As another year draws to a close, I again ponder the future of human civilization and how best to go on living in it.
In my thirties, I resolved to no longer make New Year’s resolutions. It was perhaps the inevitable result of my nihilistic epiphany eleven years ago, to accept life’s small joys rather than torture myself aspiring to lofty ideals I seemed unable to attain.
The fallout of the pandemic altered us all—even if human civilization as a whole appears stubbornly determined to continue its self-destructive course. But it wasn’t until December of ’21 that I decided to make a New Year’s resolution.
The year 2020 has already been full of both strife and success. (Would I have it any other way?) Stresses aside, I’ve had two excellent reasons for spending less time with my blog site. In addition to launching my first Kult: Divinity Lostcampaign (more about that soon), I’ve also been writing and editing my first official paid-to-be-published writing gig for friend and fellow game designer, Michael Addison of Nerdy Pup Games.
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter for the new tabletop RPG, The Curse of the House of Rookwood is already available to backers as a pdf and scheduled for print late spring.In addition to the core rule book, Nerdy Pup Games is also publishing scenarios (written by a number of contributors, myself included) that explore alternate takes on Rookwood’s otherwise British Gothic setting.
I’m excited for the release of Rookwood—and to contribute to its publication! I remember when Addison first came up with the concept many years ago, and our group of friends created a dysfunctional family, struggling to overcome their worst impulses and bad blood to face a common enemy. In true Addison fashion (given his love for Lovecraftian horror), I remember feeling both terror and dread as an unfamiliar supernatural creature, disguised as a human, revealed itself upon a Victorian ballroom full of unsuspecting guests, during a waltz no less.
Time and again, I debate whether or not to dedicate time to writing regularly on my blog site. I often feel—like today, while I’m sitting at Coffeehouse Northwest with a dirty chai and chocolate croissant—I should be writing or developing my current RPG campaign instead (more on that soon).
But you have to write regularly to write well. I keep coming back to the idea of blogging because I know I need to write more quickly and freely without over-editing. I can save polish for finished works and need to retrain my brain and fingers to let words flow. It’s so important as a writer, and a lesson that I’ve taken too long to (re-)learn (over and over again, yes, I know).
As discussed in my earlier blog post, I want to blog (primarily) about tabletop role-playing games. Why? Because I feel like we’re in the middle of an exciting RPG Renaissance, and I want to draw attention to the games I love; I want to contribute to ongoing conversations about why and how role-playing games work, and why and how they sometimes fall short.
I’ve always been obsessed with the number four and four-point scales (or by extension, eight-point scales). Whether rating men or movies, what further delineation does one need than 1=below average, 2=average, 3=above average, and 4=exceptional? Yes, I use half points (and therefore, technically, an 8-point rating system) because let’s be honest, I’m one of those critics who rarely awards a perfect 4 (Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, 4 and 4). Nonetheless, sometimes you’ve got to give a 3.5 where it’s due (Hugh Jackman in the first X-Men movie, for example).
So anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised if I adopt a 4 or 8-point scale or rating system for my RPG. Because I want to include superhuman, almost godlike abilities, an 8-point scale feels more appropriate, with 1-4 representing normal human abilities. (Without going into too much detail, it’s helpful to think of the scale as exponential rather than linear, so 8 isn’t twice as good as 4, it’s sixteen times better).
But this post isn’t really about numbers or statistics. The trick for creating the right “feel” for an RPG isn’t in the numbers as much as it’s in the words we use to define characters’ capabilities. How do we divide people up into universal attributes so we can quantify and differentiate their aptitudes? And more importantly for me—how do I implement my multiple-aspect soul concept while keeping attributes relatively simple? No one wants six to nine basic attributes, then four more special “soul” attributes piled on top of that. (Or at least, I don’t.) I loved the concept behind virtues and humanity when Vampire: The Masquerade was first released. But nine attributes, a health stat, a blood pool, a willpower stat (permanent and temporary), three virtue stats, and a humanity stat—it was a bit overkill. I find the more stats that comprise a character (attributes, abilities, whatever you’d like to call them), the less significant some of them become. And sadly, one or more (or all) of the virtues were often neglected by Storytellers.
Right, no fretting over the imperfections of last week’s post or missing my self-appointed Monday date with blogging. I may be a day (or two) late, but I’m here. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
For a very long time, I’ve had a vague idea about writing (or “telling”) a sort of apocalypse story. Not post-apocalyptic, but of an apocalypse, a story about the world directly before and during its end. But I also say “sort of” because—I suppose like many post-apocalyptic narratives—the world doesn’t actually end. The world as we know it ends; the world and its inhabitants undergo dramatic change, and the rules change (this is the important bit, to which I’ll return later). So to be more precise, I want to tell a story about the events leading up to the world-as-we-know-it falling apart, then paint the epic beauty that is that falling apart. I know, it’s been done, almost as often as all the stories about “the world after the fall”. What do I have new to offer, especially if my idea is only vague? Well, that’s a very important question that I’m going to set aside for a moment. Don’t worry, I don’t want to tell another zombie story. But I first want to dig into my current creative process here.
My vague ideas have followed numerous paths, often stopping before they start, so that despite reoccurring themes and concepts, I’ve never followed any one idea to its conclusive apocalypse. In fact, I often find myself more caught up in what happens before the end. Perhaps my wanting to tell this story is a bit like the millenarian Christian prophesies of Armageddon with which I grew up as a child; although ever present in my mind, just ahead in the near future, it never actually comes to fruition. Or perhaps I’m caught up in a particular zeitgeist—that portion of human civilization that seems hellbent on (the idea of) its own destruction.