Monday, July 31, 2006

In the Mood 3

Here we are at the final stage. The connections of mood and the players of the role-playing games. The first is obvious, the moods created by the setting, and the moods created by the characters will impact upon the players, and I think for this discussion the players should include the one running the game, the GM (Game Master). The other thing is also fairly obvious, but I think often falls to the wayside, of discussion at least. Like many things it goes on, but not everyone stops to think about it. As someone designing a game, maybe more so than playing, you have to think of it, at least if you want a good product.

Genre is the first definer of mood, but if often has ranges. Let's take a look at the one nearest to my heart, horror. Seems pretty clearly defined, and would be, I guess, if not for something called "camp", often referred to when speaking of other things as "kitsch". The GM must decide how he wants to the game to be, because ultimately unless the game really has the camp firmly entrenched the game can be played either way. The reverse is true also. So a dark game can be made more funny, and a funny game can be made more dark. There are ways for a GM to go about making things either way, but that's another topic or two all together.

Now, players are supposed to follow the GMs lead on the mood that the game is going to take, but that pretty much depends on them doing so. It is something that maybe should be stated at the outset, the desired mood. That of course would be after the players decide, either by discussing it, or by letting the GM decide it like the other things he/she is responsible for. Having visited and participated in a discussion forum about a horror game it becomes more than apparent that some players just aren't into the traditional, dark, scary, moody, horror game, or even flat out deny that such a thing can truly exist. So, some groups have more than their fair share of work cut out for them.

Being a game about moods, role-playing games require the players to open themselves up. One need not feel the mood oneself, though sometimes it is helpful, and adds immensely to the game just as an actor trying to be their character will do better trying on its moods. Feel the setting, feel the character, mix in your own feelings and see why these can be the best games going.

Mood: relaxed.
Music: Dance of Death by Iron Maiden and Run For Cover by Quiet Riot.

Iron Maiden: Dance of Death
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Quiet Riot: Metal Health

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In the Mood 2

Sorry for the delay. Nobody would have wanted me to have blogged yesterday. Let's just say that it was one of those days and leave it at that. So here I am, ready and raring to give you part two.

Characters. As with everything where characters are concerned, there are two sides to the issue of mood. First there is the mood the characters evoke by the way that they are. This might seem to tie in more with what should be be in part three next time, talking about the player and mood, but I'm thinking of things a little different. An obvious example is the tragic character pretty much immortalised by the mutant hero (HA! You thought I was going to say vampires!) who strives to protect the very people who usually hate him. Another character is the spell caster. They are usually learned people relying on brains over brawn, the brains that can not only weave spells, but learn new ones, or at the best make new ones. They bend the world to their will. Definite mood to be found there.

Second is the mood that is a part of the character. The melancholy of being different and never fitting in is a part of many kinds of characters. The anger of being used to further someone else's goals unwillingly is another. Then there is the elation of calling upon a power greater than your own, such as magic, or some special inner wellspring that hardly no one else has, or maybe the best, for the character anyway, having your prayers answered by your deity. These are all in addition to, complicated by, mixed with, and skewed by the moods of the character as a person while they go about doing all the things that make our games what they are. Next time, and hopefully on time (4 days from now), I'll get to the players.

Mood: A million times better than yesterday.
Music: Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.

Jeff Buckley: Grace
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Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere

Friday, July 21, 2006

In the Mood 1

Last time I brought up the subject of mood with respect to gaming, as it applies to the setting, the characters, and the players--of course the GM too, or maybe even more so. Maybe I should elaborate, with examples even.

Setting. The mood of the setting is something that comes in parts. The first part might be from the genre, of which the setting is a part. A horror game is probably going to have a different feel than a fantasy game will. Within fantasy games there are a wild divergence of moods as well, usually pertaining mostly to the affect of magic on the world, and now again based on where the game is set, such as medieval Europe, Oriental, or another world entirely. Rewinding a little bit, magic is a huge factor in any fantasy game. It is the de facto reason its a fantasy game in the first place.

