5-Star Review for Fate+Fiction: Semper Fidelis

FF-SEMPERFIDELISstar“This is extremely thought provoking… and what really makes you think is not the overt concept of a piece of fiction and the role-playing snippets you can extract from it, but the underlying thought-processes of how to look at something you read and glean it clean for role-playing ideas.” Thanks Megan!

You can read the whole review and download Fate+Fiction: Semper Fidelis at this link!

5-Star Rating for Fate+Fiction: Black Dreams and Other Bad Juju

ff anthology1“I liked these stories and I really dig the idea behind this product. It does what it sets out to do – it gives me fodder for my imagination and gets me thinking about games. It’s equally useful for both players and GMs, since it includes story ideas and aspects both can use. It’s PWYW, so it’s absolutely worth it to download these.” Thanks, Seth!

You can read the whole review and download Fate+Fiction: Black Dreams and Other Bad Juju at this link!

Tabletop Roleplaying is Cheap Entertainment

The main reason I started playing roleplaying games, all those decades ago back in high school, was because my friend and I were broke and it didn’t cost anything. Once one of us bought a boxed set and, later, hardcover manuals, we had all we needed. Sure, as we each got some money we’d buy our own books and “modules”, but that was icing on the cake. Movies cost money. Model rocketry, miniature golf, and going to sports events cost money. Our imaginations were free.

Even before I started roleplaying, I loved comic books. But collecting them, or even reading a variety of titles on a regular basis, got expensive fast. 15 minutes of reading for 15 cents, 20 cents, a quarter added up quickly back then. 15 minutes of entertainment for $2.99 adds up even more quickly. That’s almost $12 an hour to read four comic books. Ugh. What I learned, though was that books were a better value. I could, and still can, get a used paperback novel for the price of a comic, and it would last at least a couple of hours. Even better, the library let me borrow books to read for free.

As an adult, “cheap” remains a strong reason why I’m still a roleplayer. Yes, I like supporting the industry and creators that I admire and whose work I enjoy. When I have money to spend on new games, I do. When I don’t, old games still work. I can still come up with new characters, new stories, new adventures for old games. It engages me creatively, and it costs nothing extra. If I never bought another game, game supplement, or accessory for a roleplaying game ever again, I’d still have more than enough to run adventures for the rest of my life.

Fate+Fiction: Communication Breakdown

ff anthology2Our second Fate+Fiction anthology, Communication Breakdown, is out today! It contains 5 more short stories from author Gary E. Weller: Chapters, Code of Hammurabi, Communication Breakdown, Dak Kodak, and Five Words. Each is deconstructed, and Situation and Character Aspects, as well as Consequences and Boosts, are pulled out with suggestion on how that can be used in your own Fate RPG game.

Fate+Fiction: Communication Breakdown is available at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. The price is pay-what-you-want, with a suggested donation of $5. All proceeds go toward the No Sleep ‘Til Finland fund.

Campaign Design: Set Pieces

campaign design logoIn a screenplay, a set piece is a pivotal scene in the film. Most of the time it’s a scene with a dramatic payoff, typically where some big reveal happens, a big game-changer to the plot is presented, or the main problem the characters have been faced with is resolved. It’s called a set piece because it often involves some elaborate location that’s costly to build, and requires either meticulous camera work or carefully planned special effects of stunts to pull off. Screenplays are often built about set pieces, building up to those moment in the film, and the rest of the film’s events resonating from them.

The other thing about set pieces is that, unlike other scenes, they can’t just lift right out. You can but other scenes for length, you can tweak them to make room for more commercials when they’re shown on TV, but you can’t do much to a cut scene. Without them, you lose the plot, and theoretically the best or most interesting part of the movie. They’re the scenes that get featured in the trailers and commercials. They’re the scenes that get fussed over in reviews and forum discussions. They’re the part you’re likely to remember, and cite as the reason you loved (or hated) the film.

When I wrote about finding the Middle Path in campaign design, striking a balance between railroading (the characters go where you want them to go, and they have few or no choices in the matter) and an open sandbox (characters go wherever they feel like, and it’s up to the gamemaster to try to keep up), I had set pieces in mind. They’re as close to railroading as I’m likely to get. The players can wander around the rest of the time, but they’ve got to get to the set pieces.

