Tuesday, 19 June 2018

There's going to be a fight

My next session of O Mortal is tomorrow night and I've decided there's going to be a fight. Well, it's Burning Wheel so I guess it's a Fight!

I've been apprehensive of this in BW because I'm unpractised with the Fight! rules. Furthermore, I'm unpractised with the multi-character Fight! rules. There's a great worked example of it that I've read and that will inform me, for sure. Let's see how it goes.

Of course, I'm just the GM and I strongly pursue the idea that we should play to find out what happens, but I'm also a participant in the game and that gives me space to bring elements to the story. I'm not railroading, I'm being creative. And if that sounds lame to you, let me add that I've no current idea who is going to start the fight but the players have made enemies and some of them don't mind killing their way to success. I have plenty to choose from. Lameness has been overcome.

Now you may imagine a GM cackle all the way between now and the end of the game session.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Queen Rowena of the Lakes

As Ken Hite always says, "No invented setting is as interesting as the real world." Well, something similar to that, anyway. Having heard him talk about this idea, I think he's right. Put whatever skin on it you like for space opera or high fantasy, he'd say. The point is that the events, motives, machinations, and so forth of real earth history present a vast source of inspiration for games.

I'm using this principle in my Burning Wheel game. For example, one of our protagonists is Lord Alain Fitzroy, bastard brother of Queen Rowena of the Lakes. Rowena rules Fournemouth, one of the four mannish kingdoms. Now that my players have added her to the game, I can work my GM magic on this character. She needs to be interesting, with depth, with flaws and terrors, with connections. So let's turn to history.


The ever wonderful and terrifying Elizabeth I of England. Never married but often pursued. A brilliant mind from youth. Attacked by religious authorities but refraining from persecuting. Monarch in command of one of the great powers of Europe, yet able to foster the cultural growth that included Shakespeare.

That's my inspiration for Queen Rowena of the Lakes.

But let's put boundary around this. Although Elizabeth was many things, that doesn't mean Rowena is all those same things. As GM, I can cherry-pick what I need from Elizabeth without needing to bring all of it. Fournemouth has the prosperity and power of England, and has good relations between the state and the mystical. Fournemouth has a significant naval presence in the Keon Sea. Rowena rules over all of this.

And Rowena is the centre of conspiracy. In this game, Lord Fitzroy believes that there is a conspiracy against her and he will uncover it. Rowena has attended the executions of people found guilty of treason, adding weight to the feeling of suspicion in the game. This is the aspect of Elizabeth that I draw on for the larger plot, keeping the players moving.

Around the edges, though, is her unmarried status. The setting is patriarchal (ugh... medieval Europe...) but she resists. The suitors and the lords and the other kings and the advisors are all kept at bay by her choosing. She, like Elizabeth, is a woman of intellect and power, and marriage would only dilute it.

Let's see how things transpire with an Elizabeth on the throne.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

What I Learned by Listening to Actual Play

I've been listening to the Podcast Of Foes series of actual play episodes and I've learned something about how I like to play games like D&D.

I like a short section of narrative in and around each die roll
Player: I attack with my short sword with a... 14.
DM: That's a hit.
Player: Yes! I do... 5 points of damage.
DM: Next in the intiative order is Player 2.

This kind of narrative isn't my style. It doesn't require any flavour text. In fact, you could take all the flavour text away and say, "I'm playing a Race-type-A Class-type-F character, with weapon types 12 and 17." Can you imagine how short the Monster Manual would be?

Instead, I like the short sentence or two that goes with these events. "I thrust my short sword at the goblin's chest! It's a 14." which is later followed by the DM saying something like, "the sword cuts into the goblin's armour and you hear it grunt in pain at the hit."

It reinforces the narrative of the game, not just the rules of the game. In fact, it's a bit like the view (I think I got this from Vincent Baker) that the game starts in the narrative, moves temporarily into the rules in order to return to the narrative. The rules are always subservient to the narrative, guiding it and forming it, but never eliminating it.

I like subtlely in character voices
Unless you are talented at voice acting, most good character voices only need to be subtle or slight variations on your natural voice. Cliche or pantomime voices are just annoying, unless you're playing a pantomime game, I suppose. Change the pace a little, the pitch a little, and maybe the precision (clear t or dropped g, for examples), but there's no need to be the cast of Monty Python.

I like characters that don't take themselves too seriously
Excessive faux-fantasy speech is distracting. "By my oath, m'lady, I shall vanquish the foe with the point of my sword!" belongs in Shrek because it's over the top and a bit funny. We laugh at it because it's pretentious. Maybe this is a variant of my dislike for the pantomime voices; pantomime syntax.

That's just a few things I've learned about my preferences based on hearing a dozen other groups in their own style of play. There are a few more episodes left in the series and I'm looking forward to hearing the rest.