Sunday, October 07, 2007

Inching forward...

Ok making slow but reasonably steady progress on the overall Elthos Project. There's lots of moving parts to this including:

Elthos ODS Rules PDF (almost final)
Elthos Website Application (almost finished)
Elthos Communications Channels (in progress)
Elthos Business (in progress)

So there's actually a lot going on. Gee, it turns out this is a lot of work! :P

But I will get there eventually. Patience is a gentle virtue.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Elthos Website...

Well, making steady progress on the Website. While it's not really complete yet, and has a few place holders with blurbs rather than information, it does seem to be shaping up nicely.

I'm also going through the Elthos ODS Rules Book and weeding out extraneous stuff, and slimming it down even further. So that's coming along nicely. Soon...

On other fronts: I finished reading "Dogs in the Vineyard" and am not onto "Shadows of Yesterday". These are two Indie RPGs that have gained a lot of popularity in certain circles and so I want to see what all the hubbub is about. I really must say that in the case of DitV it's got a lot going for it. What I particularly like is the scenario development process. The way DitV establishes scenes along psychological and moral lines is intriguing. I am going to consider that methodology and try to genercise it for my game.

I've only just started with SoY so I'm not sure what I think of it yet. However, I did notice at least one thing of interest, in relation to recent discussions on Lessons in the LRPGSW. The Rules for regeneration of Character points is based on doing things WITH someone else (only). There is a reason for this, and I sense that the author has a "lesson to be learned" from that particular mechanic. Hmmm... interesting.

Well, back to work for me. :) Yay.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Ok since DexCon 10 things have picked up remarkably. I met some very cool people and learned a lot of important stuff about the RPG marketplace. It's rather a bit different than I had thought. So that's good. Well, what's good is that I now it's different. However the differences are ... hmmm ... well different. I was expecting to find a strong and thriving market, for one thing. Instead I find a market that is extremely weak, in terms of both dollars and unity of purpose.

There seems to be a war going on between the Indie and Traditionalist game players. I have my own views as to what this war is about and they are expressed on the theRPGSite forum:

My bit part in the Great War started here...

Thoughts on the state of the industry...

So the odd thing is that there's this war going on. I didn't expect that. I even got myself roundly trounced for it. Hmmm...

As for the Elthos Project I'm working hard on putting it all together. I have a big old task list now and am working through it. Aside from reading and listenning to the recommended items by those good folk out on LRGPSW, I spent the weekend working on the website and revamping it using Expression Web. That went well.

Next on the list is to finish the Power 19 questions, even if for just myself, and to listen to the remaining podcasts recommended by Tim.

I decided to split out the Rules into a completely separate book from the World Weaving Guide (Setting) and the Gamesmaster's Guide. These will probably turn into three books instead of one.

My reasoning is that the Rules can be played independently from Setting, and so they should be in a separate book without Setting information. But a Settings Book should be available to go with it. By this the GM should KNOW that the two can be decoupled and you can use any Setting you want with the Rules and vice versa. Makes sense to me. The Gamesmaster's Guide is there to provide insight as to how I GM my world, and provide advice on that rather complex topic. It will also include a review of How I made Money Gamesmastering! That should be of interest.

The ODS Toolbox is pretty much finished, as are the base ODS Rules. I figure the book should come to roughly 12 pages of Rules and a few print sheets. The Setting Book (World Weaver's Guide) should be somewhat larger as there's a lot to be said regarding Elthos. I could and probably will make that into a section of the Website under the Member's Area, as well as a downloadable PDF or Lulu printable file.

Once the website and the PDFs are finished I need to optimize the Toolbox and get it online with subscription services. And then I will be ready to launch. Yay.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

DexCon 10 - Indie Explosion!

Last weekend I went to DexCon 10 and mostly hung out at the Indie Explosion! It was a blast (eh... bad pun, bad!). I had a great time. I played 'Fae Noir' which I really enjoyed. The game system and the setting are both attractive in so far as the setting is interesting and the game system is suitable for that setting. The world is set in the 1920's. World War I has not ended, but evolved into something completely different. To the surprise of secular civilization, the Fae have decided to return to earth from Arcadia after a 500 year sojourn. And so when they arrive they find the world at war and so they decided that taking over the world could just work for them. Sneaky and magical they infiltrate and begin to succeed. Then, when the humans catch on, World War I morphs into something more like the Great Fae War. What's interesting is that some of the fae like human civilization and switch sides, and vice versa. So the world is a confusing grab bag of magic and technology where you can't be sure whose who or what's what. And gosh, it's a lot of fun. The Gamesmaster for our 'Fae Noir' game was Tom Tancredi, and I thought he showed a good command of the game rules and the setting, and his improvisations were spot on.

