Earlier this week, I wrote about gradients of conflict in storyworlds, and how just because two entities are on the same side of a conflict, it doesn’t mean they’re both in agreement, or equally invested in the conflict.
Before declaring this horse dead and moving on, I wanted to give some concrete examples of what I’m talking about. And because I’m lazy, I’m turning once more to the lovable terrorists and authoritarians of Star Wars to do so.
Leia: At one end of the rebel spectrum is the extremist, the one who will abandon her comfort zone to put her life on the line in support of the cause. (Yes, she had wealth and power to work with, but do you really think she would have let a little thing like being a moisture farmer on the far side of the galaxy stop her from joining the Rebellion?)
Luke: In the middle of the spectrum is the guy who’s generally opposed to the opposition, but won’t turn those words into deeds unless give no choice, or a fantastic opportunity to do so.
Han: At the other end of the spectrum is the one who’s only in the conflict for external reasons. In Han’s case, it’s his personal need for money, but it could just as easily be family commitments, a personal vendetta, or a lost bet. (These folks are interesting from a storyworld point of view because they give us a glimpse into the world beyond the core conflict.)
Boba Fett: Boba is pretty much in the same spot as Han: supporting the Empire, but only so long as there’s a paycheck in it for him. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the Han and Boba actually worked together at some point, working for neither side of the conflict. (No, I won’t look it up. You look it up and let me know in the comments what you find.)
Darth Vader: Like father, like son. (Oh, sorry. SPOILERS.) Vader’s committed to his side of the conflict as long as it’s easy. But when faced with the right opposition, he becomes conflicted and slides down the conflict spectrum.
Emperor Palpatine: And then you have the one who is so invested in his side of the conflict, he’s pretty much an embodiment of it.
As you can see, different gradients of conflict let us tell different stories. While Han and Leia are on the same side, you can tell Han stories that would never work for Leia, and vice versa. And in the end, that’s the point of this exercise: to help us tell more stories with our storyworlds.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a world-building contract (that’s right, you can hire me to build storyworlds for you!) that’s led me to think a bit more deeply on the subject of conflict.
Conflict is what happens when two or more entities (people, nations, cows, whatever) have goals that are in opposition to each other. We typically think of this as being on two different sides of the conflict.
For example, think about Star Wars. (Yes, I know I over-rely on it for these examples, but it’s easy so please bear with me.) The conflict is the Galactic Civil War. On one side is the Rebellion, on the other is the Empire, and their goals are in opposition.
Visually, it looks like this:
But it doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtly. Black-and-white distinctions are great, but gradients are good too. They create room for more stories.
What if our conflict was actually on a spectrum? It might look like this:
Now, while entities are still on different sides of a conflict, there is variation between those who casually agree with their side (“I’m generally opposed to tyranny”) and the extremists (“Death to all tyrants!”).
Variation is good. It lets us create more nuanced characters and entities. After all, if all rebels are extreme, then none of them are extreme, and extremism becomes a gray bit of background.
Hmm. I think I might have more to say on this subject. Check back on Wednesday and we’ll see what else I can do to over-extend the Star Wars examples.
Thanks for asking, anonymous and hypothetical reader. I do in fact have plans for some new Ghost Punchers material in the next few weeks and months.
- One Sheets: One-sheet adventures are a hallmark of Savage Worlds, and I’d be
an idiotremiss not to do some for Ghost Punchers. They also make great intro products for folks just getting into the game looking for tips on making their own adventures. Expect to see one of these shortly, and more on a regular basis.
- Org Books: The ghost-punching organizations listed in the core book are a fun way to tie the heroes together or to the larger ghost-punching world. Unfortunately, there wasn’t room to really explore these groups in the book. Fortunately, I’ve got a number of these beasts outlined with cool bits for both the GM (backgrounds, NPCs, plot hooks) and the player (new Hindrances, Edges, Powers, and stuff like that).
- Web Content: Watch this space for new ghosts, sample characters, and other slices of Ghost Punchers goodness.
Speaking of web content… if you follow me on Twitter, you can get a regular dose of ghost ideas under the hashtag #PunchThisGhost. And if you use the hashtag for your own ghosts, I’ll gladly re-tweet it for other players to use.
