+Erik Tenkar and +Tim Shorts have both rendered their opinions on the d30 Sandbox Companion. They loved it.

(Erik’s review at Tenkar’s Tavern here)

Now, I do play in Erik’s Swords and Wizardry campaign with +Peter V. Dell’Orto (whom I know well) and others (whom I’ve really only met once). But I wanted to take a different tack on this.

The book is 56 printed pages, including 7-8 pages of bookends (art, table of contents, index).

The rest of the book is page after page of random tables. Wilderness locations, temples, cults, castles and strongholds . . . even two pages on randomly determining the weather. Detailed tables on generating settlements. What services (all kinds of services!) the local inns offer.

Two full, and fully awesome, pages on heraldry. He claims something like 27,000 combinations.

Fifteen pages on various NPCs.

Sure, sure. But it’s all for old school gaming, right? If you’re not playing a D&D clone, or maybe stretch it to Pathfinder, maybe, you’re screwed.

Right?

Not even close. I’d say about 36 pages are entirely generic. Basically strings of imaginative words, cleverly laid out to provide descriptions of towns, inns, people, sages . . . hell, even whole adventures.


Don’t believe me: Here’s a sample adventure in 10 die rolls, using Excel (because I don’t have a d30):

Trigger reconnaisance
Major goal Prevent invasion
Obstacle to goal Beat time limitation
Location Hamlet
Location Feature Fountain
Phenomena Charm
Villian Goal/Reason Mischief
Artifact/Relic bowl/brazier/censer
Theme Power
Key NPC Magic User

OK, we have a magic user as the key NPC; let’s make him the villain. Let’s say that when the water from the water from a natural, blessed fountain is placed into a certain artifact, a holy bowl from which a saint or other holy personage was said to have drunk, it causes the drinker to be able to become nearly irresistible. Were talking Hitler-levels of charisma.
So, our magic user wants to cause a stir. He needs a diversion to allow him to get into some other location to obtain, say, a grimoire or geniza. So he leaks the information to a power-hungry (there’s power again) noble (or several nobles), all of whom will journey to this remote hamlet to seize the bowl. The drinker will be able to use his magically awesome charisma to cause several normally-fractious neighbors to join forces to invade, and perhaps conquer, a stronger but otherwise peaceful kingdom. The PCs need to get to the hamlet and find the location of the bowl, perhaps uncover the secret of bowl+fountain = charisma, before the rival nobles can.
Will the PCs drink from the bowl? Perhaps . . . but all gifts come with a price, of course.
See? It’s gold. 

So, what about the other 10-13 pages of “not-generic” stuff? Well, some of that has descriptors like “fighter” or “cleric” that can absolutely be swapped out for any Dungeon Fantasy template of appropriate strength. Low-level fighter needed? Go buy DF15: Henchmen and poof! Instant conversion of a D&D-type character to GURPS. Magic items can be converted or translated. Yes, it’s some work, but a hell of a lot less than you’d wind up doing inventing it whole cloth.
If you don’t have a handy megadungeon, you can certainly have years of fun simply by rolling some dice.
Oh, and bonus: If you don’t want to roll, you can rather easily get these descriptors and die rolls into your favorite spreadsheet program and generate instant random adventure seeds (or anything else in the table).
Good stuff, and not just for OSR fans. Nice work by Richard J. Leblanc of New Big Dragon!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. Not only did I like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire better than the first Hunger Games movie, but I think I liked it better than the book from which it was derived. It hit all the high points, and less time was spent whinging about choosing between two men. Nothing felt tedious or drawn out, the things that were cut I didn’t miss. +Alina Cole, my lovely wife, felt the same way. Jennifer Lawrence did a nice job, Stanley Tucci was excellent as usual.

We chose to see this, on the last day of vacation, in lieu of The Desolation of Smaug or 47 Ronin.

I think of this and Frozen, it’s hard to choose between them in terms of how to spend roughly two hours of your time. Very, very different movies, of course.

If this team can do for Mockingjay what they did for this installment, it’ll be a pretty good overall trilogy. They’re making good choices on pacing, and what to ditch and what to keep from the books.

As +Peter V. Dell’Orto noted, I’ve spent a lot of time this vacation writing. An exchange we had on passing back the twenty-third revision of one of the two projects we’ve been collaborating on made me appreciate for the Nth time the value of playtesting, and also what “simple” means.

I do a lot of spreadsheet work when developing rules. It helps me ensure that there’s a logical consistency in my mechanics, and when I do the right spreadsheet work, it helps to ensure that the work I do is scalable. Does this rule work for a human? A human with the strength of a T-Rex (supers)? A T-Rex with the Strength of a human (disadvantages)? Works for Mice, Men, and Godzilla?

