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You can tell how much an RPG system cares about a thing by how granular the rules for it are.

I’ve known this for a while, of course. RPGs evolved out of historical war-gaming, so many of them have incredibly detailed rules for combat, and much less detailed frameworks for other activities. But there’s another angle on this that I don’t think about as often, which is: when you get a bonus, how restrictive vs. broad is the application of that bonus?

In L5R, there’s a spell that gives you a boost to Perception-based rolls. All Perception-based rolls. Vision? Hearing? Scent? Reading people’s behavior? Commanding an army in battle? (For reasons of setting philosophy, that’s based on Perception.) This spell boosts all of them. Because although L5R is better at caring about non-combat stuff than some game systems, it’s really not all that interested in the finer-grained applications of Perception. Instead of having many spells that give you bonuses to different kinds of Perception, there’s one that hits them all.

Or Pathfinder. My PC has a magic item that gives a +3 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because Pathfinder, like most D&D, fundamentally doesn’t give a damn about social interaction. There is not, to my knowledge, a magic item that gives a +3 (or a +anything) to all Dexterity-based skill checks, because that would include Stealth (good for avoiding combat or taking the enemy by surprise), Acrobatics (good for avoiding attacks of opportunity in combat), Ride (good for anybody engaging in mounted combat), Disable Device (good for picking locks and disarming traps), and Escape Artist (good for escaping entangle and grapples in combat), among others. But handing out a cheap blanket bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device? Eh, why not. That last is pretty much the only one that will often matter in combat, unless you’ve taken all the feats necessary to make feinting via Bluff a useful thing to do. And the game is relatively uninterested in what happens outside of combat.

And then you get players arguing that doing X isn’t very interesting. They’re right, in a way, because the rules have made it uninteresting. All you need is this single effect and you’re great at the whole shebang. But if the rules started from the assumption that X is interesting, and treated it with the same care and complexity of flavor they use for other aspects of play, it might be a different story.

(No game can do that for every single aspect, of course. If you tried, you’d wind up with something of unplayable complexity. But it would be nice to see that care and attention given to things other than combat more often.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

(Non-gaming thing first: one week left to pre-order Maps to Nowhere!)

I’m playing in two Pathfinder games right now, and keep running up against the fact that nobody in those worlds ever uses magic sensibly.

This post is brought to you today by a tongue-in-cheek discussion with one of my GMs about how my PC wants to get an NPC to leave the city faster, wherein I joked about hitting her over the head with a Rod of Concussionless Incapacitation. Which is a solution to a problem we pretend doesn’t exist: in fiction people get knocked unconscious all the time, often for hours, and yet somehow wake up without concussions and permanent brain damage the way you would in reality.

But let’s take problems we do admit exist. The equipment list for Pathfinder includes a collapsible (and therefore semi-portable) bathtub, but there’s no magic item for a bathtub that fills itself with hot water — even though that would be dead easy to make. (Two cantrips would do it: prestidigitation and create water.) The GM for one campaign has a homebrewed cantrip/orison of birth control. The other campaign is Kingmaker, with its “SimKingdom” rules; those include sewer systems, but we built continuous-use wondrous items of purify food and drink into ours so we’re not just dumping our sewage into the lake. And I recently figured out that if we make a command word item of plant growth and use it on all the farms in the kingdom, we’re boosting our crop yields by 1/3 for the year, allowing us to feed our population with less encroachment on wild spaces and less risk of famine, for the low investment of a few thousand gold.

This is a utility approach to magic that you almost never see, whether it’s in D&D or novels. Even when magic is abundant in the setting, it rarely gets applied to the basics of day-to-day life. But if we really had these methods available to us, you damn bet we’d use them to make our lives simpler and more comfortable; just look at what we do with technology! Somebody would set up shop marketing self-filling heated magic bathtubs and command word items of prestidigitation to clean your house with. Sure, it’s a less lucrative market than selling swords and armor to adventurers — but your customer base is orders of magnitude larger.

You don’t see this in Pathfinder because ultimately, the game does not give a flying damn about anything that isn’t pertinent to making yourself a better adventurer. And you don’t see it in fiction because it won’t influence the direction of the plot. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be there as a background detail, a way to make the world feel lived-in and believable. For a while I was reading a serialized online story called Tales of MU, which was basically the urban fantasy evolution of a D&D-style world; that’s one of the few stories I can think of where magic really did get used in all these kinds of ways and more. But I can think of perishingly few others.

So, recs? Either of stories that do this, or other magic items D&D ought to have and doesn’t. ๐Ÿ™‚ If I were a game publisher, I would so be tempted to put out a sourcebook of utility and luxury items . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I should have posted this yesterday, but appropriately enough, I was too busy prepping for the game I ran last night. ๐Ÿ™‚

Dice Tales: Essays on Roleplaying Games and Storytelling is out now! If you play RPGs and have an interest in them from the narrative side of things — the ways we use them to tell stories, and what GMs and players can do to make them work better in that regard — you may find it of interest. Follow the link to buy it from Book View Cafe, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or (in a first for me) DriveThruRPG. And if any parts of it wind up working their way into the games you play or run, let me know!

