Monday, 30 March 2015

Moving On Up

Feast your gaze upon the new homestead
and the fearsome guardian hound they call Dakota!!
I am the Warden!!

The transformation begins. As of the moment I write this, we are a little over 48 hours away from taking possession of our new house and, more importantly, our new lives. This weekend alone has been a mad dash of packing, purchasing and perseverance with the calendar carrying on at such an incredibly slow rate, I'd swear a 32nd day has been added to March. 

All of this and its significance brought to light because of Timehop, the flashback app, reminding me how rough things were a year ago. Last March, I was dealing with depression and struggling to understand why the fuck Life hated my guts. Now, I actually walk around with my head looking up and forward, literally and figuratively. (I'm very serious about this. I've always had to walk looking down to see any tripping obstacles waiting to make the rest of the day painful. Another unexpected consequences of this injury.) 

Everything is available and yet so much remains out of grasp. I had a chance to take a long hike this weekend after a long time away from the woods and while it came with a price (not including sliding into deep snow and having to leave my Jeep behind overnight), I truly had time to think about my future. Thanks to some research, I know time will not always be on my side (babies have a nasty habit of requiring non-stop care, I hear), but there is time. I don't have to change the world or become a household name in any circle, I just need to do something that makes an impact in my life. And my family's life. If that means I also get to attend Gencon (wherever they hold it), publish a best-selling game, tour with an improv group, or anything else I've dreamed about, that's cool. I don't need it, that's all. They're bonus prizes. Maybe it's something that comes with achieving a base line in your life or standing atop a hard won battlefield after a long war. Whatever the case, it feels good to feel good. That's all I wanted to say. The fight's not over (it never truly is). I just wanted to take a moment and share this for everyone who has read my sorrow and worried or rests under their own burden of sadness and could use the slightest of boosts knowing that what they say is true. It never truly ends, but it's up to you to set your base line and hold it no matter the cost. 

With that, let me cap by saying I'm as busy as a jackrabbit building a church for the next 30 days. Unless I've already spoken to you in private about attending a game or working on a side project/freelance job, the answer is, "Not now, perhaps another time." For those planning on coming up on the 18th for Moving Day, the parade starts at noon and bring your own lawn chairs. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Past Unburied

I am the Warden!!

It's easy to forget the problems of the past. Life moves on, you push forward with a new directive, move on and leave the issues of the past behind you. Until one day it sneaks up behind you and gives your memory a good old slap to the back of the head. 

My life's been very busy these past few months. Chaotic, you could say. But it's been chaotic for a while, so that's not clear enough. It's been the good kind of chaotic, the kind where you're finally able to move on with your life. Buying a house, getting settled, a baby, a career... don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Ok, maybe I'm complaining a little, but it's all a welcome relief compared to the problems of the past. I've been so caught up with establishing a future that a matter of my past came back to haunt me on Monday. 

I'm not sure if it's something I've written about before or done so in any great detail. I spaced out that morning as the alarm went off to start another week. I mean, really spaced out. A side effect of one too many concussions (and yes, one is too many concussions). Sometimes, these spaced moments consist of simple concentration problems, one too many things taking place at the same time causing me to lose focus. They're few and far between compared to before as I've been training my mind to block out what I don't want to hear in the background. Neuroplacicity in action, bitches. But that doesn't mean it was the only problem. Sometimes those moments take it to another level and I fall much further. 

I guess this is another one of those posts where I write to understand what's going on in my head. Or not, as the case may be. Because that's what happens when I go this deep into space. Nothing. I go blank. And I know I've gone blank because I can feel myself wanting to tell someone I'm in trouble, yet nothing comes out. Sometimes, I'm stuck inside my own head and it feels like what a comatose patient must go through if they are truly awake in that slumber. Or maybe it's something completely different. Whatever it is, I become trapped in my own body until someone comes along to snap me out of it. Without anyone else around to bring me back, I could be stuck in their a while. 

That's what happened on Monday morning. The alarm went off at 7:00 am and something was wrong. It was too dark for it to be 7; it was that damn Daylight Saving Time. Too late and before I knew what was going on, I was stuck. I know now that an hour passed before I could muster up enough conscious thought to grab my phone and call my wife, who was asleep on the couch downstairs. When she answered, I wasn't ready to speak, so I pressed the 1 button repeatedly to form "SOS" in morse code. Yeah, fucked up, right? To know morse code and not have the ability to speak. Welcome to the damaged brain. 

By the time my wife came upstairs and helped bring me back, it was near 8:30 and my brain was toast. I was as useful as a toddler at work and the bulk of the day was spent resting and regaining my mental strength. 

It used to happen a lot, sometimes two or three times a week. Now, items a rarity. Just enough frequency to let me forget it's a problem until it comes back to kick my ass one more time. And there's no cure, just more training. Like a muscle or a broken leg; you have to work it back into shape. So I'm back in the gym once more, flexing the cranial muscle to avoid another event from happening a little longer than the last. It will happen again, I must remind myself. And I must be ready. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Do Players Need The Rules To Inspire Them?

I am the Warden!!

For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading through Fate Core and listening to a couple episodes of Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff, reflecting on Robin Laws' DramaSystem as I listen. While I'm only 2/3rds of the way through the Core and never read a damn thing on DramaSystem, the fact that both systems are known for incorporating character personalities and motivations into the game and offer a mechanical incentive for players to embrace weakness and flaws has seeped into my work on ScreenPlay.