So, when I do this, I often make use of Excel, and the ROUND, ROUNDUP, ROUNDDOWN, and TRUNC functions. Picking the right function helps me keep the breakpoints where I want them.

However, after this recent project with Peter, I will way, way more often make a final pass, and ask the Very Important Question: if you’re doing this three hours into a four-hour game session, having imbibed three glasses of wine, countless Doritos, and no small amount of bad pizza . . . and you have to make a GM call for the fiftieth NPC that your players must defeat . . . can you still do it?

I mean, having the breakpoints for (say) a ST progression go from 18-22 (centered on 20, what you get with ROUND(N/5,0) might be a beautiful mathematical thing . . . but if in the middle of play you have a new ST 23 NPC, does it make you swear loudly and have to choose between pulling out a calculator or pulling out your hair?

Yeah, OK, I can learn. Nearly everyone can reckon by fives. Why use 18-22 when 20-24 would do?

The lesson learned here is the value of a gaming group. Without one, you don’t really realize when the wonderful rule you’ve created makes your friends want to blast you with d4s loaded into a 6-gauge shotgun. Or, after pulling out a book, a computer, and smiling as you get the answer you wanted, you look up and five guys and gals are giving you the “the pizza’s getting cold and my one-second action has now taken me fifteen seconds to say and fifteen minutes for you to fiddle with” look.

Anyway, playing your rules with a group (even solo with a friend) will point out the flaws in things. My evening once spent Fighting with Peter pointed out some major issues with my book. The rules there weren’t bad (though there were a couple of hidden Murphys), but they couldn’t be easily explained in play, and ultimately, this resulted in important errata for Technical Grappling.

Playing your rules with actual people means you have to explain them quickly and clearly. It means doing it under time pressure. And it means ensuring that they work in actual play. And that means having done such playtesting, you’re more likely to put in print stuff that’s Awesome.

For today’s GURPS-Day and GURPS 101 segment, we continue with the basic stats, this time with IQ and its derived abilities, Perception and Willpower.

Many, if not all, of the comments made about the value of DX are true for IQ. They both have two derived abilities, and both of those are 5 points each. This leaves the skill part of the IQ at roughly 10 per level, giving a boost to 200 skills or so. It’s a ludicrously good deal, and since eleven of fourteen of +Sean Punch‘s list of basic adventuring skills in GURPS have a direct (IQ) or indirect (Per) default to IQ, you can more or less justify as much spending in IQ as you’d like from an “effectiveness” point of view.
How Brilliant Is Required? (IQ)

Since there’s no upper limit on how much IQ you want to buy from a point-effectiveness basis, how much should you buy? Well, I’d probably say that you’ll want to probably approach this from one of two perspectives.

Perspective the First: What seems like a good value? IQ 9-10 is nothing to write home about, and says you’re about average in everything. IQ 11-12 is a steep step up the bell curve, and is high enough to be a defining characteristic. Those guys that are notably brilliant and it’s their defining thing? They’re IQ 13-14 polymaths. IQ 15 and higher will be spectacularly noticeable, and it will be noticable in play. More on that later. Experts in their fields, where that field requires a lot of brain-work, are more likely to be IQ 11-12 with maximum applicable Talent (for effective IQ of 14-16 in those areas, with that added panache thrown in) than raw IQ in that level for plausible and realistic characters.

Perspective the Second: Buy as much of it as you can, from a game-mechanical standpoint, and do it in this order. First, buy as many levels of the appropriate 5- or 10-point Talent as you can. Then buy up your skills to the absolute levels you want. Then “sell back” points in skills, seeing if you can get to enough to eke out boosts to IQ instead. So if you’ve thrown down the requisite 30 points for +3 “Stuff I Want to Be Good At” Talent, and then decided that you really need to be awesome in these seven IQ-based skills (including Per and Will), look at the total points spent in those skills. Got more than 20? Start looking to see if you can have the same skill levels while raising up your base IQ. Munchkiny? Absolutely.

The only issue this raises is one that is fine on paper and annoying as hell in play (at least to me). High-IQ characters tend to be niche-stompers in games with niches. Be warned.

Hey, what’s that? (Per)

I wrote an entire post on Perception last August. I won’t repeat it here. I find Per one of the single most valuable attributes on the character sheet from a “get involved with stuff, and avoid being ganked” perspective. It allows you to hear/see the invisible adversary coming, it allows you to notice those pesky details that avoid the adventure coming to a complete halt, read lips, detect lies, and find cool stuff left over in the garbage heap.

And did I mention not getting jumped?

I have found that Per of 12 seems sufficient, but that probably means Per-14 is even better.

Determination, Grit, and Holy Awesomeness! (Will)


Cadmus has Will-14. It rocks. When dealing with possession, the undead, or if you use The Last Gasp for pushing yourself hard with physical effort, Will is great. I’ve not found a lot of cases where Will-16 through Will-20 is required, but that’s situational. Penalized Will rolls are likely to be a staple of confronting powerful undead creatures, and Contests of Will are common in fiction.