Also, the New Worlds Patreon has headed off into the wilds of rudeness, with two posts on “Gestures of Contempt” and “Insults.” The theme will continue through the end of this month before turning in a new direction for August. Remember that patrons at the $5 level and above can request topics, so if there’s something you’d like to see me discuss, you can make that happen!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

This started out as a joke yesterday, but then I figured — why not?

SO! I am offering a signed book from my stash of author copies for someone who can provide me with a quick cartoon-style/chibi/super-deformed sketch of this man:

standing on a pressure plate and looking extremely grumpy, while this woman:

armed and armored like a D&D rogue, skips around sticking pink companion cube hearts on him:

. . . because yeah, last game session my PC left the Blackjack standing on a pressure plate in a hallway to disarm a trap while she went inside to plant a magical surveillance device. Which led to jokes that he was her companion cube, a la Portal. And then my sister said she would totally draw this cartoon if she could draw, except she can’t, and neither can I, but maybe one of you can! There’s a signed book in it for you if you do. ๐Ÿ˜€

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year, waiting for my first piece to go live so I can tell you all about it.

So there’s this game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a collectible card game and RPG; I got involved with the RPG, doing some freelance work for the later parts of fourth edition, because it had sucked me in overnight. The setting, Rokugan, is inspired by Japanese history and culture, and it’s got the kind of rich worldbuilding that makes the place come to life for me. So when the parent company sold L5R off to Fantasy Flight Games, I was, shall we say, rather determined to stay involved.

And I am. But not writing for the RPG this time: instead I’m one of their fiction writers. You see, one of the defining characteristics for L5R has always been the ongoing narrative of the game, influenced by the winners of various tournaments, and expressed through official canon stories.

My first story is here!

I think it should be a decent introduction to the setting for those who aren’t familiar with it. (In fact, that’s one of the goals for this first set of stories: give newcomers an overview of Rokugan, clan by clan.) If you like what I wrote, you might find L5R overall interesting, and you can check out the other fictions here (those provide links to the pdfs if you want to see the pretty formatted versions).

Yeah . . . I’m pretty excited. ๐Ÿ˜€ The setting has been rebooted back to the Clan War, so there’s an opportunity to do all kinds of cool new things, and this story provided a really great chance to showcase that, with the Dragon facing two entirely fresh conflicts that don’t come with easy answers attached. And I’m working on more stuff as we speak, so my involvement will be ongoing. *\o/*

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

The most recent New Worlds post is on sumptuary laws, i.e. the ways in which societies try to regulate the outward signifiers of class and rank.

Looking back at my previous blog series of BVC — Dice Tales is now set to be an ebook! You can currently pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, and Kobo; or you can wait for the on-sale date of July 18th and get it from DriveThruRPG or direct from the publisher, Book View Cafe. This is edited and expanded from the original blog series, with more than half a dozen new essays.

And — as a teaser — while it is my first foray into game-related publishing, it may not be my last . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

I’ve been very remiss in linking to my New Worlds posts over on the Book View Cafe blog (brought to you by my lovely Patreon backers). Here’s the full lineup to date:

If that stuff looks good to you, please consider becoming a backer!

And, for a bonus: I’ve been neglecting the Dice Tales community on Imzy, but I put up a new post today ranting about how combat-oriented rules can screw over plot.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

I’m trying to pick a song to serve as the “soundtrack” to a certain aspect of one of the games I’m in, and I’m coming up empty. So I turn to you, o internets, for recommendations!

The thing I’m trying to set to music is a situation where two character who both have a crap-ton of secrets (including false identities) are going through kind of a fencing match/cat-and-mouse game of figuring each other out and maybe developing something resembling trust. In a perfect world, the song for this would be a male/female duet, but that’s icing on the cake if I can get it; mostly I just need a song that fits the concept. Or, if I can’t get suitable lyrics, something instrumental that is both lush and a little playful. (With a library of over 17000 songs, you’d think I would be able to find something that fits. But nothing has clicked: the closest I’ve come is “Quรฉ Viyรฉra,” which still isn’t quite right.)

Any suggestions?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

After nearly fifty installments, the Dice Tales series is finally done. To find out what the future holds, check out the concluding post.

And if you want to go on talking about games and storytelling, consider joining the Dice Tales community on Imzy!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

This week’s Dice Tales post sees me dusting off some of my academic work, to discuss the ways in which RPGs are like rituals.

Also, I’m trying to make use of the Dice Tales community on Imzy, with a post there about how to make combat feel more integrated with the rest of the action, instead of it coming across as a mini-game that stops the flow of everything else. If you’re on Imzy and you find that an interesting topic, stop by and add your thoughts — or put up a post of your own! The Imzy community is for anybody who wants to discuss RPGs and narrative, not just for me.

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

The Dice Tales series is nearly done, but still has a little way to go. The most recent two installments are “A Story in Song” and “Other Relics,” both discussing the kinds of narrative artifacts left behind by this ephemeral mode of storytelling.

