Sunday, September 26, 2010

Inspired by Robin Laws

I finished two books this week, and they have inspired several ideas for my games and for my classroom. The first book was Hamlet's Hit Points by Robin Laws, published by Gameplaywright, a slim volume that lays out his ideas for analyzing three classic stories - Hamlet, Dr. No, and Casablanca - and the insights this analysis can give us for our games. I found his examination fascinating and rich with possibilities. Robin uses a system of beats, derived from theater, to explore the emotional ups and downs of a story. I was familiar with his his work from playing Heroquest, but this extended analysis opened my eyes.

I certainly want to track the beats in my own games and my players' reactions, and look forward to my next session! More than this, though, I can see myself thinking in terms of beats when I run games with kids and then discussing it with them as another way for them to view a story. I also want to use this beat appraisal in my non-game classes, such as literature groups, to help students make deeper connections within what they are reading and studying. This may be old hat to many of you, but it's novel for me, and since I like to intermix games, storytelling, and writing, it looks like fertile ground.

Robin is also a gifted writer and humorous writer. He's been in gaming for a long time and can refer back to the days of the blue book version of D&D. I'm still chuckling over the peryton reference.

Also, this last week I received my copy of Nameless Streets, published by Cubicle 7. It's a guide for running games of Urban Noir Fantasy using the Heroquest System. I enjoyed Charles Green's interpretation of the general rule system for the purposes of evoking and interpreting his creation. He creates templates, structures, obstacles, MacGuffins, and rules modifications to encourage the genre. I was most fascinated by his seventh chapter, "The Anatomy of a Mystery," which breaks down the elements of a mystery-based game and how to plan and organize them for scenarios and extended games. Again, this may not be a new idea for some, but I found the explanations particularly accessible and applicable.

It's been a treat to have so much fun gamer-reading to digest. Has anyone else read these? What did you think? How might you use them?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Latest Projects

I am having fun with several projects this week.

Rob Grassi and I are working with his Levity roleplaying system, which is intended to be a basic system for educational role plays. He works in Italy, and I spent last week editing the English-language version of the rules for clarity. It is a wonderful game with lots of possibilities. There are several great ideas for gaming with groups of students, ranging from collectively running a single character to mixing separate stories back and forth. Rob has already written a scenario, "Pharsalus - Night Mission," in which the players perform a mission for Caesar. Rob's plan and mine is to develop a series of single-sheet educational scenarios. If you'd like to be part of this, let us know!

Secondly, this past week I wrote an educator's review of Adventures in Oz by F. Douglas Wall. If all goes well, the review should soon be up at the Escapist's Reading, Writing, and Roleplaying web site. The game also has a fine blog, interesting both for the game itself and for following the development of such a game. Kids have really enjoyed playing the game, and I look forward to incorporating it as an activity to help students develop writing ideas.

Finally, the big game in my own life this coming week is Tut, a historical LARP I run with my class every time that we study ancient Egypt. It runs all year on Friday afternoons, and my students portray the thirty most powerful people in and around the court of Tutankamun, the Boy King. It's a costume soap opera with lots of plotting and drama, and it pulls them into all of the other activities we do. School has been in session for several weeks now, and we spent much of the last week camping as a class in the Carolina mountains. I know them well enough as individuals and as a group to cast them in their parts, and that was my task during the trip. While they hiked, climbed, and rode the zip lines, I sorted them by interests, abilities, and personalities into various roles as priests, nobles, generals, and bureaucrats. I run a game like this every school year, so kids arrive in my class knowing that it's coming, and they are excited. Many are counting down the hours until they get their character packets, each loaded with details, goals, and secrets.

We start up the game this coming Friday, so I'm sure I'll have more to write after that!

Have fun!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dragon Con 2010 Report – September 3-6, 2010

Dragon Con was a real pleasure this year, for I was able to roleplay almost continuously the entire weekend. As a result, my time in other parts of this vast and diverse sci-fi and fantasy pop culture convention, held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, my home town, is somewhat more limited, but I have heard from numerous friend and my own daughter, so here is what we saw and experienced.

This year, Dragon Con took place across five conference hotels, covering much of a dozen or more city blocks and featuring a magnificent parade of costume wonder down the city’s main street. Gaming occupies much of the Hilton hotel. In the basement exhibition area were hundreds of tables divided into sections for board games, card games, and miniatures, and six full-sized, battle-scarred pods for Mechwarrior video game battles. Role-playing took place on the third floor, a quiet area of the con, where we could play without any distractions except one another’s games. Mark Lieberman and John Richardson once again did an admirable job keeping things running smoothly and getting us all into play.

I offered six three-to-four hour games over three days, all set in Greg Stafford’s venerable Glorantha using the Heroquest 2 rule system. I advertised them all as introductory, both to the rules (easy) and the world (admittedly challenging). Other than my first two slots on Saturday, every game had players, usually a full contingent. In fact, for my last game on Monday afternoon, I had nine players in a six-player scenario, though it was simple to add a few more heroes, and they roleplayed among themselves as much as they did through me.

I had the pleasure of hosting Ted Skirvin in one of my games. His curious Jrusteli scholar remains memorable. We hadn’t seen each another in years, so it was great to connect again, chat, and hear about his games and activities. I also promised to write an article for the CAR-PGa Newsletter. Here it is, Ted! Let’s play again soon.

I had a chance to be a player in another GM’s Glorantha game, though in a very different setting and using Mongoose Games Second Edition Runequest rules. I also enjoyed the time before each session was organized, during which GMs and players discussed games, tournaments, and the fun of gaming at a con. The Dresden Files RPG was enjoying great popularity among both GMs and players. There was almost no Dungeons and Dragons, and half of the game that ran were not fantasy settings. On the other hand, Shadowrun had its own room! Spirits remained high, and I was honored to be working alongside the many talented GMs that hosted games throughout the weekend.

Gaming twenty-eight hours out of sixty or so, I only made it out into the rest of the convention for a few hours. Between this and my many friends wandering the con and reporting back, however, I have some sense of Dragon Con 2010. Costuming, for which Dragon Con is famous, seemed slightly less common and somewhat subdued compared to previous years, though Harry Potter and steampunk were as popular as ever. I had my most diverse games ever in terms of gender, race, and public sexual orientation, and the convention overall reflected this.

Atlas Games, “home of the original exact change dance,” had a substantial presence in one of the dealer halls and seemed to be moving plenty of gaming merchandise in all forms. Chessex had a large booth and was crowded with eager patrons whenever I passed it. A few other, smaller booths sold games, sometimes in addition to comics or bric-a-brac. Gaming was definitely dwarfed by t-shirts, fantasy or Asian clothing, and leather goods, but it was present in good strength if not variety.

I didn’t make it to any of the arts show (which I love), auctions, celebrity gathering, concerts, contests, film festivals, fan tracks (ranging from “Star Trek” and “Whedon Universe” to “Writer’s Track” and “Paranormal Activity”), Walk of Fame, or Guinness record attempts, but a friend that helps count heads said numbers were good. There was certainly plenty of hustle and bustle in the main areas of the con at all hours of the day and night.

I am looking forward to Dragon Con 2011, which will be the con’s twenty-fifth gathering. Come on down south next Labor Day weekend!