We flew home to Zürich and discovered that the sky was a fantastic kind of blue, the kind of blue that goes on forever, a blue that blinds you with the summer heat! We unloaded, unpacked, and went to buy some ice-cream and walked along the lake, taking in the crowd of exhibitionists, voyeurs, street musicians, tourists, men looking for women and women looking for men looking for women, and all the others, too.
Self-publishing allows us all to publish stuff cheaply. Many authors would like to see their product to look good, however, and thus they need to pay artists, or they want the quality to be even better, so they need to pay editors and layout people. At first, people called this a pre-order. Pre-orders are just that: You order a product and pay for it. The author promises to start working on it and hopes that enough people will pre-order it to make it all worth while.
This is how Frog God Games is still selling their big books. It’s how they sold Slumbering Tsar as well as the Tome of Horrors Complete editions for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry. I have pre-ordered all three! By now I’ve received nearly all of the PDF files (some chapters of Slumbering Tsar are still missing), so things seem to be working out. Let’s hope the printed products make it across the Atlantic ocean unharmed.
Pre-order doesn’t always work out. Frog God Games is run by Bill Webb who was one of the founders of Necromancer Games. Others, with less experience, have tried to do the same thing and failed. As Jim of Lamentations of the Flame Princess says: DON’T DO PREORDERS.
I was bitten by pre-orders myself with the Razor Coast delays. The solution, apparently, is a new form of financing very similar to pre-orders. Using services like Kickstarter, customers promise to pre-order as soon as the funding goal is achieved. Thus, if the author thinks he can do it with $2000, and customers promise to pay at least that amount, then their credit cards will be charged the appropriate amount and one would hope that the project then does what it is supposed to do. But that’s in no way guaranteed.
The only benefit this system offers is that it protects everybody from unpopular projects that don’t generate enough pre-orders. Nobody gets charged when the funding goal is not met. The system does not protect customers from authors getting an awesome job. This is what happened to Nicolas Logue, author of Razor Coast.
I’m not sure what to recommend. I appreciate the ability for authors to fund their projects. I appreciate the services that automate some of the aspects of this funding process. But it doesn’t solve my main problem, namely giving me confidence in the project’s success. We as customers have to share some of the risks.
Traditionally, these two roles are separated. Authors must get venture capital from banks, friends or parents. I think I don’t like the merging of these two roles. After all, banks, friends and parents are usually better placed to get their money back eventually compared to random dudes on the Internet.
What makes this even worse is that sometimes pre-orders are basically the only way to buy the product. In the old days, if you didn’t pre-order you’d just wait for the final product and bought it then. Since authors could not accurately predict demand, they often had enough product to all risk-averse customers.
Sometimes this back-fired for authors. I remember one of the more lavish third party monster manuals for D&D 3.5 was Denizens of Avadnu by The Inner Circle. It was printed just as 4E was being announced. I saw the price fall from $39.95 to $20 to $10. It was terrible.
The physical books by Frog God Games I mentioned above are basically pre-orders only. Apparently the printers will only print in multiples of fifty, and therefore there will be between zero and 49 extra printed copies available for customers that refuse to take any risks.
And yet, it appears to be the only way to get these products made in the first place.
The Darkness Beneath is Fight On!’s community megadungeon, and I’m using it for my two Labyrinth Lord games. One of the two games has seen a lot of interaction with the upper three levels of the dungeon:
The Upper Caves connect both to the warrens and the spawning grounds. The warrens have tunnels that end in a swamp. No problem – I soon had rumors of “smelly men” and “toad men” to be heard in the town inn, shepherds needed help with their sheep being stolen during the night, and so on. The town is also by the sea shore, so I had various fishermen following the cult of the crab.
The first few sessions, there were some encounters vaguely related to the dungeon. One player’s newly bought dog was taken by a giant crab and dragged into a cave. Inside, two more giant crabs killed the priest and scared the players away. In another encounter the party was attacked while traveling through and one of the toad men broke the elf’s arm (Death and Dismemberment for the win).
