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Category: Memes

WISH 50: Going Pro

WISH 50 is all about being a professional in the game business:

Have you ever considered trying to publish something professionally in the gaming industry? Why or why not? What are the good points and bad points of being in the industry?

We’re presumably talking about pen and paper here, rather than computer games. With that in mind, the answer is yep. I have, in fact, published something professionally in the gaming industry. I have a decent-sized handful of White Wolf credits, most happily in the Trinity line; I’ve also done work for Atlas and I have something in the queue for Eden.

However, my drive to freelance tailed off a little once I’d done some of it. It doesn’t pay well, so money’s not a strong motivator, and now that I know I can do it I don’t feel the urge to prove it again. This leaves the pleasure of doing work I care about as an incentive.

I don’t get as much pleasure out of working in someone else’s vinyard. This isn’t a financial issue, it’s a creative control issue. One of the reasons I enjoyed working on Trinity so much was because my editor gave me lots of room to lay down tracks. When I wrote Psi Law, I was defining certain elements of the Trinity universe all by my lonesome. That was fun; sharecropping, not as much fun.

If I ever discover myself rich, I expect to get into the publishing business. I think there’s a place in gaming for the small press concept — games published for artistic motives. I don’t want to publish extended lines with a GM screen and splatbooks, I want to publish interesting one-offs with high production values that are complete in one book. That will, alas, probably always remain a dream.

WISH 48: Money Money Money

WISH 48 is all about loot. Real life loot, not the stuff you roll on the treasure table.

The price and availability of miniatures goes up as more companies leave the market. Wood costs lead to extended paper costs, and supplements and gaming systems are becoming a serious financial investment. Is this affecting your gaming any?

I’m pretty much with Ginger on this one. I’m pretty solvent, through a mixture of luck and brains, and I don’t really blink much at costs. Right now my threshold is about 25 bucks for a 128 page book (hardcover or not), and around 40 bucks for a longer book; I’ll buy those if I’m sure I want them, but I won’t buy ‘em as a casual purchase. On the other hand, a $20 128 page softcover? Sure, that’s in my budget.

I don’t buy minis often, but if I did I’d probably feel similarly unless I was collecting a Warhammer army or something. I buy a lot of cards for the one CCG I play, Shadowfist, and I could certainly get by very well buying fewer. So yeah, money issues don’t concern me often.

I also think that higher prices are a good thing for the industry. John Nephew of Atlas Games really pioneered the current pricing structure, based on his analysis which showed he couldn’t make any money with the $15 paperbacks. WotC priced the initial run of D&D core books at an insanely low price, which probably slowed the adoption of realistic pricing, but we’re getting there nonetheless.

The gaming industry needs to keep a niche open for the guys doing games as a labor of love in their basements, but it also needs real businessmen. It needs to be able to support a professional freelancer. If higher prices get us that, I’m all for ‘em.


WISH 47 is Learning Your Lesson, as follows:

Name one lesson you learned in gaming that you will (hopefully) never have to learn again.

So mine is “Differentiate.” I had an awful problem early in my gaming career; I tended to see other people doing cool stuff and I wanted to do the same cool stuff. Self-esteem issues, probably. At one point a friend pointed out in no uncertain terms that I was stepping on her character’s schtick.

I think that I don’t do that any longer, in part because I have a fairly strong belief that I can come up with my own cool ideas. I still have a tendency to worry about toe-stepping.

WISH 42: the morning after

Isn’t the morning after sort of the definition of incoherency? Anyhow. WISH 41 asks:

How coherent do you expect a game world to be? Is a game world merely a stage for the characters, or does it have a life of its own? How deep does it need to be to satisfy you? How do you contribute as a player or GM to making the game world more coherent, if you do?

This is kind of a hard question to answer, given that my primary GM for the last five or so years is the kind of guy who has every NPC in his cities statted out. So I think I don’t care so much about coherency, but perhaps I am spoiled and I would hate it if the world wasn’t coherent.

However, I think that what I really want is not so much coherency but depth. I like being able to go in any direction and find something there. Maybe the GM is ad libbing it, or maybe s/he’s just thorough. I don’t much care as long as I can’t tell the difference.

The classic GM trick, of course, is to simply listen to the players theorizing and choose one of the theories to be accurate. That works OK for me.

Depth is different than coherence. Let’s say one NPC says he used to work with another NPC; I’m not gonna think much about whether or not they were actually in the same place at the same time in the game world. I’m big on suspension of disbelief, and am happy to paper over small cracks in the world.

WISHful thinking

The WISH of the week:

Do you (or your GM) ‘play favourites?’ Do you feel you have to justify your answer? Do you have a horror story to share?

I agree with Greg Morrow’s comments (follow the link above), with some additions. Favoritism shows up most often as spotlight time, a concept I find tremendously useful when thinking about balance. It doesn’t matter if Bob the Paladin can deal out more damage than Ernie the Weedy Cleric if Ernie does all the negotiations and it’s a socially oriented campaign.

Favoritism is rarely, in my experience, a case of the GM giving one player lots of cool things. It’s usually a case of feeding one player spotlight to the detriment of others — and the GM can always do that. It’s easier to do that without feeling unfair, too, since you’re just directing the story in an interesting direction.

Now, there is another form of favoritism that’s even subtler and in some ways more insidious — campaign discussion. What happens when a GM spends a lot of time talking about a campaign with one of the players, but not others? The same kind of spotlight problem, but the other players can’t see it. The effects are still there, though.