I recommend building your campaign around set pieces. If you’ve got the time to develop detailed maps and descriptions of each location, and choreograph fantastic fight scenes, for every encounter in your game, by all means do so. If you’re strapped for time, pick your moment. Figure out what absolutely has to happen in your big plot, whether it’s a single adventure “episode” or a big, “seasonal” story arc. Focus on putting your effort into those. Try to have at least one per game session. If other scenes and encounters fall flat, your players will still have one memorable experience, the one they’ll take home and be talking about later.

If your campaign is a journey, think of set pieces as the mandatory stops. You leave one place, you plan to visit certain sites, and you eventually end up at your destination. That’s the semi-railroading element of the Middle Path. In between, you can stop for food, fuel, and to see other things along the way they weren’t planned, and that’s okay; that’s the sandbox. And consider this: should the unplanned side-quest sandbox encounters be as big-budget exciting as the main plot? Sure, they should be fun, everything in a game should fulfill some requirements of fun, but it’s okay if the random stuff has less attention to detail. Hopefully, with grand set pieces, the characters will voluntarily follow the plot, rather than having to be railroaded into it.

Character Workbooks, Revised Wave 4

All of the Revised Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game core classes should be available NOW everywhere Asparagus Jumpsuit game aids are sold, including Paizo, RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and shop.d20pfsrd.com. This week we continue our revisions of the core class Character Workbooks with the release of Antipaladin, Alchemist, Cavalier, and Gunslinger!

Each Character Workbook guides you through character creation for that class, as well as advancement all the way through 20th level. They’re perfect for new players and time-crunched gamers who would rather just sit down with their friends and play than wade through 600-page rulebooks. Each workbook also contains links to the official Paizo Pathfinder Reference Document so you can easily look up what feats, spells, and other abilities do and how they work. A great time save for harried gamers!

Mutants & Masterminds Bundle of Holding

Mutants&Masterminds-HerosHandbookI want to take a moment and plug someone else’s stuff for a change. The great Allen Varney runs a terrific site called Bundle of Holding. It’s a sort of Woot! for tabletop roleplaying games. There’s one limited-time offer going at a time, from days to weeks, featuring a themed collection of games and accessories in PDF format. It’s not only a great way to get great stuff at an affordable price, you support the game creators by buying their stuff, and a portion of the sales go to charity!

Right now, the current Bundle of Holding features Third Edition Mutants & Masterminds swag, including the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook (the core rules), the Gamemaster’s Guide, the GM screen, and a virtual ton of adventures and pregenerated characters. Everything you need to start a superhero campaign, a value of over $70, and it can be yours for as little as a contribution of under $20.

I loved the first two editions of M&M and both played and ran it faithfully. Then the ever-present gamer’s lament (”too many games, not enough time!”) set in and I fell away. I’m looking forward to reconnect with the game, and to run it again as soon as possible. The fact that it’s published under an Open Gaming License also means there’s always the possibility of Asparagus Jumpsuit publishing some M&M-compatible material in the future.

Character Workbooks, Revised Wave 3

CW PALADINThis week we’re finishing up all of the Core Classes with the release of Paladin, Ranger, and Sorcerer! And to get a jump on the Base Classes, we’ve also released the Magus, one of the most requested Character Workbooks! They’re available now, everywhere that Asparagus Jumpsuit stuff is sold.

If you’ve previously purchased any of the Character Workbooks, you should be getting a link in a separate email where you can download the revised versions for free as they become available!

Embracing My Inner Ed Wood

Ed_Wood_photoI am the Ed Wood of game designers. I am fully aware that my passion often exceeds my talent. I know that I don’t have the budget to properly execute my vision, and that even if I did I still wouldn’t be the next Orson Wells (or Kenneth Hite, or fill in the name of the person you think sets the high bar for the industry). My production value isn’t very high. It is highly unlikely that I will ever win any awards for my work, let alone find a massive, mainstream audience for it.

And I’m okay with that.

Maybe I am tilting at windmills, but every day I get to do what I love. Most people, even other gamers, may not “get” what I’m doing, or trying to do, but those that do seem to embrace my work, and me, with appreciation, love, and support. I may not be one of the cool kids, but man, I wouldn’t trade my little circle of weirdos for anything. I have fun doing what I do, and I help other people to have fun too.

