Archive for March 2011

3/30/2011-KOTOR Story Arc-Part Two-The Basic Story “A Covent of Arcs”

March 30, 2011

Daisy Chain Cliché-The Heroes have to secretly hide “The Three Arc of the Codex” before the Jedi Purge.

Chess Game Cliché- The Heroes need to out maneuver the Jedi Council in hiding the Codex. 

The Story

Just before the Jedi Civil War, before Darth Revan and Malak reveal their evil intentions, the Jedi Master and Watchman Prod-yoke foresees the coming of the Jedi Purge.  The High Council finds Master Prod-yoke’s claims of the future as hysterical and deranged, labeling the Watchman as an alarmist.  Deep down the Masters can recognize that the High Council could easily be dissolved along with all their work to create a centralized Jedi Order, however they simply cannot see all Jedi destroyed.  Council Member Vrook Lamar does not easily dismiss Prod-yoke’s claims as the rest of the High Council does, but rather takes an interest in this Watchmen’s actions.

The Jedi Watchman creates his own council, the Preservation Council, who are Jedi that believe in his prophecy.  This group is dedicated in preserving the Jedi Order; although they strongly feel they cannot prevent or escape the upcoming Jedi Purge, they believe that their teachings and ideas can survive.  They create the Arcs of the Codex, three specialized chest that house a holocron each with specific teachings of the Jedi.  Their intentions are to hide each Arc of the Codex somewhere throughout the galaxy to be used after the Purge by the Stko Skared, the new Jedi who will need the teachings. 

The heroes will be given the job by Jedi Master and Watchmen Prod-yoke of hiding the Arcs of the Codex.  Each of the Arc of the Codex represents one of the three tenants of the Jedi Code; Self-discipline, Responsibility, and Public Service.  They will be hidden on a planet which properly corresponds to their codex (sort of vague and under interpretation by the GM on what it means to “correspond” but that will be in part three.)   Naturally, the more the heroes try to hide their actions the more sources of information and political capital they use, gaining more and more attention of High Council Member Vrook Lamar.  Thus a Chess Game of resources between the Jedi High Council and the Preservation Council is firmly established.  Yes, the second twist is that the real antagonist is the Jedi Council itself. 

The Final Twist

In all actuality, the holocrons are worthless; the Arcs themselves have all the holocron data written in binary on the surface of the Arcs themselves.  However, the Arcs are built out carbonite and within each of them is a Force-Sensitive Pre-adolescent left in a state of suspended animation in the species of the world that the Arc was left on.  Jedi Master Prod-yoke and the Preservation Council believed that these Stko Skared, Sleeping Force-Sensitives, within their frozen state would escape detection from the wrathful Sith set on destroying all Jedi.  Years later, they would emerge as the New Jedi with all the teachings they needed within the very beds they had slept in for so long. 


I feel that this is a really good story arc which embraces cannon and has a few surprises that will take the players for an entertaining ride. 



3/29/2011-KOTOR Story Arc. Part One-Writer’s Perspective

March 29, 2011

Overview of Era

“Knights of the Old Republic” has many unique elements that tie into the standard George Lucas “poetry” of Star Wars.  The greatest unique element is that the Republic fails or nearly fails on so many levels and yet will survive to become the colossal authority and bureaucracy seen in episodes’ 1-3.  A well-populated, yet fractionalized, Jedi Order will try to consolidate power within their own and fail with their first galactic crisis; because they see themselves as a separate institution from the government and their problems.  The Republic does not have a large blanket of influence either, but rather a web of stringy trade routes that connect the systems that they control with wide gaps of uncontrolled and unexplored regions- all within the Republic’s own backyard.  Additionally, the galactic civilization has a plethora of aggressors; there is the Sith, Mandalorians, Hutts and all those other assemblages of governments to fight against.  Top all this mayhem off with a past of lost empires and dictators that have left their mark on the galaxy.  It also contains two George Lucas “poetry elements;” First, a gigantic weapons in the Star Forge and Mass Shadow Generator, Second, a Jedi Purge that ends the era.

This era is ripe for the Daisy Chain Cliché; after all, the two videogames that defined the era used this cliché.  If you are a more creative GM who wants to bring their own worlds to the Star Wars Universe; then both this Cliché and KOTOR are good choices because there are plenty of open spaces for you to fill in and then have your heroes explore.  Furthermore, the whole Mega-plot can easily be dismissed because how loosely controlled the galaxy is.  If you want to make a collation of planets to replace the Republic, go ahead you don’t have to struggle with cannon here. 

The Golden Rule of Clichés: To follow my own rule, we need to graft another cliché or bring in a good twist to bring in some depth to the story.  Any of the other three clichés seem rather feasible.  The Cat n’ Mouse works well for the same reasons as does the Daisy Chain, exploration into new parts of the galaxy.  The Master Mind can work by using any of the enemies of the era-Sith, Hutts, Mandalorains, or something new.  The Chess Game could work also because in this era war seems to be conducted around figureheads and their fleets rather than holding strategic points with armies. 