When I looked up on Friday, I realized that November was nearly over, and I had no fiction to show for it. I was failing National Just Write Some Fiction Already Month — but I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. So I picked a fight in the form of 500 words (or so) of flash fiction, presented here for your amusement and edification.
“I can’t believe they turned it into a museum, man!”
Steve stared up at the wreckage of the starship half-buried in the earth. Vines snaked across its hull, and trees had grown up around its lower half. The jungle had long since filled in the enormous gouge the ship had made when it first crashed; the naked furrow of a decade ago was now a foliage-covered ravine.
“What else were they gonna do with it?” snapped Mara. “We don’t have the resources to recycle it, or try to get it going again. And they couldn’t just leave it there.”
“Why not? It wasn’t hurting anybody.”
Mara cocked her head at her brother.
“It killed Doogan, remember? When we were kids?”
Steve pondered for a moment, then nodded.
“Riiight. Doogan. Well, he shouldn’t have been flipping switches near the engine like that, man. That’s a good way to get killed.”
Mara took a deep breath, opened her mouth to speak, closed it, and let the breath go in a deflated sigh.
“Well, let’s just say there have been a lot of Doogans since you went off-world. So now it’s a museum with security gates and security guards and a security forcefield that I need you to get us through. So stop gawking and stay focused.”
“Okay. Fine. I’m focused.”
“Great. So where do we go?”
“We need to find the tree.”
Mara gestured at the dense jungle on either side of the metal road they were stopped beside.
“Do any of these trees look familiar?”
Steve swung his head from one side to the other, taking in the jungle, the road full of tourists, the museum poking through the jungle’s canopy ahead of them, and then finally the jungle again. He shook his head.
“Sorry, no. Of course, the road wasn’t here before, so that’s throwing me off.
“Hang on. Wait a second.”
He swung his head around again, slower this time, with his hands held in front of his face, thumbs extended to form a frame through which to look. He nodded at the mountain range on the horizon.
“Have those mountains moved?”
“No. The mountains are where you left them when you went to the academy for idiot brothers.”
“Hey, there could be tectonic—”
“Shut up. Do you see The Tree?”
Steve shook his head.
“No. But I think it’s this way.”
He turned off the road and walked past a sign reading, “DANGER! JUNGLE IS FULL OF HOSTILE LIFE FORMS!” in six different language. At the tree line, he turned to his sister.
“You coming? Or are you suddenly scared of a few bloat vipers?”
Mara glanced at the passing tourists, a couple of whom glanced back. She adjusted the shoulder strap on her pack and trotted up to Steve. He grinned.
“Yeah, man. Just like old times.”
“Yeah,” said Mara as they crossed into the jungle’s shadow. “Just like old times.”
“This is an outrage!” you cry as you collapse onto your knees and shake your fists dramatically to the heavens. “I’ll have to use a generic Savage Worlds character sheet–one that probably doesn’t even a space to record my character’s Power Points!”
Despair no longer, for your week-long nightmare is at an end! I’m please to announce there is now an actual Ghost Punchers character sheet, and you can download it here for free.
Now get off your knees and go punch some ghosts!
For those of you just joining us, Ghost Punchers is a Savage Worlds setting of supernatural investigation and violence. In Ghost Punchers, the players take on the roles of psychics who hunt the spirits of the dead that feed on the living, then punch those spirits into the afterlife. The game is a little scary, a little absurd, and often over the top.
From the store blurb, here’s a quick peek at what’s inside:
- Rules for creating ghosts
- Rules for possession, haunting, and such ghostly activities
- New Edges, Hindrances, and Powers to help you create the ghost puncher of your dreams
- And the obligatory much more!
What are you waiting for? Check Ghost Punchers out now and you could be punching ghosts by tonight!
As long-time readers are probably aware, I tilt at the windmill of National Novel Writing Month every other year or so. Sometimes I successfully dump 50 thousand words of questionable quality onto the digital page. Most of the time I don’t. And I’ve never been fully pleased with the result.