(And nah, nobody I’ve played with a lot over the last five years has had either of these faults in anything more than the most minor ways. I share Greg’s worry that I hog spotlight, though.)

Supplemental WISHes

Whoops, I missed a WISH. Well, last week was pretty busy. This week, it’s all about supplements.

What do you think about supplements to game systems? Do you like the additional material, or are you just annoyed about spending the money for the additional rules? Name up to three supplements you?ve really enjoyed, and describe why you liked them.

I like supplements. I have the gamer fondness for more crunchy stuff, although I’m just as happy without it, but what I really like is cool world material. This bias is about to become utterly apparent when I talk about my three favorite supplements.

First, perhaps the best supplement ever, GURPS Fantasy II by Robin Laws. I’m cheating, here, because the reasons I love the Madlands have nothing to do with the fact that they were presented as a supplement. There’s nothing terribly GURPSy about the Madlands; they’re an insane Cthuloid Laplanderesque setting permeated with the horror of Christopher Robin. Layered over the bleak chill of the Madlands, you’ve got half a dozen ornately conceptualized cultures ranging from a really original take on magocracy to a society of immortals that does magic by shooting up powdered gems. You’d do just as well running the whole thing in FUDGE or D20. Really, it’s a game world that hijacked GURPS for a quick trip to your local gaming store.

So OK, let’s have another first. First, perhaps the best real supplement ever, Spherewalker Sourcebook by Greg Stolze. It’s a volumnious sourcebook presented as an encyclopedia, which is a terribly clever conceit. I think it works so well because the short format of each entry forced Stolze to really focus on getting a game hook or two into a couple of short paragraphs. Further, the interlocking format, in which the entire picture becomes clear only after reading all the entries, is an excellent model for a revelatory campaign — a mode that Everway is well suited for. Doesn’t hurt that it’s very well written.

Second, I’m gonna say Charnel Gods by Scott Knipe. I talked about it a lot in the entry linked to above, so maybe just go back and take a look. This almost falls into the category of “more a game world than a supplement,” but the skill with which Knipe adapts the Sorcerer memes to support his unique concept saves it. You could run Charnel Gods in another system but it’s better in Sorcerer.

Third, I will cheat a little more and claim that the psi order/region supplements for Trinity are a single choice. I could pick one of them but I’m lazy, and they’re really all very good. Andrew Bates, the line editor for Trinity, solved the White Wolf splatbook dilemma: how do you make a clan/guild/breed/whatever book interesting and useful for most of the player base? Answer: you link the psi orders to a specific region and make the order books cover the region as well. Since each order was really designed side by side with the region in which they reside, it doesn’t feel forced. Bates did more within the parameters of the White Wolf system than any other line developer. (Sorry, Rich, Justin, et al. But Bates is the man.)

It’s probably obvious, given the examples I’ve chosen, that I’d rather have world than rules. I like it when rules are presented to support new aspects of the rules; for example, I’ve been pretty impressed with the Forgotten Realms line lately. (For a high magic over the top what if John Woo directed a fantasy movie feel, the Realms aren’t bad.) I am not so hugely fond of just new widgets. The classbooks for D&D excited me insofar as some of the classes provided new plot ideas.

Weekly WISH

WISH 34: Non-Standard Characters:

Do you prefer to build a character with a unique concept, or do you prefer a simple or more standard concept to start with?

I’m pretty prone to the unique concept. I like characters with an odd angle, or with weird hooks. The most “normal” character I’ve played in the last couple of years has been a half-orc barbarian, and even he was a trifle strange. He was on a quest to prove that half-orcs were a people, just like elves or dwarves or gnomes. Despite his unattractiveness, he might have wound up founding a church or something. I’m not the kind of guy who delights in bringing out the unique aspects of the standard character types, although I respect that tendency.

Mind you, I’m not the kind of person who plays mind flayer PCs. It’s useless to be offbeat if you don’t have the ability to interact with the rest of the PCs on a long term basis. Being weird is not a license to make other players unhappy. The oddities tend to be more psychological than physical, since those are easier to adjust for party viability.

Do you find that your preference correlates with a preference for elaborate initial backgrounds or with background development in play?

Maybe. I tend to be a Develop At Start kind of a guy. I want interesting things to happen to my characters on a psychological level during the campaign, but I have a pretty firm idea of what the character is going to start out as. In order to enjoy the journey, though, the point at which I started from has to be firm.

Since I almost always play wonky characters, I almost always have the personalities set when I start playing, since the personality is usually the biggest wonkiness.

If you?re a GM, do you find unique-concept characters easy or hard to GM for?

Easy. They come with built in hooks. I don’t really think unique-concept characters covers munchkins, because those aren’t character concepts, those are collections of numbers. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, in my experience. If they can’t give you a rational story as to why the half-ogre (or insect spirit, or right hand man of Alex Able) is going to be able to interact with the party, they’re likely munchkins.

Come to think of it, it seems to me that player willingness to overcome the obstacles inherent to weird characters and party viability is a good way to distinguish between munchkins and people who just want something offbeat. In my book, munchkins are both those people who want their PCs to be uber death machines, and those people who want their PCs to get all the spotlight — and forcing the rest of the party to accomodate their strange quirks is a way to get lots of spotlight time. Being the best in the world at swordfighting is, when you get right down to it, just a specialized form of spotlight hogging.

What about playing alongside them?

Again, not a problem for me, given the comments above.