For this story arc, I am planning to combine the Daisy Chain with the Chess Game Cliché and add a few twists and end up with a moral dilemma.  I rejected the other two clichés because; the Master Mind is done so often in RPGs and there are other Star Wars eras where it is the dominate cliché; and the Cat n’Mouse combined with the Daisy Chain I thought would really just drag out.  I think as a twist, instead of going to find or get stuff, the heroes will have to leave things or hide them. 


3/28/2011-Mark well upon my lance, It bounces whilst I dance

March 28, 2011

My older brother stopped by unannounced the other day, okay somewhat announced, he called five minutes before-hand to make sure I had pants on.  I am a notorious nudist within my own home; I find it is a great deterrent against the neighbors’ small children from knocking on my glass doors to get my toy dog’s attention.  I don’t know why this neighborhood has so many toddlers besieging both back patio and front screen doors, but every summer some two year old has made the connection that my Chihuahua will come barking if they rap any of my glass doors.  Apparently, the parents have no awareness in enforcing boundaries and live within that military mentality that it is easier to ask forgiveness than actually doing anything; oh no, the military is more refined-they just don’t want to ask permission.  Anyway, let me tell you, nothing will define neighborly boundaries than a naked fat man asking a parent for privacy behind his own screen door while a toddler rams their tricycle into it.  That makes such a deeper scar on adults than children-the kids are only upset that they didn’t get to play with the dog. Fortunately for my brother, I had had a repairman out that morning and I informed him that not only did I have pants on, but I was showered as well.  I am a hermit, not a troll.

To make a long intro, portent; we went to the closest good game shop in the area, over twenty minutes away.  We spent over an hour looking at board games and miniatures.  I bought the new Wrath of Ashardalon D&D board game, I’m a risk taker, while my brother stuck with an old reliable, Talisman.  Naturally, we swung back to my place and played both.  I think it has been twenty years since I played Talisman.  God, am I old.  

Playing both games back to back was an interesting experience.  We played Talisman first and the D&D board game afterwards came off so flat in comparison.  I think it is ironic, because I felt more like role-playing with Talisman than I did with D&D.  There are a few reasons for this, but I just want to address one for this long blog; alignment.  Surprisingly, the D&D game has no alignment; players have to work together so the designers do not bring in a divisive mechanic.  Talisman has alignment; players can be good/evil/neutral and it does have supporting mechanics that effects play.  I was really amused by playing an evil hero and purposely avoiding areas that favored good heroes.  This reminded me of a comment made by Luke Crane in a lecture of his titled “Game Design is mind control.” 

In this lecture, Luke claims that Chainmail went from a war game to a RPG when they introduce mechanics about good and evil.  They were not trying to make a RPG, they were just adding a tactical behavior, evil monsters would attack good guys first and some abilities were only available to specific alignments.  What happen was unexpected, by having a player declare if they were good or evil prompted the player to make choices that would reflect that trait and the first RPGs were born.  I have to admit, I sort of scoffed at the idea.  I did agree with Luke that it did probably influence the development of role-playing; but he seemed to place a greater importance than I would.   After playing these two games back to back, I have to say, his idea has a lot more credibility than what I gave him. 

I do love ideas and theories but I am always amazed when I actually experience them.


Game Design is Mind Control:

3/25/2011-March’s Podcast Review-Order 66 Podcast

March 25, 2011

The Order 66 Podcast, affiliate of the D20 radio Network, is the one and only podcast completely dedicated to Star Wars Saga Edition.  This podcast validates the stereotype of the passionate hobbyist creating something wonderful where professionals cannot.  Rodney Thompson openly admitted that after hearing what Order 66 was doing on the internet, he dropped Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Podcast.  There is very little praise that can be said elsewhere; when the designer of the game says that you represent his own game better than he could.  Somewhere along the way, Lucas forgot about that. 

The hosts and creators of the show, GMChris and GMDave, have a really good niche in the RPG podcasting community; they are focused on Saga Edition rule system and Star Wars.  With there being fifteen books for Saga, there are plenty of rules to talk about without trailing off into abstract RPG theory.  Additionally, in the spirit of the West End Games (the 1st Star Wars RPG Company) they bring a lyrical inclusion to the Star Wars setting, making the show equally entertaining as it is informative.  They do this by using a radio format with several segments, all with sound bites, throughout each show.  “Watto’s Bargain Basement” segment starts off with a commercial for Watto’s shop put to the theme music from “Sanford and Son,” the way Watto says Tat-to-ine still makes me smile.  What a great way to introduce any equipment discussion. 

