Friday, May 25, 2012

Chronicle 003: Forum Game

If you're reading this, then at one point in your gaming lifetime you've ventured into the realm of Forum Gaming, or more commonly known as Play-by-Post. The basic premise is to be allowed the opportunity to roleplay, but on slower pace. At least, that's how I've come to interpret this style of gaming.

Now I've played in only ONE PbP ever. I can't remember what forum I was on, but I, at first, was only interested in reading the posts. Which I did, and it was enticing. So after looking around I found a game in which I was excited to join. The story line escapes me, but it was a Star Wars game, which began on one of the many mining facilities known to populate the SW galaxy.

I chose to play a kid. From what I remember he was an orphan and was as white as a ghost. Very pale skin, white blonde hair, etc. and due to his demeanor, he earned the nickname Ghost. It was all very silly, but at the time I thought it was a brilliant idea.

From what I had seen in other PbPs the object of the game was for the GM(s) to start a story and then for the players to sort of take off with it, and every so often intervening to keep the game on task. So at first there was a good group of us, six or more players, and we somehow managed to escape from the mining facility. But somewhere between there and some posts later the game died. People just weren't replying. Even the GM(s) had dropped out -- actually come to think of it, after they posted the opening crawl they never posted again. I don't know what caused the desertion but I remember enjoying the game, but never went back to try another.

Fast forward maybe ten years later and the brothers in my most recent gaming group tell me about this forum they're on in which they play-by-post. It peaked my interested and I got a log-in for the site. I looked around but didn't really find anything that was catching my interest. So I talked to the brothers again expressing my interest to play, but not being able to access the site at work. (Since I work third shift at a hotel, that is where the bulk of my "down time" is, and when I would be most able to post to the forum.) The older brother then suggested finding a site to which I could access at work. And that was several months ago. Finally, when I started creating my Blogs, I decided to look for a free forum of my own to create. In the end I just chose one at random and started inviting friends to join.

The original purpose was just to game with the brothers, but I was hoping that my other friends would join and just talk about gaming. As of right now though, only six have created a user name, however, all six are in my first PbP, in which I'm the GM. So to make a long story somewhat shorter, I want to reflect on what's happening so far.

The game is set in the Star Wars galaxy some 45 years before the Battle of Yavin (the original Star Wars movie, or Episode IV for those who aren't SW savvy). This is long before the atrocities that make up Ep. I, II and III (though I still appreciate what Lucas was trying to do) had even begun. And centers on an actual event during that time period.

I chose to play off a known event because after some research I discovered that there's been little detail as to what happened during said event. The event in question is the the Republic's launch of a new fleet of starships which soon disappear and then are later discovered some 5+ years after the Battle of Endor (Ep. VI, Return of the Jedi). So my hopes are to run a game during the fleet's initial launch.

So far I'd say I'm doing admirably. Not to say I'm without error, because I know I am, but I'm getting decent responses from the players so far. However, that wasn't the case at first.

In order to get the game started I offered my own opening crawl. It wasn't anything elaborate, like in the movies, but it was hopefully enough to get the players to understand what was going on, and what was to come. Now, the typical rpg entrance is to say, "you all meet in a bar . . .", and I wasn't about to do that. So I asked for brief backgrounds for the players and then set off to write their entrances.

If you've watched the movies the characters sometimes start off on their own or are at least brought together with another character before the story drives forward. Like in Ep. 4 A New Hope, we meet Luke, who then joins with C3PO and R2D2, in which the latter brings them all  together with Obi-Wan Kenobi. That meeting then leads to meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, and then Princess Leia after that.  Which is sort of what I was aiming for for my game.

I gave each character their own entrance, but yet I divided the groups into three groups of two in hopes of eventually bringing them together. For instance, my wife (who's only ever played in two rpgs in here entire life) and the younger brother (from above) were placed together. Though they have yet to meet, they are at least near the same planet. Three posts in I still haven't gotten them together, but I'm still working on it.

