Thursday, 26 February 2015

A world is like a child, nurtured, until you let it free

Its Been a big thing for me the last few years, setting up multiple games mastered situations, and seems that recently started to become the next big thing.. I've been asking around and getting some interesting feedback.. so heres my 2 cents

A world is like a child, nurtured, until you let it free

I, like many GMs, built my own world. I based it off Terry Pratchetts Discworld, I even called it 'The Coyn' I wrote the physics of the world, the Laylines, built a few game mods for Civ so I could determine the larger extent of who lives where. but the more I developed it, the more I found one factor eating into my thoughts..

I'll never be able to finish this.

In what seems like a completely unrelated theme.. I ran a game where my cousin played an assassin whom had infiltrated the group, learnt what he could and then assassinated two of the other players before escaping with half of the last major treasure. While it wasn't very pleasant, and no-one trusted my cousins characters again, its still something talked about to this day.

Back on topic

I think I let my cousin try his hand at gamesmastering my world first, but it was also his first GMing so it was good and bad, but later I met other GMs while travelling<link missing> and we dicussed my world, and how I would love others to GM my game. I met some nice guys in germany who wrote to me 3 months later, asking if I would send them links to the documents. back then, there was no google doc.. so I wrote a few extensive emails (which I have no copies of) and they wrote back about their game..


It was so different to hear about how these people were travelling to cities, I had invented, shopping in markets that my own players had travelled. It was such an exhilarating experience.

My Next roleplay session, I included their characters as NPCs that 'passed through' and the players were 100x more interested in who these other heroes were, than just any old NPC.. they felt more 'real'.

So for a while I added far more detail to my NPCs, little things that might later crop up in conversation, felt more alive to the players.. did the barkeep have a family? was the old beggar who recently died, anyone of importance? maybe it mattered, maybe it didn't but if someone asked the right question, it was no longer "Oh um, lets see.. ok.." and I make it up.. now, now I had a lot of prepared information.. Was my first introduction to good Gamesmastering.

but still that thought lingered.. those other players, they created something, that made it easier for me to use, made my play more 'alive'. So I started to experiment.

I was teaching English in Russia at the time, and running a small group of RP for some students. its a great way to practice, rather than the boring lessons of language, you engaged in conversation and quickly had to phrase things to be understood. I needed a BBG that was more interesting than just me.. mostly I think my clever students were second guessing me, they could 'sense' what it was that was going to happen at each step, because they'd gotten to know me (was I so predictable?) so I contacted my cousin again.. hey cuz!, can you drag out your old 'evil' character and play the bad guy?

Once a week I would write to him, tell him what he had discovered through his henchmen, contacts, cronies and crystal ball, he would tell me what he would do with that information.. and in the next gaming session, the heroes would sometimes face off against the next set of guards or monsters sent their way.. but as often as not, they'd hit a quiet patch, and realise that the BBG had lost their trail. Taking advantage of it, they set up some ambushes or false trails and it became its own kind of game.. players vs player.

Then I got a second group. They also were on the trail of the BBG.. but none of them knew that there were 3 sides.. My cousin, would learn of a group of heroes killing off his henchmen in the town of Orcust. so nearby in Ruthergos, he's have some spies, and then a rider to send to a local squad, who'd hopefully hold them off until his Ogres would arrive on scene. but group #2 had no intention of going towards the BBG's base.. because they'd heard rumours of some battle of the BBG forces to the east.. where 2 weeks ago, the first group had recently dispatched a large group of forces. group #2 was chasing group #1s tail, thinking it was BBG, while he, was expecting group #1 to come towards him and instead found his forces chasing group #2, and group #1, hearing the rumours of BBG forces amassing in two groups.. coming from behind, were fleeing to what they felt was a safe enough distance so they could dispatch of the BBG forces, guerilla style.

When group #1 and Group #2 got close.. I arranged for them to be physically at the same location for one larger session, and once established that it was possible. each groups cliffhanger was the arrival of the other group at the same locale. they BOTH thought they were going in for the semi-final confrontation with the BBG's number 1 force of evil heroes!

