Posts Tagged ‘Role playing games’

Iteration and progression in games: Progressive/ Entropic games.

Last time, I took a look at some games that have iteration as a core part of their gameplay. Today, I’ve set myself a task that is both easier and more difficult: Finding games that continuously progress or “decay” without returning to the same game state.

This is an easier task, because almost all games have development built into them. I mentioned poker as an iterative game yesterday – but while it iterates, it will also be progressing towards a conclusion: bankrupting all players except for one. At the same time, this is a more difficult task, because I want to find games that have almost no iteration at all, and that is a relatively rare phenomenon.

I’ve called this post “progressive/entropic games”. But while they are similar, I would say that entropy and progression are two different things:

  • Entropy is a term in physics describing the principle that all things in the universe are slowly devolving into heat (put very, very bluntly – I’m using this term for my purposes). More generally, I would determine it as “things decaying on their own”. In game terms, I define entropy as mechanisms within the game that will drive the players away from the starting position, often slowly moving the game towards a conclusion. A turn counter is perhaps the bluntest form of entropy. The pile running out is another form of entropy: no matter how well you are doing, the pile is going to end at some point, and the game is going to end.
  • Progress, meanwhile, means development, maybe towards some kind of goal. If you are constructing buildings that give you more resources, you are progressing. If you are moving towards your goal in a racing game, you are progressing.

Both of these can be reversible or irreversible. I would say that entropy is very often irreversible. Many games have built in mechanisms to make sure the game does not go on indefinitely – and indeed, quite a few games could have benefited from that kind of mechanism. Progress can be either, sometimes in the same game. Take Munchkin – killing monsters in Munchkin gains you loot and levels, both of which are examples of progress. If you die, you lose your loot (so that progress was reversible) but keep your levels (so that was irreversible progress).

And so, without any more ado, a few games that, to my mind, are progressive and/or entropic.

Tic-Tac-Toe

When I played this game as a kid, I seem to remember a game with three little circles and three little crosses that could be moved around on the board. But when playing on paper, you draw your symbol on the paper and don’t erase it. In other words, the game will never take more than nine rounds. After nine rounds, the grid will be full, and you can’t play anymore. A very clear example of irreversible entropy.

Chess

Chess is another great example of entropic gameplay, and also one in which the entropy can also be progression. From the first time a pawn is moved, the board will never look the same again, as you can never move a pawn backwards. Soon, pieces will be captured, leaving both players with fewer and fewer pieces.

As a matter of fact, I seem to recall that there is a rule in chess that states that if the same board position occurs a certain number of times, the game ends in a draw. In other words, any player hoping to win the game must drive towards a resolution. Progress or die!

Settlers of Catan

I’ll be honest – I’m not a big fan of Settlers. It is, however, a very good example of a game that progresses. Every time you build a settlement or a city, you will gain more resources (as you will have one more space to harvest from). And as settlements and cities gain you points, you are also driving towards the 10 points that close the game. This is an example of irreversible progress: once something is built, it is not taken off the board again.

Warhammer

I used to play Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and I dabbled in Warhammer 40k. In both games, once you’ve set up your figures, there’s no going back. Moving back takes such a long time, your only sensible move is almost always to go forward, towards the enemy. And once you start fighting, your army starts slowly deflating. The game, then, is about making sure the other player expends all of his resources before you can expend yours. And of course, many of the scenarios you will be playing also have turn counters build into them.

Red Dragon Inn

One thing I’ve always admired about Red Dragon Inn is the way the game is designed to end. There are two ways to lose the game: run out of money (as symbolised by cardboard coins), or have your alcohol content meet your fortitude (represented by a clear and a red stone, starting at opposite ends of the same track). You gain alcohol almost every turn, and lose fortitude regularly through cards played on you. Fortitude can often be regained as the game progresses, but it’s almost impossible to get rid of alcohol content once you get it. As such, you will eventually pass out.

Meanwhile, money is more of a fluent resource that can change hands quite often. There are a number of ways money leaves the game completely: many cards will do it, like having “the wench” take away the pot of a round of gambling. Also, whenever the drinks deck is empty, everybody pays to have the deck reshuffled. And when somebody passes out, at least half of their money will go to the inn. As such, there will be fewer and fewer coins to go around. This means that somebody will eventually run out of money, unless everyone passes out first.

