A Mind-fog on RPG Immersion

The topic on hand is immersing players in a campaign. I’ve got a biweekly Hackmaster group that I run a campaign for. It’s going well so far, I think.

I hope.

Sometimes I don’t know.

But we’re all still doing it, so I can’t be doing a terrible job, right?

Anyways. As I write adventures for my party to roll through, I’m running into a conundrum: I’m not sure where to take them out of the spotlight and dump them headfirst into a wider world. As characters, they’re advancing mechanically and they’re taking a larger position in the world but Kalamar is a big place and at 3rd and 4th level, they’re certainly not moving mountains.

This last session saw one of their own on trial for murder. It panned out all right (if by all right, you mean an innocent farmer being pegged for the crime and hanged in her place, that is). Thing is, they didn’t do any of the framing…someone else did.

And no one batted an eye.

Sure, a couple of the party members thought it was suspicious but they didn’t delve into any research or ask around. Not on their own steam. The wider world showed a tantalizing glimpse of leg and the players didn’t go for it.

Once the trial was over, I wanted to give them a little liberty in determining where the story ends up. Maybe delve into some personal quests or look into the murder trial debaucle. They’ve asked their NPC buddy Phineas to look into a talisman prophecy that they’ve been involved with since level 1 but that’s on the back-burner for at least another level. I’ve got an idea for the ending but they’re all wee baby characters compared to how difficult the final encounter will be. And I intend to pace the prophecy dungeon crawls out over the course of them becoming badass enough to not get brutally murdered by every encounter in the end. So for now, I’ve slackened the railroading leash to let them gallivant.

Beyond that, they’ve gone to the notice board in the local tavern and there are plenty of quest hooks…all of which exist in the wide world instead of being intimately tied to them like this prophecy questline.

My intuition might be held together by peanut butter and powered by angry bees but I got the distinct feeling that the party thought I hadn’t planned up to this point. Like they were waiting for a quest that was hand-tailored for them once again and I instead gave them a series of bounty quests on bandits, slave traders, hobgoblins, and a giant pig named Contessa. You know. Standard RPG quest fodder.

It was an attempt to broaden their perspective on the world. Adventure isn’t restricted to Frandor’s Keep nor is it constantly tied to the players themselves. But I think the point fell flat. I can think of a few reasons, but the biggest one might be that maybe I set them up for this.

Several of the players are new to roleplaying and I’ve sort of spoon-fed them quests up to this point. Giving them space to act had some of them sort of…twirling in place.

And so I’m sitting down, ready to write up the next arc of adventuring; gathering resources to provide them an engaging story no matter which path they take…and wondering how much needs to center on them. Obviously, to be engaging, the main protagonist of any story needs to be involved. They need to take action. But sometimes an adventure is a bunch of characters stepping into a larger conflict. Getting embroiled in the wider world instead of finding another dungeon crawl tailored to their level.

Admittedly, party makeup has a lot to do with this. I can’t very well go throwing in anything I want and expect a party to gel with it all. My group is made up of more combat-hungry players than roleplaying-hungry players. They love the danger of combat. Most of them tune out when it’s time to talk their way out of things.

So it’s ME who needs to get better at writing. I need to get better at immersing my players without having them chafe against those elements that has most of the party looking down at their phones instead of listening to the narrative. I consider the down-time a player spends in the screen of a smartphone a direct and negative critique on my ability to keep people’s focus as Game Master.

I think I need to work harder at having quick-pull details. Name charts, quick-stats, keep taking notes when new details are established. Establish a continuity that the party WANTS to follow. Not one that they HAVE to follow.

Of course it also depends on a player’s desire to become immersed as well…but that’s another blog post entirely.

In any case. Maybe you guys could help. You don’t need to be a master roleplayer to help. Any help at all’s appreciated.

Got any suggestions? Tips? Tricks?

Money?

I could use a lot of money.

No?

Yeeees?

*stares*

Fine.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

Advertisements

Musing on Excuses

I want to be a writer.

Already that notion comes with a world of context. Sometimes positive. Otherwise, negative. It’s a career path that excites me in that I become my own boss. I’m neurotic enough to harp on my failures that I’m sort of already my own boss, so why not get paid for it?

Thing is, my brain starts doing loopdy-loops to justify why I shouldn’t. Why I should just put my blinders back on, stick to some easy path, and make everyone happy. Because there are people out there who want me to go to college for a ‘respectable degree’ or to simply go ‘to have that important piece of paper’.

I start to think that without that degree, I’m worthless as a writer.

