Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Well! I Never...

Last week I talked about the forthcoming Amaranthine RPG from Machine Age Productions. Their fund raising initiative with Kickstarter has surpassed the level required for the print run of the game. Now the additional funds will be put to use in producing an anthology of short fiction based on the game and setting. Meanwhile more information has come out regarding the game. Amongst the materials is an interview/discussion with David A. Hill Jr. on the Bear Swarm podcast. This interview covered topics and ideas that I did not get into previously. I wanted to point out a couple of items. The first was a line that showed up elsewhere discussing the game and the aspect David and I touched on regarding Amaranthine and success. The quote is "Amaranthine are measured on a scale of Batmen. The baseline is Batman." That's a pretty provocative idea.

The second item that came up in the podcast was in regard to a post on the Machine Age site called "Determining Facts" that describes a system of using declarative statements to outline the interactions between characters in the game as they happened in the past. The statements are broken into four groups with “I’ve always,” “I’ve once,” “I’ve sometimes,” and, “I’ve never.” This would cover relationships like I always kill you or I once loved you--and goes well with the Relationship Wheel. These statements can be used to structure current and future meetings between those characters. The article also talks about the story benefits of breaking these declarations, but I will let you read that over there. This framework of course is also be very useful in setting up how different characters will get along or not in your own works of fiction. Some authors have done this for years to varying degrees.

There is one other bit that I didn't cover from my discussion of the game with David. He told me, "One of the things Amaranthine can do is sort of enchant people and make them sycophantic. So, many Amaranthine have followers, and little mini-empires. This means that indirect war is just as likely as rooftop battles." This ties in nicely with a point touched on in the podcast regarding whether average people know about the Amaranthine. The short answer is mostly no, they don't. This is because the Amaranthine are just the famous and powerful in the world. Their past lives and their extraordinary abilities are just a part of that indescribable je ne sais quoi these people have, or the root of that mystique.

Just a heads up. I do not expect to post here for most of May. I'm taking my annual break for backend coding work on my sites, including this one. I may slip in one post or none. Follow me on Twitter to keep on top of when and where I post. I am @robertmale.

Mood: real.
Music: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and Kiss From A Rose by Seal.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Special Post: Amaranthine RPG Needs You

Welcome to a very special edition of Dark Corners, please don't mind the extra length. Today I have a post collided with an almost interview with David A. Hill Jr. of Machine Age Productions, makers of Maschine Zeit--I hope to discuss that game later. David and the crew are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the print run of Amaranthine right now. Additional funds pledged will mean additional game materials will be available sooner and your pledge earns you items like copies of the game, and those bonus materials and products as per your pledge. I am very excited about this game. As the teaser says, "Leap across rooftops to battle the enemy you've fought fifty times before. You know that every time you meet, one of you will die. It cannot be you; in this life, you have too much to live for."

Amaranthine is a role-playing game where the fabric of the setting, of the back-story of the characters, is heavily influenced by their past lives. One of the key aspects is something called the Relationship Wheel. When David and I began talking about Amaranthine I mentioned that I rarely touch on game mechanics here from a dice standpoint, but rather the effect. What it does for the story the GM and players are forming. David told me, "Almost every important roll in Amaranthine stresses a relationship." Of course this is apparent in the talks on the site, and he also summed it up well when he said, "The effect of the Relationship Wheel is really the important part anyway. The dice are just a mechanism to see that happens."

The Relationship Wheel is part of a system that stresses escalation of conflict or tension, and the character interaction aspects in the game. My interest focused on the current effect this has on the characters within one life's cycle, as opposed to where it was in the past--if you will, a focus on the here and now of your game. It is built into the character's psychological make up to push their relationships, strain them... a good metaphor is pulling the bond your character has with someone important to them like an elastic band until it snaps back. Often it hurts your finger because you did it wrong. There's the pain when it hits, or it pulls too far and it breaks on both sides at once, half snapping back, the other half lashing out at the other end. When you get into love triangles or a conflict-à-trois--like I've previously discussed--then pulled or broken, if something was loaded in the elastic the question becomes what was it targeted at--intentionally or not--and what damage does that payload do?