I also attended two panel discussions with 'the Indie guys'. The first was on "How to market your RPG". That was great and I got a lot of great advice from Rob Donoghue of EvilHat Games and the other guys whose names I (very) regretably didn't catch in my notes. Darnit. Lesson learned! Anyway, everyone gave me really excellent thoughts and advice. Superior.

I then sat in on Luke Crane's 'Burning Empire' game which was incredible. The game and the Gamesmastering fit together fantastically and I was deeply impressed by Lukes mastery of Gamesmastering. Really fun.

Next I went on to another Panel on "Game Design" with Rob D, Luke, Fred Hicks, Russ Collins, and Don Corcoran. That was really interesting. The guys talked about the Indie scene and where it's going and the challenges. Then when Luke came in they wound up grilling me on my game. I think it went really well in so far as they asked me really challenging questions and I actually produced answers that made sense to them. Nice. It also gave me a chance to really think about the goals of my game and how I'm executing them. Very cool. I got some good bullet point statements out of it for sure.

Generally I milled around and met people and bought a slew of Indie games to read. I want to compare the Indie game rules to my own system. The most important aspect has to do with how the Indie guys are attempting to forge new directions in terms of the the Gamesmaster-Player relationship. There's a lot of friction over the concept of "Player Empowerment" and I want to get a handle on it, and see what the Indie rules have to say. I got 'Dogs in the Vineyard', 'Polaris', 'Universalis', 'Fae Noir', and 'Shadows of Yesterday'. They look great. I'm about halfway through DitV now. So far so good. I particularly like the setting so far. Interesting.

The adventure to New Jersey was great. I'm really really glad I went. Afterwards I got references to links to various useful forums and started this thread at theRPGSite: DexCon 10, Indie Explosion! - Photos which you will see turned into a huge flame war. Wow. Did NOT expect that. However, in the end I think it may have resulted in more good than bad, perhaps. You can catch some of the positive fallout at Q&A: Luke Crane.

This week I've spent assimilating this material and working on a new document which is titled "Aspects of Gamesmastering". More on that another time.

- Mark

Friday, June 29, 2007

On Not Rushing The Story

So ... here we are ... we few ... we Gamesmasters who envision the possibilities of more Literary Quality Worlds ...

We stand at the dawn of a new era of Games with the RPG. It is very exciting. Our Players clamoring for action and adventure before us, our World Woven back-story behind us, our books, charts, papers, pencils, dice on the table ... and what do we do?

In our excitement we rush the story.

We ... must ... gain ... control ... of ... ourselves.

Rushing the story is the equivalent of an author who rushes the book straight into the plot, without any setup or background. As we read the details of the Character actions, we don't get much sense of their lives, nor of the community, nor terrain, nor weather, nor much of what all else is going on in the world, with the exception of those things which directly impact the immediate Plot. In a book I think we'd all agree that this is not what we expect. Nor, usually, does it amount to high quality literary work.

In our RPGs, my question to the group is this: Do we find ourselves rushing the story? How much time do you spend with the Players giving them information about the World itself, before plunging into the Adventure?

Stories like to have a beginning, middle and end. And the Hero's Journey usually begins with the Hero in quite the ordinary world. There is setup. There is back-story. The Hero lives in the little village of Hamfest. His life, before the adventure, consists primarily of ordinary things. Feeding the hogs, cleaning the barn, repairing the leather on his old worn out shoes. At the time of year where the adventure is to begin there is a freezing wind coming down off of the eastern mountains, and the pond is still frozen from the long brutal winter. A hog died this winter, frozen after falling through a crack in the ice of Foxwood stream that bounds
North Stye. Mrs. Hogsworth, the old matron of the household, scolds her children while cooking eggs and bacon for breakfast. Old Jeremiah is whittling a stick at the head of the long wooden table in the kitchen reflecting on the hardships they've all endured, and hoping that this year they can save enough money to mend the door of the barn and if they're lucky purchase a new wagon in the small village of Hamfest, several miles off. He remembers last year's Spring Fare with some small pleasure - the joy the children all got from seeing the sites, the foods, the actors, and the magicians and clowns. He then remembers darkly, his brow furrowing, the strange adventures that began just after the fair, and how in the end the McFearson's house burned down and the little McFearson girl, Mary, was killed, and how the McFearson's moved away after that. The children are all figiting and two of them start an argument over whose turn it is to clean the stalls in the barn. Jeremiah looks up sternly and says, "Gorn, I reckon its your turn today. And make sure you get the corners. Afterwards we'll all head out this afternoon to go look at the McFearson House on the hill - there's been strange sounds coming from up the Hill and I'm thinkin we best go see what it is." Outside the wind begins to howl, and in the distance thunder can be heard. The children all shiver.

