Thursday, December 17, 2015

Designer's Notes Designer's Notes

Well, I did say that I'd have something up about the relationship between Guilds and Boards and Curia in a few days. It turns out to be a surprisingly DN-heavy issue (my article and Stoddard's on Back To School). Between Guilds, Boardroom and Curia, Mass Combat, and City Stats, GURPS has a lot of different ways of describing organized entities, suitable to various purposes. It's interesting how both Bill and I demonstrate that, coming at the question from different directions.

And another Car Wars piece in this one. My only regret is that the Brandon Moore art isn't available in a publicly available place, so I can't link to it.  He's really quite good.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still Not Designer's Notes for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds

I've been the beneficiary of a recent wave of GURPS-related reviews, notably for the new book. The common thread is about how it nudges the Dungeon Fantasy line in the direction of social complexity, world-building detail, and more non-combat interactions. This leaves me thinking that I wasn't clear enough about the book's intent.

I mean, yes, it does point in that direction for those who want it, but the objective I had was, basically, weaponizing social connections. Rank is a power-up. ARs allow adventurers to get their hands on some extra gear or other benefits at the beginning of an adventure, and guilds can send them on adventures where they get to keep all the loot. Apparently, the postmodernists were right about the author's intention and interpretation not being definitive.

Anyway, I have some additional thoughts about Guilds and it's relationship to Boardroom and Curia. I'll try to get those out there in the next few days.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

White Gold

Not quite a cat/bag situation, but I've gotten involved in writing some material around the edges of the new edition of Car Wars. My first piece for this came out today, a vignette about a biker queen in the wasteland that was once Nevada, with accompanying art by Brandon Moore. He nails it. Really, seriously nails it. I'm just sad that bit isn't part of the preview.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rule of Who?

Recently, Blind Mapmaker put up a fair and thoughtful review of my most recent DF book. In it, he says:

While the book is rules-oriented it is less so than you might expect from a DF book.

This, I think, is true. A great deal of it is descriptive detail: coin shapes, largely mundane fabric types, a list of colors, and a big-ass table of decorative motifs. Very little of this gives us the pluses we so dearly love (as alluded to in the intro section, "What's The Bonus for Shiny?"). There's a reason for that, which gets into something which doesn't get discussed in much detail in places I frequent.

One of the phrases which keeps coming up is "the Rule of Cool," the idea of conflating successful/effective with cool/awesome/impressive. I'm down with that, of course, but the question is, what's cool? How do we get there? How do we build cool?

Consider this INCREDIBLY FREAKING AWESOME sequence which open's John Woo's Hard Boiled (go ahead, I'll wait; in fact, Imma watch it again myself):



Considered game-mechanically, most of this is probably fairly dull. There's a vast number of missed to-hit rolls, successful dodges (some of which might be considered acrobatic or dodge and retreat), a weapon with a high ROF predictably not hitting its intended target with most of its shots, and many of the shots which do hit don't do a lot of damage as one would expect from low-caliber bullets mostly missing vital spots. The only rules-remarkable bits, really, are Mr. Chow's slide down the banister half-way through and roll over the flour-covered table at the end to end up in close combat range.

I would argue that makes it cool--and it is undeniably cool (watching it again...OK, I'm back)--is the details. At the start of the fight, Chow KICKS open the fallen cage to bring out the guns. He LEAPS BACK WHILE FIRING BOTH PISTOLS (missing with most bullets, but damn it looks good). One of the cops ROLLS OUT OF THE WAY LEAVING A HAIL OF GUNFIRE IN HIS WAKE. We get an impressive dolly shot plowing through a bunch of waiters getting gunned down as though the camera itself it taking them out. Furniture splinters and plates and cups explode and the submachine gun fills the air with bullets. And at the very end, he doesn't just roll over the table. He comes through a gout of fire (from a missed shot harmlessly hitting a propane tank or something in the kitchen) and cloud of dust to come out covered in white, the color of death.

So, class, what have we learned here? A lot depends not on what happens, but how you spin it. This combat is full of failure, and yet it's amazing. What makes it cool is that things never stop happening. It's not a dodge, it's a rolling spin keeping the intended target a fraction of an inch ahead of a stream of bullets. It's not a missed shot, it's an exploding window or a flock of frightened starlings fleeing a shattered cage. But in order to make the scene awesome, you have to look at more than just the basic actions, but the scene as a whole, so the motion never stops. I'd also note that cool doesn't necessarily mean successful. It is its own reward in many ways, though the banister trick and the I-am-become-Death roll probably qualify for cool = more effective.

Which brings us to Glittering Prizes. Blind Mapmaker is absolutely correct that there's less rules than one might expect from a DF book. What I'm working towards instead is building up a vocabulary for cool. Just as a shot that blows a waiter out a window to fall on the roof of a police car screeching to a halt in front of the building where the shootout is happening takes a miss and makes it awesome, I like to think that the details I'm adding may not make a gold piece or a garment necessarily more valuable or otherwise utilitarian, but do give it the awesome of deep description.