Parting Shot

This is more a matter of “yes, it’s worth the points, always” rather than “is it ever worth it?” IQ (and DX) are the best deals in the game, unless maybe it’s HT, but probably IQ and DX are the winners here. The question is really of point allocation and role. Are you the point man? You want Per, lots of it, and enough of an applicable Talent and skill to push what you want to be good at over the top.

Spellcaster or Cleric? Again, hit up the specific Talents first, then boost Will, then skills, then IQ.

Polymath, good at everything? You annoy me. 🙂 Buy up IQ until the GM and your fellow players throw up their hands in disgust.

This is one of those interesting oddities that shows up in Pyramid from time to time. A truly systemless article that’s useful for any GM in any system, as well as being a trove of information to be mined

I’m going to give away the ending, and note that this was far and away my favorite article of this issue. 
The entire premise of the work is to dig into the journey that the newly deceased must take to get to the afterlife. It notes how similar the journey myths are between the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, and the Norsemen. She then explores different aspects of this myth.
The writing is extraordinarily good, and both the content and presentation drew me in from the start. The opening vignette is very, very well done, and you could see it as either a great example of how to deal with this topic in an RPG, or as an excerpt from a good piece of fantasy fiction. It is, of course, both.
The Death-Touched Character

This short block provides a small (very small) amount of directly GURPS-related advice. It’s effectively a short touchstone of skills, advantages, and disadvantages that anchor the concepts presented to the GURPS system. The implication here is that this sort of thing (dead men’s journeys) is primarily narrative, with just enough plot hook in the form of character traits to serve as a reason for what’s going on.

The Hero’s Decent

Another short section describing a bit about who takes the journey (everyone), and then gets to the meat of it – characters may very well want to take a road trip to the underworld in order to get one of their friends back, or for some other purpose.

This can be, in a word, tricky. Not the least of which is finding a physical door to the underworld, which must be appropriately creepy as well as mystically connected to the land of the dead, one presumes. That’s not really in the article, but again, the writing is such that it evokes these thoughts easily and naturally.

Omens

A much longer section, Ms. Ward spends a full page-column on the subject of omens. A few famous legends (Achilles and Sleeping Beauty) are mentioned. Also mentioned are using omens as a response to divination spells – a nice bit where the GM can say “OK, great . . . you cast divination” and then get the plot moving along, and have the results of that not be a core dump on the player group saying “here are all the answers you need.”

This is nice not just because of the naturalness of how the information is given, but because players can surprise the GM with questions or “OK, here’s the spell!” and if the GM didn’t have that planned out ahead of time, he’s either going to have to wing it totally, or stop play to think. Or he may give out too much information, short-circuiting his plot or mystery.

Letting the information/divination leak out bit by bit is a nice way to put some space, and plot, and time for other characters to get some spotlight time in between the casting and the answer. It also lets everyone else play by giving the entire group a chance to make Hidden Lore, History, Occultism, or other rolls when these omens appear. An entirely elegant solution.

And just in case your Omen Fu is weak, she lists a bunch of them. That’s a good omen for future success.

Also in this section is a bit on psychopomps, entities that are tour guides on the road to hell. But in a nice way. Valkyries? Looking at you. Also mentioned in passing are the kinds of challenges heroes might face – and avoid – in trying to bring ’em back alive.

Gateways

A gateway is a great symbol of the beginning of a journey and the boundary between two places. It’s both a symbolic and physical marker of realm and journey. The article touches on how to know what places are reputed to be (or known to be) gateways, as well as some warnings about how to conduct yourself on the journey. This section is over a page long, and takes about some common features of such journeys, including rivers, gates, the Hall of the god watching over the underworld, and the journey out of the underworld, since it’s rather unlikely that the denizens of such places will be happy to let you go.

Ever.

Guardians

Finally, she spends a page on those who guard and protect the gates, the paths, and the destination. This includes reference to a couple of monsters, with GURPS stats (though not in stat-block format, for which I’m somewhat grateful). This section is sprinkled with actual game references, though few mechanics (no loss there, really), as well, so GMs will have a notion on how to handle some of these challenges.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. As mentioned in the main text, this may be the best-written systemless article I recall in Pyramid. My own commentary above, frequently launching from a concept she brings up, show how easy and natural it is to springboard from her writing to game ideas. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: These concepts would fit well and make good consideration for fantasy gaming from generic fantasy and even (or perhaps especially) Dungeon Fantasy, where “oh, look, our friend died, let’s hie off to the underworld and bring him back” is a viable decision. This article could also inform the background mythology of a well run Monster Hunters campaign. It would play well with concepts such as +Christopher R. Rice‘s neat treatment of Thresholds, which are so important in the Dresden Files. Each section has ideas and concepts that can be mined and developed to taste. The article is one solid bit of inspiration, background, and epiphany from start to finish. I’d give it more points if my scale allowed, but since it doesn’t . . . 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: While this is system-lite, really – there are a few GURPS concepts (skill rolls, a mention of HP for Harvest Demons, etc.) this is not a mechanics-heavy article. Nonetheless, many of the concepts themselves are drop-in or easily ported to the appropriate game setting.. 2 points.

