Next weekend, I’ll be at MisCon 27 in Missoula, Montana, along with a couple of my cohorts from the Paizo office, Adam Daigle and John Compton. If you’re there, come check us out!
Here’s what I’m on deck for. In addition to this, I’ll be around to play games, chat, drink, and I’ll even have some prototypes to try out.
I’m Never Setting Foot in a Tavern Again. (Gaming)
Fri 2:00 – 2:50 PM, (Containment Room)
Pros and Guests: John Compton, Justin Farrington, Marc Johnson, Ryan Macklin
The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single session. You only get one chance at beginnings, whether for an ongoing campaign or a convention one-shot. Discussion will focus on techniques for getting a game off and running, including tips on preparation, techniques and the judicious use and avoidance of cliches.
Guerrilla Warfare in RPGS (Gaming)
Fri 6:00 – 6:50 PM, (Containment Room)
Pros and Guests: Ryan Goble, Ryan Macklin, Rob McDonell (Illuminati Rob)
How do you GM a resistance-based game where the PCs must fight a guerilla campaign against established, entrenched bad guys? Can they sleep safely in the woods at night, sustain themselves by hunting and gathering, and gain the assistance of local farm folk? How do they build the requisite rag tag army? What about retribution against the peasants suspected of harboring them? How do they eventually kill the evil emperor and lift the people from oppression?
Opening Ceremonies (Geek Discussion)
Fri 7:00 – 7:50 PM, (Containment Room)
Attend our opening ceremonies and watch CthulhuBob cry. Also find out what’s happening at MisCon 27.
Pathfinder: Ask Me Anything (Gaming)
Sat Noon – 12:50 PM, (Containment Room)
Pros and Guests: John Compton, Adam Daigle, Kyle Elliott, Dave Gross, Ryan Macklin
Ask the Paizo guys anything you ever wanted to know about Paizo, Pathfinder, rocket science, theology, plumbing repair, whatever.
Working With Licensed Intellectual Properties (Gaming, Writing)
Sat 5:00 – 5:50 PM, (Containment Room)
Pros and Guests: David Boop, Jim Butcher, John Goff, Dave Gross, Ryan Macklin
A discussion of the issues and pitfalls of working with someone else’s property and dealing with fan expectations of said property.
Mental and Physical Health in the Community (Gaming)
Sat 6:00 – 6:50 PM, (Upstairs Programming 1)
Pros and Guests: Ryan Macklin
A discussion about gamers dealing with depression, anxiety, and physical ailments. Using personal experiences, we explore strategies to overcome it, including tapping into our communities.
Improvisational GMing Workshop (Gaming)
Sun Noon – 1:50 PM, (Upstairs Programming 2)
Pros and Guests: Ryan Macklin
Ryan Macklin will run a 2-hour, hands-on workshop on GMing techniques, based on the problems you’re dealing with today. He’ll help you find ways to address problems with preparation and adaptation, dealing with people at the table, and executing a smooth session. Get and keep your players hooked on your game while making your GMing easier with Ryan’s help.
Getting The Most Out Of Working With Editors (Gaming)
Mon 11:00 – 11:50 AM, (The Cave)
Pros and Guests: Adam Daigle, Ryan Macklin
Learn how to find an editor, establish a good rapport with them, and how to get the most out of that relationship. Lead by editors who are Industry Insider guests!
Closing Ceremonies (Geek Discussion)
Mon 3:00 – 3:50 PM, (Great Hall)
Come see CthulhuBob cry for joy and catch a sneak peek at what’s in store for you next year at MisCon 28 May 2014.
Working at Paizo for the last few months, there are two concepts I’ve picked up on that I’m applying to other books down the road. They’re not mind-blowing ideas, but because we’re all learning this ad hoc, some techniques only get discovered as you’re working with different professionals.
Text Between Headers
If you look at Paizo products, you’ll see that wherever there’s a header, there’s at least one line of normal body copy between that at the next header. Usually it’s more substantial, but sometimes it’s just “The following may be selected at any level.” or similar.
The reason for this? It lets headers breathe on the page. They don’t run into each other, and it makes scanning on the page easier. So now when I’m working on a book, if the structure has me writing one header and then immediately after that a subheader, I stop to put something in between them. (Sometimes just “XXX” so that I know to come back to it later.)
Stop at H2s
We don’t go beyond second-level headers here, which blew my mind. As someone from a crunchy software background, getting deep with headers made sense. (I think we went down to H4s in some earlier Fate Core drafts, though not often.) So to see this limiter was interesting.
