Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Train-Wreck: Some Of My RPG Writing Failures

Some things go horribly, horribly wrong. Actually, make that most things. Despite my best efforts, I have often fallen short of the mark on a number of my RPG-writing endeavors. Let's turn the spotlight on some of my blunders and broken promises, shall we?

Read on for more.


I have a fairly unique skill set and knowledge base for a hobby writer, in that I am actually a practicing Structural Engineer. This means that I design the steel and concrete that holds up your churches, schools, courthouses, parking garages, etc. It also means that I'm uniquely placed to have better-than-average knowledge about things like construction practices, the strengths and weaknesses of various materials, as well as where a bathroom should be placed in a floor plan and exactly how many square feet are required to have a suitable locker room, and that sort of thing. This comes in very handy when designing (or just winging it) locations in which my players' characters can run around and blow things up.

I have aspired to add to my Complete Characters postings a series of fleshed-out "Destinations" with maps and points of note. In fact, I even have one half-done in the form of a police station. The first floor is more or less done, but the project petered out. It's a ton of work to do the amount of research required to generate scale drawings of realistic buildings. I could skimp on the detail, of course, but that would defeat the purpose.

For now, check out what I have, and you'll get the idea. Just keep in mind that this isn't even close to being finished. The final product would have a more extensive key play, plus descriptions of the various rooms, plus personalities to populate the station. Click it for a larger view.

The first floor of the station, in progress

Heroes Unlimited: Teamwork

If you're not aware, Heroes Unlimited is a Supers game by Palladium Books. It's one of the first RPGs I ever played, coupled together in a munchkin mashup with TMNT and Ninjas & Superspies. To this day, my original mutant hawk with Sonic Flight and Alter Physical Structure: Fire, named Phoenix, is still a favorite character.

One thing that I always felt that Heroes Unlimited lacked were rules and powers for teams of superheroes. Everything from common origins for a character group to heroes that could draw from a common pool of powers is commonly seen in comic books, but not represented in the game. For a while, I was working up an article for The Rifter that I figured could be expanded into a small sourcebook, or folded into a Powers Unlimited volume somewhere down the line. I stopped working on it, mostly because I wasn't actively playing Heroes Unlimited at the time, as well as the fact that several other Palladium freelancers were pretty into writing stuff for that game, so I didn't want to step on anyone else's toes.

Amongst a handful of pages of notes, which include headings such as Common Background, Team-Based Powers, and Team Skills/Special Training, I even wrote an introduction, which went something like this, grammatical mistakes and all:
Film and literature is full of teams of heroes and villains, engaged in the endless battle of good versus evil, right versus wrong. Some of these teams are loose-knit associations, a collection of individuals. But sometimes, these are teams in the purest sense of the word and each member is an integral part of the whole. When a team is together, they are greater than the sum of their parts. When separated, they truly feel the loss.
In game terms, team generation can make the adventuring party a much greater body. A team might be a pair of heroes within a larger group or an association of a dozen characters. 
There are several possible categories of super teams, each with different bonuses and penalties. Some are restricted to within a character class or power category, while others can benefit any group of characters.

The RPG Think Tank

Every time I bring this up, I feel like I've talked about it before, but whatever; you can read it again! Originally called the Palladium Think Tank, this was my first website to ever run with any level of professionalism. I had the idea that Palladium fans aspiring to be published in The Rifter, Palladium's quarterly magazine/sourcebook, should have some sort of source other than the message boards to bounce around ideas and seek out peer editing. I had been published in The Rifter a number of times prior to this, so I took it on myself to try to get it going.

And get it going, we did! I recruited Carl Gleba, who had just seen his first Phase World sourcebook published, along with Todd Yoho, who would very soon after get his gig to write Dinosaur Swamp. I would also be joining the contracted ranks in short order with what would become Rifts Arzno. I think the fact that the three of us were really the only real freelance writers with a continuing relationship with Palladium, as well as a strong online presence, really helped to get "The Tank" off the ground. We couldn't have done it without the web talents of Ian Schroen, either.

For a little less than a year, we operated, developing a system by which prospective authors would work out details and develop an article amongst themselves, and then submit it to a board of previously-published editors for review. The editors would take a look, offer comments, and send a marked-up copy back down to the original author, who would take or leave whatever notes he or she wanted, finish up the article, and send it in to Palladium.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that The Tank was a smashing success. It was a small, focused organization with a purpose and a mission. There was no "general discussion" forum on the boards. It was a place to bunker down and hone your game-writing craft.

Ultimately it was the editors' close relationship with Palladium that doomed the project. About nine months after we were launched, Carl, Todd, and I had to step down, as having contracted freelancers giving editorial advice to prospective authors was deemed by Palladium's legal team to be a risk. Not all was lost, however, as we helped a number of fans get work published, and the waves created by The Tank lasted for some time after it closed. Also, the community hung on as what is currently nexuxnine.net, a good group of fans and writers that still do a lot of good work for Palladium in the form of fan creations, play-by-post, and netbooks. If you're not a member over there, you should be.

Ah, memories...

You know, some of those ideas really aren't half bad. What? I should pick some of them up again and give them another shot? You're so demanding, after all I do for you! I'll tell you what. Be good, tell a friend about this blog, reference it on stumble or digg or reddit, and I'll see what I can do.


A.L. said...

As someone who also got into 'real' role playing in a mutant mashup of TMNT, Heroes Unlimited, and Ninjas and Superspies i have to agree. Team rules would have been an awesome thing for that game, I mean sure you could wing it, but with everything those books had I don't recall anything for just simply ganging up on somebody.

I still have fond memories of facing off against Taskmaster and the gang in the mall adventure provided in the book. A friend still swears by a martial artist she made that hid the fact she also knew Dark Chi mastery and Snake Style kung fu in Ninjas and Superspies for over a year and a half, not revealing it until someone tried to turn on her after making a detailed plan based on only half of her capability.

On the ideas, the think tank seems like a good idea. It could also be a way for you to see what ideas you wanted to see about publishing under your new brand if you had it going.

While I wouldn't be opposed to having good, professional quality, maps of buildings you see in a lot of games (police stations, hospitals, schools, etc) I think the amount of work you'd have to put in to it for no pay would be a bit much. Maybe sell them? Like a PDF with 20 maps or so for $20-$30 on drivethrurpg or IPR or something? I doubt I'm the only one that wishes they could draw a building map that actually made sense.

Lord Zaboem said...

Trainwreck: Some of My RPG Writing Failures -- that is certainly a title which draws in the reader.

I'm encouraged that you feel your think tank project served its purpose. Projects which continue indefinitely are exhausting just to contemplate.

The team work concept, it seems to me, exists outside of the Megaversal System. As you described it, Jason, it reads more like a template of rules that could be layered on top of most systems. Perhaps this is an upcoming project for Jason Richards Publishing.

The Destinations line, to be honest, doesn't seem feasible. 12 to Midnight already has a line of excellent blueprint-style maps. I've been using some of them for years now. You would be jumping into a race long after your competition started.

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