David said, "I like to look at it like Spider-Man and Mary Jane. As he goes swinging around on rooftops saving the world, it adds tension to their relationship. Sometimes, he needs to do specific things with her to really cool down that side of it."

Also a part of the game is the idea that the Amaranthine do not do it just once. Even in a single lifetime they do it over and again even when they know it will hurt. I imagine they can't help it. It's hard to break a habit like that.

Talking about how this also works with mortal--or really in this case practically immortal--enemies David told me, "It's sort of a fight or compliance with fate. Say I've killed you three times before. When we meet, and you remember that, are you going to assume I'm -not- fated to kill you? Of course you're going to assume it. So, you might try to kill me. It causes this vicious cycle, because then of course I'll attack back."

In the first post describing Amaranthine it was said that "Amaranthine isn’t about resolving conflicts, it’s about exploring them, creating them, fostering them, then watching them explode." I see this as especially true when we are talking about the meta-game level where players are working to push and strain, to create conflict, to add drama and get something out of it both as players, and for their characters/in-character. That's a fascinating aspect.

In a bit of contrast David told me, "When I say we don't focus as much on success or failure, I mean to say Amaranthine are awesome. For the most part, we assume they'll win. Or at least, they -can- win if they're willing to put enough on the table. Really, we're more concerned about those kinds of hard decisions."

I had to ask myself, what does the character get out it? Heartache is likely. Death is a possibility. I imagine as the cycle continues the highs become higher and the lows become lower--I touched on this in my haunting cycle of escalation two weeks ago (Don't Wear Us Out, Josh)--but what is being gained in the highs? On one hand if we're talking about personal relationships there's great sex, there's a strengthening bond. Professionally there are big deals, favours owed, mergers or coalitions, the benefit of more influential networking, etc.

I asked David, do the Amaranthine become aware in their own way that they could build karma up to their benefit? Do the more villainous or mercenary amongst them escalate conflicts with their adversaries for the express purpose of getting the upper hand the next time around, whether, as David said, in direct conflict with that adversary or through undermining them via their associates?

His answer was, "The karma question is one I've not touched on yet. It's something I've been thinking about. Fate and destiny are ingrained heavily into what Amaranthine is, so of course that's one way to look into it. We spend a bit exploring the weight of responsibility when you know more, and are capable of more than anyone else."

Back to that first post on the Machine Age Productions site, there is a description of the Relationship Wheel as having two ‘neutral zones’ along the wheel, and a ‘hot’ zone and a ‘cold’ zone. ...if the wheel is for a lover, the hot zone might offer bonuses when trying to influence them. The cold zone might offer bonuses to resist a strong emotional response when they’re in danger. With a nemesis, the hot zone might offer a bonus to all-out, guttural attacks against them. The cold might offer bonuses to attacking their sycophants to indirectly harm them."

All in all this looks like another fascinating game from David and the crew at Machine Age Productions. Again, if this game interests you please consider donating to the Amaranthine Kickstarter for the print run and other materials.

Mood: thrilled.
Music: Infinite Dreams by Iron Maiden and Crazy by Aerosmith.

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

They're Not as Scared, Josh

I talked a bit more about the On Dark Rhoads blog over at Inchoate with "Gearing Up for the Rhoad" and got into some technical and non-writing aspects like commenting and general blog shoptalk.

Last time here we talked about pace and tension. What does it really mean in regard to the scare factor of the tale though? For that matter what does the format do to the scare? Certainly as much as horror is known for it scares, for leaving the audience creeped out if only for a little while, it is about the horrific too, obviously, but as a kind of milieu it is about the situations, beings, and the like that are horrific or monstrous. As such it doesn't always have to scare or horrify at least on the small scale--nor constantly either.

A story about a haunting is a horror story even if you are not scared by it. Stories with monsters are likewise horror as well by virtue of the monsters, though this might require it not additionally being say a medieval fantasy story. It is a matter of degrees and a question of intensity. It is the outlook that matters. Monster heroes in a city will be urban fantasy for instance rather than horror if it lacks horror. It's all shades of grey as far as the presentation goes. Often what distinguishes horror from the other similar genres in this no man's land is how the unnatural elements affect the characters. This is especially true of horror role-playing games. The game need not scare or horrify the players per se, but the setting, the conflict, and the scenarios had certainly better present the characters with fear and horror or a sense of dread.

