Friday, October 30, 2015

Spyder's Burner: Supporting PC's

About a month ago I wrote an article about how I found the structure of Beliefs were working in my Burning Wheel game Oasis. T'was a good article and a lot of people seemed to pass it around, but then Andy asked "what about Intra-Party Beliefs? How does this scheme involve anyone else?" I told him I'd think on it and played a session with my "new" ideas in mind, and found out a few things:

  1. Each character can really only have ONE goal Belief at a time. It just doesn't feel right to start on a new goal after all the work it takes just to get one off the ground.
  2. Only two goals at a time per party, please. Four goals to juggle together is way too bloody much for my poor head. Two, on the other hand, allows for convenient cut-aways without taking up too much time from the other players. 
  3. Players should look out for ways to include other players. Yeah, I know, this one's a no brainer, but when you're going on twenty (twenty!) sessions you sometimes build some bad habits.
So what happens with the characters who don't have the two driving goals per session? They swap out their goal Belief with a Party Belief. Find another one of characters that has a goal and write a Belief about him. Make sure it's how you're going to help or hinder that character and then throw it all into motion. The tentpoles make their move, and the supporters react. Switch roles next session. Rinse and repeat. Or something like that, haven't tried the last part yet. But Luke talks about it somewhat in the Burning Wheel: players taking turns switching between the active and supportive roles.

Friday, October 16, 2015

These Are Some of My Favorite Things

RPG: Burning Wheel
People struggling to become something more in a dark, but hopeful, world. The mechanics are complicated and deep.Consequences really hurt. There's a million skills that could be all put down to thirty. Fight! is long and painful And characters will be changed.

Oh dear sweet Lord I love this game. Where was this game my whole life? I've been playing this game for awhile, and I've written several reviews on it, but I keep finding something new to love. Even character creation is starting to become something  I look forward to. And the rest of the games based off this one are amazing as well. I could probably just play this family of games and be happy for the rest of my life, no joke.

Movie: Schindler's List 
This movie has the distinct honor of being one of the very few movies to reduce me to tears (Toy Story 3 also has that honor). Watching Schindler's reaction to saving all the people that he did was one of the most genuinely humbling events of my life, to say nothing about the rest of that movie, which is a tour-de-force on everything that could be said about mankind.

There are very few movies I would say constitute real and actual art. Ostrov is one of them, and deserves an honorable mention on this list for being so amazing. Children of Men is another movie that I can say is without peer. But this movie is, without a doubt, the best movie I have ever seen. You don't get better than Schindler's List. You just don't. The journey from being a sinner to a righteous man has never been better expressed.

Smash Character: Red Link

You see a slow but powerful character with projectile attacks? I see someone with a bunch of different ways to give you hell. Bombs stun you, that bloody boomerang messes with your plans, and the arrows can kill you when you least expect it. And that's before we meet the mighty Foot of Destiny and the jump attack that kills at 90%, not to mention an up smash that's really come into it's own. While this sometimes makes me a turtle if I'm feeling lazy (those arrows with the sniping...) I find I have the most fun if I'm running right at you, bomb in hand. That lovely stun...

Oh, why red Link? It's my favorite tunic from Ocarina of Time. That and the red makes me a better fighter. No, really. Faster, too. Yup.

Nostalgic Series: The Chronicles of Narnia
No, not the awful modern series that spits on Lewis's work. No, I mean that other cheesy series that's faithful to Lewis, but not much else. But man, how children eat up cheese, myself particularly. I loved the heck out of these movies, particularly The Silver Chair, The effects were awful, although you have to admire them for trying.

Like I said, The Silver Chair was my favorite movie in the series. I loved the ending challenge of making the protagonists doubt reality itself. That and the effects were less obtrusive than the other movies, stupid snake at the end nonwithstanding. I also found Puddleglum pretty endearing and well acted. Great, that makes me afraid to watch it and find out he doesn't hold up. So glad the Nostalgia Critic probably won't review it, that would be earth shattering. Now if only I could find the series so I can indoctrinate Micah and drive my poor wife even more insane. Long as we don't find the film adaptation of Little House on the Prairie...

Alright, nevermind! We'll find it!
Iconography Book: Iconostasis
If you ever get a hankering to understand Orthodox sacred art and are ready for a trip down the rabbit hole, Iconostasis is perfect. Starting off as a philosophical treatise on dreaming Iconostasis segues through it's topics with a meandering but direct method. The book builds the case that icons are essentially the dreams of the faithful as they progress toward God, with the iconostasis, a screen separating the sanctuary and nave in and Orthodox church, being the prime example. The iconostasis hides the sanctuary and yet reveals who is in it and what goes on in there, revealing it and concealing it in a logic that can only work if one is obeying dream logic. The book effortlessly weaves between all the topics without a seeming rhyme or reason until the end of the book, sorta like how a dream really doesn't make all that much sense until you get to the end and realize what you've been doing all along.

I learned a lot from this book, but if I had to pick one thing at gun point it would be that church is the place to go and dream about being God and that the icons are us dreaming of being like God. Which is totally different from sleeping through the service, by the way. Nowhere in this blog post do I condone that, so please don't try referencing this thing to your pastor as proof as to why you should be sleeping during services!