That's the setup. Notice the background information about the local area, the region, the homey setting, the ordinariness. This is how adventures begin. It's a story. It has a beginning and the beginning has a texture, a context, atmosphere, history, and gives us an idea of who is who, and what is what. THEN the Adventure

That's the thought for today, Gamesmasters. I hope this helps. Try stopping for a moment before your Game begins. Breath in. Breath out. Reflect on the back-story of your game World. Think about who your Characters are, and what they do, and what they are doing, and what the mood and setting are. Then when you begin, instead of just starting into the action with "Ok, what are you people doing?", try deliberately setting the mood. Begin the story ... "And so... on this Fourth Day of the Month of Googlak... we find our Heroes trudging through the misty swamps of Hoggoroth, under a cloud of stinging insects, boots drenched with mud, slogging
under heavy loads and pouring sweat as they mumble and mutter curses for the foul luck they've had of late..." ... and so on.

Then, amid the Action, try at logical breaking points (after they've slain the monster, as they are leaving the dungeon, as they enter the town, as they enter the bar - ie - where Scenes break) adding the same kind of flavor and detail.

Some GMs I know are pressured to "Get things going!" by their Players who want ACTION. That's understandable. We all want Action. However, there is a certain enjoyment that comes from a pleasure delayed. And there is a certain story-element that goes missing when the context of the story is limited because we've leap
straight into the action (plot).

Players, I find, really do appreciate it when the GM gives them the context, back-story and setup before the Adventure begins. It draws them into the Story. Into the World.

The Middle of the story is all of the Plot and Adventure where the Heroes engage the World. That we know how to do.

The End of the story is where the Heroes return home. If all went well and they did not perish, they return home to find the Ordinary World is still going along as it always does. Jeremiah at his whittling, Mrs. Hogsworth sweeping the kitchen and scolding her children. The wind is still cold, and the barn still needs to be

So my advice is to not rush the story. Remember Beginning, Middle and End.

- Mark

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

LRPGSW: The Illiad as Source Material

I thought this was something to share on the Elthos Blog as well, as it pertains to story creation and RPGs. At the least it may provoke a bit of thought on the nature of Worlds.

The Iliad as Source Material


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Elthos RPG System Progress

Well, I'm making steady progress with the Elthos RPG System. It's taking a lot of time to get this together but it's coming along nicely. I have a lot of the project completed.

Phase I Features

.. Manage Contact Information
.. Manage Their Own Characters
.. Run Player Reports

.. Manage Worlds
.. Manage Players
.. Manage Campaigns
.. Manage Adventure Groups
.. Manage Characters
.. Select Guild Classes
.. Select Skills & Powers
.. Purchase/Sell Equipment, Weapons, Armor
.. Run Gamesmaster Reports

The current Phase I System is called Elthos ODS (One Die System) which is a picnic table or Pub game designed to be played offline, but using the online site to setup worlds and adventures, roll characters, and so on. The output is a package of Player Character sheets, Campaign Info, and various General Resolution Matrix outputs that compare Adventure Groups in terms of what is required to Hit with physical weapons, or mystical powers. Overall I tried to design this system to fit my own requirements as a GM. I think it will be very helpful.

So far so good. But next will be a play testing phase, and a finalization phase on the features. Hopefully I will be able to put the Phase I system online reasonably soon.

Monday, January 29, 2007

21st Century Nihilism in Story Telling

I just got back from seeing the movie "Smoking Aces".

I want to talk about Nihilism in 21th Century Story Telling.

