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Kitchen Sink Gaming: Recycling Old Materials

Decades spent in any hobby will result in the accumulation of a lot of stuff. Modules, maps, campaign books, you name it. A gamer can accumulate great stores of materials for games they no longer play.

The most direct way to re-purpose gaming materials is to ignore the mechanics and adapt the setting and story material to a newer preferred system. This is pretty easy to do.

Adaptation of RPG Materials

Slightly more involved is adapting material from one genre to another. Set a dungeon crawl aboard a derelict spacecraft, or in a World War II bunker complex.

A third, and potentially more interesting use is to run a game that slips from reality to reality or world to world. These campaigns sometimes center in environments where multiple settings converge. They can include everything but the kitchen sink.

Ready-Made Kitchen Sink RPG Campaigns

There are a number of games out there already set up for this kind of thing.

  • Rifts is perhaps the quintessential kitchen-sink setting.
  • Torg is another system, though perhaps a bit older.
  • Feng Shui allows for the existence of as many alternate realities as you might need.
  • Jumpers directly shunts players from world to world.

Custom Kitchen RPG Cabinets

More ambitiously, you can come up with some kind of narrative framework that involves the spread of setting and situation encompassing the breadth of your collection. Some ideas:

  • Players are gamers playing in an elaborate high-tech gaming park. (Like in Niven and Barnes’s Dream Park)
  • Players are gamers playing in some form of virtual reality. Maybe there’s a system’s error, or maybe they are playing competitively.
  • Players are normal folk spinning helplessly from reality to reality (Like in the TV show Sliders)
  • Players have some kind of conveyance allowing them to travel between realities intentionally. These realities might be other dimensions, or other planets. (As in Doctor Who)

We’ll develop some of these frameworks in the next few posts.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken Finishes Its Audio Run

The audio drama serial anthology podcast Synesthesia Theatre has finished its run of the adaptation of my Galvanic Century novel, Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. With the release of its eleventh part, the steampunk western draws to a close.

Iron Horses Can't Be Broken has become an audio dramaWhy Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken?

Out of all of the Galvanic Century novels, Iron Horses was best suited for an adaptation for two reason. First of all, while all of the books are written to stand more or less on their own, Iron Horses is exceptionally self-contained. Secondly, most of the accents involved are American, making casting the parts from Chicago’s pool of professional indie film and theatre actors a lot simpler.

It’s been a long run, from January until now, and I hope that those who’ve listened have enjoyed it. If you haven’t been listening, you can now start with episode 1 and binge your way all the way through.

What’s Next?

ColdReboot600x900After an episode or two of cast interviews we’re going to be launching into our second season, a 9-part adaptation of the cyberpunk thriller Cold Reboot. If you’ve read the book, you know that the themes are more adult and the language is stronger, as fits the setting.

After that? Well. Depends on our funding. We give away these episodes free, don’t have any sponsors, and this podcast is expensive to produce. When you add up hosting costs, accounting fees, feeding the cast, transportation, and all the other little material costs, Synesthesia Theatre has cost us in the neighborhood of $2000. All that comes out of pocket.

We may have to take a hiatus after Cold Reboot until we can afford a third season. If you don’t want to wait, you can help by pledging a dollar or two to Synesthesia Theatre’s Patreon. Every little bit helps, and you can unlock cool exclusive bonuses ranging from early episode access to our blooper reels.

It’s not very much money – a few dollars per month – and it really helps us out.

Thanks.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Iron Man: 1001 Spikes

1001 Spikes is a difficult platformer on Steam. It’s fun.


  • Playthrough Duration: 3 minutes
  • Cause of Death: Jumped up into some spikes.
  • Thoughts on the Game: I’m not huge on platformers and generally prefer Metroidvania style games to puzzle/pattern learning ones, but 1001 Spikes seems like it’s got a lot of potential for the sorts of people who dig on this.
Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Setting Up a Play by Post Game

We’ve talked about some of the challenges in running a play-by-post roleplaying game. This week we’re going to talk about how you can make things easier for yourself when you plan and set one up.