At the opening of the session, people arriving at my office, some of them though the others were students hanging on from classes, still chatting to their teacher.. others knew of each other, but not that they all gamed. I asked everyone to sit down different sides of the room, and it dawned on them, I quickly interjected with "SO, here you are heroes, facing off against each other.. what do you do?"

The room was aghast with Russian language.. too fast for me to keep up.. I quickly calmed them, chastised them for breaking language in the 'class' and they continued in English.. until they remembered to roleplay.

The Paladins of the same order (no less) started in on each other "how dare you wear the colours of honour.." "me? how dare YOU, I am a Paladin of the holy.. " What? how can you work for BBG and be a holy" "I DONT WORK FOR HIM!"

It was a fantastic moment. they soon discovered that they were indeed working on the same side, that they should work together, until they heard cackling...

The fire burst into purple flames and there was the EVIL BBG speaking to the heroes! (I turned on the TV screen that my computer was plugged into, SKYPED back to Australia for my cousin.)

AHAHAHAHA, he laughed, you fools.. your concentrated 'good' within my realm has allowed me to find you.. and now you will die!!!

a Large army of Black Orcs, Trolls, Ogres, witches and a hellspawn broke through the forest, and attacked the party. we lost 1 hero and everyone was so heavily wounded, they had to retreat. They went seperate ways to ensure the BBG would not, could not find them again.. but now, they began to leave notes in taverns for each other.

But what next?

After that session ended.. I knew I was onto something. I could not be the only person to have tried this, maybe there are other GMs who have done the same.. so I got onto some forums, and found some GMs who agreed to give it a go. 

This blog is getting long enough, so I'll leave off the stories for another day, but the basics was, we ran a new campaign, new players for me, but the others formed a group in Moscow, using the same world, the same system, their GM collaborated via email & occasional meetings, My cousin began a game in Adelaide, and my friends in San Fran started theirs, I had three other GMs that started around the same time, same world, same places.. different groups.

While we didn't get as heavily into the same plot, there were enough goings on that affected each other, that made the world more enjoyable for all of us.. I had GMs saying that they felt they were playing too now.. not just 'running' the game.. because each week new things would crop up between teams.. 

Simple things like, leaving notes for each other if they came to the same town weeks later, dispatching major enemies, which allowed other groups of lower levels to mop up the lower level monsters, One guy sold his magic sword to a blacksmith, who on-sold it to the next group, who traded it to a third group, who met the first and he noticed his old sword -"where did you get that? that's my old sword!" he asked..

Multiple groups playing the same region, was by far the best roleplay I've ever had.

Sure there are logistics. If you don't roleplay any given week, you'd characters have to have 'time out' resting in a tavern somewhere, or laying low, so the time-line doesn't get too messy.. some GMs ran catch up sessions, some did quick missions.. I think the San Fran GM had his players go fishing for two weeks.

But now new things were coming in.. we had 7 GMs, 7 sets of NPCs.. when one GM invented an NPC for a tavern, he had to write it all down, because if any other group came in here, it needed to match. After that session, some of the GMs felt it was too much..

So we broke into two types.. Contributors, and Participants.

Contributor GMs would record things, write notes, leave them in a google doc, that we could read up on, and use, if our players were going to the same region later. Participants would 'use' the docs, but not leave a trail as it were.. the players would have the experience of being in a living world, but not be leaving their own mark on it. (although, I got to hear their stories, and integrated some of it into my own players world, added those 'rumours' to the mill)

I've run two more multi-gamesmastered events.. I ran a seminar on doing the same again when I returned to Australia.. I've been busy with studies for the last 2 years, but am emerging in June, and am hoping to start all over again.. but this time, armed with an interactive database for the Contributors.. because at the end of the day, half of the Participant GMs were eager, but didn't have the tools to record the main points, and forgot the rest.

So, maybe.. with a few hundred other GMs, I might finish my world.. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Being Open to Change

As a Game Developer, you have to be open to the possibility that you've been doing everything wrong, or as often as not, you failed to publish on time, and the market has shifted to a different way of thinking.

