This post is, in essence, a continuation to an idea I presented in the magic system thread in Majatalo. Also, the chances are I’ll be molding the magic system in Futhark into a Conceptual Magic System.
In a nutshell: instead of constructing a mechanical magic system, like in most games, where the magic is used to enhance existing mechanical concepts (+5 to hit, drop enemy unconscious, open a locked door), use a magic in a more conceptual way, like often done in fairy tales. Build a spell around a concept, like love, add an effect, limited perception for example and a condition and voilá: you’ve got yourself a spell (”the target cannot see people who are in love”).
In some stories, spells like this are a bit foreseeable, since the reader always knows that condition will be met by the end of the story. In a roleplaying game, however, the condition need not be fulfilled and it can be a considerable part of the fun to try to steer the game so that the condition will or will not be met.
The condition is a good way of preventing over-powering spells, but letting the caster choose all the components might still be giving her too much power. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to avoid to this. One might be forced to choose either the concept or the effect randomly, for example. In Futhark, using the runes might work well, whereas some games could make good use of the Tarot cards.
This approach into magic plays well with the strengths of tabletop (and to some extend, live) roleplaying games. It’s primary weakness is that it doesn’t bend well into utility magic (like fast combat spells or a light spell) and thus does not fit into all genres.
Again, another idea that will probably never develop into a full game, but I did have fun playing with this one in my head (and I know I should have kept it there).
So you’re the new recruit, eh? You’ve been through the gigs, you’ve listened to the record, you know that drummers get all the chicks. You’ve been in, but at the same time you’ve felt like an outsider. There has always been some glamour you just couldn’t put your finger on, something that distanced you from the real inner circle.
But now you’ve seen it. The uniform troops marching into the club, wielding silvery spears glowing with faint light. You’ve seen the guitars change into real axes. The flames and the battle. Now you know that ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ is not just a song – it’s an anthem. A marching hymn for the army you’ve just signed up on.
Dimebag wasn’t killed because a loony fan thought he broke up Pantera. He was another casuality in a war that has been going for years.
It’s us against them. Us – the ones baptized in the pits of the Mosh, anointed in the pounding drums and the roaring guitars – against them. The Conspiracy. They want nothing less than the world, they want to rule it and they want to rule people’s minds. They want us dull. They want us obedient. They don’t want us to think for ourselves.
And they hate the fact that we want to rock.
So grab your pint, turn up the volume. Hold your hands in the air. May the Gods of Metal guide your steps, young warrior. For the battle shall begin!
I crossed the threshold of 25 000 words today in my NaNoWriMo, which means I’m both in schedule and in the middle of the whole thing, assuming that the final length is somewhere around 50 000 words.
I’ve also managed to sneak in words like rantallion, defenstrate and verisimilitude, which definitely raise the over all quality of the text *ahem*.
At this point the novel could be described as:
A steampunkish cold war Romeo & Julia adventure story in vein of mystery thrillers like DaVinci Code (I have never read it, though) set in a fantasy world, filled with characters and dialogue copied from Josh Whedon written in a style ripped off from Neil Gaiman with bits of Terry Pratchett here and there. There’s also elves, angels and a plot twist at the end!
I think the story is going to be a bit confusing.
At this very moment I’m not very confident about the novel, but even if it’s not even fixable by serious editing, I have nevertheless written a complete (although short) novel. Something that I thought I’d never be able to do.
I think it’s still a bit too early to say what I’ve learned in the process, as those things tend to be visible only in the retrospect. Well, at least the first lesson has been that the best way to overcome a writer’s block is to write. I love it how simple that sounds.
In a Skyclad song, Martin sings:
And she showed him Salem’s Lot.
Which strikes me as a brilliant reference, as it conveys a lot of meaning in two words and nicely avoids the cliché-ridden and cumbersome vampire-doing-its-thing part. Recently, Billingsgate was mentioned Neil Gaiman’s blog and it has pretty much the same effect (assuming you know the reference, which I didn’t).
Both of these are examples of referring to a place a reader should or might know to achieve some kind of a mental effect. If done well, it conveys more meaning than a simple description and freshens up the text. The places can be iconic for some distinct incident: and the police went all Tiananmen on the students hardly needs any explaining.
One can also refer fictional places, like they gave the forest an Isengard treatment, or just refer to a place famous for something: when it came to drug policy, he was Amsterdam.
Obviously these references don’t fit in on all stories. It would be a bit anachronistic to refer to 9/11 in a story set in the reneissance or use Jerusalem in a fantasy epic set in a fictional world. Of course, another trick is to refer to an event seen earlier in the story (or in another story set in the same universe), if a king had been assasinated with a magic arrow on Oak Road, a character might refer to the incident by saying: “I think some one just pulled an Oak Road for the Duke”.
When one starts to practise a form of creating something, like writing, one starts to paying attention on the creations of others on a different level. I’ve heard this is a common phenomenon amogst those making films and that it tends to take some pleasure out of watching movies when instead of paying heed to what happens in the movie, you perceive how the movie is actually constructed, cuts, lighting and so on.
Naturally, the same goes for games, books and music also. For long, I’ve paid attention to certain constructions (both technical and contentual) in games, how their rules work and what the designer must have though when designing a certain mechanic, or what is the role of a single rule in a game. When I was playing and composing music more actively, I remember I listened to music in a different way, the songs I heard tended to break apart in riffs, sections and different instruments. I think I still do it a bit.
Now I noticed I’ve crossed the same threshold in books. Three days of active writing has pushed me over, and I will never look at a text in the same way as before. Angelic choirs. Dramatic silence.
Even though this does change the experience of reading fiction, it has its advantages. When you learn to look at a piece of art in a certain way, you learn to learn about it. This is clearly one of the best things NaNoWriMo can teach you; by forcing yourself to write actively, you instinctly start to perceive writing actively and therefore learn more about the writings of others.
