Friday, February 27, 2009

A Kindred Spirit

Remember how I said there would be no Friday post? Clearly, I was mistaken. Thanks to the wonder of autoposting, I am blogging from the past, to you in the future. Today's post was written on Thursday, but you all will see it on Friday, while I am otherwise occupied.

I was surfing the blogosphere when I came across this incomprehensibly foreign (Chinese? Japanese? The writing looks like some Asian language, but I have no idea which) (also, WARNING: NOT ALWAYS SAFE FOR WORK) blog, where I found this image:

I can feel for this guy, I really can. It sucks to be unemployed. This poor dude has it even worse than I, which leads me to count my blessings: I'm able-bodied, with a nice apartment and a beautiful girlfriend, I'm not alone, and I can find ways to be paid for my passions. All this is more than can be said for this guy.

This post is a creative prompt, not a bitch session. So, you know the drill. I want to hear about games, characters, setting, stories, and anything else this image inspires in you. Some thoughts to consider:

  • What happened to this poor guy to put him in this pitiful situation?
  • Was processing data always his purpose, or is that all he thinks he's good for thanks to his injuries.
  • I'm not only interested in his past; I also want to hear about this robot's future. What happens next? Does he find a job processing data for energy? Is he ever repaired?

Robots are up there with paladins, vampires, ghosts, and tarot cards, a theme I find compelling, and like werewolves, they deserve a post of their own one day, and will get one. In the meantime, I'm interested to see what you all come up with.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Science Discovers Something New and Absurd!

There's a title you don't see all the time.

In this post, my fellow blog Cranky Fitness reports on the topic of Zzz-Mail, or sleep emailing (originally reported on by the Fortean Times). You should read this post. It's pretty amusing. The basic idea is that this woman apparently woke up to discover that she had written several emails inviting friends to come to a party.

"Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, Bring wine and caviar only."

My question is - this being a creative prompt and all - is what can you do with this? Throw me ideas that have something to do with the phenomenon of zzz-mail: characters, games, stories, whatever.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Redlines II: Son of Redlines

It's that time again!

My redlines came in on Tuesday, but I opted to let you all know about Erika Moen's brilliant comic instead. Today, however, I'm out of excuses, so a redlines reflection it is.

As expected, this contract's redlines were a little thicker than last times. One section is pretty solid, with only the usual comments - an awkward sentence here, a little passive voice there, a math error (long story), over here, and so on - but the other will need some serious revisions. My boss and I are going to have some brainstorming sessions as soon as I finish the easy updates on Section One. I'm not stressed about my ability to succeed, I'm only slightly stressed about time. My final drafts are due March 1st, and I'm going to be crazy busy all weekend. That means I have today and tomorrow to finish my edits... exciting!

I know I can do it, though. A little stress is good for me.

As usual, my boss is awesome: a warm, friendly professional who treats me like a professional. He lets it show in his redlines, which makes them very rewarding to read, even when it means I have a lot of work ahead of me.

That's it for today's post. I have a lot of work ahead of me, since I need to stay current in my job search and make progress on the redlines.

Before I close today's post, however, since this is an update, I want to let you all know that it is incredibly likely that there will be no post on Friday. If there is a post, it will be very short. The busy weekend mentioned above begins on Friday and ends on Sunday. However, there will be a post tomorrow, and we will be back with more Burning Zeppelin goodness on Monday, as scheduled.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Slice of Life

Today's issue of Dar: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary is a good example of what life is like with the Abigail with several notable exceptions.

  1. In the real world, I'd be pulling all that stuff about tuck out of my butt.
  2. I am not British and the Abigail is not a lesbian who fell in love with a man.
  3. Neither does the Abigail have tattoos.
  4. I have a blog, not a comic diary, because...
  5. I can't cartoon worth a bent spoon.

However, Erika Moen totally can, and you should all start reading her comic right now. Although not particularly writerly - as Erika Moen is a cartoonist and doesn't talk too much about her creative process - Dar is eclectic, geek-driven (as you can clearly see from today's comic), and generally lots of fun.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Not Your Mamma's Barbies!

As of last night, I have watched all the Dollhouse there is, and I am now prepared to add my two cents to the seething pile of pennies, nickles, quarters and silver dollars that is the internet.

Let me begin by saying that I am not a huge Joss Whedon fan. Huge is too big a word. Large, or the more understated "significant," would be a better choice. I've enjoyed Whedon's work, but I think he has flaws: I think he has a hard time pacing his reveals, he can be startlingly unconscious when it comes to issues of gender and race (though I do have to give him credit for trying), and I don't like his methodology of character death at all. On the other hand, he has produced some brilliant characters, stylish and atmospheric settings, and wonderful stories, so I keep on coming back. I should also admit that I am currently wearing my Captain Hammer T-Shirt that the Abigail got me; make of it what you will.

Secondly, I am likewise not an enormous fan of Dollhouse's source material. I only ever played Shadowrun the once and it was disastrous - fun, but disastrous - and I've only read one of William Gibson's books, Pattern Recognition, his least cyberpunky by far. I've read nothing by Phillip K. Dick (though I did enjoy Blade Runner and the movie adaptations of Minority Report). In general, I prefer fantasy-flavored fantasy to science fiction flavored fantasy (I should link to a post about my personal definitions of science fiction and fantasy and where I got them, but I haven't written it yet), though there are exceptions.

All that being said: so far, I am loving the hell out of Dollhouse.

Dollhouse has everything it needs to have: guns, moral ambiguity, mystery, and sexy people. It knows the hell out of its source material, playing smoothly with themes of identity and humanity in the face of out-of-control technology in an atmosphere of glitz and grit and creeping paranoia. I can't wait for more.

From a writerly perspective, what is it about Dollhouse that has captured my attention so thoroughly?

I love the way Dollhouse lacks a clear villain. Everyone's guilty. The main character's former identity, Caroline, is clearly involved in something fishy; why else would she agree to sign away her selfhood for five years to escape? I don't think I need to explain what's morally ambiguous about the company that runs the Dollhouse and everyone who works for it. Even the FBI agent investigating the Dollhouse is a violent, bloody-minded son of a bitch; on the side of the angels, perhaps, but definitely not a good person. Even the show's bogey-man, the scalpel-wielding, gentle-doctor-carving Alpha is definitely more than he seems.

Without a clear villain, it's going to be less a matter of who's "right" than a matter of who's left when the Dollhouse-of-cards comes crashing down. Characters will have the opportunity to rise or fall by their choices, not who signs their paycheck or what color their shirts are.