The Changes of Roleplay

While I started roleplay in the 80's I have of course read as much about its origins as a miniatures battle game. which I should not need to repeat, is how the classics started. As I've stated before, I started with Dragon Warriors.. yes, there were dungeons, and temples and ruins.. but later (in book 6) an adventure that didn't have 'locations' that you progressed to. 

It was the first introduction to the concept of sandbox for me. There were set peices.. but mostly it was a list of things that could happen at different places.

Sandbox roleplay became a thing, then the thing, so much so, that I don't hear of much else.. someone asked the other day.. how many actual dungeons, do you go in.. in Dungeons and Dragons. It was a sad moment, to understand that most new players don't get that initial structured path, that leads them to the eventual desire to break from the path, then to forge their own path. (or find it)

So, as I read about what players are wanting in roleplay, and what they used to want when I started, I see many possible changes to the industry.

When I got serious about putting together this game, I read a LOT of material about where gaming was (and is) going. Sandboxes are the then, but multiplayer sandboxes are the now. Indivudual play, was the past, The internet connects people, and yet we still roleplay one game at a time.

I've seen some works by the professional gamesmastering society that aims to bring roleplay into the light as a product, gamesmastering as a job. While I think that's a great idea, I also see a lot of pushback from society at large. How can you charge, for something thats always been free.

Personally, I think the next stage of 'professional gamesmastering' is ensuring that the product you are involving players in, is more than just a game, but instead far exceeds the game. has something more that the players can take away from the experience. maybe the idea that the game itself has taught them some life goals.. or that its providing a sense of worth that could not be gotten in our world of social networking and real life lonelyness.. or maybe the results of the gaming itself could become a product.   

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

IDEA Hash Tag Twitch Interactions

The concept is simple, you play a game live, and the viewers can 'affect' your game by hash-tagging the game with codes that affect the player/world/something.

Imagine, you play minecraft, and the 'gods' are watching.. they can 'give' you benefits.. or 'curse' you with problems..

The curses should have final benefits.. i.e. if you defeat the curse, you get boosts.

How about if the game is all about the stream.. The HERO of the story is exactly that.. if you want your hero to survive, you #heal them.. or #bless them..

but if you'd rather the creatures, then you #curse the hero.. or #manevolent the monsters..

There would need to be a cooldown, maybe if IP incoming #hash somehow allows the system to know that twitter user #780 has used their power today.. or this hour/minute...

Maybe even 'build up' the power.. #savemypower, gives you a 10% boost to your next ability, if you use it within 1 hour.. allows a max 60% boost if someone decides to max it out.. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Laylines, Gallifreyan Circles and Magic


Quick Clarification: LeyLines are lines formed from existing places for spiritual & mystical energies on earth, of which I am not talking about, Instead like the Fishing Lay Line, Magical LayLines have points that are either fixed or move, and 'catch' up residual magic, dragging it into nets of magic such as Circles and Spirals and Symbols of magic, permeating the Land and Nature and Magic and causing some weird and wondrous things from time to time. LayLines are Harnessable by intelligent beings for their own purposes, be they malevolent or benevolent.
This could be a snapshot of my Layline Project.. If I visualised it.
He-man/pony Master of the Ponyverse

I think, Like any decent geek, its fun to take one idea, that we all love, and use it to represent something else, that we all love, and this blend can sometimes be awesome or interesting or some kind of facinating idea that sparks more ideas.. or sometimes awful, sometimes brilliantly awful, cringe-worthy. Depends on your point of view(I'll let you figure out which one He-Pony is)

So I was looking at Gallifreyan language the other day, and it got me thinking.. That's a nice way of representing circle lore. And since I
Credit to Sirkles
use circle lore for Ley-Lines it just clicked..