Let me briefly explain the game concept before I continue. I didn't want the game to use any sort of stat. there's no Strength, no Charisma, no Use Computer check, nothing. It's all in the player's head. If there's a fight, the player (and me, the GM) determine its outcome. It's a narrative in other words. Character interaction (between each other and the environment) is what drives the story forward. At first I wasn't clear about this, but it seems like the players are getting the idea.

So far each time I post I write three paragraphs for each player. Again, trying to convey that they have options. And though there's probably an obvious answer, that option isn't always the necessary choice. Of course as GM I must railroad ... I mean, guide ... my players to their destinations, but make them feel it was their choice to go there, not mine. Unfortunately I've already failed that part, as I'm already forcing a player to submit to the certain actions to bring him and another player together. Meanwhile, I'm struggling to bring the third pair together, which makes things difficult, as I had hoped they would play their prototypical selves. But they haven't and I'm left scrounging up ideas to ultimately bring them together. Of course, in the end I hope I can bring them all together, so that they can face the final challenge as a team.

I'm enjoying the game so far though. It's great to be able to write several different story arcs, as it allows me to express my creative side. As a GM this format allows me to be flexible, which I tend to resort to railroading when playing in person (pnp). So I'm hoping that this game will provide me with a learning opportunity to improve my GMing skills. Make me think on me feet and be adaptive to an ever changing world. I want the character's to run the story eventually, and have me there to add color, flavor and some design.

As I said, I'm enjoying the game. Even my wife, is having fun. And that's just awesome! I've wanted her to play in an rpg for a while. Her first attempt was a failure, and the second time was one she easily forgot. So to have her enjoy this game makes me feel good. Although, I did have to poke at her a little to play, and have to "red ink" her posts before she sends them off, but she likes it. She said that this method of gaming really plays well with her style, being able to narrate what she wants to do without the limitations of the rules or the roll of a dice.

I hope the other players are having a good time, and hope to give regular updates as the game progresses.

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Next time on RPG: Die Harder - My Two Cents, a review of some podcasts or a podcast, or something thereabout

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chronical 002: Character Sheets Pt 2

Sorry for the long wait between chronicles, my gaming experience has been limited so I had to figure out an alternative way to play.  A friend suggested finding a forum and playing on there. So I took it a step further and created my own forum. If you haven't checked it out, here's my forum: Intergalactic. I've started my first ever adventure in this kind of venue, I hope it goes well.

I've also been listening to several podcasts, hoping to scrape together some ideas for future chronicles. RPPR and Happy Jacks are two such podcasts that I have started listening to,as I'm up to date on all Rho Pi episodes. So hopefully in the weeks to come I will have weekly blogs about what's going on in the RPG Podcast world (at least from the perspective of three different sites -- if I tried to listen to every single podcast, I would still be listening and never get to post); they all have their own twists on gaming, so I will add my two cents to what they have to say. Stay Tuned for "My Two Cents".


So what else can I say about Character sheets? How about, what goes into it's actually creation! Woohoo! Sure it sounds boring. But if you love gaming, and have a creative side this is a great outlet.

There's nothing more beautiful, in gaming, than a blank sheet of paper and an opportunity to create a character sheet (although, I also love creating characters, but the satisfaction of a new character sheet is a larger boost to my ego).

First there's the layout of the paper: Portrait or Landscape. Most games, well, practically all games that I've ever come into contact with use the Portrait layout.  Why? Pros:
  1. It's how we write on paper in general (the old adage comes to mind, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it").
  2. Skill lists are usually long, so this layout gives ample space for that
  3. The two column layout, makes it easier on the eye to follow/look for stats
But it's not without it's cons:
  1. Cramped space; one of the constant complaints I hear at my gaming table is that the space provided to write things down is too small. With portrait and two columns, your available writing space in each column is less than four inches -- and many players have large handwriting
  2. As most character sheets are reduced to two pages, this style sometimes leaves out important information -- the Dresden Files was one such RPG that could have been edited better.
But I've had a good bit of success with the Landscape layout. Pros:
  1. More Space! Your available space going across the page is now eleven inches rather than eight; and believe me, three inches can make a difference when it comes to writing things down.
  2. Now introducing three columns! Sure this sounds like it's reducing what I just said above, but depending on the game, three columns can make the difference. Any d6 game comes to mind. 
  3. Did I mention Space?! Tables missing from the portrait layout can now be added.
  1. Two pages can become three or four. Like I said above, the major advantage to portrait is for skills. If you're playing a skill heavy game, and you want ALL skills listed (d6 is notorious for this) then portrait can prevent the skills listed from be presented properly. But I'll never stop at three pages. I'll expand to four, giving players even more space to use.
  2. Can become cramped. it's true, sad to say. The altered view can make you want to put too much on each side of the character sheet. Last Unicorn's Star Trek TNG, was one sheet I re-created, and the back page nearly become a garbled mess of stat boxes.
So, as you can see, both layouts have their merits. But the best choice for a re-creation is up to you and your group. Try creating a sheet in both layouts, you will find that certain games lend themselves better to one style than the other.