I am also deeply struck by how stylish Dollhouse is. The director, writers, and cinematographers have done a very good job of setting the show in a hyper-real environment, like our world but just a little more. The highs are higher and the lights brighter, but the shadows are deeper and corruption is everywhere. The show pursues this style intensely and faithfully, producing a world that is subtly not our own, but nonetheless very real.

Dollhouse gets the Burning Zeppelin Stamp of Approval. I can't wait to see what happens next.

* * *

  • No formal questions today, but feel free to comment with your thoughts and feelings on Dollhouse or the qualifications I seem to use to judge media, both of which could lead to interesting discussions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Short Friday Post

At the end of yesterday's post I made a closing comment that I could gleefully write a story about a vampire paladin and his tarot-card reading ghost girlfriend. Well, Montgomery Mullen over at Paper and Dice got that started for me.

I am amused and honored beyond all reason. Mister Mullen, you have helped make a hard day very pleasant. I'm going to have to think about this for a while, and then (who am I kidding?) I'm going to have to pick up where he left off. Of course, I'll keep all of you informed on how this particular mad idea goes.

And all of you, if you don't already read Paper and Dice, go do so immediately! I can say without reservation that the author is an artist and a gentleman.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Never Drink... Dr. Pepper

You know what I haven't done in a while? Of course you do. I haven't done a genre post in a while, something in the lines of my discussions of tarot cards, paladins, and ghosts. In honor of the Vampire: the Requiem play-by-post game I am joining, The Smallest Gear (which could use more players, so if you're interested...), today I will write about vampires.

There was a time that I loved vampires. For reference, this was during high school. In college, our relationship cooled. I broke up with vampires my Junior year to date Exalted (and, you know, the Abigail), but while it was good, it was good. I didn't just play in Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action Role Play (LARP, for the uninitiated)... I ran a Vampire: the Masquerade LARP (in fact, Unmasqued is still running, though I haven't been on the Storytelling crew for years).

One of the reasons the vampires were fond of me is that I didn't like them for the same reasons everyone else did. Oh, sure, vampires are sexy, smooth, and full of a scrumptious blend of evil and sophistication (and, you know, blood). They are life-in-death and death-and-sex, the beast the puberty plants deep in all our souls.

I'm not going to keep going, because everyone knows this already.

To be honest, my love affair with vampires began with Anne Rice. And while the sexiness, the darkness, and the struggle against the inner monstrous were all great, what I loved was the tragedy of it. Something bad happened to you - you were seduced by the wrong girl, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and some guy dragged you off the street, you caught the eye of evil uncle Vlad - and then it's in you. You've got power (and sex and death), but now you've got a hunger, and there's only one way to feed it. What are you going to do now?

It's a theme I'm extremely fond of, though I haven't mentioned it before. I call it "Now What?" One moment changes everything, and how do you restructure your life now. In conventional fiction, the Now Whats are more conventional: your husband cheated on you, now what? You lost your job, now what? You're drafted by the army, now what? In fantastic fiction, the options are broader - your father is a mountain and your mother is a washing machine, now what? - but the spirit is the same. Everything is different, things you thought were never possible are at your fingertips, things you thought were sure are now impossible; what do you do next?

In other words, I like vampirism less as a metaphor for sex and more as a metaphor for disease. Is it any wonder that my character in The Smallest Gear is a former junkie, HIV+, transformed into a vampire by a tainted bloodline that can only feed in the infected?

The second theme I find present in vampires - and I know I've mentioned this before - is "The World of Transaction." Nothing is free, in the real world or in fantasy. Everything comes with a price. Some prices are worth paying, and some aren't, and figuring out which is which is the business of living your life. Vampires epitomize this, because they get so much, and they pay so much for it. Tremendous physical strength! Mesmerizing Eyes! Transformation! Immortality! All you need to do is give up your right to walk in sunlight and be a real part of the human world and play host to a ravening hunger for the blood of your fellow man. Sign here; satisfaction guaranteed.

So, at this point, my ideal story would be a vampire paladin and his tarot card reading ghostly girlfriend.

I'm reasonably sure that there's something wrong with me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Will Write For Food

Looking for work as a writer is a funny thing.

They say you can't find work as a writer, but that isn't entirely true. What's hard to do is get paid to do your own writing. There are lots of people out there who are willing to pay you to put their words on paper.

Most of my searching is done via Craigslist. Here is a small sample of the sorts of things I'll find on the "SF Bay Area Writing/Editing Job Classifieds":

Wed Feb 18

Copywriter for Benefit Cosmetics! - (financial district)
Writer for online course development - (santa cruz)

Tue Feb 17

enterprise software marketing - freelance - (SOMA / south beach)

Mon Feb 16

Seeking Freelance Technical Abstractor - (berkeley)
Instructional Designer Role-Play/Simulations (Ad Agency background) - (Cupertino)

The "Instructional Designer Role-Play/Simulations" one is a lot less interesting than it sounds. I don't think I applied for that one.

Of the jobs listed on a given day, I will find between zero and three or so jobs that I think I could do and stand a chance of getting. I'll fire off a salvo of emailed cover letters and attached resumes, make a note of the applications on my nifty organizational spreadsheet (a gift from the Abigail's father) and decide when to follow up with a phone call (if they were kind enough to supply a number) or a second email (much more likely), and that's it. Then, I throw myself into the "Education/Teachers Job Classifieds" and the "Marketing/Advertising/PR Jobs Classified." Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Of course, does anyone really get a job from Craigslist these days? Really?

So, I hedge my bets with conversations. They aren't really conversations, though. What they are is interviews. These aren't the kinds of interviews that get you jobs, though, at least not directly. They are what we call "informational interviews,"an hour to an hour and a half when one of the wise and lucky will agree to share their knowledge with the young, naive, and unemployed: me.

These are a lot more fun. I get to talk to exciting people about their wild and varied pasts. I get cool little hints, fun advice from the interesting and successful, and an excuse to buy myself a cup of coffee and a muffin at a fancy coffee house on Fillmore (if they're already friends of mine, sometimes the wise and lucky buy me lunch!). It's easy to have a good time with informational interviews. It's harder to avoid feeling down when they don't result in anything.

Of course, that's not all I do. I have wilder projects, things even less likely to result in a job than informational interviews, but much more fun.

For example, I blog. If I get a comment on this or another post offering me a job thanks to the sheer geeky brilliance of my prose, I'll take it. More rationally, I hope to build up a small tribe of fans, people who read my thoughts on writing, buy my fiction (when I'm published), and carry me on their shoulders towards success. Some writers have even managed book deals as a result of large online fandoms. Such coups are hard to manage, but they can happen, and if they can happen, they can happen to me.

