Monday, July 30, 2012

Song of the week, other stuff.

My latest Biblical Reference post was delayed because of that Agony Booth article, but also for another reason.  You see, the article is going to be talking about creating a captain for a Star Trek game and I had thought I might provide links to Star Trek games currently running to show examples of the sorts of captains you do not want to be running.  But then after I started creating the links I realized that these guys are my peers and to single them out like that is pretty cruel.  Sure there was the whole thing with Drew last year but I consider that an exception due to the bad blood that had formed between us.  These other guys?  What had they ever done to me?  And one or two of the ships I had considered using as examples of bad ads?  I played in a couple of those games, I could come across looking petty and vindictive.

The problem with the internet is the apparent security of anonymity, of being able to say what you want about whomever you want and not have to suffer any consequences.  Well, potentially I could suffer consequences in regards to the gaming community but even if I did not I don't think it is right for me to be pointing fingers at guys who are just trying to have a good time and mocking them for running a game in a manner I don't agree with.  Does it frustrate me that I see Star Trek games with 24 year old captains or ships run by rear admirals?  Does it annoy me to see Marines sprinkled on these ships like a green fungus?  Yeah, sure.  Still no reason for me to be kicking dirt on these guys' shoes.

So anyway, I am in the process of re-writing the article so it is a bit friendlier and instead I will simply talk about how I go about creating NPCs and try to keep the vitriol to a minimum.  In the mean time, today is a very special song of the week as it is Kate Bush's Birthday.  Kate is 54 years young and still going strong, having released a new album last year on the heel of a remix album.  Below is the first song I heard of hers in which I knew it was her: Wuthering Heights, the new vocal, which was featured on her 1986 greatest hits album, The Whole Story:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Song of the week, other stuff

So Song of The Week is late because I was busy with some other stuff.  Some of you may have noticed a review of the TAS episode The Survivor.  That is a project I had come back to off and on for, well, a long time.  I've mentioned before that humor is not something that comes easily to me so I wanted to really give it a shot.  The first piece of good news is I finally finished it.  The second is the guys at The Agony Booth are going to post it, which excites me because I am a big fan of their site.  For those of you who don't know, The Agony booth is a television and movie review site.  They started off doing text reviews but more and more they have branched into vlogs.  They still do text reviews, though.

Now, as for song of the week, I have chosen Wide Awake by Katy Perry.  I am not a Katy Perry fan, really.  I have nothing against her and from what I have heard and seen she seems like an all right person.  She does not go around bad mouthing people or makes an ass of herself (Sure, there was that time she dove into the giant cake but that is just entertainment.  To me true ass-hatery is just about anything Kim Kardashian does to get attention.).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Biblical reference, part three

If you just joined in, I had discussed in the creation of a role playing game how important preparation is, and how employing the practice of a television series bible would be a good idea.  A television bible is essentially a guide book for writers and producers that help to establish a show's settings as well as the parameters for characters and the overall tone of the series.  And while I had intended to discuss the creation of NPCs this week I think addressing the issue of tone is more important as we have already begun to establish what that will be for the game.

Tone is very important because the elements your game emphasizes attracts a certain kind of player.  If you choose or imply the wrong tone then you may find yourself fielding numerous applicants who will not fit your game's vision.  We have already gotten a good start in regards to tone by choosing a specific type of ship: the Luna class.  The Luna is an explorer that can take care of itself, so when players check out your web site (Or if you do not have a web site at least read your ads describing your game and seeing what ship you have chosen) then they can get a general impression what sort of game you wish to run.  And this is where fleets come in because from what I have seen of a majority of fleets these days the overall tone seems to be of a more militaristic sort.  Just being part of a fleet is going to give people the idea your game is going to be nothing but big 'sposions.

And the setting of the game can also determine the tone.  For example, if I chose to say the ship was stranded far from home it would imply a game of desperation, of privation.  A game where the ship's very survival is at doubt on a day-to-day basis due to a lack of support, a lack of replacement crew, an inability to replenish key supplies like shuttle craft or photon torp-

...Oh.  Well, never mind, then.  Being stranded thousands of light years from Earth is easy!

In all seriousness, one of the reasons I decided to place this new game in "busier" part of space was due in large part to practical issues.  Star Trek games are always losing players and realistically if your game was taking place hundreds of light years away, where would your replacement players' characters come from?

So I have chosen not to be part of a fleet, I have chosen an explorer, and in my ads I will focus that I want to run a game taking place in the Alpha and Beta quadrants.  How else can I establish the tone?  I will stress in my ad(s) that my game will focus on "adventure and exploration" but these terms can be a big generic.  I might be tempted to be more specific but an ad should never be too wordy.  Too large and people will likely not bother to read the whole thing, intimidated by the sheer weight of your verbosity.  Think of it like writing a resume; too short and your work experience and knowledge appears anemic.  Too long and you lose your prospective employer's interest.