Star Wars Movie: Return of the Jedi
Yeah yeah yeah, this is the worst of the original trilogy as far as standalone movies go. The Ewoks are annoying and the extended scenes add absolutely nothing to the movie. But this has the most of what I liked about the Star Wars trilogy: internal struggle leading to outer victory. Luke's enlightenment tied into the Galactic Civil War and he contributed without being directly involved.

Another contributing factor to me loving this movie was my childhood fear of Darth Vader. I ain't kidding, Darth Vader scared the holy crap out of me. Just hearing that breathing creeped me out. So seeing Darth Vader's mask being taken off to see an old and dying man brought closure to my shattered child psyche.

Death Battle: Solid Snake vs. Sam Fisher

Just 'cause Solid Snake is awesome.

Prince of Persia Game: Warrior Within
Oh man. this game... is it glitchy? Yup. Is it unfair? Yup. And does it feature an awesome open world dungeon with amazing platforming? Oh hell yes. Yes, the original game has a charm that is most definitely not in it's successors and the third game really is the best game of the previous two, but I can't help but love the hell out of it anyway. If you haven't played it give it a shot. You just might like it.

Russian Circles Song: Schiphol
This was one of the songs I never stopped listening to my year in Atchison. I would listen to this, the album This Will Destroy You by This Will Destroy You, and the album The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky, on repeat and as loud as I could get my headphones to allow. I'm surprised I'm not half deaf by the experience. I probably am and never noticed.

Seriously, though, this song has an amazing build up. I showed it to my sister Anna who, after listening to the song, declared that if all rock was like this song she'd be happy. I'm inclined to agree with her, but then again I hate most lyrics these days. Not only can I not shut them out, no matter how hard I try, but the lyrics are usually so banal and poorly thought out that I really would wish they would stop polluting the air and my mind with their trash. Which is why instrumental is so good. I don't have to put up with that crap and just listen to what I wanted to in the first place: the music...

Favorite Switchfoot Album: Nothing is Sound
This album was senior year of highschool. When this sucker came out my best friend's parents were going through a horrific divorce and I was starting to come down with Lyme's Disease, which left me in a haze for the next four or five years of my life. Throughout it all I kept coming back to these songs and leaning on them for support and comfort. Yes, life sucked, but there was hope at the end of the tunnel, even if I couldn't see it. We Are One Tonight, the second to last song on the album, is a song that I appreciate more and more each time I hear it. Which actually reflects my experiences with the album itself, come to think of it. The older I get the more this album becomes understandable. Instead of liking it for the angst and "life sucks" angle, I find that I appreciate it more for it's honest commentary on life: sex is nice and easy but love is hard, hoping is the only way to stay sane, and while life is hard it's achingly beautiful, so who could want anything different?

That wasn't too bad of a Favorite Things post, was it? I might make more, we'll see.

Friday, October 9, 2015

God and Nature

The other day I was assigned to a detail that took me way out into the boonies of the military base where I am stationed. It wasn't a very glamorous detail. It had me near the big wigs of my installation, which meant I really had to be extra careful about how I presented myself. So that day was a bit more stressful than a normal day at my job is. At the end of the detail they released my buddy and I to walk around and look at the scenery, which is mostly untouched on military bases so that way training can happen in wild areas. This is sort of what I was staring at (scenery changed so as to protect national security and all that, I'm sure the COMSEC people would appreciate it)

I love being out in nature. While I'm no great outdoorsman I find the solitude and peace of nature to be refreshing. As I stared out, into the great plains, I took out my prayer rope and began praying the Jesus Prayer. As I did so it occurred to me how perfectly everything was organized. The grass held down the soil, which fed the grass. The sky let down rain on the soil and the soil returned the water back up to the sky. This great cycle worked, without fail, day in and day out without the slightest bit of help from man. If anything we depend on this order and harmony to work without even realizing it and certainly aren't as thankful as we could be that the whole world works the way it does. Either way, I was struck by the sheer order and creativity of creation. Without doing anything but being itself it was good.

I continued to look and pondered how somebody could look at something this beautiful and not see God in it. Systems left to themselves decay and die and yet here this stood, unchanging in it's ways. In my mind that suggested someone who tended it and cared for it, because I've never experience a system that just worked on it's own without help. The very existence of the plains as they are suggest a God. Peace, which is perfect order and harmony, is a sign of God. The plains radiated peace. They radiated  God.

My thoughts continued to wander and it occurred to me that I had felt this sort of radiance before, this incredible stillness that was out here. I had met it in holy men and women. For anyone who hasn't met this sort of person before there's a stillness to a person who's holy. They can be laughing, talking, crying, it doesn't matter, it radiates an otherness about it. They are not like us by being more human than we are. They are so like us they are other. Looking at this beauty of the plains I realized that they were radiating the same peace and contentment as the holy men and women I had met. God shone out of them both.

