Archive for June, 2012
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I love the Stargate franchise. I recently watched all of Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, and I’m almost done with season 8 of Stargate SG-1. In the case of SG1 & SGA, I’m rewatching — I have seen all of these before, except for the series closer of SGA.
I should warn: there will be motherfucking spoilers here.
At its heart, SG1 & SGA are pulp serials. (SGU is a very different beast — a BSG take on the universe — and I didn’t care for it for a number of reasons, so I’m not going to touch it much.) That means that, as an engine for these stories, I’d go to Fate — ideal for pulp adventures.
Fate’s fantastic for this! Look at Samantha Carter & Daniel Jackson — they’re characters with high authorial intent. In Fate terms: they have the privilege of creating broad aspects about a situation, like “Clearly this is Ancient™” or “Modified Frequency Blaster.” The high-intellect pulp characters like Doc Savage are represented well here, which SG is full of.
Setting the tone is also something one does with global aspects. “Named cast don’t actually die” is an aspect on the shows, though occasionally subverted against pretty harshly. (And then sometimes un-subverted. Hi, Carson.)
Add to that the fact that the stress system suits pulps well, the mechanics allow for different courses of action, etc., and you have something strong for SG. (And it’ll be even stronger when Fate Core comes out, for serious.)
Things about Stargate
The interesting thing about wormhole physics is how it constrains options. Matter going only one way means you can be cut off from an escape, but that there’s a maximum window means you can time an attempt to connect out. Along with that, the fact that the DHD can be moved or broken independent of the Stargate can cause all sorts of potentially stranded problems.
All of that’s crafted to introduce problems in the narrative. And that’s what we need to think about, from the perspective of the aspect “Wormhole Physics” — the ways in which the group can be compelled by that aspect.
The Goa’uld have the same hot point that the Vaylen in Iron Empires have — the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” vibe. I dug the Wraith from SGA enough, but I wouldn’t want them as my main foe. So, that enemy who can infiltrate us and take our will away, that’s juicy stuff. Add to that the Jaffa, the warriors bound to service because of their symbiotes, and you have a sense of complex motivations that can come from a people that are, 99% of the time, near-faceless mooks to fight.
Going Beyond Stargate
Here’s the thing that really drives my crank about this show: there keeps being a risk of public exposure. I want to see the world where that’s come to pass. We got a hint of one possible world when we saw Earth as a part of the Aschen Federation, although that was of Earth being effectively subjugated. Still, when I saw that episode, when I saw the firefight with Anubis over Antarctica, all of that, I was excited.
So that’s what I want. I want the world that’s five or ten years after the Stargate’s public, with a couple Earth-orbit battles in recent history. That’s the world I want to play in.
If there’s anything I’d ditch, it’s the whole “you Earthlings are too primitive” vibe that you get with some early- and mid-series episodes. From a gaming perspective, that just opens up a fucking huge can of worms, so it’s best to say “this is Earth’s level, and aside from the Big Nasty threats and the occasional distant allies that rarely show up, that’s what the world’s at, yo.”
It’s more interesting to make it a story about resources rather than about capability. The “if only we had more naquadah & trinium, we could build more ships” thing.
So, let’s take a page from the Aschen Federation episode, where humanity has advanced rapidly in ten years. We can pin part of that on other cultures who have advanced, some of that on technology left by the Ancients and discovered by humans of Earth, and some based on captured enemies. Let’s see stories about this Earth Defense Force stomping through the gate, about a hard war at times, though with many worlds that are still left untouched by that war (so that we can take a break to tell B-plot stories). Stories about what few ships our planet’s been about to build and maintain (and keep from being destroyed). All that stuff.
And let’s see how the world we know changes because of that.
(If there’s some familiarity here, that’s because Mass Effect did this, albeit later in the future and with a longer amount of time between public knowledge and game start.)
What Do You Want?
A bunch of you guys are Stargate fans. What fires you up? What would you like to see?
 Which, as a San Franciscan-in-exile, brought a couple tears to my eyes
Every now and then, I’m reminded that some writers push the “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” onto other, struggling folks. I’ve heard “You only have writer’s block if you’re boring” by writing instructors, which only serves to make people feel bad about their struggles. I’ve also heard “There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” which is a bunch of dismissive claptrap.
I’ve even heard this compared to dentistry a number of times in the past two years — I wish I could find the writer that started that meme and verbally knock some sense into that person, because that’s a load of bullshit. Writing isn’t a job purely involving diagnosis, rote tasks, and reactions. (No belittling to dentists here; I certainly couldn’t do your job, either, but it’s not the same damn thing.)