A few sessions ago, however, the party decided to investigate some more and found an entrance to the warrens. There, they started talking and got a superb reaction roll. In the end, one of the characters did some cave paintings for the troglodytes. Then they heard about the king’s treasure and wanted to see him. They started realizing how big the dungeon was with pits, unsafe areas, guards, patrols, lizards, toad knights, and more. They spoke with the king and promised to take care of the crab-men.
In the meantime, the other party had organized a strike force of twenty mercenaries in order to root out the cult of the crab. They entered the spawning grounds from the sea and ended up in the cave men temple, killing practically all of the worshippers.
Thus, when the first party was led to the spawning grounds, they hardly met any cave men. No treasure, either. Instead, they met a giant, freed a mad man, killed some scavenging crabs, sold them to the giant, and so on. Finally the giant told them more about the cave men, the crab men, the boy that kidnaps cave men, and so on. They decided to retreat and heal.
This required them to find their way back through the upper caves – and nobody had drawn a map! That was very exciting.
They did manage to return to the warrens with their troglodyte allies where they rested. They were attacked by a giant badger, heard of the two remaining giant badgers, and decided to get their treasure. The plan they hatched involved cooking the first badger in its own skin in order to gain a lot of badger oil, which they then used to light a big fire and scare the remaining the badgers away. After looting the cave, they returned and found the two giant badgers attacking their troglodyte allies and fought them, too.
In short, it was awesome. They loved the waterfall flowing upwards and thought about trying to dive in. They loved the invitation to the fungus god summoning ritual and participated heartily (sponsoring it with four hundred badger sausages).
The players loved the dungeon. “I don’t want to return to town, this dungeon is much more exciting!”
I think we will be playing here for a while.
Letzten Sonntag hat mir einer meiner D&D 3.5 Spieler das Buch Wege des Meisters mitgebracht – “ein Ratgeber für erfahrene und zukünftige Spielleiter” für Das Schwarze Auge (DSA). Es habe ihm sehr geholfen, seine Abenteuer zu strukturieren und vorzubereiten und er empfehle es mir. Ich werde es mir mal anschauen!
In den achtziger Jahren, als wir noch in Portugal wohnten, war es schwierig, deutsche Spiele und Bücher zu bekommen. Ein Bekannter zeigte meiner Mutter die erste DSA Box. Meine Mutter gab mir die Box und sagte, ich solle mich mal einlesen und für Sie, ihren Bekannten, dessen Frau und ihre Pflegekinder mal das Spiel leiten. Ich war vielleicht elf oder zwölf Jahre alt.
Also setzte ich mich hin und las das Regelbuch und das Abenteuerbuch (siehe Bild). später, als ich in der Schweiz mit sechzehn ein paar Freunde zum Rollenspiel überreden konnte, habe ich immer noch diese erste DSA Box verwendet, und habe wieder den Wald ohne Wiederkehr geleitet. Wir kauften das Ausbauset mit dem zweiten Regelbuch (Geweihte!) und meinem ersten Setting, Aventurien!
Nach ein paar Monaten hat uns ein kanadischer Gastschüler dann davon überzeugt, dass AD&D das Original und sowieso viel besser sei. Also haben wir uns AD&D und kurz danach AD&D 2nd ed gekauft. Ich kaufte mir zwar noch die beiden Schwertmeisterschachteln aber gespielt haben wir sie nie. Schade, eigentlich! (“Professional” – echt!?)
So, und nach dieser langen Vorrede werde ich mir mal Wege des Meisters zu Gemüte führen. Hoffentlich gibt es dann eine kleine Rezension.
I sometimes think that every type of media has its own way of telling a story. If you watch a movie, sometimes good movies have snappy dialog, visual splendor and a soundtrack. Books, on the other hand, have a vast array of characters, multiple parallel plot lines, a lot of details. When taking a story first published as a book and turning it into a movie, one needs to pay attention to these media preferences.