Sure, I’ve got a mission and vision statement that sets the bar pretty high, and proclaims my aspirations to create Art. That means that I’ll keep doing the best I can with the limited resources I’ve got, always trying to learn, always trying to do better. It doesn’t mean I’m delusional. It means that I’m lucky, even blessed. The goal is to entertain people, and eek out a living and a life doing it. And, hopefully, end up doing a little bit better than Ed Wood did.

Why Game Balance is an Illusion

campaign design logoGame balance is an illusion. No matter how clever you are in crafting your rules so that no one can exploit them, there will be players and gamemasters that are move clever than you. Not that this sort of creative sneakiness matters. Every game group operates on an agreement, and if that agreement includes the use of house rules, minor tweaks, or ignoring certain parts of your carefully crafted, “balanced” mechanics, well, then, your efforts in that direction have pretty much been for naught.

I’m not saying that rules don’t matter. I’m saying that they’re only part of the equation. They’re not the be-all, end-all of a tabletop roleplaying game. They’re guidelines. They reveal creative possibilities so that people can craft characters and tell stories and build worlds. They create some semblance of order so that disputes can be resolved regarding the degree of success or failure around any particular action. They’re the foundation, but they’re not the whole house.

Game balance comes from people and, more specifically, from the gamemaster. It’s not about making sure that no player character is objectively more powerful than any other character. It’s not about making sure that every single character, character class, character archetype has the exact same number of abilities so that no one can cry that one player character gets more toys than another. I’ve seen a lot of game design leaning in that direction lately, and I don’t agree with it, for a couple of reasons.

I grew up reading reprints of Doc Savage pulp novels. Clark Savage, Jr. was obviously the star of the series, and he was a physical and mental marvel, but he wasn’t the only character in the book. He had a supporting cast, and they were all interesting characters with their own special abilities. Were they his equal? No. Were they still interesting, and important? Yes. I also read superhero team books growing up. Is Hawkeye the equal of Thor, in terms of power? No. Is Aquaman playing on the same level as Superman, or even Batman? Of course not. Do they all still get to be in the “adventuring parties” of the Avengers and the Justice League, respectively? Yes, they do.

Allow me to keep hammering this point. I love ensemble television shows. On The West Wing, are Jed Bartlett and Charlie Young equal in power on any level? No. Could they be built on the same number of points, in a roleplaying game? Of course not. You can look at any ensemble cast in any television show or movie and virtually no arguments can be made that all regular characters, regardless of genre or setting, are equal in power, whether that’s measures as physical might, intellectual prowess, or influence.

What roleplaying games do, by their nature as “games”, is violate basic rules of fiction and storytelling. We justify this with the battle cry of “balance!” and it’s crap. Pure crap. Balance comes from being sure that every character has a role and a function in the story. Balance comes from giving each character something to do that plays to that function, their background. They need things designed to play to the strengths of their abilities, and challenges designed to draw out their flaws and weaknesses not to punish them for having drawbacks, but for the characterization and story possibilities.

I’ve have variations of this conversation dozens of times,, and I get a lot of the same questions and comments over and over. No, you don’t need to make sure you have a thief in the party to deal with the traps. You don’t need to make a player who wants a different type of character play something he’s not passionate about. How do you keep balance in the party, then? Well, how about having fewer locks and traps, and more of whatever highlights the abilities that do exist in the group? Oh, the group is “fighter-heavy”. Well, but the combat challenges. But there’s no cleric, so how do they get healing? Um, NPCs, potions, local temples, magic items?

People have told me that I’m not playing the game right — it never matters what game it is — because I don’t care about party balance, rules balance, power balance. I care about every character getting an adequate turn in the spotlight, every character having something to do, every character getting to live their story. If you think that the needs to the rules, the needs of the game designer, and the needs to the game’s fan base outweigh the needs of my players, at my table, in my campaign, well, I think you’re wrong.

“Balance” isn’t something that happens by rote because the rules say so. Balance is a creative challenge. Balance is something you have to work for. Balance is work, but balance is also the reward. Balance is something you earn. And this definition, my definition, of balance, is what has made tabletop roleplaying the incredibly rewarding experience that keeps me in the hobby and coming back for more week after week, year after year.

Creating Better Worlds

%d bloggers like this: