Monday, October 24, 2011

Star Wars Canon

I’ll admit it: this is probably a retarded (as in “silly” post), but this is what I’m thinking about today. It was a looooong weekend (especially for Seattle sports fans), I am still physically and mentally exhausted. My brain is operating a little tangentially right now.

I was reading up on SW “canon” today…that is, what is considered “official” material that feeds into the Star Wars universe versus what isn’t…and I’ve got a couple new (or newish) thoughts on the matter.

#1: Wow, most EU folks really missed the boat on this licensing thing, and

#2: F it…that is, the non-film material can all go to hell for all I care.

I shall, of course, endeavor to explain myself a bit.

First, understand that I am a purchaser and enjoyer of plenty of non-film, EU material…I’ve read several of the novels, I own more than a few comics (or compilations) and I have owned (and continue to own) much of the RPG material put out by both West End Games and WotC. In other words, I have put my money down in support of the creative effort (as well as given an investment of my time in reading and rereading this stuff). So while my statements may seem dismissive please understand this isn’t coming from any place of disgruntlement…there IS an entertainment and artistic value in these works, in and of themselves. I’m not a total cretin.

So, then, let’s get to the point.

As far as George Lucas is concerned, the only “true canon” of Star Wars are the films he’s created and the story they tell. Everything else is…well, he doesn’t say it outright, but basically it’s “fan fiction” as far as he’s concerned. He’ll mine it for ideas, but the “Bible” he uses in making his films consists of A) his own mind, and B) his own films.

Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the creative effort. It just means that, in his mind, those people creating additional Star Wars stories are doing so in a “parallel universe.” Or a parallel continuity, if you will. To GL, the Star Wars universe is a big playground, he doesn’t mind others playing in it (so long as he receives his cut), and he’s not so concerned with how it interacts with itself or with his films, so long as everyone groks that his feature films are THE end-all-be-all.

Lucas has also stated that the way other writers have written the further adventures/histories of his own characters are NOT how he would have done them. But again, this doesn’t bother him as it’s all happening in a separate, parallel continuity…in his own, the Emperor is never clones/returned to life, Luke never gets married, Coruscant is happy and celebratory, not blown-up and destroyed, etc. But what the “enthusiasts” do with his mythology is fine and dandy…again, so long as he gets his cut.

Personally, I think GL has come to a place in relationship to his IP where he realizes he can’t stop the enthusiasts from doing their own fanfic, so he licenses his IP to them and outsources the management of the material to others (like those Holocron folks) to keep it all running. Isn’t that better (and in the long run, more fun) than trying to sue people? Plus, he retains authority to say, “only *I* can make feature films, and only I say what is true to MY fantasy’s reality.”

Which is as it should be, by the way: it IS his baby, his creation. People who have made money off the franchise with their own “contributions” (from Timothy Zahn to Dark Horse to whomever) are simply riding the coattails of George Lucas rather than create their own sci-fi opuses. And why not? It’s great business strategy to hop into an already existing ginormous (and seemingly indefatigable) fan base. That is money in the bank.

All right, so now to my two thoughts listed above:

#1: Missed opportunities. Why the hell do these authors continue to use and recycle the same characters over and over again? Luke, Han, Leia, Anakin, Mace, Obi-Wan, etc. etc…if Lucas is going to allow you to play in his “universe,” why not turn out stories that have ZERO to do with the stuff in the films. After all, it doesn’t matter anyway, right?

Instead, most authors add something from the films to their material: Boba Fett or the original heroes or the various bit-part Jedi “Masters” (it’s hard to give the title to characters like Aayla Secura and Ki-Adi Mundi after watching them get so easily punked by, basically, stormtroopers), or Jabba or whatever. It’s like they’re namedropping rather than doing anything else. Hell, even using the “Skywalker genealogy” (the great-great-grandchildren, etc.) is silly. Sure, there is a theme of parent-to-child inheritance in the films (Jango to Boba, Anakin to Luke, Yoda to Dooku to Qui-Gonn to Obi-Wan)…but then make those themes with your own characters, not recycled lineages.

Granted, some EU creators HAVE done things without recycling characters from the films: the Knights of the Old Republic video game and its spin-offs (in comic and novel) is probably the best example. But there’s not enough of that, in my opinion. I mean check out what Star Wars has:

- Jedi (and everything that goes with it; lightsabers, Force, etc.)
- Sith (Ditto)
- Hyperdrive, droids, and blasters
- Smugglers, gamblers, and bounty hunters
- System-spanning intrigue, drama, and conflict

What more do you need to write a tale of space operatic adventure? You don’t need Skywalkers and Solos; you don’t need to keep making backwater Tattooine somehow a central hub of the galaxy. You don’t need to deal with the Empire and the Rebellion and their conflict. Hell, you only need to worry about the Republic because it’s “a thousand years old” (a pretty long timespan), but Lucas’s films make it pretty clear there are sectors outside of Republic authority (Hoth, Bespin, Dagobah, Tattooine…hmm, most of the film locations in the original trilogy, I guess).

Which brings me to my thought #2: Screw it…all of it. And I do mean ALL of it, including the otherwise interesting/brilliant KotOR stuff. If Lucas is content to ignore that which doesn’t pertain to his story, why shouldn’t I (or anyone else) do the same…all of that stuff is simply fan fic in the Star Wars universe. There is no need for “continuity” except as so far as keeping hardcore completionists (and Lucas Licensing) happy. Why not just junk it?

For that matter, why not simply junk Lucas’s own story (and its characters/plot/drama) as well? Or rather, take it as it is: a single 40-or-so year span of time in a many-thousand year galactic history…and one that occurred “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” The blink of an eye really…and only a single story of a single family (the Skywalkers) in what is surely a galaxy made of trillions of inhabitant families, each with their own stories.

Yeah, just like those ones in the Ewok movie.

In writing a space opera RPG based in large part on Star Wars (and its Expanded Universe) I find that I’ve been going about it the hard way: trying to create a simple space fantasy game that provides rules allowing for the incorporation of a metric ton of “Star Wars stuff.” Totally ridiculous, really. All I need is a game that includes the earlier components listed (with the trademarked serial numbers filed off) and then give folks the tools they need to create their own SW-like adventures…which, by the way, is NOT the same as giving people a book of rules, and saying “go do it,” with-or-without “helpful inspirational fiction” included in the text (*barf*).

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about today. It takes my mind off the really terrible football games of the weekend.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem with Star Wars... that it's a schizophrenic mess.

Regardless of your feelings on the original trilogy or the prequels or the "expanded universe" and all its minutia...regardless, one has to acknowledge that there is simply a metric ton of Star Wars "stuff" floating around our small, terrestrial sphere. So much that it's just about impossible to reconcile all of the data into one coherent whole.

From a certain point of view, it's very similar to the hodge-podge that is Dungeons & Dragons.

I mean, there's no way in which D&D "makes sense" as a collective whole...not if you include everything it has to offer. It's simply it's "own thing," allowing players to explore a bizarre fantasy mishmash of tropes. Just as Star Wars allows the reader (or viewer) to lose him or herself for a few hours (or more) in the fantastic imagination of Lucas and those creative folks who have built on his premise.

Anyway, I suppose it's not really a problem unless you're trying to put together a reference book that makes sense of the whole thing (I'm not), or if you're a super-stickler for including EVERYthing in your canon (um...I'm really not), or if you're trying to write a space opera RPG that includes the material of the films/books (much of which is neat) and yet in a way that is cheesy and doesn't suck when taken as a whole (okay, that's me a little).

As I pursue my Star Wars research I find myself feeling similar to the way I felt when I was first rediscovering the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh books and this thing I call B/X D&D. At that time I became enamored of the promise of the original B/X books...and it was this promise that led me to writing the B/X Companion, seeking to fulfill that promise.

With Star Wars it is much harder to get past the periphery of extraneous source material because, A) there is so much of it, and B) most of it (especially the films) have been watched so many times that they've become engrained into our understanding of what Star Wars is.

I mean, just look at the original trilogy...the 2nd movie (The Empire Strikes Back) is excellent and the 3rd movie (Return of the Jedi) had many, many crowd-pleasing a child I would have been quick to tell you that RTJ was my favorite of the bunch; though as an adult I have probably watched it far fewer times than even the prequel movies. And for many people who absolutely loathe the "expanded universe" and prequel films, the Holy First Trilogy is the only canonical source material they need...we know that Vader is Luke's father, Leia is Luke's sister, Yoda is the master Jedi, the Emperor is the master bad guy, and our heroes are destined to do certain things: Luke to become a Jedi Knight, Han and Leia to get hitched, etc.

And maybe this (or most of it) was ALWAYS the case in Lucas's mind. It's hard to tell when Lucas has ret-conned his own thoughts on the subject over the years. But in reading the BOOK Star Wars ("A Novel by George Lucas"), I find myself wondering how much of this was originally the case.

Much of the material found in the (admittedly clunky writing) of the novel is not found in the movies, was cut-out, or is in direct contradiction to what would later become canon material. Which is not a new phenomenon when reading Star Wars books anyway (Timothy Zahn's trilogy sequel which explained "the Clone Wars" was completely and wholly different and rendered inconsequential with Lucas's own prequel films, for example); I am used to that, as most readers/enthusiasts of Star Wars are. However, what I find in that material is a brilliant imagination and (similar to Moldvay/Cook/Marsh) the promise of something that never really materialized. I find myself interested in the Journal of the Whills as originally imagined by Lucas, and wish there had been...well, more of what his original ideas were.

Because there is some brilliant stuff in there, I think, and much of it feels much harder edged to me than the later stuff. Like the Lensmen novels but more mature and darker and on a much more personal scale. I wish there was a way to get hold of Lucas's original notes or original treatment of the script, before it was cut down to the movie with which we ended up.

Those who've read some of my earlier posts on the subject may know me as a bit of an apologist for George Lucas as a film maker and fantasist. This has nothing to do with that. I mean, I am still high on GL as a film maker and SciFi guru. BUT in writing a space opera RPG that takes the Star Wars universe as its central inspiration (which I've been doing off-and-on for several years now), I find the necessary editing is forcing me to take hard looks at just what's included in any such game. Do I want Jedi Knights in all their Episode I through III glory? (and yes, they are glorious in those films) Or do I want the PROMISE of the original Grand Idea and allow individual players to decide how far they want to take it? Right now, I find myself being drawn to the latter, despite my love of lightsaber duels.

Hmm...I know I've had similar thoughts over the years, but I can't seem to find where I've noted it in my blog. Well, now it's been noted. More later...those familial obligations are calling again!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Busy as a Bee

Familial obligations have been taking up my evenings the last couple weeks, and will continue to do so until Monday night at the earliest. Meanwhile, I've been using my spare time during the work week (never a lot) to do quite a bit of re-writing/drafting.

Just FYI.

Friday, October 14, 2011

On Endgames & Expectations...

So things got a little balled up, unfortunately, and Heron’s B/X game didn’t happen last night. Steve and Josh and I still hung out for a drink, and I was tempted to run a one-off B/X game of my own using Heron’s setting by scavenging his emailed notes (it really is a neat setting, fraught with ideas and conflict and drama potential). In the end, though, we played another one-off of my post-apocalypse game MDR and that was pretty enjoyable.

[sorry, Randy…I know you asked me to tell you when we would next be playing MDR, but it really was a last second kind of thing]

Steve-O liked the game a lot, especially the quick character creation that comes with the card-dealing mechanic. He sees it as having the potential for a wide range of RPG applications, and I agree…but right now I have enough on my plate without spreading myself any thinner. Again, there was some discussion about the truncated endgame: having an endgame at all makes the game feel kind of “board gamey” to the players, even though they understand that in a normal campaign there would be many adventures before anyone “won.”

I think the “weirdness” for the players may be their relative inexperience with indie games. A lot of the indie RPGs have endgames or set limits on play…very few of ‘em have the “infinite play till you die” expectations of “regular RPGs.”

With the “mainstream” RPG scene, it appears that the default assumption (or hope) is this: good games will be so entertaining that people will want to play them until their attention is drawn to another game, and possibly indefinitely so long as one puts out adequate quality source material for exploration, or so long as there is potential ideas for mining.

Um, okay, that’s a valid point of view/design consideration, I suppose. It especially takes on more merit when one considers the size and scope of your average game system on the market. Even “small” RPGs like Mongoose Traveller or Thousand Suns (in its first incarnation) take quite an investment of time just to learn the game…there’s an expectation that one will get more hours of game play out of the game than the hours spent on reading the book.


Hey, I AGREE with that premise. Hours of Game Play SHOULD exceed Hours of Game Study/Learning. Fact o the matter is, folks these days (including myself) are pressed for time; time is a commodity precious and not to be wasted (and yes, sleeping is valuable and a good use of time, too).

But I grok this premise a little different from others. I do it like this:

X > Y

Where X is time spent in actual play…not reading the book, not teaching the game, not character creation…and Y is time spent in all that preliminary/start-up stuff.

If D&D (and old school D&D specifically) has been uber-popular for decades, could it just be that Y is so well-known and understood that X can’t help but exceed Y?

In a way, the phenomenon of “one dude knows the rules/owns the book” is a short-cut method of helping to achieve this objective…if only one person has to spend 12 hours learning a game system, than then the other 3 or 4 players can just show up and the GM can “explain the game as it goes,” perhaps even providing pre-generated characters. One then gets multiple hours of game play (4-5 players, including the GM multiplied by hours spent playing) compared to the time spent by one player (the GM) reading and prepping.

Does what I’m saying make sense? As usual, I’m a little groggy this Friday, so I may not be writing this in an exceptionally clear fashion. Let’s get some concrete examples.

I am going to stick with my X/Y thing, but I'll nail down proper definitions:

X = hours of game play. It is defined as hours spent in-session (doing imaginary things in an imaginary world) multiplied by the number of players participating.

Y = preliminary set-up prior to game play. It includes time spent reading (and re-reading) the rules and supplementary source books used, any explanation or teaching that occurs, dungeon/adventure creation, and character creation. For each of these tasks, the number of hours spent are multiplied by the number of individuals participating in the task.

For example, say me and three buddies decide we want to play Basic (Moldvay) D&D. We each buy a copy of the book and spend a couple hours or so reading the rules (it’s 64 pages long, not all of which are necessary for immediate play, and assume we all have some passing familiarity with D&D, if not this specific edition). So far that’s 6 hours (2 hours x 3 people) in the Y category.

Prior to “game night,” it is decided that I will be the DM and I dutifully prepare an adventure, including a scenario idea, a map, and a list of monsters, treasures, and traps. Call it four hours of prep time total, just because I’m slow and it takes me awhile to get everything together (usually, a one level dungeon doesn’t take me that long to script, once I have a scenario idea, but I’ll spend time fine-tuning some of the challenges). Category Y is now increased to 10 hours (6+ (4x1=4) ).

On game night, each player spends 45 minutes making a character. An extra dude shows up to play and the DM (me) helps him with charactergen while simultaneously explaining the basics of the game (since Buddy #4 didn’t buy/read the book). An extra 3 hours and 45 minutes is added to the Y category giving us a total of 13 hours and 45 minutes of human time spent in preliminary set-up “costs.”

So how does the game time become “cost effective” (in terms of entertainment value for time “spent”)? By having more actual game play than those preliminary costs.

If the five of us sit down and play for three hours (after character creation), we get a total of 15 hours (3 hours x 5 people) of actual game play (the “X” in X/Y formula). Not much of a “return” for our preliminary efforts. However, if the adventure created by the DM takes two or three sessions to complete and the players are able to keep their characters alive (or if they get a lot faster at making characters, as tends to be the case with B/X game play), then that X category starts building up; 15-20 hours per session multiplied by 3-4 sessions results in a much better return for time invested (the Y category). And because the Basic set is so simple to learn, there’s not a whole lot of “refresher training” needed between sessions; for the truly obscure issues that arise, DMs generally need to make snap rulings during game anyway, rather than conducting Search & Handling efforts (something that takes away from actual play time).

Now compare that X/Y value with a game like Vampire the Masquerade or GURPS or (God forbid!) Champions. Look at the number of hours that goes into the preliminary set-up (“Y”) of those games…hell, even character creation. How many hours of actual game play (“X”) do you need to run to get back a decent return on those games?

And what is a decent return? 4 to 1? 5 to 1? Personally, I’d want a lot more entertainment for my time. When I bother to go to a movie the commute to and from the theater is generally less than 20 minutes, and I expect a good solid two hours of entertainment (a 6+ to 1 return on my time, depending on how long I have to wait in line). But the quality of entertainment for a cinema is pretty amazing: big screen, big sound, quality acting/directing, etc.

Last night’s MDR game took us about 5 minutes to do character creation and 5 minutes to explain the rules to Steve, and the scenario was already written (it was “Part 2” of last week’s scenario). We then played from about 9 to 11:30, sprinkled with a lot of BSing and wandering conversations and food ordering distractions. Call it close to two hours of game play, probably a 10 or 12 to 1 ratio of X/Y. THAT’s the kind of return I want, but most games don’t give you that “out of the box.” Instead, you have to play many-many multiple sessions to get that kind of return on, say, Pathfinder or 3rd edition D&D.

I mean, how long did it take you to learn 3rd edition D&D? How long does it take to teach the game to those who haven't owned/read it? I know part of the reason I grew to loathe the game was the time spent prepping adventures due to extensive stat blocks of monsters and such. I understand that a lot of folks “wing it” when it comes to D20 or Pathfinder, making shortcuts to prep, and house rules to decrease S&H time, but I’ve always been of the opinion, “why bother?” when you can just play a simpler, more efficient rule set.

But that’s getting off-subject: most of the big, slickly-produced RPGs on the market take a ton of “Y” time…so much so that one needs to have an assumption of “long-term campaign-play” in order to make learning the game worthwhile…and with character generation (often EXTENSIVE chargen) being such a huge part of post-1990 RPG design, it becomes even more important to allow PC survival to occur (as creating new characters eats into the X time with additional Y time expenditure).

God, just realizing this makes me a little sick to my stomach…we used to play games like Vampire that spent an entire first game session (three or four hours) in character generation alone…not counting all the hours I spent as a GM poring over an impressive collection of books and supplements. And then we’d play maybe three or four sessions? Maybe? Ugh…I always felt like I was getting the shaft when I was asked to run those games and now I see why!

Indie games (just to get back to the earlier topic) aren’t often concerned with “long-term” campaign goals, and often provide only the basic rules one needed to run an ultra-specific type of game. I’m not terribly interested in this type of play, because I like the development of both character and setting that comes out of long-term play. At least, that’s what I’ve always said in the past. I still feel that way…but now I’m starting to think that “real development” only occurs with extensive time spent in the X category, rather than the Y. We saw more of this type of development in games like old school D&D and Marvel Superheroes than we ever saw in a White Wolf or Palladium games (the latter are interesting because they require so much time to “fix” their broken bits that you effectively ramp up the Y time on what is a relatively simple system). Despite White Wolf’s touting of emphasis on story, the bulk of any storytelling always occurred in the set-up phase (the “Y,” in other words) rather than in the actual play of the game itself.

In other words (or rather, to sum up): long term play is desirable so long as the play is "actual" and not just prep (adventure prep, rules prep, character prep). If the X to Y ratio (where X>Y) isn't good, than it doesn't matter whether the games last many sessions or not; you're not getting a decent investment for your time.

Wow...this goes a ways to explaining a lot of game design decisions of the last 20 years: like the inclusion of extensive fiction/prose in games and the need to make character creation (or "advancement planning") a form of mini-game. It's almost like the designers have been saying, "well we understand that the Y-portion of this role-playing game takes a lot of time away from the X-portion, so we'll try to make it more entertaining for you," instead of just...*sigh*

WELL...this turned into a bit longer post than I expected. This is probably enough to chew on for awhile.
: )

[you know, last night Steve was giving me a bunch of ideas for a high concept setting using my MDR mechanic and made the statement, "the game practically writes itself!" No, Steve, games do not write themselves...this kind of theory-bashing just makes me realize it even more]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Man, I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, but I generally DO care about the quality of posts I throw up on the blog…maybe not the spelling or grammar or random tangential thought process, but the subject matter. And lately, And the last couple days I have been utterly brain dead (or at least numb from the neck up).

I blame the damn smart phone. These things rot your brain (or your attention span) like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Ah, well. I’m going to do my best to treat it as a phone for the foreseeable future, rather than a portable “everything plus” console. Hopefully my mind will regenerate.

As I prepare for the coming adventures of the week (I refer here to the scheduled Thursday night gaming session), there are several questions looming for me, none of which have to do with prepping for the game (Heron will be acting as DM this week and my characters are all ready to go). The main gist of my thoughts breaks down into two categories:

1) What do I hope to accomplish / want to see happen with this weekly gaming thing?
2) How the hell does this relate (if at all) to potential money-making schemes?

It’s a frustrating and wondrous fact of life that we are presented with so many choices and options on how we want to live said life. I could devote my time and attention to writing and gaming if I wanted, but would lose the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed (including my wife, who would probably not stand for such nonsense). I could sacrifice my extracurricular hobbies, including writing and gaming, to pick up a second job/paycheck or perhaps get a few more hours of sleep (or more likely, television watching). Or I could put all of this stuff on hold for a bit while I go out and look for a new job that both pays me more money and allows me to exercise more of my own creative expression…good luck with that!

Sadly, I am a man of inertia and will probably do a lot of what I’ve been doing, which is surviving but not really thriving. Things continue to develop but they do so at a glacial pace.

Even with the weekly gaming: Is it a chance to blow off steam? Yes. Is it a chance to get some much-needed gaming in? Yes. Is it a place to play-test and develop concepts and ideas? Yes…but that last bit occurs soooo slooowly, perhaps due to a lack of focus on my part.

Do I want to bring it into clearer focus?

[*sigh*] It's actually a subject I don't have time to delve into right now. I will be trying to get out a few reviews this week that I have been putting off. Right now I have work-type-work that needs to be done.

More later...really!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Phone Is Smarter Than Me

I broke my old flip phone in half yesterday (arrgh!), and so today picked up an iPhone 3 (free when you sign up for the contract). I spent at least an hour at the Mac store making the sales rep explain the damn thing to me since I didn't have the faintest clue how to even turn in on-or-off.

Right now, I know enough to be utterly distracted by the thing in free moments of time. If I can figure out how to blog with it though, you folks might see more regular posts from me.

[at least now I can check my email 24/7...THAT's something]

Anyone know an app where I can just voice transcribe text? My fingers are a little fat for these keys.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Drunken Mutants

Thursday night (i.e. yesterday), we got a chance to play MDR, my latest-greatest RPG brainstorm, featuring a grim post-apocalyptic wilderness, hazardous danger, and cannibal mutants. In other words, the usual caffeine-inspired weirdness. Players included Josh, Randy, and Heron plus my brother’s buddy, Joel, who is a homeless alcoholic street musician. My brother was not present for the game.

Josh played “Out of Time” with me a couple weeks ago (the system upon which MDR is based), but the game was brand new for Randy and Heron, and…well, Joel says it’s been 10-15 years since he’s played ANY role-playing game and it’s unclear how much he retains from those days. I had to explain what my role as GM meant (he didn’t get why I wasn’t making a character myself).

However, I designed it to be interesting and playable and somewhat intuitive “out-o-the-box” and everyone seemed to grok the way to work it. Josh and Randy were quick to pick up on (and utilize) the creative interpretation of attributes, and Joel got the card-burning mechanic down pat. In fact, Joel ended the game having emptied his hand of cards, something I was kind of shooting for with all the players (emptying your hand generally being a sign that a lot of action is taking place and characters exerting themselves).

Much fun was had by all…a surprising amount, from my point of view. I was worried how the game would feel to be PLAYED. However, from the player’s seat, the dice-card interaction/mechanic appears to be an entertaining one.

The GM doesn’t feel that part of the game (hoarding/spending cards) as NPCs don’t have “cards,” only dice pools. On the other hand, not having to worry about NPC resources free up the GM’s time for other things…like managing the game and providing info to the players. Which feels simple, even as the mechanics of the game keep the players on their toes.

The players also said they liked how the mechanic allowed them to develop their character’s story or personality based on the way they use/spend cards. Or maybe they liked the idea/story of the game: mutants in the wasteland searching for acceptance and homes. I know I heard a couple comments directed at these aspects of the game, but I don’t remember the specifics (I’m still a little rummy from the lack of sleep…sorry!). Maybe the players will comment about this (*hint*hint*), but for now I am simply pleased that the players felt any kind of character/story developing out o play, since the adventure was mostly randomly generated and the action of what occurred was mainly on the players, and they made it neat.

Now there were some issues that still need to be tidied up. The endgame (yes, there is an objective to MDR) needs to be tightened up, as the players felt it a bit too much like “mandatory retirement” (my words, not theirs). If we were running an actual on-going saga instead of a one-off playtest this might have NOT been such an issue, but even in a real campaign there would be the (small) chance of being “retired” after 6-10 sessions, especially if the characters perform well. Perhaps complications (another game mechanic) can be “bought off” by spending Renown/status points, thus accomplishing two things at once: preventing negative consequences and keeping the characters wandering.

Oh, yeah, and armor rules. Ugh…that REALLY needs to be re-worked. I really like the idea of PCs being able to start with whatever piecemeal armor they want, but making characters harder to hit (a personal bias from my love affair with B/X) just didn’t work; combat was tough enough without that. I think I’m actually going to have to do some form of damage reduction (*shudder*) as the exploding damage dice can have HUGE impacts. Such an event is like piercing a vital organ…and shouldn’t armor be protecting those vulnerable spots?