After you pick the layout, determine the lists of needs. Since each RPG is different, the requirements it has will change. Like D&D has drastically different needs than Dresden Files. Stat heavy games, like D&D and Star Wars, need to have things like Abilities, Base Attack Bonus, Weapons, and Skills on the front page. But in a game like Dresden, stats are minor, and can go on the back of the main page. And don't be afraid to move stuff around with this. Depending on what layout you chose, you might have to flip some things to make it all fit. Like, the general character information that's always at the top of the page. I came across an instance where I had to flip it vertical to the sheet, to make it fit. So in that instance I had a cross between the portrait and landscape layout.

Finally comes graphics. This should be an afterthought to your character sheet. Yes, I know you want it to look stylized, like the ones you see in the book, but that may not always be possible. When I use programs like Word and Excel, I'm limited to what kind of graphics are available to me. I heavily rely on AutoShapes, Columns and Insert Picture/Text. If I know I'm going to have a basic sheet, I try to find a font that's in the style of the game (Dresden was one in which I used Paint to create my text). Or I like to put in backgrounds to add some sort of flavor.

But graphics should be your last concern. Figure out your layout. Determine what goes where and how much space these sections are going to use. And THEN add your graphics. And I've found that AutoShapes does not work well in this context, as it takes a lot of manipulation to get the form exactly like you want. And you should ask yourself, "does this ADD anything to the sheet"? If not, then it's got to go. It's all dependent on what game you're playing.

One day I'll make my creations available to the public. If someone could remind me, that would be great! It would probably help some of you figure see what I'm talking about.

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Next time on RPG: Dioe Harder: Review of the first posts on my forum game The Tides of War.

Chronicle 001: Character Sheets Pt 1.

If I get remembered for anything by the rpg community -- though, at least right now, they don't even know I exist, but my group does, and they will remember me for my love of creating character sheets. It's not like rpg's don't come with a character sheet, they do, but sometimes what they offer isn't enough.

I believe the first character sheet I created was just a simple copy of one from West End Games' (WEG) d6 Star Wars. Nothing fancy, but it provided a little more writing space than the sheet WEG offered. 

Before I go forward I should take you on a trip down memory lane, to my first experience in an rpg . . . . . . .

It all started one morning during choir practice at R-MA (R-MA is a boarding school with Air Force affiliation.). We were sitting down waiting to get started and two guys I knew, Lindner and Byron, were talking about Star Wars and this thing called roleplaying. Needless to say it peeked my interest and I inquired to what this game was all about. That weekend, I believe, Byron invited me up to his friend Howard's room (Byron and Howard were two of the few guys that we called by first name, most of us went by last name). When I walked in I saw a bunch of guys sitting around this room, each with a piece of paper, a pencil and a load of d6s.

I didn't know what to expect so I just sat quietly and listened to Howard spin his web of epic heroism (Howard was running the game).  So there I was, fascinated by the interactions between players, player and gm, and the sound of dice as the scattered across the floor. When suddenly Howard turns to me and says, "Salow, you're the Force and you're glowing." He did this little two handed waving motion and then moved on with the story. And from that moment on I was hooked.

