Category Archives: Game WISH

Game Wish 26 Ginger’s Wish

Game Wish 26

Ginger’s Wish this week:

What three fantasy books/series would you recommend to other gamers? Why? What particularly makes them suitable for gamers to read? Would they be particularly good for novices or better for experienced gamers?

Lots and lots of possibilities and choices. I will exclude the obvious ones, Ginger already noted them anyway (although, Ginger, I don’t think The Black Company is obvious, I only came across them a couple of years ago myself, but then the balance of my fictional reading skews more toward SF than Fantasy than many of our coterie (that in itself could be a blog entry for me to talk about)). I will also restrict myself to ones in print, stuff that you, the readers can pick up in a store today, or grab on amazon right now.

The Dying Earth
, by Jack Vance

Before the Lord of the Rings, nearly before The Hobbit, certainly before fantasy was cool, there was Jack Vance. One of the first F/SF books to be published in hardcover, it has become a seminal work of the genre, and only in the last couple of years been in print again, so newer readers disinclined to the library might not have read it and might not have a copy.

Get it as soon as you can. If not for The Dying Earth, there might not be fantasy gaming, or at least not as we know it, Gary Gygax took much from Vance in his creation of D&D. The magic system, especially, but colorful characters, quests, adventures, Vance was as much an influence on Dungeons and Dragons as Tolkien was. Gamers will find ideas for spells, personalities for characters, and the belief that their creations can reach for lofty goals. The characters in the Dying Earth range in power levels, something reflected in the new Dying Earth RPG, and thus it shows that characters need not be static, and can grow and evolve in ability. For GMs, the Dying Earth is a baroque, ornate universe that they can mine for ideas for their own.

2.The Vlad Taltos Novels by Steven Brust

If a nonsensical and impossible statement as “The Heir to Zelazny” can be made, Steven Brust might be that Heir (although Steve better look at his rear view mirror, Gaiman’s been doing great work in Zelazny’s vein too lately). Draegera started its life as a role playing universe, so with that in mind, gamers especially fall in love with Brust’s universe and characters. Mobsters! Poisonous Jhereg! Sorcerers and Swashbucklers! Between the 17 Great Houses, the Easterners and others, Brust shows how a myriad templates of characters can get along and exist together, and work together, and scheme against each other. Gms can mine ideas for byzantine plots and twists and turns, too. There isn’t an official RPG per se, but there are Mushes and PBEMS based on this work, and rightly so. And the writing is just damn entertaining.

3.Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

Sorry Jordan fans, but the best Epic fantasy series being done today, in my opinion, is George R.R. Martin’s series, now up to its third volume with the fourth due in April.
Loosely based on a world reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, the series revolves around that chestnut of many Amber games, a Throne War. Several scheming families and individuals try and take advantage of the power vacumn, with pyrotechnic results. There are even villains that, if you don’t actually like, you can sort of root for, their motivations and internal thoughts give them sympathy and character. (Tyrion Lannister, to name just one). And that is perhaps the greatest strength, and what gamers should look for–characters to care about. The idea that a “villain is a hero in his own mind” comes true here, everyone has shades of grey, and the villains themselves do things with the best of (their) intentions. There is not much magic about, by the standards of the genre anyway, and I even with disgust read a review which scolded Martin for using a fantasy universe rather than the “real thing”. Ignore that, and enjoy some of the best writing in the genre today. (The third book in the series was nominated for a Hugo, considering how rarely fantasy novels are nominated for the award, that is high praise indeed from the fans).

Game WISH 25 How do

Game WISH 25

How do you introduce a new PC to an existing group? Is it best if the GM takes special measures of some kind to integrate the new and existing characters, or should the GM just allow them to meet and let the players put it all together? Does it matter whether the game is oriented towards character cooperation or character competition?

I have had a lot of experience with dealing with new PCs into existing groups, since in the six years of Strange Bedfellows, I have added quite a number of characters (not all of which sadly have remained). I prefer to allow the new PC to be drawn into the fabric of what other players are doing (or more specifically the poles of existence) in a gradual and slow fashion. Let the character start at a distance, and be drawn into what is happening by degrees. This allows the new player and PC to get acclimated to the pace of my game and the cadence of how I do turns, so when they go live and meet other players, they are already up to speed on how I handle matters. Also, sometimes, its very hard to retcon old relatioships into an old and established set of Player characters. Its easy to do in the early stages of a game where the relationships are fluid, but if, say, Jenn or Ginger were to want to join SB, I would start them at a distance.

I could cite numerous examples from SB. Nicole, playing in a PBEM for the first time, had her PC Dagny start in her home shadow (which was basically Earth) and was drawn into the web of things by her hitherto unknown father, Luke. Via Luke, Dagny got to meet Malachi, went to Amber and met many more PCs. A much more recent example is Deb’s PC Leigh. She has been doing her own thing, only recently coming to the Courts from her own shadow…and in the last couple of turns, she has met the signature NPC of Strange Bedfellows, Valerian, and I suspect that meeting some PCs will be forthcoming after that.

I also admit that starting new PCs a little apart from everyone else allows me, the GM to get to know the player and what they like to do with their characters. To cite one more example, I learned of Rob’s penchant for dialogue and active minor NPCs when I started William in a shadow that he had been ensconced in for some time. But he, too, eventually ran into other PCs, even though he was out of shadow. A PC practically handed me the tools to send him to where William was, and I took advantage to introduce them together.

Game Wish 24

Game Wish

Game Wish #24: Retcons

Do you think that retroactive continuity is a good or bad thing in games? Is it a valuable GM/player tool or a cheat? Are there appropriate places for using it? Inappropriate places? How have you successfully used it or seen it used in a game? How about unsuccessfully?

The question of retcons comes back to an idea of mine. The idea that, if a player does not witness or gain direct knowledge of an event in the game, that makes it a little less real, a little more malleable, a little more open to revision on my part. Consequently, I prefer to have PCs be involved in big events, to influence them, to put their imprimatur upon them, even if it is indirectly, by design of second-order actions. It makes the game more real for me. If I wanted a bunch of events that the players didn’t influence, I’d be writing a novel.

So I do retcon, carefully but willingly, especially when it won’t crimp another player’s story. I absolutely refuse to invalidate what the players have done by retroactively changing what happened. I’m not talking about an immediate change, in say, a face to face game where heated tempers can lead to actions that are immediately “taken back”. That’s more GM adjundication than retconing.

Let me give you an example of how I retconned in Strange Bedfellows. When Jayson met the NPC Cyllene in Strange Bedfellows, I got one of those feelings as soon as they met. I think the GMs know what i mean when I had the sudden inspiration…the sudden realization that these characters have and must have met before. So, I decided that they had and developed a backstory in order to establish just where and when Jayson and Cyllene had met. The upshot was that the PC suddenly had a new link to a NPC, and aspects of other NPCs–mainly Jayson’s mother Sand and her brother Delwin, came into focus, as I thought about and decided just how they had reacted to the first meeting. So I managed to enrich the game universe by a judicious change in the past of a NPC.

I admit, though, that I had been taking a page from retconning that a GM did to me. Marcus, back when he was in Rob Bergeron’s Shadow War, wound up getting mixed up in a plot thanks to the GM retconning a short story I had written explaining how he had gotten his shapeshifting weapon. He did it with my approval, saying that Marcus had really had a relationship with a woman who later turned out (in the present) to be a Chaosian and a would-be pawn of Oberon. I didn’t mind the retconning of Marcus’ history, since it wound up making an even richer present, in effect.