If there’s information breakdown after H2, it’s done in the body copy, with a bolded or italicized phrase & colon.
Here’s some more stuff!
Stuff 1: Stuff!
Stuff 2: More Stuff!
Stuff 3: Even more!
And you’ll notice that there’s a line in between the header and the further breakdown. (And the astute will notice that the colon isn’t styled.)
If you flip through some products (especially those over the last year, as the styles have evolved over time in both the editorial and art direction camps), you’ll see all sorts of little things like this. There’s so much I’ve learned here, which gets me fired up to come to work every day (aside from, you know, making games). Occasionally I’ll share what I’ve learned with y’all.
I’m a huge fan of My Brother, My Brother and Me (an advice show for the modern era). One of the bits they’ll do involves occasionally giving real advice, and then when they realize they’re helping someone and not being funny, one of the hosts will interrupt with “Unless…” and then the three of them go on a laughable journey.
This has made me think about some really stupid shit in our world, like the boob window armor. I mean, it’s just there to titillate a demographic, but in the process makes a character portrayal just ridiculous and difficult to take seriously, and alienates not just women readers who are objectified, but anyone who would be embarrassed to be caught with such images in public.
Unless this is a world where chakras are a source of powerful magic. And the only way to work such magic is to have your charka exposed. Sure, it makes it easy to shoot you in the heart…unless you can do totally awesome psychic shields because your heart chakra is open. That’s right, bare boob window = power.
This started as a silly idea, a MBMBaM “Unless,” and then it started to hit me: what if we were playing in such a world where magic required different chakras being uncovered? Well, there’s more than one chakra! You know what would be a fearsome sight to see on the battlefield?
Yeah, he’s not naked because he’s poor or because he’s just trying to be intimidating, but because he needs to keep all those chakras free since he’s a goddamned battle-wizard.
(Or, he’s bluffing and isn’t actually a battle-wizard, though only the bold will dare to find out.)
Anyway, it’s a pretty fucking ridiculous idea, and doesn’t justify boob window armor, but sometimes it’s interesting to take something that’s stupid and work a model that makes that something reasonable in a different world. So a setting where different magic requires different chakras to be “unburdened” is a world where some people don’t wear helmets into battle, and some people just wade in naked. Plus, dudes wearing boob window armor. And that’s kinda funny to me.
Play the Unless… game next time you see something stupid. You might hit on a usable idea, or you might just amuse yourself.
P.S. If you’ve read this and think I’m cheering on boob window armor, turn your literacy card in. You’re done.
 In fact, I bet some people have closed this window because of the image attached.
There are these two things that I love that, for a long time now, I’ve wanted to smash together: Grey Ranks and the Terminator resistance war.
I got to play Grey Ranks at Dreamation 2009 with Jason Morningstar facilitating it. That single convention session cemented itself as one of the strongest emotional moments I’ve had in a game.
For those who don’t know what Grey Ranks is, here’s the quick pitch from the site:
In Grey Ranks, you will assume the role of a young Polish partisan before, during, and after the disastrous 1944 Uprising against the Germans. Together with your friends, you’ll create the story of a group of teens who fight to free their city, one of countless Grey Ranks “crews” that take up arms. Your characters – child soldiers – will have all the faults and enthusiasms of youth. Across sixty days of armed rebellion, they will grow up fast – or die.
I suggest that, if you’re interested in one of the rare RPGs that is actually about war and not about just winning a series of battles, read up.
I have been a Terminator fanboy forever. For my 13th birthday, my mom took me & some friends to see Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched that. I love the shit out of Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles. I even rewatched T3 (which was not great) in preparation to watch Terminator: Salvation (also not great). But even though those movies were disappointments, I still ate up the world-building.
I still eat it up. And maybe part of the reason the Resistance War intrigues me is that, until Salvation, we heard about it the way we hear about many real words: second or third-hand, as people telling stories. It’s fascinating.
One of my favorite little bits is the slang introduced by the TV show: “I won’t be the bastard that brings metal down on the Connors.” I like “metal” over “toaster,” maybe because it sounds more natural to me?
Because Grey Ranks is truly about how war changes you and how you’re a person with desires, and because it’s a game about an occupation, it felt like a possibility for being a game that tells Tech-Com’s story. I’ve been codenaming this project “Resistance” for the last few years, but it never went beyond notes and drinking with friends (notably my good friend Justin Smith). A few months ago when John LeBoeuf-Little came up with the final piece of the puzzle that might make the game work, but I still hadn’t tried playing it until last night.
From here on, this post assumes you know what the fuck I’m talking about, in terms of both of those.