Now the genius of this game is that each character in the game has one or more strengths. Some are good at gaining money, some are good at dealing damage, while others are good at avoiding getting alcohol. As such it will often be a matter of having enough of one resource while trying to protect the other resource. In a way, this feels like progress – while it really is entropy.

Geiger Counter

The story-game Geiger Counter contains two inbuilt countdown mechanisms: First of all, the menace slowly increases in size until it reaches the maximum, after which it can be whittled back down. Secondly, every time someone loses a challenge, they gain a condition – a certain number of conditions and you’re out. This means that there can only be so many confrontations in the game before it ends. Either the menace gains a die or loses one, or one or more players gain a condition. This will inevitably lead to the end of the game.

Fifteen Men

Fifteen men is a Fastaval scenario about pirates. There are five players in the game, each of whom will get to play a number of characters throughout the game, until all fifteen characters have been played by someone. As such, each time somebody dies, we will be one tick closer to the end of the game.

At the same time, the game has an inbuilt compulsion to progress: at certain points, you can’t progress the game without killing someone. This seems like a double-edged sword: on the one hand, you force the players to do something they may be hesitant to do. On the other hand, if they don’t do it, the game is stuck.

Starcraft

One of the neat things about RTS-games like StarCraft, Warcraft and similar, is how the resources drive the game onwards. There is progression in the game – but you can easily be reduced to rubble. You can’t continue building indefinitely, however. Eventually, your minerals will run out or your Vespene Geyser will run out, and you will have to go find more resources. This means that any game of Starcraft (and Warcraft, and – if I remember the game correctly – Command & Conquer) will have to end, at the latest when the map has been drained of resources.

Other progressive or entropic games

  • Racing games: In racing games, you may be taking several laps –but the more you progress, the closer you get to the finish line.
  • Sid Meyer’s Civilization: in the game, you progress through research and years towards the inevitable ending of the game.
  • Bausack/Bandu: Each time someone pays gems, he’s a little closer to being broke. Each time someone puts a piece in their tower, they get a little closer to toppling their tower. Each time a tower topples, you get a little closer to ending the game.
  • Race for the Galaxy: The game ends when someone has 12 cards in their display, or when a certain number of VP have been gained.

The golden is mean

All the games above have progression as a core thing in the way the game is constructed. But very few, if any, games are completely devoid of iterations. And why should they be? The best games happen when a designer hits a perfect combination of the two. Some way the player progresses with each iteration, some way each iteration ends for another to begin.

But that’s for next time. For now: does this make sense? Is it a useful distinction to make? And do you have any great examples of entropy or progression within a game?

Advertisements

[GameChef2013] Introducing Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds

I’ve decided that I want to write a game for this year’s Game Chef competition. For those who don’t know, Game Chef is an annual competition in which you design a game within a short period of time (nine days this time – I believe it may have been a week before?). You are given a theme and a number of ingredients to include in your game. Below is a description of the game I’m planning to write – a game I’ve so far entitled “Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds”. I’ll describe how I’m using the different ingredients, and how I interpret the theme.

Outline of the game.

[Pictured: A black and white icon. A thick double-ended white arrow is in the middle of a black background, pointing up and down. In the middle of the arrow is a simple stylized icon of a person, looking toward the viewer.]

“Humanity is caught between opposing forces.” (Source: http://game-icons.net/)

The game is centred around the first thematic premise:

Humanity is caught between opposing forces, pressuring them from above and from below.

Humanity is caught between two hostile forces. From the stars the Cyber Minds have sent forth their Mainframes to capture more ground for the Synaptinet. This incursion have stirred the Hive Mothers of the Brain Bugs from their resting places within the earth, and they are now sending forth their daughters to fight the intruders.

Despite their differences, these forces have one major thing in common: their main force is not in crude physical combat, but in dominating the mental forces of their domain – and their warriors are few but strong. As such, both rely on occupying the most powerful hosts within the domain – in other words, they try to possess more powerful human hosts than their opponents. How they treat the humans in the process – well, the human hosts are just barely sentients; who cares about them !?