As readers, we learn to experience stories in particular ways, depending on context. I expect snappy dialog in movies. If it doesn’t deliver, I’ll note.
When it comes to Fantasy books, it seems to me that the books written have changed and our expectations have similarly changed. The Conan stories by Robert E. Howard were just short stories. Other people started to write novels. Successful novels got follow-up novels and got turned into a series. As a kid, I loved the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey and the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Every book was a self-contained story. Every story shared its world with all the other stories in the series.
As I grew older, expectations changed.
I wanted a lot of value for my money and that meant that I wanted thick books. I loved books with five hundred pages and more. I loved to read more about the people and places I loved.
The market went farther than that, however. Authors started telling epic sagas that required trilogies to tell. These trilogies got extended by appending another trilogy. I’m thinking of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, for example. Sometimes, I didn’t understand how trilogy after trilogy got added after the first. Hello, David Eddings.
What had happened? Authors no longer tried to tell the story of a single protagonist. I’m not sure where this all started. Was it The Lord of the Rings? It was published as a trilogy. It featured multiple protagonists. Their respective story lines diverged. The rest of the story was told using interleaved chunks.
I loved J.R.R. Tolkien but I did not get into David Eddings. I started to read less. I just could not keep up. The turning point was reached when Robert Jordan wrote The Wheel of Time. At first, I hated it. It seemed like such a cheap Tolkien rip-off. Then I started to like it. But when I reached book six I realized that there was another problem. The author just wanted to tell too many damn stories, all at the same time. He introduced more people, more plots, more stories, and in order to tell them, he started to interleave the shrinking segments more and more until I felt that the story had hardly progressed over a thousand pages.
And then he died. Ever since Robert Jordan’s death, the phrase “pulling a Robert Jordan” has turned into a short hand for a series that just keeps on growing and one has to fear that the author won’t live long enough to tell the entire story.
I have started to notice the same ennui with A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I think I stopped around book three. There just wasn’t any progress because too many stories were being told at the same time.
Recently I discussed this with some friends after we had begun talking about A Song of Ice and Fire RPG campaign and the latest book in the series, telenovelas and TV series like Lost and Six Feet Under.
It seemed to me that my expectations had fallen out of sync with what authors were publishing. I still expected stories to be self-contained. I was expecting a climax and closure.
The market, however had moved on. It seems to me that many successful authors now expect to keep adding to their corpus for as long as they live. Instead of reading a short story, a book, a trilogy, or a ten volumes series, readers are now expected to keep on sharing a part of their reading life with the living and breathing world of their favorite author.
In a way, I don’t mind. Perhaps the same thing is true with Arthurian romance. There’s the story of the love triangle, the grail and Merlin. But if you want to, you can add Tristram and Isolde. You can add Parcival. You can focus on Morgaine Le Fay. The older versions of King Arthur’s story is in the public domain and therefore anybody can add to the whole. People can rewrite, retell, edit, merge or highlight aspects of the whole. If you are interested, you can spend a part of your life with Arthurian romance.
I am a traditionalist in many things and I find this sort of explanation soothing. Spending a part of your life with an ever growing tree of related stories is not new after all.
Comics work the same way. You can spend a part of your life with Superman or Batman. A gazillion stories are told about the various protagonists. Sometimes authors change, sometimes there is a reboot (2011 DC Universe reboot). It’s all good (unless you are talking to nerds).
Perhaps I just have these two problems:
I cannot help but wonder if A Song of Ice and Fire would be more palatable if I could just read the various plots in separate books.
Sure, the main events of the story will be revealed in the first book, but it seems that spoilers don't reduce the reader's enjoyment of a book.
Wow, this post wasn’t short at all.