This will not a be a NaNoWriMo year. I’ve got too many projects with actual paychecks attached to them to spare the time for such a noble-but-non-paying endeavor.
All the same, it’s been a while since I’ve done any actual fiction writing. I miss it. I want to do it. And so I declare November to be National Just Write Some Fiction Already Month (or NaJuWriSoFiAlMo for short).
I will declare myself a winner when I have finished any fiction, of any length, by the end of November.
Will I hit even this low bar? Ask me again in December and we’ll find out together!
(If you wish to join me on this journey of low expectation, you’re welcome to do so! Feel free to grab the image from this post, attach it to your declaration of intent, and let me know in the comments. We’ll form a supportive community of writers who cock eyebrows at each other and say encouraging things like, “You could have written a flash fiction in the time it took you to watch that episode of Scandal. What is wrong with you?”)
A couple weeks ago on Facebook I expressed my excitement for the updated version of Adventurers! that’s currently up on Kickstarter. Adventurers! is a universal tabletop RPG system that manages to fit everything you need to play into just two pages. Oh, those pages are densely packed, but still, it’s quite the feat. The core rules are super-simple (roll 2d6 + stat + modifiers vs. 7 to succeed), but have enough crunchy and narrative bits hanging off of them that they don’t feel incomplete or overly hand-wavy.
While I’ve owned and read through the game, I’d never actually played it. This week, I decided to rectify that.
I downloaded the free Revised Rules from the Kickstarter page. Then I recruited my favorite two playtesters — my daughters, ages 14 and 11 — who are fairly well-versed in ways of RPGs. I handed them blank character sheets and started walking them through the character creation process.
“We’re playing in a generic fantasy world,” I told them as they pondered what kinds of characters to make. “Kings and queens, knights and wizards, orcs and goblins… you get the idea.”
One of the new things I really like in the Revised Edition is how the game defines “character concept” as “definition” plus “archetype” — or as I explained to my players, “adjective plus noun.” For example, I created a sample character who was a “surly guard captain.” According to the rules of the game, I’d get rewards for properly roleplaying “surly,” and get dice bonuses for anything related to being a “guard captain.”
“I’ve got my character,” said my elder daughter. “He’s Rolf Smith. His concept is ‘confused 21st-century businessman.'”
I blinked. She grinned.
“He was summoned here by accident. The wizard saw him, realized the mistake, and ran off. Oh, and he’s got a spear, but he’s not good with it.”
Well. Okay, then. Adventurers! is a universal system. I figured it should be able to handle this. And my daughter seemed fine with the idea of playing a character so far out of his element as to be largely incompetent. I decided to roll with it.
“My character’s name is Meri Brine, and her concept is ‘infamous gunslinger.'”
“You mean like…”
“Yeah. With a gun. It’s on the equipment list you gave us.”
It’s a universal system, I reminded myself. This should be fine. Besides, isn’t Roland from the Dark Tower a gunslinger in a fantasy setting?
“Okay. Businessman and gunslinger it is.”
Even with such creative players, character creation took like five minutes. Maybe 10, tops, since the gunslinger also had magical force-field powers (of course).
I had been intending to just toss my two fantasy heroes into a quick combat encounter to test the game system, but with such interesting characters, I whipped up something a little more elaborate: Rolf found himself in the court of the local Duchess, who suggested the wizard Tomax might be able to help get him home. She sent her infamous deniable asset, Meri the gunslinger, to accompany him to the wizard’s tower. While traveling through a forest en route to the tower, they are attacked by a pair of giant spiders.
The combat system is little more complicated than standard task resolution, in that every attack is contested (both attacker and defender roll 2d6 plus their stats, high roll wins) and you can score bonus damage based on the difference between the two rolls. But we found it very intuitive. Everything worked the way we expected it to, and the spiders were dead in a couple of rounds.
I pointed out to Meri that the forest was usually safe because the wizard Tomax kept the monsters under control. So she might not have been shocked when they arrived at the wizard’s tower and found it apparently uninhabited. Upon entering the tower, they saw it was full of sickly yellow light. From above came the sound of muttered chanting and the smell of… automobile exhaust?
“Does he have a portal?” asked Rolf. “Maybe I can get home!”