The game is to be an adversarial roleplaying game for five (or perhaps three) players: two Brain Bugs versus two Cyber Minds, with one “Human Host” (GM/MC/referee/common opponent). Throughout the session, the contenders try to possess the most highly ranked Humans within the community.

Creating the setting

[Pictured: A black and white icon. A thick double-ended white arrow is in the middle of a black background, pointing up and down. In the middle of the arrow is a simple stylized icon of a person, looking toward the viewer.]

“Every person in human society have someone above them and someone below them.”

The setting (and cast) is created from the second thematic premise:

“Human society is inherently hierarchical. Every human has someone above them and someone below them.”

Before each game, the participants need to create a setting. After a quick brainstorm, the players agree upon a brief description for the setting. The setting should be a place with a very clear hierarchy: a medieval village, a castle, a royal court, a university campus, an army barracks, a monastery, or so on. The participants also agree on a few aspects of the location, special things that will influence play. For instance, for each side (Brain Bug/ Cyber Mind), there will be something that will serve as an advantage (decided by the side, but the opponents may veto) and something that will serve as a hindrance (decided by the opponents, but the side may veto).

After creating the basic setting, the participants create a cast. They lay out 15 pieces of paper in a pyramid, with one piece in the top row and five in the bottom row. Each piece of paper is equal to one person in the setting. Participants now go round the table, taking turns to define one member of the cast: name the person, say who they are are in one phrase, and give them three traits – for instance, you might write “Sir Archibald, the wizened and surly captain of the Duke’s guard. Faded Strength, Old and Shrewd, Set in his Ways.” In this way, each participant will describe three characters.

Care should of course be taken to maintain a clear hierarchy, so that the cast members in the second row are clearly superior to the ones in row one, while below the ones in row three. It may be a good idea to have a cast members be somehow directly subservient to one of the the characters immediately above them. It would be a good idea to include rivalry between characters on the same level, though that may spring up during play.

I think each cast member will also be assigned three stats: Rank, Physical Capability and Mental Capability. Rank is simply their place in the pyramid (so the top card is Rank 5 while the bottom cards all are Rank 1), while Physical and Mental capability is somehow assigned by the players. I am considering having the Brain Bugs assign Physical Capability, while the Cyber Minds assign Mental Capability. Or else, each player simply divides 6 points between the two, or maybe each side has 12 numbers to assign to the characters they define.

Flow of the game

The flow of the game springs from the third thematic premise:

It is possible to move up and down in the hierachy.

This applies particularly to the Brain Bugs and the Cyber Minds: their objective is to have the highest placed Cast Members as their hosts as the game ends. This is usually obtained by jumping from host to host – however, it is also possible to move a cast member up or down in rank.

All Brain Bug and all Cyber Mind players have two “riders” that they control, plus a certain amount of resources to use during the game. Each must then decide whether to try to place one rider in a high position, or whether to place both in medium positions.

Note: I have considered whether to give each player one or two riders. I think that things might get confusing with two; on the other hand, having two riders means you are less careful with each rider, as you can afford to lose one. I might also allow brain bugs two, but give Cyber Minds better access to occupying new minds…

The game begins without the riders occupying any of the cast members. Passing round the table, each player must frame a scene in which their rider occupies a cast member. Each player can start out occupying one Rank 3 cast member and one Rank 1, or they can occupy two at Rank 2. From there on, the players frame scenes in which they either try to move from one host to another, try to gain an advantage for later, or try to hinder their opponents.

Meanwhile, the Human Host draws attention to the humanity of the Cast Members. Also, throughout the game, he tries to sow conflict between the two opponents, and to help the Cast Members discover what’s going on. The game ends when one side wins, or when the Cast becomes aware of what is going on.

Resolution Mechanic

The Resolution Mechanic follows from Thematic Premise 1. I think it’s going to be a dice-rolling mechanic, with Brain Bugs wanting to roll low, Cyber Minds wanting to roll high and humans wanting to roll in the middle.