Overall: 8/10. A very strong offering, and a vastly entertaining read.

Would I use it? Yes. This gives me something very, very tangible to think about for any sort of fantasy or modern campaign setting that involves (or might involve) the mystical and life-after-death as a plot element.

Note to my readers: There seem to be many Kyla Wards on Google, and I couldn’t link to her as I’d have liked. If one of you could help draw this review to her attention, not only would I like her to read it, I’d love to invite her to a Firing Squad interview! Maybe +Robin Laws could help!

Every Pyramid issue contains an installment from +David Pulver, in the column entitled Eidetic Memory. Despite being the author of such books as Vehicles and Spaceships, David’s gaming interests are wide and eclectic, and since he has to write to each issue’s theme, I very much get the feeling that he lets himself play with each column a bit.

This article is one of the reasons that feeling solidified. It presents Baba Yaga, a figure from Slavic folklore, with a seriously warped backstory.

Grey Hag of the Forest


Baba Yaga is not a mystical witch. She’s the offshoot of alien experimentation with human/Grey hybrid children looking to instill psionic powers. It takes the core of the legend and extrapolates more high-tech (and insane) root-causes for each bit of the legend.

Baba Yaga (and Baba Yaga’s Hut)


The article then presents Baba Yaga’s stat block, which is the typical dense text that you have to read very closely in order to get the full gist of it. This isn’t David’s fault; it’s the standard SJG/GURPS stat block, but I will admit to finding these nearly impenetrable, unreadable, and I tend to skip over them. And this one isn’t even that long. The DF and Monster Hunter templates are worse, with all the choices. But I digress.

After the stat block, Baba Yaga’s hut is presented in standard Spaceships format. This, on the other hand, I love. It’s very readable, tells you what you need to know, and handwaves the rest. It has a neat TARDIS bit where it’s SM +4 on the outside, but SM +7 on the inside, which should make for a good WTF moment for intrepid adventurers.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. While the writing of the main text blocks is information-dense, everything was so matter-of-fact that I was never really drawn into the subject. It turns something mythological into something very technical, and that didn’t work for me. Plus: stat block. Eww. -1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: There are some key takeaways from this article that are generically useful for epiphany and inspiration. The first is how to blend myth and technology, and how to look for gaming ideas for a modern game in the lore of the past. The connections made between legendary powers and tech abilities is a useful exercise. I found that connecting the myth of Baba Yaga to the Grey a somewhat novel twist – I didn’t like it, but it was an interesting idea. I didn’t think this one blended well with the issue’s theme, even though the roots were based in an actual myth. 1 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: Ultimately this article really only works in a very, very specific setting and campaign type, which is no surprise. This premise is excerpted directly from David’s modern-day campaign: “gonzo journalists chasing the unknown.”. If you have a similar campaign setting, or room for this sort of thing in something similar, you have a Big Bad and a novel vehicle. There are some details that can be mined here, but as far as a drop-in, I think you’re going to be hard pressed. 2 points.

Overall: 2/10. I had a hard time walking away from this one with anything fully tangible to grab on to, and the subject matter needed to be interesting a priori to the GM to make the twist on the take even more interesting. Since I didn’t know much (or care much) about Baba Yaga in the first place, the very campaign-specific variation on this theme was not going to grab me.

Would I use it? No. This one would not appear in any of my games, though the connection example of “take some mythology and find the core concept, and explore that” is of some utility.

I don’t get to see movies in the theater much anymore. With a four-year-old child who professes to hate movies, this isn’t something I get the chance to do much. I occasionally do get away (I caught Thor: The Dark World), but not as often as I’d like.

So, my mother decides she wants to take my daughter to the movies. We warn her that one of the only films she has sat through without completely freaking out is Wall-E. We tell her it’s a bad idea. But she bypasses us, and asks my daughter directly, who naturally says yes. Grandma, after all, asked.

So we decide to go see Frozen. Short Stack is one with the Disney Princesses, after all.

Hrmph. You can see how this will end? Yes? Good. I’ll return to it later.

The movie itself is delightful, with one important caveat: this movie really should have been rated something like PG-10, if it existed.

Kristen Bell (Anna) and +Idina Menzel (Elsa) are simply awesome, both individually and in pairs. I didn’t know Bell could sing, but she really, really can, and checking IMDB, I am utterly unsurprised that she graduated in Musical Theater and was on Broadway. Did I mention they were wonderful?