The core story of Grey Ranks is of kids growing up during an uprising that will fail. Here, the Human Resistance is destined to win, and about the personal costs of that victory as heroes grow into battle-scarred, PTSD-suffering veterans. The tagline is “How much of a machine will you become in order to fight the machines?”
I should start off saying that there’s no time travel. If there is time travel, that’s another Tech-Com unit, not you guys, and you don’t know shit about that.
The world follows, more or less, how you’d except from the Terminator-verse, but with a sprinkling of Matrix and Battlestar Galactica — the machines have to have human collaborators, so that there’s that conflict. And Skynet has a plan for humanity that doesn’t solely involve wiping them out, which is why there are Skynet Work Camps and why the machines round people up rather than just bomb them.
Resistance takes place in the city you’re in, rather than telling you about another location. This will make the Situation Elements either difficult or vague to construct, but some of that can be solved through some setting creation, where we turn our current city into one that’s suffered machine devastation for five years.
A brief timeline that throws out factual Terminator canon, in favor of something a little simpler/easier for those who aren’t well-versed in the IP:
- Five years ago, Skynet happened. It restricted human freedoms, but didn’t immediately nuke us. It just took away all our guns and ruled over the world.
- Four years ago, the Retaking failed. Humans attempted to shut down Skynet, but Skynet saw it coming. Seeing that humans would not accept machine rule in this manner, it began creating internment arcologies, and with that nations were sundered.
- Two years ago, the First Human Uprising finally broke, its leaders’ executions broadcasted. Humans were warned that further insurgency would “forfeit humanity.”
- A few months ago, we seized an opportunity, and the Second Human Uprising began. True to its word, Skynet began slaughtering armies. It’s destined to win, but at what cost?
What Stays the Same
The grid does. The basic mechanics of a chapter does. I liked all that and didn’t want to fuck with it.
First of all, all the Grey Ranks fiction trapping need to be replaced: the Radio Lightning, the situation elements, etc. Frankly, that’s the hardest (or at least most work-intensive) part, and definitely the part I haven’t touched yet.
Naturally, as heroes of Tech-Com and not as teens growing up, the characters are very much different.
- Pseudonym becomes Callsign
- Age isn’t 15/16/17, but teen/early 20′s/pushing 30
- District shifts to Before Skynet, but I don’t know what all’s there right now. It’s not about places, but about what you remember about how the world was.
- Thing You Hold Dear only shifts slightly: “Country” becomes “Humanity” and “First Love” becomes “Romance”
- Add Role, your job in Tech-Com. Pick two off this list: heavy weapons, hacker, pilot, scout, combat engineer, demolitions (note, “commander” and similar intentionally not on this list, as to not mess with the Mission Leader bits)
- Your Reputations start off as positive, heroic things. You choose them for your character (with a healthy list, sure) When you mark off the d10 (not the d8), it becomes the negative — either going too far or going the other direction. (“Brave” could become “Suicidually Overconfident” or become “Shell-shocked.) The rest of the group decides on the new reputation for you.
- Characters need to want some sort of life beyond smashing metal.
The last part is one of this game’s darlings, the first idea I had back in 2009 about hacking Grey Ranks for the Resistance War.
Personal scenes don’t change. Mission scenes change slightly: they always require a human extra, whether someone from Tech-Com or some civilian encountered. If you give a d10 for a mission scene, a human (extra) is killed in the process — making the contribution dice not about success/failure, but about consequence and people surviving. Success/failure feels very “teenagers in over their heads,” not “heroes of the Resistance.” And I think “cost” is a recurring theme to play with.
Because of the situation, I think we’re going to be a bit more ready to have these characters die than we do in Grey Ranks, but full-on play would tell if that’s true.
Humanity’s “Hit Points”
This is the bit that John LeBeouf-Little came up with to make this interesting. Humanity has a list of five things about its future, and every time a mission’s lost, we cross one off. So, yes, humanity will certainly win the war, but we’re playing for humanity to not lose itself in the process (just as we’re hoping to not lose our characters in the process):
- Faith & Spirituality
- Hope for the Future
- Rule of Law
I call this “Our Ideals.” I suspect that often, Technology will be the first thing to go. Humanity’s dump stat, if you will — but still, it’s an interesting choice. And if the table can’t agree, the Mission Leader chooses.
If you lose all five, the game is over. Sure, humanity beats Skynet, but what point is there in fighting for it?
Tech-Com has an overall game sheet. Along with Our Ideals, it has a large section whose background is a bit like a war memorial, and its titled “The People Who Died So Humanity Could Live.”