For this purpose, each side will be adding particular dice to the dice pools. Brain Bugs add d4s, Cyber Minds add d8s and the Human Host adds d6. On all dice, Brain Bugs count results of 1 and 2 as successes. Meanwhile, the Human Host counts results of 3 and four as successes, while Cyber Minds succeeds on anything of 5 or above – except on the d4, where a result of 4 is a Cyber Mind success. Whichever side has the most successes wins the encounter, while the losers gain resources. Brain Bugs and Cyber Minds gain one die to add to another roll for each success, while the Human Host gains to add one to their Discovery track – when it reaches the end, the Cast catches wise, and the invaders will have to give the setting up for lost.

What do you think?

And that’s it, for now. Questions, suggestions and comments are more than welcome.

Seven role-playing games that changed my life pt.1

Recently, I saw that someone (Per Fischer, I think) had posted a list of the seven games he had played the most. I contemplated doing the same, but quickly gave it up. First of all, it would be very difficult to properly assess how much I played which games in my younger days. Secondly, it would not be a very interesting list, necessarily. I played a lot of certain games while I was relatively young, but they didn’t have that much of an impact on me. The list would probably include, in some order: Vampire: the Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, AD&D, D&D 3rd ed, Warhammer FRP 2nd ed, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun. But that would leave out some of the game that I haven’t played a lot, but which has meant a lot to my perception of what role-playing is, and even to the course of my life! And so, here is a list of seven role-playing games that changed my life, organized in (more or less) reverse chronology. I may well try the same with scenarios and/or board games. For some of them, I may mention some games that might almost have taken its place – but I wanted to only include seven, so I had to cut them out.

Spirit of the Century

In my world, Spirit of the Century is close to being the perfect golden mean between sleek, streamlined, mass produced, “traditional” big game company produced role-playing games and the auteurish, experimental, diamond-in-the-rough “indie” games inspired by the Forge. It is a blast to create a character in this game, and allows you to tailor the evening’s session to whoever is going to be present. It is the perfect tool to help you capture the feeling of a pulp hero story. It achieves this in three ways:

1) The book perfectly evokes the genre all the way through, so that by the time I’m through, I can’t wait to jump into adventures with two-fisted heroes like Jet Black and his friends, defeating nefarious foes like Gorilla Kahn and Doctor Methuselah.

2) The system gently, but surely, nudges me towards the kind of game it is designed for. Fate points reward players for enriching the story and providing interesting complications. Henchmen and npc rules make it easy to have the heroes fight off appropriate swarms of nefarious goons, and make the actual villain provide interesting obstacles to the heroes. The character creation rules mean that you could have Tarzan, Zorro, Allan Quartermain and Biggles in the same team – and it wouldn’t feel awkward! In fact, having one hero be a rich heir who’s a science prodigy, while another is a former war-pilot and the third is a big game hunter would make a lot of sense. Not least because…

3) The game master’s guide gives the would-be game master of a game of SotC some very simple tools to make a great game, based on the characters that are going to be in that particular session. It really has one of the best guides on how to be a GM that I have ever seen, and I would advice any new GM to read that guide, even if you have no interest in playing the actual game. It provides three very easy ways to design a story that is going to feel pulpy, based on the participating characters, and has a host of great advice. One great piece of advice that I took from the home-page, and which is good for almost any game is to make a spreadsheet showing which skills each character has, and at which level. If everybody has a skill, they want to test it. If someone has a high rank in a skill, they want to ace it. If only one person has a skill, even at a relatively low level, you can throw spotlight on them by challenging that skill. And if nobody took a skill – well, if your players aren’t interested in a particular kind of challenges, why punish them by testing it. That’s the kind of simple, useful, player-oriented advice this book is chock full off.

All in all, this game has consistently provided me with enjoyable gaming experiences. It doesn’t provide the gritty, visceral stories that might result from games like Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard or In a Wicked Age – all games that do some of what SotC also does – but the sheer ease and enjoyment of this game just puts it way ahead of them in my mind. Yes, indeed, this might actually be my favoritest role-playing game.

Mountain Witch

I still remember my first game of Mountain Witch (not that I have played it THAT much). It was at Fastaval, and I had joined an indie game introduction. I had never played an indie game before.

