystical artefacts. Then their power got grabbed by party sorcerer Matthew, making him briefly the second PC Big Bad in a row. This was a way of eliminating his exponential sorcery uberness, as well as muddying the waters of his relations with the group. The Club had originally had an agent in Cambridge, dashing romantic foil Thomas, but he became impossible to take seriously so this plot thread was abandoned.

Season Six: Initially the Order, militant monster-hunters, a fake Big Bad that then got massacred by the real Big Bad, Nimue and the Dragon she was about to raise to destroy humanity for the good of the environment. She was a stealth Big Bad who appeared as a romantic foil, something I had tried the year before. Amusing footnote: I cast Emilia Fox as a villainous Arthurian witch two years before Merlin did it. In addition, Milli's player went travelling, so Milli descended into Hell to rescue Jake's soul from evil tormentors attempting to use it to escape.

Season Seven: DEATH. And a massive cult of vampires. But mostly DEATH. I knew I had to go big, and Buffy itself had brought out The First Evil for its final season, so DEATH seemed like a good bet. It also meant that DEATH could get smashed up a lot and pop back up, obviously. Ultimately I had to keep him offscreen more than the best Big Bads, though, and I deliberately avoided the Caleb route to bring in someone who could take a punch more readily. Oh, and The First Evil blew up most of the NPC supporting cast in the middle of the season as well.

Wheeling out the big guns

Every setting with conflict has its Big Bads, either drawn from the game itself or from the wider culture. Star Wars has the Emperor and Darth Vader, D&D has Vecna (and his head), Vampire is close enough to the real world to borrow Count F---ing Dracula as well as having its own. What can the PCs do about them?

Well, that depends on the PCs. And the general tone of the game, and things like that. If you're using a canonical bad guy who is destined to be taken down by a canonical good guy, or an unstoppable god of evil or somesuch, getting away counts as a win and stopping his machinations could be a Crowning Moment Of Awesome. If you're using a villain who was designed to be taken down by a ragtag band of adventurers, the PCs' role in proceeding is fairly obvious.

But what makes a great villain?

There are lots of options. Antithesis of the PCs? Shadowy reflection of how they could be if pushed out of the light? (Batman has half a dozen of these.) Theme of the game and what the PCs oppose? Something generally scary not directly connected to them?

But above all, they have to be fun.

Part of the appeal of a setting is its monsters, and these are the top of the rogues' gallery. If I've got Daleks in this week's session of Doctor Who I put them in the "trailer" at the end of the previous session. The PCs might hate them, but the players get a big grin at a chance to take a pop at them.

Still, you can overuse them. Villain Decay is a grim sight to behold, where the fun of facing a nemesis goes out. The Daleks can suffer from this, and my example would be Judge Dredd archenemy Judge Death, who went from terrifying to irritating to troubled by bunnies, and after a back-to-basic miniseries has been gone for seven years as of this writing. At this point one final confrontation (with an optional "no-one could have survived that!" ending) might well be a good idea.

How to decide that? Inevitably, talk with your players. Do they love to hate the Big Bad, or actually hate him, or are they a bit meh to hate him?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

ICONS! - a short Actual Play report

In a week and a half, my first game of Icons as a player will come to its senses-shattering conclusion. Some thoughts...

1: Random chargen is fun for a game where relative power doesn't matter, it's quick, and it can give you ideas. Less so if you get results that get in the way of ideas, and that's quite possible too.

2: The random hodgepodge of characters generated with no central theme is fine for knockabout action and adventure, but not if you want to apply a theme later.

3: When to award Determination could be nailed down a bit more, as it's both rare-ish Drama Points and even-rarer XP.

4: Saying "Tremble, wrongdoers! The darkness is come for you!" in my most melodramatic tones never gets old.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

What ARE those Orcs doing?

Over on t' Who blog, I just did a post about established monsters acting out of character for novelty value. And I could generic-ise that subject out a bit...

You've got recurring monsters. Orcs, vampires, Imperial Stormtroopers, tentacular abominations from beyond the known universe, mean kids, whatever. They recur, they are monstrous, they appear when you're a bit stuck for a monster, the players have fun with them, they go away again. So how to shake things up?

What do they do that they haven't done in the game? What would they not normally do? Don't wreck their raison d'ĂȘtre if you want to use it again, and you may not want to go for complete face turns, but having them act a bit weird due to some other influence may still add something. Stormtroopers are there to be zapped, so showing them assisting a disaster relief effort will not help next time you need to get zappy - but showing them running in terror from a weird monster-of-the-week would be just fine.

This trick works best once the recurring monsters are familiar enough that their odd behaviour is immediately obvious, and the mystery catches the PCs' attention. And that's what the monsters want, if they're doing it on purpose.

Obfuscating one's motivations mostly works for sentient beings, of course, things that have motivations that they can obfuscate.

Zombies are generally a bad example due to the whole "mindless" thing, although even they could act a bit oddly if you want to vary your zombie apocalypse - George Romero does it, after all. However, this might lessen the blank lack of individuality and loss-of-identity horror of the walking dead. But if you're doing a zombie apocalypse you probably have rival bands of survivors, rogue government groups and the like as well, so when they recur, have them act differently...

Your common or garden tentacular abominations from beyond the known universe have alien motivations, so having them do something unfathomable is par for the course. When the loathsome GHfm'safwe' (yes, I named it by hitting the keyboard twice) attacks the radio antenna at the edge of town it's no more bizarre than when it goes after the investigators directly, but they might be able to work out a bit about its actions from it. Maybe.

And equally, their unusual behaviour might be due to other factors. The Orcs sue for peace because their king has died and left no heirs. The vampires are attacking more because someone else is stirring them up or stealing their victims. The Stormtroopers are running away because of the big scary thing behind you. The leader of the mean kids falls for your sister.

And since this started with a Who post, there's the noble tradition that one of the smarter world-threatening monsters has seen the error of its ways for some reason.

Maybe it's even something the PCs did.

Shadowrun, kids!

I showed this to my original Shadowrun GM earlier along with the rest of my current Friday group. They weren't exactly grateful. :D

I particularly like the way it accurately reflects decking in the early editions being a completely separate one-player game that takes up about half the session.

Friday, 4 March 2011

In honour of Gary Gygax, it's GM's Day.

Be nice, folks. Most games need 'em.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Depending on who you listen to, today is World Book Day but BBC2 are giving Saturday over to World Book Night.

Just to be on the safe side, buying books both days.

Game books, inevitably.