And you know what? Being a writer who has studied writing for four years to get a bachelors degree obviously has a great resource to pull from but it is not required. By the words of many writers, each of which either have or do not have a degree, will acknowledge the fact that on the whole, no agent or publisher has asked them to produce this mystical and expensive piece of paper.

Other people warn me of the risks. They don’t want to see me crash and burn and wind up penniless in the gutter whispering sweet nothings to a derelict shopping cart.

Hell, I don’t want to see that happen.

I begin to dwell on the risk of failure, the sting of someone not liking my work. At the end of a day where I haven’t written, I can name at least four little demons I’ve given brain-side real estate to that keep me from it. Laziness, lack of security, writer’s block, and time or any other random and often easy excuses to blame.

In the end, it’s my fault. And I need to fix it.

Thankfully, I follow a couple brilliant writers who have some insight on all this jargon:

John Scalzi expresses his concern regarding the idiom ‘Writers don’t write to make money‘. He claims the notion, when accepted as true, already puts a writer half-way to not making it (that’s ME then). He writes to get rich (as well as enjoy the awesome roller-coaster life that is writing) and he’s done that fairly well.

Chuck Wendig exorcises the notion of Writer’s Block by insisting it doesn’t exist; that it’s another problem you’ve given a dumb and uselessly romantic name. If you name it to make it sound like our mystic Muse turning the spigot off on our inspiration, then you won’t find out what it really is. (fear of failure is my big one!)

He also has an amazing post that I read every now and again to kick myself in the ass over not getting things done. These 25 Lies Writers Tell are a perfect way to keep me sedentary unless I ignore them.

The more and more I read these and the more I write, the more I feel that my actions have meaning. I rekindle those coals in my heart regarding my own life. I do my own thing. Walk my own course. The idea of creating for money once again sounds like what I want to do. It sounds terrifying like building my parachute after the jump…and exciting because of it. I’m not about to quit my day-job…but the more I write, the more I fail, the more I try only means I’ll succeed more later. Eventually my day-job will get in the way. I’ll reach the point of “Hey, I could really start making this whole writer thing work if it weren’t for that 80 hour labor sink of mine”

Today is not that day.

Tomorrow’s probably not that day either.

But when that day comes it will be because I stopped listening to what scares me, stopped panicking, and stopped becoming paralyzed with the fear of meeting life head-on.

Because I’m a writer and I am done fucking around.

On-week Netflix Nut 8/12-8/18

Real quick this time around. Only got one movie watched but I liked it, maybe you will too:

Stuck In Love – Aha! Not a brutalizing action movie this time around. Figured I’d branch out to a family drama. Turns out this one, like many others these days, shot for the Indie feel with a larger budget. The very first shot is of the word ‘Irony’. And well…it sort of explained the feel I had for the first bit. When the main actors began speaking, the ticker-tack of a typewriter and their words written in a personalized font queued up next to their head. They went FULL INDIE. You’ve got all your classic character tropes. Bumbling, divorced Dad who still thinks he can get back in with his dad. Brooding Mom who hates her relationship with her daughter. College daughter who’s a cynic, jaded by the world. High school son who wants to see more of life. It’s an ok movie but I think it hit my brain a bit more considering this dad has raised his children to be writers…like from conception they’ve been trained to be penmonkeys. The dad’s a full-time writer, the daughter’s just published her first book (At 19 too! Take that you lazy 24 year old Micah), and the son is a wannabe poet and writer. Sadly, it’s not a great character development tool; no one comes to a grand change like ‘being a writer is not for me’ like I expected, but it’s the background noise for the drama.

All in all, good. I recommend it. Also, Kristen Bell is in it for any of you readers with a Pavlovian response to her name/face.

At the very least! Thanks for reading.

On Death and Dying

One of my favoritest comedians died recently. Like…within the last 24 hours or so. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

Robin Williams.

Yes, Peter Pan’s gone. Patch Adam’s has stopped saving patients. The Bicentennial Man has worn down. The immortal Genie has disappeared in a puff of smoke. All of it sad.

All of it true.

And here I am, 3 AM, dwelling on this. No matter what you believe, afterlife or not, Robin Williams is no longer here. His movies are delightful. And to those who have watched his stand-up comedies, they’re even moreso (if you have the courage to look).

His last tweet, posted July 31st, referred to the 25th birthday of his daughter Zelda Williams. That’s, like, eleven days before his death. If that were to happen to me, my mother or father will have killed themselves THIS YEAR December 27th. It hasn’t happened (obviously since if I knew about it we’d be in some sort of time-turner paradox) and I doubt it will…but that’s the relativity. I don’t think I’m ready for that. I’m the oldest child and all, but damn, that’s too soon…relatively. But Robin suffered depression…badly…and this may seem biased and naive but I can see a father suffer through even the worst of depressions for his daughter…until they’re old enough. Some might, some might not, I’m not saying each depression victim is the same…but I can see the justification. If you need an idea of the depression Robin Williams suffered, you can watch his comedy shows on Youtube. Each one hints at it. But for how funny they are, the world didn’t notice.