I wanted to add a final, role-playing related thought: I’m suspecting that there is a similar divide in expectations when it comes to typical campaigns. In one of my games the characters can have followers (Entourage Approach). These followers can earn experience as the older characters turn into NPCs (or die), players continue playing the followers. Thus, barring a TPK, the campaign can go on forever. My wife told me so: “I could keep playing in this campaign forever!”
It wouldn’t make a good book with a climax and closure, but it obviously is a good way to spend a part of your life with an ever growing tree of related stories.
I just read about the Building a Better GM challenge over on the Hill Cantons blog:
Hm, thinking back on how other games are being run in the area, I think that first and foremost I am a good host.
When I was a teenager, a player told me that he loved my scenarios. There was always great scenery. These days, reading about Planet Algol or Vornheim, I feel humbled and don’t feel like I can claim great creativity. But I can claim something else: I improvise well.
And lastly, I am very tolerant.
So, there you have it. I am a lousy encounter builder. I don’t use terrain a lot. In fact I like my combat to be very short. I don’t like thieves, I don’t like traps. I spent a lot of time learning the D&D 3.5 rules and know them well, and yet I can’t make character builds that rock in a min-max kind of way. I rarely do funny voices, my setting is vanilla fantasy of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy sort. But the three practices that keep my games running are the following:
(The collection of all the advice given by the various participating GMs has been collected over at the Hill Cantons as a free download.)
|My games use a pre-made Map and pre scripted content.|
I do have a campaign map and I will use published adventures for particular locations on my campaign map.✎
|My games rely on a lot of Improvisation rather than pre scripted content.|
I try not to prepare more than 1h for each 4h session. Most of my preparation time consists of writing up what happened the last session and figuring out what this might lead to.✎
|I roll Dice in the open and don’t fudge the results in my games.|
I’m often to lazy to roll all dice in front of the screen but when it’s important I’ll make sure that you can see it.✎
|Players characters Death is a likely event in my games.|
It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen once in every five to ten sessions, it seems.✎
|I play By-The-Book and “rule-zero” is not being used to alter existing rules.|
I’d like to move away from playing “by the book” but I realized that what I’m doing instead is picking a simple set of rules and playing them by the book. 8-)✎
|I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game.|
I like adding stuff to the campaign that my players thought up.✎
|My games focuses on Exploration & Mystery.|
I don’t like riddles, but there’s stuff to discover on the map, there are historical events to learn about, there are locations to travel to.✎
|Players in my game should be prepared to Run when the odds are against them.|
I often place powerful foes and allies in my wilderness (elven wizards, a lammasu, a group of devils, an eye tyrant) – thus it is possible for low-level players to stumble into a beholder lair. There will be warning signs, but if my players want to fight, they can.✎
|My game focuses on Player Skill rather than character abilities.|
Sure, combat depends heavily on character abilities. Outside of combat, anything is possible such as dealing with devils even if defeating them in combat would seem nigh impossible.✎
|My games are Gonzo and can include a lot of strangeness.|
My Fantasy world has crashed space-ships.✎
|I like to explore the Underworld.|
Dungeons are cool as long as it’s not the boring variety of “sneak, listen, pick lock, smash door, fight, loot, next room…”✎
|I like to explore the Wilderness.|
I like exploring the wilderness, exploring the world.✎
|Wine, women and songs! Towns are for me!|
I like towns if they are a source of adventure with interesting NPCs to talk to. I don’t like role-playing sitting in a tavern.✎
|I enjoy Epic high fantasy!|
I don’t mind epic if the mechanics remain mundane. In D&D 3 the mechanics got too unwieldy around level 10. That turns me off. Other than that, riding dragons, saving worlds, I’d love to play it all.✎
|I enjoy gritty Pulp adventures!|
What little I saw of the Warhammer RPG I liked. Rat catcher? I’m interested.✎
There’s a biweekly indie RPG group here in Zürich. I still remember the exhilaration at the table after we played our first session of Spirit of the Century. Yesterday, there was a similar feeling at the table when we finished our session of Lady Blackbird.
