The Game’s The Thing

"Nut up or get off my damn ship!"

Here it is Christmas Eve. I’ve got a roast elf cooling on the stove top and a candy cane bourbon smoothie in the blender. Let’s take a moment to talk about games. And by that, I mean Role Playing Games (or RPG to my geeky brethren)

Earlier this year I worked on a role-playing game supplement for Galileo Games. It was pitched and written for their outstanding Bulldogs! RPG (Really, the reviews have been excellent and I’ve played the game myself. Damn good stuff!) Called Ports of Call, this source-book is a plug-and-play accessory that provides info on port cities, new playable species, NPC’s, and plot hooks suitable for any Bulldogs! game.

I’m not the best rules mechanic, but thankfully the system was easy enough to work with that it didn’t break me. Plus, Brennan Taylor and staff really know their stuff. It’s deep in editing last I heard, and they’re acquiring art for the book as I type this. My understanding is that the book is expected out in March of 2012.

You might ask me, (or you might not…you might have tuned out with mention of role playing), “Why write a source-book for an RPG? Aren’t you like a novelist or something?”

My response to that is, “You’ll have to take that up with my Dwarven Barbarian, Oskar.” And I mean it. Oskar is a feisty one.

See, for as long as I’ve been a writer, if not longer, I’ve been a gamer. And in my case at least, I’ve learned that to do something well in one arena pays off dividends in the other. I’m a better writer because I’m a better gamer, and vice-versa.

For instance, I can’t stress how important coherent world-building is when you’re working with really speculative fiction. If you’re not setting your story/game on earth in a recognizable time-frame, you’ve got to create a credible world for characters to go tromping around in. With fiction, it’s easy to just plot out the parts you need for your outline.

In a game, that can get you into trouble, because players are unpredictable. Don’t know what’s beyond that castle wall because you didn’t think you’d need it? Guess what, bucko? Your players are going over the wall, and you can either improvise and hope to make it cohesive, or you can build a world that accounts for these detours and makes sense. And guess what? Doing the same for your novel, while not strictly necessary for that outline, will save problems and questions if things get off track, and will make for4 a richer story even if things don’t derail.

With sci-fi such as Bulldogs!, world building is its own kind of nightmare. If the characters are on a ship that traverses the galaxy, you’re having to create a new world, culture, civilization every session or so. The options are to either do a ton of work every session, limit travel, recycle like crazy, or risk every planet looking just like the last one.

Ports of Call is meant to be a useful tool to help game masters out in this regard. Each entry is only a few pages, and gives them the essentials for a quick stop. It lets a game master throw together a game with very little preparation.

If I’m running the game, it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d love to have. And since I tend to write the stuff I’d want to read, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. And something that helps me keep a game fresh is always welcome.

Speaking of keeping games fresh, a bit of a digression.

I’ve run several games over the years. Some last for a few years, some are one-night affairs. I’ve run space opera, spy, conspiracy, epic fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, pulp, and super-hero games. The common thread seems to be that they all end up somewhere dark and a little twisted. Even the epic fantasy has a darker element to it. While part of this is a result of my players, I’m still responsible for setting tone and plotting out the stories.

I was challenged today to consider a game of a different flavor. It got me thinking. Could I put together a game that focused on the lyrical beauty of a fantasy setting rather than the darkness? Could I run a game that was more unicorn than dragon? A lot of that will come down to players, but I think it’s possible. As I sit down to my Christmas feast of roast elf, I’ll turn my mind to the puzzle. And maybe there will be a Christmas miracle and I’ll figure out how to do this.

In the meantime, have a happy holiday. Oh, and baby Jesus called and said he wanted you to get a copy of Bulldogs! for his birthday. Might as well get one for everyone else you know while you’re at it. Heck. As a last minute gift, you can pick it up as a PDF instantly for cheaper than a damned CD!

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