Now I’ll finally get to the beef of this posting: paragraphs. What I noticed reading Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time today was that Terry writes relatively short paragraphs, usually containing from one to four sentences. I skimmed through some other books (mainly Gaiman and Miéville) and noticed that their paragraphs weren’t much longer either. Then I decided to have a look at some writings in the Rising Shadow discussion forums to see if others had the same problem as I did. I reckon they didn’t. My problem is that I write too lengthy paragraphs.
I think that the root of my problem is, actually, in the visual representation in Word, Open Office and other word processors: the lines are longer than in, say written and printed (book sized) format and it makes the paragraphs look short. From somewhere a though that Proper Paragraphs are longer has lurked into my mind.
Even if the long paragraphs are a problem all but unique to me, long sentences seem to plague most novice writers. I’ve been working on shortening my sentences, but they’re still a bit long, even on good behaviour.
So remember, kids: short good, long bad, beer foamy.
I have currently written 10,183 words of my NaNoWriMo novel and although much of the text is need of serious editing, I’m rather satisfied with the results. The plot, in a marketing friendly nutshell (you know, bright colours and big numbers with lots of bullet points) is as follows:
When Garel Maine, the soon to be Archchancellor of the University of Kathak is murdered, Alek, an aspiring university drop out and not-very-motivated journalist doesn’t really give a goblin’s buttocks. Alas, he is destined to be, if nothing else, a main character of an adventure story and is therefore flushed into the drain of events out of his control. Straight out of bed (with bed hair, obviously) he’s about the unveil the greatest con in the history of his world. And if this is not enough, some pretty pissed off people are out to get him. Adventure! Flying ships! Involuntary heroism!
The world the story is set in is one originally created to be used in a RPG campaign that never realized, as is the plot. I’m taking pains to see that it would not feel like it.
It’s three days into the project and I think the advantages of forcing myself to write are already beginning to show. For one, I’d never had set out to do a project like this without an external challenge like NaNoWriMo. Second, when to goal is solely to write a novel of 50,000 words in a month, one can forget such trivial things as self-criticism. It really helps to get things done, and even if I’m not 100% happy with the plot, it’s a real plot and not an idea that I’d never get to finishing (because I’d feel no plot is good or original enough).
What I’ve noticed in the past years is that what ever you do, it’ll seem very dull, predictable and naive to yourself. The trick is to keep doing it, show it to some people (preferably ones that you trust to give you honest feedback), see what they think and react on that . The important factor is to learn to see your own work through the eyes of others and I don’t believe that can be done without practice.
Now, I’ll go fetch me a beer. Adios.
So it has come to this. I’ve decided to broaden the scope of his blog, since most game design I do is under the NDA and I therefore can’t write about it, at least not before the games are out (which they aren’t yet, but I’ll looking into the possiblity of writing some Post Mortems in this blog). I do still have some table top RPG projects, but they’re not progressing very fast. There’s also a hobby-digital RPG project in which I participate mainly as a writer (although I’ll doubtless have my say on some game design issues also).
And writing brings forth the main reason of this change in scope: I’ve decided to participate in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which means I’ll be writing a 50,000 word novell(a) in this month, or at least the first draft of such. This means I’ll have to write approximately 1667 words per day, but knowing already that I don’t have time to write every day, it’ll mean some 2,000 to 4,000 words per day. At my current rate it’s three to five hours per day on top of work and other obligations. As you probably have already guessed, I’ll be writing about writing in the near future (first post coming after the break) and maybe about other literature related things also.
So Ropecon 2007 came and went and have to admit I had a splendid time.
The pinnacle of my event was probably Robin D. Laws, whose Q&A session justified it’s title “Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering”. His views on game mastering and game design — and even on the so-called Forge-theory — greatly conform to mine, partly because his GM tips on games such as Feng Shui. Also, his description of HeroQuest as kind of a verb economic reinstantiated my interest towards the game and I’m thinking of buying the generic version of the system (although I sceptic about whether I’ll ever have time to play it). Since I didn’t remember to take any of his games with me, I asked him to sign first existing copy of Futhark (I’m never going to wash it!) I was lucky enough to have a chat with Robin on Saturday evening (hope my drunken stupor wasn’t too overwhelming) in which he gave me good advice on Futhark.
I did buy his Fear Itself on Saturday (to which I’ll come back later when I have time to read it througly; I’m also planning a full post on Gumshoe after I get to play Esoterrorists), in addition to Mike Pohjola’s Tähti (Star: a rather innovative game about Maoist teenage mutant girl bands) and Eero Tuovinen’s Zombeja! Ovella! (Zombies! At the Door!: kind of a storytelling boardgame). I hope to write more on all of these later.
On Sunday I held (or more like attended) Game Design Event with aforementioned Eero. During the event I playtested Builders, a nice but still quite work-in-progressey card game and Futhark (more on that later too). Jussi Holopainen talked about Game Design Patterns and Ville Vuorela about why digital game designers don’t have a community like, say, roleplaying game designers do. While Ville’s points were valid and have become increasingly familiar to me lately, I don’t totally agree about the non-existence of publicly available game design knowledge. While most of the game designers can’t talk about their work or their methods, there are fortunately some exceptions, one being Chris Bateman’s excellent Only a Game -blog in which he does share both methods and (even quite detailed) information on his upcoming games.
Another thing I noticed was that while there were still many younger attendees, they weren’t as much of the anime-cosplay affinity, but dressed roleplayers. This made me feel that the hobby still has some future.
All in all, Ropecon was a positive experience yet again and this was definitely one of my best cons ever. And this was probably my indistinct post ever.