The plot is interesting enough, and a real departure in many ways. It does show some signs of being rewritten a lot, and the movie was locked in development hell for over a decade. It’s a movie without a terribly clear villain, and there are maybe two to four real twists that I will absolutely not spoil that make it a really novel film for a story literally about Disney Princesses.

Parental Guidance? Yep, they mean it.


So, fine. Good story, great singing, line after line that made my wife and I laugh out loud.

So what’s the problem?

Well, nothing, really . . . but this movie had my daughter on my wife’s lap for over an hour, and she was actively in tears or quivering to not cry for a lot of the film. Now, she’s quite sensitive, and tension really gets to her. And this movie is tense.

From the initial scene that causes Else’s forced segregation from her sister to a lot of the interpersonal conflict to the near-obligatory offing of the parents, the movie is wonderfully tense (for a pre-teen or older) but really wound up my little one.

Oh, and the Ice Monster? Every single scene on camera, they made it scarier. And they did it well.


The last bit of the movie is effectively one minor climax/plot reveal after another (some not so minor, actually), and while it does not feel as “oh, God, another ending” as The Return of the King, this tension kept poor Short Stack more or less quivering.

Also, there’s no question in my mind that some of the themes of the movie are aggressively about coming of age. They do it in a good way, but some of the nearly photorealistic animation that is used these days is strongly suggestive. When Else declares she’s free and gives herself the new ice-blue/green dress, that slit goes way, way, way up, with a very suggestive hip movement.

Offensive? No. Definitely not. But I noticed it strongly, as the father of a young daughter. For the pre-teen and older set, especially those with sisters, it’ll be a great movie. Just take note that this is definitely a coming of age movie, and has some strong themes that you’d better be prepared to explain if asked!

So She Hated It?


No. She was scared (terrified). But she’s done nothing but talk about Elsa and Anna since yesterday. She did not have nightmares, and hardly listens to anything else but the freshly-downloaded Frozen Soundtrack. Now, when asked if she liked it, she’ll say “Yeah! But . . . it was a little bit scary.”

But Caveat Emptor: I’d say this movie is perfect for ages ranging from somewhere about 10-12 and up. Those in the 4-6 range should exercise caution if other movies freak them out. 7-9 should probably be OK.

As for the adults? I will definitely be buying this one. I am a big fan of animated films, and musicals. This had a lot of the strong plotting of a Pixar movie, with some truly exceptional vocal talent and five or six really excellent pieces of musical art on display. “Let It Go” is a real classic as done by Idina Menzel in the film (better than the single version, honestly. Much better.) and the interplay of Anna, Else, Hans, and Kristoff is intensely entertaining. There are plenty of “Bugs Bunny” quality gags too, where the visuals are highly amusing and will keep the kids distracted while the adults chortle into their sleeves about double-meaning and subversive interplay of language.

See it. Just don’t take your super-sensitive four-year-old with you.

Obligatory Roleplaying Reference


I’d really hate to stat up Elsa and her powers in GURPS. I mean, she entombed an entire country in ice. I would be tempted to do it in Fate, but even so – this heroine is literally a force of nature under conscious control. I’d be interested to see how +Leonard Balsera would write her up. I am, frankly, daunted at the prospect.

In the comments section, +David Pulver notes something worth repeating:

Oddly enough, you probably do Elsa quite cheaply in Big Eyes, Small Mouth, as wide area non-lethal effects were cheap. Environmental Control (Cold) Level 6 (generate arctic cold, affect up to a small country) is 6 points, with an average-powered game suggesting 35 points for a character.

Also, Jake B noted that he was glad he wasn’t the only dad who noticed the slit in the dress. I went back and found this fully-animated take from the movie, courtesy of Disney.  In retrospect, the slit goes to her knees, which is only practical. The thing that hit me on second watching was the exaggerated sway of the hips. The two combined to say “I am woman, hear me roar,” which is all fine, but it was a very vampy scene. Still, there are some times where it’s OK to hit you with the Clue Bat.

That’s a lot of hippy hippy shake,
Slit isn’t really that high. Knee-length is just practical

On December 28, 2012, I made my first post to this blog. Looking back, over the year, how did I do? Was it worth it, and is it still?

Content

Well, start with my own content. Including this one and one in draft form, I’ll have made 250 posts, or about two posts every three days. That’s not bad, and frankly my goal was about four posts every seven days (1.75 days per post), and I hit about 1.5 days between posts, so I overachieved.

For a while, I had a really good thing going. Two Actual Play reports, an Apropos of Nothing segue into entertainment, usually movies but sometimes other gaming inspiration, and two or three gaming content posts, with a GURPS-related post every week on Thursday, and other gaming-related stuff for the others.

