Smörgåsblog – Little Topics Chosen by You

Gandalf’s D&D Alignment

Gandalf is clearly Chaotic Neutral. He tries not to intervene, he is a force for the status quo but he’s willing to break ‘the rules’ in order to protect that status quo. There’s a tension between order and disorder in the character that, I feel, is best represented in that way.

Good Times Get in the way of Good Times

Good times at the gaming table can, indeed, get in the way of good times. What makes a good game doesn’t necessarily make for a good evening and I think you have to be fluid. You have to be willing to give up a session – or change it – if people are in the wrong mood. If people are giggly and chatty, that isn’t the time for deep horror or serious political manouevering. If everyone’s stoned out of their fucking gourd (a far too frequent occurance) you may have to dumb things down, take things slow or simplify the rules. Same goes for drinking. Fun and enjoyment come in a massive number of different forms and as with everything else in GMing, it’s my belief that what makes a truly great GM in this, as in almost every other arena, is improvisation and flexibility.

Player Empowerment

I’m a big advocate of player empowerment. I think giving players the opportunity to shine and to bring their own ideas into games is a powerful tool that greatly enhances engagement and gives every some buy-in. The most basic versions of this are ‘stunts’ such as you find in Feng Shui or Exalted. Players get buy in because if they do a cool sounding move or something exciting, they get a bonus. FATE has a greater degree of buy in and other games go even further with buy-in mechanics, letting players dictate aspects of the game world. A good GM has a bit of this anyway. I think it REALLY starts with ‘What do you guys want in this game?’ and the mechanical tendency of modern indie games to provide buy-in is just a way of structuring what good GMs were doing anyway. Equally I can see the case to be made that the players can fuck things up by doing this. That not everyone is as creative or finds it as easy and that it can end up disempowering players who aren’t as able to buy into the concept or string words together. That can seem paradoxical, but it really, really can be a problem. Gentle nudging by the GM can help there.

First Game I Ever Played and What I Played

I started with Fighting Fantasy books and we used to read them to each other, one being the adventurer, one being the player. So my first proper RPG was the orange-spined make your own Fighting Fantasy adventures book with the (I believe) weretiger on the front. Do you count GMing as playing? I do. I started as I meant to go on so my first character was… god!

How Similar/Different People Make Characters

This is a topic that could fill books. Some people play the same sort of thing in every game, they have a broad category of character that they like – the bruiser, the charming rogue or whatever. What every character shares is a ‘hook’ of some kind. That can be a stereotype, an exceptional skill, a schtick but that’s what everyone needs, shorthand for a character. Everyone uses these hooks, big or small, complex or simple.

Ethics in the RPG Industry

Ethics? Well that’s a tricky one. Games aren’t real, so they can make an interesting playground for playing with ethics. The black and white, the four colour and the grey. That’s in play though. Ethics in publishing itself? Well, I tend to think the responsibility for misuse and misunderstanding lays on the person in receipt, more than the producer, at least where something doesn’t have the direct potential for direct harm. For me then, ethics in the RPG industry becomes more about ethics generally in business. Paying people on time and what the work is worth (or what you can afford), treating people right, being open about issues, all that sort of thing. There are companies that pay late, or not at all, and things being tight is no excuse to be a dick or to hide that sort of thing. The other way around, it can be hard to get writing or art on time and when things are that way around it’s just as important to be honest and communicative.

Orifice Jones – 70s Detective

Will have to wait… I have some thoughts on sexy adventures for SWING or a short story.

Fan Entitlement

Fan entitlement has been a big issue lately across lots of media. People complaining about George Lucas’ continued buggering about with Star Wars, the ending of Mass Effect and the lack of clear communication over D&D5e. I think there’s some differences between the relationship between creator and consumer when it comes to passive media and interactive media and, paradoxically, I think that’s why Lucas gets such stick. Normally when you present a film, or a book, or a comic the audience is passive, not involved in the process. Step into RPGs and computer games and you’re asking the audience to become a PART of the process, of the game, of the story and that gives them buy in and makes them feel like they have a say. To be honest, they do. Your relationship in interactive media, with your audience, is predicated upon them feeling like a part of what you do. With Lucas his material was so game-changing, so important to so many people they bought-in to that degree without it being interactive media, and in part because of the aggressive marketing and toys, you could LIVE Star Wars if you wanted to. Especially when it comes to RPGs, where you don’t have any real sort of hand on the tiller to determine the story this is even more true. People are going to do what they want with your material and they deserve to feel involved.

Why do Writers Give Shit Away? Is it Good or Bad?

Why do writers (and gamers) give shit away for free? Because we’re creatives. A creative is driven to create, we want an audience and that is more important to many, to make something and get it seen, than to make money. The unfortunate side to this is that a lot of stuff gets given away for free without any sort of quality control and can end up devaluing the whole enterprise. I wouldn’t tell people not to do it, but I think people should place at least some sort of minimum value for their work for the benefit of the creative community as a whole. Giving shit away for free is also a try at getting noticed, traditional modes of getting ‘found’ are vanishing and getting attention for your talent is a long, hard slog. This was the one thing gatekeepers like publishers actually did that was useful before and IMO creators need to come together more in mutually supporting communities to overcome this, become our own gatekeepers just as we have become our own marketers and points of sale.

RPGs of the Future – What Concepts/Topics/Rules?

I think we’ll continue to see the spread of lighter rules games but I’m a big advocate of the right rules for the right job. I believe rules matter and that doesn’t always mean rules light. That said, I think rules do need to be quick and intuitive to allow RPGs to be easily picked up and learned. Concepts… well, I think fantasy needs to make a decisive leap forward into the renaissance/industrial era, Iron Kingdoms – new edition – might do that. Just as written fantasy seems to have made this leap I think tabletop fantasy does. There are plenty of Steampunk themed games but no true STEAMPUNK games. We need a definitive Steampunk game that is purely Steampunk in the way that the breakout novel The Difference Engine was. I also think we need to return to SF, but in a more uplifting and optimistic way. We’re lacking a postmodern superheroic game, despite there having been an Authority RPG it didn’t really capture the feel of Ellis, Millar or Morrison, something more gutsy is needed.

60 Minute Primetime Slot on TV about Games – What do you do?

If I had the budget, time, money, opportunity to do a 60 minute programme about games this is what I would do, and this has been my idea for years. You split it in two, you have a game being played and a representation of that game. You intercut between the players playing and a full on, FX and all, representation of what they’re doing. Something LIKE this was done on Radio 4 in the UK all-too-many-years-ago and I would have loved to have seen it done on TV. I think this would be the best way of both explaining what it is that we do and making people understand what we see/feel/think when we play.

How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk

This was meant to be a question with no answer. That was rather the point of it. Carroll liked that sort of thing.

Getting Confused

Say that you ‘roleplay’ and people are as likely to think you play computer games or play at ‘naughty teacher and student’. I guess the computer one is understandable these days and the other one has the potential to get you laid so… no problem? The one I do worry about is the whole corporate roleplay thing. I think that may be behind the decline of gaming as corporate roleplay exercises are excrutiating and stupid and probably put people off the word for life. If corporate roleplay involved dressing in chainmail and attacking the accounts department it wouldn’t be so bad.