Similarly, I have a super secret project. There will be no more on that until it's ready to be unveiled.

Ultimately, we are in a depression. Finding work is hard, as a writer, a marketer, a teacher, or anything else, and we all stagger on as best we can. If you can find a way to make part of your search fun, do it.

That's the best advice I can offer, and I'm open to any advice anyone else might have.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Making an Ass Out of You and Me Since 1983

Everyone makes assumptions. I studied a little social psychology in college, and this is one of those rare situations where I am confident enough in my knowledge to say "trust me." Our brains are designed to be as lazy as possible - it saves on energy - and only think hard when they really need to. Making assumptions - social psychologists call them "heuristics" - saves on energy. Some of our assumptions are good: if it's glowing bright red, it's hot and it will burn me, so I should be careful. Others are bad: if it's human shaped and has dark skin, it wants to rob me, so I should be careful. Assumptions can be blatant, like the ones I just described, or they can be subtle, pernicious little buggers that sneak into your daily interactions - and your writing - and annoy the heck out of me. No matter how smart, tough, and enlightened you think you are, your brain will do this. It's better to admit it and learn to compensate than it is to pretend it isn't happening.

Case in points, consider the two books I am reading right now: The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn and The Sword and the Dragon by Diane Duane. Both books contain characters of a variety of genders and sexual orientations, but they treat the issues differently.

A brief disclaimer: first of all, I have not actually finished either book, but I have made not insignificant progress in both. Such is the life of a blogger, however: you write when you have the idea, because you've promised your readers one post every weekday and you are going to delier come hell or high water. You can expect more in-depth reviews when the books are read all the way through. Secondly, I am really enjoying both books a great deal. So when I criticize, I do so fondly.

The Sword and The Dragon includes a homosexual pairing. We have a male magician who lives with his father and his son, struggling to master a particularly difficult form of magic. Off in the world his his "loved," a deposed prince who the magician is madly in love with. The opening adventure involves the magician riding off to rescue his beloved from a siege.

One of the things I love about The Sword and the Dragon was the fact that Duane stubbornly insisted on writing this relationship as no big deal. After all, the setting she had invented was one where sexuality was a non-issue. The world is not so much super-enlightened as it is a place where prejudice had settled on different targets. Much of the world's history, culture, and mythology are designed so that this assumption makes sense. Duane takes nothing for granted and builds her setting from the ground up, out of whole cloth.

On the other hand, we have The Wreck of the River of Stars. Again, The Wreck is a wonderful novel that I'm enjoying immensely. However, Flynn has done one thing that I consider a small mistake: he has applied modern day assumptions to a story taking place in the far future. We have a homosexual male character who exclusively likes young men (older teenagers) and a variety of female characters who are either feminine or markedly unfeminine, which is remarked upon by other characters. The book's take on gender and sexuality is very modern.

This is a story set in the far future. Does it really make sense for the inhabitants of a space ship however many hundreds of years in the future to make nearly the same assumptions about gender and sexuality that we do? I'd never accuse Michael Flynn of sexism or homophobia - not only would it be unfair and probably untrue, it's completely missing the point - but I will accuse him including modern assumptions in his setting without really working out the causes or consequences.

Do I like both books? Absolutely. Will I finish them? Definitely. However, The Sword and the Dragon is just ever so slightly superior. The setting is just that much better thought out.

In my writing, I endeavor to make my assumptions make sense. Especially if I am inventing a fantasy world, I take nothing for granted. No assumptions from the real world sneak past me, not if I can help it. I feel that that kind of diligence is the difference between a good setting and a great setting, and a great setting is one of those things that contributes to a really great story.

But in this, we writers are swimming against our own brains. It is a constant struggle not to make poor assumptions in writing, but worth it.

* * *

  • When have you encountered a story the assumptions of which were unpleasantly - or pleasantly - jarring?
  • Where have you struggled with assumptions in your own writing?
  • This last isn't a question: if you enjoyed this post, you should check my previous posts on Big Issues, which might entertain you.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Writer Pre-Fears

Today's post is two posts in one, meant to illustrate a point.

Although we make our lives with words, a remarkable number of writers - myself included - are extremely bad at using language to frame our experiences in a productive way. We focus on our fears and talk ourselves into a bad headspace. Worse, some of us manage to talk ourselves out of ever really trying. We write, but never try to get our writing published, or we give up writing altogether.

Both of the posts below are true. Which one do you prefer?

* * *

As you probably gathered from Fryday's post, the last day of the week was a mad writing dash (punctuated by Shabbat dinner and a brief babysitting stint with the one year old Stone twins). I wish I could say I made it just in time, but in actuality, I made it just after time. I fired off the email with my edited first draft at about 4:30 AM, 7:30 AM White Wolf time.

Now, this is 7:30 AM on a Saturday, so I'm not sure my boss actually noticed. And even if he did, I'm not sure he cared. That, however, does not stop me from being anxious.

It doesn't help matters that I don't think this is my best work. My first contract was very simple, concrete game stuff, the kind of thing I write for myself all the time for fun. This, however, was more abstract. I think I made a two errors that seem glaring now. First of all, I didn't hit one of the points my boss asked for. I just couldn't figure out how to fit it in so that it didn't seem tacked on. Secondly, of course, there's the technical lateness of it. I'm still kicking myself for that.

If you know me in real life, you probably already know that I am an anxious person by trade. I have awful images of boss man emailing me to say that due to my sloppy writing and four and a half (or seven and a half, depending on your point of view) hours of lateness, I am done with White Wolf - done! Worse, I imagine him not emailing me, just quietly never hiring me ever again. And another hope dies before it is ever really born.

I am reasonably sure that I am being unreasonable. My boss is not that sort of person. Missing one point of the many I was supposed to hit is not a big deal and can be fixed in the next round of writing. Four and a half hours (or so) is not a huge problem, especially since I still got the draft to my boss probably before he woke up in the morning, so unless he bothers to read the time stamp on the email (or, you know, this) he'll never know how late it was.

* * *

As I'm sure you guessed from yesterday's postlet, Friday was the culmination of a ridiculous week of writing. My first draft for White Wolf was due last night, and was delivered last night (technically, extremely early this morning). I am exhausted and ready for a rest.

