Introduction to Daydreaming

category-daydreamingDaydreaming is a new, occasional column where I get to lament that there are too many games and not enough time. It’s to give me the opportunity to discuss games that I love, but will probably never get a chance to run or play. Sometimes it’s a matter of the demands of life and commitments to the campaigns I’m already in that keep me from getting around to it. Sometimes it’s that I love the game, but I can’t find enough other people who share that passion to form a group. So these games sit on my shelf, on in a folder on my hard drive, and beckon to me, with unrequited promises of fun and creative expression.

It will also give me a chance to talk about other people’s games. As much as it probably makes good business sense to only talk about Asparagus Jumpsuit releases all day, every day, the truth is that there are good games out there that spark my imagination, and are so good that they deserve a plug. So once in a while, at least, I can take a break and encourage you to go spend your money somewhere else. And who knows, some of the things I write about here might somehow end up as future Aparagus Jumpsuit releases.

Campaign Design: Using Magna Cartas

campaign design logoIn the book No Plot? No Problem!, the bible of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), author Chris Baty introduces a writing tool he refers to as a magna carta. It’s a list, actually two lists, that you create detailing what you like and dislike about the sort of project you’re working on. Using his example of a novel, you think about the sorts of things you enjoy reading, why you enjoy reading them, and the things you want to be sure to include in your own novel. You then create a second list of things that you dislike, which you want to avoid doing in your own novel.

After spending some time thinking about these lists and writing them down, you end up with a pretty solid guidebook on what you want to accomplish. You can refer back to it as you write, and add or alter it as you come up with new ideas or your clarify the meaning of the things you added to your lists. I’ve been using magna cartas for all sorts of writing projects for years now, ever since I discovered the book and NaNoWriMo. I’ve adapted it for use with campaign design as well.

When I’m putting together a campaign, I start with a magna carta dealing with the game system. What do I like about the rules, and what do I think they handle really well? This gives me an idea of the types of encounters and challenges I’m most likely to put the characters up against. On the negative list, I write down the things that they system doesn’t do, or do very well. These become the things to avoid. If the system is geared toward combat, but doesn’t handle social skills very well, I know that I’m going to be best served running something with lots of action and fight scenes, rather than trying to make it work for courtly intrigue.

Next, I look at the setting and the overall genre the setting represents. What do I like in the setting as written? What genre tropes are already in there, and what other tropes will fit in nicely? Are there metaplots or locations that grab me, that I want to play around with? On the negative list, what’s in there that doesn’t interest me, bores me, or, to be honest, strikes me as ill-conceived or just plain stupid? That’s the stuff I don’t want to touch. When I’ve got it all together, I have an idea of what I, as the gamemaster, want from the campaign.

Finally, I sit down with the players and brainstorm what they want to see, and what they don’t. We make a group magna carta. I often have a copy of Robin’s Law of Good Gamemastering along as well, so I can suss out what sorts of players they are and what will give them the sort of experience they’re seeking. This doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want. If one player loves dungeon crawls and another hates them, it just tells me that I need to strike a balance, as well as dig deeper. What about the dungeon crawl does one player love, and can I incorporate that element into a different environment? What does the other player hate, and can I conceive of a dungeon crawl that leaves that bit out to make it less of a dealbreaker?

In the end, magna cartas help me to design the best possible campaign to everyone. By focusing on what all the players and I can agree on, we’ll all get the most satisfaction. If it occasionally strays into an area that one player doesn’t like, they’ll know it’s temporary, or there’s enough that they like about th game to balance out the odd bit they don’t. You can’t please everyone all the time, but with magna cartas, you can create something that will satisfy everyone most of the time.

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!

Creating Better Worlds

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