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Just play the NPCs

31 August, 2013

My my, it’s been a while, quite a while, since I posted on this blog. I apologise, and will try not to let it happen again, but a lot of stuff has been happening in my life. Mainly, I have moved country, quit my day job, and I am now working as a full-time freelancer in a.o.  translation, copywriting, corporate communications and content marketing. Do get in touch if you need those services.

NPC Court by Reebok

I’m reading the Annotated Sorcerer book by Ron Edwards, and it’s great, just great. There are a few things that really surprised me, or should I say: made me understand the game better. I might come back to some of them in later posts, but for now I’ll delve on what Ron writes about NPCs in the section about Bangs (pp. 78-78ii), because it’s important. And it’s one of my pet peeves, so hold on to your horses.

Ron’s very straightforward advice sounds: “Just play the NPCs,” but for some reason the average gamer brain doesn’t compute that. At all. And what the game brain doesn’t compute, it misinterprets.

The funny thing is that’s it’s very simple, and I think Ron makes it very clear in the Sorcerer annotations. Basically, you play an NPC as you would any character – don’t adjust the character’s actions to accommodate “the story” or whatever.

PLAY. THE NPC. AS A CHARACTER. What does he/she want? Forget the fuck about “the story” (if you have a prepared story/’scenario’ in mind, you’re REALLY fucked), and just focus on the NPC. I have no idea why that would be hard to comprehend.

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Emerging Writers guest post

17 February, 2013

Thriller writer Laurence O’Bryan has kindly given emerging writers the opportunity to write in his blog. My guest post is about my research for a crime novel, which I’ve mentioned here on this blog as well.

Now I’m just waiting for publishers to get in touch.

Laurence O’Bryan is the Irish writer behind the thrillers The Jerusalem Puzzle and The Istanbul Puzzle, and he is very active on social media.

Emerging Writers: Guest Post #10 A Danish writer on his research process

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Sorcerer: tuned and custom painted

4 January, 2013

The year 2013 has started quite well, since Ron Edwards has finally launched his Kickstarter funding for the annotated version of his seminal Sorcerer game. The book itself, which is a compilation of the core book plus the three highly excellent supplements, is ready, and the funding is for the cover art by an artist called Thomas Denmark, which I didn’t know until now.

I have written quite a bit about Sorcerer on this blog, and it remains my favorite game. It’s a so-called “emergent story” game, meaning that the plot is not prepped beforehand, but evolves from and is driven by the actions of the players, and in a very clever way, I have to add. This is hardly shocking these days, but 10 years ago, or even five years ago? Holy shit, did it freak people out. It was wonderful (and scary) watching some people struggling with the concept of not having a GM decide events, happenings and decisions in the game, whether beforehand or during the game. I have played with more than one group of people where not a single one of the players were able to get this apparently mind boggling concept, mainly, I have to admit, due to their rather prejudiced views on what roleplaying is or should be.

If you are interested in what’s actually going on when we roleplay, and how game design is able to support it, there’s no way that you can ignore Sorcerer. And subsequently the list of games since that have borrowed ideas, mechanics, concepts etc. from Sorcerer is as long as my arm.

That being said, Sorcerer is a fairly traditional game with a GM, who controls scene setting, NPCs etc., and players each controlling a player character. On the face of it. Unleash it, and whoa!

Come on, take the red pill.

This rabbit hole goes deep.

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Seven Games

26 December, 2012

There’s a #7RPGs thing going on Google+, and I posted this regarding the seven RPGs I’ve played the most since back in the 80s. I’ve added bits and pieces, plus a comment on games not mentioned.

1. Call of Cthulhu (4th Ed)
Also the RPG I’ve played the most of all, in terms of sessions and hours played. I grew tired of its repetitive nature some time in the early 90s.

2. Via Prudentia
Danish rolemaster/GURPS inspired modern roleplaying game with crunch on top. As with most things back in the day, we mostly hand-waved the rules and GM fiated the shit out of it.

A scene from Jyllands Mørke Hjerte (The Dark Heart of Jutland), illustrated by Palle Schmidt, one of Fusion’s authors. The scenario was included in the source book Som Landet Ligget (The Lay of the Land).

3. Fusion
Danish near future private detective game – set in 2012. Rules-wise it’s a complete mess based on a D6 version of another rules mess: Storyteller. I still love it, despite its flaws, and I’ve been meaning to create functional rules for it more than once. One of the best looking games EVER.

4. Sorcerer
My desert island game of choice. The most intense game of all, and hence not everyone’s cup of tea. Infinitely adaptable to your own needs. Probably the game I’ve had the most bad sessions in, partly due to my own limitations, partly due to the players’ unwillingness to engage.

5. Dogs in the Vineyard
A masterpiece of focused game design, built on some of the ideas in Sorcerer, but written as a very usable manual. I’ve never had a bad session of Dogs.

