Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Whys and Heretofores of Grit


          Over the past few years I've given a great deal of thought to what it is that makes Grit different from the other Roleplaying Game Systems out there. In my original written intent while in the early stages of designing Grit, I spelled out two design principles. These guiding lights were simplicity and realism.
Now I realize that “realism” is quite a loaded word, especially in the realm of RPGs. I’ve come to the conclusion that “verisimilitude” is a far more accurate term. It better expresses the idea of a likeness, not a duplication. To try and represent the actual laws of physics with dice is really just a non-option. Nevertheless, one can create a rule set that consistently seeks a reasonable authenticity while demonstrating faithfulness to real-world possibilities. I believe that I have done so in a unique vein.
I have striven to craft this verisimilitude via simplicity. Granularity does not equate to authenticity. By paring down the mechanics into a pretty basic structure, I believe I've created a more satisfying, useful* modeling of actions than other systems. Hopefully others will agree.
There is still another very important design intent and theme in Grit: the characters are worthwhile because they are human.
The reason I never really cared much for 3rd Ed. and beyond D&D is that I don’t find the journey from Hero to Really Badass Hero to Super-Duper-Badass Hero to be all that fun or interesting**. To be fair it’s also why I didn’t really like 2nd Ed. after level 6 much either. What I prefer to play (and to run for) are characters who are normal men and women. Sure they may have unusual skill sets, but fundamentally what sets them apart from their fellows is their wherewithal. It’s the fact that they’re willing step up and outside the norm, to face new threats and terrible odds.*** This is what makes for adventurers and heroes not attack bonuses and sweet laser-eyes.
So, while there may be other races and magic and psychic powers as options in my system and settings, all these things will still be rendered on a gritty, harsh, and human standard. Though I've still got miles to go on this rewrite and many decisions yet to be made, I have the basic mechanics down. And, so long as I keep it simple, keep it real, and keep it human, I’m reasonably sure Grit will be a success.


*Usefulness here meaning, aiding in character immersion.

**Not to mention the overwhelmingly complicated, less-than-authentic system. If you need to write up a spread sheet to play effectively, I don’t want to play.
***This is also why I place more emphasis on character decisions than dice.

†††† Nothing is born in a vacuum. I’d also like to mention this article. It really helped to congeal a lot of loose thoughts and helped me define my play style. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Perspective

This post was written for the second annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2013 New Year, New Game challenge.

     I created a priesthood for my pyramid-scheme/cult for my low-fantasy setting, Ayhton, a bit over a year ago. The culture in question was inspired by Migration Era Germanic cultures in general and the Anglo-Saxons in particular. This priesthood, however, was quite foreign to those roots. This priesthood, known as the Oefen (or Others), were respected and feared. Though none was happy to see the presence of an Other, no member of the tribe would deny them a place at any table not even the Kyenning (king). They were known to be wise, sought out for council in hours of great need, and suspected of having powerful and subtle magics. They alone could invoke the name of Allrac, King of the Gods, without the fear of death. Yet mostly they were known to possess great powers of prophecy. What gave them such power? Perspective.

     The Others were cross gendered.  The men dressed and lived as women; the women dressed and lived as men. This allowed them to see the flaws and strengths of their people more clearly than anyone else. They stood outside of their society, far enough away to see it as a whole.

     Recently I've come to realize that my own perspective could use a bit of widening. The #7rps meme over on G+ brought something troubling to my attention: I had to stretch things a bit to get to 7. While I do still contend that using Combat and Tactics (and some of the other Players Options rules) more-or-less qualifies as a separate edition from standard 2nd Ed., it still bothered me. I've read countless RPGs but just haven't actually played nearly as many as I'd like. 

     On New Year's Eve I was talking to an old friend about trying to start up an irregular game of Cosmic Patrol. I've been eager to try the Cosmic P for a while now. I'm anxiously awaiting finally playing it, but Cosmic Patrol alone won't be nearly enough.


     New Games yield New Experiences yield New Perspectives.


     In order to expand my roleplaying nerd repertoire, I need to play a shit-load of new systems. My schedule, however, already includes three campaign length games this year; all of which will be playtesting Grit. With my rewrite of the Grit Core Rulebook and that pesky little place at which I work for actual money, I just can't squeeze in any more campaigns.  

     Nevertheless, I have found a solution. Throughout this year I will make the time to host six or so one-shot games. First, I shall invite every nerd I know to attend. Then pregenerate some characters for the ease of all involved and Viola!. I'll likely run at least three of the games myself and try to harangue my friends into GMing some games they've wanted to try. 

