Grim’s Tales: My Gaming History VII: Where Next?

Where is there to go from here? Where next? The internet continues to increase in importance for gaming to the point where World of Warcraft – derived from D&D and Warhammer – has all but completely replaced D&D in the public consciousness. Gaming is different, more widespread and more scattered, but there’s still things that the new gaming can learn from the old in terms of player participation, storyline, roleplaying, plot and characters.

A good, effective way to play traditional RPGs over the internet is needed, the current options being unwieldy, over technical or vapourware. The existing online games need an injection of the ‘traditional values’ of old-skool roleplaying games and some old-skool roleplaying games need to be made to try and cater to the new, online situations. Games that can be played over IRC or voice chat without getting bogged down or that make the nature of forums and chatrooms a boon rather than a hindrance.

For me my gaming and my work is pushing more and more in the direction of online, PDF publishing, forums, social media, MMORPGs, Wiki, chatrooms… the internet provides a perfect medium for updated, traditional RPG gaming if it can be properly harnessed and that’s what I’m seeking to try and accomplish, as a writer, as a designer, as a player and as a Games Master.

Neverwhere 3rd Edition – Some development decisions

0. Preparation
It’s obvious that I’ve hit the sufficient number of adds and followers that I wanted in order to meet the trigger to develop Neverwhere 3rd Edition, so between contracted work, that’ll be the thing I work on next. In preparation for that I intend to a) Re-read the book, b) Re-watch the series, c) Read the graphic novel version. I’ll also re-read the 2nd Edition of the game, it having been some years since we put it together.

1. Primarily for Laptop/Screen
Any form of print is going to result in direct profit for someone. So that’s right out. The game can only be developed for home-printing and for giving away electronically. This means it’s only going to be 72dpi – at least the elements that aren’t scalable – and optimised for landscape at proportions approximate to US Letter, so it could still be printed. It’ll be PDFed and, depending on time, interlinked/hotlinked between pages – may as well do that if it’s primarily going to be electronic access.

2. Expanded rules – but not TOO expanded.
We were ahead of the game by quote a few years when we wrote Neverwhere with systems like PDQ, FATE and HeroQuest now using these narrative, descriptive, non-statistical terms for character definition. Neverwhere has a certain purity to it though and it’s easy for non-gamers to get the idea of just describing characters. There’s a purity and simplicity here that I want to preserve, without all the complications and add ons that – to one degree or another – swallow up the advantage of the simplicity in these other systems. Neverwhere does need some more (optional!) hard and fast rules though for governing things like combat, consequences and so on.

3. Rewrite/Rework/Remodel
Neverwhere 2nd Edition is basically sound as a book, it just needs a lot better presentation and a good going over to make sure of everything. A reorganisation, a bit of updating, a few additions and an improved system.

4. Unified Art
All art will be done by Raven Morrison for this edition to give it a unified look and feel. I’ll be working on the layout etc to try and give it a ‘found object’ fanzine/manuscript look, in keeping with the background and idea of the book.

Grim’s Tales: My Gaming History VI: Online Gaming

I started early with online gaming, not just serial-connecting together a couple of Atari ST computers in different rooms – that barely counts – but using a creakingly old 2600 modem to get that same Atari ST to hook up to Avalon, a pay-to-play MUD, though I never progressed very far and fell afoul of one of the moderators, playing the ‘God of Justice’ when I said ‘TANJ‘ and meant it. As it turned out there wasn’t, as he repeatedly turned me to stone, exploded me and otherwise used his moderator powers to fuck with my character sheet in a manner that would get you suwed for psychological assault these days.

That – and the expense – put paid to my online forays for a while, at least until the days of the 56k modem (and then cable) came around and something Science-fictiony rather than the same ol’ fantasy came along. That’s when I dived into Anarchy Online for another dabble in online play. The world was engaging, the music great, it was crippleware on launch but it really catered to roleplay with nightclubs, clothing and RP props which, of course, the overwhelming majority of the populace never used. I ended up falling out of love with Anarchy Online almost as quickly as I had fallen in love with it to start with.

I continued to dabble a little bit here and there and I got my online RPG fix mostly from IRC play and e-mail play through The Camarilla. While characters were able to jet-set their way around the world us poor players couldn’t, so online play was a good compromise whereby you could get some players and a Storyteller together and play out your international scenes without any real problems. That seemed to work well since the Mind’s Eye Theatre rules were fairly light and easy to use, attempts to play other RPGs over the internet weren’t quite such a resounding success, fiddliness of rules and dice rolls, coupled with the relative slowness of text chat really slow things down to the point where it’s almost impossible to play. For social RP it works fine, but anything too heavy or structured and it seems to break.