We were set upon by two tengu (raven spirits), when I used my “knowledge of the ancestors” (or something similar). I wanted to know how I might defeat the tengu. I looked expectantly up at the GM for an answer – and saw him looking back, equally expectant. That’s when it struck me: the answer was mine to give.

I didn’t give a very good answer. But the incident (which struck the GM – and I think it was Per Fischer, again – enough for him to recount it on The Forge) showed me the power of Story Now. I quickly acquired Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard and With Great Power…, three games I have read a lot, but unfortunately not played a lot. All three taught me a lot, though. With Great Power… was the one I most wanted to play, but unfortunately, its great ideas have not been honed enough to make a truly brilliant game. As such, I don’t think I’ve ever played a whole game of it. Dogs in the Vineyard packs a lot of punch for its short size, but the bidding mechanic of the game is difficult to do well, and can feel a little mechanic. Mountain Witch is difficult for me to properly prepare for, but is probably the best of the three.

But no matter its relative flaws and merits, Mountain Witch will forever stand as my first ever indie RPG. And those two hours alone earn it a place on this list.

Alternity

Alternity is a very peculiar game, and one that holds a special place in my heart. It was TSR’s attempt to make a game that might do for Space Opera what AD&D had done for Fantasy: provide one system that could work with a host of different worlds. While the game never gained much of a following, I think it succeeded in this mission far more than D&D ever did.

The game borrows a lot from its older brother: The d20, the six stats, the classes. But the whole feeling of the game is completely different. The game is skill based, and while levelling up makes you better at things, you don’t get that much better at resisting damage. This underlines that this is not a fighting game. But what is it?

Well, it can be many things. It is a universal science fiction game, and it is geared towards providing more or less realistic visions of a future among the stars. A number of settings came out for the game, including Star*Drive, the “main” setting of the game, and Dark Matter, an X-files inspired setting of paranormal investigation with extraterrestrials and extradimensionals and ghosts and what have we.

So why is this game on this list? Well, Alternity is a game that I never saw much outside of my own bookshelf, even though I thought it was so great. It is also one of a number of games which taught me something that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that I needed to be taught: that it is interesting to play ordinary people, that it can be fun to be weak and vulnerable…. vincible? It also taught me that Science Fiction doesn’t have to be Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator or Judge Dredd – it can also be Alien or Blade Runner, all about regular, vulnerable people in toned down surroundings.

A couple of games vied for this place: Warhammer FRP taught me the same thing about fantasy, and showed me why Dark Fantasy was great, and why it can be cool to play a rat catcher. And Call of Cthulhu taught me something similar about a more realistic setting – and it taught me that tragedy can be a blast. You can have your cake and be eaten too.

Till next time

And that’s it for now. I’ve been gushing far more than I thought I would. I’ll post the remaining four at a later time, and I’ll try to gush a bit less. Until then, please tell me what you think of these games – and do tell me which games changed your world.

 

Gameplay Fictions

I’ve got this concept in mind that I’d like to get out on “paper,” to see if it’s actually worth anything. The concept is “gameplay fiction,” and it covers contra-factual assumptions that a game makes to make the rules smoother. It is derived from the concept of “legal fictions,” assumptions that a legal system may make to make things run more smoothly. For instance, in Anglo-Saxon law, only persons may sue or be sued. But you would want to be able to sue a corporation, and a corporation might be interested in suing you! For this reason, corporations are regarded as persons in American and British law. That legal fiction is actually being used to defeat campaign contribution laws in the States: as persons have freedom of speech, and corporations are persons, you cannot inhibit their ability to take part in public debate.
Similarly, a game might construct gameplay fictions to make the game run better. Most games seem in some way to be simulations of something. Gameplay fictions occur when the system fudges the simulation.

Now, I know that all games are fictions in one way or another, and so the word may be a little odd to use. But if games, in some sense, are simulations of, say, a fantasy world, speculative future societies or entrepreneurship , then gameplay fictions are what happens when the game does something that does not correspond to the simulation.