At this stage in the game (a phrase which I'm using as a pun and not literally, but I guess it works both ways), I've focused almost entirely on the action component of things. Yes, there is definitely room for characters to flex out non-traditional aspects of a character as the Potentials work similar to aspects from Fate yet focus more on descriptive/experience traits of the character. For example, you can have Incredibly Strong, Quick Like A Bunny, or Bounty Hunter as a Potential. What's not built right into the game are mechanical benefits for embracing your characters flaws, which is instead left to the Director (GM) to work into the story as it progress.

So my question is this: do you truly need to create a mechanical benefit for accepting character flaws during play? Is it not possible for players to simply follow their own understanding of storytelling honed from years of reading and watching other stories to know it's boring as hell to have a character who is only awesome? Or do they need to receive a point of some kind like a music student getting a gold star on their sheet music every time they accept their character's goofs?

Personally, I'm in the No camp on this one, though I'll admit it really depends on the player and the type of games they experience. Seeing as ScreenPlay is not intended for just any roleplayer and every group, it seems fitting to me for there to be an understanding that people gathered around a type labelled as Writers rather than players would create interesting characters with strengths and idiosyncrasies. And that having those quirks come up during play serves the story more than it should provide a mechanical perk to your character sheet. However, this is only my opinion and so I want to throw it out to the masses for some feedback. Where do you stand on this topic? 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

How To Train A Goblin?

This is the goal for Droop, the once lowly goblin slave.
Artwork by Paul Abrams. 
I am the Warden!!

An interesting and unexpected development came up in last night's D&D 5e campaign. (And what unexpected development wouldn't be interesting, eh? But I digress...) In the very early days of this campaign when the party liberated the town of Phandelver from the punk-ass band of villains called the Redbrands, the heroes took in Droop, the lowly goblin slave whose sole job was to get smacked around by his hobgoblins masters. Cut to months later and Droop has become a welcome member of the party, a kind of Nodwick, if you will. While the heroes entered the Lost Mines to wipe out Black Spider, he patiently camped outside and waited for them to return. Now it seems those days of obedient sidekick are beneath Droop and the party wants to train him to become a full-fledged PC.

It's something I've thought about for a while and considering there are already two rogues in the party, he'd be best served as a ranger. (The very first attack roll Droop ever made with a short bow provided by the fighter that ended up killing a monster. And he's stuck with it ever since.) Emphasizing on ranged bow attacks with the Hide and Disengage bonus actions could still be very useful. Now that the party has unanimously decided this is indeed the best thing for Droop and the party, it's time to consider how to make this happen.

The Right Way To Create A 1st Level Character

There are two ways of doing this. One, simply pop on his 1st-level, do a little switch-a-roo in the racial stats for goblins and you've got yourself a stew goin'. Two, incorporate the training into the campaign and have the little fella learn on the road. I'm inclined to go with the second because it makes a lot more sense to me personally and because the first option demeans the character that's come before. To suddenly jump from slave to ranger in one session seems foolish.

The DMG is not much help - the only thing I can find is on page 131, Training To Gain Levels, but that only works from 2nd level and up. A character's first level is pretty much assumed to be a significant lifetime of training (like college in our world). I could look at this option and consider that a multi-classed character can technically apply the same principles to gaining a new class in just a few days, so there is that choice. Yet, meh. Something about it doesn't quite work for me and I suspect the group.

The hard part is figuring out how to do this. How much time do I demand for Droop to become 1st level? How much effort? It seems reasonable he should find a ranger to train under, but then it risks either land locking the campaign for a while just so a goblin can become a ranger or having him take a leave of absence as he tends to his studies while his masters/friends go off to save the world.

When the discussion first arose, each of the players made an excellent case for how each of them could provide a piece of Droop's training. The cleric could teach him the ways of meditation and divine magic, the fighter would train him to handle himself in battle, the rogues offering tricks of their trade... all of them sounded entirely reasonable to me and the fact they were all so on board with this idea makes it even cooler. I couldn't help but think of the scene from Fellowship of the Ring where Aragorn and Boromir teach the hobbits how to fight just enough to let them hold their own, a feat that pays off in dividends by the Return of the King. Based solely on teamwork and player enthusiasm, I'm going with the group teaching format instead of a wise and higher levelled ranger.

Leaving us with time. Or perhaps XP? An idea I've considered is to set a negative XP chart for Droop. Starting off at, say, -2,000 XP, he would unlock some of the basic features of a 1st-level ranger while gaining XP along with the other heroes. And when he finally reaches 0 XP, it's fireworks and fanfare!

Oh, but there's more to consider. The rest of the party just hit 5th-level. How long will it take a group of five (not including Droop) heroes to gain 2,000 XP a piece? Is that long enough, too soon, or far too much to indulge these training sessions and hands-on learning through adventuring? And how much can we assume Droop already knows versus a teenage human looking to become a ranger like his father before him? And should a ranger's true 1st-level benefits (favoured enemy, natural explorer) be the benefits of hitting that 1st level and not come from a lead-in? For example, other characters don't gradually gain their next level ability. They get it the moment they hit that next level. Therefore, it's safe to assume the only thing Droop needs to learn are proficiencies and the core values of being a ranger.

A Decision Is Made!

Based on these considerations, I'm going to have Droop start the next game at -2,000 XP (but with a 390 XP boost for fighting the last sesson's dragon, as he did take some unsuccessful pot shots at it). Until he reaches -1,000 XP, there are no benefits. Once he reaches -1,000 XP, Droop will gain half of his proficiencies (one armour, simple weapons, one saving throw, and one skill). At -500 XP, he'll complete his weapon and armour proficiency training and gain one additional skill. Finally, once he hits -250 XP, all proficiencies will be complete and everything will come full circle at 0 XP when he officially becomes a 1st level ranger.

What do you think?