As for content, well, I will admit that I’m fairly happy with the GURPS-related stuff I’ve put down here. The Melee Academy, GURPS 101, and Grappling Mat “features” are fun to write, and I’ve got some nice collaboration going on.

The interviews were a fun but late add to my repertoire. I’m still shooting for one per month, and I’ll gladly take suggestions. Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day have both been suggested, and sure, why not! I’d love to interview some of the Big Dogs at Paizo, Ken Hite and I are still trading emails. I’d love to talk with some fiction authors who also game, too, for a different take on things.

Response


Overall, it’s been great. Blogger puts me at just over 125,000 pageviews for the year (about 2,400 per week). Google Analytics, of course, puts me at just shy of 70,000 in roughly the same time period (1,350 per week). The truth is probably in between, which probably means about 250 readers per day, although Analytics also tells me that over 14,000 “unique visitors” have dropped by, which is way cool.

More fun for me are the almost 1,400 comments those posts have generated, which if you exclude my own, probably means an average of 3 comments per post. That’s not bad at all, though of course I’d love more!

I know I’ve been added to some really cool blog rosters, and struck up some fun conversations/internet friendships with people I’d never have otherwise met.

The Future


Well, more.

I’d like to get back to that schedule of one game per week for the writeups and “actual play” experience that brings. I’d also like to GM a game or two of my own, which I hope to sketch out real soon now.

I definitely want to do at least six interviews in 2014, ideally more in the nine to 12 range, though some donations to the transcript fund would help me make it twelve rather than six more easily.

As for content, as long as I’m playing and writing, I’ll still have stuff to talk about. I’m branching out into other games, such as +Erik Tenkar‘s S&W game. When the Daylight Saving’s Time turns again on March 9, my evening conference call should flip back to morning, which will hopefully allow me to jump back into +Nathan Joy‘s Jade Regent/Dungeon Fantasy campaign. I definitely want to start up my own game, probably with guns in it, to give those rules (and some house rules) a workout.

I suspect that much of my writing for at least the first quarter will be Pyramid. I’ve got something like four articles in the writing process now. Two with +Peter V. Dell’Orto, one on my own that’s in Development Hell, and one more that will hopefully be part of something pretty cool.

There are two e23 projects I want to write as well, but one will be very research intensive, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time.

Parting Shot

Thanks to all those who read (and share!) this blog with me. I’m certain had I not gotten such good feedback from everyone, I’d have just stopped doing it.

I love hearing from people, and even criticism is quite useful, as are suggestions of what to look at next. I’m always itching for more topics!

Over on the SJG Forums, a question was asked about Tug of War.

Seems like Technical Grappling can handle this pretty easily.

First, combine all the Basic Lifts of all the characters on each side, using their Trained ST if they have any training in Tug-of-War specifically. I’d say use the Fast progression if you have such sport-specific training.

Convert this to an aggregate ST score.

One, two, three . . . Go! Both start pulling simultaneously, rolling CP on each other.

Then just use Shoving People Around (Martial Arts, p. 118 and TG, p. 25) to move the center of the rope as many yards (usually a couple) to win, or even try and perform a Takedown.

Fairly straight-forward, I think.

+Christopher R. Rice and I sat down briefly to discuss a mutual project of ours, that he nonetheless originated, championed, and for lack of a better word, chairs.

Pyramid Magazine can a tough magazine for which to write. GURPS formats are intensely technical, and the Steve Jackson Games style guide somewhat opaque. Tack onto that the fact that game writing is technical writing, and what more you have to have a good idea, organize it well, and carry it off with the written word with sufficient panache to entice the reader onward, well, one has a job of work ahead of him.

Please forgive my current writing style. I have been immersed in +Steven Brust‘s Viscount of Adrilankha series just a moment ago, and his Paarfisms have infected my prose.

So, shall I continue? I very much think I shall.

See?

To the meat of it, then: we recorded a short, shall we say, Public Service Announcement, where we discussed some of the particulars of the group, what he’s trying to accomplish, and why.

You can find the interview at my YouTube Channel, as well as by clicking the link below.

If you’re interested in developing your skills with the goal of writing for Pyramid (and eventually e23 should you prove to enjoy the process and be successful at it), you may contact him at pyramidwritergroup@gmail.com

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Alright, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad. We’re departing a little bit from the usual, in that this is more or a less a public service announcement. We’ve got Christopher Rice from his blog Ravens N’ Pennies joining to talk about something that he’s doing in order to help people write for Pyramid magazine. So you started a Pyramid writer’s group. Why did you do that?

Christopher R. Rice (Ravens N’ Pennies): So it’s a idea I had for a long time, and something that Antoni Ten Monrós talked about. And I just finally after your last podcast, I was like “You know, we need this.” There is a lot of people out there that want to write, but they’re not sure how to go about it. And I felt it was just the way to go.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So what’s the goal of your writer’s group? Why start it and what are you trying to accomplish there?

