Sep 012009

I haven’t posted at my RPG-focused blog in over a year, so it seemed prudent to close it down and move all of its posts over here. In order to help organize things, I’ve obliterated the existing categories I had set up here and moved all articles into the “Uncategorized” category, which shall henceforth hold the normal blog posts. Anything in the Role-Playing Games category will hold material that would have previously been posted to RPG-at-McC3D. I’ve moved all the users and comments over, as well.

Writing Professionally

 Posted by at 10:20  No Responses »
Apr 072009

The first career path to which I gave serious consideration was authoring fiction.  The driving motivation behind this idea — telling stories — drives a disproportionate number of my hobbies: independent film-making, movie/TV-watching  and game-playing (on the receiving end of told stories, in this case), role-playing games.  Every other career I entertained the notion of pursuing held storytelling as a key component: acting, directing, visual effects for film, and now game development.  Within the last year, I decided that having a “day job” by no means precluded professional writing.  Author John Scalzi, internet-famous for his Whatever blog, cemented this decision by restating my own conclusion in as many words.  This led to my involvement in NaNoWriMo 2008, which I completed within the designated timeframe.  Though the resultant short novel is not something I feel is worth publishing (contrary to prior statements I’ve made about it), the simple fact that I wrote it armed me with the confidence that I can write a novel.

Pursuant to my goal to be a professional writer, I decided yesterday that I would take another page from Scalzi’s playbook and try to write a blog entry every day from now on.  My morning routine includes perusing a number of websites (a task made much simpler thanks to Google Reader and the wonder of RSS), which often have several interesting stories worth pointing out.  My hope is that readership here will grow beyond the small circle of friends that now read it and that it can become a community unto itself.

What do I mean by professional writer?  I don’t mean quitting my day job.  Scalzi (yeah, you’re going to see him name-dropped quite often) makes the observation that unless you can guarantee annual income from writing that’s 30% above what you make at your current day job, your financial situation will be worse if you quit your job to focus on writing.  The only reason to quit your job for writing is that if holding the job impedes the income you could otherwise make from writing.  

Professional writer, in this sense, is synonymous with Stephen King’s definition of a talented writer: if you wrote something and someone paid you for it, you’re talented.  It doesn’t matter if the writing was technical, analytical, editorial, or fictional — if you wrote something and got paid, you fit the definition.  Take it as a forgone conclusion that my ideal world would have me waking up at noon to eat breakfast and surf the internet for an hour, writing fiction for the next five, eating dinner with Cody, and then spending the evening on entertainment, all while making much more than I make now.  It’s not an unrealistic fantasy, but it’s not one that will come without time and effort.  

Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to elect to do things you otherwise might not choose to do.  To that end, I stopped procrastinating last night and bought myself a copy of Writer’s Market 2009.  This book is the ultimate go-to resource for writers, listing every publishing outlet for every topic available.  I plan to find a small outlet that publishes articles I might be able to write about with some intelligence, and submitting.  Without some incredible luck, it won’t be fiction.  I would be more than happy, however, to be paid for writing movie reviews, technical reviews, game reviews, or any other number of topics on which I tend to pontificate anyway.

As with every other industry, you first need to get your foot in the door.  Prove that you’re publishable in a small way before you can hope to hit big.

A Flawed Origin

 Posted by at 11:08  6 Responses »
Apr 252008

Let’s kick things off with a bang and dive right into the flawed origin of RPGs. The inspiration for this piece comes from Mu’s Unbelievably Long and Disjointed Ramblings About RPG Design and the concept he calls “The Grandfather Clause of Stupidity.”

One of the flaws underpinning many RPG systems is the underlying assumptions that motivate them. To be precise, RPGs as we know them today came from the original Dungeons & Dragons, which itself came from Chainmail. Chainmail was not an RPG; it was a miniatures wargame. As such, many of the operative underpinnings that form the basis for D&D, which in turn formed the body of expectations for its offspring, come not from an ideal solution for role-playing, but for war-gaming.

The quickest way to demonstrate this is to open the index of the D&D Player’s Handbook. Do you see an entire chapter devoted to combat? I do. By making combat the focus of an RPG system, the designers of D&D — and this applies to any edition — have put forward a system the intent of which is to place a fantasy world dressing around a miniatures combat game. If that’s the goal, that’s great. However, if we step back and look at the broad genre that is role-playing games, we see a great deal of dressed-up, miniatures combat games.

I’m not knocking miniatures combat games, nor am I knocking the idea of combat in an RPG. I get into a good combat encounter as much as the next person. I think it’s worth raising the awareness of this “genetic trait” of RPGs, though. A quote I’ve seen attributed to John Wick (7th Sea, Legend of the Five Rings, Orkworld) says, “All RPGs have a grand total of two mechanics: swinging a sword and picking a lock.” While I doubt the veracity of this attribution (since I’ve seen it in only one location), I think it’s a succinct way of encapsulating the flawed box in which RPG design thinking often takes place.

I define RPGs by a break-down of terms: a game in which one role-plays. One can read many possible interpretations into that. For my money, it’s a game in which the participants derive enjoyment from the portrayal of a role — a character. Absent from that definition is any mention of rolling dice, swinging swords, killing monsters, and many of the other conventions that are common in RPGs. I’m not suggesting that I don’t enjoy such things, but they are not what the reason for which I’ve come to your table.

So far, the only system I’ve encountered played that gets away from the idea of RPG-as-wargame is White Wolf’s Storytelling system. While it does have mechanics for handling combat — for which I do think RPG systems need to account in some fashion — there’s little room to argue where the focus lies: story, mood, and character. Storytelling is by no means a flawless system. An unprepared GM could find himself dealing with a party of munchkin characters if he’s not careful. Such characters, though, defeat the purpose of Storytelling and so one might wonder if such a group would be better off playing D&D.

EDIT: While I never stated it in the above, one of the unspoken assumptions in the preceding paragraph is that the core World of Darkness book did not have its own combat chapter. Imagine my chagrin when I realized it did, in fact, have one. Plain-as-day. So, I apologize for any presumption that I may have appeared to make in that regard. (Yes, I can be wrong. When I am, I will admit as much. This minor revelation does not alter in any significant way the above post, though.)