Saturday, September 20, 2014

13th Age Campaign Design Blog: Icons

So, my next campaign is going to use the 13th Age rules. It's a ruleset that combines the "theater of the mind" with basic tactical combat* and has tools that make it easy for the DM to use the setting as "crunch."** It also simplifies character play and DM prep to a monstrous degree which means, naturally, that I'm biting off way more than I can chew when it comes to campaign prep overall.

One of the major narrative thrusts of 13th Age are the Icons. These are personages of such great importance to the world that they're actually a part of the setting - your character's relationship with these figures is something that will affect the course of the campaign, and occasionally you'll have to roll dice to determine how much on an impact they have.

The book presents a list of Icons and they're actually quite good. Really good, in fact, so much so that for the first time I can recall I've actually used setting material from a books without significant modification. I've still worked on some of them, though, and I've put a link below to the document as it stands now. There are probably contradictions throughout, I know, and I'm still missing The Mighty Hero, The Shadow Prince and the True Paladin, but it's a start.

* Combat still uses minis, but on a much simpler map and not 3.x+'s combat grid.
** There are standard saves and standard damages for environmental hazards, so you can make travelling a swamp feel more dangerous than navigating a forest, but without rolling on a random event table every time, giving the DM (and the group) narrative control.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

10 Most Influential Books

Jon Tripp challenged me to pick the 10 books that influenced me. That's as much as I know about this challenge, so I'm basing this list on the books that most often quote and the ones that have had the greatest effects on my personal outlook. They are in no particular order.

1. The Bible*. This one's kind of obvious, but it's impact on me has been tremendous. I've read it three or four times, and portions of it more often than that (I read the book of James every few days, it seems).

2. A Wrinkle In Time. The first in L'Engle's amazing series of books, I consider it to be her best. It taught me that love is always more powerful than hate, that life is worth living fully and that being smart and being wise are equally important.

3. Knee-Deep In Thunder. Based on Native American mythology, this book taught me . . . well, just about everything about how to deal with conflict. It taught me that there really aren't bad guys and good guys, there's just us, some of us worse than others.

4. Small Gods. One of Terry Pratchett's standalone books in the Discworld series, it's a hilarious book and a meditation on the nature of faith, and manages to do good service to both ideas.

5. Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Page for page, there just isn't a better book, in my opinion. It's biographical, it's semi-mystical, it's fantasy, it's reality, it's . . . it's a book about a world that I wished that I lived, a world that scares me and one that terrifies me. It's all of those things at the same time and is a book that inspires me to write better and to write more.

6. Till We Have Faces. It's C.S. Lewis' best work of fiction, but I also think it's his best work of apologetics, although I can't quite explain to you how exactly it does that. That's the reason I love this book - it ignores fiction and non-fiction conventions in favour of just being good.

7. Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook. No, those last two aren't actually D&D, but they're carrying on the tradition of being books that function as a toolkit you can use to create your own fantasy stories with your friends. I've spent so many Friday nights doing this with friends, and many of them I'm still in contact with now.

8. TheNeverending Story. I could tell you about how this story enabled me to have the courage to walk up to a beautiful young blond woman and ask her on a date, but that is another story, and will be told another time.

9. TheGift of Fire. One thing I've always struggled with in man's initial fall from grace. This book was absolutely vital in helping me come to terms with that, and with a lot of the other things that drive my faith in God.

10. Watchmen. Yeah, I put a graphic novel on here. Read it, if you haven't, and you'll understand why. It's really pretty amazing. I mean, I'd always loved graphic novels and comic books, but Watchmen taught me that it's a medium that simply has no limits.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Try This At Home

I'm a writer. I have been since I was a little kid. I love telling stories and I'm obsessed with legends and mythology. When I'm bored, or when I'm excited, or when I'm tired or wired awake, I'm thinking of stories. I have three or four in my head right now - a young woman find a ventriloquist's dummy in her grandmother's attic that looks just like her husband, only it's actually him turned into a dummy and her mother's a witch; three hundred years in the future, everyone works dead-end jobs in cubicles, but at least it's Friday and the weekend's coming soon, only it never does because we were all hollowed out and replaced with robots and our mindless tasks are really just the sub-routines of a planet-sized super computer and the weekend's never coming; a minotaur and elf queen have fallen in love.

It's quite possible that none of these things will every end up written down in a meaningful way. I'll write a couple of lines of dialogue, maybe a description or two. In some way, shape or form, though, those stories are going to keep playing in my head. Bits of them will ooze out into other stories, some of which I'll finish and post somewhere online or maybe send them into some small journal somewhere.

When people find out that I'm a writer, but I haven't really published anything, they have one of two reactions. They either tell me that they're glad that I've found a healthy creative outlet (I love it when people say this) or they act like my lack of publication is a horrible thing, and don't I feel bad that I'm not a great crashing success.

I dislike this very much. I write because those three stories you read about up there? They've vanished, for now, and new ones are in their place. At some point, the brain, it just can't fit any more and some of what's up there has to get out onto a page or I start losing sleep, get seriously distracted and, quite frankly, really cranky. It's a outlet in the same way that venting an overheated radiator is an outlet, it's just that creative writing is less likely to scald your hand.

Huh. That metaphor sounded a lot better in my head.

Anyhow, I write because I have to, and I write because I enjoy it and, quite simply, that's enough for me. Maybe some day I'll get published, but I'm not going to live my life in anticipation of it. Frank Turner sums this up for me in I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous.

I am sick and tired of people who are living on the B-list.
They're waiting to be famous and they're wondering why they do this.
And I know I'm not the one who is habitually optimistic,
but I'm the one who's got the microphone here so just remember this:

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,
about fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
and help us with remembering that the only thing that's left to do is live.

So, that's my piece. Enough with that. The rest of this is for the rest of you.

Some of you love to sculpt, but you don't feel like sculptors. Some of you love to draw, but you don't feel like artists. For Pete's sake, stop that. A writer writes, a sculptor sculpts, and an artist, err, arts. Okay, so maybe you'll never actually be good at it. Do you like sculpting and painting and writing? Then that makes it a worthwhile endeavour.

Keep doing it. Don't let the "professionals" tell you that it's complicated stuff best left to them. They're either protecting their paycheck or their ego, and you're ultimately responsible for neither.

Now, to my Christian brothers and sisters. If you were raise in a church like the one I grew up in, you were told from a rather young age that, "Everything you do, you should do as unto the Lord," and that this meant that you shouldn't spend too much time at artistic pursuits that produce things that aren't praise to God.

Well, meet Heman the Ezrahite.

That's his one psalm. Describing it as "bleak" doesn't quite do it justice. It's painfully, almost ornately mournful. I've had days like that, though, and if we're honest, most of us have and it's nice to have this psalm in the Bible - a reminder that sometimes all you have in you is despair, tempered by hope, and that it's expected. It doesn't always provide comfort, but it's good to know you're not alone.

This is Heman's legacy. This is it, those 18 verses ending with his "praise" to God, "You have taken from me friend and neighbour—darkness is my closest friend." If you want to spend an hour or two using your God-given imagination writing a mash-up of My Little Pony, Doctor Who and Big Bang Theory, go for it. God loves you with all your faults and failure. I'm pretty sure he can love you with all your hobbies as well.