The example that made me think of this is from the action rpg, Diablo III. From the beginning, a major part of Diablo has been the amassing of items – better and better, so you might defeat more vicious opponents.
But, particularly in Diablo II, there was a little bit of a flaw in this part of the game: whereas some classes – Barbarians and Amazons particularly – based the damage they dealt very directly on the weapons they carried, others – like the Sorceress and the Necromancer – relied far more on spells and summoned allies. This meant that it was far less obvious for them which weapon was the best for them, and the gear mattered less than the skills. Also, this was a system that encouraged sinking as many skill points as possible into a few skills.

In Diablo III, this is changed. Skill points are gone, first of all. Secondly, the gameplay fiction: all damage is based on the damage of your weapon. In other words, when my Witch Doctor throws a jar of biting spiders at her foe, summons Zombie Dogs to fight them or sends a malicious haunting spirit to harm them, how much my opponent is damaged is a product of the knife I’m carrying at that moment. In terms of in-game fiction, this makes little sense – the damage of a wizard’s fireball should depend on his mastery of arcane forces, not of the kind of sharpened metal he is carrying. It does make loads of sense in regards to the game architecture, however, making classes far more equal in their dependence on, and benefit from, loot.
Another example is the attack roll in the nWoD. In oWoD, you had one roll to hit, and then a damage roll. In the new version, you only have one. In this system, having an imprecise, hard hitting weapon is comparable to having a precise, less damaging one. In other words, a warhammer and a foil are considered to be mechanically very similar weapons.

Gameplay fictions occur in board games too, of course. For instance, in the game Dungeon lords, a troll can be used as an extra imp because they really enjoy working with the imps. You can even put trolls in the magic room (“two imps and a candlelit dinner enter – three imps emerge. It’s magic!”) – because they just love imps sooo much (euch – too much information, Dungeon Lords!).

So, that’s gameplay fiction. Do note that I am not for or against them, per se, and I think they are necessary. But one should consider where the fiction is stretched for one’s players – cause that’s where it’s weak!

So what do you think? Am I on to something? Or is it just silly talk? Can you use this concept for anything?

Rediscovering Planescape

This weekend, I visited my parents with the mission of going through those of my things that are still deposited there. Among those things were a number of roleplaying books – including some boxes of old AD&D settings. Oh, nostalgia! One of them in particular made me feel nostalgic: Planescape! The Planescape setting always struck a chord with me. The visual expression is very, very good, and apparently won it an award when the setting first came out in 1994. Apart from that, I like the feel of it. It has the same kind of “anything goes” feeling that many science fiction settings has, but with weird magic in stead of technology and science. Here, you can go straight from encountering modrons on Mechanus to chatting with Archons on Mount Celestia to being killed by the Lady of Pain in Sigil.

There’s also a great intellectual baggage in the setting. All the Outer Planes are manifestations and metaphors for a mentality or ideology, like the structured, Lawful Neutral Clockwork Plane of Mechanus, where the plane consists of cogs, representing the lawful nature of the plane. Or the desolate Gray Wastes, representing hopelessness and depression. Part of the setting is actually that the planes will change to reflect the attitude of those in the area – and if the inhabitants of a certain area of a plane start to think more like they do on a different plane, that place will move to that other plane.

This makes ideology and philosophy very important in Planescape – and of course that means that people take it seriously. Which again  means that several “factions” exist, particularly in Sigil, trying to promote their view of the world. And which faction you join will affect you greatly.

Like I’ve said, I really like Planescape. The thing I most DISlike about it, is that it is written for AD&D. I can see how it fits into D&D, but taken on it’s own, I really don’t think it is best suited for Dungeons&Dragons. It is a game that takes place on a cosmic and a personal scale at once, and where weirdness and ideology is more important than the “realism” of D&D. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly suited to an indie mentality. It can tell stories on a personal scale, of people coming to grips with their place in the cosmos and trying to find out where they belong ideologically and philosofically – in a very literal sense: Am I a person of order, at home amongst the modrons on Mechanus, do I feel most comfortable around the decay on the Quasielemental Plane of Dust, or is my home in bustling Sigil, right where people from all planes clash and mingle?
At the same time, it tells stories on a cosmic scale, of wars and intrigues spanning worlds, if not multiverses, involving gods and fiends and armies of the most alien beings imaginable.
And so, I would like to experiment with adapting some Indie games to the Planescape world. A few ideas:

In a Wicked Age: Quite obvious. You need to write an oracle fitting to the planar theme, but you already have the theme of ancient gods, strange spirits, devious fiends and mighty heroes. All you need to do is give it a gloss of planar paint.