What else?  I have come to notice over the years how some GMs will differentiate their games by the departments they choose.  I will not address the various departments seen in The Original Series and instead I will focus on the departments shown on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager as this is the era our game is taking place in.  In The Next Generation the primary departments were First Officer (for simplicity's sake we are going to call the position of XO a department head), Engineering, Operations, Tactical/Security, Counseling and Medical.  Helm and Science officers were seen but did not have apparent department heads (Presumably they answered to Operations and/or the XO directly).  In Deep Space Nine there was no Engineering Officer (Well, O'Brien wore two hats; on the station he was Operations, on the Defiant he was the Engineering officer), there was a Science officer, a Counselor was not added until season seven, and when Worf came to the series his job was referred to as "Strategic Operations Officer", which in largely meant he got to act as Tactical officer on the Defiant (To me Worf's presence on Deep Space Nine had always been an extended guest appearance) or command it.  There was no official Tactical officer (On DS9, the station, anyway), a Security officer appeared briefly (Eddington, an awesome character who later turned out to be a Maquis operative) and there was a civilian constable.  When Voyager came along we saw a return to a more traditional line up, with a lack of counselor and the helmsman gaining a more prominent role.  And this guy:

I swear, some of Rick Berman's creative decisions baffle me.  Co-producer Jeri Taylor does not get a free pass, either.  But while I could write entire articles as to the creative failures and missed opportunities Voyager presents I shall pass.  Others do an excellent job of that.

What does all this mean?  It means that when it comes to running a game a GM does not have firm precedents where department heads are concerned.  This has led to GMs adding all manner of both canon and non canon departments.  I have seen Intelligence officers, Marine commanders, fighter wings, Strategic Operations officers, Diplomatic officers, Civilian affairs.  I have seen GMs add Chief of The Boat for some reason.  All these extra departments only serve to do two things.  The first is the gaps caused in failing to fill these departments (and trust me, there are always gaps) make the game look anemic and unpopular, under staffed.  The second is these departments are largely redundant and unnecessary.  Diplomatic corps?  A counselor can easily double as a diplomatic officer; we saw Deanna Troi do that on The Next Generation.  And besides, the job of diplomacy is usually handled by the command staff anyway.  Kirk and Picard were always hands on when it came to diplomatic matters, or they were ferrying an ambassador around.  Intelligence officer?  What is that, exactly?  A spy?  Sounds fine if your game is one centered more around espionage, but what is he supposed to do during regular missions like exploration? As for Civilian Affairs, I would think if there were civilians on board a ship they would answer directly to the Operations officer or First officer so I fail to see why you would need some sort of head there.  And while having civilians made sense on DS9 and The Next Generation I think any ship smaller than a Galaxy class is not going to have many civilians.

Marines?  Hell no.  Marines are not needed.  At all.  I have already made my feelings abundantly clear on how I feel about Marines in Star Trek (Real World Marines are okay in my book.  I just do not think they belong in the Star Trek universe.  So if you are a Marine, please do not take offense.  Please.  I bruise really easily and cry like a little girl when punched.).   Anything Marines do can be handled by security officers, this has been true since The Original Series and has been supported right up through JJ Abrams' new movie. Fighter Wings?  Unless your game is just glorified Wing Commander, why bother?  And both in a game suggests a blatantly militaristic tone.

Keep it simple. That is what I am going to do.  I choose to use a First Officer, Operations, Medical, Engineering, Tactical/Security, and Helm.  I do not need any counselor and if one appears on my ship it is going to be an NPC.  Counselors were a bad idea from the get go, part of Gene Roddenberry's desire to make The Next Generation a future where there is no conflict that can't be resolved by getting in touch with our feelings.  Civilians are unnecessary.  So what I am doing is essentially taking what I feel are the best aspects from all three series and trimming the fat.  This has the benefit of establishing the game will not have a military-centric tone (something Marines and fighter wings strongly imply) and it will be easier to fill out, roster wise.

Now, it is possible that you might come across a player with a unique or seldom used idea.  A civilian scientist, for example.  A specialist of some sort.  If the character seems to be interesting and playable and you think you can handle it, then I say go for it.  If Star Trek has taught me anything then it is diversity makes for interesting fiction.  It is when that diversity descends into ridiculous cliche that I disapprove.

How else can I help to establish the tone?  Well, aside from your ad, setting and the other parameters of your game, tone can best be established by your NPCs and the villains and obstacles you will be throwing your players' way.  Next week, barring any other delays, I will provide a sample NPC: Captain Devin Hadenbeer...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Song of the week

I had heard Alannis Morisette's cover of this song and considered posting it, but then I realized Alannis already had an appearance on Song of the week, and while she does a good cover the original version is still better to my ear.

