Wednesday 30 April 2014

Let's Get Critical


Good literature--it tends to be of the type that submits to deep Critical Analysis. This may be intentional on the part of the author, as with William Gibson. It may be less so, as with Robert E. Howard. Or it may be intended, but the book nevertheless comes out a dud, as with Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union. Nevetheless, the good stuff, tends to be the sort where Critical Analysis reveals layer after layer of meaning, like the proverbial onion that keeps on giving. 


Good movies, on the other hand, don't necessarily have the same depth as good books, and when they do, it's often not a required ingredient. Unlike books, a movie is typically experienced for a couple short hours and that's it. Unlike books, you can't stop and think about it, or flip back to check what happened before and how it relates to what's happening now. The film just keeps racing ahead and any deeper meaning hidden there by the filmmaker is lost on 99% of the audience.

Just look at Refn's Drive. The movie has a metric ton of symbolism and meaning, and it's slow pace and great cinematography actually allow the audience more opportunity to identify it than in most films. And yet, all but the most overt symbols were completely lost on most viewers, with audiences describing the film as "boring". As much as I like Bergman, Kubrick, and Refn's movies, their love of intricately deep layers of meaning is not a required ingredient for a "good movie".


So what about Role Playing games? On one hand they're like books--many published adventures have put a great deal of thought into their text. On the other hand, they're even more extreme than movies--the players experience the game as a game session in real-time, not as a text, and while you can rewind or re-watch a movie, live game sessions generally don't have that luxury. Plus, due to their non-deterministic nature, you don't know which material will be covered and it's even quite likely that scenarios will occur that explicitly aren't covered in the book. If anything, RPG's are most like improvisational performance art.

And Now for Some Practical Advice I'm supposed to offer some great practical advice for adventure authors and DM's based on the preceding brilliant observation on the nature of pen & paper RPG's...Right. Any minute now...

Well, what I will say is this. Keep in mind that not all your brilliant ideas and witty text are easily translated to the format of the live game session. So try and focus on the stuff that does translate: tactical combat, stimulating mood, opportunities for PC development(either mechanical or narrative), challenging puzzles, wondrous exploration, or whatever you see works for you and your group.

Saturday 19 April 2014

A Narrow Escape: WFRP Empire Campaign Session 21

Session 21 was a bit rough--up late on G+ with a cold and killer sore throat. I don't think I followed all the details, but here's what happened in brief:

Seigwart and his Tunnel-Worshiping Dwarven friend indeed found a secret door to a subterranean tunnel complex in the Basement of the Doctor's roomy Manse, but how can they quickly get the rest of the party away from dinner and downstairs without alerting the guards(a few inside the Manse and many more congregating outside). Siegwart went for the old "Doctor, Doctor! The Dumb Dwarf Fell Down the Cellar Stairs and he Can't Get Up" ploy and the party quickly excused themselves to check on their companion. The Doctor knew something was up, but the party managed to crowd into the cellar and bolt the door behind them before weapons were drawn.

Then it was off through a maze of tunnels. We ended up meeting the local peasants' resistance. Seigwart gave a rather expensive looking potion bottle he had pinched to "Drugs'" inspection. Upon opening it, the alchemist was attacked by a tentacle of concentrated Warp-Stone. With the party unable to contain the tentacle, Sigyn telepathically convinced her chaos-powered sword to absorb the tentacle's power, which will presumably have some yet-to-be-observed effect.

The resistance agreed to lead us in to a secret entrance into Castle Von Wittgenstein, but on the way, the party ran into a patrol and they just couldn't overcome the temptation to ambush them. Much blood was shed, and we ended the session there...

Friday 18 April 2014

Heroes in Armor

John Steakley's "Armor" is Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" mixed with Robert E. Howard's manic energy and over-the-top machismo. This book was a very intense, entertaining read. So much so that I couldn't help but forgive it's flaws like incomplete universe building, contrived scenarios, etc. I just had to keep reading to see where on earth it was going to take it's heroes next. Because that's where Armor really shines: it's Heroes.

Steakley's heroes weren't born into Heroism. They had it thrust upon them, by man or by god, and they struggle with it:

There's Felix, who joined the army  to die in battle, because his clan's code of honor denies him the luxury of suicide. And yet, whenever he goes out on a drop, The Engine takes over and he finds himself alive, and celebrated as a hero by his fellow soldiers, regardless of how often he fled and how many others he left behind to die.

Then there's Jack Crow, the renowned space pirate who brought back some great experimental ship for mankind. Thanks to the Empire's propaganda machine making the best of a bad situation, Jack is a bit of an interplanetary celebrity. Everywhere he goes women throw themselves at him and men, on both sides of the law, want to be him. Yet Jack knows that his only exemplary traits are his uncanny luck, his way with words, and his willingness to step on anyone to get out of the desperate situations he often finds himself in.

Nathan Kent is the propaganda machine's poster boy for the Human-Ant wars. A near super-human athlete and international superstar, Kent is kept far away from the front lines so that Humanity's living symbol of it's own Nobility can continue inspiring billions. Yet, Forrest assures us that Kent really is that good a guy, despite all the hype. And when he finally does end up on the front lines, he demonstrates his Heroism, both against the ants, and against the worst elements of the Fleet itself.

Gamify it!

There's something really appealing about Steakley's reluctant/anti-heroes. I'm picturing running a campaign and the players are just MURDER HOBOing along, when you start giving them the Jack Crow treatment. Some misadventure ends up gaining them wold-wide renown as near-legendary heroes. And perhaps their subsequent adventures, quite fortuitously, expand their cult of personality. How do they handle the celebrity status? In the first town they visit, they'll probably take advantage of it like crazy, but what about at the tenth? Will they escalate their schemes taking advantage of their reputation? Or start wearing disguises? Or will they actually start living-up to what others see in them?