Eye of the Beholder

Designing for your players is tough – especially if your players aren’t always on the same page as one another (let alone on the same page as the GM). When I recently made up a questionnaire for a game I’m planning, I asked “what do you, as a player, want from this game?” For three players, I got widely these different responses…

One player wanted to “fight things we don’t usually fight.” OK, sounds like an easy request. “Like and aboleth or something.” Oh. Damn. We’re starting at second level, by the way…

Another player said they wanted elements of horror, terror, and the “alien.” Awesome. He too spoke up about fighting unusual creatures, or at least avoiding typical fantasy game tropes and villains.

The third guy left the question blank. I hope I am reading it right that he’s open for anything, rather than wanting “nothing” out of the game.

Your players have desires, whether veteran gamers or first time noobs. They want the heroic battle against the dragon, or the race against time to save the world, or in this case, the chance to do something they’ve never done before. I had a story in mind before I asked about their characters. Then they told me about their characters. The story I had in mind went back into the mental filing cabinet, waiting for another opportunity.

Instead, now I am designing for what the players want. You have to find a balance between your story and their characters and their desires. If they don’t want to save the world, you can still destroy it, but you’re going to have to figure out something else to entertain them along the way (actually, that’s backwards – figure our their stories first, and if there is a way to blow up the world in the process, work it in if you must).

Along the way, don’t be afraid to beg, borrow and steal (and cheat, too!) your way to a great story. Borrow ideas from published sources, reshape them to suit the group’s needs and tastes. You’re only limited by how far you can stretch your own imagination.

Creation is in the eye of the beholder – and the eyes of its eyestalks too. The lesson here is don’t forget to see things from the player’s perspective… and from other views, too. Imagine your world, then imagine it from the perspective of the monsters, blacksmiths, kings and beggars that live there.

Just beware the disintegrate ray.


The Dynamics of Design

So, far be it from me to never learn anything from opening my big mouth, and I’ve been thinking lately about how I go about role playing game design – be it and adventure, a campaign, a character, and so on.

How much do you design from experience, and how much do you design from a standpoint of doing something different? Sub-question: If you’re designing from the standpoint of something different, is it different for you (something you’ve never tried before), or is it a reaction to things you commonly see (something you feel is unrepresented)?

I ask because, in my latest rant, I politely suggest that one could change the minor details of an adventure of other product to suit one’s desires. But how often do you do that?

For me, the answer is “quite often.” I have no problem with changing a product, however slight or large, to fit my gaming needs and to fit the personality of my group. I will fudge details just like I will fudge rolls, if it suits the needs of the story I want to tell.

Case in point: Monte Cook’s Ptolus, one of my all-time favorite RPG products, has some setting details that I don’t particularly like. My solution? Creatively throw them out/replace them with other details. The way I did this was pretty simple. I advanced the timeline of the world.

What I was left with was a Ptolus where the empire had fallen, technology had leapt forward in a big way, the planar focus of the world had shifted mightily, crime lords waged open war in the city, and one whole district (the Warrens) had been swept clean by city officials and is now the home of outcast races like Aasimars, Tieflings, and creatures who use Psionics.

That’s some pretty heavy editing, with some far reaching consequences and ramifications for the setting – some I am sure I don’t even see yet. But, all in all, it was pretty easy – just took some creative energy to tie it all in together. It makes something as simple as changing a character’s gender or an adventure’s setting a cakewalk.

How and why do you change material you use? Is it a matter of taste, of wanting to do something new, of wanting to represent yourself and your desires for a product more clearly, or something else all together?


John Carpenter's "The Thing"

Of late, I have recently been on a kick to rectify some of my "card carrying geek" resume omissions. Things like, oh, the movie Conan the Barbarian (which I coincidentally watched the week after the Governator's affair became news - so good timing on my part), or reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, which I'll follow up with reading Saga of Old City by Gary Gygax.

There's too many things to really fill out your geek resume completely, but hey, at least I'm trying to hit some of the bigger ones. One movie I had neglected for a long time was John Carpenter's "The Thing." I liked Carpenter's other work (Starman, anyone?), love Kurt Russell (Tombstone, anyone?) and shit, the two of them together? Solid gold! (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, EVERYONE!!!)

So, The Thing had to be awesome, right? Well... yeah, it kind of is. It doesn't hold up well in comparison to today's sci-fi thrillers or creepy crawly flicks. But, for it's time, it was a pretty cool use of technology, puppetry, and movie monster magic.

Of course, it's a Carpenter movie, so there's some cheese, some quite liberally spread around (the Norris head running around after Norris gets fragged always gets me in stitches). And I am still a little unclear as to who all is an alien, and when... even after the blood test, I think with the ending of the flick, you could make a case for both the incomparable Keith David (love that guy!!) and Kurt Russell are aliens. Are both aren't... or one is, but which one? MacCready (Russell) is suspect at points in the movie. Childs (David) disappeared before the final act, before strangely returning at the end.

What is a good movie review supposed to say? You should watch the film -- especially if you like science fiction, horror, alien movies, tension, and cheesey '80's movie magic. Oh, and you definitely need to watch it if you like John Carpenter and/or Kurt Russell. It's actually a pretty gripping movie - you get sucked in pretty quick, with the suspense/confusion building from the first scene and carrying the movie through to the end.

Be prepared for some creepy and gross effects -- if gore is not your thing, well, avoid this one. Most of the cheesey gloss is drippy, bloody, and tentacly. Yes, tentacly. But not in an anime/hentai kind of way, thank Zeus.

On my official Geek Must Die Movie Scale (that I just now made up), I give it a rating of 3.5 out of 5 Heads of Tiamat. Check it out!