I give you Seal, Crazy:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Biblical Reference, part two

Last week I discussed the framework by which you might create a game, by creating a “bible” much like producers might in crafting a television series.  So we set about creating a new Star Trek game.  We chose which universe to set it in, the era, the physical location (what part of the universe and the ship it would take place on).  Now I had intended to go right into the part about creating NPCs, but upon reflection I think I should touch upon an issue that is mostly unique to Star Trek games, and that is the existence of fleets.

Let me explain what a fleet is.  A fleet is an organization of self important individuals who give themselves ranks like Admiral and titles like JAG.  They form a bureaucracy and then go about telling you how to run your game.  I had always wondered why anyone would submit to such nonsense and it was not until recently that I realized why.  You see, for me running a game was pretty simple and straightforward in that I had all the tools at my disposal.  I had an html editor (Netscape Composer, an admitted dinosaur now.), a free web host, and Yahoo Groups.  I never needed a fleet and my self sufficiency created a blind spot in regards to my point of view .  But there are those out there that for one reason or another are incapable or unwilling to create their own web sites, to do their homework where web hosting is concerned, and are content to allow someone at a fleet to do the heavy lifting for them.  All they have to do is submit to their authority.

I refuse to submit to anyone’s authority.

I am a free man!

In retrospect that may be why I find myself a much better GM than I do player.

So the question you have to ask yourself after you have decided to run a Star Trek game is, do you wish to bow before someone else’s authority-

Kneel before Zod!

and be someone else’s pawn in exchange for them granting you a slicker looking presentation for your game, or do you wish to take the high road and be your own GM?  Web sites are nice but they are not critical.  You can run a game using only Yahoo Groups or a message board of some sort.  Just because the Nova system employed by a majority of Star Trek games looks nice it does not necessarily mean it is a better system, especially when what comes with it are the chains of oppression.

As for how message boards work, a nice person at the Ultimate RPG Owners Survival Guide had this to say about in in response to my query:

I own a message board (forum) based community over at -- I'm more than happy to answer any questions.

For starters, forums are more organized than an email list - I've got something like 20 campaigns running at once and 159 subforums. Trying to do all that with email lists would be a management nightmare. Forum software can be hosted by you or by a third-party company, but if they're offering free forums you'll probably have to deal with ads. I use PHPBB3, which is open source--allowing me to modify it at the code level as needed. It's my opinion that roleplaying games benefit a lot from having a website, especially one with a wiki to keep track of your RP's growing shared imaginary universe. If you've already got a webhost for that, adding a forum is relatively easy. Most forum software has email notifications available, so when a new post is made, players can be informed of it.

Much appreciated, Wes.

If you are an aspiring GM joining this group might be beneficial.  These are peers, men and women who have dealt with the sorts of issues you might deal with in running a game.  It never hurts to ask for a little guidance when you feel lost.

Now okay, maybe “chains of oppression” is a bit much.  You can, after all, quit a fleet and transfer your ship to another one.  I have seen it happen.  Drew, a GM I hold in contempt and who I have written about here in the past, is on his third fleet.  I recently quit a game, the USS Andoria in part because of the GM deciding to swap fleets for no good reason I could see (In fact, when I first joined the game I had no idea it was part of a fleet in the first place!).  So it is not like you are under some sort of obligation to stick around.

The point is, you do have options if you so choose to remain independent, all it takes is a bit more effort.  Next week I am going to delve further into the set up of our game bible and rather than talk about the creation of GMPCs and NPCs as I had originally intended I am instead going to talk about another subject.  That subject is tone...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Song of The Week

Split Enz was a band from New Zealand alternative rock band that was around during the seventies and eighties.  After the group broke up some members went on to form the far less cool Crowded House.

This is my favorite song from the band (It stuns me that radio stations would play their other hit, I Got You, over and over again and yet would not touch this one.), and this video is notable for being one of the very first aired by Mtv back in August of '81.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Biblical reference, part one

Starting a new game is no easy task and it is one that an aspiring GM should not tackle lightly.  A good game should be carefully prepared, the groundwork laid out before the GM even considers advertising for it.  By way of example I use the idea of a series bible, a guide book a television producer might use to guide him and his writers and directors in producing the series.  Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski used one of these series bibles to good effect.  He did not adhere to it religiously, rather it was a guideline that was modified as necessary.  A GM would do themselves a favor if they followed much the same model.