The actual rules of the game fit on half a page of text, the character sheets are another half a page of text each – and thus every page you hand out to your players is their pre-generated character and the entirety of the rules. As a GM, there’s a page of flavor text, half a page with a map, and half a page with adventure ideas. I basically ran the 2½h session using copies of the character sheets and the half page of adventure ideas.
The story has hints of Firefly (something that’s not science fiction “in space”) and Star Wars (Leia, Han Solo, the boarding of ships) to inspire but it is sufficiently open ended to adapt itself to your players’ taste. I also liked the many female characters and the romantic framing story. That makes it ideal to introduce new players to it.
Or, according to the author:
I made a game package inspired by the things they like: Firefly, World of Warcraft, and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). The system is my homebrew fusion of TSOY, The Pool, and Mouse Guard. […] The PDF has a setting guide, starting situation (Poison’d style), pregen characters, and an airship data sheet. It’s presented “oracle style” with plenty of suggested bits for you to fill in as you play. – announcement on Story Games
After the game we wondered whether the simple mechanics would work just as well if we had created the starting situation and characters with their traits, keys and secrets ourselves. How important is this setup?
I think one has to be careful to stick to well know tropes in terms of mechanics, characters and initial situation. As Brand Robins said in the same thread:
John is using genre communication to get across what his games are about. Its pretty easy to see where he does this on the fictional level – drawing on tropes that those the game is for will have some familiarity with and an emotional response to. He’s also doing a similar thing on the mechanical level, where coherent bits are built out of elements across different games.
I’m definitely in the mood to try out more Lady Blackbird Hacks!
Das erinnert mich daran, dass Wege des Meisters noch immer grösstenteils ungelesen auf meinem Tisch liegt.
Christian wonders whether he’s being a Pushover and says: “I am growing weary of playing it safe. Safe bores me as a player and I am starting to feel that as a GM. […] My games are safe and the players know it. If PCs never die, why fear anything?”
I wonder. Is death in D&D and friends not simply a speed bump on the way up levels with all the resurrection magic available?
In my D&D 3.5 sandbox campaign I had deals offered by factions that knew resurrection magic (the lammasu ruling over the dwarves, the horned devil trying to break free from his cave prison, the Orcus priests, the elf druid in a village threatened by the troll king). Players could pick the kind of quest they want to embark on by picking the right faction. The resulting geas has always enriched our game.
The complications and side-tracking involved work well for a sandbox campaign. It’s trickier to do in a straight adventure path because of the extra experience points gained and because the plot itself might impose in-game time limits.
The detraction also works well in a sandbox because players have picked their own goals for their characters (the conquest of the subterranean city, the building of a tower, the finding of a planar sage). Thus, delays due to character death, resurrection and follow-up quests delay the achieving of in-game goals. Death is still something to be feared and groaned over.
|Players characters Death is a likely event in my games.|
It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen once in every five to ten sessions, it seems.
This approach doesn’t work in games where death is final. That’s something I disliked about the short-lived Rolemaster campaign I was part of: I was afraid of my character dying not just because the system was deadly but because character generation took so damn long!
For my new Labyrinth Lord game, ressurection is hard to come by. Usually characters don’t die per se, they are taken out by the Death and Dismemberment table in use. Forced to retire their characters for several weeks with broken bones, they often finish the adventure using a henchman, skip many weeks of in-game time, and resume. I usually take the liberty of advancing many of the plots by a few weeks as well. Trails are lost, new factions arrive, rivals grow stronger…
What: Egil's Saga (trad.)
When: August 24, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))
While our recent reading has been more or less contemporary, this Icelandic saga was written in the early 13th century and is set, and based on historic characters and events, between approximately 850 and 1000 A.D. A new genre for me, and I’m curious to see how it goes! For a synopsis and some background see Egils saga on Wikipedia. – Uli