  • Plan it out ahead of time. Seriously. Just because you have more time to decide what happens next, doesn’t make improvisation any easier. In fact, I’ve found that there’s more of a tendency to procrastinate because the immediate pressure is less. But if you don’t have an idea for what you’re going to do or where it’s going to go, having to decide mid-game doesn’t get much easier.
  • Set player expectations. This is related to the above. Let the players know what they’re in for before they submit characters. Let them know what they’re going to be doing, how often you expect them to post, what your policies are for absenteeism, etc.
  • Don’t hinge the plot on any one player because that player will be the one to drop the game first. Trust me.
  • Plan for players to drop out because it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. Work in players leaving/more players replacing them into the game’s premise.
  • Prepare solid notes for potential players if you have multiple threads available, make use of them. Otherwise make sure your OP contains the info the players need to know. What the setting is like, what kind of characters you’re looking for, any house-rules in effect, what sources they can draw from, etc.
  • Start with a bang get players in the mood by starting with action. This doesn’t have to mean a fight, but it’s a great way to build in player investment.
  • Be picky when choosing your players if you don’t know them. Make sure they’re on the same page as far as tone goes. Make sure that they can write, at least well enough that your eyes aren’t going to try and escape their sockets. PbP is a textual medium, so you’re going to be forced to read a lot of posts.
Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Running a Play by Post Game

We’ve talked in the past about which systems work well in a play-by-post game, and how to play in a meaningful and cooperative manner.

Today we’re going to discuss tips for actually running your own play-by-post games.

  • Play in a few games first. Seriously. I have seen a lot of GMs assume they can jump to a new format without ever having experienced it.
  • You have time. The PCs can’t really surprise you, because you have hours or days to respond to them. Make use of this advantage.
  • Easy on the tactical combat. Remember how I was just talking about time? Yeah, this is the flip-side. A single combat can take days. And if you’re going to draw up a new map every turn to show people their positioning, that’s a lot of effort for very little reward.
  • Players also have a lot of time, even if things are happening split-second in game, to carefully consider their next actions. Accept this.
  • But players will also forget things. Five minutes passed for the characters, five weeks for the players. Don’t expect them to remember, or to take good notes.
  • You will lose people. They will drift away, stop posting, wander off, get bored. Real life emergencies crop up. Have a plan to deal with this.
  • On the same token, be picky about who you let into your game. More on this in the future when we talk about setting up a play-by-post game.
Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Experimentation Gone Wrong

I’ve been writing novels professionally for four-and-a-half years now, and I’m constantly trying new things to improve my craft. Sometimes this means a new sort of project, like the audio drama adaptations I produce through Burning Brigid Media. Sometimes it’s a new process. Sometimes these experiments result in a smoother workflow, and sometimes… not so much.

Generally speaking I do a lot of planning before I start writing, drilling down to the scene-by-scene level, plotting out the story in minutia. I’ve never been able to write a novel by the seat of my pants. I get lost and confused, huddling into the corner until a friendly adult comes to find me.

Hypothesis

Still, I’ve often wondered if the degree of planning I had to do was a genuine part of my creative process, or a crutch that was keeping me back.

Procedure

NetworkProtocolPreviewWhen embarking on Network Protocol, sequel to the cyberpunk thriller Cold Reboot, I decided to take a slightly looser structure, planning chapter-by-chapter instead of scene-by-scene.

Now, I usually don’t even think about chapters until the last round of revisions. To me they’re less a unit of storytelling than a tool to control a reader’s pacing. Something to make it difficult for someone to put the book down. Readers don’t like to stop reading mid-chapter, so if your chapters end on a crisis point with high tension, they might talk themselves into reading just a little bit more.

However, in the interest of science, I decided to use the chapters as the smallest unit of planning, writing 2-3 chapters in my outline to describe what happened in each.

Results

No matter how I chose to envision the story while plotting, scenes still exist. I still had to write them, only I approached them without a clear idea of what I was going to write. This is, I believe, what they call “pantsing.”

It… did not go well.

fail

While there were a few moments that provided me with delightful “in the moment” sort of surprises, in general I found that I entered each scene without any tactical sense of what the characters were going to do. I had to make it up as I went along, and ended up with some irrational plans and illogical outcomes.

Or, in other words, scenes that I will have to completely re-write when I do my revisions. Easy to fix, but time consuming, extending the time it’ll take me to finish Network Protocol by 200-300%.

So. What have we learned?

Conclusion

I can’t pants. Scene-by-scene plotting is just part of the way I work, and I don’t need to worry too much about trying to evolve past this. If it happens, it happens, but what I do is effective, and I should stick to that.

For now.

How about you? What have you tried and failed, and what has it taught you? Answer in the comments below.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Playing in a Play by Post Game

The general rule in play-by-post is the same as it is in face to face realtime gaming: add to everyone’s fun, don’t subtract from it.

That said, there are a few guidelines that apply to play-by-post gaming that you can abide by to maximize everyone’s fun.

Rule 0: Lurk First

Every site’s culture and expectations are a little different. Spend some time reading threads and getting to know how a place “feels” before jumping in head first. Read their rules, browse a few threads. Immerse yourself.

Rule 1: Write Right

Not everyone you play with is going to stick with correct grammar and spelling, but pbp is a textual medium. Write to the best of your ability. It’ll make your posts easier to read, and encourage people to interact with you.