I have been pondering running a new Star Trek game, so let me set up my own campaign bible.  Now some of this initially will seem simple and obvious to the experienced GM but I feel it important to assume anyone reading this has never, ever run a game and that taking this step by step is important.  Now, the first thing I would want to do is establish the sett-

No, wait a second.  If we are talking about a Star Trek PBEM the first question you must ask yourself is, do you want to be part of a fleet?  The short answer is "no".  Some day I might write an article detailing all the reasons I think fleets are Bad.  But for now I have decided for my new game I do not need to be part of a fleet.

So, second thing: setting. It takes place in the Star Trek universe, of course.  But which one?  We have two, now.  I am going to have it take place in the original universe, post Nemesis, the final TNG film (I will not go into the merits, or lack thereof, of that film.  Others have done a more than satisfactory job of pointing out what a complete waste of time and money that film is).  Second, where will the campaign take place in the Star Trek universe?  Voyager, for example, took place in the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years away from Earth.  Deep Space Nine largely took place around the station of the same name, with excursions into the Gamma Quadrant via the worm hole.  The Next Generation...Well, TNG took place wherever the writers and producers needed it to.  For me, I am going to have the series take place in the Alpha/Beta Quadrant much like The Next Generation largely did.

Second, we need to choose a ship.  A ship says as much about the game as it does the NPCs and captain.  It gives experienced players an idea of what the game is going to be like, what adventures they may enjoy.  My original idea had been to use the comic book Shock Rockets as a basis of the game:

The problem is, very, very few people know what the heck Shock Rockets is and the interest in the concept is not very strong.  Furthermore, I tried running this game twice already and both times it failed.  So this idea is not going to work.  I do not like the idea of a space station because they are static and ultimately the PCs are going to wind up on a starship sooner or later anyway.  It happened on Deep Space Nine, it happened on Babylon 5.  So we are going with a ship of some sort.  But which ship?  While I love the design, I do not like the idea of using a Sovereign class-

because the ship class is supposed to be rare, and honestly it is a little too big for what I have in mind.  I do not like the Defiant class-

because the ship is too small and is not supposed to operate any length of time away from a support base.  I never liked Voyager and the Intrepid class-

and I never warmed to the Enterprise D-

so the most recognizable canon designs from that era of Star Trek are out.  Fortunately, the Star Trek universe have a great many ships to choose from.  If I choose an older vessel like the Centaur-

 or a science vessel like the Nova-

 it suggests the campaign should take place in a low risk environment (Although I attempted to run a game where a Centaur class was stranded in a distant part of space, something I will touch upon at a later date).  If I choose a vessel like the Prometheus-

it implies the game will have a very militaristic feel.  There are plenty other ships to choose from and there are a couple that I really like, such as the Ambassador class-

And the Akira-

but really I would like to step outside of the box and go for a design that is not canon, the Luna class:

I love the look and I love it's multi-mission function.  It is a well armed science vessel designed for long range exploration.  But now this brings me to the next issue I must address: what material from Star Trek will I use, both canon and non-canon?  Star Trek possesses a tremendous amount of material, from six television series to eleven motion pictures and dozens and dozens of paperback novels, novels of which I have only read a fraction.  So, which novels do I include, which canon sources?

Ah, you may say.  If it is canon, it must count!  Nay, say I!  I refuse to acknowledge Enterprise exists in any campaign world I create.  Enterprise was garbage.  It was a poorly produced, poorly written, poorly acted prequel series that did absolutely nothing good for the Star Trek franchise as a whole other than to finally(!) convince the execs at Paramount to get rid of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga as producers.  So Enterprise is out.  The Animated Series?  Eh, it was inoffensive but except for one episode I am going to ignore it (Not that the one episode is likely going to impact my game.).  That leaves The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  Now, what about the books?  I read the first couple Titan books and they were all right, and I have read many of Peter David's New Frontier series and those are awesome reads.  But neither series contain anything that I deem necessary to me in running a game.  Also, it would be unfair to players to assume they have read these books.  Have some grasp of the Star Trek series and movies?  Yes, absolutely.  But the various novels?  Not everyone reads, least of all the same material you have.

So we have established the setting for the game.  Next we need to provide prospective players with guidelines and expectations regarding their characters and the best way to do that is to provide them with NPCs and GMPCs as examples.  Next week we will tackle the development of the ship's captain as well as address the issue of PC creation...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Song of the week

I am working on a couple articles, I swear!   I may have one done, post 4th of July.  In the mean time, here is the song of the wee.

According to Wikipedia Niki & The Dove is an electropop trio from Sweden.  That is really all I know.  I listened to a couple of their other tunes and while I do not think I am ever going to be a hardcore fan I can appreciate this tune.  It reminds me of Kate Bush a little bit, I think more because of the high notes lead singer Malin Dahlström hits rather than things like song arrangement.