CHRISTOPHER: My biggest goal is to raise GURPS signal. I want to make people more aware of it. One of the ways you can make somebody aware of something is by getting them to do it. Because if enough people write for GURPS, I really think they are going to talk about it to their friends, their family; it’s a self-propogating cycle. We are not a “Learn How To Write Group.” If you don’t know how to write, I can’t help you. What I can help you with is style and formatting. Getitng you to understand how the WYSIWYG works. ‘Cause it is a little difficult.

DOUGLAS: So what is the WYSIWYG?

CHRISTOPHER: It the “What You See Is What You Get” template, it’s a fairly small file, jet-packed with information. It’s basically what they pour into their production software to get the final PDF for the book.

DOUGLAS: And you say that writing in that style is rather critical in getting into Steven’s attention.

CHRISTOPHER: I think it’s at least 40% of it.

DOUGLAS: Okay.

CHRISTOPHER: If you have a crappy idea there is nothing that can happen.

DOUGLAS: Also, if you have a good idea and you don’t write to their rules they are going to kick it back to you, right?

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. And those are the people I’m aiming to help. It’s Steven’s like “Go and fix X, Y, and Z. Read the formatting guide and so on.” Those, they already got an article, because that’s one of the requirements I put down. You already have to have something written. And I need to evaluate it before I let you in. If I just let in everybody that had a idea, it would become pandemonium.

DOUGLAS: It would become the forums.

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. It would become unmanageable. And I’m not into that.

DOUGLAS: No, that’s fair. And for those who saw the Pyramid Panel, one of the things that Steven did say that is a part of that is that if you get feedback from Steve Jackson Games you are 70% of the way towards an eventual sale. The most common rejection is just “No.” And that if you get feedback it’s because there is something good enough in there, either the way you write or what you are writing about, or just in general tone that it’s something he wants to see more of. So feedback is a huge deal.

CHRISTOPHER:  Yes! I wanna go ahead and state that I am not affiliated with Steve Jackson Games in any way. I’m not an in-house official, I am doing this on my own, on my own time at my own dime. Also, my mentors, I got a good group of people so far, including yourself. W.A. Frick, Antoni, and I can always use more. More teachers and writers would be helpful.

DOUGLAS: So why in particular, and you don’t have to talk about me, but why in particular is this group suitable for mentoring Pyramid writers?

CHRISTOPHER: I have personally learned more mentoring others about writing than I could have learned on my own. Once you reach a certain…I hate to use the word level, but it’s the only word I can think of. Once you reach a certain level, then writing and game writing, you kind of have to learn everything else on your own, but by teaching others you get to see where you are weak at. And if you where you are weak at, you can work on that.

DOUGLAS: Now we need to tell the story about Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick. Do you know the story about the Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick?

CHRISTOPHER: No, I do not [smiles], I never heard that.

DOUGLAS: Okay, so the deal with Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick is that he is famous for it. He’s got all the things about it, and if you are ever sitting alone at home is because Chuck Norris is about to roundhouse kick you in the head. The thing is he would never work at it, he would never work on it when he was sparring. He knew he was good at it. So he would work on his jabs or motion or whatever. When he was in the ring, he’d would throw the roundhouse kick and, you know, knock people into next week. But he would use his sparring sessions to train the things he was bad at.

CHRISTOPHER: I..

DOUGLAS: So yeah, there is a bit of how do I hone the skills that need developing? That is something that feedback groups are good for.

So I’m fascinated by this mentoring group: how many articles do you think you can parallel process at once as a group?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve currently decided that we can process about 3 per people per mentor, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But I’ve already got two people who’ve sent in articles to Steven that I feel very confident that he’s going to take them, just from looking at the final product.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So if you want to join, how does one go about finding and doing it? Some kind of quest thing, do you have to find the key and kill the dragon?

CHRISTOPHER: You gotta get the blue card first, then you get the BFG, and then you come find me. No, you gotta have something written. I would like you to figure out how the style guide works on your own, but not habits are better than bad habits. So have something written, there is a link on the forums that Doug will put in after the video, just go there and either contact me by PM on the forums, I’m “Ghostdancer” or go to that thread and hit the “email button” it’s in the first post. You’ll see if right away, send me what you got and I’ll give you a honest opinion. You’re either in or not, or if you’re not quite good enough, I’ll personally help you. I’ve done that twice now.

DOUGLAS: Is there some kind of waiting list? If this fills up, this is something we’ll develop, but we have to clear the list first?

