RPGs and the tour bus

I’ve changed how I run tabletop games over the past thirteen years. I used to define everything about the world, leaving the characters fairly constrained in an approach referred to by M. Joseph Young as trailblazing. My partner John has referred to trailblazing before as ‘the tour bus’. The GM drives you to Plot Point 1, points out some stuff, and entertains the PCs with a canned scene while they act the peanut gallery and do their quirks/traits at each other. Sometimes there’s a scripted fight. Then back onto the tour bus for the next destination.

I eventually realized that I find it exhausting to author the story. I like building a world, but I’ll leave gaps and such that I’ll want the players to fill in out of game because it’s tiring to figure out etiquette systems of fourteen different countries. Also, during the game, other people will often have better ideas than I do about what and who is in the world and what they want. I mostly learned this from having co-GMs. A game is a big thing to put on just one person. I like to think that I know some of my weaknesses and can find people to shore them up to contribute to a richer game.

What I value most in the games I’ve been involved in is the PC’s interactions and relationships with each other. The environment that I make when I run a game is to facilitate and complicate these. All the giant machines, crystal owls, mathemagicians, foreign spies, and elemental rituals are there to define the characters and how they see each other. It’s about what they do in their environment. For me it’s more interesting when the character goals and values do not completely overlap the original GM plot. The character Lorenzo of Logos had concrete goals he started with: recover a stolen statue from a thief, investigate and discredit a secret society, fend off his mother’s matchmaking. He discarded, changed, or attained more of these during the course of the game: have another PC actually confront her sister about her shady blood magic cult, buy as many diamonds as possible, stop one country from invading another, create the ultimate sympathetic-magic guitar solo. Some of these ideas and events I had a hand in, others were completely proposed by the PCs. They took me in directions I’d never think to go myself, and I think there’s much value in that.

Whenever I run a game now, I talk to the participants beforehand about this more hands-off approach. It definitely should be explicit that I’m not asking them to play any specific characters or themes, that there is nothing they are ‘supposed’ to do. This is a jam session, and I’ll help keep the time and drop a few hooks, but it shouldn’t just be my story.

Theming this site

My day job is as a web application developer, so I feel it’s only right to make my own website for my creative output. The tailor should wear half-decent clothes principle, I suppose.

I’m making this site in Drupal because it’s powerful and I know at least some of how to administer it, as my site is on a DIY server. I learned Drupal theming on the job and it’s quite idiosyncratic, and it’s a bear trying to remember where everything is. That said, it’s kept up-to-date and secure and I can even use a package manager to update it. I’ve used CMS Made Simple, but that, though easy to use for editing, was not the easiest to maintain. This is just the single-user-who’s-also the admin case. If you have multiple non-technical users, CMS Made Simple is less work for them to use and learn than Drupal.

Today I am trying to iron out templating and CSS. That’s always the hardest part for me, as I am not a designer. A web developer may be able to make you a website, but even a great one may have almost no design chops. Those are separate skills. At work I implement the themes given to me by our designer. If you’re looking to make a snazzy web site, I recommend hiring a designer along with a developer: I think everything looks fine in big black and white sans serif text without pictures, never mind transitions. I know this. If you give me the theme, I’ll do what you need me to. I take existing themes and play with them. Find why elements are jumbled, spaced oddly, why text may overlap, why everything might go berserk if I size my screen. As Mr. Saturn once said, “Got to take it apart. Got to figure out how it works.”

echo printf bonsoir mundo

My relationship with social media confuses me. I signed up for Facebook in college and now use it to look at pictures of my friends’ cats, see where people I’ve lost touch with are living and who they are loving. I ‘follow’ four people’s feeds: my brother’s, my best friend from childhood/adoptive sister’s, a close friend from college/former boss, and a friend who is local to me but posts good things about baseball, cats, and Hawai’i. I have twitter and tweet once a year in a twittish fashion, I follow plenty of people but only consistently read Devin Townsend’s posts. I use Google Plus to keep updated on my gaming acquaintances and friends from the Boston area. I keep a LiveJournal for my parents and some old friends and as a chronicle of my mundane life.

I’ve blogged for over two years about underwear engineering and construction. I still don’t really know how to write prose. I thought I would write about my vomit slime generating algorithms.

Last night I dreamed of a live-action role-playing game in which I played a fellow named Jack who had gotten lost in a space warp jump and landed in a galaxy a few parsecs off. People had Major Arcana but Jack didn’t have one either yet or at all. There may have been an Olympic coordinated gymnastics event somewhere in there, as well as some swimming races in lanes on top of an eight-story building. Or that might have been another dream. I love art and music and creative things. I also love you, though you terrify me.