So I started researching Circle Languages. Gallifreyan has been done by several individuals, each adding their own take on it. Mostly its English in a funny pattern, like when you visit an Asian country and have your name written in their characters. It makes little to no sense in their language (although it can, my Chinese name means 'your friendly teacher of the people)

I'm a bit of a student of Language, Having taught English in several countries, mostly in Russia, I would often ask student to compare the words to their own language, compare to the flow, the style and the way its spoken vs written. So it comes easier for me to ask questions like, how does the grammar work, do verbs have tenses (like English), genders (like German), prepositional suffixes or prefixes (like Finnish, with 27 of them), do the sentences run in ordered structure (Germanic) or are structureless and use other rules (Russian)

While I'd love to blog about how Gallifreyan should be properly put together by someone with more insight than a few teenagers, like J.R.R.Tolkien for example.. (if I get enough posts requesting this, I could.. I have been researching for months)

This blog is about something else that's been on the horizon.

Maybe you've read about the mathmatical model I was building about Laylines, but then gave up and just wrote a program instead. In that I decided on some key factors about magic and laylines.. but only recently did I pull out all those notes and theres a pretty big reason why..

The Convergence

So, about 3 weeks ago, I was glancing over my roleplay notes for an upcoming game, where one of our group thinks she might be a lycanthrope. None of the "normal" attempts at discovery worked.. because.. lycan = wolf, so they figured it was something else. One plausible suggestion was that a layline might have infected her, and as each layline passed through camp, she was turning into something.. only to return to form the next morning.

Not an actual screenshot
So, I remembered I had a program somewhere which was tracking laylines in real time.. and I noticed something. sometime soon, there was going to be a convergence of many laylines.. and It might be world changing.

But I didn't have them properly sorted or structured in the database.. just a nice graphic of spinning circles & symbols showing pretty colours...

Must Investigate!

It Didn't take me long to find out that while I was right, I was wrong.. I didn't have the right 'symbols' in the system yet. Something I had put off for later and now I was getting stuck for time.

The Problem being.. I had put this together years ago and left it running, I could have missed other convergences, and probably have, so I don't want to miss this next one (I sped up the program to check, and won't see another for 2 years)

But no-one is anywhere near this.. and I don't have any players, playing mages to truely enjoy the experience... its like I'm the only person on the planet, and I've just spotted a quadripple rainbow!

So I asked them.. do you want to be mages for a day?

A resounding YES.

So, I am now on the quest to ensure the perfect storm will have some spectators.

The majority of the Laylines.. are exactly that.. laylines.. lines of magic that move around the planet at different speeds, directions and possibly (yes even now I'll not give away true details) different pivot points or angles of flow.

Maybe they flow in straight lines, maybe they move up and down with the terrain, or through terrain.. surely water magic would use water and fire magic, use lava.. who knows?

but now maybe some will.. its even more fun.. because the greatest magicians in the world (well.. ok.. a bunch of pre-made NPCs used by players for an afternoon of conjecture) are going to try an harness the magical storm for their own crazy nefarious projects.. and probably fight about it until its too late.

I'll record the conversation and maybe if its worth it, write a story from it

So, with 80% of laylines already structured, I was stuck deciding on what to do about the last 20%.. I had notes, and sketches, but had nothing concrete. Until I remembered Gallifreyan circles.

Simplistic, but this is one of several layers..
Now, a quick pop over to Lorens webpage, structure some quick images, load them into the layline engine and viola. Freaky looking beasts that they are.

See, I can write "Illusion" into the engine he's built and Viola.. instant magic circle.

Combine this with 16 forms of magic, 16 power laylines, circles, pools, null magic fields and sacred artefacts in the world .. and this picture gets pretty messy.

What do they Do?

Typically 3 Layline crossings will cause a lump of rock at the crux of the crossing, to become magical. maybe it had ore in it, that becomes magical metal, maybe a small seedling would become magical wood (sought out by sorcerers for wands and staves) This happens once every week or so, I saw 11 in one day.. but I only monitor places near my players...