Anyway, we had so much fun that we didn’t even get to Heron’s B/X game, something that I'm personally looking forward to; hopefully he can run it next week. That should give me enough time to file down the rough edges on MDR.

Oh, yes: I think it’s safe to say it WILL be back.
; )

“We’re the only Airship Pirates…”

Goth is sooo over.

Has been for decades; if you listen to my old buddy Matt, it was toast before it ever started reaching resurgence in the mid-90s. I don’t know; I was never a “Goth.” I went through my dark and angsty period quietly listening to metal music and writing tortured poetry and then I went to college and had a very happy life. So there.

By the time I started hitting some of the “dark and gothic” industrial dance clubs (private clubs only, please), I was old enough to be there legally and mainly Matt and I were there to dance and get our drunk on. And that was long AFTER I’d stopped running Vampire sagas (circa late 1996; about two to three years after my final VTM saga).

And hitting those places was a short run anyway. Matt went back to Austin, I carried my carousing to other venues, and eventually I cleaned up and grew up. Now, I’m no longer "just happy" but also "fairly well adjusted."

So, yeah…Abney Park.

A week ago I picked up a copy of a new RPG called Airship Pirates. Or rather, Abney Park’s Airship Pirates. This was last Friday, right after I’d written the bulk of my rant series on lazy RPG design and lack of objectives. Seeing this big, beautiful, high-concept book I had a pretty good idea this was exactly the kind of objective-less game that I had recently vilified…but I bought in anyway.

I have an airship fetish.

“Pirates” of course, are also gravy. I grew up in this little waterfront town called Seattle and we tend to like our nautical and pirate-themed stuff. Heck, that’s one of the draws of the Baranof for me. But just having “pirates” in an RPG isn’t enough for me to buy it; I’ve never purchased 7th Sea or Furry Pirates, for example.

But airships? I break for zeppelins. I nearly threw down a handful of hundreds for a 40 minute zeppelin tour when Airship Ventures brought their bird up to Sea-Town (I followed it on the ground with my car though)…and in Germany I was extremely close to booking a trip on one of their neuvo-zeps. I know I’ve written before that being an NFL coach would be my “dream job” (not that I have any ability to coach; I said “dream”), but actually it’s #3 on my list of fantasy careers:

#3 NFL Coach (assistant okay, but please be the Seahawks)
#2 Tony Stark, Iron Man
#1 Independent Airship Owner/Captain

I’m being perfectly serious. Have you seen the film Life Aquatic with Bill Murray? I want to be Steve Zissou in a zeppelin. If I ever win a lottery jackpot, I will pay off my house, my mom’s house, and set aside money for my kid’s college. If I ever win a multi-state mega-Lotto, I will invest in zeppelin flying lessons and try to purchase a small blimp.

So I dropped $50 on the RPG.

Airship Pirates is one of the most…well, shit, I don’t know what word to describe it. “Interesting” or “weird” or even “thought-provoking” are some of the phrases that come to mind…but NOT because of the setting, premise, or game system. The BOOK itself…the fact that it was even published…is tres bizarre.

Here’s why: the game…a neo-Victorian, post-apocalyptic, steampunk fantasy RPG with prehistoric animals…is based on the music and lyrics of the band Abney Park.

Who the hell is Abney Park? Well, apparently they are a local (Seattle) band that started up in 1997, around the same time that I was getting out of the music biz myself. Not that I was ever “in the biz;” singing a few one-offs with random bands can hardly even be called “dabbling,” though I had a moment or two. But I was never a huge supporter of the local live music scene (sorry) and anyway, and I stopped going to shows right around the time Abney appears to have been getting going. And even had I been a big show-goer (like my buddy, Steve-O) I’m not sure I would have ever seen Abney Park play, since they were originally a Goth band.

And one with a fairly strong endurance: I mean, they’re still going, almost 15 years later, and have put out nearly a dozen albums. And I’m sure that “marching technology progress” thing only makes it easier to stay in the music game, so long as you have some chops and a bit of a following. Hell, I’VE got a following and I’m just a hack blogger!

However (here’s the interesting part), a couple-few years back, Abney Park reinvented itself as a “steampunk concept band;” apparently, THE premier steampunk band if you buy the hype on the interweb stuff (I’m not really in a position to judge that kind of thing). What do I mean by that? Well, their songs have taken a turn to singing of their adventures as a band of airship pirates, time-travelling and screwing up historical continuity and creating a neo-Victorian, post-apocalyptic, fantasy world filled with prehistoric animals.

And then the band, fronted by Captain Robert Brown, worked in conjunction with the Cubicle 7 brits to put out a beautiful, slickly produced RPG book, giving folks the stuff to adventure in the imagination of this reinvented, premier steampunk, airship flying band called Abney Park.

Bizarre. I don’t know if Mark Rein-Hagen ever fronted a vampire-themed band (in the early days of White Wolf, the vampire musical group was a major suggestion for why PCs of different clans would hang together as a coterie), but I wouldn’t be too surprised based on the early themes and concepts in VTM. On the other hand, Rein-Hagen isn’t the first person to suggest the vampire music group…what about The Vampire Lestat? Or The Drac Pack for that matter?

However, if the band had come FIRST and then created an RPG based on the intellectual property of their own lyrics and stage show…well, then you’d have something similar to Abney Park’s Airship Pirates. And because the band is still going, it creates a new form of self-promotion: the band promotes the RPG, the RPG promotes the band…all at the same time!

That’s wild! I have never seen something like that before. Yes, I’ve seen D&D-inspired bands (Three Inches of Blood comes to mind)…but none that have a direct tie-in between their own unique music and their own unique RPG/setting. Is it genius? Or just crazy?

No doubt these folks are a little nuts…it takes a little crazy to do what they’re doing. But I believe, in a world where both independent RPG publishers and small-niche music acts have little potential to make a decent living, these folks have found a way to increase the income coming into the coffers without working as coffee baristas during the day. And that’s both unique (in my experience) and pretty cool.

[not totally unique, of course: Kiss promoted themselves through THEIR own fantasies by making movies, selling toys and comic books, etc. Abney Park has taken a page from that book]

As for the GAME itself: well, it’s not all that great in design terms. It bears a lot of similarities to White Wolf (as one might guess), using a Stat+Skill resolution, though rather than roll D10s and try to hit 7s, you’re rolling D6s and trying to hit 1s and 6s (and 6s “explode”). Most of the book is setting material…way, waaaay too much for my purposes. The thing reminds me of a Television Bible for the setting material. If I was tasking a group of authors with writing short stories based on the setting, I would give them each a copy of the RPG for reference and inspiration. As an RPG? It lacks focus and, yes, objectives.