And then my thoughts shot further.

My brother, dead at 14, lived within Robin Williams lifetime. At no point of his living did Robin Williams not exist. And I’m a little jealous.

I thought this would be funny to post on Facebook but my common sense proved smarter. That thought was: If I were to ever kill myself, it would only be when I’m more famous than Robin Willaims.

Now, now, stop, wait, quit it, you dick, I’m not thinking about killing myself. I wonder about it but I think that’s required by every person reading this. I don’t think any adult reading this has NEVER thought about what would happen if they kill themselves. Some believe they’ll find eternal life while some hope for an eternal void they won’t know. Each has their philosophy but I think everyone has thought about it.

That’s kind of what makes us human. We think about everything including ENDING OURSELVES. Just like George Carlin says:

“Do you realise, that right this second, right now somewhere around the world some guy is getting ready to kill himself. Isn’t that great? Statistics show that every year a million people commit suicide. Thats 2800 a day. That’s one every thirty seconds.
[Stares at watch]
There goes another guy!”

Now I can’t assume everyone’s delved into the concept, but I think most people have. When times get rough we wonder what it would be like to…not experience it at all. To die? To be rid of this mortal coil? Who couldn’t?

I contest, no one.

But really…if every depressed patient considered suicide as an alternative only when they’d achieved a worldwide fame surpassing Robin Williams, we’d see a lot less suicides…

…or a lot more famous suicides.

I can’t tell you, readers, that this will be a happy blog. Even know as I write it I can’t tell if you that thousands of unhappy people killing themselves per day is worse than thousands of famous people killing themselves per day…because the numbers won’t change…unless we ALL do something about it.

Do what? You might ask.

First, be kind. It doesn’t matter how badly you hate someone, just be fucking decent to them.

Second, look at and listen to other people. Pay attention. Maybe if you can muster the courage, talk to them. I can’t tell you the odds but maybe they’re looking for someone to talk to.

Third, if neither of those come easy, FIGURE YOURSELF OUT. That comes first. Decide what you believe. Decide what you care about. Ignore what your parents think. I may be coming off as radical, but you can’t assume that what your parents think is correct…if it is…constant scrutiny will prove it thus. If not…find your own truth. I bring this up because I’ve personally seen dozens of people slump into depressions because their thoughts are not their parent’s or others’ thoughts. I can’t claim to know the right idea. And neither can you. But we can all claim our own truth…whether it’s right or not. We must use our individual focus to determine any and all of that.

Hands down though…one of my favorite comedians died yesterday. And I feel the same as when George Carlin died. Or when John Pinette died. When laughter dies, something inside me stops…that particular vein of comedy can no longer continue. But I can. I can keep their ideas alive. And I will. I’ll keep quoting them. I’ll keep thinking and, hopefully, keep making people laugh. I’ll remember them. If you don’t, fine. If you do, neato. Live your lives…

And be the best person you want to be.

I’ll miss you Robin.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

Running Lessons

I’ve been running the last while. Well, walking a lot and occasionally violently heaving my mass at speeds ill-advised for people with my sort of wispy writer stamina. It’s the same circuitous path around my suburbian jungle block every day. Facebook saw the first herking attempts documented thusly:

My spit has the consistency of spoiled milk. My tongue feels as swollen as a 16 oz steak. Dizziness assails me, I’m short of breath, and my throat feels drier than the Mojave while I believe my armpits could be deemed wetter than the Great Salt Lake.

I can feel my leg and arm muscles becoming as rigid and brittle as Styrofoam, forcing me into an awkward parody of an exhausted mannequin. Water doesn’t seem to help at the start, I hate how this feels, and I feel my peripheral blacken. Even as I flop on the couch, I imagine my soon-to-be-written epitaph will read “This Guy Thought He Could Run”.

And yet…the emotions settle. My thoughts drift to how bright the sky was, how my suburbia smelled of cut grass and Spring-blooming flowers, I remark to nobody how the birds and bugs sounded as they lived their own lives. My head pulses and with it, life seems sharper; brighter.

I laugh. It sounds like a hoarse lawnmower choking on pebbles. Weariness seeps into my bones and yet I smile. I feel like I outran death instead of sitting, waiting for it for once.

We’ll do it again. Not now. But we’ll do it again.