Let us start with the deep past. Let us return for a few moments to the dawn of the ages when man was young, and knew little language. Let us savor for a few moments the stories of those ancient times. They were adventures of the gods and men, and of the gods and monsters and heroes and kings and the wars of the gods and the giants... and stories of shamen climbing on the backs of birds into the lofty heavens to steal fire, or sacred knowledge of healing, from the gods and return to the world with wisdom. And let us consider who they were who within a such brief span of a few centuries suddenly invented, increadibly all at once, agriculture, mathematics, science, astronomy, writing, architecture, law, cosmology and mythology, and all of the basic foundations of our modern civilization. And now let us take a moment to reflect on how our civilization is constantly transformed, from one form of government to another, with peaks and valleys, yet represents on the whole one long continuous (though bumpy) upward sloping ascent in terms of technical progress for humanity at large. And yet technology has been our boon and our bane. We look upon it, mostly it seems, as a faustian bargain at best, and many people are just dead set against the whole idea and think we ought not have come down from the trees to begin with. Why is this? Because, friends, we have bad stories. Our bad stories are sinking our culture.

What has this to do with RPGs, and the Elthos World in particular? Well, it has been the goal of the Elthos Project to aspire toward something old fashioned and yet, it becomes increasingly clear, important in story telling. The stories themselves are important. The nature of them. The Tone. The meaning. The world view they present.

Go see "Smoking Aces". It is a movie about nihilism, and it gives its nihilistic world view with it. There are many people who will see this movie. It will harm their psyches, and they may respond to that violence with any number of adverse reactions. This is a very violent movie. Probably one of the most violent I've ever seen. But moreso, it is a bad bad story. Amazingly well filmed. A bad story.

And there are some things that can not be turned back, and some wounds that can not be healed. There are others which can, and sometimes wounds healed early can be forgotten. Our minds are wounded. Our hearts are numbed. The madness of the violence which we are exposed to in films such as this are not madenning because of the images of the violence. No, that is not what it is. It is the message of nihilism. The message of the death of honor. The death of all that is good in the world. It is the message of hopelessness. That is what this film transmits to us, the audience. We either accept that message (admiring as well the great artistry that went into its making), or we reject it.

Elthos rejects it. Elthos is not a world about nihilism. It is a world about possibilities. It is a fairytale. A walk into the shaman's doorway. It is a journey into the caverns of the underworld, and the archtypes. Upon the table of Elthos are the pathways of the celestials, the planets in their constellations. Elthos is about lifting the eye aloft toward the snowy peaks and discovering the wonders beyond.

We live in a time of grave doubt. We live in a time of bad stories. Of evil stories. Of stories that kill. The media sells us these stories and almost everyone is buying them.

Elthos is not buying their story.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Maighdean Mhara

All went well for three years until one day the young couple were walking by the loch shore again. This time the monster rose out and it was Finnseang who was dragged under the waters before Murdo Og had a chance to defend her. Murdo Og was wailing and lamenting his lost bride when an old man walking by asked what was wrong.

Murdo Og told him and the old man said: “I will tell you how you can rescue your wife and destroy the monster forever. In the center of the loch is an island. On the Island is a white-footed hind, slender and swift. If you catch the hind, a black crow will spring out of her mouth and if the black crow were caught, a trout would fall out of her beak, and in the mouth of the trout would be an egg. Now in the egg is the soul of the monster. If you crush the egg, the monster will die.”
When I read this passage I was struck by the simplicity and natural forthrightness of the flow of the story. Here is magic at its most enigmatic, and it is at the same time handled without flourish or frills. We are told that the magic is of a certain nature and we are expected to accept that this is magic of an enchanted realm and that the magic works as such. I liked the matter of fact-ness of the way the scene is described and my feeling is that it is the attributes of simplicity and forthrightness regarding an enigma that makes the story not only work, but moreover, great literature, as is evidenced by its vast longevity.

Then I was thinking about how a Gamesmaster could make such stories. Is it legitimate, for example, for the Gamesmaster who might be playing out this above described Adventure to show up as the old wise man Non-Player Character with the magical knowledge, and even the exact solution to the problem? Well, almost it does, but it becomes something of Deus Ex Machina, one feels, and I think we can legitimately question if that would be truly satisfying. After all, it is the seeming spontaneity of the events in the story that make them charming. So how does the Gamesmaster go about creating truly literary quality stories, where the Characters (both Player and Non-Player) act in ways that convey the same kinds of qualities as we find in the fairytales and ancient legends of old? The author of the ancient tales was able to imbue his tales with a depth of meaning and his characters with significance that makes them accessible to everyone who reads them, even now after many centuries, even though the world has changed so incredibly. Still the stories speak to us out of the depths of time. They still have meaning for us. This is the nature of Literary Quality stories.