Then along came the game that would actually manage to drag me back into what I had presumed to be an RP vacuum, Ryzom. The Saga of Ryzom is a French-developed MMORPG with a truly alien world – Atys – and a very freeform form of play. The world is indescribably gorgeous and the storyline – what was revealed of it – was interesting and still took a back-seat compared to the player actions. Virtually everyone here RPed to some extent and role-playing events actually attracted people to play them. There were no quests or missions, you set your own goals, did your own socialising and somehow it all just worked.

Of course, the problem there was that they launched at the same time as EQII and World of Warcraft and, thinking they could also make a hojillion dollars, the company tried to follow suit with the big success story. Bringing in PvP, some heavy handed metaplot and otherwise boning the existing RP community within the game with badly thought out measure after measure they tried to claw them back with a half-hearted ‘create your own mission’ add on called The Ryzom Ring, but it was too late and they went bankrupt. Since then the game has been through another owner that didn’t seem to know what to do with it either and it’s now been bought again, but seems to still be making the same mistakes.

Still, for a brief moment there was the holy grail, an MMORPG where people actually roleplayed! I was so enamoured of the game at the time I got hooked into doing volunteer service for it and created some plotlines and missions for the system, moving the story forward. I got hooked. Here was a way of bringing role-playing to a mass audience and it was fantastic.

Since Ryzom went pear-shaped I’ve tried a few other games, but nothing yet has matched up to Ryzom at its height. Lord of the Rings Online is steeped in Tolkien’s lore and a fun game to play, but there’s no RP aside from cybersexing fiends in the Prancing Pony. I play World of Warcraft with some friends but there’s no RP there, it’s more like a team sport.

I think they’re missing a trick in MMORPGs, there’s definately a niche of creative people who want something more from their games, a lot of them seem to migrate to Second Life (and I don’t just mean the furries and sexual deviants) but they’d probably play a properly done, RP heavy game where they were invested in what went on. If such a thing existed.

Everything is moving online and, lately, I’ve been working with a company called Socialgears trying to inject some of that creative, RP sensibility into a type of game that’s even less obviously welcoming to it than MMORPGs are, the social media ‘app’ game, with mixed success.

There’s definately some sort of sweet spot here and some new audiences to be reached by RPGs, forums and social sites are full of ‘RP’ forums with people re-living Twilight, ‘Playing house’, engaging in cybersex of the most creative sorts and playing RPGs without really understanding that they are playing RPGs.

Gaming’s not dead, it’s changing and so are people’s expectations of what a game is or should be. That’s something even traditional RPG Games Masters need to be aware of as well as games companies.

Postmortem Studios – Cubicle 7 Announce Partnership

Cubicle 7 Entertainment is pleased to announce that we have signed contracts with Postmortem Studios to publish new editions of their popular PDF range of ‘100 Series’ titles in print format.

The ‘100 Series’ contains titles such as 100 Fantasy Adventure Seeds, 100 Planets, 100 Horror Adventure Seeds and, the first to appear through distribution in September 2009 – 100 Sci-Fi Adventure Seeds.

The books are written by Origins Award Winner James ‘Grim’ Desborough (The Munchkin’s Guide to Power Gaming) and each contain one-hundred adventure seeds, or locations, to be used with any game system.

The books will appear, through distribution to retail stores worldwide, from September 2009.

“I’m very pleased to have Grim, and Postmortem Studios, on board. They’ve built a very good following and range of titles for their PDF business and having known Grim for the best part of the last 15 years I’m excited to see where this partnership leads.” said Angus Abranson, Director of Cubicle 7 Entertainment.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to move forward with Cubicle 7 and to take my books into print. I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Postmortem and Cubicle 7. The 100 series is very successful in PDF and I’m excited to bring the work to a wider audience in print.” added Grim.

About Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd
Founded in 2006 Cubicle 7 Entertainment was set up by Angus Abranson and Dominic McDowall-Thomas, two gaming entrepreneurs who wanted to create a games publisher fostering some truly iconic brands. Since then the company has published role playing games from a growing list of properties including Victoriana, SLA Industries, Starblazer Adventures (based on DC Thomson’s 80’s Starblazer comic series) and 7th Circle’s Chinese fantasy Qin. In June 2009 Cubicle 7 announced it had joined the Rebellion Group.
Victoriana is a fabulous fusion of Victorian adventure and fantasy myth, SLA Industries is a gritty futuristic urban horror fuelled by classic British punk imagery, whilst Starblazer Adventure is set firmly in the heart of classic 80’s space opera where gigantic fleets prowl the starlanes and devilish scientists operate enormous engines of destruction. The English translation of French publisher 7th Circle’s Qin propels players in to the epic fantasies and tragic events of ancient Chinese legend.