But then the moment arrived when I felt my own soul in relation to this calm and peace and realized I was very far from it. I was not at peace, I was not in harmony, there was no great order to my soul like there was out here in the plains or the holy men and women I'd met. I was a profound mess, profoundly fallen in a way that I'd never felt before. It wasn't that I felt judged or even guilty. Sin has very little to do with guilt, I knew that at in that moment. I simply wasn't in sync with God and everything He had made. At that moment the Jesus Prayer made sense in a way that I'd never experience before.

 "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

 I wasn't condemned, I was simply someone out of touch and asking to be put back into good and working order. I simply wanted to fit and found that, while I didn't right then and there, I could if I wanted to. Y'know, with a lot of time and practice. As I stood there, praying in the breeze and watching the grass sway, I realized I wanted nothing more than to be like that prairie. I wanted to be in complete working order. I wanted to be  in communion with God, who was radiating in that prairie so strongly that I could barely see anything else. God is in everything, even myself.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Hell on Wheels Taught Me About Being a GM

I blame my mom for this one. We had gone over to my parents' house for vacation and had a blast. Having family around to take Micah when Maria and I were tired was a godsend, particularly after that grueling 22 hour trip where we discovered that Micah doesn't sleep in cars, not voluntarily at any rate. So we were tired and I was feeling only slightly homicidal after having a screaming offspring in the car for that amount of time. So I asked my mom if she had seen any good TV recently and she immediately started talking about Hell on Wheels.

Now, part of her love of the show is undoubtedly cause she's a Southerner at heart. I mean, she was a bayou rat for criminy's sake, you don't just get that out of someone! And there's the music, of course: good Western, not that crappy stuff y'all call Country. But the take away was that the characters were really well developed. It was a character drama, through and through. I like character dramas a lot, so I decided to give it a shot. And I'm really enjoying it! We're in the middle of the second season as of writing this blog post (which you probably won't see for another month) and Hell on Wheels has a lot going for it. Watching the show has made me start taking mental notes on how to incorporate some of it's techniques into my own Burning Wheel game. Here's what I've seen so far.

A Slow Burn is Just Fine. I'm a very impatient man by nature. If something's going to happen I want it NOW. Hell on Wheels has managed to keep the narrative going by being patient and building the groundwork. The Swede isn't a major villain in season one so much as he's an annoyance. Well, one major thing happens and then guess what? He changed his outlook and all of a sudden he's a big problem. Let the people in the background develop, because eventually it's all going to bleed together and someone's gonna get hurt. And that's good for story.

In Oasis, my current Burning Wheel campaign I decided I was going to introduce the Children of Lilith, an all-male race of Lilith's children, into the campaign before the players had adequately defeated the werewolf threat that had been bubbling up for about ten sessions.  And before they solved the mystery of the Red Death, a plague that's been decimating the Iron Kingdoms. Now I have to tie the three threats together and make them one super threat. That's going to be a headache. Yay me.

When in Doubt, Conserve. It's pretty simple, actually: make your player's plans your plans. Want to introduce a death cult? Make sure at least one or two of the players' relationships are in the cult. Yes, I said in the cult. They might be fooled, they might not be, but that's not the point. You want people to have something at stake that's personal. It's always a better idea to use something that the players already know and have invested in than not, unless you're intentionally expanding the players' field of vision. Just make sure you actually need to introduce new elements, cause if you throw in too much you can get swamped very easily....

In Oasis this happened entirely by accident. The game had started with a riot. The lord of the city, Watcher Constantine, was a relationship of Vincent Durant, a slimy PC. A few sessions into the game and Vincent decided he was going to poison Watcher Constantine and take over the city. He decided he was going to do this with red zombie flesh. He wanted it done immediately so he did it himself and... Watcher Constantine became a blood lich. Instead of hating Vincent for poisoning him Constantine thanked Vincent for making him superior and opening up to Rahbarl, the archdemon beneath the city. Constantine then went on to further the riot that had been going on by murdering his way through the city, infecting people at a high rate. It took Joel with the Sword of Uriel to stop Constantine. I had a completely different idea in mind but, when Vincent's player handed me this low hanging branch, how could I not grab?

A Well Fleshed Out Setting Makes All the Difference. This doesn't really mean if you know the grand history of the setting, although that might help. The following things seem to be the most important, going by Hell on Wheels: what's happened in the last five years, the sensate aspects of your immediate setting, and what the common class looks like. Because, if you have all three of those things down, you know what everyone around you has experienced recently, how it's impacted their immediate surroundings, and what they think about it. That alone will make the place feel real.

Yeah, I'm terrible at this aspect. More on that as I develop it more.

Most of being a GM seems to involve sitting back, taking what your players want, combining it with what you want, and allowing the dice to make it unpredictable. I definitely recommend gathering as much of your stuff from your players as possible and only adding things when you need to get stuff moving. Players provide really good raw material, it's up to you to kick them in the balls and make them choose a direction. You don't choose what they do for them, you just give them a good enough sting in the rear to make them jump. But the better you conserve, the more patient (but not sluggish!) you are, and the better you flesh out the immediate setting the easier it'll get for players to make a decision.