Friday, January 25, 2013

[Quest writer] Nuurori, Natural20, Space Jerusalem, virtual gaming...

Hey! Thaumiel must be running on fumes since he asked me to write an artocle for Cradle of Rabies. Sorry, can't say no since I've got no readers of my own (don't got blog either, but who cares about blogs without readers anyway, eh?)

At first I'm gonna talk a little about myself.

Now that we got that covered, I'll talk about my project Space Jerusalem (not to be mistaken with the band you've also never heard of). I hail from Mentzer's red box and D&D fantasy has always been close to my life. After all, life is just a Dungeon with T-junctions, leading to new T-junctions. AD&D, 3rd edition and lvl 19 eldritch knight who could deal average of 500 damage to any target. Which she could do outside her turn. Which was nice, because it took more than hour to wait for one to come after 19. level cleric, wizard and druid had grinded throught their... microcosmic... experiences. 

Well every gamer has this childhood dream of that super epic bosscharacter, and after we got what we asked for, we started to make new questions. Like, what if we make a game that would also like work and go somewhere. That is what we asked and we started to tweak with modern d20 originally, eventually evolving into our natural 20 system. I'm not going to talk about our game design approach, our goals and how we reached them only to ask why?. Because. Srsly. Who hasn't been there and done that? I started making my own versions of board games when I was like 10, but my son makes up new rules for Kimble on the way to his quite inevitable victory. So it's in the blood and if you are interested in Again an Another System Made by Someone Else you would care, but it's also in your blood that you won't, so I will supress the fact that the Will to Tell Everyone about Our Great System is too.

So what I'm going to tell you is a short story related to gaming, making a game, having a dream and then waking up.

I liked VT's. That stands for Virtual Tabletops. We tried some, but settled to use Maptool. (You really need to know what VT's are to get this, so if you don't you've got to have a google moment NOW). Virtuals have many virtues over actual tabletops, but in the end it became clear that current tools available were only able to vaguely emulate the experience as it should be. I'm not even talking about bugs and similar glitches, but the sheer clumsines of how things are handled on every level of the gaming process, not just during the actual play event. It's like using rocks and buttons instead of abacus for running an complicated set of calculation. Or like trying to run a combat for 20. level party in 3. edition D&D. I mean, doing those things over phone while driving a taxi in Bombay. Or more accurately, doing those things by twitching your left eyelid for communication while otherwise lying helplessly in your hospital bed.

But still! I'm not here to rant how VT's suck. I'm here to tell that I knew that all along, but I wanted to see what could be done with them. And much could that far surpassed limits of battlemats and miniatures (I'll only hint Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V). In the end, it was just not important. At least to me, it happened that every achievement and method of pushing the limits of VT's further away also took a bit from fun. It became too much work and no play for me too. 

I mean, what does it matter, if your method of play may now handle 100's of orcs instead of previous record of 10? I suppose it's better if the system is streamlined and your way of handling maps and enemy tokens improves, but what is the point if it only shows in increased numbers? Only epicness achieved will be in downtime. Hereby I declare the Law of Epic Round Durations:

"Every game expands to the limits of it's system"

Then you get players drooling over their motionless chest, idly staring into a silent emptiness. Or perhaps those fortunate enough to have a handheld will entertain themselves with a game of tetris. In any case very few have the willpower to force themselves to watch interestingly as the game lags forward (It seems still, when you watch at it, but looking after an hour you'll notice it's moved!)

Well I don't rly know if that rule is correct. I do know I like writing them though.

Playing the game is just one point of view to the whole process. GM's view of running the game is another. Preparing adventure, updating rules and surfing for hot elf babes make up others. Theres even more, but the point is that role playing experience is not limited or included into what happens during the actual play event. You will notice the difference between one-shots and campaign style of play comes in no small part from this extracurricular sphere of hard to grasp influence. 

I'm not actually going deeper into that one either! Whew, dodged that one.

Anyway, as a VT oriented GM I was thinking about a community sharing adventures, rules and related material openly over an site, because, it would have been possible. That was what Space Jerusalem was actually about. Now this aint news. There are lots of sites for sharing stuff. Obsidian portal comes into mind. You can also find lots of stuff available from maptool forums (such as total pathfinder rules script package). I'm sure things are no different on any of the 10's of VT's forum communities. I think roll 20 VT even has some programmed features for sharing links. 

Apart from similar idea, those other sites actually had a community as well! 

"When building a community, start by already having a community"

Lesson is you can't build a community. One could say it builds itself, but in reality there even isn't one. There are only people who are getting something out of something (or if they are not, they usually go looking for it from somewhere else). In Finnish RPG scene there hasn't been very succesfull sharing communities, but those who are almost worth mentioning formed around some other service, namely forums. The current placeholder would be
, and they also offer some wiki and file sharing services. 

Our had forums, wiki and even our game system freely available, but no one outside our regular gaming group ever became interested in what we had to offer apart from community we didn't have, forums for only 3 active people (but we were active!), system that was supposed to be played in a way that wasn't yet technically even possible (and not particularly good in even that, mind you). In a nutshell, we didn't have anything anyone could hope to get, so everyone moved away. If the cheese moved, I didn't notice. It never stopped by Space Jerusalem.

We made our mistakes, and all in all, those other sites and services are making tons of coold stuff WHILE ALSO having those awesome communities built around them, which is like the whole point of actually building anything for those communities to begin with. But apart from having those enthusiast communities, they are actually doing the same FAIL in the product that we did. The product still sucks. (Actually it sucks more than a vacuum; we were far further into the emptiness of space and still it didn't stop sucking). You know this when you try out that Pathfinder module for Maptools, or try to play any miniatures heavy scenario in any medium without actual things to move around the actual map. Even if using a tool would handle that part, using the tool would probably render some other tool unusable, forcing you to cope with some subpar replacement feature, such as, say, using one mouse for 4 players to move tokens around a map, instead of being physically able to fart on the general direction of a real dinner table. Or instead of speaking, you would have to resort using a chat. And don't get me started about dicerollers. Rolling a dice _cannot_ be simulated with current technology. One needs his trusty dice that are as old as the superstitious belief of the right wrist motion required to score the needed 20 on a critical saving throw. (well I did. Get me started.) Its emotional stuff. Satan may have invented dice, but we were too happy with them so he had to invent dicerollers. All in the name of fairness, objectiveness and easy of useness in a game that's supposed to be about fun in a world of poor UI's (another credit of Satan's btw). Here's Law of the Bones:

"Dice rollers totally take control out of players hands!"

(And give it to Satan!)
Don't repeat your or anyone else's mistakes. Don't build communities, kingdoms, cults or empires. Do stuff, but don't wail if you fail.  Some Sales guy said once, that the good guys are not paid well for good sales. They are being paid because they handle bad sales well. And as even the best salesman in the world can't force a sale (Mafia insurance salesmen count as an exception), neither can you force a success in anything you strive for. That's a turf of God (Unless you are Satan). But if you are not Satan, do something worth getting done. Don't do it for achievements (Satan should've a gold medal for this!), they would only keep in coming as wave after wave of zerglings become obliterated under your Siege Tank fire. 

And most importantly, don't give up to Satan, keep on a roll!
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