Here's a list of RPGs I've got in mind: 
The Puddle (a Pool variant)
Savage Worlds Test Drive
Part Time Gods
Prose Descriptive Qualities System
Geodesic Gnomes
Hellcats and Hockeysticks
Fiasco
Possibly the d6 System.

(You might have noticed a similar price point to many of the games I just listed, $0.00. Also, I know I'm gonna invite this guy so I might wind up playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too.)

     I'm looking forward to 2013 being a year filled with gaming. Rocking and rolling with so many new systems ought to give me some perspective on Grit... Not to mention be fun on a bun.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Bother?

I've been told my entire life that I can do anything I want to. Anything I set my mind to - if I show proper follow-through - can be done. I find that this is a true statement for anyone.
1) Decide what you want to do.
2)  Figure out what the necessary steps are to achieve your goal.
3) Follow the steps.*

*Adapting as necessary to deal with new knowledge and new realities.

It's a simple thing to write but a difficult thing to actually do. Step one stumps many for a long time (sometimes a lifetime). Step two can be even more difficult, especially if you're doing something new or unusual. The third step usually starts pretty easily (and feels amazing), but it's that addendum that's the killer. Anyway the point is: if you can dream it (reasonably), you can in fact do it. It may require a long, painful trek filled with blood, sweat, tears, and many other hells or bodily fluids, but it can be done. However, this begs a question: why am I doing this?

The answer, I hope, will prove illuminating.

I am and have always been a lover of knowledge. I found it odd that as they taught us in elementary school the basics of particle physics (electrons, neutrons, protons), almost no one else found it fascinating. I found it even stranger that they taught it to us again the next year and even fewer remembered it. How could they forget? How could they not care? It was the very basic nature of reality. It was the inner workings of the world, the universe. I loved it.

I greedily consumed almost any sort of knowledge I could. I still do.

Chemistry, Art History, Media Studies, Astrophysics, Philosophy, the History of Science,  Quantum Theory, Intellectual History, Sociology,  Aesthetics, Anthropology, Literary Criticism, Medieval History, Archeology, the History of Technology, and the Origins and Repercussions of Punk Rock are of few of my favorite subjects.

I was at first, in college, an Anthropology major with a Chemistry minor because I was certain I wanted to be an archaeologist. This despite the myriad of voices telling me I should be studying mechanical engineering or chemical engineering or something else equally practical. Long story short I accidentally got an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts and remain a few credits shy of graduating with a BA in History and/or English. (And will remain so.)

I am a writer. It's the only career I'm aware of where I can/should/must put all of my many interests and passions to good use. The more I understand the world, the better I can write it. Writing usually doesn't pay as well as many other things I could have done, but it is my passion and worthwhile of its own accord anyway.

Actually, art is a quite important thing and I can tell you why. It does something very necessary, very potent, and very interesting: art allows one to view an abstract idea as though it were a concrete fact, a percept.** Think of John Wayne in almost any role he ever played. Through his films you can see determination, bravery, and a very rugged, very American moral rectitude as not simply esoteric concepts but as physical facts. John Wayne standing his ground shows you these things. It is this affect that gives one the extra drive, the psychic fuel needed for steps 1-3, for living. It's also why "Red Barchetta" sounds like triumph and the Misfits' "TV Casualty" sounds like alienated defiance.

So then, what does all that high-minded intellectualizing have to do with RPGs? Everything.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games allow you to create your own art, with your own themes, tone, and meaning. RPGs give you the tools to inspire yourself and your friends. When life hands you one shit sandwich after another, being Sir Havart the Unbent lets you be (or see) a man who never stops trying, not through mire nor dire beast. He presses forward. When he succeeds, you see success as an actual object. Success is Sir Havart. When he dies? Well, even then the catharsis of his surely heroic death gives one meaning as well.

That's why I'm writing Grit. I love creating stories, being new persons, building worlds. I want to create the best possible tools to allow myself and others to do so. Everyone who's willing to put in the work deserves to experience the joy of creation, the power of art in their own hands. That's why I'm a roleplaying game designer.

It's also, not incidentally, why I'll probably always be broke.

**Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Update!

     Rather than jump right into the continued rewrite of Grit, my table-top RPG, I elected to dick about with some designs for my publishing company logo. The first is pretty similar to many I've done before just with a bit of a grey-blue wash over it.
     The second is a wider, voided version of the same. I'm just not certain it'll look like anything to anyone other than me.
     I'd also previously designed a sort of cracked, peeling paint version for a fantasy RPG heraldry guide I've been working on. I'm beginning to think it might serve well for a Fantasy supplement logo.
     I've got an excellent outline of what I need to do for this rewrite, I'm growing in leaps and bounds in my understanding of  my Publishing software, but I'm just not writing enough. I've got to push past distractions and illness and lazy. I'm simply going to make Grit a priority again. I've got to play, too. 
     There are a few new subsystems that are begging for more playtesting. Plus, I'm once again reconsidering the Character Strengths (a.k.a. Stats a.k.a. Scores a.k.a. Characterisitics etc.). Should I keep Appearance as is? It doesn't stand much of a chance of being used mechanically. Even if there is an Appearance check, it will probable require an additional check of some other strength to accomplish something. Should I just drop it all together? I've already got a strength that covers attention-to-detail/reading-people. Should a Charisma/Presence/Charm sort of score exist separate from that? Couldn't I just let players pick that score or just let their description cover those RP aspects? I'm not sure yet. 
     It seems that no matter how much further I come along, my progress only brings about more questions, decisions, and work. It's a good thing I love this shit. Ah well, two tears in a bucket. Back to work for me.





Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sex & Sexuality & Dungeons & Dragons

     One of my Nerdlier methods of killing spare time at work is clicking the 1d12 Dire Weasels button over at GnomeStew. Which brought me to this discussion of Gender/Ethnicity issues in rpgs. It's an interesting topic and was civilly well-considered by the good gnomes and their readers... But it got me thinking about a tangentially related topic, Sexuallity and RPGs.
     First off, I think it would be useful to let you know my perspective on human sexuality. I more or less agree with the Queer Theory assertation that an individual's sexuality is not a static, inherently meaningful descriptor but a dynamic, evolving set of characteristics, desires, and personal identity. I also find nothing immoral about what any two (or three or seven or 1.5) naked, consenting adults do to each other on private property. They can even involve a robot and some hot sauce and I'll still consider it morally acceptable - possibly interesting, possibly arousing, possibly frightening, and possibly unsanitary but ethically it's a big O and a little k.
     Sexuality is a Huge part of the human experience but one that is little traversed in our hobby. I remember back in the day, (way back... in the late nineties, early aughts) there were a slew of "Carnal" netbooks on the interwebs but they were written with all the enlightened, sensitive maturity of F.A.T.A.L.. Well it wasn't that bad, but nothing else could be. Suffice it to say they were silly, poorly-executed, unrealistic, unhelpful, and juvenile affairs. I realize there's a bit more out there now, but sexual orientation, sexual practices, and sexual beliefs still seem to carry a pretty heavy taboo in gaming.
     It never really has with my groups. When we were young, sexual issues got dealt with pretty sillily.  Then again, so did a great number of other things. The only rule was no one could role for penis size. 'Cause when you're a group of 14 year old boys that's just gonna degenerate into stupid.
     Later, as we became something more akin to adults, the topic got dealt with more seriously. Repercussions, such as pregnancy became a part of the dramatic turns of our shared narratives. It was more monster-babies born of affairs with tieflings and cambions and the strange energies of the planes, mind you. Never-the-less, sex was something that made our games better and our settings seem more real. That's still very true. (For more on this topic go here. I post there as randite if you care.)
     I find, however, that this dynamic is an unusual one. Sex is simply a Verboten topic at many gaming tables. I wonder why? Is it that silly American idea that bloody violence is R to PG-13 worthy, but genitals equal NC-17? Is this the case in other countries? I dunno. Tell me if you've got ideas. I truly don't understand the problem with a frank discourse on all things sexual. I don't understand why it makes so many, so uncomfortable.Why is sexuality not a bigger part of the RPG cannon and culture?

    Mayhaps, the answer to my queries could be partially explained thusly: I see something more in RPGs than many people do. I've found that roleplaying is a wonderful tool for self growth and an enlightening format for the exploration of social/personal issues. It allows you to safely try on new perspectives, to feel out new philosophies, and even to grow as a person. Fundamentally, you have to have a great deal of trust with your fellow gamers to do this. That's not always a possibility, though.

(And not something that everyone [including me] wants to do all the time.)

     A dungeon-crawl with four strangers at your local friendly gaming store probably wont afford you the opportunity to really develop the personality of that cross-dressing, pansexual, elvish wizard you've been thinking of playing. But it could be the perfect opportunity to curb-stomp some goblins and steal their shit. 'Cause like The Exploited taught me, there's more to life than sex. Also there's violence. Sex and Violence.