Super-adorbs-lawl, I’m sure. I started in spurts, sometimes having a week or two in between runs. It was painful and icky.

But despite the difficulty of first mustering the motivation to get my lazy ass out the door and then pushing myself to jog or run a fraction of the block, I’ve been doing it fairly consistently for about the last couple months, keeping to an almost daily schedule these last several weeks. And I’ve begun to notice something.

It’s helping.

Physically I feel better after running and with the routine I’ve been feeling better overall. Good things, yay.

More to the point, it’s been helping my mental state. I find I can focus on things when I’m running and by proxy, NOT focusing on running helps me run further. Sometimes I’ll have made it almost half the length before my brain remembers YOU’VEBEENRUNNINGOWSTOOOOOPP and I slow to take a breather. I can pick at things that need looking at like my book or short stories or people in my life or contemplating the last thoughts of the decayed rat corpse to the side of the road.

And in my time of running I’ve stumbled on a couple life lessons. Now to be fair, these are my lessons that my brain whipped up to relate to myself and my own personal progress…but the selfish, conceited Hutt inside me would like to think others might be able to relate all the same.

THE RUNNING PARABLE (Or how a plastic bag defeated me daily)

For the better part of a week, a Wal-mart shopping bag was caught in a neighbor’s tree about a third of the way through my run. On the first day, I looked at it and my inner boy scout thought to grab it. Then the nervous, socially-conscious adult in me worried about people seeing me digging for trash up in a tree like a balls-tripping homeless person. I told myself ‘If it’s there tomorrow, I’ll get it then.’ Procrastination at its finest. Laziness can happen even in the middle of exercise.

The next day I ran again to find the plastic bag still caught. The wind hadn’t saved it and I’m sure anyone else who saw it up in the tree thought what I had the day before. The bag was too high for me to grab and so I tried to climb the tree. The tree wasn’t too tall or old; just big enough to keep the bag away from me like a dick. As I gripped the thin arms of the tree, I instantly regretted it as my supple infant-skin palms shredded on contact. I steeled myself though, remembering how I climbed trees as a kid and attempted to lift my near 240lb ass up the tiny tree. The branches bent and I knew that I wouldn’t want to be the guy to explain how my six foot tall girth snapped a neighbor’s branch. So I let go before the tree snapped. My hands looked like velcro that had sat in the rain for ten years and my arms ached like I’d just tried to pick up a me-size corpse. Beaten, I figured I’d try again tomorrow. Maybe TOMORROW the tree would be shorter or I would be in better shape.

Next day comes, I stand at the bottom of the tree. The bag is in the exact same spot, mocking me. My hands STILL sting from yesterday but at this point I’m committed. I try my hand at climbing again and get the same split skin and aching arms. With that failing once more, I gauge the bag’s height. I might be able to reach it if I jump. And so, taking a few steps back I prepare for a hippity-skip hop to get me the bag. I jump, reach, stretch, and fall, landing on ankles that have just now stretched about twice as hard than they have in YEARS. The muscles in my legs now feel like a single pair of puppet strings stretching from my hips to my toes, slackened from years of abuse. The walk’s harder this time around the block…and the bag’s still up in the tree.

Each time after I try and fail my brain would find little ways of making this seemingly impossible struggle vital to my life. I thought about my novel and how no matter what I did I couldn’t edit more than a few sentences at a time. The plans I’ve made for short stories and stand-up comedy have always fallen short because in my mind, I lacked the ability in the first place to get anywhere with it. This bag represented everything about my failures. Because I’m a headcase like that.

Day four, this bag is getting to me. It’s almost staring at me every time I get to it. I almost talked myself out of running today because of this bag. I try climbing AGAIN, confident that the system has changed overnight. My hands have visible lines of red; blood trying to push through the scrapes of my thin skin. I jump again and it hurts just as bad. I swear and cuss at this thing; this bag that’s exactly where it needs to be to keep me away. I start to walk away once more, defeated again, when I notice out of my peripheral that the neighbor who has been hosting this bag recently threw out their old mop. Sticking out of their garbage can, the green, plastic, All-A-Dollar mop waits. I take it, it seemed so simple, and within seconds fish the bag out of the tree and dispose it along with the mop back into the trash. And I finished my run, feeling accomplished for something so small.

As a parable of sorts, whatever lesson the reader draws from it is their own. Mine is that I’m slightly batshit and obsessive and that life’s problems are solved by dumpster diving…but also that the solution to my problem may be off to my peripheral. Keep looking around. Use your brain, Stupid. Also, stretch more so you don’t go home feeling like a brittle candy cane after jumping ONCE.