6. Fiasco
Freeform, delightful, fun and super quick to set up and play. Often slides over the gonzo cliff, but if you can keep it on a leash, it’s very very good.

7. Primetime Adventures
This is the game you want to play with your writer friends (if they are not prepared to buy into Sorcerer, that is!. It delivers. In spades. And in other suits as well. A very easy game tool to get away from your standard geeky RPG trappings. We played pensioners at a care home in one of my favorite and most touching campaigns ever.

I haven’t mentioned two other games we played quite a lot in the early days: StarWars D6 and the original Shadowrun.

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Six month recap

21 December, 2012

Hopla, and then six months passed. What happened? Well, a lot, actually.

GuibeauFirst, we went to France in July, spending a week in the village Guibeau, in the Puisseguin region of St. Emilion. It involved very long drives from Amsterdam to the Bordeaux area and back, but it was worth it.

Then we sold our house in Edinburgh and moved to New Town, closer to the city centre, which again meant we could sell the old, trusted Saab, that had just done a 3,000 miles roundtrip to France without even breaking a sweat.

I haven’t done any story gaming whatsoever over the whole period, and I’m wondering if I ever will again. One thing, I don’t really have anyone at hand that share my gaming preference, an life’s too short to play something that doesn’t really rock your boat. On the other hand I have upped my boardgaming activities quite a bit, and game of the year for me is GMT Games’ Andean Abyss. It’s simply an astounding piece of game design.

Vibækvej, BellingePerhaps this also means that I can expand the remit of this blog a bit away from gaming, and do more general ranting all over the place. My crime novel, working title Dead Frozen, is coming along nicely. All the hard work plotting it out in detail happened all the way back in January and February, and we even went to a research trip back to Denmark to take pictures of locations, and look through newspaper archives on microfilm. The story is set during winter in Odense 1986, and is inspired by an old, unsolved, murder case. The picture shows the house near Bellinge where a couple were killed in their bed in 1971, while their young son was sleeping in a room next to the victims’ bedroom. The house still stands, as you see.

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Two Apocalypse World hacks worth highlighting

20 June, 2012

While I’m not completely convinced that I understand the full complexity of Vincent’s Apocalypse World game, I think it’s wildly interesting and I want to learn more about it. One of the hurdles for me is the kind of post-apocalypse setting it comes with, and the thematic language that accompanies it. It’s not a critique, but somehow it doesn’t swing with me.

That’s why it’s super cool that all sorts of interesting AW hacks are popping up all over the place. Two that have caught my attention lately are John Harper and Paul Riddle’s sizzling war hack The Regiment, and Jason Morningstar’s Lives of Others-inspired secret police hack, so far without a title. In what might just be the bleakest game in a long time, you play Stasi-like operators, criminal investigators, working for a totally totalitarian and totally corrupt and paranoid state.

First version includes a GM toolkit and how to get a game up and running, as well as loads of information about the many (many MANY) different and opposing government agencies, from the Ministry of State Security’s 26 departments (nobody fucks with Department 15!) to the People’s Police, the Ministry of Defense and Minustry of the Interior. Also included are seven playbooks.

I want to play this.

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Life after The Forge

2 June, 2012

If you are a story gamer and have been sleeping under a rock or something for a number of years, this may come as a surprise: the old HQ for indie RPGs The Forge closed down yesterday, 1 June 2012. Although it was always the plan to close it down after it had served its purpose, it still feels weird to me.

When I moved to the UK ten years ago, I was pretty disillusioned by roleplaying. I was so fed up with prepared and pre-written stories and scenarios that were the norm back then, and I simply couldn’t understand why gaming was so unsatisfactory and no-fun for me. I gave away or threw out most of my roleplaying games books, and thought that I had maybe just grown out of it. Bear in mind that I discovered roleplaying games in 1986, when I was 23 years old, so it was never a teenage thing for me.

Things changed, and I remember it like this: after a while I began trawling the internet for alternative games. I eventually came across a game called Dust Devils, which I bought as a PDF and read, I think with my jaw dangling in amazement. This was different, alright, to everything I had encountered so far, but I also couldn’t understand it. At that time I was deeply convinced that a roleplaying game is run by a game master, who has pre-planned “a story” in which the players get to act to a greater or lesser extent.

Via Dust Devils I arrived at The Forge some time in 2004, and started reading the articles there. Ron Edward’s System Does Matter simply blew my mind, and I quickly ordered his game Sorcerer, which is still my favorite game today. Now I understood why my gaming was unhappy gaming – I was looking for something else (without a clue what that was or how to communicate it) than the people I was playing with, and this clash made our gaming sessions wildly dysfunctional and painful.

I thank The Forge and all the marvellous people and discussions there for saving my gaming life.