My only criticism of the show is that they are Fanboys of the system, for good reason.  Order 66 had built a close relationship with Wizards of the Coast and still continues ties to designers and writers of the game.  Furthermore, Sam Witwer from Force Unleashed video game frequently comes onto the show to talk about his campaign.  This brings a lot to the show and as hosts; they don’t want to burn any bridges by saying anything bad about the system.  Essentially, this podcast has fallen into the role of being the spokesmen and PR for the game.

Although Wizards has discontinued Saga Edition, this podcast is still going strong and promoting the game.

3/23/2011-The Golden Rule with Clichés

March 24, 2011

Having explored these various clichés and looking at the stories that use them successfully, I think there is one simple golden rule that can be gleamed from their accomplishments.  The golden rule is: Do not rely solely on the device.  You can mix them or bring something more to them, they are only a framework and cannot bring a full dimension to your story.  The Harry Potter story is a Daisy Chain Cliché but it is also a Master Mind Cliché.  Star Wars, episodes four through six, is a Master Mind and Chess Board cliché.  Wrath of Kahn is a Chess Board and Cat n Mouse Cliché.   So many stories combine clichés because simply one doesn’t work well and comes off flat.

I think over the next few days I am going to apply the clichés to Saga Edition’s campaign guides and try to come up with a story arc that fits with them.

3/23/2011 The last Cliché Standing

March 23, 2011

We finally have reached the end of our own familiarity and will now boldly go where no man has gone before.   I will try to convince you, how something that I have never done or heard being done within gaming, should be considered a Cliché.   

The Chess Game Cliché: This plot device is when both the hero and villain pit themselves against each other with some massive force.  The massive force could be armies, Mechs, or hulking spaceships.  The two might frequently exchange dialog, but they are safe from a direct confrontation.  Star Trek has many stories stemming from this cliché; Wrath of Kahn is a prime example.  Essentially, the two are attacking each other’s resources, whittling them away until one of them can move in for the kill.  This type of story has action and tension; but most importantly, defines the heroes.  The villain and heroes have their personalities extended into their massive force; a cunning person will fool their foe while a brave person will make tactical attacks, creative people will introduce a new elements, the list goes on.  There is a huge amount of versatility within this story device, but you will need to have a well define villain and detailed massive force. 

There is one large snag when creating this cliché, complexity.  A larger than life battle automatically makes complications, the group of heroes will pursue different actions that will split them up and each successful action will have a reaction by the BBG.  Things can get out of hand quickly.  The best thing to do is try to keep the group to two or three different things, each to a particular scale and perhaps leave the full battle alone until everyone returns to it.  Return of the Jedi does this well; to the point where the actual destruction of the 2nd Death Star is left to a secondary character.

3/21/2011-No gaming talk, just some Big Love

March 21, 2011

Hey everyone, I know today’s blog is not a gaming topic; but it is so rare for me to stick-it-out long enough with a series to actually watch the finale, that I just had to write about Big Love.

In reading many of the Big Love’s finale reviews, I am amazed how many people disliked Bill and the comparisons to the likability Tony Soprano, from the Sopranos, and Don Draper, from Mad Men.  I think the problem I have always had with Big Love is that it is a completely alien setting to me.  The initial concept of multiple wives raised my curiosity and I watched the show to understand what it was like.  Unfortunately, there was nothing for me to anchor onto so I could start relating to any of the characters.  With the show’s finale, I still feel like I have no understanding what it would be like to live in polygamy because I do not know if I have been shown any of that with this show.  I do feel like I have a good idea what it would be like to live in a household with a very ambitious and conservative man.  I am not an ambitious man nor am I conservative; I don’t know anyone who is.  Also I do not know any highly religious people, whose beliefs put them in a minority.  However, I can relate with Tony Soprano, because there are times where I wish I could send a few guys over to somebody’s house to “fix” a problem and I have known people who have fallen to violence as a solution.  Additionally, I can understand Don Draper’s infidelities because I have had the same thoughts and know people who have fallen to their lust.  I relate to these two characters; despite never acting like them, because I have felt the same impulses that they act on.  Bill Henderson, I cannot relate too; I have not felt anything that would tempt me to be that highly ambitious in public life nor multiply the work in maintaining a household by having more than one wife. 

Furthermore, Bill’s story is about him moving up in the world, not falling from the top.  Sopranos and Mad Men start their stories with the leading men at the top and the question is how they will stay there.  We do not see messy cost and sacrifice that they had to make to get there, all we see is the repercussions after the fact.  Why? Because, it is easier for us to like a guy and find out that he did some bad stuff in the past; instead of watching that good guy doing some bad stuff to get ahead. 

I think the long term success of Big Love is that we continually want to understand this family and we cannot, coming back season after season with the hope of “getting it.”  Each season, all we are given are new things that we cannot relate to. Sure, these things develop character, make sense, and move the plots; but that is part of the lure.   We understand part of the family so we must be closer to get that emotional relation that would put us into the story.  I think this is why so many people are dissatisfied with the finale, after five years of watching this family, they still cannot relate to them.