Update -- Star, Moon, and Cross

Chapters One to Four (Introduction, How to Play, The First Session, Character Generation and Development) pretty much done, 6 or 7 more to go. Over 14000 words so far, if MS Word can be trusted. 32 pages with present formatting. For now, I'm skipping Chapter Five (Alchemy) and going on to Chapters Six, Seven, Eight (respectively: Resolution, The Newsreel, Other Mechanics). I'd love to get some feedback if anyone has the time to look it over.

I've got lots of reading to do before I can write chapters five, nine, or ten (but then, I should get some real help from Dave on the latter two); books keep coming in the mail. This book on Islamic science and this book on Arabic culture and this novel look especially interesting. There's some really cool looking $125 academic works that maybe Dave can get from the library with his academic connections. They show up on my Amazon wish list as "8 new and used available from $71.95."

Wow! Talk about a change of heart!!

With some help from my friends, I'm really psyched about making my _Amber Shadows_ project into a semi-historical Crusades-era games called _The Star, The Moon, and The Cross_. Me and a few of my friends are psyched about it -- best of all, my good friend Dave has volunteered to help with editing and writing. This is very good, as Dave is all-but-dissertation (and only a few months left on that) in his PhD in crusader history.

Plus, on Friday, we had a knockout playtest session (still using the Amber setting). It was our second session with the second playtest group; they seem to be getting the hang of the system a bit faster. Hopefully our first playtest group will work out better in another session or two.

Now I just need to get off my ass and write.

Project Report: Amber Shadows

So last night was our first pre-Alpha session of my Amber Shadows takeoff of Chris Lehrich's Shadows in the Fog. There were a number of speed bumps; that was expected. On the plus side, there wasn't really anything that I thought was fundamentally off. So, no major rework in the offing just yet. But there's much playtest yet to come. I've updated the play aids and our second playtest group will kick off on Tuesday. I've updated the play aids and summary sheets, and I expect the first session with the next group will go smoother because of it.

Now that it's time to revise the outline and get going on the game text, I'm a little unmotivated in one regard. I'm pretty disappointed that I won't be able to formally publish it with the Amber setting, as I feel that the setting is a really good match for the mechanics. Which leaves me with 2 options: publish the game as a generic system, or come up with a setting. If I went generic, I would aim it for genres like Amber, Nobilis, Sandman, In Nomine, etc. That could work, but I'm thinking that the game text will be awkward to write in a generic manner. OTOH, I have yet to brainstorm up a setting that's got me psyched...and if I'm not psyched about the setting, it'll be *very* hard to work my way through the text.

I'm also beginning to think about if I want to actually do a hardcopy version. This wasn't even vaguely on my agenda earlier, but I'm really happy with how the mechanics have fit together. So far. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and my scouts have only just been sent out. And the game text isn't written, either.

An Open Reply to Vincent Baker on Setting and such

When I read your Op Ed piece on Setting, I reacted as I often do to your writing -- you have valuable thoughts on where to take games in the future, but the analysis of past games is completely off the mark. To be more specific, you have a talent for identifying elements that were missing in past games. Elements that improve the gaming experience. Elements that would make great additions to new games.

I agree that the players should look at setting materials as a tool, not a restriction. The setting should be theirs to play with and modify and expand upon. If I didn't feel this way, I would hardly have written Clay of the Gods.

So when you say

What do we roleplayers need? We need the starting point of the creative process instead.

Because what we're doing? It's creative.

I'm totally there.

But when we look at the complete statement

The punchline is: most RPGs' setting material (along with all primary source fiction, like Firefly or The Lord of the Rings) is the end product of a creative process. What do we roleplayers need? We need the starting point of the creative process instead.

Because what we're doing? It's creative.

I find myself in complete disagreement with the connotations of this statement. Ben Lehman's comment got it right: The Lord of the Rings can be both the end product of a creative process, and the starting point of a creative process. There's no reason at all it has to be one or the other. In fact, the more brilliantly creative the setting material is, the more it inspires further creativity. Brilliantly creative setting material can also inspire slavish imitation too. But there's nothing that says it has to be used that way.

Let's use one of my own games to explore this in a little more depth. I recently ran a campaign set in Glen Cook The Black Company world, set shortly after the conclusion of the first set of books. I set the game in Roses, one of the cities that gets a lot of spotlight time in the books. Despite Roses' prominence in one of the books, there is a great deal that we don't know about Roses. During the course of my game, we collectively built our Roses, with setting building sessions for the first hour or so of each game session. We built our Roses on top of Cook's Roses; we filled in a small part of the vast field of details that Cook does not cover in his books. We used Cook's work as a springboard for our own creative work.

Do you disagree with this analysis? I think so, but I can't tell for sure from the other thread.

But where we definitely part ways is when we get to this statement:

But I stand: fetishizing our source material is something we do a lot, something that most rpgs insist that we do, and it's holding us back - holding us back relative to my agenda and the stated purpose of this blog thingy.

I totally disagree.

The first part that I would challenge is the assertion that "fetishizing our source material is something we do a lot." My response to that is "who's we, white man?" In other words, I think individual experiences with this will vary a lot. It's not something I've done or seen done much at all. But then I've rarely played games in "stock" settings; mostly they leave me cold. From Greyhawk and Blackmoor through World of Darkness and out the other side to the settings in Riddle of Steel and The Shadow of Yesterday. Yawnsville, all of it. I know other people who prefer to play in these stock settings -- I just don't play them often, and never have. So I've played a lot of games in homespun worlds, and alternative universes (based on both the real world and fiction). To make a long story short: my experience is different than yours, and the sum total of our two experiences adds up to just anecdotes. People whose personal experience is closer to yours will be inclined to believe your version; people whose personal experience is closer to mine will be inclined not to. If there's any real research on the topic, I'd love to see it. In fact, that would be some pretty valuable market research.

The other part I disagree with is your claim that there's game text in "most rpgs" that "insists" that we do this. In fact, I think that the topic of setting material and how it should be treated isn't something that's even mentioned in 90% of rpgs. Or more. I've never seen anything like "here, take this setting material and treat it as holy writ." Now I'll also admit that "here, take this setting material and have your way with it" shows up pretty damn rarely -- and I totally agree that this kind of text would be useful. But you say that there's "holy writ" text in "most games." I disagree. Fortunately, this really isn't a matter of opinion. Either the text is there, or it isn't. If it's there in "most games", then it should be easy to find several influential games that have it. So I'd like to see some actual game text that supports this claim of yours.