Rule 2: Post

Nothing kills a game faster than inactivity. Different games post at different rates, but try to find out what the accepted minimum is, and stick to it. Consistently. If you’re going to be gone, make all good-faith efforts to let the GM know, so nobody is stuck waiting on you forever.

Rule 3: Stop posting so much

At the same time, slower posters can find a flood of new posts intimidating, and if it happens a lot, will discourage them from keeping up with the game. It’s all too easy to get carried away with other fast posters. Try not to post so often that you leave people behind.

Rule 4: Length DOES matter

This can, again, vary from game to game, but find out what length post the GM prefers and stick to it. Some GMs don’t want any one-line posts. Others hate big walls of text. 1-3 paragraphs is a good middle-ground, but if in doubt: Ask.

Rule 5: Add to the game

Your posts should provide characterization, entertain, or advance the plot. Preferably all three. Don’t post just for the sake of posting. Even when keeping to the game’s minimum schedule, your posts should serve some purpose.

Of course, you can only do so much. You can only react to what you’re given. That leads us to rule 6.

Rule 6: Find the right group

As you play on any given site, you’ll find players that mesh well with your own style, and those that don’t. Many of these sites have hundreds or even thousands of users, so there’s really no need to play with people you can’t stand.

Rule 7: If you must bail, bail with style

If a group doesn’t suit you or if you just don’t have the time to play, don’t just vanish. Do the others a solid and let them know you’ve got to withdraw. It’s only polite.

Rule 8: Be cool

Even if you hate each others’ characters in-character, be polite and considerate out-of-character. Don’t take in-character conflict personally. Remember, there are real people on the other side of your internet connection, with real feelings.

There you have it. Simple rules that, if followed, enhance everyone’s enjoyment.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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What Systems Work Well With Play-By-Post?

Now, let me preface this with the notion that any system can work with any game. As long as it is possible to adjudicate and answer “what happens next” a system is viable.

However, not all systems suit all games equally. A good GM will use the system that best suits the game he’s interested in running, and that means one he doesn’t need to struggle against to get it to work with what he has planned.

That includes format, and that’s what we’ll be evaluating today.

What factors do we need to keep in mind for play-by-post gaming?

Textual Medium

PBP is written prose, not spoken. Instead of Bob simply saying, “I attack the guy,” or “I shoot him with my blaster” he’ll write out a paragraph of something like

Unfortunately play-by-post games move slowwwwly. It depends on the players, but some will only manage a single post per day, or only a few per week. This can make fast-paced combat unbearably slow, particularly in games requiring a lot of back-and-forth between players and GM.

Bob recoils from the stormtrooper in revulsion, hand going to the blaster holstered at his hip. “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams!” he shouted, drawing and firing in one smooth motion, trying to plug the Imperial Dog between the eyes.

So, ideally, a system that rewards descriptive posting can take advantage of the format. Feng Shui, for example, gives mechanical bonuses for entertaining and descriptive combat turns, and something like that can really work well in Play-By-Post.

Pacing

“I attack the guard. (rolls dice.) Hit.”

“Okay, the guard is going to try and parry… failed. Go ahead and roll for damage.”

“4 before armor.”

“Okay, it’s a solid hit. The guard grunts and swears, but doesn’t quite stagger. He strikes back with his own blade… (roll) …hit. Roll your defense.”

“Failed.”

“He hits you in the arm. 6 cutting after armor. Is that crippling? Roll for crippling.”

“Yeah, crap. (roll) Made it!”

“Okay, it hurts, yeah, but you still have the arm. Round 2.”

A one-on-one combat round like the above will take a minute or so face to face, but in a play-by-post game it could take days. You can mitigate this by having players combine tactical information in a single post – “tell me your attack roll, damage, and defensive plan in each post” but this lacks the immediacy such combat systems benefit from.

Instead, think about focusing on games whose combat isn’t quite so moment-to-moment. Not so tactical.

Speaking of Tactics

A lot of games (and a lot of gamers) use miniatures in combat to track positioning and allow for “crunchier” combat. In play by post, unless you’re running an app allowing for real-time positioning (which requires everyone to play at the same time), you can’t exactly use the same set of minis.

As a compromise, the GM can provide drawn diagrams or maps… but these can take a lot of time to prepare. And while you do have a lot of time when turns come so slowly, it’s still a lot of work for busy (or lazy) GMs.

So, again, we see that systems with lighter or more abstract combat systems are better for play-by-post.

Prognosis:

In my experience, the following systems are particularly suited to play-by-post gaming:

And the following systems, while not impossible, are somewhat hampered

Again, there are always workarounds, but those are predicated on play-style rather than inherent conditions of the game itself. We’ll talk about some of these techniques when we discuss running the Play by Post game.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.