On the other hand, it has a great premise for party creation: all characters are a crew aboard an airship. In all honesty, I was trying to brainstorm a very similar concept about 5 years ago, but couldn’t figure out how to make a dramatic enough RPG. Airship Pirates succeeds because it blows up the world and re-writes an alternative history in which airship pirates actually makes sense in the setting (a tyrannical government on the ground, heroic free cities in the air, neobedouins and dinosaurs wandering the wastelands). It’s neat and psychedelic and reads a bit like the backstory for certain editions of Magic the Gathering (without the magic)…but the game would require some serious editing on the part of the GM to make it work effectively, and a LOT of reading to get sufficiently steeped in the specifics of the setting.

AND…that’s all I want to say about the game for right now. Though I was initially tempted to return it to the game shop as “mostly unplayable” (due to my non-desire to put in the effort needed to make it work), I’ve decided to hang onto the thing and part with the cash. It is definitely one of the nicest looking RPGs I own, and it has a lot of interesting ideas setting-wise (as well as a totally kick-ass version of time travel). Plus, I feel that by buying it I’m doing my part to help support the local music scene. More bands should have kooky concepts.

: )

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wiped Out...

...and it's not even tomorrow yet.

That is to say, I generally feel wiped out by Friday, especially after a Thursday night of gaming and carousing (and I'm sure tomorrow will be no exception). Today, however, I'm already feeling a bit crushed, due to a rather late Wednesday night.

Oh, ain't going to stop me from going out tonight. I've got a super-kick-ass RPG to play-test and I'm pretty darn excited at the prospect. I mean, it looks "kick-ass" on paper, and I'm "excited" to see how it rolls. However, I think I've got it tweaked just about where I want it. I shall be writing more on the results (and possibly making the thing available for public consumption/download) in the next couple days.

I will say this: for a post-apocalyptic game, I think I may like it better than (any edition) Gamma World. And that's saying something, as I really like the 1st and 2nd editions of the latter game (specifically, the combat system and how it works in conjunction with the "theme" of the game). I mean, we'll see, system is kind of an orange to GW's apple anyway, being a non-gonzo version of the PA setting. And that's not necessarily a good thing (as mutant survivors of a nuke war is kind of a "gonzo setting" begging for gonzo rules). But, goal is to do some of the things I've talked about in the past, specifically with regard to both post-apocalypse stories and game objectives. I'm hopeful for some good stuff.

Anyway, I really only get one shot to make a "go" of it as it appears I shall be playing in (not running) a B/X campaign starting in the very, very near future. My character(s) are already rolled for that one, and may even get some playtime later tonight (if not, then next Thursday for sure). That, too, is exciting...but I'm still salivating mostly over the thought of blowing away spear-chucking mutants with a shotgun from the back of a three-eyed horse.

Yeah, we'll see how it goes.
; )

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

Ugh! My poor neglected blog readers! How I wish I could eat, breathe, and sleep RPGs for a living…then I could keep up with my blog as much as my other RPG projects.

Unfortunately, I have “real” job and family considerations that split my time. I suppose I could quit my real job and devote myself full-time to writing/role-playing…unfortunately, there’s this certain “lifestyle” to which I’ve “become accustomed” and right now, I can’t see being able to keep it up with a publishing (printed and electronic) only type gig.

So you all have to suffer. Because once again it’s fall and football is in the air and I’m feeling creative and that means little writing projects keep popping up that I put my (very small amount of) free time into. This week it’s a new Tiny RPG…not a micro-game, because it’s already longer than 1 page and I ain’t planning on condensing it. However, there’s no plan to stretch it into a full-length 64 page RPG (that’s “full length” for me)…hell, it might not even hit 5 pages.

Play-testing will commence Thursday.

Several Years Ago I started getting into this whole “design thang” and made the first half-hearted stabs at writing my own RPG. The particular game I was writing was a little something-something with the working title “GW7” and it was supposed to be MY version of Gamma World.

[actually, my FIRST attempts at game writing occurred long before that, but they aren’t anything I would consider RPGs…nor exceptionally playable]

Why “GW7?” Because back when I was writing it (long before the 1st retroclone hit the market), I was thinking of it as the “heir” to the historical legacy of Gamma World, and by my count (at the time) there were six editions of GW:

- 1st edition Gamma World
- 2nd edition Gamma World
- 3rd edition (Marvel SH) Gamma World
- 4th edition Gamma World
- Alternity Gamma World
- D20 Gamma World

SO, yeah…#7 was going to be MY number. Except then I got distracted by a one thing and then another and then this whole OSR deal and my blog and B/X Companion, etc.

Skip ahead a couple-few years and we have several post-apocalyptic games floating around, including Octane and Barbarians of Lemuria and Mutant Future and the latest version of GW from Wizards of the Coast (not to mention several high profile video games)…all of which leads me to feel like, meh, why bother with returning to the subject? If I wanted to, I could pull out any of these other games (or my old copy of 2nd ed. GW or Twilight 2000) and run a post-apoc game. Hell, I could still run an edited version of Rifts (and still might…some day). There’s no need for me to create a PA RPG. Like, at all.

At ALL…did I mention that? Yeah. No…there are plenty of nuke-mutant games on the market, past and present.

But then I started watching Steel Dawn on the Netflix, and I picked up a copy of the totally overworked/overwrought Airship Pirates RPG and I started revisiting some of my earlier PA posts on this blog…and then I started thinking about how such a game might work with a slightly updated version of the system I was using for my micro-game Out of Time. And I got a little inspired at the thought.

I haven’t brought up post-apocalyptic (GW-style) role-playing since October 2010…I guess what goes around will eventually comes around (until I finally get a game written and "out-of-my-system").

So, yeah, I’ve been working on that (and one or two other things as well) which means I haven’t been posting to the blog as regular as I would like. But hopefully, I’ll find some time to get to it over the next few days. At least I’ve got Friday internet access again!

: )

Monday, October 3, 2011


...from another tough football Sunday. The Seahawks playing better doesn't do anything to remove the sting of a two point loss at home. At home, dammit! I don't care how great the other team...and the Falcons aren't nearly that great.

Meanwhile, ex-Seahawks rang up 28 points for the Tennessee Titans on the road against a Browns team that had been showing some signs of promise. It's funny that so far this season, the Titans have been the featured AFC broadcast every single least in Seattle. It's almost as if the networks had an idea we were interested in following the team from Nashville. Hmmmm...