I am not 100% happy with my first draft. Most of it is the usual first draft stuff. I'm looking forward to Matt's suggestions, because I think the stuff I wrote for this book could be really awesome with a round of edits. My greatest regret is this one point Matt requested. I couldn't find a way to hit it that didn't feel tacked on. If Matt asks for it, I'll get it in my next draft. If my stuff is good enough without it, I'll let it be. Given that this was my first time writing abstract game material - as opposed to the more concrete stuff I had to deliver for my last contract - I think I did a pretty good job. When the book comes out, I'll let you know which sections were mine, and you can let me know if you agree.

What I feel the need to reflect on the most is the mad crunch week. While it certainly was fun, it showed a lack of forethought. I'm going to have to plan my writing better next time to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Nonetheless, I survived and I'm looking forward to my redlines and, as always, my next contract. Life is much more fun with a project, and getting paid money is a nice perk. Until then, there's always my short stories, one of the two novels I'm working on, and, of course, my Super Secret Project.

Perhaps a vacation will be nice, after all.

* * *

Yeah, I'd pick the second one, too. It's funny how we tend to get caught up in our fears and anxieties and refuse to describe the world in such a way that it becomes, for us, a place we want to live in. Don't forget that a change of pace is only a few clever word choices away.

This week's motivational semantics brought to you by the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blogging 101: Post, Moron!

Thanks to a last minute babysitting job (my cousins are so cute!) and a looming White Wolf deadline (first drafts are due in... three and a half hours), there will be no Burning Zeppelin Experience today.

Tune in Monday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

100 Post Shuffle!

They said it couldn't be done. They said I couldn't do it, but it could and I did. The Burning Zeppelin Experience has reached one hundred posts. I win!

What do I win? Another hundred posts. Yay!

* * *

In honor of post number 100, I am going to lay out some of my guiding principles when it comes to all the forms of creativity we explore here: roleplaying, game design, writing, and blogging. I'll be honest, some of these principles are a reaction to some things I've consumed out there, and credit belongs where it is due. Specifically, I am strongly opposed to some of the principles and arguments espoused by Vincent Baker, creator of Dogs in the Vineyard and several other brilliant roleplaying games, and Ron Edwards, creator of Sorcerer - which I have never played - and The Forge, a foundational internet gathering place for independent game designers.

I'll get into my beef with Edwards and Baker later. For now, here are my principles as I see them right now:

  1. Art Wants to be Read
  2. Artists Want to be Paid
  3. Art Is What it Says it Is
  4. All Fun is Good
  5. Offense is Offensive - Alienation is Personal

Let me explain myself.

The first and the second are tied together. I will never, ever complain that something I wrote is brilliant, if only the fools would see, and I will never, ever complain that I am sullying my art by selling it, or adapting it to make it salable. Art is a mode of communication. What do we call people who try to communicate but can't get anyone to listen to them? We call them ineffective communicators. What is a writer who can't communicate? A bad writer.

I am not a bad writer. I will write so that I am understood. I will write so that people want to read what I have written. And, if I do write so that I am not understood or read, I will change how I write until I am. My goal is to create art, and art does not exist unless it is consumed.

As for the third, I do not like the word pretentious. More often than not, pretentious is simply used to be mean "bad." What the word actually means (according to is:

"Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified."

The "justified" is what bothers me. All too often the reason a work's claims are considered unjustified is its very nature.

"That book can't be meaningful, it's a roleplaying game!"

"That story can't be meaningful, it's a fantasy!"

"That painting can't be meaningful, it isn't a picture of Jesus!"

It is my principle that works of art get to say what they are, and then I accept that as part of the truth. Now, there might be more to the truth than that. A work of art can be what it says it is... and also be something else, for example. Alternately, it can be what it says it is an also suck. However, I will never accuse a work of art of claiming to be other than it is. The truth is always more complicated than that.

The third principle works like this: I will never claim that art you enjoy is somehow bad for you. As I implied above, I might argue that I don't like it and that it's utter crap, but if you find it meaningful and it brings you joy, then, well, who am I to argue?

The fourth principle is a huge challenge for me. I am forever tempted to say terrible things about how crap like Twilight or The Gossip Girls is going to ruin the world. I want nothing more than to prove that these books will be the downfall of society and have every single one fed to pigs, and then have the pigs shot, butchered, and fed to other pigs, who will then be also shot, burnt, loaded into a rocket, and fired into the sun... but I won't (also, I can't). At least, I'll try not to.

The final principal is a personal one. I will never say "I am offended by that!" for the following reason: offense is offensive. Offensive, as in the opposite of defensive. When I take offense at something you say or write, what I am saying is "that hurt me, and therefore you shouldn't say it."

Who the hell am I to tell you what to say, write, or think?

Alienation, however, is personal. What you say or write can make me feel bad, scared, angry, or alone, and those feelings are entirely valid. We can even talk about them. If, at the end of the conversation, you apologize and decide never to say or write those things again, well, I'll be a happy man. If not, I'll get over it. However, I am not justified in telling you what to do, and I never will.

Those are the principles of the Burning Zeppelin. Help me hold myself to them.

* * *

I'm sure I have readers who are huge fans of Vincent Baker and Ron Edwards, so I'd better explain where I disagree with them and quick. Before I do, though, I'd like to reiterate my respect for both men. They are writers of a very high calibre. Ron Edwards, in particular, is also the creator of an online game design community that has revolutionized the world of roleplaying games. I cannot stress enough that I don't condemn these people writers or human beings. However, they have each said something that really annoys me.

With Vincent Baker, it's simple. He wrote a post (which I wish I could find for you, but my Google-Fu is not up to the task) in which he told the members of his online community that they were "Not Safe Here." The idea was that fun is suspect. That people would be told that no matter how much they enjoyed their fun, it might be argued that their fun is bad, and that other fun would be better.

My stance is that enjoyment is subjective; the proof is in the fun. If you convince me to try your fun and I like it better than my fun, well, then you're right. But if I try your fun and I like my fun better, then you are wrong. Similarly, if it sells, it is good. If people read your book, buy your story, and play your game, it is a success. Its ideas are spreading through the world, communicating their content t humanity. Success is the only abstract marker of literary merit, and I respect it.

I know this makes it harder to talk about roleplaying games, but I don't really care. The best things in life are hard.

Ron Edwards, on the other hand, continues to annoy me with what is infamously known as the Brain Damage Argument. It's outlined in this series of posts, but I'm going to go with the version I heard in his interview with Theory from the Closet (you should know, in case there are any small inaccuracies).