The unlikely pair made their way to the wizard’s lab at the top of the tower. Here they saw a gaunt, robed figure muttering over a smoking cauldron the size of a hot tub. Rolf recognized him as the wizard who had summoned him. Meri recognized that this was not Tomax.
The wizard looked up and smiled grimly. “Oh good, you’re here,” he said in my best Bond villain voice. “It saves me the trouble of hunting you down to kill you. And I won’t send you back, because it will upset the balance between our worlds. You see, I have my own man in your world, and — ah, here he is now.”
An ogre slowly ascended from inside the cauldron, as if riding in an elevator. He carried a wooden crate with military markings under each arm.
“I’m pulling out my machine gun,” said my gun-slinging daughter.
“Okay, you — wait. What!? What machine gun?”
She pointed to where she’d written “machine gun” on her character sheet. “It was on the equipment list.”
Sure. Why not.
Combat ensued. Meri got a critical hit by rolling double 6’s and blasted the ogre like a background character in an 80s action movie. Rolf leapt to the edge of the cauldron. He could hear the sounds of traffic from somewhere inside its glowing interior. Turning back, he saw Meri and the wizard exchanging bullets and magical blasts.
“I suddenly realize that this is way better than my boring life back home,” said my eldest daughter. “I’m staying. And I’m going to jump at the wizard with my spear.”
Because the wizard had his back to her and was distracted, I ruled she could roll her attack with advantage. This meant she rolled three dice instead of two, and kept the highest two rolls. Her attack was a success, and she stabbed the wizard in the heart.
“We… will have our revenge,” he gurgled, then died. And since it was time for supper, we ended the game.
My biggest take-aways from this experience include:
- Adventurers! truly is a universal system; bringing a gun to a swordfight didn’t break anything.
- The game system is also as simple (yet versatile) as I’d first thought when reading through it.
- Adventurers! combat is fast.
- I need to double-check players’ gear before starting the adventure.
You can download the Revised Edition of Adventurers! on the Kickstarter page here, and check out the game’s various supplements (also two pages each) here. If you want to read an actual review of Adventurers! you may do so on The Most Unread Blog on the Internet. Ever.
I’m pleased to announce the imminent release of Ghost Punchers: Bare Knuckle Edition, a new roleplaying game setting for Savage Worlds. Yeah, I’ve been working on it / blathering about it for ages, but now… it’s imminent.
“How imminent?” you may ask.
Well, it’s not coming out today. Probably not even this week. But definitely during what I’d broadly describe as “the Halloween season.”
“So what’s with this ‘bare knuckle’ business?” you may ask, if only to maintain our hypothetical conversation.
This edition of Ghost Punchers is full of chills and thrills, but very light on frills. And by “frills” I mean artwork. Because as much as I love illustrations in gaming books, the fact is I can’t afford to fill Ghost Punchers with the art it deserves.
Oh, I could wait another year and save up, or wait another six months and run a Kickstarter, but I won’t. I’m tired of waiting. I’d rather release something that’s playable and content-complete now than let it lie fallow while I get my artistic ducks in a row.
Will there ever be a Ghost Punchers edition that’s full of art? I hope so. But for now and the foreseeable future, the Bare Knuckles Edition will fulfill your need for supernatural investigation and violence!
As I obliquely mentioned on Friday, this past weekend was the debut of B-Con, a tabletop board game convention in Denver. In addition to the standard “sign up and play” events, the show also featured lots of both open gaming and prototype games from local designers and publishers.
No, I didn’t bring my Haunted Hotel prototype. (I didn’t have time to get it actually, you know, playable by Saturday.) But I saw a bunch of sweet-looking prototypes with happy players gathered around them, and that was pretty awesome. In fact, the convention sponsored a game design contest that attracted a couple dozen prototypes that were ready to be pitched to publishers. It was inspiring to see the results of so much local game-design talent.
I can’t speak to attendance number or anything, but from what I saw, I’d call B-Con 2016 a success. Happy gamers? Great games? A chance to sample the new hotness before it’s been signed? Check, check, and check!
Here’s to B-Con, and its many happy returns!