One of the things I hope I'm bringing to gaming from my background in archaeology is that things carry stories with them. Items are produced in historic and cultural contexts and are shadowed by their ghosts. The details of this or that item can be suggestive of a broader world, partaking of the grandeur of this faintly remembered empire, that elegant and stylish monarch, or the horror and tragedy of the other extradimensional breach bringing Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know into our world to be repelled at great cost. So one gold piece may not buy more in town than the next, but for those who look beyond what they can be traded in for, there's awesome aplenty.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

DFT1: Boring Designer's Notes

A new book of mine came out today: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 1: Glittering Prizes. The genesis of this one is...well, not unusual. After DF8 came out, I'd had some ideas about things which it might have lacked, items I'd want to expand on, and the like, but I didn't have a format for it. I pitched one of those ideas, an extended treatment of money, as an article for Pyramid. My editor countered with the suggestion of turning it into a short PDF. After a bit of back and forth, I settled on a short PDF (shorter than DF8, anyway) about adding detail to treasures: more about money to make it more than just discrete bits of precious metal, more decorative motifs, more implausible materials, and so on, incorporating many, though not all, of the treasure-related ideas I'd had since DF8 was published.

And now, the theme song for the book:



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why GURPS Historicals?

The advent of a new Hot Spots volume has reminded me of a question which comes up from time to time: Why buy an historical GURPS book when you can just look up stuff on the web?  It's not just potential customers who ask this. It's a question which keeps the GURPS editorial staff up at night. Not surprisingly, I have a multi-part answer to that question:

1) The premise of the question is flawed. Contrary to what some might think, not everything is on the web. Some material is, obviously ("China is over there.  Farther. Little to the left. Up. There."), but certainly not all or even most. The depth of research in GURPS historicals is frequently such that the authors have to pick up dusty old books and page through things which haven't been digitized and exposed to the web for free nor are they likely to be any time soon, or to hit up journals and new books which are still behind paywalls or are undigitized and available only through libraries. You can Google for information on the historical topic, but you'll never find everything you get in a GURPS book on the web, or even from readily available and non-specialist books.

2) Being on the web doesn't make it right. Although easily available sources can give you a decent overview of a subject, individual facts can be suspect. For example, if you do a web search on the origins of paper, just about every source attributes the invention of paper to a Chinese emperor at the dawn of the second century AD. Although that's a widely held traditional belief, much deeper digging into less accessible sources puts the invention of paper at some point in the first century BC. Some topics are more prone to error than others; on-line accounts of historical weapons and armor, for example, are often full of breathless exaggerations and poor scholarship repeated as articles of faith.

3) There's also GURPS content. If you're playing GURPS, presumably you'll need GURPS stats at some point. Some is likely available (What's the top speed of an Albanian Z-22 fighter jet produced during the Cold War? About how big is a Hanseatic man-o-war?) or can be easily generated (for example, HP for any item follows from weight; if you know how big that man-o-war is, you can get hit points), but some stats require a bit of thought and judgement by someone who knows GURPS rules.  What's the DR of that Hanseatic ship, and how much damage does the Z-22's 26mm cannon do? The GURPS author takes care of that for you.

4) Even for non-game-stat information which is available on-line, there are important functions of filtering and anticipation. GURPS authors don't just find information and hurl it at you. Believe it or not, there's considerable thought about what is and isn't included. Writing sourcebooks for historical games is a strange mix of technological, political, military, economic, and cultural history which you're unlikely to find in other fields (Some come close; there are writers' guides for historical periods to aid the author of, say, neo-Austen Gothic novels and Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but they tend to lack sufficient coverage of hitting people to be really useful for RPGs). Authors go through diverse sources for information particularly relevant to composing adventures and putting players into the mindset of natives to a place and time period. Hot Spots: Renaissance Florence could have presented extended summaries of various literary works, but it didn't. Instead, it spent pages on describing what PCs would be likely to eat, what people would be likely to wear, what people they might meet would talk about, what they'd do for fun, and other stuff they'd need to know if they were living there. You're paying for the work of doing the research, getting what you need, taking out what you don't, and getting it into a neat, edited package instead of spending countless hours doing background instead of working on specific adventures and, dare I say, actually playing.

More Hints, More Rumors


The cat is, if not out of the bag for my latest GURPS project, then at least peeking out of the mostly closed box. In the wake of the slow revival of GURPS as it has emerged from the shadow of the Ogre, I did GURPS Boardroom and Curia, then I did a DF project based on idea suggested by Kromm. My intention at that point was to do something non-DF, but a second DF project strongly suggested itself, after which I again wanted to do a non-DF book. Then a third DF project wouldn't get out of my head. But now that that's out of the way, I've put the Terribly Responsible Historian hat firmly back on to do a new Hot Spots. I shan't say much about this, save that:

a) It's something I've wanted to write for quite some time; I was rather gung-ho about it even before the Ogre hiatus.

2) It's different in certain significant ways from the ones I've done before. *

In any event, it's back to research and cartography.


*: What ways? Who can say? Maybe it just means that it's not about either Florence or Constantinople. Oooo, cryptic!