But there are hundreds of these happened daily.. so they're not vitally important (yet), as you can see here in a screenshot, all the brighter areas are usually criss-crosses of lines & circles and such
If all laylines were visible, this would be a blur
So, now I have my laylines, and circles and spirals and symbols and glyphs and they're all circling around this world.. causing all manner of mischief.. 

and the biggest mischief of all.. is coming.. just after March, but closer to August. My players will create 100-200th level Magi, they'll be assigned values based on their choices of race, creed, religion, beliefs and location both birth and current. Then they'll all have to be versed in the basic arts of using laylines to travel (else how would they all get here?) they'll be given a list of clues as to what could happen.. 75% true, and 25% false.. with comparison and conversation, they should be able to determine which truths are absolute, and which lies are bent truths, until they understand the best that they can.. and harness the wave of power.. to do something awe.... -some or -ful, I don't know yet.

Programming Addendum:

My Initial Foray into this was simply using Javascript to 'spin' the images. Each image was a very transparent white line (or lines/elipses/shapes) or coloured (for specific types) on a black background. When 2+ lines crossed each other they glowed more, the more lines, the more "white". The bigger problem was that this layering didn't allow the coloured lines to mix/enhance the white (pastels instead)

So, the 2nd attempt was using C# to write a 3D program using the Graphics card to 'draw' lines in 3D space, and then multiply the colours against each other if they intersected. It then outputs an image. Useful to know on a given day/time what laylines will cross.

The Problem with both of these is that there is no 'prediction' I can type in co-ordinates of players, for the scheduled gaming session, but I have no idea where any of these lines are going.. unless I type in the next 'second' or 'minute' and spit out the image and compare.. brute force.

It was more luck than skill that I found this 'Convergence' I mistyped a date, and saw a bright spot.. then I ran it over and over.. to get the 2-3 hours either side of that 'moment' which lead me to do that again for several 'hours' after.. to find that an even brighter event happened 3 hours and 7 minutes after the first.

After that, I wrote a script to run the program and find 'pixels' greater in brightness than 50%.. but I intend to rewrite the program to run realtime and map out events in the mapping database so GMs will be able to plan ahead for local mini & maxi convergences. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

World Rules vs Known Rules

For quite some time I've been delving into sites about faith, gods, physics and maths and the history of these, because I felt that often writers give the readers/players too much.Just wanted to share some thoughts

Historically, we're ignorant

Humans, on earth, have frequently been wrong. Ignorant of the world around us. But we're also creative. so far more often than not, when someone didn't understand something, but couldn't be seen/known to 'not' know the answer, they invented the most plausible answer they could think of, and, until someone thought of something better, it was given.

So why do writers assume anything different?

Well, most likely because its easier to just have the rules of the world match the understanding of the reader, and I'm going to do it right now: I'll invent a plausible answer because I don't have enough research of the subject matter, because most likely the reader needs to either identify with the subject material, or they need to plausibly believe the difference between their own understanding and this 'fictional reality'.

Some of the best writing I've read, the authour has created a set of rules for his universe, but had the characters in the story, not understand that set of rules.. instead the rules of the character were something less than correct. It wasn't the premise of the story, but was critical to the structure of the plot.

But its not often (maybe I'm just not reading the right people)

Now I'm not talking about authours who use the same logic structure on an earth setting, (IMHO) its not so creative to use an already established scientific misdemeanor, such as a group of people that believe the world is flat, such a common and dis-proven that anyone actually thought this post-greek maths.

Nor am I talking about using theories about our world about the rules of our universe, and using one theory to write a nice novel about. 

I'm talking about world building here. When you build your own world, with your own set of logic and rules that govern the world, and then.. you build another set of rules that the inhabitants of the world have come to believe.

Then we take it further

 So we create a world, and its different in some way, that makes it interesting to write about. We add inhabitants, being a complex and dynamic world, for the existence of plot, we need different races maybe, or different species someone to antagonize the other. and they have their own beliefs, to break the egg at one end or the other or what have you. How 'right' are they? 

The conflict of different people over any given difference, is 99% of history, be it peaceful or bloody conflict. The culture and learnings of races, the fall and demise of the ones that backed the wrong belief or sometimes the right one, leaving a culture to struggle with itself until an inevitable reversal of ideals to match with the scientific research of the day.

