Give the People What I Want

I have a lot of ideas – ideas for games, ideas for adventures, ideas for fiction – so when it comes time to choose, I sometimes have problems. What should I work on? How should I do it? Who is it for?

This is easy in with my home group – whom I call the Ottawa Warband, since its inception was with the Viking adventure that led to the creation of Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death. With the Warband, I can have them vote. I give them the kinds of games that are banging around in my skull, and they vote on which one they want to play: majority rules. So far, this has not cause any problem. The biggest problem is that I regularly change up my games (always chasing the bright shiny object).

Skydiver by Dean Martin
Skydiver by Dean Martin

When it comes time to release games to the public, I am faced with the same problem but lacking a clear solution. I can’t really get the public to vote. The one mechanism that is available for that – Kickstarter – is really its own beast. I suppose I could try a Kickstarter that offered a choice of games, but that’s going to run into problems as people might be willing to pay for an RPG mash-up of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and James Cameron’s Aliens but not for a military special operations RPG.

So here I am, getting a game ready for release (once Nefertiti Overdrive is delivered) and honestly uncertain if this is the game on which I should be spending my time. It’s not just the system, it is also going to be a collection of adventures. The investment is only time – I’m using stock art I have from the Spec Ops line of SEP products and I’m doing the layout myself – but this is also the flagship for a new enterprise and business approach, so picking the wrong game could be a problem.

Still, it’s always a gamble, and I understand there is no way I’ll be making mad cash in this industry.

More on this new approach later.

You can find out more about Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death here.

You can hear some of the adventures of the Ottawa Warband here.

You can read about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers at Wikipedia.

You can read more about Aliens at IMDB or Wikipedia.

Fiction? No. Inspiration? Yes.

I’m working on a chapter outlining inspirations for one of my games, in the sense of media inspirations rather than mechanical ones. It’s interesting how much non-fiction inspires me. Granted, in almost all cases, it is in conjunction with fiction – movies, comics, and novels – but non-fiction is a huge well of ideas. Think of the Game of Thrones. I honestly don’t know enough about it to comment on George R. R. Martin’s actual inspirations, but to me, it seems like at least some of this is coming from the English Wars of the Roses.

For fantasy and even steampunk, we’ve got history. For modern games, we’ve got documentaries, and newspaper and journal articles about different communities and activities – such as Black Hawk Down, Jawbreaker, or Generation Kill. If you want to find out how something might be done or if someone is already doing it, the information is generally out there and its almost always interesting and inspiring.

There is an area in which I don’t rely on non-fiction, and that’s science fiction. That seems normal, right? Science fiction tends to defy the use of non-fiction, does it not? Well, not exactly. I think that someone with a better grasp of science could put it to use. There are likely lots of ways in which space exploration and astronomy could influence one’s ideas, even if one needs to disregard some or all of what we understand about physics – or find some way to neatly side-step them – in order to have intergalactic adventures.

So what’s the point? No real point. It’s just an interesting little quirk that might explain some of my results for both game design and adventures.

Designing the Design

Some discussions have erupted in places I frequent regarding adventure design. I find the discussion fascinating, especially since I have recently struggled through preparing two adventures for publication – one in the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart and the second for the successfully Kickstarted Nefertiti Overdrive.

My biggest problem with adventure design is that my natural tendency as a GM is to use minimal prep with a page or two of ideas/resources and let the game go where it will. This does not a good published adventure make. My GMing has diverged dramatically from a course that allows it to work as a foundation for designing adventures for publication, and so such design takes a lot more time, effort, and thought that it used to.

I’ve folded much of what I use to direct games in an improvisational nature into my game design. Nefertiti Overdrive has both Drivers and Pivots, two signposts that tell me what my players want to include in a game. If someone’s Pivot is to find a brother’s murderer, that subplot needs to make an appearance every now and then – which is frankly awesome, because it allows me to weave a character into the metaplot in an unexpected way. “Your brother was working for who?!!?” If a character’s Driver refers to protecting the innocent, you know there are going to be some doe-eyed children threatened somewhere along the way.

It makes it easy to just throw out an opening scene and go.

Advancing through the foliage
In The Foliage by Dean Martin

I don’t think anyone is going to pay any kind of money for a published adventure that does this.

I will be publishing some adventures – along with some new systems – in the near future, so I need to put together the notes and resources I used and try to come up with an elegant and simple way to present the adventure to an audience.

This could be interesting.

Accidental Pairings in Nefertiti Overdrive

In working on another adventure for Nefertiti Overdrive (for the backers who pledged for a game over the internet) I realized something about the characters that was cool but totally unplanned.

Each pair of characters has a female and male component: the Princess & the Etruscan, the Spartan & the Amazon, and the Misfit & the Serpent. None of them are romantic pairings – one is familial, one is professional, and one is friendship. Also, they are opposites but linked – the Princess is about the nation while the Etruscan cares about one person but both are defined by duty and loyalty; the Spartan is infantry while the Amazon is an archer but both are heroic soldiers; the Misfit is bright while the Serpent is dark, but both are seeking redemption. Also, in the first pair, the female is the leader. In the second, the male is the leader. In the third, the two are equal.

I wish I could say I planned this, but I didn’t. It’s pretty awesome with the way it all worked. Is this my subconscious? I have no idea, I’m just very happy how it all turned out.

Mountain Dwarf Tree-Huggers Anonymous

From “Races – – Dwarf” at the WotC D&D site.

With the writing for Nefertiti Overdrive done and off to the editor, I have time to take a breath and relax a bit. During that breather, I got back to playing D&D with my children (two daughters, aged 6 and 8, whom we’ll call Smiley and the Princess).

The Princess, the eldest of the two, has been focused on Dwarf clerics since she played the Castle Ravenloft board game. She liked being able to heal. Both girls are really afraid of damage – then again, aren’t we all – and having someone on hand who can heal is essential for them. Because the eldest chose a Dwarf, so did the youngest, though the youngest is a Mountain Dwarf and the eldest is a Hill Dwarf.

Which is funny, because the youngest’s Mountain Dwarf if a Druid. She loved the idea of nature magic and helping animals. I am not about to put constraints on her, and if she likes the idea of a Dwarf that grew up in a great cave complex who now protects the forests and wilds, it’s all good.

So we have a Dwarf cleric and a Dwarf druid. They’re first encounter was with poachers looking to kill a mother white tiger. This is somewhere mountainous and cold, though I haven’t put on details on it yet. The two Dwarfs took on three bandits and did pretty well. Now I have to flesh out the campaign. Maybe the world is gripped with eternal winter and these two are tasked with finding the cause.

No doubt they would go looking for Elsa.

Whatever the case, getting deeper into D&D 5E led to me to more closely read the PHB. Some thoughts on that later.