The long and the short of Ron Edwards' thoughts is this: some games (specifically White Wolf's games as they were produced in the 90s) are bad because it is bad for you. It is bad for you because it gives you a malformed idea of fun and narrative. In the same way that abuse and trauma can reshape the brain in maladaptive ways, so to can a bad game lead to a misshapen sense of narrative. This is all well and good.

What is frustrating is Ron Edwards' circular logic and anecdotal foundation. Firstly, he has determined that White Wolf's games were not fun. If you played them (as I did) and had fun with them, then you were not really playing White Wolf's games. You were changing the games into something else - through rules alterations or particular gaming cultures - and then enjoying them. Secondly, his evidence for brain damage looks to me a lot more like one of the common traits of geekery. Blaming them on a certain kind of gaming is bit too much of a stretch.

Now, I give the man credit for not trying to tell me that I do have brain damage after all, I just haven't realized it yet. His attitude is, admirably, that if you were playing what you turned White Wolf games into and enjoying them, then, well, more power to you. However, I find his argument frustrating because of the sheer illogic of it. If you remove the a priori assumption that the games are bad, the whole thing falls apart.

So, my dedication to the principal that All Fun is Good is a reaction to Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker, and I should give credit where it is due.

* * *

And that's it for today: a somewhat disorganized yet celebratory 100th post. If you want to send me a gift for this auspicious occasion, comment! I love comments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Must be Wednesday

I woke up this morning in a sad mood, rolled out of bed and showered, and made my eventual way out the door. I walked down a rainy Irving Street listening to The Moth Podcast, contemplating the day's writing, and bitching to myself about being unemployed. Somehow, the light rain and the gray sky cheered me up little. Underneath it all, it was a beautiful day.

And then a bird crapped on my head.

I started to laugh.

It must be Wednesday.

* * *

I have two links for you today. I'm not connecting you to anything I haven't mentioned already, but both are posts on other blogs that I found particularly compelling.

The first is an article by I Should Be Writing's Mur Lafferty entitled The "Job" of Writing, in which that most esteemed internet authoress takes on that inexplicable resistance many of us have to the other half of the job of writing; that is, to selling ourselves, hawking our wares, and getting our words out into the world. A lot of us seem to think (and I think all of us seem to wish) that our books and short stories will magically appear on the shelves of bookstores everywhere - and that money will magically appear in our bank accounts. Mur takes us to task, reminding us that writing is only half the job of being a writer, and the other half is getting our writing seen.

The second is a post by The Rejecter in which she takes on a particularly egregious literary snob. Tear 'em apart, Rejecter!

I present these two links in part because I feel that they represent the heart of the Burning Zeppelin Experience - if not the heart, at least some other important internal organ, like the kidney or the spleen - shameless self promotion and genre pride.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm a Bad Person

I broke one of the first laws of being a good blogger, and that's give credit where credit is due and link like a motherfucker. Link link link link link. It's all about the linkage. There are words for people who don't link, and they are worse than "motherfucker." Words so bad I can't even type them. My hands shake too badly.

Powerful words.

Anyway, in my last post, I attributed an idea to "a reader," but that's wrong. The idea didn't just come from "a reader," it came from a dude named Mike who lives in London, Ontario, Canada and writes a blog called Phronk. I couldn't really tell you what Phronk is about, but I've been following it since I first stumbled across Mike in a commont on the I Should Be Writing blog. I'm not going to put Phronk in blogroll, but it's not a matter of quality. Phronk just isn't about the sort of things I do here on the Burning Zeppelin Experience - it's got more of a personal reflections on the geek world feel, and I'm going for writing, roleplaying, and the challenges encountered therein - but I read it.

And so should you.


In my last post I explored the possibility of a new obnoxious trope, the Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch. However, I should fess up and admit that one of my readers has already either poked a hole in my theory with the discovery of the Ambiguously Powerful Matriarch. Specifically, Bionic Arm Lady, the CEO of a company called Massive Dynamics, from Fox's Fringe.

Now, I haven't seen Fringe, so I can't speak to the report's authenticity, but now I want to. I'll have to talk to the Abigail about downloading watching the show in a perfectly legal manner.

* * *

What would happen, do you think, if the Ambiguously Powerful Matriarch and the Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch had an affair? I mean, they couldn't get married to each other - they are both already hitched to meek or rebellious spouses - but how about it? Do you think the sex would be hot? What would their love child be like?

I imagine that it would be pretty intimidating, growing up with such huge personalities for parents.

At the same time, this poor sap clearly has the biological potential - to whatever extent such things exist - to be equally huge, ambitious, and ruthless. Will he use that power for good... or for evil?

For that matter, what would it be like for him growing up? Would the Ambiguously Powerful Matriarch keep his true father a secret, leaving him with the Ambiguously Powerful Matriarch's meek and obedient husband as his sole role model? Would he know about Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch at all?

Wow, the possibilities are endless. What would the relationship be between this hapless schmuck and his adopted father? How would he react when he inevitably discovers that the Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch is his real father? What kind of relationship might he develop with the Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch's meek or rebellious spouse (probably meek, since we already have a firm opposition set up between the two Ambiguously Powerful types)?

I can't imagine he doesn't. In a world where the Ambiguously Powerful Patriarch and the Ambiguously Powerful Matriarch lived side by side, could they be anything but bitter enemies? Rivals for the same cosmic power and material authority? Rivals who grudgingly respect each other, and in that respect are the seeds of one night of hot, hot passion...

Anyway, I think I've got a story idea coming on. Of course, it needs a motif. Hell, it needs characters, a plot, and a reason for me to sit down and write the damned thing in the first place. But it's got a start, and I'm amused.

Monday, February 9, 2009

*bump bump bump* Another Trope Bites the Dust

As I mentioned earlier, I've been known to hang about the Television Tropes and Idioms Wiki. I don't contribute - not yet - but I might have to soon as I think I've caught on to a trope that they haven't yet.

A trope that really pisses me off.

I shall call him the Arbitrarily Powerful Patriarch (APP), and his time has come.

APP is defined by the following traits: he is male, Caucasian, in his autumn years, and very wealthy and influential. He is either gray-haired or balding and he always dresses in dark suits and sober ties. APP appreciates the finer things in life - wine, whiskey, cigars - but he is neither an epicurean nor an aesthete. If he has children - he has sons only slightly more frequently than daughters - they rebel against him. If he has a wife, she is defined by him: either she meekly obeys his every whim, rebels in small ways, or openly opposes his nefarious schemes. And his schemes are invariably nefarious, in a power-hungry, intellectually farseeing but morally shortsighted sort of way, and usually very complicated. When written tolerably, he produces entertaining Xanatos Gambits, but he is definitely a candidate for the dreaded Xanatos Roulette.