While this may be a small aspect of the plot, its usually this kind of backstory that shows me the reader, that this world is not just a fly by night construct, that your book/world is going to exist for a a long time to come, and if I invest my money and time in your product, I'm going to get a return on that investment. i.e. more future enjoyment as you publish several books/products

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Meta Gaming your Players

What I'm about to write, I have not read elsewhere. As a Games designer for computer games as much as for PnP Roleplay, this is something that I borrowed from threads and posts, took a good hard look at it and said.. why not? and morphed it into what I do as Gamesmaster.

Character Progression doesn't always have to come from play.

Meta Gaming

Wikipedia says : Metagaming is any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.
In simple terms, it is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.

I'm not talking about that.

Meta Gaming in Video game terminology is about the game outside the game. The points you earn after each parkour run, that buys you speed boosts or the tower defence weapon upgrades or the Berzerk Ball world upgrades. Its the Game outside the game, that improves in inner game.

Its about the 'improvement to the game' that you earn by 'playing more often'.

So in that context, I give you: the Meta Gaming Rules I use, to make my roleplaying experience more enjoyable for players

Roleplay Points

In my older Posts I've mentioned Roleplay Points, Points I award players per session for several reasons:
  • Roleplaying, and not Meta Gaming!
  • Being there for that session
  • Making a good quote, pertinent to the situation, which causes much hilarity or groaning
  • Using Voices, drawing character models or 'adding' to the experience
  • Being a good player
I also ask the players to nominate one player each week to get the 'player of the week' Bonus +2 roleplay points

Roleplay Points, are currently used to buy two things: Quests and Hero Points.

Quests allow players to nominate something their character wants to achieve in the next few sessions. They declare a quest, assign 5 roleplay points to it, and during any roleplay session, they may refer to the quest, to assign more roleplay points to it (it must be roleplayed to give it these points)
When the quest is completed, the characters gain a massive boost to their character sheets. Background Points, Karma Points (for both see below) and a chunk of Experience Points.

The Chunk of XP is typically at least half a levels worth for many game systems (often as much as a full levels worth of XP, if it was a 6 session quest for example) above and beyond the normal XP

In this, I no longer need to dole out XP as game rewards, XP is for doing what you should be doing.

Karma Points 

This is where we get real meta. When a Player Dies or retires their character, we add up the number of roleplay sessions we had with that character (approx 3/4 of number of weeks since we began for average) multiplied by their Levels gained (i.e. minus starting level if you didn't start at 1st) and if they chose (retired) we double it.

Karma allows that player to 'buy' a better character for the next session.

But when they have Karma.. Then, now things get interesting... Firstly, they probably buy some Background Points

Background Points

When I get a new player, they start as a Human, with a boring dead end job, who becomes a somebody. They decide one day to stop being who they were, and be something more than that, and join the adventurers/gang/group. This is all justly evened out using Background Points. Humans 0Bkgpts, Average parents 0Bkgpts, Average Job 0Bkgpts.

But after earning a few Karma, and buying some background points... they can choose a more interesting race, a more interesting beginning profession and maybe some contacts in some high places(or low places) a dash more starting cash.

Is your world primarily human? with some dwarves and elves? 0Bkgpts for them, but what if the player wants a half-Orc? are they rare? add a Bkgpt cost to them, are they slightly imbalanced? more Bkgpts, maybe you'd even allow a construct, with a soul of a dragon.. IF they spent the Bkgpts for it.

The GM can now 'balance' his world by making the harder to find races use up some of these points, so plays can see the benefits, match up with the costs.
Character Progression by Whimsycatcher on Deviant Art

We also use background points for flashback events, remembering the past and discovering your heritage, which are roleplayed events (more in my blog)

Back to Karma

But Karma has more going on, While Karma can buy into some nice Background points for that one character.. the best way is to earn enough to buy Karma bonuses. +1 to Strength for every single character you ever play in my game/campaign with friends who GM my world, or at Cons that I participate in.

Longer Term Gaming

Some of this I developed when I ran a games club, and wanted to entice players to come back time & time again.. but its also a great way to reward players who realise that their character is getting old, or just plain dead. So, While I may have balked at Meta Gaming in its negatives, I'm glad to have looked past to see the positives.