Point is, it’s better the demystify the writing process by accepting that people have problems at times rather than shame them for having those problems. So, if you want to learn how to get around writer’s block, that’s a long road and different folks had different tactics, but there are some common threads.
I, for one, used to deal with that when I was younger, in a way I now recognize as fear-based paralysis. I saw the blank page, and nothing I would write would feel as good as was in my head. The trick there is to become comfortable with acceptance — the first draft won’t be good, and that’s okay. A lesson I learned recently from Kit La Touche is that writer’s block is often about being unwilling to make a decision: “The beautiful thing about making decisions is that, once you’ve made them, you can evaluate them, and change them if need be. if you never make them, then you can’t do that.”
A couple years back, writer’s block came from neurochemical imbalance — my untreated anxiety would lock my mind up and attempting to write when I didn’t have a clear idea what to write would give me a massive headache. Once I started getting treatment, I was able to do my job again. But man, while I was in that state, being told that writer’s block didn’t exist, or that I was boring, all that shit, that just gave me cause to beat myself up. Which is why I’m keen to tell people who throw that at other writers to keep that crap to themselves. It might give you some confidence in your work, but that’s no reason to erode someone else’s.
So, friends, how do you deal with writer’s block? How do you demystify it?
This was really interesting and illuminating for me to watch live (and chime in on occasion). I wrote a bunch of notes for revising the book next week, but here are some particular bits:
- Kit told me that it was likely only Quinn would show up, and the rules don’t support solo play because I had never thought about that as a thing. So I told him a couple things to do in that case: decrease the oomph the god has, and to raise the Mythender’s Wound cost by one.
- Watching Kit go through a very different process and order of making Mythenders contrary to what’s on the outline made me think about how the text could use emphasis.
- Kit did something that I haven’t done in the last two or three years of making the game: he led with dealing with mortals rather than leading with a battle. It made me realize two things: (1) I need to think about that hard in the next couple days; (2) I need to make it clear that for tutorial purposes, you need to lead with the battle. The effects of Quinn’s character terrorizing mortals for power meant that the Tutorial’s math wouldn’t remotely match up.
- And I’ll admit that I winced quite a bit with Kit didn’t use the Tutorial battle chapter. Watching him flip through the main battle chapter to learn the battle rules & explain them did grit my teeth a little, in the “but, but, there’s a better chapter for that!” way. Luckily, Quinn already had a sense of the game, so it wasn’t breaky, but I wonder what I did wrong to not highlight enough “use the Tutorial battle the first time out.”
- That said, watching that was fascinating, because of the decisions Quinn made. And it helped me fix one of Mythender’s last minor issues that had been gnawing at me for years, and I just accepted as part of the game: what to do with unspent Lightning. Now I have a rule for that, because I saw the need and since I wasn’t playing the game right then and there, I could just hold my game design hat on. (Which is how I fixed gods a few months back.)
Now, because transparency and all that, I figure I would share the notes I wrote while watching the play. These are quickly written and meant for me as the audience, but here you go:
- Note: add a bit on the overview heart/past/fate thing on that page to say “Mythmaster, read this as-is”. And is there enough written about them as high-concept?
- Also, structure: pick all three. Then answer questions and do stuff. Don’t start & answer Heart, then pick Past.
- Kit has a comment about the Fate’s Power, if it’s static or if it’s changeable like everything else.
- Remove the Norden references in the Heart/Past/Fate.
- Add a persona worksheet, for the questions & dream.
- Consider: for a one-player game, also raise Storm base to 4.
- Weapons are “inseparable”. Kit used that word. Like it.
- “How much detail for each Weapon?” As much as is clear for you & everyone else understands. If it needs to be refined or altered in play, that’s cool.
- Mythmaster: there is no “Maybe” — Mythenders know for sure, there is no mystery.
- Interesting: Quinn wants to lure Thor out. Huh.
- Another touch stone: Skyrim?
- The adventure should start *before* meeting mortals. Dive into the action! That’s the default state. What’s it mean to start with a player’s turn?
- Put the Thunder dice changes with Corruption?
- Confusion: Fate & earning Might, clarify.
- Tutorial battle: assumes there’s no mortal stuff happening beforehand
- Mythmaster needs a cheat sheet. Also, that reminds “hey, Tutorial battle on page XX”
- Grievous Harm – note before rolling the Wound
- More solo: needs more rounds before the End.
- Decrease how many Might Einherjer and others get, since the Might recharge.
- New rule: if you have more than 20 Lightning left over the end of a battle, can create/charge a Lasting Blight you have. Can pool Lightning for that. (15 if you’re promoting a new Blight from one in this battle.)