So far, I'm not describing anything annoying. He might be a little dastardly and two dimensional, but it would be easy for a talented writer to muddy up his motivations, complicate his familial relationships, and generally breath some life into him.

It is not APP's potential for flatness that bothers me, it's this: he can do anything he wants and get away with it.

Anything. He. Wants.

It's as though his money and power have passed some invisible event horizon and transformed him into some kind of capitalist god. Does APP want to know something about you? Privacy is no object. Does APP require that a woman lose her job? She's as good as fired. Does APP need to send an innocent man to prison? No problem. Does APP need to get away with murder? He can "take care of it." Even in a world where the characters regularly encounter bureaucrats, cops, and other officials who really do care about their jobs - establishing that such people exist - APP never has any problems massaging the system into giving him whatever he wants.

Now, I'm as much a fan of conspiracies as the next guy. It's sometimes fun for the heroes to be harried by invisible forces. In a setting where there seems to be a sharp line between the natural, sane world that the main characters inhabited before the story began and the madness they are currently enmeshed in and possibly trying to escape, it can be fun to attack the trappings of their normal life: cut them loose a little, let them flutter in the cold wind, see what it drives them to.

The first problem with the Arbitrarily Powerful Patriarch is the "Arbitrarily." His powers have no limit. Nothing can phase him or stop him. I know what he represents - a fear of "the system" and "the man," and the power of those unknowable, unstoppable forces to totally screw up your life - but no one character should be able do anything. Everything should come with a price. This needs to go for antagonists as well as protagonists, or the antagonist becomes more annoying than anything else.

In a similar vein, the omniscience and omnipotence of APP hurts my ability to suspend disbelief. Will there be consequences if I, say, piss off a powerful United States senator? Sure. Will that senator be able to get me fired (if I had a job), get my parents kicked out of their home, have my dog killed, and turn off my electricity so I miss my favorite TV show? Probably not.

Finally, the fact that the Arbitrarily Powerful Patriarch has an answer to everything just sucks the drama out of the story. He is going to win, he is going to hurt everyone, and then he is going to be stopped, probably by an equally, obnoxiously darling character.

So, that's it, APP. I'm coming after you. Arthur Petrelli, Charles Widmore, that dude from The Declaration... you better make your peace with your authors, write your wills leaving everything to your rebellious daughters, and have that one last touching scene with your meek wives, because you are over. Tropes.

* * *

  • Where have you encountered a particularly egregious example of the Arbitrarily Powerful Patriarch?
  • Where have you seen the Arbitrarily Poweful Patriarch inverted in some way to make the character fresh, new, and - most importantly - not totally annoying?
  • Have you ever written something that inclued an Arbitrarily Powerful Patriarch? Come on. Fess up.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Hero to Save Us

On you can now buy a pdf of Graceful Wicked Masks, a guide to playing and portraying the fair folk in White Wolf's Exalted. For the uninitiated, the fair folk - also known as the raksha - are one of Exalted's primary foes. White Wolf took the concept of faeries as beautiful and terrible creatures who take you under the hill and return you different, changed, lesser, and ran with it. The fey of Exalted aren't benevolent sprites, they are terrible creatures of chaos who want to dissolve Creation back into the chaos from whence it sprang.

I didn't buy the book back in First Edition Exalted, when it was released as Exalted: the Fair Folk. I may buy it now, but only because I hope to find it useful for using the raksha as enemies. You see, my problem with the fair folk was and remains that I find them utterly unconvincing and uninteresting as any kind of hero. I just can't sympathize with heartless soul eating monstrosities, and while I like dark and conflicted heroes as much as the next guy, and sometimes even delve into downright antiheroics, there is a line I just can't cross. I'm not interested in playing bad guys.

What I find interesting is, where exactly is that line, and why is it there?

For example, I'm a big fan of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melinbone (thank you Wikipedia), who is about as dark as they get. The man wields a cursed sword in the name of a god of chaos, eats souls, sacrifices friends, family and loved ones to get his way, and is basically a jerk to everyone he meets. In the end, he's basically complicit in the end of the world. And yet, I find Elric of Melinbone a compelling character.

On the other hand, a fair one from Exalted who fought on the side of the angels (so to speak) - which does happen - would still fail to compel me. The raksha of Exalted occasionally toss on a whole set of identities, the graceful and wicked masks the book is named after, but even a heroic raksha will still be, to me, at best, something for the real main characters to react to. Maybe I'd use such a being to challenge their assumptions about the raksha and themselves or something like that.

What has Elric of Melinbone have that faeries don't?

First of all, Elric is having a genuine emotional experience. This problem rarely happens outside of fantastic fiction - maybe a writer who misunderstood a sociopath's inner life might write someone that way. In fantasy, you occasionally come across villains and antiheroes who don't have normal emotions for some reason. The details are many and varied: demonic posession? alien mind control? cursed sword? The end result, however, is a flat character.

Even in conventional fiction, you can get a similar effect from poor writing. Even if the character is probably having a genuine emotional experience, if the writer fails to give the reader access to that experience, the villain or antihero becomes flat and boring.

A second, related element - absolutely essential for an antihero, less important for a villain - is a sense of struggle. Raksha don't do it for me because they simply are what they are, and what they are is soul-eating monsters. If someone tried to write a heroic story where the main characters were all angels with no capacity to do wrong I'd be about as bored. More to the point, what makes an antihero interesting is his inner struggle. He fights against whatever darkness he carries around with him, he grapples with it, and ultimately, he either wins, loses, or the battle either ends forever, or continues.

Incidentally, I should concede that there is one situation in which flat villains do not fail to entertain, and that is this: sometimes, the true enemy is not outside the main characters, but within. Sometimes, what a story needs is an external pressure that really and truly scares the everloving shit out of the main characters. The point, you see, is not to present a villain who is compelling, interesting, and even sympathetic - a fitting counterpart to the similarly compelling, interesting, and sympathetic heroes - but to see to what depths the main characters will sink when they are frightened, harried, and faced with a foe they believe to be beyond redemption. Will they kill? Will they torture? What will they do when someone they trust seems to have sided with them?

In any case, allow me to direct your attention to my fellow fantasy blog, Paper and Dice. Currently, the author is telling a story of epic fantasy from "the other side." I'm up to date and eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

What Montgomery Mullen is getting right in this story is struggle and ambiguity. Twisted, deranged, and destructive as his characters all are, they are one and all dealing with their own inner conflicts. Being a fan of the world in general, I'm not rooting for them, but I am captivated by their story.