CHRISTOPHER: Right. I have about five people who have contacted me who are very close to sending something my way, and I have exactly five slots left right now. As people learn how to write the in-house style, as they become kind of more comfortable in their own shoes, they get moved out of the protégé status to the journeymen status. And then eventually they’re gone, you get booted out of the group like a baby bird from the nest.

DOUGLAS: [makes falling noises and a splat sound while miming the noises].

CHRISTOPHER: But after about 3 to 4 articles, you should really know where you are going.

DOUGLAS: I suppose it’s true that after 3 or 4 articles n the last Pyramid Panel is available to you…

CHRISTOPHER: I believe he said about 10.

DOUGLAS: Okay

CHRISTOPHER: I seem to remember it was between 10 and 11 or maybe even 12.

DOUGLAS: Yeah I think it was somewhere between 6 and a dozen. I don’t think I’ve written more than six or seven articles, on the flipside I’ve been Lead Playtester for a couple of books and then there is the [garbled audio] so that probably helps.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, yeah.

DOUGLAS: So what happens if I’m doing the stuff, not the style, but the content. And I disagree with it and I want to go my own way. Do you get booted out of the group for that? Where do you stand?

CHRISTOPHER: No, you’re your own person, you’re your own writer, and you get to decide what’s going on and you want to ignore the advice of others who have been there. That’s up to you. But if you submit and it’s been pointed out that something you’ve got in there doesn’t work and you get rejected…that’s not my fault.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. And another thing that I’d say. Hans Christian Vortsich is especially good at this I think. People will come and say, especially during the playtest, “I think you need to do this with this manuscript, entry, etc.” and he’ll basically say “That’s not my vision of this. No.” and he’ll shut it down. He’s got a very firm vision of what he’s trying to accomplish. Now, as you are trying to become a writer that is probably more close-minded than one needs to be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: But once you…if you’ve got a vision of something, even if it’s deliberately counter for standard GURPS and you’ve aimed it for a specific issue that is counter to standard GURPS like Alternate GURPS or something like that. As long as it’s clear what you are trying to accomplish, then the mentor group, as long as its engaging enough will probably try to help you with that.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes. Absolutely. If you’ve got a very clear goal in mind, and this is my goal, I’m not gonna tell you, you shouldn’t do it, I’m going to tell you why I disagree with it. And then I’ll do my best to help you with your goal. With your vision. And I like to think the other mentors will do the same.

DOUGLAS: Yup. So one last question, so we’re working on this and we’re writing back and forth and obviously it’s not just the mentors who see the drafts and I’m writing something and I see something on the board that inspires me greatly. And I got a idea, but its either identical or derivative to what I’m looking at, we want to make sure people don’t get irritated or offended or feel like their ideas have been stolen. So what do we recommend going on in case a idea get improved, but starts to inspire new ideas which may or may not be derivative there.

CHRISTOPHER: I would like to think that for the mentors and the other writers would be open, and be like “I also have a idea for this, and are you cool with me using it?” And if you’re not, I’d like to think that everybody is grown up enough to be like “Okay.” And if you’re not…[shrugs].

DOUGLAS: And I think the other thing that actually happens there is that, if there is a idea and you’re like “Hey I was reading your article and I had this other idea…” and then go off on your own and write a collaborative article. I’m collaborating with two articles with Peter Dell’Orto that came up in either online or offline conversation. So Pyramid does do articles with more than author.

CHRISTOPHER: In fact, I’m doing, right now with Antoni. We’ve got something cooking up should multi-useful for different genres.

DOUGLAS: So now we need to start seeing what’s on the slide…So that anyway, I think we covered the bases here. Anything else you want to say, give yourself the parting shot in Gaming Ballistic parlance.

CHRISTOPHER: If you’ve ever wanted to write and you really think you can do it, this is the place to go for GURPS and later on I might branch out into other game companies. You know, maybe figure out how Fate does its various articles and the like. But for right now we’re just GURPS and it would be most beneficial to anyone that wants to write. You’re not gonna get advice and formatting input like [garbled audio].

DOUGLAS: And I think that’s a worthy point, the style guide and formatting guide for GURPS and Pyramid magazine is fairly intense, and one of the things people can do is that if they have a good article and a good concept, but really need help on the formatting, it would be not a problem to come up and say “Here’s the article.” And then have some of the mentors bang it into the right format, and also show you some tips and tricks. On our recent session on How to format tables, which can be tricky in the style guide. And also some things like there is this huge formatting guide that’s a word document, copy the section of the formatting guide out of the formatting guide and paste it into your article and then replace the key bits.

CHRISTOPHER: I’m all about the shortcuts, as long as it doesn’t affect quality.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. Okay, so I think that that brings this to a close. Thank you for your time.

CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Doug.

DOUGLAS: And thanks for your efforts on the Pyramid group, the more people contribute to GURPS the more vibrant the community can be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: Alright.

CHRISTOPHER: Alright, thanks again.