Things I'm doing, to take my mind off the 'Hawks change of fortunes:
  • Finally getting back to my reading of MZB's Darkover series. There really is great stuff in these books; many campaign ideas to mine.
  • Considering which of several reviews I need to write first this week: I've got two free RPGs off the net, one purchased RPG, and one novel that I need to write about. I may just talk about the RPGs in the context of my recent series on game objectives. Or not. Maybe I'll just try to be positive instead.
  • Re-watching Terra Nova (On Demand) as I type, and thinking this is so much better than Avatar. Unfortunately, it's still a little too "easily-digestible" in content for my taste. Too "family friendly." Not that I object to the main characters being a family, mind you...a film or TV series can still be gritty and hard-edged, even without featuring the hard-boiled protagonist with zero relationships/family ties.
You know, THAT's an interesting game idea to tinker with, come to think of it...there's not enough family drama in RPGs. I mean, Edwards addresses some of this in his Sex and Sorcerer supplement, but a game that actually incorporates a family dynamic as a major part of game set-up and -play? Maybe something like the old Space Family Robinson?

Eh...I'm getting goofy. I better hit the hay; I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow. And without the high one gets when their favorite team wins on Sunday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kicking the GM When He's Down

So in my last post, I wrote a bit about objective-less RPGs from the player point-of-view, and how frustrating it can be. Frustrating in that an RPG may present a lot of "cool things you can do/be" but in actual practice you (the player) get shut down in order to make the game playable. At least, that was kind of the gist of what I was writing though I apologize if I wasn't succinct enough.

However, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of my time I am running the game (i.e. acting as Game Master) rather than playing the game as a player. So one might guess that most of my frustration with objective-less RPGs has to do with how it affects the GM.

That would be a good guess.

Why would someone ever choose the role of GM? Because they are a frustrated (i.e. unpublished) fiction writer? Because they like to lord it over people as a de facto "god" of the fantasy universe?

I don't know. Really, I don't...I can say that there IS a degree of "control freak" to my personality, at least from an astrological perspective: having Pluto in the 10th house gives me a deep emotional attachment to be in positions of authority and control (or at least the appearance of looking like I know what I'm doing), and being a GM allows me to do that. It certainly helps fulfill the essential needs of my Capricorn Venus, too.

On the other hand, I've got Neptune conjunct my Ascendant ("rising") sign, so I'm able to adapt to other styles of play (including giving over control of a game) and that impatient Aries Mars in opposition to Uranus makes me want to break free of any responsibility I have to my players...maybe that's why I have a tendency to kill their characters at every opportunity.
; )

Who knows? It could just be that I'm an A-type personality that can only see things being done "my way or the highway." Maybe I don't take orders from other authority figures very well, and being in the captain's chair allows me to steer clear of conflict on that front.

Whatever it is, I do enjoy running games. I am a fairly creative person and being the game master gives me the chance to create worlds and adventures and fantastic (as in "fantasy") situations and the opportunity to make all sorts of NPC personalities (which I find fun). And I don't get so wholly committed to "my own story" that I care if PCs wreck the thing...I am really not into railroading player action to conform to any set plot.

But despite my enjoyment in that, being a GM is quite a bit of work. Just "knowing the rules good" isn't enough to run a game...there's management of the game, management of the player characters (sometimes management of the players themselves), acting as judge/adjudicator for odd actions/circumstances, pacing of the session, making sure everyone gets involved and has an opportunity to actively participate (this is part of the management thing)...

And all of that (which can, frankly, be exhausting, especially with more than two or three players)...all of that comes only after the preparation for the game itself. 'Cause it's not enough to show up to the game table with a rule book and dice and the knowledge of how to quickly find such-and-such table on page 136 (or whatever). No, it is the GM's task (in all RPGs that utilize a GM) to craft an adventure or scenario or plot or whatever a particular game chooses to call it: the GM is responsible for determining the particular opportunities and avenues open for exploration.

For some DM's this may be as "simple" as drawing a dungeon map and stocking it (random or not) with challenges and loot. For some (like Alexis over at Tao of D&D) it might mean creating an entire living-breathing world of society and customs and economy and trade routes and knowing how those things interact so that when players say, "I want to be a mustard farmer," he knows how many plots of land are available for cultivation.

Hey, but that's what we're signing up for, right? If you want to be the GM/DM then you've got to be willing to put in the time...even if it just means thinking up an idea an hour beforehand and jotting down some quick-n-dirty notes for how the plot/adventure will unfold.

When a game has a blueprint for creating game it the "mission" of Top Secret, the "dungeon" of Basic D&D, or the "investigation" of Call of Cthulhu, the GM has an idea of what the prep-work for the game will look like. Maybe not how to go about getting to the final product (different folks pursue the creative endeavor in different ways), but at least an end result...something to present at the game session. And because players know what they're getting into (due to the explicit instruction of what game play is about), they can get on the same page with the GM.

Top Secret players: "What's our mission?"
GM/Administrator: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it is..."

D&D players: "Any leads on potential treasure hunts?"
DM: "As a matter of fact, you've heard about this ancient temple..."

CoC players: "What's the recent mystery we've been hipped to?"
GM/Keeper: "Well, Bill's uncle has recently vanished; he was known to dabble in the occult..."

What with all the other work that goes into the game, having a clear-cut idea of play is a damn godsend. As a GM you are already put in a position of managing player expectations; for example, even if they know they'll be dungeon delving again, you still have to play up to (or down to) the challenge level they're expecting. Some players relish a kill-crazy scenario like the Tomb of Horrors, while other players get totally disgruntled with the inclusion of a single level-draining monster. As a GM of any game, there's a certain amount of adjustment that goes on with balancing things to players' taste (as well as helping them push their limits in this regard) long as you have a base or foundation (what I referred to as an "objective of play") then you can build on that.

For example, some veteran D&D players might find the whole dungeon schtick to be lacking after awhile. They get a handle on the best tactics for overcoming most challenges, and develop a nose for avoiding or ignoring parts that are too difficult (I've had players decide to skip going to a particular dungeon because it was rumored to be filled with undead and they were light in the cleric department...that's just smart play). But the DM can up the ante by adding political ramifications (as in, issues with the local government) or ethical dilemmas, or romantic entanglements, or religious/spiritual consequences to an adventure. A DM can create situations where these "non-dungeon" challenges need to be navigated as part of or in addition to a "standard adventure scenario." Lasting consequences to a campaign can come out of adventures, making the "dungeon" more than an isolated site of exploration...if the PCs somehow negotiate a trade route with the Drow (or ally with them to conquer the kingdoms of the surface world) you've got yourself a pretty interesting story rooted firmly in the foundation of "explore and evil subterranean society."