In any case, here's a link to Part One if this story. Enjoy.

* * *

  • Where have you encountered a particularly good example of villains and antiheroes done right?
  • Where have you encountered a particularly egregious example of villains and antiheroes done wrong?
  • When have you attempted to write a compelling villain or antihero, what were your challenges and what is your assesment of your efforts in the final arithmetic.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thursday Bonus Burn: I Do So Have Standards!

In recompense for today's first wimpy post, allow me to post... a second wimpy post. Together, their might will rival that of a full post.

No, seriously, this post is awesome.

I was listening to Theory From the Closet Episode 20, where Clyde just sat outside the dealer's room talking to any and all comers. He had some fun conversations, but the episode got me thinking.

What happens when I next go to a con? GenCon probably isn't in the cards, but that there are plenty of local California conventions that I could - and will - easily attend. How can I, without buying a booth, make it easy for current and potential future readers of the Burning Zeppelin Experience to find me?

That was when it occured to me. It started as a balloon and rapidly evolved into the Burning Zeppelin Standard.

I will make a pillow shaped like a zeppelin out of silvery cloth, with details in fabric paint. I will make cloth flames (affixed in position by pipe cleaners). I will craft it such that it can be easily placed atop a pole. And when I go to a con, I will walk around with this abomination against God and Man. When I need to fly to a convention - such as when I am next able to go to GenCon - I will pack the pillow in my suitcase and - this is the best part - buy a new pole at the con! And when people see me with my burning-zeppelin-on-a-pole, they will walk up to me, and they will either say:

"You must be he, Mark Simmons, author of the Burning Zeppelin Experience and co-author of several White Wolf books, I have wanted to talk to you!" or alternately "what the hell is that thing and what on earth is wrong with you?"

I will reply "this is the burning zeppelin, and I am the author of the Burning Zeppelin Experience; would you like my card?"

I am clearly brilliant. You should all just give up and send me your money now.

* * *

Incidentally, I didn't get the job. Oh, well. There's always next time.

Bitter and Harried (and Brief)

It may be Thursday, but the harassment never ends.

Honestly, I shouldn't be complaining; Today's post is a short one because I have a job interview later today. As I'm sure I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been unemployed for about two weeks now. Given the state of the market, my job search is going predictably poorly. So far, I haven't let that stop me from writing and blogging, but it has occasionally resulted in short posts on days I wanted to deliver long posts. Today is one such day.

So, instead of feasting your eyes upon the Burning Zeppelin Experience, check out this rather amusing blog: Superuseless Superpowers. The author takes suggestions for amusingly useless superpowers and then draws brief comics that illustrate why, exactly, having such a power would be almost more trouble than it's worth.

Bonus points if you can find a use for these poor powers. I, for one, think one-inch teleportation is underrated. Sure, it won't get you anywhere, but if suitably well-timed, you could dodge bullets!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brief and Bitter

A gentleman named Russel Bailey (no website, but I found - of all things - his LinkedIn profile) who goes on Livejournal and RPGnet as Emprint recently ran a contest on both RPGnet and Livejournal. He is a White Wolf developer with an interest in Sword and Sorcery, and the contest was very nifty.

The task was this: in 115 words or less, tell us why you are going into the dungeon.

I wanted to enter, but I never got around to it. My idea was terribly goobery. I was going to write the whole thing from the point of view of something going into the dungeon from beneath so it could reach the sunlit lands above. Thankfully, I never got around to writing my submission up, because the one that won was much cooler and I would have embarassed myself.

The winner - RPGnet's Old Geezer - doesn't have a website either, as far as I can tell, and I can't find the winning entry posted anywhere but RPGnet and Livejournal, so I'm just going to take the plunge and repost it here:

Because as a ploughman, Father's wage was six silver pence per year.

Thomas the Bastard and his friends went down last week. Two came back.

They had over twenty pounds Sterling between them.

I'll risk Death rather than spend my life grubbing in dung like my father.

What strikes you about this little piece of fiction? It's good, isn't it? Also, it's brief, evocative, brief, intense, and brief. Did I mention that it's extremely short? As in, the contest allowed for up to 115 words and Old Geezer used 48.

You see, if I had entered that contest, I'd have written 300 words and spent a week whittling it down to exactly 115, and then I wouldn't be quite satisfied with what I'd created. I am a long-form fiction man, and up till now I've been totally satisfied with it. I have written a novel that I'm quite fond of, after all, and I'll be even more fond of it after I edit it. I think it may even be publishable. However, A Knight of the Land is tens of thousands of words long. Old Geezer, on the other hand, used less than half of the words he was given and wrote something that blew my mind.

This is something to think about. There is a lesson for me in this: short and sweet wins the treat. I really can write something mind-blowing in a short story. It's possible to be cool and evocative with even a handful of words. The devil is in how.

In the spirit of short, however, this is a Wednesday post, so farewell.

* * *

  • What's the shortest fiction of quality you ever wrote?
  • Where else have you found similarly short, punchy fiction?
  • Do you also struggle with literary long-windedness? Do you also envy Old Geezer's well-earned victory? What do you do about it? What writerly practices help you hone your short fiction?
  • Oh, yeah - why are you going into the dungeon?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Burning Update Experience III: the Evocative Noun

I know it hasn't been that long since my last update - my current thought is that "my writing status" updates will be limited to about once a month or so unless something terribly interesting happens - but matters here are picking up, and I want to keep my faithful followers informed.

First of all, I have entered a new stage in my White Wolf contract - the "oh my God I have twelve days to write twelve thousand words!" stage - and I have wisely set everything else aside in order to pursue that goal. In doing so, I have discovered that it really isn't nearly as difficult as I feared it would be. I suppose all that practice back in October and the experience of NaNoWriMo taught me something after all. Really, more than anything else, it's frustrating. I have short stories I want to finish, two novels to get back to, and a super secret project that was really making me very happy.

Ah, well. White Wolf pays the bills. Actually, White Wolf doesn't pay the bills, but they pay money. Actually, they pay very little money. Mostly, working for White Wolf feeds my ego, and I have the impression that building a reputation with a large publishing company and getting my name in print is never a bad idea.

So, in the end, I can say that I have kept busy since the last update. I've said yes to projects that interested me, gotten a second White Wolf contract and done well (so far) at carrying it out. This has all involved a lot of writing, which I have actually been doing. This as opposed tojust talking about how much writing I want to be doing.