There are a handful of questions you must ask yourself about magic when creating the mood of your game. First, is it prevalent? Are there a lot of people capable of doing it. Second, is it easy to do? Can you say a few words and it happens or do you need special ingredients, long chants or worse, full bore rituals? Third, how powerful is it? Can you do things at the most powerful end like shoot fireballs or can you move heaven or at least earth/mountains with it? Fourth, does it work well? Is each spell cast flawless with the same range of results every time or does it sometimes do weird things or not work at all on some occasions. Fifth and last, what are the costs? Do you just do it as you please or is it exhausting or does it carry dark consequences?

Each of those questions can be subdivided further to get closer and closer to the "truth" you are trying to building into your game about how it feels. They also connect together, the same as everything else. Imagine a game where to do a good thing with magic takes much more work and time than to do an evil thing. Now, imagine you could do good things faster by incurring bad things against yourself. Maybe anything from inflicting pain upon yourself up to making deals with the Devil. How does that contrast to a game where you have magic points and do whatever you please with them and are none the worse for wear until you run out at some time you really need them. That's just a taste of the kind of things you can do.

Mood: glazed and perhaps a bit candied...
Music: Mustapha by Queen and When the Walls Came Tumbling Down by Def Leppard

Queen: Jazz
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Def Leppard: On Through the Night

Monday, July 17, 2006

Show Some Character

After the brief and admittedly somewhat fluffy introduction last time, now we can dig into a little more of the nitty-gritty of game design. To start, there is the hierarchy of what is important to all role-playing games. First and foremost should be the characters. After all that is what the players are going to assume the roles of when they play. It's funny, but sometimes that idea gets totally lost in the flood of über-geek for other factors. Next in importance after character is the rest of the setting. Then the rules should come last. Of course this is not necessarily the order in which to write things or to tackle building the game in the first place, just what should be the most important and thusly also take the most time.

Like the creation of so many things there is a terrible back and forth, inside and out, swirl it around until you get dizzy and feel like you're going to upchuck complexity to fashioning something worth all the trouble in the first place, and to set yourself well on the way to an awesome game that everyone, GM and players alike, will enjoy. The characters have to be something great to play, good to sink your teeth into, and well, just plain fun/satisfying. The characters draw upon the setting as much as they taint it. The setting needs to be vibrant, and make the players want to trek their characters all over the place, sometimes more figuratively than literally, and other times the other way around. Then comes the rules which have to make the settings work and the characters capable of doing the things they are meant to, and the things the players will want them to do.

These three factors are incredibly tightly linked, or at least should be. The difference in importance between one and the next might be a fine line subject-wise. Together, they should form a cohesive and perhaps almost homogenous unit, at least from the outside perspective. There also might be--at least I believe there is--a fourth over-reaching factor that is maybe just as important, but is an aspect of each of the three. That factor is mood. I don't know if there is any creative endeavour that doesn't require at least a little bit of thought put toward the mood(s) that it will evoke. Sometimes its even a factor in physical designs whether it be architecture to toothbrushes to cardboard boxes--well maybe only the things inked on the outside of them for the boxes, I'm thinking specifically the fragile symbols and such.

Characters are essentially, as far as their own setting is concerned, living, breathing, emotional beings. As imagined playing pieces they are us and to not look at how they feel, both themselves, and to their players, pretty much defeats the purpose of the game in the first place. For a less emotional experience there are other similar and related gaming forms out there. Not that you have to get all deep and into it or anything, but a character should be, by its own definition, about more than the numbers and the cool things that it can do. Remember it's role playing not roll playing, even as I also stand by keeping the game aspect of things by not dispensing with the rolls either.

I guess that's enough for today, tune in next time.

Mood: rocking.
Music: No Prayer for the Dying by Iron Maiden and Inconclusion by Dee Snider.

Iron Maiden: No Prayer for the Dying
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Strangeland: Movie Soundtrack

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Have What It Takes

Yesterday I went through a list I had of the rules, or maybe rather rules categories that a role-playing game should have. I had some help (Thanks Brian!) and we went from a list with ninety items to a list with one-hundred and twenty-eight items. To see it go to where I'm letting Henry host it. Admittedly some things are duplicated as a matter of needing to be looked at in more than one fashion. This is more like a checklist than a table of contents type deal. To put all of that in one book is obviously going to take a lot of space. Even if each item had a half a page given over to it that would be sixty-four pages and we all know when it comes to some of them, like say Skills, it will take multiple pages. I can sort of see why some games have it spread it out over more than one book.

