Wednesday, May 27, 2020

How Solo RP Just Gobsmacked Me

Lately, perhaps it's all this time alone with my thoughts as we make our way through the pandemic, I have been giving a lot of thought to various ... I dunno... narrative theories. What makes a story? What makes it compelling? I've already talked about arcs, so I won't go down that rabbit hole again (and it is a rabbit hole...). Today I thought I'd share some thoughts on something closer to my own project: the randomly generated story. Can it work? I hope so, because TOTM is largely created this way.

I'd been listening to Roleplay Rescue Podcast a lot. The host, the thoughtful and refreshingly honest, Che Webster, was talking about solo rpg'ing in one or two episodes. I didn't even know this was a thing. The only experience I had of it was through the Iron Realm Podcast (also very near and dear to me, and definitely a big influence on TOTM). Anyway, Che was talking about this system called Mythic. It's a GM emulator and it ... actually works. If there's any doubt, check out Me, Myself and Die on Youtube for some extreme brilliance by way of solo rpg'ing. (Seriously, it's awesome.) It all comes down to a pretty simple mechanic, or set of them, which go: Ask a question, randomly determine the answer using dice and logic, and sometimes roll for random happenstance, also determined with logic, context, imagination and luck.

I've considered using such a system in my own 'writing' such as it is, but I keep finding I don't run out of ideas and the story you hear in the podcast basically pours out of me, writing itself. Still, I wanted to try this thing for myself, so I took a baby step. I used an extremely spare system, supplied by RPGCalligraphy (Insta). Here's the system: Start with a scene/premise idea and just start asking questions. Use the following table to guide the narrative:

On a d6...

1=No and
3=No but
4=Yes but
6=Yes and

That's it. For combats and other fine mechanics, just use whatever game system you like... or don't. Here's what my first try looked like:

Scene/Premise: My character is a burglar. Inside the baroness' bedroom in her manor/keep. The Baroness is here. My character wants to steal her diamond pendant. Go.

Is baroness sleeping?
Six. Yes and. Snoring loudly.
Is the jewelry box by the bed?
Five. Yes.
Can I sneak up to it without waking her?
One plus one for snoring loudly is two. No. She tosses and turns.
Looking at the jewelry box, can I see if it has a lock? And is it locked?
One. No and. It's not locked. It's open.
Is there a window here?
One. No and. No other exit here or near. She is a paranoid woman.
Can I see the jewel in the box?
Yes and. There are other jewels there too.
Can I crawl under the bed and inch my way to the table?
Six. Yes and she snores so loud you know she's fast asleep as you do.
This action takes less time than you think but still takes a full hour. It's two am.
Can I reach out and grab the box?
Five. Yes. Got it. Can I inch my way back?
Five. Yes.
Can I get out and into the hall? Plus one for something fairly easy.
Three. No but. She doesn't wake. Can I wait an hour and try again?
Six. Yes and. I get all the way back to point of entry.
Can I climb out without being spotted?
Six. Yes and. I manage to evade several guards and get all the way to the outer wall.
Can I get past the wall and get away?
Six. Yes and. Don't even need to go over. I dug a tunnel under in advance.
The next week I look for a fence. Can I sell I The jewels?
Four. Yes but.
The fence is not trustworthy and he knows my name and face...

And so on and so on. It works... gosh darnit... it really works. If the above system is a little too simple, I think the Mythos system would take care of the "X factor".

Anyway, just wanted to share this cool thing I found. Probably old news to many of you. At the very least, let me say thanks to RPGCalligraphy, Che Webster of RPRescue, Able of The Iron Realm, and Trevor Duvall of Me Myself & Die.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

To Arc or Not to Arc? Which is better?

So lately, from where I’m at in the story of Tale of the Manticore, even though it’s early days, I can envision a middle campaign and I can even envision the late campaign - although that’s pretty hazy, admittedly, at the moment. Anyway, I’ve been wondering: does a podcast like TOTM need to have an over arcing story? Does it need to have symmetry and perfect resolution? In other words, does it need an arc? I think common wisdom would say, "Yes, it does. Stories need arcs." Everybody’s familiar with the plot graph and a story that doesn’t resolve it's inciting incident/conflict might feel very dissatisfying. Think about a movie like Shawshank Redemption. It is immensely satisfying by the end, and that’s because it has a wonderfully constructed plot graph. King put in the time at the beginning to plant seeds that grow to fruition later on and result in this incredibly satisfying outcome.

However, there are stories that don’t have such an arc, and yet they are still satisfying. Consider for example Star Wars, which is definitely a story with an arc, even if they arguably wrecked it at the end. Compare that with Star Trek, which is just an endless series of episodes that doesn’t really go anywhere. (I’m sure somebody will tell me that there is an arc and the characters do develop and that may be true - I’m not a trekky by any stretch - but generally Star Trek is kind of in the James Bond mode of storytelling. It’s episodic. So, lately I’m wondering if TOTM should be a Star Wars or Star Trek. James Bond or Shawshank Redemption? I’m going for a sense of real old-school DND - those games aren’t always masterplots, are they?
They're often small modular adventures that may or may not all link together in a way that completes a picture by the end. I'm leaning toward episodic, but with rich continuity, logic and lore that binds everything together. The more I struggle with the idea, the more I feel that a carefully constructed arc must necessitate a story on rails, which is the opposite to what I'd like to achieve.