S/Lay w/me: Similar to IaWA – you just need to make some options appropriate to Planescape. Settings such as “An abandoned world, once the home of a wicked and depraved god,” or “Regulus, the bustling yet rigidly ordered home of the Modrons.”

Fiasco: I’m sure many a Planescape playset could be made for Fiasco. How about “…in the bustling city of Sigil” or “…amongst the scheming devils of the Nine Hells”. The first could deal with members of the different factions trying to make their way in the city (or maybe people from the Prime Material Plane just arrived there), while the second deals with devils trying to rise (or fall, I guess) in the hierarchy of the Abyss.

The Shadow of Yesterday: In many ways, I think TSOY is ideally suited to a campaign set among the planes. The different Factions and alignments can be represented as Keys, and you can easily make characters of different, strange, wonderful or dangerous creatures, be it githzerai, modrons, archons or halflings. The concept of ascencion also fits well with the planar theme – becoming one with the planes, or perhaps ascending to godhood (which is actually the basis of one of the factions).

Primetime Adventures: It’s almost too easy to mention PTA – anything can be the basis of a PTA campaign, just as long as you could make a tv series about it. Some ideas could include:
“Sigil City Blues” – a series about Harmonium coppers dealing with Sensate harlots, Anarchist terrorists, stiff Guvner judges and lawyers and eager Mercykiller executioners.
“Pelor’s Angels” – A group of female adventurers, travelling around the planes to do their good god’s bidding
“Band of Baatzus” – A group of fiends are sent off to battle the Tana’ri on the desolate plains of The Gray Wastes.
Others can no doubt be found. For instance, I have a feeling that it would be possible to use Apocalypse world for something interesting here, but I know too little of Apocalypse World to say.

Antihero, FictioVal and Brast Issinn

Yesterday, I sent the text for Antihero to the scenario team at Fastaval. Hoorah! That’s that bad conscience off my chest – now I can concentrate on all the others.

Like this blog. I’ve not written enough on here recently. Partially, this has had to do with me having a busy life, partially it has to do with me not really having much to say – not least because I haven’t had a lot of chances to play a lot of roleplaying games.
The first is a matter of priority, the second is a matter of making sure I’m challenged. For this reason, I’ve invented a form for myself: FictioVal, a fictional, non existent, con, for which I’ll be writing previews for scenarios that don’t exist. Of course, some might come into existence if I like them enough (or you can either ask me to write your favorite, or ask for permission to write it yourself). Some are going to be serious, some will be tongue in cheek or satirical. Quite a few are likely to be somewhere in between.
The first such preview is already written; the second is right here:
Brast íssinn

Ragnhildar looked up from the pot. The smoke in her face had made her eyes water. Or was it something else? Hálfdan wasn’t sure. He looked down. He heard the hut creak under the strain of the wind. He’d go out and feel the wind on his face, but he knew the wind carried rain, and that even a small gust would sting and freeze his skin. He looked up, and Ragnhildar caught his eye. Her mouth was tense. She narrowed her eyes. He stood up and went out.

Olav took another step. He liked being on the ice. The ice was nice. Smooth and hard.
He took another step. Suddenly, the ice creaked loudly. Olav let out a little cry. He felt the ice move underneath.

Life in the village is good in summer. The food is plenty, the men go raiding and the children play outside. In winter, the food is scarce, and both men and children stay at home, shielding from the cold and the wind. Children grow bored, men grow restless, women grow irritable. And until the melting ice announces spring, everyone in the village must tread lightly or risk shattering the fragile peace.

Brast Ísinn is a jeepform scenario about little irritations accumulating during the long winter. A scenario about keeping your cool. About treading carefully.

Heureka! I’ve got it!

A subject for this blog – and a name for it,  apart from just boring “Elias’ blog.”