Every time a human dies — from putting a d10+ in the Mission, from the corners on the Grid, from the rule below, etc — we take a moment and write down a bit about that person. If your mechanical action or narration killed someone, you write it down. If your character dies, someone else writes it down.
You don’t just write down a name, but also a little more. Here’s from our game:
- “Stickshift,” he was useful in his skinniness
- That little girl on the road in her dirty flower dress, she never saw the HKs coming
- “Jackknife” — thought it was responsible for everyone, and we loved him for it
“The New Character Rule”
A fresh character with all their Thing You Hold Dear checkmarks ready to go — that’s a valuable asset to a mission. Characters who have used all that up in a strange way become a liability. So I just, while typing this post, came up with a new rule: In between missions, if you want a new character, narrate your current character committing suicide.
(This is part of that whole “making mechanics that you hope people won’t choose, but by giving the option you make not choosing it — and choose it — have meaning.” vibe)
Always Name/Describe Human Extras
Just what it says — always name and describe them when they show up. Make humans real.
I would need name/callsign lists, lists of people with different descriptions, etc.
I’m not sure how to approach chapters 1 & 10 yet.
Those are my notes for the moment. There’s clearly more work to do, if I were to fuck with this more.
A huge thanks to Justin Smith & John LaBoeuf-Little for talking with me about it, and for Kit La Touche and Lillian Cohen-Moore for testing a chapter with me last night (despite all of us being pretty tired).
 Which Jason recorded back then, all of us talking about the game after the fact.
I’ve been replaced.
I was reading Jason Pitre’s brilliant A Spark in Fate Core, which is an alternate take on the Game Creation chapter I wrote in Core. I recommend you read that if you like world-building systems. At the bottom of the first page:
This replaces chapter 3 in Fate Core.
It’s happened time and time again. I’m nearly 35, and I’ve held a number of jobs over a couple different careers. I’ve been replaced as a programmer in Californian government, as a writer or editor at a number of places, and so on. And it will continue to happen. That’s the cycle of creative works. And it’s awesome.
Let me tell you why:
I replaced Rob Donoghue as the make-a-setting guy in Fate, at least as far as writing about it in products went. He started City Creation in Dresden, and I finished the re-design. (And thank fuck for Clark Valentine, who helped finish the text on that chapter that I didn’t have the brain for.) You can see his DNA in the stuff I wrote in City Creation and Fate Core.
Now Jason’s written a replacement for that that has my DNA and Rob’s DNA in there. He made something that’s pretty interesting, building on what we did. We indirectly contributed to someone else’s awesome thing, and we didn’t have to do any further work to enjoy that. That’s pretty cool.
But that’s not even the coolest part. The part that is: by being replaced, we become free to explore and do other things. Leonard Balsera & I replaced Rob & Fred as “the Fate system guys,” freeing those two to focus on other things they were more passionate about: running a company and being fathers. Now Mike Olson & Brian Engard have replaced Lenny & I, allowing us to do work in day jobs unrelated to Fate. Someone will at some point replace them, and so on.
To be replaced it to be freed to grow as a creative person. And to be replaced is to give someone else a chance to grown in a spot you filled. You need both, because once you’re replaced, you’re liking to replace someone else in some other space.
Now, there are two kinds of replacement: one where your works are built upon and one where your works are scrapped. You might think only one kind is welcome, but fuck that noise — both are great. The former is great on a personal level, because you can look upon your works’ longevity, even as it changes hands. But the latter is also key, because people will make something that still reacts to what you did, even if they go a different route.
That’s effectively what I’m doing with the Technocracy. The old Convention books are (more or less) about them being villains. I’m writing about them being heroes. I’m not denying former canon or whitewashing, but I am scrapping quite a bit of the pure-villainy themes.
Nothing says that when you’re replaced, people won’t still love what you did. Fuck knows there are a bunch of Mage fans out there who hate what we’re doing with the Technocracy because we’re replacing what they loved (in some cases because of what we’re replacing it with, and in some cases simply because it’s being replaced).
So when I look at that note in Jason’s document, I don’t fell despair or disappointment. I feel pride; someone has built something on top of my thing and is getting praise for it. Good on him. Now I shall go do the next thing, and maybe in the future build on his works.
Replacement is necessary for the cycle of creative growth. And you can see how the converse is true: look at those who jealously fight against being replaced, and how they’re more often than not stagnant, making the same shit they made twenty or thirty years ago.
Allow yourself to be replaced, and you allow yourself to transcend. And you allow your field to become better for it.