I do not see however why some RPG lines have to be so piecemeal about it, and more frequently than not totally disorganised about it, repeating themselves, contradicting themselves and scattering things to the wind so it takes a browse through the company's entire catalogue to find the dozen or more books these things are hidden in. I'm looking at you, Palladium Book, you glorious bastiches!

As we can see it takes a lot to fully detail out the rules that players and Game Masters alike will use. Some of these topics can get pretty in-depth, which is why I subdivided a lot of things. As a tool for the RPG that I am writing this list is invaluable. My game itself will have what I hope are some really eye-opening, leading edge and, dare I say it, innovative rules in it. The biggest issue has to be though, when is it too much. Too complicated. Too overdeveloped. Too overthought. Too verbose. I guess we'll see.

Sorry, short topic today.

Mood: hyper.
Music: St. Jimmy by Green Day and Power of the Sun by Bruce Dickinson

Green Day: American Idiot
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Bruce Dickinson: Tyranny of Souls

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead

I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead

Carrying on a bit from last time I thought I'd take some time to talk about ghost hunting, or what crap sometimes passes for it nowadays. You want to know the first hint that you're dealing with frauds, newbies, or just plain idiots? Ask them how many cemeteries they've investigated. A cemetery is pretty much the last place you want go looking for ghosts. Why? Two very good reasons. Both of them involve breaking all the “rules” of why a place is haunted.

First, on the spiritual front, everyone in a cemetery has been laid to REST! :) That's the entire point of a funeral in the first place. Second, from a more rational (not to mention historical) stand point, ghost are always seen at the spot where a tragedy occurred, usually the death of a person. So, unless someone has been buried in the cemetery improperly and not laid to rest, or they died there in the first place, then you're not going to find a ghost. This is not to say that there aren't a very small handful of haunted cemeteries, but they are the places with illegal burials and other funerary shenanigans, or of course deaths. So this is a good first indicator of if your hunters have a clue or not.

Another good indicator is the mind set with which they come to a haunted location. If they come and first do not try to rule out all normal and scientific explanations for the occurrences being witnessed then at the minimum they are not doing their full job. There a number of things that have to be ruled out at any haunting. Such factors involve chemicals, gasses, molds/spores, electromagnetic anomalies, certain sound frequencies, and a number of other things which aren't coming to me. My favourite of the scientific explanations is the sound frequencies. There is one frequency that people do not consciously hear which causes feelings of unease and dread, sets people on edge, and with longer exposures even leads to full-on hallucinations.

I also hate to see a group come in with a psychic right away. Firstly the psychic shouldn't want to waste their time going to a hoax or someplace where nothing actually unexplainable is going on. At the least they shouldn't be going to the place initially in the role of trying to speak to whatever might be there. I'd feel like a total moron if it was nothing, not that the ones you see on TV don't look like idiots anyway, though I presume that's because they've sunk low enough to be on TV ghost shows in the first place. While I am at it dissing people I might as well point out personally I wouldn't deal with anyone who thinks highly of Ed and Lorraine Warren either. Besides that they seem to rub me the wrong way I've seen enough to distrust just about anything they say. Take it for what it's worth, I only do some light reading and have to go by what I've heard reported.

Music: Duces are Wild by Aerosmith and Picking Up the Pieces by Quiet Riot.

Aerosmith: Big Ones
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Quiet Riot: The Randy Rhoads Years

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

One Born Every Click

Today I took a stroll through a handful of the ghost videos at a certain popular video destination. Only got caught by one of the “evil” ones. I saw it listed more than once. I didn't hear it, I'm smarter than to leave the audio on while running these things just in case it is one of the evil ones. What do I mean by evil ones? You'll be sitting there, you lean in trying to see the ghost, you're waiting for it to appear, wondering what it'll be like when and someone or something pops up on the screen, suddenly, usually screaming to beat the band.