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

Last week’s Dice Tales post and this week’s: “The Magic of Wikis,” on the ability of a private wiki to serve as a record and organizing tool for a game, and “A Story in Song,” on game soundtracks.

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

If it weren’t for the fact that I had several already lined up and scheduled to go live, you probably wouldn’t have a Dice Tales post this week. But I did, so you do: “Ephemerality,” on the difficulty of recording the narrative text of the game, and what hoops you’d have to jump through if you tried.

Comment over there.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

Last week’s Dice Tales post was “The Secret Life of Game Junkies,” discussing the ways that players keep the game going between sessions, but this week is something else: a call for reader requests. Dice Tales isn’t over, but it’s coming toward its end, so if there’s something you want to see me post about before it’s over, now’s your chance to say so!

As usual, comment over there.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

Well, one corner of it, at least.

In addition to this week’s regularly scheduled post — “Game Hangover,” on the ways that playing in or running a game can leave you drained afterward — I also have a related post up on Tor.com. Though it isn’t explicitly labeled as a Dice Tales entry, “How Your Role-Playing Game Campaign Can Inspire Your Novel” is an outgrowth of that series; I got recruited to write this piece specifically because of Dice Tales. So if you’re interested, go take a look, and comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

This week’s Dice Tales post is Backseat GMing, aka the equivalent of trying to lead from the follow position in ballroom dance. Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

There was no post last week, but this week you get “Open Doors and Brick Walls”, about those moments when the GM and the players see a challenge completely differently, and how to identify and resolve those mismatches when they happen.

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (gaming)

The two most recent Dice Tales posts are “Breathing Room,” on the necessity of downtime and “filler” in games, and “Best-Laid Plans,” on what you do when the story goes in a different direction than you expected.

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Fans of Dice Tales may be interested to hear that I have a post up at Tor.com today on adapting game material into fiction. (With specific reference to Cold-Forged Flame, of course.)

I’ve also been interviewed at My Life, My Books, My Escape on the novella and the process of writing it.

And for those who are interested in these kinds of things, I’ve put up the soundtrack for the novella on my site. It’s shorter than a novel soundtrack, of course, because a novella is shorter than a novel, but there are still six pieces of music I associate with it — all of them, unsurprisingly, drawn from my old game soundtrack for Ree.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

I have survived our housewarming party, and with that in my tail-lights, let me catch up on a few things. And by a few, I mean a lot.

Like my newest Onyx Court story! “To Rise No More” is the tale of Ada Lovelace’s childhood friendship with faeries, and also her ambition to build herself a pair of wings to fly with. No seriously, I didn’t even make that part up. (The wings, not the faeries. But she did also refer to herself as “Babbage’s fairy helper,” so, y’know. Maybe not that part, either.) It went up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies on my birthday, which I found to be excellent timing.

Shifting gears to a different series, the Barnes and Noble blog has just revealed the cover to Lightning in the Blood, which is the upcoming sequel to the still-upcoming-but-will-be-out-next-Tuesday Cold-Forged Flame. As I said on Twitter, I didn’t know until I saw it that one of my life goals was to get a Giant Hunting Cat onto a book cover, but I can check that off my list now!

And while I’m at it, I’ve finally gotten an excerpt from Cold-Forged Flame posted to my site. One week — one week and it will finally be out . . . .

Also, I’ve been busy with the Roundtable Podcast, hosted by Dave Robison and Marie Bilodeau. And I do mean busy, as I’m in not one but two episodes. The first is part of their “Twenty Minutes With” series . . . which, with the introduction and everything else, wound up being more like Fifty Minutes With. But dear god, the introduction alone is worth it: Dave Robison has a habit of describing his guests in epic terms. I have never heard my own life sound so much like a superhero origin story.

So that’s the first episode; the second is part of their “Workshop” series, wherein a writer (or in this case, a writing pair) describe a project they’re working on and then get feedback from the assembled hosts. We dug into an urban fantasy premise for this one, a setting where a new drug is causing people to develop magical powers, and had lots of thinky thoughts on both the way the drug fits into the world and how to write the “psycho ex-girlfriend” trope in a sympathetic and complex manner.

And finally, I’ve got myself a brand-new setup on Imzy. Where by “brand-new,” I mean “there’s basically nothing there yet” — but I figured I should mention, for those who are busy exploring this new site. Then, having done that, I decided to spend my other community-creation slot on putting together one called Dice Tales, which is a spin-off of the blog posts I’ve been doing at Book View Cafe. Speaking of which: the most recent installments there are “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” on power escalation over the course of a campaign; “With Great Power,” on the GM’s ability to screw players over and responsibility to use that wisely; “GNS,” on Ron Edwards’ old Gamism-Narrativism-Simulationism framework; and then a two-parter that consists of “Game Planning I – Arcs, Acts, and Chapters” and “Game Planning II – Sessions and Scenes,” which are pretty much what it says on the tin. But the Imzy community is not just a place to reblog those posts; I’m hoping it will become a great discussion of storytelling in RPGs more broadly. So if you’re on Imzy and you find that kind of thing interesting, come on over!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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