Friday the 13th is when my first draft is due (eek, I know). My final draft will be due a month later. Although I'm sure my redlines will be extensive and I'll be over wordcount - which means I'll have a lot to do between my first draft and my final - I'm looking forward to having a little time to work on my own projects.

And you can look forward to tomorrow's post.

Monday, February 2, 2009

If We Shadows Have Offended

And before I land the Burning Zeppelin for the day, I wanted to pass along a link. Remember how back in 2008 I directed you to the page of one Black Hat Matt, also known as Matthew McFarland, my boss at White Wolf and an all around stand up guy? Well, he also wrote a guide to running and playing Changeling: the Dreaming, which might help explain what the hell I was babbling about in that last post.

That is all.

Absentee Narration

This roleplaying and story-gaming post is another for the "what happened at the table" file that I know at least one of my readers is fond of.

On Saturday I ran a Changeling: the Dreaming one session game for the Abigail, Becca, and Jacob, a friend from out-of-state. The premise was all childlings, all pooka, all the damned time, and if you know anything about Changeling, you know that this means that I'm completely insane. I could babble endlessly about Changeling, one of my all-time favorite games, but you don't need to know all of that to understand what I'm going to talk about. What you do need to know is that the characters were playing children, and in the climactic scene of the one-shot - the rescue of the players' characters' teacher, Sir Ben - the following moment occured (paraphrased, of course):

Timmy (Jacob's character), a terribly sneaky eight year old with access to several powerful stealth abilities, had snuck through battle in a warehouse to where Sir Ben was bound with iron chains (a bad thing for a changeling). Timmy managed to pick the locks, freeing Sir Ben. I described Sir Ben reaching for his sword and rising to help win the battle, when both Jacob and the Abigail shouted "wait!"

"What?" I asked.

"What about my sword?" the Abigail asked. Her character, Maddie, had a sword - a blade enchanted to transform whoever it struck into a harmless bunny rabbit - which had been stolen by the same villains who had kidnapped Sir Ben. "Wouldn't it be great if he couldn't find his sword and ended up using my sword instead?"

Jacob nodded. "That was just what I was thinking."

Of course, there was no way I was going to shoot this down. First of all, it would protagonize the Abigail's character in a final scene dominated by powerful grown-up Storyteller characters. Secondly, the thought of the serious and patient straight man that was Sir Ben charging into battle with a sword that turned his victims into bunnies, and what would inevitably happen next, was hilarious.

So, of course, I changed my narration so that Ben glanced about for his sword, didn't see it, and instead took up the ornate longsword covered in depictions of fierce-looking rabbits. I narrated how Ben waded into the fray and turned a huge blue troll into a bunny, to the cheers of all my players.

But, it got me thinking. Although it was a great experience for all my players (even the third player, Becca, who hadn't been involved in the sword switch at all), the moment was a little unsatisfying for me.

Before Jacob, Becca, and the Abigail (who all read Burning Zeppelin Experience) get upset and concerned that I wasn't having, let me explain: what happened on Saturday was a moment of narrative success and mechanical failure. Mechanically speaking, because the Abigail's character was out of the room, there was nothing she could do to influence events so that the amusing series events could come to pass. Because I was the Storyteller and I hadn't described the scene so that Maddie's sword was anywhere nearby, there was nothing Jacob could do, either. In order to bring about this highly amusing vision, we had to step outside the game. We experienced a collective moment of creativity that made a good scene great (and really funny), but it had to come solely from us. The game failed us.

I am not an immersionist. By that, I mean I do not roleplay solely - or even primarily - for the experience of forgetting distractions and being my character. Similarly, although I agree that system matters in a general way (and think GNS theory is overapplied), I don't need a system to be dead on. I'm willing to accept that some games need a little adjustment and occasionally bypassing a game's rules in the name of fun doesn't mean that the game is a failure or you are somehow "playing it wrong."

Disclaimers aside, however...

I think it would be really nifty if there were a game that handled this little problem. After all, from a certain perspective, Maddie's sword is already an extension of Maddie... and therefore of the Abigail's narrative will, of her presence in the game. Why shouldn't the Abigail be able to make choices around her narration of the sword regardless of where her character is?

What's most fascinating for me, you see, is the degree to which the Abigail was satisfied with this conclusion. The Abigail is usually a stickler for protagonization. I mean this with all affection; I am a big fan of protagonization, too, after all. What I mean by this is that the Abigail gets really annoyed when she is made to feel like her character is not suitably central to her story. She's gotten quite mad in the past when, for example, other players picked up plot threads central to her character and started hogging them. As it became increasingly apparent that the one-shot was going to end with the grown-ups having a big fight, I was concerned that the Abigail and the rest of my players were going to be disatisfied.

The thing is, they weren't disatisfied; in fact, they all loved it. The fact that Maddie's sword was there, in the final battle, thanks to the efforts of Timmy (Becca was satisfied, I believe, because the entire battle happened because of her - she'd run for help and brought grown-ups into it in the first place) made everyone happy. And anything that can make everyone happy is a phenomenon worth exploring.

So, how can we do this?

One level, this issue could be resolved as a narration technique. As you run the game, keep in mind the idea that the player's interface with the setting is everything on her character sheet, not just the person. Even when a character's various accutrements - objects, people, etc. - are disconnected from him, ask the player "what do you want to be going on with this?" and treat this narration with the same weight you do his narration of his character's actions.

There is, however, one small problem with this approach. Even though a player's narration of his character's is given weight and authority, it isn't a yes or no situation. In most games, there are game traits and dice or other randomizers involved. That is, if you narrate your character's action as "punching him in the face," I (the GM) take that as "I intend to punch him in the face," and there are dice rolls involved. Your character's ability to punch and her character's ability to not be punched in the face are rated in some way, these traits are compared, and gaming happens.

If Changeling: the Dreaming had granted the Abigail the opportunity to say "Maddie's sword is in the right place at the right time so that Sir Ben sees it instead of his own sword," how, then, would you rank a sword's ability to be in the right place at the right time?

Ideas come to mind, but I'm going to let it go at that. In a later post, I may explore applying this concept, but I think identifying the problem is enough for now.

Sons of Kryos, this one's for you!

* * *

  • Do you know of any games where there are rules to handle absentee narration?
  • Have you ever run into a similar experience, where absentee narration happened and you wished you had a system for it? Or, alternately, have you ever run a game where absentee narration would have been awesome, and the game suffered because it didn't exist.
  • How would you apply the idea of absentee narration to a game design?