I see the same delineation in horror fiction even as others insist the product, whatever it is, book, movie, or game, must frighten them or affect them personally to be successful and therefore count. As an example consider the movie Paranormal Activity. I don't mean to compare my haunting tale to it for either its admirers or detractors, but it is a good example from an illustrative viewpoint. Some who live with an actual haunting were dismissive of the bulk of the phenomena as not being scary enough to carry the horror. Others cannot fathom staying anywhere haunted and are floored by these kinds of movies. To bring it back to the original questions I would like the scare factor to be there. I would like nothing more that to have people, well, haunted, by the events, and suspicious of their own surroundings. Was that book where they left it? Wasn't that water glass on the right a moment ago where now it's on the left? At the same time it's okay if they don't do that, as long as the experience through reading the entries was enjoyable.

Come back next week for a special post (instead of my usual day off) regarding a forthcoming role-playing game called Amaranthine from David A. Hill Jr. of Machine Age Productions makers of Maschine Zeit. David is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the print run of Amaranthine right now.

Mood: relaxed.
Music: Hotel California by the Eagles and Someone Else? by Queensryche.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Don't Wear Us Out, Josh

Last week I talked about the new Umbral Intentions fiction blog starring and written by Josh Rhoads. There was a couple of spoilers, one worse than the other. Just check back, I won't mention the worst one again if you want to know about it. There was a different discussion about the project over at Inchoate Ascendant titled "Don't Jump the Gun, Pants Kicker" about the actual name of the blog. Since I may want to reference it here today you get to be the first to learn that the blog will be titled "On Dark Rhoads" and not Umbral Intentions--to confuse things worse, as also mentioned last week, the blog is for the This Mental Eventide RPG. Now with that out of the way...

The topic of merit today--and this is the lesser spoiler from last time repeated--is pacing the haunting, or how to parcel out the ghostly events. Being a blog places constraints on the story I will be telling that have less to do with the story that they do with how blogging works. This is of course only on some levels. On others it doesn't impact the story itself. Here again I'm giving things away prematurely. The first order of business is setting up Josh. Who is he on the blog? This is something different than who he is in actuality. He could just jump right in with details on the haunting. That doesn't exactly establish him as someone the blog reading public should believe. So, he begins with an introduction followed by a couple normal slice of life style posts. From there he begins to tell his past encounters and then get into posting about them shortly after the fact.

This second stage of story telling is where the issues begin to crop up. First, the blog is scheduled for Saturdays. Obviously all of the haunting incidents will not happen on just Friday or Saturday. This brings about issues of immediacy, and plays into tension. This is a matter intrinsic to blogging versus real-time interactions like Twitter and Facebook streams. It's just like news reporting where you chose an in-depth look versus greater timeliness. The length of each blog post is a further limit--they tend toward the shorter, especially shorter than full scenes in a short story or novel. There is a certain concision and economy. Another issue is that not every post should be about the haunting. This is important to avoid overload or desensitisation to the creepy goings-on. It also plays into the other important factor.

There is also the matter of pacing the haunting itself. It will progress, it will get worse, and more harrowing as time passes. The haunting must escalate. It will have its highs and its lows as far as the amount of activity. It may be cyclical, or it may be dependant on outside factors such as witnesses. Both will be true actually. Then at the same time the lows will be less frequent and less of a reprieve. Likewise the high activity occasions will be more frequent and more extreme.

The idea that witnesses impact the haunting is typical of real cases, especially when said witnesses are intrusive paranormal investigators who come along and disrupt the haunting either with their equipment, their presence, and most often because the entities responsible for the haunting are shy and do not wish to perform for strangers. There are however different new witnesses who can be brought into the situation who have no detrimental effect on the haunting and in fact encourage it as much or more as the original target. That's all I'll say for now.

Mood: teasing.
Music: Catcher In The Rye by Guns N' Roses and Ghost of Perdition by Opeth.

Guns N' Roses: Chinese Democracy
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