UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams

UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams: August 2013

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Of Tikhon and Realm Works

As a Backer of the Realm Works Kickstarter last year, I have recently become privy to the Beta testing.

While I can't talk about any of the specifics of the software, I wanted to comment on how incredibly cool it has been to work with it over the past couple of weeks.

Tikhon Campaign

As you're probably aware, I've recently been GMing an ongoing campaign set in the collaboratively designed world of Tikhon

Our "Mortenburg Chronicles" game is several months old now... but it's been amazing to see how much more detail I've been crafting in response to Realm Works.

All I've been doing is entering information to the database for my own realm of Tikhon, but the way the system works has helped me to both see how much we've created already and what comes next.

Session Prep

Over the past few days I've been prepping for the next session. Only a month ago I took the time to create some templates to help streamline my prep... but these are already obsolete due to Realm Works.

Yes, it's tedious to input data to what is (in reality) a highly-specialised database. Yet... as I've been progressing through the outstanding notes from last session, I've found myself adding and tweaking in response to the various fields in Realm Works.

What Realm Works does really well (apart from linking all of your notes into a coherent, encyclopaedic whole) is prompt you on stuff you could do with fleshing out further. As a GM, this is invaluable because it helps me to be less lazy and prep in more depth than I might otherwise be tempted to do. It also makes prep quicker because anything already in the system can be accessed, or even recycled.

Player Access

The Beta allows me to show players information that they have learned. The next step for me is to test this out during a gaming session. I aim to set up a second monitor and show players partially-explored maps and summary information live in-game. Although I'm not used to having a PC at the table, I suspect that this will quickly become a "very cool" feature of having taken the time to codify my realm using Realm Works.

On my wish-list for the software will be the ability for the software to create both a GM-only and Player-only version of the data, presented in something like a Wiki. Pointing my players at such a resource, generated automatically from the data in the system, would be priceless.

I might also like to see Roll20 integration to allow the players to see Player-only views on screen across the web too.

What's Next?

Having nearly finished inputting the data from my paper notes into the system, I aim to spend time detailing new locations, characters and stuff for the campaign. As it's all so easy to manipulate using Realm Works, I think that prep might just become a lot more fun.

If you've not backed the product, fear not! It's due for release later this year and will have most of the kinks ironed out by then, no doubt. My tip: start re-organising your notes and check out the Kickstarter video:

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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Leverage, anyone?

We started watching "Leverage" yesterday. This US TV show was a roleplaying game long before I even heard of it as a series - which just goes to show how in touch with TV we can be at times. 

As one of the Cortex Plus games, I picked up the rules around the time of backing the Cortex Hacker's Guide... but never really understood why it'd be fun to play. Now I think I get it.

Enter the Heist

As genre's go, the Heist is a time-honoured one. You know, the "caper"... the "hustle"... the "con". What it's all about is smart plans, cool gizmos and high action. We were hooked.

In roleplaying terms, this is the realm of action heroes with sassy lines and cool schticks. One of my groups' longest and most successful campaigns used a lot of the elements of the Heist, so although I'd never played in or run a specifically Leverage-style game, I felt at home with a lot of the tropes.

What's this got to do with anything?

Gamers Like Things Cool

As gamers, we like our games cool. We like slick heroes with cool gadgets and sassy attitudes. 

When talking to my co-developer, Scott, in video chat yesterday - all on the topic of our SF campaign setting - it was important to remember that gamers likes things cool. Later that day, watching Leverage, was a neat example of how to do so. Whilst TV and RPGs are very different mediums, it was good to take a few notes.

Three Things Leveraged

Firstly, I liked how the Leverage team features five operatives who don't like to play nice with others. Each is very talented at one thing - whether the Hacker or the Grifter - but, as the boss says, while each of them knows what they can do, only one person knows what all of them can do. How like roleplaying is it to conceptualise characters with very clearly defined expertise and seek to bring them together as a team?

Secondly, I was struck by how cool tech and tools were used but were not the focus of the action. Tools were just that - tools. The focus is on how the characters use those tools in the process of delivering their plan. While cool toys and effects are... well, cool... let's not get over-focused on them. The real joy in the game (as in the story) will be in what the characters do with them.

Lastly, I was pleased with how planning and backstory was accessed by use of  flashbacks. This kept the focus on the action part of the story, and dripped in the stuff you needed to know to understand the plan. This is harder to do with RPGs, but one idea that came to mind (especially for a demo or first mission) was creating a plan and having the players execute it... and then forcing them to solve the problems that arise when the plan doesn't work as expected. The focus would be on the action and the decisions players make to compensate for the unforeseen. It'd be a nice change from the usual long set-up necessary with many caper-orientated missions.

If nothing else, at least I now know why Margaret Weis Productions got into that license. Game on!

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Sunday, 18 August 2013

It Lives! Almost...

The week has been a pretty intense ride of writing, editing and discussion.

Having made the promise that we would write up the rules stuff we've been working on, I was pretty keen not to let down the guys who come to Friday Roleplay Night.

As of this afternoon, I'm about six miracles and a chunk of editing away from a finished draft. That's a really cool thing to have achieved together!

Publishing Tikhon

"Tikhon" started as a collection of rulings made to facilitate play within our own fantasy world but, at nearly 200 pages, has grown up to become a set of game rules in its own right. 

While our game has roots in the Old School Renaissance (OSR), and was developed through mashing up several sub-systems from existing games along with our own take on roleplaying, it has really become something... different. After all the work, it would be a shame not to publish it while we continue to play with it. If nothing else, it gives everyone involved a "standard" rules reference to work from.