Deep thoughts this time, hey?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Shownotes for Episode 5

Theme Enchiridion
Welcome 148 Barovian Castle
BTL Scott Buckley Legionnaire
Part 1 Horror Music – No Copyright
Dramatis RPG SOUNDS “Realization”
Part 2 Bensound Ofelia’s Dream
& Odin
Some FX:

Character Sheets for Raphinfel & Dermund

Race: Human
Level: 3
Next level at episode: 17
Str: 7
Int: 16
Wis: 14
Dex: 10
Con: 8
Cha: 14
Lck: 10
Max Hp: 7
AC: 9

Age: 48
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 150
Hair: bald
Eyes: light blue

Languages: Common, Goblin, (Empty slot/May learn one more)

Weapon: none
Inventory: TBD

Race: Human
Level: 2
Next level at episode: n/a
Str: 8
Int: 14
Wis: 10
Dex: 11
Con: 12
Cha: 12
Lck: 12
Hp: 7
AC: 9

Age: 29
Height: 5’9
Weight: 180
Hair: Light Brown, short
Eyes: brown
Other: wears a beard

Languages: Common, some Goblin

Weapon: silver dagger
Inventory: n/a

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

My thoughts at the one month mark

It's hard to believe I've been doing this for a month. Originally, I had intended on releasing something in mid to late May, but with the whole COVID thing I was suddenly home - all the time - and there was no reason not to put work into the show every day. So I did and I quickly realized that I could move up my release by a whole month. I did some research, chose a host (Podbean), virtually attended some webinars and, BAM, I was out there in the wild.

To date I've had 321 downloads. That's not a lot by any stretch - popular actual play D&D shows get 1000 downloads a week and in some cases, more. Maybe much more. But I have to say I'm not disappointed. My 321 downloads is about 311 total strangers digging what I do - or at least giving it a try. (The other 11 DLs are me doing tests.) So... how cool is that? It's quite a rush when someone goes out of their way to say they like what you do.

I've learned a lot over the past month. Many of the lessons were about climbing the tech learning curve. My audio got a lot better, that's for sure. I've also learned a few tricks with the 'workflow' as it relates to making an episode (writing/playing & recording & adding sound/music).

Going forward, I want to come back to 7 'Rules' I've settled on to keep me pointed in the right direction, always.

1) Always let the dice rule. If I fudge once, I'll fudge twice. The whole integrity of the show hinges upon following the dice. This rule is a never-break.
2) Keep it simple. The fewer rules, the better. Keep charts small. I don't think B/X D&D is necessarily better than 5e, but I do think it's right for this medium.
3) Keep it classic. I want my podcast to feel like the games I played as a child - to have that sense of wonder. (Obviously, there's quite a bit of adult grit added to this, but the wonder should be there underneath).
4)Maintain willing suspension of disbelief: you imply a promise to the reader not to burst the bubble. TOTM will never contain anything like the farce D&D which rules the airwaves right now. That stuff is fine - I like some of it - but I don't make it.
5) Always remember the 3 pillars: Exploration, Combat and Interpersonal. This last one just comes down to character development and interaction. I try to balance the 3 pillars equally. Sometimes I get it right.
6) Keep upping the ante: out of the frying pan, into the fire. The characters should be under near constant pressure. Respite should be rare and short.
7) Don't be afraid to zoom in the camera. Some of the bits I've made that I am most proud of are actually the more vulnerable moments. We haven't had many yet in the published episode, but wait till you see what's coming...

Thursday, May 7, 2020

My useless stat

When I launched the podcast, episode 0, I included a 7th stat 'in case I ever need it'. That stat was Luck. I'm now 14 episodes in (writing, not published) and guess how many times I've used the stat... That's right: zero. This might not be much of a shocker. If there was need for such a stat, surely there would have been one by 5th ed. True enough. Call of Cthulu has one though (actually they have a very cool system concerning luck where you can spend it until... you're out of luck). Anyway, I'll probably ditch it.

On a related note, it got me thinking: are saving throws really necessary? A poison save - that could just be a constitution check. Dodging a fireball? Dex. Someone casts charm person on your fighter? Wisdom save. If I was running a game at a table these days, I would love to try that system out as a way to further simplify things.

A final thought on stat checks. One stat I find I really do need, but that I don't have, is passive perception. This is useful in any normal game, but for my characters it's critical. As the DM and the players all rolled together, I simply have way too much OOC info. If there's a secret door in the room, would my characters look for it? Probably not - but since I know if there is or isn't... it's kind of a non-starter. I'm amazed this has not come up earlier, but that is the case (it's not a secret door, if you're wondering).

Maybe I should port my Luck stat into Passive Perception. Or maybe a Wisdom check makes more sense. What do you think?

Friday, May 1, 2020

Early Map of the Kingdom of Camortine

Here's the map I made to show roughly where things are located in the southern part of the kingdom, with special note to where each player was first captured.

A couple of small victories

Happy to report I hit 150 downloads yesterday. Small victories indeed. Still, part of me thought I'd struggle to get 5 listeners. Thanks so much for everyone who has given the show a chance. I decided some time ago that I'd keep the show alive for a full year whether or not I had any listeners at all, but it sure is nice to know others are enjoying it along with me.

Another small victory: I'm now on Spotify.

Spotify makes you wait until you have 5 episodes published, otherwise I would have done it earlier. So... now I'm on every major platform.

In other minor news, after much internal debate, I have decided to re-release the first 4 episodes with improved audio. It's really not all that bad - just kind of furry sounding, but I can't shake the feeling that these first few episodes are my front door and my front lobby. As good as I think the later episodes are... if the first episodes have poor audio, a lot of potential listeners will give up on me before they make it that far. This is gonna take some doing though. I'll chip away. Episode 0 will especially be laborious. Worth it though, I think.