But in a Role Playing Game it’s hard to achieve this. The author has a great advantage over the Gamesmaster and Players in this regard – for the author every Character is far more likely to do what he wants and expects and directs them to than in an RPG. This fundamental difference makes it much more difficult to achieve truly Great Stories. However, it can be done, and it’s our job to see that it is done. The question I keep asking us to consider is, how?

Well there’s so much RPG Theory out there, and yet my feeling about it, in sum, is “hogwash” and “fiddlesticks”. What the Theorists wish to do is to establish rules by which RPGs can be understood and make it something a little more of a science than I think is possible for an art. They seem to think that through study and diligent analysis RPG Player and Gamesmaster behavior (and feelings) can be factually and accurately described, process flowed, and manipulated, just as a biologist might describe the interactions of a microbe, or a psychiatrist describe a patient’s spiritual epiphany. But RPGs are not subject to this analysis any more than is art or spirituality. In fact, it really comes down to the fact that you can not codify the spirit. As such, there is no Science of Making Beautiful Art. There is a great deal of scientific (or analytic) commentary on Literature, it’s styles, modes, periods, forms and the myriad of other things that Academics and Scholars like to study. And all of it is well and good. But Hemingway did not go to school to learn all of this in order so that he could become a great author. He wrote. He wrote from the genius of his heart and mind, and he took the world around him in all of its glory and pain and translated it into words for posterity’s sake. There is no science to cause him to do this. In fact, were he to have tried to do this via a scientific method (or Gamesmastered according to Theory) I seriously doubt he would have produced the wonders he did. So that’s my criticism, anti-Intellectual as it may be.

The designing of a Role Playing Game is a science, I’ll agree with that, though also say that it is in equal measure an art. The playing of a Role Playing Game, however, is Art. To overcomplicate, and over analyze the art is to kill its spirit. And for the Role Player who wishes for immersion, well, it’s better by far to achieve it spontaneously through a connection to the greatness of the story, than it is to strive for it via contrivance and theory-driven methodology. I really don’t see how you can get there from there using that vehicle.

And so my conclusion, since I know immersion does exist, having experienced it myself, like a mystic journey, is something I would call Spiritual, and not something to be reduced to a set of psycho-schematics and mental process-flows. Which is why I’ve been so engrossed in Shamanism lately, trying to learn and study how our greatest and most long lived stories have emanated from Shamanistic experiences of the long forgotten past, perhaps before the first town was even constructed. Now back to my questions: how can Gamesmasters and Players create truly literary quality stories via their games? And really, is it legitimate for the Gamesmaster to show up as Deus Ex Machina, and for the Players to follow certain pathways pro-forma? Well yes, of course – it all depends on the timing, the mood, the Players, the phase of the moon, and how many butterfly wings flapped along the beach on the coast of Hawaii in the year 1200 BC.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Well, the Elthos ODS ("One Die System") project achieved its second major milestone right on time for the New Years. The upshot is that there is now the Elthos ODS Rules Book and an Internet Application that supports the rules with a variety of utilities that take the grunt out of the usual array of Gamesmaster's grunt-work. It allows the GM or Player to roll new characters and store them online. Players (or the GM) can choose their Character's class, add skills, and purchase equipment, armor and weapons. The Gamesmaster can create Worlds, Places in their world, and create Campaigns which are associated to Adventure Groups. All of the data is stored online for easy access from anywhere and provides a set of reports for the GM and Players which include (or will soon), Character Stats Report, General Resolution Matrix, along with some other useful information about the game system. So all of this is a big victory for me. Very exciting.

The next phase is going to be even harder for me. The Where-to-go-from-here aspect. I'm not entirely stumped, but I have a lot of thinking to do in order to pull this all together and make it successful. I think its easy to throw stuff out there, but its hard to do it the right way and make it really succeed. So the next step is to step back from the project actually and THINK about where I want this to go from here. I have a lot of options, and I have a lot of research and thinking to do. But all in all I'm pleased with the project's progress. The next step after that is probably going to entail some Marketing Consultations, and finding a good spot to host the website. I'm thinking if all goes well I might be able to get this online sometime in the February - March timeframe. Stay tuned. More to come on the Elthos Project soon.

Well, that's the news for now. Happy New Years everyone!