About Postmortem Studios
Postmortem Studios is the personal, self-publishing imprint of RPG freelancer James ‘Grim’ Desborough and has been in operation, full time, since 2004. Postmortem Studios embraces the digital age in producing electronic and print-on-demand gaming products of a quirky and unconventional bent. Postmortem Studios has had great success with the ‘100’ series, with resurrecting the Blood! horror RPG from the 1990s and with various card games and support materials.

Cubicle 7 Entertainment
http://www.cubicle7.co.uk

Postmortem Studios
http://ww.postmort.demon.co.uk

[Update] Spinning a Web – Neverwhere 3rd Edition hostageware.

Congratulations! We’ve reached the target and stand at 105 adds for the month with a week still to go!

This means that my next project, barring freelancing, will be Neverwhere 3rd Edition, before anything else. I’ll commission a little more art for it in the next week or two but if you can get me to 150 followers before the end of the month I’ll pump some more money in and get even more art. So, what you’re campaigning for now is an even shinier, even better Neverwhere 3rd edition than before!

Here’s the various social networks that count for this exercise:

TWITTER
FACEBOOK
MYSPACE

Grim’s Tales: My Gaming History V

LARP
I desperately wanted to like Live Action Roleplay, I really did. I used to dream of going to Labyrinthe in Chislehurst caves and would covet the shiny LARP weapons and costumes but there’s certain aspects – at least of the active, physical LARP scene – that just don’t really work for me and spoil the experience. Sure, the immersion is closer to total without too much in the way of rules getting in the way, the experience has much more direct ‘fidelity’ but that can also be part of the problem. Your imagination always outstrips even the best attempts at costuming and it’s very hard to mentally edit out a scout hut and superimpose a gigantic, spired castle. The other big problem I have with LARP is that it stifles my opportunity to play things that I am not. If I’m a ten stone weakling with the physical coordination of an epileptic jellyfish it doesn’t matter what it says on my character sheet, Joe the Kobold is going to beat seven shades of shit out of me and then give me such a continued drubbing that an eighth shade will be discovered in the aftermath.

Nonetheless, I pressed on despite these misgivings and decided to give it a try. That just cemented in my mind that LARP wasn’t for me after I was smacked in the face one too many times and fell knee-deep into a stinking bog in the woods. My refined and comfort-loving sensibility just doesn’t seem to fit with the necessities of serious LARPing and my budget doesn’t really stretch to buying suits of armour I’ll only ever wear once a month.

That’s not to say I’m disparaging LARP, if you can overcome these drawbacks and enjoy it, or even revel in it, then more power to you. It’s just not quite my thing. I’m jealous if anything!

My next encounters with LARP didn’t come along until the salon style LARPs of Vampire the Masquerade and friends. Now, here was some LARPing I could actually get into. With a system base so I could play something that I was not ((though I sympathise with people who have all the scheming instincts of a lobotomised hamster), we were playing indoors, nobody got hit and it gave me an excuse to buy some clothes I COULD wear on the weekends and go out in. This was far more my speed and, considering my extended tabletop group was hitting thirty or forty people at this time the progression to LARP made sense.

For a long, long time this seemed like the perfect solution to LARP for me, it was self perpetuating, big, once we joined The Camarilla fan organisation we were part of a huge international continuity that seemed to contain limitless possibilities. Big mistake. It started out that way and for quite a while it was great, but as with all organisations – especially those filled with creative people – there began to be problems. I’m still a huge fan of shared universes but when you’re trying to get so many different play styles to work together in one place and so many people have different interpretations of the source material then there’s going to be trouble, especially when they insist on ‘one way only’ and end up taking all the organisational positions of power through attrition and the Peter Principle.

The Camarilla died a living death as the result of its own bureaucracy, dogmatism, arguments and takeovers from White Wolf that never bore fruit and the whimpering end to the nWoD and nothing’s really come along to replace it since.

What I took away from my experiences with LARP were a love of props and tactile gaming, an admiration – tempered with concern – for people who enjoy being smacked in the face and a profound sense of frustration at the squandered opportunities that The Camarilla represented to me and how a very few rotten apples can destroy a whole barrel.

The lasting influence from LARP, for me is that – in serious games – I aim for plausibility, a different thing to realism, and – I think – a better appreciation of how plots, schemes and other social interactions actually play out in a social context. Writing plots and stories for live-action games is a very different animal to writing for tabletop games but you can apply lessons from each to each other. LARPs are healthier when they concentrate on external enemies and allow the players to work together more, tabletop games benefit from giving the players latitude to play out their characters and attention to personal plotting.

My LARP experience may have ended badly, but it was worth having.

Free RPG Day – Invaderz