What if your Top Secret investigator gets captured by the terrorist (or other governmental organization) she was trying to infiltrate and becomes a turncoat, either as a character choice ("my character would probably break if waterboarded") or circumstantially (the enemy outfit somehow blackmails the character or bribes her with enough dough)? Then you add a whole new dimension to your TS game as the traitor may be sabotaging the rest of the "party" or playing "both sides of the fence" in future missions. Or what if one of the enemy agents turns out to be a "love interest" of the PC (as one finds in O So Many James Bond films) can this complicate the situation or jeopardize the job? Interesting things and neat role-playing opportunities can come out of a game, even with rather vanilla objectives like "go assassinate this bad guy" or "go stop this terrorist organization by infiltrating their base."

Within an objective framework there is opportunity for both the PCs and the GM to "mix things up."

But that's almost a secondary consideration for me...I mean, when running an RPG, I will almost always attempt to dig into a deeper development of character when given half a chance (though that's a whole 'nother post entirely). For me, the main thing is this: with all the other responsibilities on my plate, the last freaking thing I want to do is try to figure out what exactly players are supposed to be doing in the game.

Yes, I can usually come up with an idea based on the premise/setting of these high concept idea (as in, one) that players may or may not like depending on their own conceptions of "what the game is." But sustaining play? Long term? As opposed to a one-off single session.'s too much.

Call me lazy, fine. I prefer long term play to one-off games, and if I'm going to get to the "meat" of role-playing, it is far easier for me to have a frame or structure from which to hang the game...and I'm not just talking about system/rules. If I have a basic game "concept" than I can explore (or drive the player characters to explore) other things within that paradigm. Without it, they're just wandering and (generally) counting on me, the "game master," to come up with stuff for them to do, i.e. "adventures."

Does this sound like I'm denigrating the players' ability to be proactive? Um, no, not really. In my experience, players tend to take an active role in choosing the individual goals and agendas of their characters...though generally only after they've come to identify, develop, and understand the character, something that occurs (mainly) during play itself. And the amount of time it takes to create that rapport and idea of internal character motivation, varies not only by player, but by circumstance as well.

[and THAT's a whole different series of posts, too!]

And until players get to that level of comfort with their characters, where they can understand and internalize motivation and take a proactive stance towards what they do in the imaginary game world...until that happens, guess who the player is looking to for direction as to what they should be doing?

Yeah, the GM. And I, frankly, don't have time to tell you what you're supposed to be doing in the game...I'm trying to prep and run and manage and anticipate and improvise, etc...all those things I mentioned earlier. Players asking me, "what are we supposed to do?" How the hell should I know if the game designer doesn't tell me?

"Just shut up and take the job my NPC is handing you." I mean, isn't that what it boils down to eventually?

Here's the real sample adventure from Hollow Earth Expedition (when I was referencing the film crew, that was the downloadable sample adventure from their web site): players are called into a meeting with a U.S. Army major who outlines a scenario similar to the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark; i.e. Hitler has organized a team to go after an occult artifact [in this case, an ancient location of power rather than an ancient object] and the U.S. government wants the PCs to go after it. The briefing knows nothing about the thing (or the Hollow Earth for that matter) except that it is believed to be in the North Pole.

Now how exactly does that work with the concept archetypes like Field Biologist, Big Game Hunter, Jungle Missionary, or Lost Traveller? Answer: it doesn't. The adventure lists the archetypes "best suited" for the scenario, but doesn't preclude others. Same with certain Motivations (the HEX equivalent of alignment, or in VTM terms "Natures"). Since the scenario can be used "as the introduction to a longer campaign" the GM is explicitly told to talk to the players about what kind of game they're expecting and what kind of characters they're interested in playing.

All well and good...except that without a standard concept of game play, whose to say player interests or expectations can be met or even reconciled with the adventure scenario itself?

I ran into this issue when running Over The Edge, a game with "unlimited potential" and no standard method of play. I wanted to run a kind of "everyman-gets-drawn-into-a-seedy-underground-world-of-blackmarket-intrigue" with the usual OTE weirdness. My player wanted to play a suave and street-smart arms-dealer. Um...

The problem with OTE is that there are so many reasons for player characters to be on the island of Al Amarjah, and such a wide-open method of character creation...even their own examples of actual play feature players that are "troublesome" (at least from the GM's perspective). From the players' perspective? I'm sure they were just working within the rules to create a character they thought would be fun to play.

My OTE game lasted one session. My Rifts "campaigns," some of which involved a LOT of prep work for adventure planning/plotting and strings of "events" never lasted more than two sessions. Most never lasted more than one. Ars Magica has never lasted more than two or three sessions, whether I was running them or not, even when all the players were very committed to playing the game.

And as I said, I prefer long-term play and the natural evolution of character development that comes out of that form of play. One-off adventures are fine for conventions and sample/example sessions, but part of the fun for me (and the reason I prefer "conventional" RPGs to most indie games) is seeing where a long-term saga/campaign goes.

And without a built-in objective it's hard to do that.

And I don't like "hard." Running a game is tough enough. I've got enough on my plate without needing to devise a method of play that A) integrates the players' expectations with my own, and B) provides a week-to-week reason for play in order to keep a campaign going without an overall objective of play.

Does it sound like I'm whining a lot here? Sure I am...because I just dropped $50 on a book that expects me to do the work that the designer could've/should've done. I said in my original post on the subject, that this kind of lazy design choice is a serious irritant to me; I don't mind doing the work of the GM, I expect to take that on when I take up the mantle and decide to run a game. But the designer needs to do more than say, "here's a neat setting and rules for 'doing things,' now figure out how you want to play." Pal, the GM's job already comes with enough stuff to do, already requires "imagination added," don't give me YOUR job as a designer on top of it!

I think many designers must make the assumption that people (GMs) will "just know what to do" when they pick up their book, and it's more important to spend time on detailing the intricacies of the world setting, figuring this information will act as a "springboard" to the GM cultivating a game. Eh. Such stuff gives me ideas of what I want to incorporate into a game, but doesn't provide the "roadmap" to play itself. And it's a royal pain in the ass trying to figure it out myself...a pain in the ass that I'm generally unwilling to deal with since I know from experience it doesn't get one's game very far anyway, without a clear set of objectives with which everyone (players and GM) can "get on board."

All right, that's enough for now...this post is getting overly long.