- When making a Lasting Blight, can alter a Blight as well to make it change, like “blue flames” -> “eternal pyre”
- Tutorial also assumes that you’re launching right into battle as the first substantial thing.
I’m not involved this year, both because I’ll be pretty busy with my guest of honor duties and because, honestly, I’m really happy to have turned the show over to Rich Rogers. It’s really great to just enjoy Gen Con without spending four hours a day doing audio work — four hours during the best time of the show, while the hall’s open.
(That’s why TJI has always been a funded project — I worked around 15 hours while the hall was open each year the three years I was the main producer, and that kills time to sit and game.)
I hope you’ll consider funding it. Check out their rewards; they have some neat stuff you can get as a benefit of funding: a Bulldogs story, Mortal Coil campaign frame, Lamentations of the Flame Princess monsters, and more!
“I believe in world where we can all dream big! I believe that the power to create and publish games is in every man, woman, and child! I believe that we all have Master Plans, and I want to help you realize yours!”
Hello Masterminds! I’m Ryan Macklin, a game designer and former podcaster.
From late 2006 to mid 2010, I had a lot of fun producing a podcast focused entirely on roleplaying game design: Master Plan: the People’s Podcast about Game Design. I did some amazing interviews with game designers like Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Luke Crane, Patrick Kapera, Jason Morningstar, Daniel Solis, Emily Care Boss, and many others focusing on moments and elements of crafting roleplaying games. I had some excellent discussions on setting creation, text design, tension in mechanics, the various roles a game master has in design, all sorts of topics.
You might know me from other podcasts: The Voice of the Revolution and This Just In…From Gen Con! I’m also an award-winning game designer & one of the minds behind various Evil Hat Productions projects, including The Dresden Files RPG and the upcoming Fate Core and Don’t Hack This Game.
Master Plan was one of the original (if not the first) RPG design-centric shows. You can check out the current 54 episodes: MasterPlanPodcast.net (And once funded, that’s where you’ll find the next season.)
Now it’s time to bring this show back…
The Next Season of Master Plan
Quite a few of you have said you’d like my show to come back. And I’ve been talking with some game designers about if they’d like to be on the show…if it came back. But I can’t do it alone. Good audio production takes time & resources, thus this Kickstarter campaign!
If this Kickstarter is funded, my crack team of audiophiles (me and Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing) will get underway, interviewing and producing the next season of Master Plan.
If funded, Master Plan will get ten more episodes:
- Two interviews from the “basement tapes”—old interviews that never got to see the light of day
- Eight new shows
These episodes will be free & available to the world, just as podcasting should be.
The show’s format will expand to 45 minutes (from the original 30 minute limit), enough time to get deeper into topics and shine some light on ideas that don’t get enough illumination. Starting in August, these will come out once every two weeks (barring health issues & conventions screwing up scheduling).
Check this space in the coming days, and I’ll share confirmed guests and topics!
I’m doing this funding in two ways: NPR-style rewards and individual episode sponsorship.
At $5, you have my thanks, which will be displayed on the website.
At $15, you have my thanks, and you’ll get cool kitsch! A “What’s your Master Plan” button and “This machine realizes Master Plans” sticker, perfect for pasting on computers!
At $25, you’ll have my thanks, the button & sticker, and you’ll be a part of the Inside Scoop during the season, getting exclusive previews and stuff that I work on. Things like previews of indie games, hilarious outtakes from the show, stuff like that! Sweet stuffs that’ll high your email, and also your brain!
At $50, you’ll have my thanks, the button & sticker, the inside scoop, and an awesome limited edition dice bag from Lyndsay Peters of Dragon Chow that I hope will be a font for inspiration, as well as a kick-ass bag for your sweet, sweet goods.
At $100, you can sponsor one of the eight new episodes: you’ll get thanks at the front & back, and I’ll drop in an audio spot you provide (up to 30 seconds) in the middle. (If you don’t have such a spot, we can talk.)
At $150, you’ll have my thanks, the button, sticker, dice bag, and…a commemorative hip flask! You’ll rock the Night Macklin vibe with this.
At $500, you’ll get all the swag, and you’ll get me! Well, you’ll get some time with me over Skype or G+ for a personal design conference, where we’ll talk about your game & text design questions and struggles. You’ll get an evening of you & I (and up to three friends, if you like) waxing on design, just as if we were at a convention! And if you’d rather make this about playing a game I’ve worked on, we can do that instead. (Naturally, we’ll have to hash out scheduling. Ping me if you have questions.)
I thank all you Masterminds for your time in reading this, and hope you’ll help me realize a few more Master Plans!