The first one I ever saw, was supposed to be a picture and you were to find out what was “wrong” in the picture. Of course instead of a .gif or a .jpg it was a Flash file. I was looking at it just after having watched a DVD on the computer and the stereo was cranked. Out of nowhere--in green negative--comes the tabloid Bat-boy and a single scream. The second one that caught me was a supposed car commercial with a ghost caught on film. Something was funky with my computer that same time, so I got this weird blur, and I was trying to find out if the blur was the ghost or video lag. It was lag. I tried to flip from full-screen back to the smaller window when this hag jumps up out of nowhere in extreme close up. I half missed it, and this time the sound was wisely off, still it gave me a huge jump.

Today, I saw one with two security video feeds, started off by a note to look closely, you know, since it was small. I wasn't having none of it. I was sitting back, stereo off, steeled for it to come. When it did it was some guy in braids and the green night-sight look, bunches of his teeth blacked out, screaming and mouthing something I couldn't make out. Not much of a start that way, but still a bit of a heart jump.

Now, I did see two interesting videos that were “real” as in not joke videos meant to scare the ever living crap out of people. The first of these was someone in a room jumping up and down, don't know why. Up in the corner of a black (night outside) window a hard to see shape formed. They zoom in on a replay and it's a white face, more like black and white, though the rest of the video was colour. Nice, if too normal looking, lack of colourisation not withstanding. The second video was in Japan from the look of it, people getting on a subway train. A shape appeared in the gap between the train and the platform. Zoom in on replay and a much creepier humanish face.

Saw some fakes videos too. One was a desk chair that moved on its own, after the camera was set down on a bed, and no doubt the camera man crawled under the bed to swivel the chair. Heh heh. Lots of thought and effort put into that one. Another one was a shot of a room and a foggy pink figure walks into the room. Nice, editing suite trick. Not so impressive ghost footage. The last of these was one that's pretty funny. A guy is in a cemetery, camera pointed at himself, talking about the place. He goes wandering and sees something, creeps up on it and starts screaming when it turns around. It's a girl kneeling at a gravestone and just like an animal in the headlights, her eyes reflect light from wherever (you see it all the time with tonnes of people on those night vision videos) and that's it. Oooo! Booo!

I saw one that I might begin to consider real given the way some encoding flaws the picture. A car travels down the road in the rain. A nearly transparent figure crosses the road moving furtively ahead of them. Between the scale of the video, whatever zoom was involved and the artefacting... for part of the walk it almost appears like the figure is inside the windshield. Most likely a flaw in the hoax, but it's the most impressive video I've seen yet. Sweet dreams everyone!

Mood: fidgety.
Music: Heat of the Night by Aqua and Something I Can Never Have by Nine Inch Nails.

Aqua: Aquarium
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Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day

I'm writing this a day ahead so that all I have to do is log in and upload it. What? You think I want to work on a holiday? What do you take me for? A roofing company? Sorry... inside joke, well except for the guys who are outside banging away on replacing the roof. Well, that's assuming they show up as they say, because well it's not tomorrow yet. If something changes this paragraph will disappear and you lovely people will be none the wiser. ;)

What is it to be Canadian? My first thought is to be Canadian is to be so polite that the voices in your head are always polite. When you reach for the salt you ask yourself, “please pass the salt”, then when you have it in hand you thank yourself. Now that's polite! Is it Canadian though? Maybe in a horribly cliche manner. Oh, or how about the retarded cousin to America (hey it's some politician's self-description of the country, don't blame me for it). Is that what it is to be Canadian?

I doubt I'll come up with an answer here. Frankly I do not know. Maybe based on local events and stories of other places, what it is to be Canadian is to be able to do whatever the freak you want and get away with it. Whether it be violent protest with no repurcussion or pure maliciousness cloaked in ignorance... well I didn't know five kilograms of rock dropped several feet onto a vehicle moving dozens of kilometres per hour could be dangerous... If you have no rights but what you can take then that might just be Canadian. Or it could just be a really crappy year where the idiots made the news.

So there were have he good and the bad. If there's any indifferent it's me at this point. Enjoy your holiday!

Mood: festive.
Music: Where Eagles Dare by Iron Maiden and Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette.

Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind
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Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill

Whatever the problem is, Clint Eastwood will fix it...