My first character was a Young Kid; that was the template, it was pre-generated character and all I had to do was give it a name. That name ended up being Jean Baptist (the theme of finding a name with meaning continues today). And the most epic moment of that game for me was during a scene in which Jean was fleeing from a female Dark Sider. I don't recall the exact details, but I think I was fleeing either from a ship or to a ship and encountered this woman, and a henchman. It was beautiful, and here's what I remember:

The landing platform hovered hundreds of feet above the ground, the wind whipped across the smooth surface like water over glass.  Jean stared into the eyes of his assailant knowing that his life was in her hands. Who was she? What did she want? Whatever it was Jean wasn't going to give it to her willingly. Her attacks came quick, like a serpent striking at a smaller, weaker pray. Jean used what training he'd received to the best of his abilities, but it was like trying to stop a blaster bolt with a piece of paper. Finally a strike took Jean off his feet and he fell hard to the durasteel platform.  The cold metal brought some relief to his aching muscles, but the fight was far from over. In the blink of an eye the woman was upon him, poised to strike the final blow. With only nanoseconds to think Jean grabbed the only other weapon at his disposal. Durasteel slinging stones he had picked up only a day before. He reached down into this pouch and gripped one tightly in his little hand.  Was what he about to do going to hurt her as much as it would a man? He didn't know but he had to try. And with a grunt of effort, only found in the deep reserves of his body, he forced the stone up into the woman's crotch. The unexpected strike was enough to startle the woman, and give Jean a chance to escape ...

 I still have this character sheet, and would like to one day resurrect him in a game.  Unfortunately my chances to game are limited, due to work schedule, and being a father.  But I would like to give a big thanks to Howard and Byron for taking the time to bring me into the mix, and start me on the track to becoming a gamer. . . . . . .

So back to the character sheet.

A character sheet can say so many things. 

It's a blank canvas waiting to be painted. 

One of the first things I look at with any rpg is the character sheet. I may know nothing of the system, but I can usually tell by the character sheet if I will like the direction of the game. For instance, The Dresden Files has a decent character sheet that focuses less on the stats, and pushes storytelling to the forefront. The first page offers a look into the character's past by asking for descriptions of five previous events that shaped the character into who they are at the beginning of the game; and then ask you to put a "title" to each event.  This title then becomes an aspect, which you can then use during the game to enhance roleplay.  The back page consists of a list of skills, your Fate pool (points you can spend to increase skill rolls, or alter outcomes) and a short section for magic, feats and powers. 

While this sheet is simple in it's design, my group felt it was too small in certain places, and left out things that were also important during character creation. So I took the sheet and worked on expanding it to make it even more user friendly.  What ended up being produced was a four page print-out. And the group responded well to it. Of course I went through a couple different drafts before coming to it's final version, as I tend to get carried away with details. Or rather, I try to be too fancy with character sheets. 

The first major character sheet I made was from Wizard's d20 Star Wars. I had bought all the books and was looking for a character sheet that would make character creation easier, by listing all the Skills, Feats, Force Feats, and Force Skills.  This way players could see the prerequisites that were needed in order to reach the next Feat or Force Skill. But perhaps I went overboard with this one, as it too ended up being 4 pages long, or was it six? And my group at that time thought I had gone nuts. But we used it for a couple games, until I cut it back down to two pages, by just providing blanks in the the aforementioned sections.

Since then I have created new character sheets for several other games: D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, Star Wars Saga, Last Unicorn's Star Trek, WEG d6 Space and d6 Fantasy; just to name a few.  And another one that just got group approval was for a game Byron is creating. The thing that helps most is that all these games had pre-established character sheets. So all I have to do is get feedback from my group and tweak it to their specifications. Although they recently challenged me to create one from scratch for Sword's Edge. While I initially had problems with understanding of the game mechanics, Sword's Edge is a game that uses the same mechanics as Kiss My Axe and Sword Noir, in which the latter had a character sheet I looked at for design support, and I'm still working on this one though.  But, I believe it to be one of the first rpgs that could be put on an index card.

As you can see character sheets have a lot of history with me.

Shot Out: Rho Pi Gamma: The Gamer's Podcast for whom this blog is so aptly named after.

Check out my next blog entry, Chronicle 002: Character Sheets Pt 2! COMING SOON!