Team Effort

The best thing, though, is that both the game and the setting has been developed openly through player contribution. Week by week, session by session, the players have been making suggestions and adding on details which have brought the world to life. As I write, I'm still waiting for the latest submissions for me to edit prior to publication. 

The big upside of this team approach has been that we are experiencing player (and GM) engagement at a very high level. Each player has spoken to me alone to feed back a similar message: this is one of the coolest gaming things we've ever done. That is the real reward for all of the effort.

As we come to the end of this initial writing phase, ready to continue our campaign in earnest from September, it looks like there will be a steady stream of new submissions ready for the future. It's really pretty exciting to bring the efforts of the whole group into sharp focus.


Looking back, I think the big learning so far has been two-fold:
  1. Don't be afraid to mash-up your own game.
  2. Don't be afraid to say "yes" to player contributions.
While I love that there's an "industry" of roleplaying game designers, none of them plays or thinks quite like we do. By mashing up our own rules (and fitting it to our setting), we've unleashed a whole bucket of fun. On top of that, saying "yes" to players suggestions has poured fuel on the creative fire... and we have something exciting as a consequence.

The plan is to produce the booklet of rules through Lulu within the next week or so. It'll be a low-key thing, but it does allow us to hold the fruit of all our labour in our hands... and not lose as many loose-leaf pages as we might if we just ploughed it through a laser printer.

For me, it's simply great to be almost there with the rules and ready to focus back on the campaign.

Game on!

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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Musings From Pembrokeshire

The past week has seen my wife and I visiting Pembrokeshire, viewing awesome landscapes and visiting inspiring ruins and such.

I've also been absorbing Arduin II (aka "Compleat Arduin") and mulling over many additions and changes to the UbiquitousRPG fantasy rules.

All in all, it's been a busy week.

Deepening Tikhon

One of the main features of the week has been my focus upon "deepening" the world of Tikhon, the campaign world we're currently engaged in exploring. 

If there is one thing that reading David Hargrave's work will do, it's getting you to think a little more about the nature of things in your own world. This is a pleasant effect... and it has got me to make small changes, such as making the core currency a bit different. 

As I was writing new sections for the Tikhon rulebook, which is the next evolution of the game system blended with world details from our campaign, I found myself itching to speak a little more about Goblins, Orcs and Hobbytts. 

It's a curious thing, but the more we play and the more I muse upon writing up the campaign world's description, the more I feel that the whole thing comes to life with increasing vibrancy. I guess that, until now, I've just not had the time nor the desire to really record what was floating around in my head.

That's about all for now... but I'm sure I'll get around to updating you some more later in the week.

Game on!

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Sunday, 4 August 2013

Prep Revisited

A little over a year ago I reviewed, "Never Unprepared" by +Phil Vecchione.
I hailed the book as...
...a seriously useful book for any GM. Never Unprepared is exactly what it says on the cover: "The complete Game Master's guide to session prep".
Back then simply adding in Phil's core process and setting aside time was a big leap forward. A year on, however, I needed to go back and complete the job...

Time Changes Circumstances

A year ago the prep plan I devised suited my needs well. A year on... well, things have changed.

I noticed that I was getting less and less prep done, despite the best intentions of the plan. Was this GM burnout? Was I becoming jaded again? Neither was true. I was simply noticing that my plan was out of date.

First step for me last week, now that I have some holiday time, was to revisit the book. A fresh audit of my lifestyle and time revealed why my prep was being squeezed - I'd gone from around 20 spare hours in the week down to around 10. I also noticed that my "heat map" (the measure of when I'm most creative) had also changed. At first it wasn't pretty... but some jiggling around has given me a new plan.

Appropriate Prep Tools

More valuable even than finding the time, however, was a review of my prep tools. 

When I first read Phil's book it seemed like a big chore to create some "templates" for prep: session, scene, combat, GMC... Meh! More work! In my head, I was holding out for Realm Works and making do with paper for "a few months". Well... despite a successful Kickstarter, we're still waiting for that software... but my group still plays.

This week's session, a week behind on prep, was looming. I have to say that, by taking Phil's advice, creating some new templates has really helped me focus my time. I got six scenes (including backup combat plans) prepped, along with maps and the creation of a full GMC character sheet inside 4 hours. 

Session Template
The idea of a Session Overview template was something I interpreted in a specific way that suits me. It's a one-sheet summary which covers off the basics of what I need to know. The scene "list" isn't meant to be linear, but just a reminder of which scenes might come up.

Here's a link to my template for the curious: UbiquitousRat's Session Template

Scene Template
Following on naturally has come the Scene Template. This directly places information onto one sheet of paper so that I can plan and cover all the bases that I find useful. 

What was really valuable here was the addition of a space to make quick "dialogue notes" - not to write out speeches (not enough room!), but just to note key phrases. This was particularly useful for noting down useful taunts and barbed remarks from key GMCs.

Combat Template
And yes... for some scenes I also made a separate Combat Template to record additional tactical notes. I printed this sheet onto the back of my Scene Template, allowing for a quick turn-over to access the vital data. It worked a treat!

Best additions? Objectives and Victory Conditions.

Simple Advice

Now, remember kids: my templates are designed for me. 

Phil's book is excellent and filled with useful advice... but it's all about you making the effort to customise and design your prep systems. What I do will probably not work for you.

What will be useful for anyone reading this, however, is to download the book and use it. Without any further ado, here's the link you need: Never Unprepared

Game on!

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