The Trip Down (In which I tumble like an epileptic spider)

My brain’s an odd one; odder still that it’s self-aware of that fact. Sometimes it surprises me, like the idea that came to me shortly after a slanted sidewalk slab had me toppling over myself. It felt like an 80’s montage that conveyed post-modern failure rather than determined success. I scraped my everything and I got home feeling like I’d wrestled a honey badger but the thought that occurred to me stuck longer than the pain:

By running, I increase my chance of tripping over myself like an idiot while running. By not running, I reduce that chance 100%…but so too lose out on the benefits (breathing heavy and smelling like a gym sock…and also exercise). By not writing, I eliminate the chance of rejection 100%. NO ONE WILL HATE MY WRITINGS. EVER. My story remains perfect in my head and no one can tell me otherwise. But I then lose out on being a writer at all. By not trying, I never risk failure…and continue being the inactive person I am today. RISK is what gets us bruises. RISK is what makes us a better person.

The Lonely Runs (No, not diarrhea in solitary confinement)

Oftentimes, my wife will accompany me on these walks. She wants to get the exercise in too. But I can’t force that. I remember my dad forcing me to run in the early mornings every day with a baseball bat because he felt I was too pudgy as a kid. And I hated him for it. I hated running. And whenever I push someone to do something, anything really, I see that in their eyes. No, this isn’t that encouraging ‘You Can Do The Thing’ speech. This is that ‘QUITCHERBITCHINANDDOTHETHING’ effort I find myself doing when someone starts whining.  Lots of times my wife won’t go on the run…and when I started running, sometimes I’d not run either…internally blaming her for not running with me as the reason I wasn’t getting exercise.

That’s not the answer. I am as capable of making you do anything as that tree-hiding asshole of a bag is of forcing you to go get it.

In the end, it’s your choice of how you spend your time. My choice of running is my own. And often it is done by myself, for myself. The notion that I am doing something in which no one has joined me in is no longer a burden. Running alone is perfect for me at times. So is thinking alone, writing alone, and living in those isolated moments with no one else. I need it. And I’m getting better at letting others live alone in their lives too.

Anyway, those are the three lessons I’ve gained from running since I started. Maybe I’ll have more (and maybe I’ve forgotten some already). If I do, I’ll let you know.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

On-week Netflix Nut 7/29-8/4

Gah! My first proposed, regularly scheduled blog post and I’m a day late on the second go-around. Fantastic.

This time I didn’t get to many movies. Only one but boy, it’s a doozy. The rest, I’ll just touch on what I’ve been rewatching.

13 Sins – Intense. Netflix suggested it and it was a May As Well moment for me. Didn’t regret it in the least. A secret society pitches the opportunity of a lifetime to random people (in our case, the moral and slightly spineless Elliot Brindle) for their own amusement. This life-game consists of thirteen challenges. Completing them gets you more money than you can probably spend and clemency for your actions. Fail any of them and you lose it all…and are probably now pursued by the police. It’s a delicious romp through a man’s willingness to take just one step more. Watching his journey, his transformation, and his choices are engaging and the ending is satisfying…though admittedly in retrospect if I wasn’t so intrigued at the hoops Brindle has to hop I could have probably guessed the movie about halfway through. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Dexter – I’m no doubt one of the last few internet-bound people to say this, but Dexter is awesome. Again, moral quandary that keeps me interested each episode. I dig on his finding the bad guys but honestly the more intriguing spots for me are when he tries to reconcile himself and his dark passenger. Regardless of whether he decides they’re two separate identities at the time or admits that there might be no difference between the two always has me hooked. I have yet to finish the series and I know several interwebs worth of people didn’t care for the finale but I’ll enjoy the ride while it’s here.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – Most of my friends know this about me, but I’m in love with this show. Now this might seem like a radical change of pace and in many ways it is, but I guess the theme this time around is morality and virtues. The later seasons of this delightful cartoon begin to pitch each pony into situations that really blur the lines. Friendship demands kindness but how far should that go? Take Fluttershy’s It’s Not Easy Being Breezies episode where her hospitality to a gaggle of mystical fairy-sized ponies causes them to almost miss getting home. She wants to treat them well but also wants what’s best for them…she has to make a choice and eventually steps out of her comfort zone and tells them in less-than-friendly terms to get out and do their thing. Or Pinkie Pie’s Pinkie Pride episode (featuring Weird Al as a guest voice) where she learns that making her friends laugh can’t be her one goal…because when it is she gets competitive and soon it stops being funny. They learn. We learn. Friendship is magic.

So there’s that! Lots of moral/amoral choices being made. Fascinating, all of it. I recommend checking them all out!

At the very least, thanks for reading.