My problem was, that when I was thinking about what I wanted to fill this blog with, I was imagining just about everything: Rolplaying, writing, computer games, film, literature, maybe a bit of journalism, a dash of philosophy, let simmer a few years and you get… nothing. Just a random collection of thoughts. But then I realized that there is a red thread running through almost all the things I do: they have to do with stories and storytelling.

The kind of storytelling that I spend most time on is Roleplaying. The fantastic thing about storytelling is excactly that you create a story together, a story which is more real, more living, than if a single one of you were to have written it. This is my measure of a good roleplaying game: I don’t care about realism, and immersion usually leaves me luke warm – but a game that helps us tell a magnificent story wins my heart every day.

Another kind of storytelling is of course the more standard kinds of storytelling, with a clearcut storyteller and a definite audience. Today, this is ususally films and books, both of which I love and have far less time for than I’d like. But from my mother, I inherited another kind of storytelling: storytelling! The kind where you tell a story to a captive audience, telling a story, written in advance by you or someone else, yet not read aloud, but told, adapted to fit the teller and the listener; gesturing and acting, but never leaving the role of the storyteller. This kind of story flourished in hundreds and thousands of years in a largely ilitterate world. Today, though, it has dwindled, now being mostly the province of professionals.

Journalism, between Truth and Story
Journalism is of course also, in its nature, about storytelling. In fact, it lies in the language of journalism: the greatest treasure of a journalist, his preciousss, is his story. A journalist is like a prospector, panning the rushing streams of leads and information for the telltale gleam of pure, twentyfour karats STORY.

This is kind of ironic, though. A story is, in its nature, not true. It may be based on truth – but it is told, cutting out, colouring, highlighting the climax. Yet one of the the virtues of a journalist is his “truthfulness.” His articles should be True, not adding anything to the Truth, not at all embellishing, but only what is actually there, in his research. A journalist is expected, at the same time, to tell a riveting exciting story that draws in his reader, and tell his story as objectively as not humanly possible. Oh, the paradox (and the Humanity, obviously – journalism certainly has its Hindenburgs from time to time).

Interactive stories
Another kind of storytelling I’m rather fond of, is the kind I can interteract with and control to a certain degree; I am, of course, talking about video games. To me, the game’s story is absolutely crucial. I have a friend who loves games like Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings. To him, a game should be simulator; he knows nothing better than micromanaging an entire country, practically in realtime, through the World Wars or the Crusades. Iam quite different. I tried Crusader Kings, but quickly grew bored with it. Give me a good adventure game, on the other hand… I replayed Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri several times, because they have managed to infuse the game with a brilliant story, told through voice clips, videos and fragments of text.

So… Filemonia?
In short, storytelling is my game. It’s what I know, what I do, what I like. And thus, I’m going to be telling the world that this is a blog about storytelling.

So, why the title, “Filemonia”? Well, gather around, now, and I’ll tell you the story. The first time I told stories (that is, did actual storytelling), I told the Norwegian fairy tale, Tatterhood, as well as a Danish folk tale. Now, Tatterhood is my mother’s signature tale and a story of female empowerment, and the other had a cumbersome title in Danish.

The next time, however, the first time I actually spent a lot of time preparing myself for the storytelling, I told two brilliant tales by Michael Ende. The first was “the Dreameater,” a fabulous little tale of the King of Sleepland, who goes on a quest to find a cure for his princess’s terrible nightmares, and return with a verse that summons the Dreameater, who arrives to eat all the nightmares. A nice tale, which I actually considered for the title of the blog. The other, however…

The other Ende tale was one called Philemon Faltenreich (Philemon rich-on-folds), about an elephant, standing on the bank of the Holy River. However, a group of flies decide to play a football match against Filemon, but he never notices. Now, Filemon was perfect for several reasons. It is a good little story, probably my favorite. The word – Filemonia – is nice, and sounds a bit like both philosophy and harmony. And finally, Filemon is a philosopher, and an  elephant, just like me (please, don’t ask me why I am an elphant – just take my word for it).

And thus, I got this show well and truly under way. Hope you will find it interesting, though provoking, entertaining, worth returning to, worth reading and worth commenting.